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Quiz for Theologians: Finney or Augustine?

Question: Two passage selections below. One is written by Charles Finney, and one is written by St. Augustine. Test your knowledge. Can you tell who wrote which one?

A. All of Adam’s race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end–their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end.
…If he ever does, or will, elect any human being to salvation, he must always have chosen or elected him, or he has, or will, form some new purpose, which is inconsistent with his moral immutability.
…It must also be true, that God foreknew all that ever will be true of the non-elect, and must have eternally had some design respecting their final destiny. And also that he has from eternity had the same, and the only design that he ever will have in respect to them.
…God was under obligation to no one–he might in perfect justice have sent all mankind to hell. The doctrine of election will damn no one: by treating the non-elect according to their deserts, he does them no injustice; and surely his exercising grace in, the salvation of the elect, is no act of injustice to the non-elect; and especially will this appear to be true, if we take into consideration the fact, that the only reason why the non-elect will not be saved is, because they pertinaciously refuse salvation.

B. When an evil choice happens in any being, then what happens is dependent on the will of that being; the failure is voluntary, not necessary, and the punishment that follows is just.

What is the import of the fact that in so many passages God requires all His commandments to be kept and fulfilled? How does He make this requisition, if there is no free will? What means “the happy man,” of whom the Psalmist says that “his will has been the law of the Lord”? Does he not clearly enough show that a man by his own will takes his stand in the law of God?

…And yet “all men do not receive this saying, except those to whom the power is given.” Now they to whom this is not given either are unwilling or do not fulfill what they will; whereas they to whom it is given so will as to accomplish what they will. In order, therefore, that this saying, which is not received by all men, may yet be received by some, there are both the gift of God and free will.

And now the Answers:

Selection A:

Charles G. Finney (from Systematic Theology, Lecture 30: Election)

Selection B:

St. Augustine (first: City of God 12.8; second: On Grace and Free Will ch.4; third: OGFW ch.7).

Finney is often misrepresented and misunderstood. He is often quoted out of context, and those who attack him seem to give little evidence of really reading him. Instead they see his ‘shocking’ way of putting things and then attack the straw man they make of them. For what I hope is a balanced view of his thought and ministry, see my treatise on Finney here.

Below are words from Augustine that could have just as easily been written by Finney:

On the Spirit and the Letter (St. Augustine)

Consider now whether anybody believes, if he be unwilling; or whether he believes not, if he shall have willed it. Such a position, indeed, is absurd (for what is believing but consenting to the truth of what is said? and this consent is certainly voluntary): faith, therefore, is in our own power. (ch.54)

Let us then, first of all, lay down this proposition, and see whether it satisfies the question before us: that free will, naturally assigned by the Creator to our rational soul, is such a neutral power, as can either incline towards faith, or turn towards unbelief. Consequently a man cannot be said to have even that will with which he believes in God, without having received it; since this rises at the call of God out of the free will which he received naturally when he was created. God no doubt wishes all men to be saved 1 Timothy 2:4 and to come into the knowledge of the truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will, for the good or the evil use of which they may be most righteously judged. This being the case, unbelievers indeed do contrary to the will of God when they do not believe His gospel; nevertheless they do not therefore overcome His will, but rob their own selves of the great, nay, the very greatest, good, and implicate themselves in penalties of punishment, destined to experience the power of Him in punishments whose mercy in His gifts they despised. (58)

It may be, however, objected in reply, that we must take heed lest some one should suppose that the sin would have to be imputed to God which is committed by free will, if in the passage where it is asked, “What do you have that you did not receive?” 1 Corinthians 4:7 the very will by which we believe is reckoned as a gift of God, because it arises out of the free will which we received at our creation. Let the objector, however, attentively observe that this will is to be ascribed to the divine gift, not merely because it arises from our free will, which was created naturally with us; but also because God acts upon us by the incentives of our perceptions, to will and to believe, either externally by evangelical exhortations, where even the commands of the law also do something, if they so far admonish a man of his infirmity that he betakes himself to the grace that justifies by believing; or internally, where no man has in his own control what shall enter into his thoughts, although it appertains to his own will to consent or to dissent. Since God, therefore, in such ways acts upon the reasonable soul in order that it may believe in Him (and certainly there is no ability whatever in free will to believe, unless there be persuasion or summons towards some one in whom to believe), it surely follows that it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things prevents us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God’s summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said,”For what do you have that you did not receive?” 1 Corinthians 4:7 but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent. And thus whatever it possesses, and whatever it receives, is from God; and yet the act of receiving and having belongs, of course, to the receiver and possessor. Now, should any man be for constraining us to examine into this profound mystery, why this person is so persuaded as to yield, and that person is not, there are only two things occurring to me, which I should like to advance as my answer:”O the depth of the riches!” Romans 11:33 and “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Romans 9:14 If the man is displeased with such an answer, he must seek more learned disputants; but let him beware lest he find presumptuous ones. (60).

Charles Finney is NOT a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

 The charge that ‘Charles Finney is a heretic’ is often the result of ignorance and misrepresentation. Granted, Finney often used controversial terms to state his positions, but those who would hear him out would recognize a brother- perhaps a brother with whom they disagree- but certainly not a heretic. In spite of his peculiar understanding […] Continue reading →