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Phila delphia > Lectures on SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Charles G. Finney (Introduction)

Lectures On Systematic Theology


C. G. Finney


Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney










THE Lectures of the REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY, which are here given to the British public, were first delivered to the class of theological students at Oberlin College, America, and subsequently published there. They were unknown in this country, except to a few of the Author's personal friends, until his arrival in England, about two years since. His name, however, was well known, and several of his works had been extensively read.

The Editor having had the pleasure and honour of forming a personal acquaintance with the Author soon after his arrival in this country, did not long remain ignorant of his Theological Lectures. After the first hasty perusal of them, he ventured strongly to recommend their publication, both for the sake of making the British churches better acquainted with the Author's doctrinal views, and also on account of the direct benefit which students, and other inquirers into the theory of gospel doctrines, would be likely to derive from a work so argumentative, and so unlike all the works on systematic and dogmatic theology known to the English schools. After due consultation and deliberation the Author pressed upon the Editor the work of revision, and placed the Lectures in his hands, with the request that he would read them carefully, and suggest such alterations as he might deem desirable to adapt the work to the English reader; and then submit the whole to the Author's adoption or rejection.

This task the Editor undertook, and has performed in the best manner his time and ability would allow. The Author has carefully examined every part of his work again, and made such corrections and alterations as to him seemed needful. The Editor has merely performed the part of a friend, in suggesting such improvements as might make the Author's meaning better understood; but without interfering with that meaning, and without intending to give it an unqualified approbation. In fact, the Lectures have been to a considerable extent re-written by the Author, and in this edition proceed as strictly from his own pen, as in the American edition.

There is another important circumstance with which the reader should be made acquainted, which will enhance the value of this edition, and render it highly preferable to the American; it is this: on the publication of these Lectures they attracted the attention of many able theologians in America, and were severely attacked by the periodical press. The Author replied at considerable length to the most learned and distinguished of his critics, fairly and fully meeting every objection that had been urged against his views. The present edition incorporates the substance of these objections with the replies of the Author.

The Editor, however, would not have ventured to recommend the publication of these Lectures in this country, if he had not deemed them, as a whole, eminently deserving the attention and examination of British theologians. When they first came into his hands, they struck him as so pleasingly unlike all the other systems of dogmatic theology and moral philosophy it had ever been his lot to peruse, so thorough in their grappling with difficulties, and often so successful in the solution of them; so skilfully adjusted to modern metaphysical speculations, and so comprehensive of what is valuable in them; so manifestly the production of a masculine intellect and independent thinker, that he was not only pleased with the air of freshness and originality thrown over old themes of dry and elaborate discussion, but greatly benefited and instructed by some of the Author's views of important moral and theological questions. It may not be the same with all the Author's English readers; but assuredly few will rise from the perusal of the whole work without confessing that, at least, they have seen some points in a new and impressive light, have been constrained to think more closely of the opinions they hold, and in other respects have been benefited by the perusal.

As a contribution to theological science, in an age when vague speculation and philosophical theories are bewildering many among all denominations of Christians, this work will be considered by all competent judges to be both valuable and seasonable. Upon several important and difficult subjects the Author has thrown a clear and valuable light which will guide many a student through perplexities and difficulties which he had long sought unsuccessfully to explain. The Editor frankly confesses, that when a student he would gladly have bartered half the books in his library to have gained a single perusal of these Lectures; and he cannot refrain from expressing the belief, that no young student of theology will ever regret the purchase or perusal of Mr. Finney's Lectures.

One recommendation he begs respectfully to offer to all readers whether old or young; it is this: suspend your judgment of the Author and his theology until you have gone completely through his work. On many subjects, at the outset of the discussion, startling propositions may be found which will clash with your settled opinions; but if you will calmly and patiently await the Author's explanation, and observe how he qualifies some strong or novel assertions, you will most probably find in the issue, that you have less reason than you supposed to object to his statements.

In many respects Mr. Finney's theological and moral system will be found to differ both from the Calvinistic and Arminian. In fact, it is a system of his own, if not in its separate portions, yet in its construction; and as a whole is at least unique and compact; a system which the Author has wrought out for himself, with little other aid than what he has derived from the fount itself of heavenly truth, and his own clear and strong perception of the immutable moral principles and laws by which the glorious Author of the universe governs all his intellectual creatures.

There is one circumstance that will recommend the volume, and ought to recommend it, to impartial inquirers who are not bound to the words of any master save their divine One; it is, that the Author in his youth was trained in none of the theological schools of his country, and had imbibed, therefore, no educational preference for one system more than another. He had been disciplined to argumentation, logic, and the laws of evidence, in a very different arena; and had advanced in the science of the Law before he had felt the truth of Christianity, or thought of studying its doctrines. His views, therefore, will be found more deserving of attention and examination, from the fact of his mental independence in the formation of them.

Should the work be read in a calm, devout, unprejudiced and liberal sprit, there can be not doubt that the reader will derive both pleasure and instruction. The earnestness, single-mindedness, deep piety, and eminent usefulness of the Author, both as a preacher and lecturer, justly entitle this production of his pen to the candid and patient investigation of English divines.

Apart from the peculiarities which will be observed, and the critical objections to which some will deem his theology justly liable, there can be no doubt that many will find in it a treasure of inestimable worth, a key to many perplexing enigmas, and a powerful reinforcement of their faith in the Christian verities. With at least the hope that such will be the effects of its publication in England, the Editor has cheerfully contributed his humble aid, and now commits the work to the blessing of Him by whose Word of Truth its real value must be finally tested.

G. R.

Worcester, 1851.

This was typed in by John and Terri Clark.



1. TO a great extent, the truths of the blessed gospel have been hidden under a false philosophy. In my early inquiries on the subject of religion, I found myself wholly unable to understand either the oral or written instructions of uninspired religious teachers. They seemed to me to resolve all religion into states either of the intellect or of the sensibility, which my consciousness assured me were wholly passive or involuntary. When I sought for definitions and explanations, I felt assured that they did not well understand themselves. I was struck with the fact that they so seldom defined, even to themselves, their own positions. Among the words of most frequent use I could find scarcely a single term intelligibly defined. I inquired in what sense the terms "regeneration," "faith," "repentance," "love," &c., were used, but could obtain no answer, at which it did not appear to me that both reason and revelation revolted. The doctrines of a nature, sinful per se, of a necessitated will, of inability, and of physical regeneration, and physical Divine influence in regeneration, with their kindred and resulting dogmas, embarrassed and even confounded me at every step. I often said to myself, "If these things are really taught in the Bible, I must be an infidel." But the more I read my Bible, the more clearly I saw that these things were not found there upon any fair principles of interpretation, such as would be admitted in a court of justice. I could not but perceive that the true idea of moral government had no place in the theology of the church; and, on the contrary, that underlying the whole system were the assumptions that all government was physical, as opposed to moral, and that sin and holiness are rather natural attributes, than moral, voluntary acts. These errors were not stated in words, but I could not fail to see that they were assumed. The distinction between original and actual sin, and the utter absence of a distinction between physical and moral depravity, embarrassed me. Indeed, I was satisfied either that I must be an infidel, or that these were errors that had no place in the Bible. I was often warned against reasoning and leaning to my own understanding. I found that the discriminating teachers of religion were driven to confess that they could not establish the logical consistency of their system, and that they were obliged to shut their eyes and believe, when revelation seemed to conflict with the affirmations of reason. But this course I could not take. I found, or thought I found, nearly all the doctrines of Christianity embarrassed by the assumptions above-named. But the Spirit of God conducted me through the darkness, and delivered me from the labyrinth and fog of a false philosophy, and set my feet upon the rock of truth, as I trust. But to this day I meet with those who seem to me to be in much confusion upon most of the practical doctrines of Christianity. They will admit, that sin and holiness must be voluntary, and yet speak of regeneration as consisting in anything but a voluntary change, and of Divine influence in regeneration; as anything but moral or persuasive. They seem not at all aware of what must follow from, and be implied in, the admission of the existence of moral government, and that sin and holiness must be free and voluntary acts and states of mind. In this work I have endeavoured to define the terms used by Christian divines, and the doctrines of Christianity, as I understand them, and to push to their logical consequences the cardinal admissions of the more recent and standard theological writers. Especially do I urge, to their logical consequences, the two admissions that the will is free, and that sin and holiness are voluntary acts of mind.

I also undertake to show that the freedom of the will is a first truth of reason, and that sin and holiness must be voluntary. I will not presume that I have satisfied others upon the points I have discussed, but I have succeeded at least in satisfying myself. I regard the assertion, that the doctrines of theology cannot preserve a logical consistency throughout, as both dangerous and ridiculous.

2. My principle design in publishing on Systematic Theology at first, was to furnish my pupils with a class or text book, wherein many points and questions were discussed of great practical importance, but which have not, to my knowledge, been discussed in any system of theological instruction extant. I also hoped to benefit other studious and pious minds.

3. I have written for those who are willing to take the trouble of thinking and of forming opinions of their own on theological questions. It has been no part of my aim to spare my pupils or any one else the trouble of intense thought. Had I desired to do so, the subjects discussed would have rendered such an attempt abortive.

4. There are many questions of great practical importance, and questions in which multitudes are taking a deep interest at present, that cannot be intelligently settled without instituting fundamental inquiries involving the discussion of those questions that lie at the foundation of morality and religion.

5. I am too well acquainted with the prejudices of the great mass of professing Christians, and with their unwillingness to be at the pains of studying elementary truths and of judging for themselves, to expect that this book will soon find favour with the majority of them. Still I am aware, that a spirit of inquiry into the fundamental and elementary truths of religion, and of all science, is abroad, and is waking up more and more in the church. There is a deep and growing demand for explanation in regard to the subjects discussed in this work. Especially is this true of ministers and leading laymen and women. This book is a humble attempt to meet this demand. My object has been to simplify and explain. The book has no literary merit, and claims none.

6. The book is highly metaphysical. This however is owing to the nature of the subject. The subject is, "Mind in its relations to Moral Law." Hence the discussion, to be anything to the purpose, must be metaphysical. To avoid metaphysics in such a discussion were to waive my subject, and to write about something else.

7. Most of the subjects of dispute among Christians at the present day are founded in misconceptions upon the subjects discussed in this volume. If I have succeeded in settling the questions which I have discussed, we shall see, that in a future volume most of the subjects of disagreement among Christians at the present day can be satisfactorily adjusted with comparative ease.

8. What I have said on "Moral Law" and on the "Foundation of Moral Obligation" is the key to the whole subject. Whoever masters and understands these can readily understand all the rest. But he who will not possess himself of my meaning upon these subjects, will not understand the rest.

9. Let no one despair in commencing the book, nor stumble at the definitions, thinking that he can never understand so abstruse a subject. Remember that what follows is an expansion and an explanation by way of application, of what you find so condensed in the first pages of the book. My brother, sister, friend--read, study, think, and read again. You were made to think. It will do you good to think; to develope your powers by study. God designed that religion should require thought, intense thought, and should thoroughly develope our powers of thought. The Bible itself is written in a style so condensed as to require much intense study. Many know nothing of the Bible or of religion, because they will not think and study. I do not pretend to so explain theology as to dispense with the labour of thinking. I have no ability and no wish to do so.

10. If any of my brethren think to convince me of error, they must first understand me, and show that they have read the book through, and that they understand it, and are candidly inquiring after truth and not "striving for masteries." If my brother is inquiring after truth, I will, by the grace of God, "hear with both ears, and then judge." But I will not promise to attend to all that cavillers may say, nor to notice what those impertinent talkers and writers may say or write who must have controversy. But to all honest inquirers after truth I would say, hail! my brother! Let us be thorough. Truth shall do us good.

11. This work, as was expected, has been freely criticised and reviewed in the United States. Several periodicals have highly commended it, and others have condemned it. Of the commendations, I have said nothing in this edition. To the reviews condemnatory, I have replied, and my replies will be found either in the body of the work or in the Appendix. To these replies, I beg leave to call the reader's particular attention, and hope he will give them an attentive reading. No answer has ever been made to any of them. The reader will see why. It will be seen that reference is had in the body of the work to Mahan's Moral Philosophy. That author objected only to my views of the ground of obligation. I have introduced a very brief critique upon his views, and given a laconic reply to his strictures on my own. After the most attentive consideration of all that has been written, I have seen no cause to change my views upon any point of doctrine contained in the American edition of this work. This volume is therefore the same as to doctrine as were the two volumes of the former edition. I have, however, for the sake of perspicuity, omitted considerable of the discussions contained in those volumes, and have written and introduced several new lectures in this. In some places I have amplified, and explained, and in others abridged; so that considerable changes in the form of the work have been introduced.

It is my earnest hope, that reviewers in this country may not follow the example of those American reviewers to whom I have replied, and which replies will be found in this volume. Those reviewers did not take pains to understand the work they reviewed, as the reader will see. The Princeton reviewer stated in the outset the necessity of reading the work through, and omitting no part or sentence, as a condition of understanding it, and yet unfortunately he immediately betrayed his ignorance of the work. Dr. Duffield, as I was informed, read my reply to Princeton, and acknowledged its conclusiveness, but thought he could prove my book to be highly heretical. Of his attempt the reader will judge. I am not aware that any complaint has been made that I either misunderstood or unfairly represented my reviewers in any respect.

12. It will be seen that the present volume contains only a part of a course of Systematic Theology. Should the entire course ever appear before the public, one volume will precede, and another succeed the present one. I published this volume first, because it contains all the points upon which I have been supposed to differ from the commonly received views. As a teacher of theology, I thought it due to the church and to the world, to give them my views upon those points upon which I had been accused of departing from the common opinions of Christians.

13. It is not my intention to set myself before the British public as a teacher of my ministerial brethren; but since my orthodoxy has been extensively called in question in England, as well as in America, and since I have spent some months in propagating what I hold to be the gospel, in different parts of this country, it is no more than justice that this work should be put within your reach, that all may understand my views who will study for themselves.

14. I beg that no false issues may be made by any one. The question is not, what is English or American orthodoxy. It is not what have been the views of any uninspired man or set of men, but what is true in theology. The question is not, whether this volume accords with the past or present views of the church, but does it accord with the word of God.

15. I have not yet been able to stereotype my theological views, and have ceased to expect ever to do so. The idea is preposterous. None but an omniscient mind can continue to maintain a precise identity of views and opinions. Finite minds, unless they are asleep or stultified by prejudice, must advance in knowledge. The discovery of new truth will modify old views and opinions, and there is perhaps no end to this process with finite minds in any world. True Christian consistency does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and views, and in refusing to make any improvement lest we should be guilty of change, but it consists in holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information. I call this Christian consistency, because this course alone accords with a Christian profession. A Christian profession implies the profession of candour and of a disposition to know and obey all truth. It must follow, that Christian consistency implies continued investigation and change of views and practice corresponding with increasing knowledge. No Christian, therefore, and no theologian should be afraid to change his views, his language, or his practices in conformity with increasing light. The prevalence of such a fear would keep the world, at best, at a perpetual stand-still, on all subjects of science, and consequently all improvements would be precluded.

Every uninspired attempt to frame for the church an authoritative standard of opinion which shall be regarded as an unquestionable exposition of the word of God, is not only impious in itself, but it is also a tacit assumption of the fundamental dogma of Papacy. The Assembly of Divines did more than to assume the necessity of a Pope to give law to the opinions of men; they assumed to create an immortal one, or rather to embalm their own creed, and preserve it as the Pope of all generations: or it is more just to say, that those who have adopted that confession of faith and catechism as an authoritative standard of doctrine, have absurdly adopted the most obnoxious principle of Popery, and elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost. That the instrument framed by that assembly should in the nineteenth century be recognized as the standard of the church, or of an intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science, and as injurious and stultifying as it is absurd and ridiculous. It is better to have a living than a dead Pope. If we must have an authoritative expounder of the word of God, let us have a living one, so as not to preclude the hope of improvement. "A living dog is better than a dead lion;" so a living Pope is better than a dead and stereotyped confession of faith, that holds all men bound to subscribe to its unalterable dogmas and its unvarying terminology.

16. I hold myself sacredly bound, not to defend these positions at all events, but on the contrary, to subject every one of them to the most thorough discussion, and to hold and treat them as I would the opinions of any one else; that is, if upon further discussion and investigation I see no cause to change, I hold them fast; but if I can see a flaw in any one of them, I shall amend or wholly reject it, as a further light shall demand. Should I refuse or fail to do this, I should need to blush for my folly and inconsistency, for I say again, that true Christian consistency implies progress in knowledge and holiness, and such changes in theory and in practice as are demanded by increasing light.

On the strictly fundamental questions in theology, my views have not, for many years, undergone any change, except as I have clearer apprehensions of them than formerly, and should now state some of them, perhaps, in some measure, differently from what I should then have done.

London, 27th March, 1851.

This was typed in by John, Terri, and Aaron Clark, and the many friends of this Systematic. Thank you!
The only source for these lectures came from the printed 1851 English edition of SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Charles Finney. This is 100% Finney with no deletions or additions. This version had been out of print for over 100 years. This version is the pure standard. All other versions of SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY are taken from this version.

These lectures would not exist without all the hard work of John, Terri and Aaron Clark.

Reformatted by Katie Stewart



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