CHARLES G. FINNEY
1. The truths of the blessed gospel have been hidden under a false Philosophy. Of this I have been long convinced. Nearly all the practical doctrines of Christianity have been embarrassed and perverted by assuming as true the dogma of a Necessitated Will. This has been a leaven of error that, as we shall see, has "leaven nearly the whole lump" of gospel truth. In the present work I have in brief attempted to prove, and have every where assumed, the freedom of the Will.
2. My principal design in publishing on Systematic Theology at the present time is, to furnish my pupils with a class or text book, where many points and questions are discussed of great practical importance, but which have not, to my knowledge, been discussed in any system of theological instruction extant. I have 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 can not 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 a the pains of studying elementary truths and of judging for themselves, to expect that this book will soon find favor 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 of 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. I fear that the book will not be understood even by some who are willing to read and are desirous of understanding it. The reasons are,
(1.) 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 any thing to the purpose, must be metaphysical. To avoid metaphysics in such a discussion were to waive my subject, and to write about something else.
(2.) There is a good deal of repetition in the work. This I judged to be indispensable to perspicuity. Perhaps the reader will not agree with me in this, and may think he should have understood me just as well if I had repeated less. But my experience upon this subject after having taught these truths for years has ripened the conviction that there is no other way of being understood upon such a subject.
(3.) I fear that with all my painstaking the book will not be understood even by many who desire to understand it, on account of my inability to simplify and explain so profound a subject. With this thought I have been much oppressed.
(4.) Not withstanding the repetition alluded to, I fear it is condensed too much to be understood by some. The book to be understood must be studied and not merely read.
7. This volume is much more difficult to understand than any of the remaining volumes will be. I have begun with the second volume, as this was to be on subjects so distinct from what will appear in the first volume that this volume might as well appear first, and because it seemed especially called for just now, to meet the demand of the Church and of my classes.
8. 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 future volumes most of the subjects of disagreement among Christians at the present day can be satisfactorily adjusted with comparative ease.
9. What I have said on the "Foundation of Moral Obligation" is the key to the whole subject. Whoever masters and understands that can readily understand all the rest. But he who will not possess himself of my meaning upon this subject will not, can not understand the rest.
10. 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 develop your powers by study. God designed that religion should require thought, intense thought, and should thoroughly develop 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 labor of thinking. I have no ability and no wish to do so.
11. I suppose that faults will be discovered in the book by others that I have not seen myself. If so, I hope to be able to see them and to correct them before I die.
12. But I hope if any of my brethren think to convince me of error that they will 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." I 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 cavilers 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.
13. This volume is designed to supercede my published Skeletons upon the subject of Moral Government. There has been much demand for an amplification of this subject. I have for brevity's sake, in some few instances, quoted from my Skeletons, but in general I have written altogether without reference to that work, until I come to the Atonement and Human Government. I should have expanded these subjects much more than I have, had there been room in this volume for such an amplification. Upon these questions I have transferred most of what was written in my Skeletons to the present volume, making such changes in the arrangement and discussion as I supposed would render so brief a statement perspicuous.
14. I perceive that the Publisher has put forth a prospectus of this work in which he has spoken of it in terms, I fear, decidedly too high. I knew nothing of this until some time after the prospectus was out. All I can honestly say of the work is, that I have intended to do good, and have done the best that I could under the circumstances. I submit the work to the prayerful study of my Christian brethren, and if it shall meet the end for which it was intended, I have not labored in vain.
Oberlin, July 15, 1846
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