Finney's Lectures On Theology

Volume 1, Unpublished, c. 1860     




1. We have seen that in consciousness man knows his own existence. He knows himself as a spiritual being inhabiting a material body; that is, he is aware of possessing and exercising the attributes or powers of a spirit as distinct from the attributes or qualities of a material body. Consciousness directly gives his spirituality, and sense gives to consciousness the intuitive knowledge of our bodies. I think, I feel, I will; these are not acts or qualities of matter. Matter has extension, form, solidity, impenetrability, inertia; but these are not properties or qualities of mind. Spirit has not extension, solidity, inertia. Spirit is not a space-filling substance. This we know to be true, for God is a Spirit and is omnipresent; and if spirit were a space-filling substance, the existence of God would be incompatible with the existence of anything else.

I am conscious as a spirit of using my body as its instrument, but I am conscious that my body is not myself, my thinking, willing substance. I am sure by sense that I have a body, and by consciousness I am sure that I have a mind.

2. In consciousness I am aware that I am an agent, and not a mere instrument. I act from myself, that is, my mind is self-active; and my body has no power of action only as I move by the self-activity of my mind. In consciousness I know that as a mind I am a cause; not merely in the sense of a secondary cause, or in the sense of transmitting by a law of necessity an impulse which I receive by the same law. I know that as mind I am sovereign in my activity, and that I do not belong to the chain of material causes and effects that comprise the material universe around me. As a mind I am conscious of being apart from this chain of material cause and effect, above it, and that I have power in a great many ways to act upon it and modify the order in which these causes and effects would otherwise flow.

3. In consciousness I know myself as a free agent. I not only have the power of self-activity, that is, do not merely act from myself and of myself; but I act in one direction or another at my sovereign discretion -- the manner in which I shall act being determined by myself, and by no agency in the universe but my own.

4. In consciousness I know myself to be an intelligent agent. That is, I reason, judge, and act in view of all considerations which are present to my mind. In other words, I am aware in consciousness that I assign to myself reasons for my actions, and act upon the condition of their presence to my intellect.

5. In consciousness I know myself as a moral agent. I have a conscience; I am under moral government and moral law, perform moral actions and have a moral character. All this I know by direct consciousness. My existence, then, as such a being, is a fact of consciousness. The question at present is not how I came to exist; the fact that I do exist is the question immediately before us. We have seen it to be a first truth of reason that every event must have a cause, that is, of a cause, an adequate cause. Now it follows that whatever exists will continue to exist forever, unless by some adequate cause it is annihilated. All existences are therefore naturally immortal in the sense that when existence is once given, they will continue to exist forever unless they are annihilated.

Some have maintained that nothing exists in such a sense that it would continue to exist for a moment if not continued in existence by a divine upholding. But pray what can be intended by this? Suppose the divine upholding to be withdrawn -- is it intended that all existences except God have in themselves the law of self-annihilation? That were God to withdraw his support they would by a law of their own nature annihilate themselves? Surely this is gratuitous, and even absurd. To say that anything can annihilate itself is certainly a contradiction. What then does the assertion mean, that nothing save God continues to exist except by a divine upholding? Is it intended that if God withdraws himself from the existences that make up the universe, they will sink into annihilation of themselves? But how can this be? If there are real existences in the universe that are not God, if they are ever annihilated, it must be by some positive influence adequate to such a result.

I do not see why the philosophy that everything exists only as it is divinely held up into existence does not amount to pantheism. It seems to me equivalent to maintaining that all existences are only forms and modes of divine existence; and that if you abstract that which is divine from all existences there is nothing left. To claim, then, for the soul of man immortality in the sense of endless existence, is to claim for it no more that can justly be claimed for all real existences, unless they are by divine power annihilated.

6. If anyone affirms that the soul of man is not immortal, the burden of proof is upon him. Certainly it is immortal in its nature, that is, it has a real existence and cannot pass out of existence without being annihilated by some power out of and above itself; and so far as we can see, by some power equivalent to that which gave it being. If then it be contended that the soul of man is mortal, it must be proven that an adequate power will be exerted to annihilate it. The burden of proof upon the question of the soul's immortality does not belong to Christians but to those who deny its immortality. It does exist; it must continue to exist unless annihilated.

It will not be contended that any being but God can annihilate it -- will God annihilate it? Is there any proof that he ever does annihilate a soul? Of course, in this part of our inquiry we are not consulting the Scriptures, for the question of their divine authority has not yet been mooted by us in this course of study. We inquire, therefore, on principles of science and in the light of natural reason. What reason is there for supposing that the soul of man will ever be annihilated? Certainly the dissolution of the body affords no reason to believe that the soul is annihilated. The body is not annihilated, but only changes its form. Indeed we know not that anything that has had an existence ever has been or ever will be annihilated. Material bodies we know to be perpetually changing their form, because they are perpetually changing the particles of which they are composed. Personal identity cannot strictly, we know, be affirmed of our bodies for any two moments of our lives. All the particles of organized being are in a state of perpetual flux. This is a fact of science. But this is not true of our spiritual nature. Our spiritual nature is not an organized substance. It is spirit, not composed of particles, not a space-filling substance; and the changes in the body we know do not interfere with the personal identity of the soul.

7. The mortality of the body is admitted, and adequate causes to change its form are known to exist. But this is by no means true of the mind. I know it has been affirmed that the mind is after all material, and that thought, volition, and feeling, are only results of refined cerebral organization. But has this ever been proved? It is mere assertion. And do those who make such assertions expect them to be received? The soul as known to us possesses none of the qualities of matter; it is therefore gratuitous and even absurd to affirm its materiality. To say that when the body is dissolved, the mind disappears, is only to prove that the body is the organ of the mind's manifestation in this state of existence; and of this we are conscious. Of course, when the material body decays, the mind has lost the medium by which it communicated with other minds inhabiting material bodies; and this is all that is implied in the fact that the mind ceases to manifest itself when the body is decayed. It is by means of our bodies that we reveal ourselves to those that inhabit bodies like ourselves. When our bodies are dissolved, the medium of this revelation has ceased to exist, and consequently the mind inhabiting the body has no longer power to manifest itself to those that are in bodies. We know of no such medium.


1. We have just said that we are conscious of a moral nature, or conscience; that we posses the attributes of moral agents and are subjects of moral government; that moral law is revealed in our own consciousness, affirmed by our own conscience as an authoritative rule of action; and that moral obligation is imposed on us in the name of God. The first truth, accountability, implies this that conscience legislates for God.

2. We also know in consciousness that we irresistibly affirm and assume the goodness of God, that he possesses every attribute of moral goodness. This renders it impossible to believe that the present is a state of rewards and punishments; that is, a state in which moral agents are dealt with precisely according to their good or ill desert. In other words, this is not a state in which God manifests his entire justice, except in our irresistible convictions, certainly not in his administration. It is easy for us to see that this state of existence must be a state of trial or probation; and that of course the manifestation of strict justice on the part of God in dispensing rewards and punishments for every act as we proceed in life, would be out of place, this being, from the very nature of a state of probation, reserved till this state of trial is ended.

We have seen that conscience points to a future state of retribution; it enforces obligation in the name of God. It always assumes that retribution is reserved till the hour of probation is ended.

3. We are aware in consciousness that our nature demands a state of moral order under the government of God as the ultimate condition of his commending himself to the universe of intelligent creatures. By moral order, I mean a state of things in which law will either be universally obeyed, or in which rewards and punishments will be in accordance with character. This state of things does not exist here. We irresistibly look forward to a future state in which moral order will be perfect.

4. If such a state is never to exist, it cannot be that God is just. Indeed, it is a contradiction to say that the Ruler of the universe is just and yet that a state of moral order will never exist under his government. An unjust God is no God. If then there be not a future state of existence, if the human soul be not immortal, there can be no God.

But should it be insisted that men are dealt with in this world according to their characters; I reply, that those who assert this know better. It is a matter of direct consciousness that we ourselves are not dealt with in this world with the severity that we deserve. And who does not know that men pass out of this world in the very act of committing the greatest crimes.

5. If the soul does not exist in a future state, our moral nature or conscience necessarily deceives us.

6. If the soul is not immortal, our moral nature is a great curse to us. It forces convictions upon us that distress and mock us.

7. If the soul is not immortal, our moral nature compels us to become atheists. For who can believe that there is a God of infinite moral perfection unless he admits that there must be a future state in which moral order will exist.

8. The moral nature of man has forced the race to assume the immortality of the soul; and this assumption has existed in despite of the fear of future punishment necessarily consequent upon this conviction. All men have known themselves to be sinners; all men have regarded God as just; all men have feared punishment; all men have dreaded to meet God; they have feared to die, because they have assumed that "after death is the judgment." Now the fact that men have assumed and everywhere believed in the immortality of the soul, and in the justice of God, while they have known themselves to be sinners, is proof conclusive that the immortality of the soul is a dictate of our nature, and a conviction so irresistible that it cannot be disbelieved, although mankind are so interested to disbelieve it. We find in consciousness that as a general thing men disbelieve what they greatly dread; but here is a truth or fact of universal belief that exists inspite of the terror inspired by the admission.

Now what is implied in the supposition that the doctrine of immortality is not true? Why that human nature in itself is a delusion; that it forces delusions upon the whole race; and that that peculiarity of our nature that distinguishes us from the animal creation, to wit, our reason and conscience, is the greatest curse to us, inspiring us with anticipations, with hopes and fears, and pressing us with the most exciting considerations conceivable, in which, after all, there is no truth. It is plain that the assumption of immortality is natural to man and irresistible.


In this place it is impertinent to quote the Bible upon this subject in a course of scientific instruction, because its divine authority has not been established by us. Nevertheless, it is not out of place to notice some instances in which it is evident that the writers of the Bible assume the immortality of the soul. It has been denied that the writers especially of the Old Testament, held any such doctrine. Observe, the question now directly before us is not whether these writers were inspired; but did they believe in the immortality of the soul? Or, in other words, did they believe that the soul exists in a future state, or in a state separate from the body? Let us attend to some intimations that we find in the Old Testament.

In Deut. 18:9-12, we have a law against necromancy, that is against consulting the dead, that is departed spirits. Now from this law it is evident that the idea was at that time universal among the Jews that the soul existed after the body was dead.

Again, before the New Testament times the Jews became divided into two great sects, the Pharisees and Sadducees. This however was in their later history, that is, it was a division that existed among them at the time of the appearance of our Savior. Now it is well known that the Pharisees held the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and that Jesus held it also. I mention not this in this place as authority, but as a fact.

Again, the doctrine of Hades, or the fact that spirits existed after the death of the body and went to a place called Hades, is as evident on the face of the Old Testament Scriptures as almost any other truth found there. For example, the following texts imply it: Gen. 5:22-24, respecting the translation of Enoch. Enoch was removed from this world, it is true, in his body; but was represented as immortal, that is, as existing in a future state. Whether he continued to inhabit his fleshly body after his translation we are not informed; but from things in the New Testament we infer that his body became spiritual and immortal after his translation.

Again, in Gen. 37:35, Jacob speaks of going to his son Joseph whom he supposed to be dead; from which it is evident that he assumed that his son existed though separated from the body. See also the following passages: Gen. 15:15; 25:8; 35:29; Num. 20:24; Exod. 3:6 (compare with Mt. 22:23); Ps. 17:15; 49:15,16,26; Is. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; Eccl. 12:7. The phrase so often used, "gathered to his fathers," and like expressions, show that the Jewish mind was in possession of the idea of a future state of existence.

Indeed, the Old Testament in a great multitude of places, in a great variety of forms, indicates the existence of this idea in their minds; and that the immortality of the soul was assumed both by the inspired writers and by those for whose benefit they wrote. The New Testament completes the revelation. I think that no one will doubt that the New Testament writers expressly teach the immortality of the human soul, especially the immortality of the righteous.


1. It has been objected that the soul is not naturally immortal. To this a sufficient answer has been given.

2. It has been objected that the Bible speaks of God as alone having immortality. Answer: This is meant only to assert that God is exempt from death as no man is.

3. It has been objected that the Bible declares that the wicked will be annihilated. Answer: Its language does not imply annihilation, but only ruin.

4. It has been objected, that it would be cruel to let the wicked exist and suffer eternally. Answer: This objection assumes that they do not deserve it, for admitting that they deserve it, it is certainly not cruel to treat them according to their deserts. Again, this objection assumes that there is no benevolent reason for permitting the wicked to suffer forever. Both these assumptions can be shown to be false.

Thus much for the question of immortality in this place. Again I say, I have only introduced some hints from the Bible, not as authority, but because it has been affirmed that the Jews as a nation had not anciently the idea of the immortality of the soul. An examination of the question historically will show, that the doctrine of the soul's immortality has been the doctrine of the race. It has been believed as far back as history goes, and as far as tradition throws any light upon the convictions of men.



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