CHARLES G. FINNEY
PERSEVERANCE OF SAINTS.
In discussing this subject, I will.
l. CALL ATTENTION T0 THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CERTAINTY THAT MAY BE PREDICATED OF DIFFERENT THINGS,
II. STATE WHAT IS NOT INTENDED BY THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS, AS I HOLD THE DOCTRINE.
III. SHOW WHAT IS INTENDED BY IT.
IV. NOTICE THE OBJECTIONS TO THIS DOCTRINE.
V. PRESENT THE PRINCIPLE ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF IT.
1. I am to notice the different kinds of certainty.
Every thing must be certain with some kind of certainty. There is a way in which all things and events either have been, are, or will be. All events that ever did or will occur, were and are as really certain before as after their occurrence. To an omniscient mind their real certainty might and must have been known as really before as after their occurrence. All future events, for example, will be in some way, and there is now no real uncertainty in fact, nor can there be any real uncertainty in the knowledge of God respecting them. They are really as certain before they come to pass as they will ever be, and they are as truly and perfectly known as certain by God as they ever will be. They are as truly present to the Divine fore-knowledge as they ever will be. Whatever of contingency and uncertainty there may be respecting them in some respects, yet in point of fact, all events are certain, and there is no real uncertainty in respect to any event that ever did or will occur. This would be equally true whether God or any other being knew how they would be or not. The fore-knowledge of God does not make them certain. He knows them to be certain simply because they are so. Omniscience is the necessary knowledge of all objects of knowledge, past, present and future. But omniscience does not create objects of knowledge. It does not render events certain, but only knows how they certainly will be because it is certain, not only that they will be, but how and when they will be. All the free actions of moral agents are as really certain before they occur, as they ever will be. And God must as truly know how they will be before they occur, as he does after they have occurred.
1. The first kind of certainty that I shall notice is that of absolute necessity; that is, a certainty depending on no conditions whatever. This is the highest kind of certainty. It belongs to the absolute and the infinite, to the existence of space, duration, and to the existence of God, and in short to every thing that is self-existent, infinite, and immutable in a natural sense; that is, to every thing infinite that does not imply voluntariness. The natural attributes of God are certain by this kind of certainty, but his moral attributes, consisting as they do in a voluntary state of mind, though infinite and eternal, do not belong to this class.
2. A second kind of certainty is that of physical, but conditional necessity. To this class belong all those events that come to pass under the operation of physical law. These belong properly to the chain of cause and effect. The cause existing, the effect must exist. The event is rendered certain and necessary by the existence of its cause. Its certainty is conditionated upon its cause. The cause existing, the event must follow by a law of necessity, and the events would not occur of course, did not their causes exist. The causes being what they are, the events must be what they are. This class of events are as really certain as the foregoing class. In speaking of one of them as certain in a higher sense than the other, it is not intended that one class is any more certain than the other, but only that the certainty is of a different kind. For example, the first class are certain by a kind of certainty that does not and never did depend on the will of any being whatever. There never was any possibility that these things should be otherwise than they are. This, it will be seen, must be true of space and duration, and of the existence and the natural attributes of God.
But all other things except the self-existent, the naturally immutable, and eternal, are certain only as they are conditionated directly or indirectly upon the will of some being. For example, all the events of the physical universe were rendered certain by creation and the establishing and upholding of those physical and necessary laws that cause these events. These are, therefore, certain by a conditioned though physical necessity. There is no freedom or liberty in the events themselves: they occur necessarily when their causes or conditions are supplied.
3. A third kind of certainty is that of a moral certainty. I call it a moral certainty, not because the class of events which belong to it are less certain than the foregoing, but because they consist in or are conditioned upon the free actions of moral agents. This class do not occur under the operation of a law of necessity, though they occur with certainty. There is no contingency predicable of the absolutely certain in the sense of absolute certainty above defined. The second class of certainties are contingent only in respect to their causes. Upon condition that the causes are certain the events depending upon them are certain, without or beyond any contingency. This third class, though no less certain than the former two, are nevertheless contingent in the highest sense in which any thing can be contingent. They occur under the operation of free will, and consequently there is not one of them that might not by natural possibility fail, or be otherwise than it is or will in fact be. This kind of certainty I call a moral certainty as opposed to a physical certainty, that is, it is not a certainty of necessity in any sense; it is only a mere certainty or a voluntary certainty, a free certainty, a certainty that might, by natural possibility in every case, be no certainty at all. But on the contrary the opposite might in every instance be certain by a natural possibility. God in every instance knows how these events will be, as really as if they occurred by necessity, but his foreknowledge does not affect their certainty one way or the other. They might in every instance by natural possibility be no certainties at all, or be the opposite of what they are or will be, God's fore-knowledge in any wise notwithstanding. God knows them to be certain, not because his knowledge has any influence of itself to necessitate them, but because they are certain in themselves. Because it is certain in itself that they will be, God knows that they will be. To this class of events belong all the free actions of moral agents. All events may be traced ultimately to the action of God's free will; that is, God's free actions gave existence to the universe with all its physical agencies and laws, so that all physical events are in some sense owing to and result from the actions of free will. But physical events occur nevertheless under the immediate operation of a law of necessity. The class now under consideration depend not upon the operation of physical law as their cause. They are caused by the free agent himself. They find the occasions of their occurrence in the providential events with which moral agents are surrounded, and therefore may be traced indirectly and more or less remotely to the actions of the Divine will.
Concerning this class of events, I would farther remark that they are not only contingent in such a sense that they might in every case by natural possibility be otherwise than they are, but there may be, humanly speaking, the utmost danger that they will be otherwise than they really will be; that is, there may be danger, and the utmost danger, in the only sense in which there can be in fact any danger that any event will be otherwise than what it turns out to be. All events being really certain, there is in fact no danger that any event whatever will turn out differently from what it does, in the sense that it is not certain how it will be. But since all acts of free will, and all events dependent on those acts are contingent in the highest sense in which any event can in the nature of things be contingent, and in the sense that, humanly speaking, there may be millions of chances to own that they will be otherwise than they will in fact turn out to be, we say of all this class of events that there is danger that they may or may not occur.
Again, I remark in respect to this class of events that God may foresee that so intricate is the labyrinth, and so complicated are the occasions of failure that nothing but the utmost watchfulness and diligent use of means on his part and on our part, can secure the occurrence of the event. Every thing revealed in the Bible concerning the perseverance and final salvation of the saints, and every thing that is true, and that God knows of the free actions and destinies of the saints, may be of this class. These events are nevertheless certain, and are known to God as certainties. They will not in fact, one of them, turn out differently from what he foresees that they will; and yet by natural possibility, they might every one of them turn out differently, and there may, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of any thing, be the utmost danger that some or all of them will turn out differently from what they in fact will. These events are contingent in such a sense that should the means fail to be used, or should any event in the whole chain of influences connected with their occurrence, be otherwise than it is, the end or event resulting would or might be otherwise than in fact it will be. They are nevertheless certain, every one of them, together with all the influences upon which each free act depends. Nothing is uncertain in respect to whether it will occur or not; and yet no free act, or event depending upon a free act is certain in the sense that it can not by natural possibility be otherwise, nor in the sense that there may not be great danger, or humanly speaking, a probability that it will be otherwise, and that humanly speaking, there may not be many chances to one that it will be otherwise.
When I say that any event may, by natural possibility be otherwise than what it will in fact be, I mean that the free agent has natural power in every instance to choose otherwise than he does or actually will choose.
As an illustration of both the contingency and the certainty of this class of events, suppose a man about to attempt to cross Lake Erie on a wire, or to pass down the falls of Niagara in a bark canoe. The result of this attempt is really certain. God must know how it will be. But this result, though certain, is conditionated upon a multitude of things, each of which the agent has natural power to make otherwise than in fact he will. To secure his safe crossing every volition must be just what and as it will be; but there is not one among them that might not by natural possibility be the opposite of what it will be.
Again, the case may be such and the danger of future so great that nothing could secure the safe crossing, but a revelation from God that would inspire confidence that the adventurer should in fact cross the lake or venture down the falls safely.
I say this revelation of God might be indispensable to his safe crossing. Suppose it were revealed to a man under such circumstances that he should actually arrive in safety, but the revelation was accompanied with the emphatic assurance that the end depended upon the most diligent, cautious, and persevering use of means on his part, and that any failure on his part would defeat the end. Both the revelation of the certainty of success and the emphatic warning might be indispensable to the securing of the end. Now if the adventurer had confidence in the promise of success, he would have confidence in the caution not to neglect the necessary means, and his confidence in both might secure the desired result. But take an example from Scripture:
Acts 27:21. But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. 22. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24. Saying, Fear not, Paul: thou must be brought before Caesar: and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. 25. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. 26. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. 27. But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; 28. And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. 29. Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day. 30. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Here the end was foreknown and expressly foretold at first without any condition expressed, though they plainly understood that the end was to be secured by means. Paul afterwards informs them that if they neglected the means, the end would fail.
Both the means and the end were certain in fact, and God therefore expressly revealed the certainty of the result, and afterwards by a subsequent revelation secured the use of the necessary means. Here was no uncertainty in the sense that the thing might, in fact, turn out otherwise than it did, and yet it was uncertain in the sense that by natural possibility both the means and the end might fail.
I remark, again, in respect to events that are morally certain, that if they are greatly desired, they are not the more, but all the less, in danger of failing by how much stronger the confidence is that they will occur, provided it be understood that they are certain only by a moral certainty; that is, provided it be understood that the event is conditioned upon the free acts of the agent himself.
Again, it is generally admitted that hope is a condition of success in any enterprise, and if this is so, assurance of success, upon the proper conditions, can not tend to defeat the end.
I remark again, that there is a difference between real danger and a knowledge or sense of danger. There may be as great and as real danger when we have no sense or knowledge of it as when we have. And on the other hand, when we have the highest and the keenest sense of danger, there may be, in fact, no real danger; and indeed, as has been said, there never is any danger in the sense that any thing will, as a matter of fact, turn out differently from what God foresees it will be.
Again, the fact that any thing is revealed as certain, does not make it certain; that is, the revelation does not make it certain. It had been certain, had not this certainty been revealed, unless it be in cases where the revelation is a condition or means of the certainty revealed. An event may be really certain and may be revealed as certain, and yet, humanly speaking, there may be millions of chances to one that it will not be as it is revealed; that is, so far as human foresight can go, the probabilities may be all against it.
II. State what is not intended by the perseverance of the saints, as I hold the doctrine.
1. It is not intended that any sinner will be saved without complying with the conditions of salvation; that is, without regeneration and persevering in obedience to the end of life in a sense to be hereafter explained.
2. It is not intended that saints or the truly regenerate can not fall from grace and be finally lost by natural possibility. It must be naturally possible for all moral agents to sin at any time. Saints on earth and in heaven can by natural possibility apostatize and fall and be lost. Were not this naturally possible, there would be no virtue in perseverance.
3. It is not intended that the true saints are in no danger of apostacy and ultimate damnation. For, humanly speaking, there may be and doubtless is the greatest danger in respect to many, if not all of them, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of any event whatever, that they will apostatize, and be ultimately lost.
4. It is not intended that there may not be, humanly speaking, myriads of chances to one that some, or that many of them will fall and be lost. This may be, as we say, highly probable; that is, it may be probable in the only sense in which it is probable that any event whatever may be different from what it will turn out to be.
5. It is not intended that the salvation of the saints is possible except upon condition of great watchfulness, and effort, and perseverance on their part, and great grace on the part of God.
6. It is not intended that their salvation is certain in any higher sense than all their future free actions are. The result is conditioned upon their free actions, and the end can be no more certain than its means or conditions. If the ultimate salvation of the saints is certain, it is certain only upon condition that their perseverance in obedience to the end of life is certain. Every act of this obedience is free and contingent in the highest sense in which contingency can be predicated of any thing whatever. It is also uncertain by the highest kind of uncertainty that can be predicated of any event whatever. Therefore there is, and must be as much real danger of the saints failing of ultimate salvation as there is that any event whatever will be different from what it turns out to be.
But here it should be distinctly remembered, as was said, that there is a difference between a certainty and a knowledge of it. It is one thing for an event to be really certain and another thing for us to have a knowledge of it as certain. Every thing is really equally certain, but many things are not revealed to us as certain. Those that are revealed as certain, are no more really so than others, but with respect to future things not in some way revealed to us we know not how they will prove to be. The fact that a thing is revealed to us as certain does not make it certain, nor is it really any the less uncertain because it is revealed to us as certain, unless the revelation tends to secure the certainty. Suppose the ultimate salvation of all the saints is certain, and that this certainty is revealed to us; unless this revelation is the means of securing their salvation, they are in just as much real danger of ultimately failing of eternal life as if no such revelation had been made. Notwithstanding the certainty of their salvation and the fact that this certainty is revealed to them, there is just as much real, though unknown, certainty or uncertainty in respect to any future event whatever as there is in respect to this. All events are certain with some kind of certainty, and would be whether any being whatever knew the certainty or not. So all events consisting in, or depending upon the free acts of free agents are really as uncertain as any event can be, and this is true whether the certainty is revealed or not. The salvation of the saints, then, is not certain with any higher certainty than belongs to all future events that consist in, or are conditionated upon the free acts of free will, though this certainty may he revealed to us in one case, and not in the other.
Of course the salvation of the saints is not certain by any kind or degree of certainty that offers the least ground of hope of impunity in a course of sin. "For if they are to be saved, they are to be saved upon condition of continuing in faith and obedience to the end of life."
Moreover their salvation is no more certain than their future free obedience is. The certainty of future free obedience and a knowledge of this certainty, can not be a reason for not obeying, or afford encouragement to live in sin. So no more can the knowledge of the conditional and moral certainty of our salvation afford a ground for hope of impunity in a life of sin.
8. The salvation of the saints is not certain by any kind or degree of certainty that renders their salvation or their damnation any more impossible than it renders impossible any future acts of sin or obedience. Consequently, it is not certain in such a sense as to afford the least encouragement for hope of salvation in sin any more than a certainty that a farmer would raise a crop upon condition of his diligent and timely and persevering use of all adequate means, would encourage him to neglect those means. If the farmer had a knowledge of the certainty with its conditions, it would be no temptation to neglect the means, but on the other hand this knowledge would operate as a powerful motive to the required use of them. So neither can the knowledge of the certainty of the salvation of the saints with the condition of it be to them a temptation to live in sin, but on the contrary this knowledge must act as a powerful incentive to the exercise of confidence in God and perseverance in holiness unto the end. So neither can the certainty that the necessary means will be used, afford any encouragement to neglect the use of them in the case of man's salvation any more than the revealed certainty that a farmer will sow his field and have a crop would encourage him to neglect to sow. The known certainty of both the means and the end, with an understanding of the moral nature of the certainty, has no natural tendency to beget presumption and neglect but on the contrary to beget a diligent, and cheerful, and confident use of the necessary means.
III, Show what is intended by the doctrine in question.
It is intended that all who are at any time true saints of God are preserved by his grace and Spirit through faith in the sense that, subsequently to regeneration, obedience is their rule, and disobedience only the exception; and that being thus kept, they will certainly be saved with an everlasting salvation.
IV. Consider the objections to it.
1. It is said that the natural tendency of this doctrine condemns it; that it tends to beget and foster a casual presumption in a life of sin on the part of those who think themselves saints.
There is, I reply a broad and obvious distinction between the abuse of a good thing or doctrine, and its natural tendency. The legitimate tendency of a thing or doctrine may be good, and yet it may be abused and perverted. This is true of the atonement, and the offer of pardon through Christ. These doctrines have been, and are greatly objected to by universalists and unitarians as having a tendency to encourage the hope of impunity in sin. It is said by them that to hold out the idea that Christ has made an atonement for sin, and that the oldest and vilest sinners may be forgiven, and saved, tends directly to immorality and to encourage the hope of ultimate impunity in a life of sin, the hope that after a sinful life the sinner may at last repent and be saved.
Now, there is so much plausibility in this objection to the doctrine of pardon and atonement that many sensible men have rejected those doctrines because of this objection. They have regarded the objection as unanswerable. But a close examination will show that the objection against those doctrines is entirely without foundation, and not only so, but that the real natural tendency of those doctrines affords a strong presumptive argument in their favor. Who does not know after all, that from the nature and laws of mind, the manifestation of compassion and of disinterested good will, and a disposition to forgive a fault on the part of the justly offended, tend in the highest degree to bring the offender to repentance? "If thine enemy hunger feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shall heap coals of fire upon his head." This command is the perfection of wisdom. It recognizes mind, and the laws of mind as they are. The free offer of pardon to a convicted and self-condemned sinner has no natural tendency to encourage him in sin, but is the most potent influence possible to bring him to immediate repentance.
So the telling of a convinced and self-condemned sinner that Christ has died for his sins, and offers freely and at once to forgive all the past, has no natural tendency to beget a spirit of perseverance in rebellion, but is on the contrary the readiest, and safest, and, I may add, the only effectual method of subduing him and bringing him to immediate repentance. But suppose, on the other hand, you tell him there is no forgiveness, that he must be punished for his sins at all events, what tendency has this to bring him to immediate and genuine repentance; to beget within him the love required by the law of God? Assuring him of punishment for all his sins might serve to restrain outward manifestations of a sinful heart, but certainly it tends not to subdue selfishness and to cleanse the heart; whereas the offer of mercy through the death of Christ, has a most sin-subduing tendency. It is such a manifestation, to the sinner, of God's great love to him, his real pity for, and readiness to overlook and blot out the past, as tends to break down the stubborn heart into genuine repentance for sin, and beget the sincerest love to God and Christ together with the deepest self-loathing and self-abasement on account of sin. Thus the doctrines of the atonement and pardon through a crucified Redeemer in stead of being condemned by their legitimate tendency, are greatly confirmed thereby. To be sure these doctrines are liable to abuse and so is every good thing; but is this a good reason for rejecting them? Our necessary food and drink may be abused, and often are, and so are all the most essential blessings of life. Should we reject them on this account?
It is admitted that the doctrines of atonement and forgiveness through Christ are greatly abused by careless sinners, and hypocrites; but is this a good reason for denying and withholding them from the convicted sinner who is earnestly enquiring what he shall do [to] be saved? No, indeed.
It is also admitted that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is liable to, and often is abused by the carnal and deceived professor; but is this a good reason for rejecting it and for withholding its consolations from the tempted, tempest-tossed saint? By no means. The fact is that such are the circumstances of temptation from within and without, in which the saints are placed in this life, that when they are made really acquainted with themselves and are brought to a proper appreciation of the circumstances in which they truly are, they have but little rational ground of hope except what is found in this doctrine. The natural tendency and inevitable consequence of a thorough revelation of themselves to themselves, would be to beget despair but for the covenanted grace and faithfulness of God. What saint who has ever been revealed to himself by the Holy Spirit, has not seen what Paul saw when he said, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing?" Who that has been made acquainted with himself, does not know that he never did, and never will take one step towards heaven except as he is anticipated and drawn by the grace of God in Christ Jesus? Who that knows himself does not understand that he never would have been converted, but for the grace of God anticipating and exciting the first motions of his mind in a right direction? And what true saint does not know that such are his former habitudes; and such the circumstances of trial under which he is placed, and such the downward tendency of his own soul on account of his physical depravity, that although converted, he shall not persevere for an hour except the indwelling grace and Spirit of God shall hold him up and quicken him in the path of holiness?
Where, I would ask, is the ground of hope for the saints as they exist in this world? Not in the fact that they have been physically regenerated, so that to fall is naturally impossible. Not in the fact that they have passed through any such change of nature as to secure their perseverance for an hour if left to themselves. Not in the fact that they can; or will sustain themselves for a day or a moment by their resolutions. Where then is their hope? There is not even a ground of probability that any one of them will ever be saved unless the doctrine in question be true, that is, unless the promised grace and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus goes before and from step to step secures their perseverance. But if this grace is promised to any saint as his only ground of confidence, or even hope that he shall be saved, it is equally and upon the same conditions promised to all the saints. No one more than any other can place the least reasonable dependence on any thing except the grace equally promised and vouchsafed to all. What does a man know of himself who hopes to be saved and who yet does not depend wholly on promises of grace in Christ Jesus?
The natural tendency of true and thorough conviction of sin and of such a knowledge of ourselves as is essential to salvation, is to beget and foster despondency and despair; and, as I said, the soul in this condition has absolutely little or no ground of hope of ultimate salvation except that which this doctrine, when rightly understood, affords. However far he may have progressed in the way of life, he sees, when he thoroughly knows the truth, that he has progressed not a step except as he has been drawn and overpersuaded by the indwelling grace and spirit of Christ, and that he shall absolutely go no further in the way to heaven unless the same gracious influence is continued in such a sense and to such extent as to overcome all the temptations with which he is beset. His only hope is in the fact that God has promised to keep and preserve him. Nothing but God's faithfulness to his Son procured the conversion of any saint. Nothing but this same faithfulness has procured his perseverance for a day, and nothing else can render the salvation of any soul at all probable. What can a man be thinking about, or what can he know of himself; who does not know this? Unless the same grace that secures the conversion of the saints, secures their perseverance to the end, there is no hope for them. It is true that the promises to sinners and to saints are conditioned upon their faith and upon the right exercise of their own agency, and it is also true that grace secures the fulfillment of the conditions of the promises in every instance in which they are fulfilled, or they never would be fulfilled. We shall see that the promises of the Father to the Son secure the bestowment upon the saints of all grace to secure their final salvation.
It shocks and distresses me to hear professed christians talk of being saved at all except upon the ground of the anticipating, and persevering, and sin-overcoming, and hell-subduing grace of God in Christ Jesus. Why, I should as soon expect the devil to be saved as that any saint on earth will he, if left, with all the promises of God in his hands, to stand and persevere without the drawings, and inward teachings, and overcoming influences of the Holy Spirit. Shame on theology that suspends the ultimate salvation of the saints upon the broken reed of their own resolutions in their best estate. Their firmest resolutions are nothing unless they are formed and supported by the influence of the Spirit of grace going before and exciting and persuading to their formation and their continuance. This is every where taught in the bible; and who that has considered the matter, does not know that this is the experience of every saint? Where, then, is the ground of hope, if the doctrine in question be denied? "If the foundation he destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" Where, then, is the evil tendency of this doctrine? It has no naturally evil tendency. Can the assurance of eternal salvation through the blood, and love, and grace of Christ, have a natural tendency to harden the heart of a child of God against his Father and his Savior? Can the revealed fact that he shall be more than a conqueror through Christ beget in him a disposition to sin against Christ? impossible! This doctrine though liable to abuse by hypocrites, is nevertheless the sheet anchor of the saints in hours of conflict. And shall the children be deprived of the bread of life, because sinners will pervert the use of it to their own destruction? This doctrine is absolutely needful when conviction is deep and conflicts with temptation are sharp, to prevent despair. Its natural tendency is to slay and keep down selfishness, to forestall selfish efforts and resolutions, and to sustain the confidence of the soul at all times. It tends to subdue sin, to humble the soul under a sense of the great love and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus; to influence the soul to live upon Christ and to renounce entirely and forever all confidence in the flesh. Indeed, its tendency is the direct opposite of that asserted in the objection. It is the abuse and not the natural tendency of this doctrine against which this objection is urged. But the abuse of a doctrine is no reason why it should be rejected.
2. But it is said that real saints do sometimes fall into it least temporary backsliding, in which cases the belief of this doctrine tends to lull them into carnal security and to prolong their backsliding, if not to embolden them to apostatize.
To this I reply,
(1.) That if real christians do backslide, they lose for the time being their evidence of acceptance with God, and withal they know that in their present state they can not be saved. This objection is levelled rather against that view of perseverance that says, "once in grace, always in grace;" that teaches the doctrine of perpetual justification upon condition of one act of faith. The doctrine as stated in these lectures holds out no ground of hope to a backslider except upon condition of return and perseverance to the end. Moreover the doctrine, as here taught, is that perseverance in holiness in the sense that subsequent to regeneration, holiness is at least the rule and sin only the exception, is an attribute of christian character. Every moment, therefore, a backslider remains in sin, he must have less evidence that he is a child of God.
But, as I said, he loses confidence in his own christianity, and in this state of backsliding he does not believe the doctrine of perseverance as a doctrine of revelation. It is absurd to say that while backslidden from God, he still has faith in his word, and believes this doctrine as a christian doctrine and upon the strength of the testimony of God. He does not in this state really believe the doctrine, and therefore it is not the tendency of the doctrine when believed that harms him, but a gross abuse and perversion of it. But the perversion of a doctrine is no objection to it. The real tendency of the doctrine is to break the heart of the backslider, to exhibit to him the great love, and faithfulness, and grace of God which tends naturally to subdue selfishness and to humble the heart. When backsliders are emboldened by this doctrine and rendered presumptuous it is never by any other than a gross perversion and abuse of it.
But still it is said that when christians backslide; they know if this doctrine is true that they shall not die in a backslidden state, and that therefore they are naturally rendered presumptuous by it. I answer, that the same objection lies against the doctrine of election, which can not be denied. Who does not know that sinners and backsliders say, If I am elected I shall be saved, and if not, I shall be lost. The event is certain at any rate, and if I am to use the means, I shall use the means; and if I am to neglect them, I shall neglect them. If I am one of the elect, I shall not die in sin; and if not, I shall, do what I may. The backslider says, I have been converted and am therefore one of the elect, for there is no evidence that any of the non-elect are ever converted; but the elect can not be lost or will not be lost at any rate: therefore I shall he reclaimed before I die. Now who does not see that all such refuges are refuges of lies? They are abuses of precious truth. The objection we are considering is based upon an overlooking of the all important distinction between the natural tendency and the abuse of a doctrine. If this doctrine has a natural tendency to mischief, it must be calculated to mislead a humble, honest, and prayerful mind in search of truth. It must tend to lead a true saint away from, instead of to, Christ. The fact that sinners and backsliders who for the time being are the chief of sinners will and do abuse and pervert it, is no better reason for rejecting this doctrine than it is the rejecting the doctrine of atonement, of justification by faith, or the doctrine of the free pardon of the greatest sinners upon condition of repentance and faith. It is true that no person whom God foresees will be saved will die in sin. It is true that no elect person will die in sin; and, as I believe, all true saints are elect, nevertheless the natural tendency of this doctrine is any thing else than to beget presumption in the real saint; but on the contrary it has a natural and a powerful tendency to impress him with sin, with subduing views of the infinite love, compassion, faithfulness and grace of God, and to charm him away from his sins forever. If by any means he falls into temporary backsliding, he may abuse this as he may every other doctrine of the gospel; but let it be understood that he does not believe for the time being one of the doctrines of the gospel. Not believing them, he of course is not injured by their natural tendency, but only by a perverse abuse of them.
As well might a universalist croak and accuse you of preaching smooth things and of encouraging sinners to continue in sin by preaching that the vilest sinner may be forgiven as for you to object to this doctrine that backsliders are rendered presumptuous by it.
If one is more liable to abuse than the other, the difference is only in degree and not in kind. The backslider can not know that he was ever converted; for as a matter of fact, he has lost communion with God and has lost the present evidence of acceptance. He does not, therefore, rest in a real belief of this doctrine, but only in a perverse abuse of it.
Those who persist in such objections as this should reflect upon their own inconsistency in making a manifest perversion and abuse of this doctrine an objection to it when they hold other doctrines, equally liable to abuse and equally abused, in spite of such abuse. Let such persons see that they are practically adopting a principle and insisting upon its application in this case, which if carried out, would set aside the whole gospel. They are thus playing into the hands of infidels and universalists, and giving the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme.
Return to 1847 SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY Table of Contents
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOKS STORE