How Finney's View of
Perseverance Of The Saints
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
Charles Finney (1792-1875) was the most famous New Light Calvinist of his day. His theology was almost identical to the most famous New Light Calvinists before him, Asahel Nettleton and Lyman Beecher. Unfortunately, most of the books written against decisional regeneration in the last 40 years have cast Finney as a unique heretic, and Nettleton and Beecher as holding the line on Calvinist Orthodoxy. If you read the writings of Beecher and Nettleton, you'll find they objected to Finney's methods, not his theology.
Almost all modern Calvinists think that Charles Finney did not believe in the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance of the saints. They usually take a comment Finney made in the context of immediate experience and say it was meant in the context of metaphysical law. Here is what Finney thought of perseverance of the saints:
PERSEVERANCE OF SAINTS.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS PROVED.
IV. I COME NOW TO A CONSIDERATION OF THE PRINCIPAL ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THIS DOCTRINE.
Before I proceed to the direct proof of the doctrine, a few remarks may be desirable.
1. I would remark, that I have felt greater hesitancy in forming and expressing my views upon this, than upon almost any other question in theology. I have read whatever I could find upon both sides of this question, and have uniformly found myself dissatisfied with the arguments on both sides. After very full and repeated discussions, I feel better able to make up and express an opinion upon the subject than formerly. I have at some periods of my ministry been nearly on the point of coming to the conclusion that the doctrine is not true. But I could never find myself able to give a satisfactory reason for the rejection of the doctrine. Apparent facts that have come under my observation have sometimes led me seriously to doubt the soundness of the doctrine; but I cannot see, and the more I examine the more unable I find myself to see, how a denial of it can be reconciled with the scriptures.
I shall give the substance of what I regard as the scripture proof of this doctrine, and beg the reader to make up his opinion for himself by a careful examination. Perhaps what has been satisfactory to my mind may not be so to the minds of others. Let no one believe this, or any other doctrine upon my authority, but "prove all things and hold fast that which is good."
2. I observe, that its truth cannot be inferred from the nature of regeneration. It is true, as was said, and as will be farther shown, that perseverance is an attribute or characteristic of Christian character; but this does not necessarily result from the nature of regeneration, but from the indwelling Spirit of Christ. It has been common for that class of writers and theologians, who hold what is called the Taste Scheme of regeneration, to infer the truth of this doctrine from the nature of the change that constitutes the new birth. In this they have been entirely consistent. If, as they suppose, regeneration consists in a change in the constitution of the mind, in the implanting or infusion of a new constitutional taste, relish, or appetite, if it consists in or implies a change back of all voluntary action, and such a change as to secure and necessitate a change of voluntary action; why, then it is consistent, to infer from such a change the perseverance of the saints, unless it can be made to appear that either God, or Satan, or voluntary sin, can change the nature back again. If, in regeneration, the nature is really changed, if there be some new appetite or taste implanted, some holy principle implanted or infused into the constitution, why, then it must follow, that they will persevere by a physical law of the new nature or constitution. I see not how, in this case, they could even be the subjects of temporary backsliding, unless the new appetite should temporarily fail, as does sometimes our appetite for food. But if this may be, yet if regeneration consists in or implies a new creation of something that is not voluntary, but involuntary, a creation of a new nature, instead of a new character, I admit, that perseverance might be reasonably inferred from the fact of such a change. But since I reject wholly this theory of regeneration, and maintain that it is wholly a voluntary change, I cannot consistently infer the final salvation of the saints from the nature of the change that occurs in regeneration. I have been struck with the inconsistency of those who hold the Taste Scheme of regeneration, and yet contend, not only for falling from a regenerate state, but also that the regenerate may and do fall into a state of entire depravity, every time they sin; that they fall from this state of physical or constitutional regeneration every time they commit sin, and must be regenerated or converted anew, or be lost. Now, this is not reconcileable with the idea of the physical regeneration.
3. Nor can we infer the perseverance of the saints, with any justice, from their being, at their conversion, brought into a state of justification.
By perseverance some seem to mean, not that the saints do persevere or continue in obedience, but that they will be saved at any rate, whether they persevere in obedience or not. It was against this idea that such men as the Wesleys, and Fletcher, and their coadjutors fought so valiantly. They resisted justly and successfully the doctrine of perpetual justification, upon condition of one act of faith, and maintained that the saints as well as sinners are condemned whenever they sin. They also contended, that there is no kind of certainty that all true saints will be saved. Since I have endeavoured to refute the doctrine of a perpetual justification, conditioned upon the first act of faith, I cannot of course infer the final salvation of the saints from the nature of justification. Those who hold, that the first act of faith introduces the soul into a new relation of such a nature that, from thenceforth, it is not condemned by the law, do what it will, may justly infer from the nature of such a justification, that all who ever exercise faith will escape the penalty of the Divine law. But we have seen, that this is not the nature of gospel justification, and therefore we must not infer that all saints will be saved, from the mere fact that they have once believed and been justified.
But the following considerations, taken together, seem to me to establish the truth of the doctrine in question beyond reasonable doubt.
(1.) God has from eternity resolved upon the salvation of all the elect. This we have seen. No one of this number will ever be lost. These are given to Christ from eternity as a seed to serve him. The conversion, perseverance, and final salvation of the elect, we have seen to be secured. Their conversion, perseverance, and salvation, are secured by means of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, prevailing through the gospel, so to influence their free-will as to bring about this result. The instructions, promises, threatenings, warnings, expostulations of the Bible, with all the influences with which they are surrounded, are the instrumentalities by means of which the Holy Spirit converts, sanctifies, and saves them. At every step, as Fletcher acknowledges, "grace is beforehand with free-will." God first comes to, and moves upon, the sinner; but the sinner does not come to and move, or attempt to move God. God first draws, and the sinner yields. God calls, and the sinner answers. The sinner would never approach God, did not God draw him.
Again: God calls effectually, but not irresistibly, before the sinner yields. He does not yield and answer to a slight call. Some indeed wait to be drawn harder, and to be called louder and longer than others; but no one, in fact, comes to God until effectually persuaded to do so; that is, until he is effectually hunted from his refuges of lies, and drawn with so great and powerful a drawing, as not to force, but to overcome, his reluctance or voluntary selfishness, and as to induce him to turn to God and to believe in Christ. That the sinner is wholly disinclined to obey, up to the very moment in which he is persuaded and induced to yield, there can be no doubt. His turning, as we have seen, is an act of his own, but he is induced to turn by the drawings of the Holy Spirit.
Every person who was ever truly converted knows, that his conversion is not to be ascribed to himself, in any other sense, than that he finally consented, being drawn and persuaded by the Holy Spirit. The glory belongs to God, for the sinner only yielded after, perhaps, protracted resistance, and never until after he was so convinced as to have no further excuse or apology for sin, nor until the Spirit, by means of truth, and argument, and persuasion, fairly overcame him, and constrained, not forced him to submit. This is a brief statement of the facts connected with the conversion of every soul that was ever converted to God. This is true of the conversion of all the elect of God; and if others besides the elect are ever converted, this is a true account of their conversion.
Again: the same is true of their perseverance in holiness, in every instance, and in every act. The saints persevere, not by virtue of a constitutional change, but alone by virtue, or as a result of the abiding and indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit. "Free grace is always beforehand with free-will;" that is, the will never obeys, in any instance, nor for one moment, except as it is persuaded to do so as really as at the first. The work begun by the Holy Spirit is not carried on, except as the same Spirit continues to work in the saints to will and to do of his good pleasure. Saints do not begin in the Spirit, and then become perfect through or by the flesh. There is no holy exercise that is not as really to be ascribed to the grace and to the influence of the Holy Spirit, as is conversion itself.
The saints convert not themselves, in the sense that they turn or yield when drawn, until persuaded by the Holy Spirit. God converts them in the sense, that he effectually draws or persuades them. They turn themselves, in the sense that their turning is their own act. God turns them, in the sense that he induces or produces their turning. The same is true of their whole course of obedience in this life. The saints keep themselves, in the sense, that all obedience is their own; all their piety consists in their own voluntary obedience; but God keeps them, in the sense, that in every instance, and at every moment of obedience, he persuades, and enlightens, and draws them, insomuch, that he secures their voluntary obedience; that is, he draws and they follow. He persuades, and they yield to his persuasions. He works in them to will and to do, and they will and do. God always anticipates all their holy exercises, and persuades the saints to put them forth. This is so abundantly taught in the Bible, that to quote scripture to prove it would but waste your time. The saints are not only said to be converted, but also sanctified, and kept by the power of God.
No saint then keeps himself, except in so far as he is kept by the grace, and Spirit, and power of God. There is therefore no hope for any saint, and no reason to calculate upon the salvation of any one, unless God prevails to keep him from falling away and perishing. All who ever are saved, or ever will be, are saved by and through free grace, prevailing over free will, that is, by free grace securing the voluntary concurrence of free will. This God does, and is sure to do, with all the elect. It was upon condition of the foreseen fact, that God could by the wisest administration of his government, secure this result, that they were elected to eternal salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. Now observe how the elect are saved. All the threatenings, warnings, and teachings of the Bible are addressed to them, as to all others. If there are any saints, at any time, who are not of the elect, the Bible nowhere notices any such persons, or speaks of them, as any less or more secure than the elect.
Again: the Bible nowhere represents or implies, that any but the elect are converted. It does not represent any but the elect as at any time coming in heart to Christ--as at any time regenerated or born of God. The Bible nowhere acknowledges two classes of saints, elect and non-elect. But, if there were two such classes, and the salvation of the elect was certain, as it really is, and that of the non-elect not certain, it is incredible that the Bible should not reveal this fact. Again: so far is the Bible from recognizing or implying any such distinction, that it everywhere implies the contrary. It divides mankind into two, and but two classes, and these it sets one over against the other. These are contrasted by the names, saint and sinner; people of God, and people of this world; children of God, and children of this world, or children of the devil; the elect and the reprobate, that is, the chosen and the rejected; the sanctified and the unsanctified; the regenerated and the unregenerated; the penitent and the impenitent. By whatever names they are called, it is manifest that the same classes and none others are meant. The elect of God is a common name for the saints or people of God. I cannot find in the Bible any evidence, that any were converted at any time, but the elect, or those whose salvation is sure. The elect are, or will be, every one of them certainly converted and saved. If any one chooses to contend, that any other are ever converted, the burden of proof is upon him; let him prove it, if he can. But this he must prove, in order to establish the fact, that any truly regenerated persons are ever lost, for sure it is, that no one of the elect will ever be lost. But, since I am to take the affirmative, I must take the burden of showing, that none but the elect are recognized in the scriptures as saints; and as I am speaking only of the salvation of the saints, I shall take it for granted, that all those who were from eternity chosen to eternal salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, will certainly be saved.
Now, if it can be shown, that some saints have been really lost, it will follow, that some have been converted who were not of the elect. And, on the other hand, if it can be shown that no saint has been, or will be, finally lost; but, on the contrary, that all the true saints are, and will be saved, it will follow that none but the elect are converted. For all who are, or will be saved, are saved by God, and saved by design, and in accordance with an eternal design, and of course they were elected to salvation from eternity.
I have already said, that it is incredible that the Bible should read as it does, and that it should nowhere distinguish between elect and non-elect saints, if there is any such distinction. It cannot be said with justice, that the Bible purposely conceals from all saints the fact of their election, lest it should be a stumbling-block to them. This we have seen is not the fact, but on the contrary, that the elect, at least in some instances, have known that they were elect.
But it is said, that Peter exhorts the saints to "give all diligence to make their calling and election sure;" from which it is inferred, that they did not know that they were elect; and furthermore, that it might be that, although they were real saints, nevertheless they were not, at least all of them, of the elect. The words here referred to stand in the following connexion:--
2 Pet. i. 1: "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us, through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: 2. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord; 3. According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; 6. And to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; 7. And to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. 8. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 10. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." Upon this passage, I remark,--
(i.) That Peter addressed this epistle to all who had faith, that is, to all true Christians, as appears from the first verse. He addressed no one by name, but left it for every one to be sure that he had faith. He then proceeds to exhort them to grow in grace, assuring them that, if any one did not do so, he had forgotten that he was purged from his former sins; that is, if any one lacked that which he enjoined, it would prove that he had not true faith, or that he had backslidden. Then he adds, as in the 10th verse: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." Here I remark:
(ii.) That the apostle plainly assumes:
(a.) That the called and elected will be saved; to make their calling and election sure, was to make their salvation sure: and,
(b.) That none others are saved but the called and elected, for if others are saved, it were of no consequence whether they were of the called and elected or not, provided they were saved;
(c.) That he regarded none as Christians, or as at any time having true faith, but the called and elected; for he was not exhorting supposed impenitent sinners to become Christians, but supposed Christians to be sure of their calling and election. This shows that he regarded all Christians as of the called and elected. To be sure of their calling and election was to be sure of their salvation. The apostle did not certainly mean to exhort them to become of the number of the elect, for this number we have seen was settled from eternity; but by diligence and growth in grace to secure their salvation, or thus to prove or demonstrate their calling and election. He meant also to admonish them that, although called and elected, still their ultimate salvation was conditionated upon their diligent growth in grace, and perseverance in holiness to the end of life. He therefore exhorts them to make their calling and election sure, which is the same as to secure their salvation. He speaks of calling and election as indissolubly connected. Effectual calling either results from election, or election from calling. We have seen that election is eternal; therefore, election cannot result from calling, but calling must result from election.
Again: Christians and saints, and the children and people of God, the disciples of Christ, and the elect, are to all appearance regarded throughout the Bible as the same class.
Again: Christ says, John vi. 37: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."
Here Jesus says, that all who are given to him by the Father shall come to him, and that of those that come to him, it is his Father's will that he should lose none, but that he should raise them up, (that is, to eternal life,) at the last day. He does not say here, that none do come to him who are not given to him by the Father, but this is plainly implied, for he says, 37th. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." What he means by not casting them out, is plain from verse 39. That is, "It is the Father's will that of all that shall come to me I should lose nothing." By not casting them out, then, he intended that he should surely save them, that is, all that came to him. But if he saves them, they must have been given to Christ and have been elected, or they were not. If they were not elected, or given to Christ by the Father, they will never be saved, unless some are saved without God's designing or choosing to save them. If any are saved, God saves them, through or by Christ. If he saves them, he does it designedly, and not without design. But if he ever does, or will design it, he has from eternity designed it. So then, it appears, that all who come to Christ were given to him of the Father; and that he will lose none of them, but will raise them up at the last day. My object at present, however, is not to insist that no one that comes to Christ will be lost, but only that all who come to Christ are of the number that were given to him of the Father, or are of the elect.
Again: compare verses 37, 39, 44, 45. He says: John vi. 37: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 44. No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45. It is written in the Prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me."
Here it appears that no one can come to Christ except he be drawn of the Father. Every one who is drawn by the Father with an effectual drawing, or every one who hears and learns of the Father comes to Christ, and no other. The Father draws none to Christ, but those whom he has given to Christ; for these, and these only, are the children of God. Isa. liv. 13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." From these passages it appears that none come to Christ but those who are drawn by the Father, and that none are drawn by the Father but those whom he has given to his Son, or the elect; and that of those who are thus drawn to Christ, it is the Father's will that he should lose none, but that he should raise them up at the last day; that is, that he should save them. But observe, it is my particular object just now to establish the fact, that none come to Christ but those who are of the number that are given to Christ, and also that every one who is given to him shall come to him. These, and these only, are effectually called or drawn of the Father. All are called in the sense of being earnestly and honestly invited, and all the divine persuasion addressed to them that can wisely be addressed to them. But others, besides those given to the Son, are not, as a matter of fact, persuaded and effectually drawn, in a sense that secures the "concurrence of free will with free grace."
The same truth is strongly implied in many other passages in the teachings of Christ. For example, He says--
John x. 1: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheep-fold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them."
He then proceeds to expound the parable. He is the good shepherd having the care of his Father's sheep. He says:
7. "Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13. The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again."
He had other sheep which were not yet called--they were not of this fold--that is, they were not Jews, but Gentiles; these he must bring. To the unbelieving and cavilling Jews he said:
John x. 26: "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. 29. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."
Here it is plainly implied, that all those were sheep who were given to him by the Father, and that all such would surely hear and know his voice and follow him, but those that were not of his sheep, or were not given him by the Father, would not believe. He says, verse 26: "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you." What he here says amounts to this: all those are sheep who are given to me of my Father. All my sheep thus given, shall and will hear my voice, and follow me, and none others will. I do not notice in this place what he says of the certainty of their salvation, because my present object is only to show that those and those only come to Christ who are given to him of the Father, or are of the elect.
This same truth is either expressly taught, or strongly implied in a great many passages, and indeed it seems to me to be the doctrine of the whole Bible. Again, Rom. viii. 28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Here they that love God are represented as identical with those "who are the called according to his purpose." In other words, they who love God are the called according to, or in consequence of their election. All that love God, do so because they have been effectually called, according to the purpose or election of God. This passage seems to settle the question, especially when viewed in its connexion, that all who ever love God are of the elect, and that they are prevailed upon to love God in conformity with their election.
We shall have occasion by and by to examine the connexion in which this passage is found, for the purpose of showing that all who at any time truly come to love God, will be saved. I have only quoted this twenty-eighth verse here for the purpose of showing, not directly, that all that love God at any time will be saved, but that they are of the number of the elect, from which fact their ultimate salvation must be inferred.
It is plain that the apostles regarded regeneration as conclusive evidence of election. The manner in which they address Christians seems to me to put this beyond a doubt. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, 2 Thes. ii. 13, says, "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth." Here the apostle speaks of all the brethren at Thessalonica as beloved of the Lord, and as being from eternity chosen to salvation. He felt called upon to give thanks to God for this reason, that God had chosen them to salvation from eternity. This he represents as true of the whole church: that is, doubtless, of all true Christians in the church. Indeed, the apostles everywhere speak as if they regarded all true saints as of the elect, and their saintship as evidence of their election. Peter, in writing to the Christians in his first letter, says:
1 Pet. i. 1: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5. Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time: 6. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; 7. That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than that of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8. Whom having not seen ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory: 9. Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
Here it is plain that Peter regarded all who had been born again to a lively hope, or who were regenerated as elected, or as chosen to salvation. I might pursue this argument to an indefinite length, but I must attend to other considerations in support of the doctrine in question.
I will for the present close what I have to say under this particular branch of the argument, by reminding you that Christ has expressly asserted that no man can or does come to him except the Father draw him, and that the Father draws to him those--and by fair inference those only--whom he has given to Christ; and further, that it is the Father's will, that of those whom the Father had given to Christ, and drawn to him, Christ should lose none, but should raise them up at the last day. It is, I think, evident, that when Christ asserts it to be his Father's will, that of those whom the Father had given him he should lose none, but should raise them up at the last day, he intended to say, that his Father not merely desired and willed this, but that such was his design. That the Father designed to secure their salvation.
This we shall more fully see in its proper place.