But one article stands out in its importance today: David H. Linden, "Charles Finney’s Doctrine of Justification." This article is essential reading for anyone involved in contemporary evangelicalism. Here is Liden's accurate and candid conclusion:
Charles Finney was passionate in his disagreement with the learning and heritage of the reformers. He dismissed their return to Scripture and Christ-centered grace. In its place he urged the vagaries of his own thought, thinking heavily colored by Enlightenment views of human reason. Holy things such as the very thought that Another could represent us, obey for us, and die for us, were all treated with arrogant disdain. The promise of the gospel was replaced with the pretense of our righteousness, a burden unbearable to every sinner. To this evil he then added an explanation of the cross as something without power to remove sin, bring us to God or remove our guilt. Finney exclaimed that nothing at all in the mediatorial work of Christ, procures our standing with God. The proper response to such a gospel from "America’s Greatest Revivalist" is rejection of his error and disgust for profaning the work of our Lord.
Yet the virus of Finney is still present in the evangelical bloodstream. It shows up whenever God’s love is presented detached from the violence of the wrath of God’s fury against our sin on the cross, where God smote the Holy One Who became sin for us. The cross is the gospel. God’s love is never at variance with His loving His own grace and justice. Gracious love and retributive justice are not at odds with each other. One is the well spring of the other because God expressed love by providing the atonement. Whenever one is detached from the other, a Finney-like reduction of the gospel is with us still. The cross is rooted in God’s love and is God’s declared means of saving, yet Finney insisted the ground of justification is love and not the cross alone. What God has channeled through the cross, Finney detours around it, bringing the love of God to wicked sinners with sin yet unatoned for, never realizing that a crossless contact with God would incinerate us for our sin. We need our Mediator. God can be approached in no other way, nor does He approach us in any other way.
Finney’s intuition did not reveal the gospel to him, so he concocted a non-atoning atonement. A failure to proclaim the cross in its necessity, centrality and effectiveness as the climax of our Savior’s lifelong obedience, is to give up the real ground of our justification. In Christ’s obedience we rest from our worries and our works. Only one clean law-keeping life has occurred in the filth of human history. That righteousness of His is there in the gospel for all who will in faith embrace it. At Calvary, the only hell on earth to precede the Judgment Day has already happened. That too will replace all the hells of all who believe God’s promise. But poor Charles Finney denied both the doing and the dying of Christ. He led people away from Christ, and led sinners to, of all things, themselves! Our great high priest learned obedience in His days on earth and in His sacrifice met the law’s penalties. Yet Finney told people to bring to God their own obedience and held out forgiveness with sin not paid for. It is difficult to imagine a more through denial of justification by faith alone by anyone purported to be an evangelist.
He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In our tolerant age of discomfort with God’s doctrines coupled with our principle of avoiding almost all disagreement, Finney’s denials are allowed to sit unnoticed in our evangelical Hall of Fame. The laudatory language should stop. The gospel treasure he denied should be mined in God’s Word again with due diligence, articulate definition, and joyful proclamation. In all this, Finney is no role model for us. We should admit at last that Charles Grandison Finney was a false prophet, an evangelist who did not believe nor preach the gospel.