Redes Sociais

Charles G. Finney
(29/08/1792 - 16/8/1875)

Charles Finney's

Lectures On Theology

Volume 1, c. 1860?

From a previously unpublished manuscript

The Source of this Series of Lectures on Theology:

The following "Lectures on Theology" were taken from handwritten teaching notes by Charles G. Finney. The notes were copied and typed by Gordon Olson while visiting Oberlin College in 1953. According to Mr. Olson they were found in the fourth floor historical locked section without a file number under teaching notes.

Concerning these lectures Mr. Olson wrote:

". . . I also found an Introductory Course, Lectures I to XII, 266 pages, handwritten, which I estimated from references made to be about 1860. Its content suggests what Finney intended to be part of Volume I of his projected four volume series on Systematic Theology, only II and III of which were published[1846 and 1847 respectively] and were reprinted somewhat revised in a single London volume in 1851 and abridged in 1876[1878] for the common U.S. printing."


The following material is taken from Mr. Olson's copies of Finney's manuscript. We are all indebted to Mr. Olson's tenacity and diligence to make these lectures available to us today.--Ed.




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.



Before entering upon the question of the divine existence, I must remark: First, upon the importance of a correct and thorough knowledge of the laws of evidence; secondly, I must show what is evidence, and what is proof, and the difference between them; thirdly, I must inquire into the sources of evidence in a course of theological study; fourthly, must notice the kinds and degrees of evidence to be expected; fifthly, show when objections are not and when they are fatal; sixthly, how objections are to be disposed of; seventhly, on whom lies the burden of proof; and lastly; where proof or argument must begin.


1. Without a correct knowledge of this subject our speculations will be at random.

2. The ridiculous credulity of some, and the no less ridiculous incredulity of others, are owing to the ignorance or disregard of the fundamental laws of evidence. Examples: Mormonism is ridiculous credulity, founded in utter ignorance, or a disregard of the first principles of evidence in relation to the kind and degree of testimony demanded to establish anything that claims to be a revelation from God. On the other hand, every form of religious skepticism is ridiculous incredulity, founded in ignorance or the disregard of the fundamental laws of evidence, as carefully shown.


1. Evidence is that which elucidates and enables the mind to apprehend truth.

2. Proof is that degree of evidence that warrants or demands belief, that does or ought to produce conviction.

3. Every degree of evidence is not proof. Every degree of light upon a subject is evidence; but that only is proof which under the circumstances can give reasonable satisfaction, while it supplies the condition of rational conviction.


This must depend upon the nature of the thing to be proved.

1. Consciousness may be appealed to upon questions that are within its reach, but not on other questions.

2. Sense may be appealed to on questions within the reach of sense, but not on others.

3. The existence of God may be proved, not by an appeal to the Bible as his Word, for this would be to assume his existence and his veracity, which were absurd. The existence of God must therefore be proved either a priori, by our irresistible convictions antecedently to all reasoning; or a posteriori, as an inference from his works; or in both ways.

4. The divine authority of the Bible, or of any book or thing that claims to be a revelation from God, demands some kind of evidence that none but God can give. Miracles are one of the most natural and impressive kinds; prophecy is another; the nature of the proffered revelation, its adaptedness to our nature and wants is another. These are only noticed here as kinds of evidence essential to the proof of such a question.

5. Appeals may be made to any historical fact, or thing external; or to anything internal, that is, in the Bible itself that might be reasonably expected if the revelation in question were really from God.

6. In theological inquiries, as the universe is a revelation of God, we may legitimately wander into every department of nature, science, and grace for testimony upon theological subjects.

7. The different questions must however draw their evidence from different departments of revelation: Some from the irresistible convictions of our own minds; some from his works without us; some from his providence; others from his Word; and still others from all these together.


1. In relations to kinds of evidence, I observe, no impossible or unreasonable kind is to be expected. For example, the evidence of sense is not to be demanded or expected, when the thing to be proved is not an object, or within the reach of sense. The existence of God, for example, is not given by sense, for the sense gives only the material and not the spiritual. It is absurd, therefore, for skeptics to demand the evidence of sense that God exists.

2. It is a sound rule, that the best evidence, in kind, shall be adduced that the nature of the case admits. For instance, oral testimony is not admissible where written testimony may be had to the same point. Of course, oral traditions are not to be received, where there is written history to the same point; but oral testimony is admissible in the absence of written, as then it is the best that the nature of the case admits.

3. So oral traditions may be received to establish points of antiquity in the absence of contemporary history.

4. Any book claiming to be a revelation from God, should in some way, bear his own seal, as a kind of evidence possible and demanded by the nature of the subject. The claim should be supported by evidence external and internal that make out a proof, or fulfills the conditions of rational conviction.

5. As to degree, evidence to be proof need not always amount to a demonstration, as this would be inconsistent with the nature of the case, and with a state of probation under a moral government.

6. We are not in general to expect such a degree of evidence as to preclude the possibility of cavil or evasion, and for the same reasons. On some questions we may reasonably expect to find evidence of an irresistible character; but in general it is important for us to remember that on all the important subjects of life we frequently find ourselves under the necessity of being governed simply by a preponderance of evidence -- that we are in fact shut up to this often in questions of life and death. Now what we find to be true as a matter of fact in our daily experience, we should remember may reasonably be expected on questions of theology. We shall find evidence on all practical and important subjects that ought to produce conviction, that will satisfy an upright mind; but yet on many subjects not enough to preclude all cavil or evasion. On subjects of fundamental importance, we may expect to find evidence both in kind and degree that shall put those questions beyond all reasonable doubt.

7. In regard to the divine existence, it is reasonable to expect such evidence in both kind and degree as shall gain the general assent of mankind to the fact that God exists. Such evidence certainly does exist, and this conviction has been the conviction of the race.

8. We may expect that the evidence will be more or less latent, patent, direct, inferential, incidental, full, and unanswerable, according to its relative importance in the system of divine truth.


1. They are not fatal when they are not well-established by proof.

2. When the truth of the objection may consist with the truth of the proposition, that it is intended to overthrow.

3. When the truth of the affirmative proposition is conclusively established by testimony, although we may be unable to discover the consistency of the proposition with the objection. Therefore,

4. An objection is not always fatal because it is unanswerable. We may not be able to answer an objection, and yet we may have positive proof that that is true against which the objection is raised. In this case the objection is not fatal.

5. An objection is fatal, when it is an unquestionable reality, and plainly incompatible with the truth of the proposition against which it lies.

6. It is fatal when the higher probability is in its favor. That is, it is fatal in the sense that it changes the burden of proof. When the higher probability is in favor of the objection, the burden of proof then falls upon the one who would sustain the proposition against which the objection lies. If he establishes the higher probability the onus is again changed, and the judgment ought always to decide in favor of the higher probability.

7. An objection is fatal when it is established by a higher kind or degree of evidence than the proposition to which it is opposed. For example, consciousness, sense, and reason present the highest kinds and degree of testimony. An objection fairly founded in and supported by an intuition of sense, consciousness, or reason, will set aside other testimony, because, as we have seen, knowledge thus obtained is intuitive, and more certain in its nature than that received from testimony of any other kind.

8. An objection is always fatal when it proves that the proposition against which it lies involves a palpable absurdity or contradiction.


1. This depends upon their nature. If mere cavils without reason or proof, they are not properly objections, and may remain unnoticed.

2. So if they appear reasonable if they were proved, and yet are without sufficient proof, we are not gratuitously to take the burden of proof.

3. We are not bound to explain how the objection is consistent with the proposition against which it is alleged, but simply that if a fact, it may be consistent with it.

4. No objection is competent to set aside first truths, such as that a whole is equal to all its parts, that time and space exist, that every effect must have a cause, that a moral agent must be a free, self-active agent, etc. These are truths of irresistible and universal knowledge, and no testimony whatever is to be received as invalidating them.

5. No objection can set aside the direct testimony of consciousness, nor of sense or reason, where this testimony is unequivocally given.

6. Nor can any testimony set aside the unambiguous testimony of God. It is a first truth of reason that God is veracious; nobody can believe that he will lie. We necessarily assume his moral perfection; hence the testimony of God when rightly interpreted is conclusive upon any subject, and no human being can doubt this.

There is always a fallacy in whatever is inconsistent with first or self-evident truths, the affirmation of the pure reason, the intuitions of sense or consciousness, or with the testimony of God. Certain truths we are under necessity of receiving as valid by the laws of our own intelligence. Whatever objection is made to these must involve a fallacy, and cannot be received as valid.


1. Always on him who takes the affirmative, unless the thing affirmed is sufficiently manifest without proof.

2. The burden of proof lies with the affirmative until the evidence fairly amounts to proof in the sense of demanding belief in the absence of opposing testimony.

3. When the affirmative evidence amounts to proof in this sense, the onus is upon him who takes the negative. His business in not to prove a negative, but to counteract the proof upon the positive side of the question, to render it null, or to present so much opposing proof as will annihilate the ground of rational conviction.

4. Every kind and degree of evidence that may as well consist with the negative as with the affirmative to be proved, leaves the onus unchanged.

5. When the evidence, or argument, or an objection proves too much, as well as when it proves too little, it leaves the onus unchanged.

6. If an objection needs proof, the onus lies upon the objector.


1. Proof or argument must commence where uncertainty commences; or rather where the conditions of rational belief are wanting.

2. All argument and proof take for granted such truths as need no proof, but are either axioms, self-evident truths, or such as are either admitted, or are sufficiently apparent. (Roman numerals and some headings added, some numbers changed on both sections, Lecture VI divided -- Gordon Olson).


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