Finney & Activist Christian Citizens

In an article I wrote about Charles Finney’s view of Christian involvement in civil government, I drew from his Systematic Theology to show his bedrock beliefs about the linkage between God and civil government, and how such government is absolutely part of God’s plan. Finney didn’t even see government as a necessity only because of man’s sinfulness. He believed some type of government would be essential even if men were not sinners:

If all men were perfectly holy and disposed to do right, the necessity for human governments would not be set aside, because this necessity is founded in the ignorance of mankind, though greatly aggravated by their wickedness. The decisions of legislators and judges must be authoritative, so as to settle questions of disagreement in opinion, and at once to bind and protect all parties.

Ignorance is not the same as sin, Finney asserts. A man may not know what to do, but that, in itself, does not mean he is sinning. Laws describing proper action, therefore, are needed even in a hypothetically perfect society.

He goes on to note that human governments receive their authority from God. What, then, is the Christian’s obligation toward government?

Cross & FlagAs the great law of benevolence, or universal good willing, demands the existence of human governments, all men are under a perpetual and unalterable moral obligation to aid in their establishment and support. In popular or elective governments, every man having a right to vote, every human being who has moral influence, is bound to exert that influence in the promotion of virtue and happiness. And as human governments are plainly indispensable to the highest good of man, they are bound to exert their influence to secure a legislation that is in accordance with the law of God. The obligation of human beings to support and obey human governments, while they legislate upon the principles of the moral law, is as unalterable as the moral law itself.

Some very vital components of Finney’s philosophy of government are contained in this one short paragraph. First, he concludes that because God establishes human governments, men should support them. Second, he points to representative governments, and states that men who have a vote are required to use it for “the promotion of virtue and happiness.” Third, he goes one step further and calls upon men to enact specific laws in accord with God’s eternal moral laws.

All legislation should be based upon “the principles of the moral law,” and men have an obligation to pursue such laws. Clearly, Finney is championing an activist Christian citizenry.