"The Oberlin Evangelist"
Publication of Oberlin College

Sermons and Lectures given in 1855
by
Charles G. Finney
President of Oberlin College

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
 

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Lecture I. On Prayer

Lecture II. On Persevering Prayer for Others

Lecture III. On Being Almost Persuaded to be a Christian

Lecture IV. On Neglecting Salvation

Lecture V. On Prayer for The Holy Spirit

Lecture VI. Conscience and The Bible in Harmony

Lecture VII. God Has No Pleasure In The Sinner's Death

Lecture VIII. On Being Searched of God

Lecture IX. On Injustice To Character

Lecture X. God's Goodness Toward Men Basely Requited

Lecture XI. Losing First Love

Lecture XII. Men, Ignorant of God's Righteousness, Would Fain Establish Their Own

Lecture XIII. Adorning the Doctrine of God Our Savior

GLOSSARY
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
 
 
 


On Prayer
Lecture I
January 3, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Luke 18:1: "He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint."

In discussing the subject of prayer, presented in our text, I propose to inquire,

I. Why men should pray at all;

II. Why men should pray always and not faint;

III. Why they do not pray always;--with remarks.


I. Why men should pray at all.

Now, his hearing and answering prayer, imply no change of character--no change in his principles of action. Indeed, if you ask why he ever answers prayer at all, the answer must be, because he is unchangeable. Prayer brings the suppliant into new relations to God's kingdom; and to meet these new relations, God's unchangeable principles require him to change the course of his administration. He answers prayer because he is unchangeably benevolent. It is not because his benevolence changes, but because it does not change, that he answers prayer. Who can suppose that God's answering prayer implies any change in his moral character? For example, if a man, in prayer, repents, God forgives; if he does not repent of present sin, God does not forgive;--and who does not see that God's immutability must require this course at his hands? Suppose God did not change his conduct when men change their character and their attitude towards him. This would imply fickleness--an utter absence of fixed principles. His unchangeable goodness must therefore imply that when his creatures change morally, he changes his course and conforms to their new position. Any other view of the case is simply absurd, and only the result of ignorance. Strange that men should hold it to be inconsistent for God to change and give rain in answer to prayer, or give any needed spiritual blessings to those who ask them!
In regard to saints on earth, how can God do them any good unless he can draw them to himself in prayer and praise? This is one of the most evident necessities that can be named. Men irresistibly feel the propriety of confession and supplication, in order to achieve forgiveness. This feeling lies among the primitive affirmations of the mind. Men know that if they would be healed of sin they must seek and find God.
II. But why pray so much and so often? Why the exhortation to pray always and not to faint?

The case presented in the context is very strong. Whether it be history or supposition does not affect the merits of the case as given us to illustrate importunity in prayer. The poor widow persevered. She kept coming and would not be discouraged. By dint of perseverance simply, she succeeded. The judge who cared not for God or man, did care somewhat for his own comfort and quiet, and therefore thought it wise to listen to her story and grant her request. Upon this case our Lord seized to enforce and encourage importunity in prayer. Hear his argument. "Shall not God,"--who is by no means unjust, but whose compassions are a great deep--"shall not such a God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he seem to bear long" in delaying to answer their prayers? "I tell you he will avenge them speedily."

III. Our third general inquiry is, Why do not men pray always? Many reasons exist.
On one occasion, when it had been very wet and came off suddenly very dry, the question arose--How can you vindicate the providence of God? At first the question stung me; I stopped, considered it a few moments, and then asked, What can his object be in giving us weather at all? Why does he send, or not send, rain? If the object be to raise as many potatoes as possible, this is not the wisest course. But if the object be to make us feel our dependence, this is the wisest course possible. What if God were to raise harvests enough in one year to supply us for the next ten? We might all become atheists. We should be very likely to think we could live without God. But now every day and every year he shuts us up to depend on himself. Who does not see that a moral government, ordered on any other system, would work ruin?
Again, in the case of some, their own experience discourages them. They have often prayed, yet with little success. This brings them into a skeptical attitude in regard to prayer. Very likely the real reason of their failure has been the lack of perseverance. They have not obeyed this precept which urges that men pray always, and never faint.
REMARKS.

1. It is no loss of time to pray. Many think it chiefly or wholly lost time. They are so full of business, they say, and assume that prayer will spoil their business. I tell you, that your business, if it be of such sort as ought to be done at all, will go all the better for much prayer. Rise from your bed a little earlier, and pray. Get time somehow--by almost any imaginable sacrifice, sooner than forego prayer. Are you studying? It is no loss of time to pray, as I know very well by my own experience. If I am to preach, with only two hours for preparation, I give one hour to prayer. If I were to study anything--let it be Virgil or Geometry, I would by all means pray first. Prayer enlarges and illumines the mind. It is like coming into the presence of a master spirit. You know how sometimes this electrifies the mind, and fires it with boundless enthusiasm. So, and much the more, does real access to God.

Let a physician pray a great deal; he needs counsel from God. Let the mechanic and the merchant pray much; they will testify, after trial of it, that God gives them counsel, and that, consequently, they lose nothing and gain much by constant prayer.

2. None but an eminently praying man is a safe religious teacher. However scientific and literary, if he be not a praying man, he cannot be trusted.

A spirit of prayer is of much greater value than human learning without it. If I were to choose, I would prefer intercourse with God in prayer before the intellect of Gabriel. I do not say this to disparage the value of learning and knowledge, for when great talents and learning are sanctified with much prayer, the result is a mind of mighty power.

Those who do not pray cannot understand the facts in regard to answers to prayer. How can they know? Those things seem to them utterly incredible. They have had no such experience. In fact all their experience goes in the opposite direction. State a case to them; they look incredulous. Perhaps they will say--You seem to think you can prophesy and foreknow events! Let them be answered, that "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." Those who keep up a living intercourse with God know many things they do not tell, and had better not tell. When I was a young convert, I knew an aged lady whose piety and prayer seemed to me quite extraordinary. You could not feel like talking much in her presence; there was something in it that struck you as remarkable. The subject of sanctification came into discussion, and meeting me on one occasion, she said--"Charles, take care what you do! Don't do things to be sorry for afterwards." A son of hers became a Christian and was astonished at the manifestations of his mother's piety. She had prayed for him long and most earnestly. When, at length, his eyes were opened, she began to say--"I did not tell anybody my experiences, but in fact I have known nothing about condemnation for thirty years past. In all this time I am not aware that I have committed a known sin. My soul has enjoyed uninterrupted communion with God, and constant access to his mercy-seat in prayer."

3. Prayer is the great secret of ministerial success. Some think this secret lies in talent or in tact; but it is not so. A man may know all human knowledge, yet, without prayer, what can he do? He cannot move and control men's hearts. He can do nothing to purpose unless he lives in sympathy and open-faced communion with God. Only so can he be mighty through God to win souls to Christ. Here let me not be understood to depreciate learning and the knowledge of God. By no means. But prayer and its power are much greater and more effective. Herein lies the great mistake of Theological Seminaries and of gospel ministers. They lay excessive stress on learning, and genius, and talents; they fail to appreciate duly the paramount importance of much prayer. How much better for them to lay the principal stress on bathing the soul in God's presence! Let them rely first of all on God, who worketh mightily in his praying servants through his Spirit given them; and mediately, let them estimate above all other means, prayer--prayer that is abundant, devout, earnest, and full of living faith. Such a course would be an effectual correction of one of the most prevalent and perilous mistakes of the age.




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On Persevering Prayer for Others
Lecture II
January 17, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Luke 11:5-8: "And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves: for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth."

I. Prayer offered for others, and the encouragement we have for such prayer;

II. Why should we pray for others?

III. Perseverance in prayer.

IV. But why do not men pray more for others?


I. I propose, in speaking from this passage, to treat the prayer offered for others, and the encouragement we have for such prayer.

But some of you perhaps did not fully understand me when I said in my last sermon that prayer did not change God's nature and purposes. Some men say--"Prayer must change God's plans if he answers it." No, never. It has always been God's plan to hear and answer prayer. This has always entered into his purposes.

Again, God's immutability implies that he will answer prayer. It would be strange indeed if God should not change his course in answer to prayer, if he be indeed immutable. If he were not to change for right prayer, it would prove him to be not good--it would imply that he had ceased to be benevolent; indeed, it would undeify him at once. When you come to resolve this idea into its elements, you will see that it subverts the whole idea of God and of his attributes. It must imply that God's creatures might come into any position before him, and he can never answer their prayers.

But many say--I can see how prayer may benefit myself, but cannot see how it can benefit others. I reply, the latter can easily be seen. No man can read the Bible without seeing that this is the fact--prayer does benefit others. No man can study his own convictions without seeing evidence of it. If prayer never could benefit others, the fact would belie all our innate convictions.

I have heard of another case, of a man in his sins, praying for a sick child. God heard, and wonderful to say, God answered, and the case made an impression on his mind which terminated in his speedy conversion.
II. Let us now ask--Why should we pray for others? Why has God so constituted us that we feel that we may and must pray for others? I answer,
Again, prayer for each other draws us into a deeper consideration of each other's wants. When you begin to pray for another, you are compelled to study his character, his temptations, his wants. This opens the way for a richer heart-union.

Again, prayer for others draws us into sympathy with God's love, and with his feelings towards his people. We may blame them more, or may pity them more; or it may be that we shall simply love them more;--but, however this may be, we shall be more likely to have the same mind towards them that God has.

Again, it is intrinsically fit and proper that God should manifest his pleasure in every case of disinterested importunity for the souls of others. The case may be that of a stranger to you, yet your heart becomes deeply engaged and your very soul takes hold of the case; God sees it with delight. What do you want, my child, says he. I want this soul should be converted, you reply. Is there not some propriety in God's being pleased with this prayer? God looks on this suppliant, saying--"You come not to plead for yourself, not for life, not for any temporal good; but for your enemy. You come to pray for your enemy and you want I should convert his soul. I will do it." Indeed, I suppose that, other things being equal, a sincere prayer offered for any enemy is more sure to be granted than any other prayer. But whether offered for an enemy, or for a friend, it is impossible that God should not be greatly influenced by self-sacrificing, really benevolent prayer. He must be if he loves real benevolence, and seeks to promote it among his creatures.

Again, prayer for others needs this encouragement. If we were to pray earnestly for others and God did not regard it, we should lose confidence in prayer, not to say also in God himself.

III. I come next to speak of the importance of perseverance in prayer.
The case of Jacob struggling with the angel of the covenant, is in point here. It was only after he had safely passed the crisis, and said, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me," that the Lord blessed him as he prayed.
IV. But why do not men pray more for others? REMARKS.

1. Brethren, what is your state of mind in regard to the various objects of prayer around you? How do you feel for the young people gathered here? Do you sympathize earnestly in prayer for the elder members of the church? What is your state of mind towards the impenitent? Are you praying in earnest for those who have long time remained impenitent among us? Do you feel deeply for the strangers who are coming among us? Will you allow me to ask you in all faithfulness, have you the spirit of prayer for others? As a preacher, I think I can tell when you pray by the light I experience in my own mind when I study my sermons, and by the effect my words produce on the minds of my hearers. Do you not know that when some are agonizing in prayer, some sinners are correspondingly struggling under conviction? Just in proportion to the amount and power of struggling prayer will be the struggles of those who are smitten with arrows of convicting truth.

2. Some of you who once prayed with earnestness and power, I fear have lost that spirit, or have let it sorely languish. Let me ask you all--Have you as much of the spirit of prayer as you once had? Do you feel bowed down with grief because God's work revives no more? Some of you can answer in the affirmative; but some of you cannot. Some of you must say in truth, there has been a great falling off in prayer, and in interest for souls. On one occasion, as I was preaching on this subject, a man who was represented to be one of the most pious men in the church rose and said, "I am the man--Mr. Finney, you need not say another word; I am the Achan in this camp of Israel; you need not look any further for the Achan--I am he." What he said seemed to have more effect than everything else in the meeting, and was the commencement of a glorious revival.

3. To the students present, let me say--Are you aware how much you can do by praying for each other? Are you in the habit of meeting in little circles for this purpose? Are some of your classmates in their sins, and can you let them live and die so? Are you not in fault for their impenitence? Have you set your heart so intensely upon the conversion of these souls that you cannot live unless they are converted?

4. And will you not all pray for your teachers and stay up their hands and make their hearts strong by your sympathies and your prayers in their behalf? Cry unto God for them that they may be made mighty through God for the converting and saving of precious souls. O, if all the church were filled with the spirit of prayer, what a rush we should see towards the kingdom of heaven, even this very night! What is your practice during our meetings of enquiry? Are you instant in prayer then? It always alarms me in a church to find that few or none enquire about the state of these meetings with anxious sinners. It shows that the hearts of the people are not there. Brethren, do you pray for those who have set their faces enduringly towards Zion?




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On Being Almost Persuaded to be a Christian
Lecture III
March 14, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Acts 26:28: "Agrippa said unto Paul -- almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."

Discussing the subject presented here, I shall,

I. Notice the fact that men are made Christians by persuasion.

II. Show what are not reasons why they are not altogether persuaded.

III. What are the reasons why they are only almost and not altogether persuaded.


I. Men are made Christians by persuasion.

II. It is next pertinent to inquire what are not the reasons why men fail of being persuaded to become Christians.

Ordinarily, it is not for want of intellectual conviction that they ought to become Christians. For the most part, in Christian lands, the gospel has been preached so fully and so truly that the general intelligence is enlightened, and all men know that they ought to put away sinning and embrace the salvation provided for them in the gospel. They fail to do this, not for want of sufficient reasons to carry conviction that they ought to. Especially, we may say, that almost everyone has light enough before his mind to carry conviction of this duty, if he were honest and would weigh this question seriously and with candor.

The real and exact difficulty is, they do not make up their mind to obey the decisions of conscience and their better judgment. They are not so persuaded as to determine to act now. For the most part they hope to become Christians at some time. As Agrippa, so they, do not yield to their convictions. Selfish considerations overrule their better judgment.

Here I may safely appeal to your own consciences. Let me come very near to you, even as if I were alone with you and were to urge upon your honest hearts this plain question. Is it not a matter of fact that you are in reason and conscience convinced that you ought to become Christians, but yet you suffer some selfish reasons to prevail over you, and deter you from doing manifest duty? You know you ought to do it; you know the reasons why you do not are utterly unsound -- radically selfish!

III. Let us see what these reasons are -- the reasons why you are only almost persuaded to become a Christian.

This is for many reasons more often the case with young men than with young women, yet is sufficiently apt to occur with the latter, in some seductive form, and of such power as to overrule all the demands of conscience.
Those who feel this may not be fully conscious of it; but such is the fact. God's rights do not weigh, in their minds, as a straw. You may talk to them of God's right to govern them; you make no sort of impression. What is the reason of this? It is not that they regard God's claims as a dream of somebody's imagination, and deny the fact; but it is because they have a deep and overpowering contempt for God, and therefore no appeal on that ground reaches their sensibility -- nothing arouses them to action. So deep and so utter is their want of moral honesty, every appeal based on God's rights falls powerless. In their esteem, moral obligation is equivalent to no obligation at all. There is in their minds a total lack of all honorable sentiments, feelings and principles of action, as towards God. Not one sentiment of honor toward the great God! Does honor bind the child to revere his parent? What would you say of one who had been dependent on you for everything, and yet should totally disregard all his obligations to you? Suppose the obligation to be the greatest possible from man to man; and the disregard to be as utter as the sinner manifests towards God, how would you feel? Horrified! You would have such feelings of indignation, you could scarcely think of the offender with calmness. And yet what are the utmost obligations of man to man, compared with those of all men towards God?
So of a young woman who is accomplished and moral, yet withholds her heart from God. She is altogether in the way of saving souls, and all the more because she has so much morality. I saw a young lady of this description enter a sick room where lay one of her young associates, just passing away to the realities of another world. Calling forward this moral sinner, she reached forth her pale hand, saying, "I am not a Christian because I leaned on you. You were so moral and so happy in sin, you had the greatest influence over me, and I easily put off the claims of my God and Savior." That young lady trembled and begged to be excused that she might retire from such a scene, but the dying girl said, "No, no; you must hear me now, my last words. How could you let me go on in my sins! Oh, my soul is lost!"

The great difficulty with sinners is that they take a selfish view of the whole subject. Having fully committed themselves to their own interests, all considerations are viewed in a selfish light. They regard nothing, save as it addresses either their hopes or their fears. If this striking fact were properly considered, it would show the need and the character of the divine Spirit's influences.

Sinners, taking only a selfish view of God's claims, are not at all prepared to take a disinterested view of the subject. They are not prepared to become Christians, although they are quite prepared to look around and see if they cannot become more happy.

REMARKS.

1. Sin is the greatest mystery in this world. How can it be accounted for? I have often wondered at the case of men convinced of duty, who yet will persist in their sins, despite the utmost reason to forsake them. Sometimes they seem to be infatuated. In fact, they are. It is a spiritual infatuation!

2. How strange to hear sinners object to the mysteries of religion. Indeed! They assume that there is something vastly mysterious in religion, and therefore they cannot embrace it! There can be no greater mystery than sin! All the mysteries in religion are as nothing compared with the mystery of sinning! It is safe to say that if we had not facts to prove it, nobody could believe that men would persist in sin as they do, despite all conceivable reasons to the contrary course. What can be more strange? Sin is indeed a mystery so deep, who can tell what it is and why it is? Surely, no sinner can tell. See that sinner hold his soul, as it were, in his hand, play with it as with a top, and then in the face of Calvary, throw it into hell! Knowing full well that sin brings him no good, but only evil; assured, too, that all good is given by piety, he can yet throw his soul away, for nothing! Truly, this is one of the mysteries of the universe, to be resolved into the sovereignty of a free agent abusing his liberty of free action, having been created with power to abuse it at his own option.

3. The infatuation of the sinner is an obvious fact. People may abuse Adam and other agencies tending to sin, as much as they please. Yet they cannot help knowing that this infatuation is a matter of their own, and that whatever relation it may bear to any other beings or agencies in the universe, themselves alone are to blame for their own sin. They inwardly know that they are the sole authors of their own sin, how much so ever other agencies may have been its occasions and temptations. The dreadful infatuation lives and reigns in their own souls. Suppose you were to see thousands of people rushing towards and over a precipice, and should also see all sorts of influences thrown in their way to stop them; fathers and mothers rushing in before them with imploring cries, beseeching them to stop -- pleading, rebuking, yet all in vain; on they go, and over, and down, down they plunge, with eyes wide open; how astonishing! Whole oceans of men, rushing down the steep of death -- an army of maniacs! No wonder that when Christians get their eyes open to this fearful scene, they almost die! They would if they were long subjected to this dreadful view without some sort of alleviation. You hear them saying, "Lord, I shall surely die unless Thou interpose to save these sinners, or in some way relieve me from this dreadful position of seeing souls perish before my very eyes!"

4. How shocking to hear sinners claim that they are doing about right, while yet they live in utter sin against God and the Lamb! They claim that they have none but honorable feelings and sentiments, and even talk of their moral honesty! What a burlesque upon the truth is all such talk as this! Especially, how strange is it that such sinners should set themselves up for reformers! There is something supremely ridiculous in these pretensions to be reformers. They, who have not the first particle of genuine benevolence -- who can rob God of everything they owe Him, yet profess to love the poor slave and the poor inebriate! How deep does this love go down? Is there any moral bones in it at all? If I am morally honest, can I rob and abuse my own mother? Having done just this and all this, can I then turn around and make pretensions to honor and propriety? Yet the sinner, having robbed God all his life-time, pretends to honor, and even to practice, righteousness!

5. When a man has all needful convictions of duty, he is then and thenceforth, without excuse. Every honest man's position is this: Show me what I ought to do, and I will do it. No other question need be asked than this one -- Ought I to do this? This question settled, nothing more is needed. To settle the question of oughtness, and then stop there without doing duty, is to tempt God. It is to provoke Him to consuming wrath! Such a sinner is utterly without excuse. "I know, says he, that I ought to do this." Then you must do it -- as you would be a man, and would acquit yourself of a man's responsibilities! Say -- "Anything that is my duty, I will do at all hazards; if it be my duty, I will begin now!" But to see intelligent and moral beings throw all these obligations and convictions to the winds -- how fearful!

6. For sinners to wait God's time to repent, is infinitely absurd. God's time is now; you wait, just to miss His time and provoke Him to deny you any more time at all. You are persuaded of your duty now. What more do you ask of God than this? What more can you in reason desire of God than that He should reveal to you your condition, your peril, your way of escape, and the reasons which urge you to flee for help to the Lamb of Calvary? All this He has done; and now, in tones of love and pity, calls on you to give heed to His call. Will you do it?




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On Neglecting Salvation
Lecture IV
April 11, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Heb. 2:3: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"

Every thing about this question invests it with solemn interest and presses us to ask--What does it mean? Escape what? If we neglect so great salvation, what shall we not escape?

The question itself plainly implies that there is danger of something, and presupposes that you are likely to neglect, and if so, are certain to incur some fearful evil. His very mode of asking the question shows that there can be no answer--none of such sort as would show how an escape can be secured. You must be saved from something;--must make an effort to secure that salvation;--neglecting this effort, you cannot escape.

The writer conceives of this salvation as great. If you attend carefully to the context you will see that he had in eye a particular reason for representing this salvation as great. You will notice that he opens his epistle by saying--"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son"--"appointed heir of all things," "by whom He made the worlds"--above all the angels--spoken of often in the scriptures as really God. "Therefore, says the writer, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard lest at any time we should let them slip." For if--under the old economy--the word revealed from God to men by means of angels, was sanctioned of God, and every form of disobedience was visited with retribution; "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" This salvation was first distinctly preached by the Lord Himself, and has since been confirmed unto us by those who heard Him, and by many miracles wrought of God to endorse their mission.

From this hasty sketch of the context , it is plain that the apostle conceived of Christ as infinitely above the angels through whom God revealed His law under the old economy. Indeed, the Father called Him God, and commanded all the angels to worship Him. Then turning to the history of the Jewish dispensation he alludes to the well-known fact that every insult shown to the word as published by angels was sternly punished, and on this fact, coupled with the transcendent greatness of the Son of God, he bases his appeal--How can we escape if we neglect so great salvation? If sin against God's word by angels was so surely and fearfully punished, how much more, sin against the word that comes through His equal Son!

This was obviously the particular thing before Paul's mind when he pronounced this salvation great;--yet he does not by any means imply that this salvation is great in this respect only. I shall therefore proceed now to designate certain other respects in which this salvation may be seen to be great.

I. The greatness of this salvation must correspond to the greatness of that evil from which it saves us.

II. It must correspond, also, to the greatness of that positive good which it confers.

III. Neglect of salvation.

IV. Reasons for this neglect of salvation.


I. The greatness of this salvation must correspond to the greatness of that evil from which it saves us.

But what difference does this make in regard to the comfort or discomfort of the suffering? Pain is pain, and it matters little to the sufferer whether it comes in one form or in another. In the sinner's case, the suffering comes ultimately from God as punishment for his sin;--how then can it much concern him whether it comes directly from Jehovah's hand in the form of inflicted penalty, or indirectly, through such a constitution, physical and mental, that sin brings its own consequences of sorrow and woe? God creates the constitution, and of intent makes it such that sin begets pain,--to some extent,--here;--to an infinite extent, hereafter. Small difference, indeed, does it make to the sufferer. If the suffering be eternal, and eternally increasing, this is sufficiently awful, let it come in one form or in another; and if so much be granted, it makes only the least imaginable difference in which form it may come.
O, what an idea is that, of eternity!
Now it matters not, as I have already said, whether the suffering is in its nature governmental, or is merely natural. If one grain of earth's sand measures each thousand years, and all the material universe were sand, eternity is long enough to remove it all. Think of an endless duration, and what have you before your mind! There being no limit in that direction, it matters little whether the suffering be of the sort or of another. Of very little consequence, indeed, must it be if a man could make it appear that all this suffering is natural, or that it is all governmental; or even that it does not eternally increase. The amount in any given period may be greater, or it may be less; but the great final result is, to our conception but slightly affected, by any of these things, so long as it is eternal. This infinite duration is the dreadful fact! If the soul must exist endlessly, the final result is substantially the same. Think of this scene of woe, so long that even the tallest angel cannot remember when it began! No matter how small its amount in any given period;--if endless in duration, how awful!
II. But this salvation is by no means merely negative. III. Neglect of salvation.
The great point was now gained; I began to act as a rational being should, and God shed light on my path. Now, perhaps some of you, young people, have never asked God whether He wants you to get an education, and for what purpose. Some of you may have asked this question prayerfully; others not. If you have not, how do you know what God would have you do? Is it not plain that this neglect, on your part, amounts to moral insanity? Who of you all does not admit that you ought to attend to the great business for which God sent you into this world? Have you ever asked God to show you what your special errand in this world is? Suppose an angel should meet you today and should say--have you attended yet to the great business for which you were sent into the world? In the stillness of the midnight hour, you open your eyes and lo, an angel of God is before you--and he asks if you have done anything, after so long towards executing the mission for which you were sent into the world. O, how you are smitten with dread and horror when he tells you that, if you have not, he is commissioned to demand your soul! "This night," he cries, "thy soul is required of thee! "Then, you will readily believe that to neglect the great business of life, when you knew what it was, is indeed the worst insanity! O, take care of your soul; don't lose it; the treasures of eternity are in its welfare--and how can you throw them all away!
IV. What are your reasons for this neglect of salvation?
He is gone! There; he opens his eyes in hell! My room-mate, my class-mate; my dear friend--in hell! O! Alas! a soul is lost, and that, through my influence, I have done nothing to save him. I might have saved him if I had done my duty. Alas, that a soul should be in hell through my neglect! Example is the highest influence. If you neglect this great salvation, you are doing all that you can to induce others to do the same. Your example urges them on in that course, with greater power than anything else you can do or say.
You know you are not laboring for souls. Really, you are doing nothing at all in that great work, although you know God has told you to "have compassion on them," and "pull them out of the fire." What are you doing? Only just enough to keep alive your hope. The devil wants you to do so much -- just enough to work out your own destruction, and encourage others along in the same path by your example. He desires this, not only that he may be sure of you, but that he may use you to ruin other souls. He would encourage you to pray just enough to keep your hope good, and to be a stumbling-block to others. So, you please Satan; but Christ has the utmost abhorrence of your course. Ye who profess religion -- how many of you are only servants of the devil -- doing no other work but his? How many of you maintain a spirit and conversation altogether worldly ?

 

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On Prayer for The Holy Spirit
Lecture V
May 23, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Luke 11:11-13: "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or, if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"

These verses form the concluding part of a very remarkable discourse of our Lord to his disciples on prayer. It was introduced by their request that he would teach them how to pray. In answer to this request, he gave them what we are wont to call the Lord's Prayer, followed by a forcible illustration of the value of importunity, which he still further applied and enforced by renewing the general promise--"Ask and it shall be given you." Then, to confirm their faith still more, he expands the idea that God is their Father, and should be approached in prayer as if he were an infinitely kind and loving parent. This constitutes the leading idea in the strong appeal made in our text. "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or, if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or, if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"

I. The gift of the Holy Ghost comprehends all we need spiritually.

II. It is supremely easy to obtain this gift from God.

III. Injurious and dishonorable to God are the practical views.

IV. How to account for the impression that the Holy Spirit can rarely be obtained in satisfying fullness.

V. How can we reconcile this experience with Christ's veracity.


I. The gift of the Holy Ghost comprehends all we need spiritually.

II. It is supremely easy to obtain this gift from God.

In other words, it is easy to obtain from God all spiritual blessings that we truly need. If this be not so, what shall we think of these words of Christ? How can we by any means explain them consistently with fair truthfulness? Surely, it is easy for children to get really good things from their father. Which of you, being a father, does not know it to be easy for your children to get good things from you? You know in your own experience that they obtain without difficulty, even from you, all the real good they need, provided it be in your power to give it. But you are sometimes "evil," and Christ implies that, since God is never evil but always infinitely good, it is much more easy for one to get the Holy Spirit than even for your children to get bread from your hands. "Much more!" What words of meaning in such a connection as this! Every father knows there is nothing in the way of his children getting from him all the good things they really need and which he has to give. Every such parent values these good things for the sake of giving them to his children. For this, parents toil and plan for their children's sake. Can they then be averse or even slow to give these things to their children?

Yet God is much more ready to give his Spirit. My language, therefore, is not at all too strong. If God is much more ready and willing to give his children good things than you are to give to yours, then surely it must be easy and not difficult to get spiritual blessings, even to the utmost extent of our wants.

Let this argument come home to the hearts of those of you who are parents. Surely, you must feel its force. Christ must be a false teacher if this be not so. It must be that this great gift, which in itself comprehends all spiritual gifts, is most easily obtained, and in any amount which our souls need.

III. Injurious and dishonorable to God are the practical views.

Such seemed to be the strain of their talking and thinking, and I must say that it puzzled me greatly. I have reason to know that it has often puzzled others. Within a few years past, I have found this to be the standing objection of unconverted men. They say--"I cannot hold out if I should be converted--it is so difficult to get and to keep the Holy Spirit." They appeal to professed Christians and say, Look at them; they are not engaged in religion; they are not doing their Master's work in good earnest, and they confess it; they have not the Spirit, and they confess it; they bear a living testimony that these promises are of very little practical value.

Now, these are plain matters of fact, and should be deeply pondered by all professed Christians. The Christian life of multitudes is nothing less than a flat denial of the great truths of the Bible.

IV. How to account for the impression that the Holy Spirit can rarely be obtained in satisfying fullness.

How shall we account for this impression, so extensively pervading the church, that the Holy Spirit can rarely be obtained in ample, satisfying fullness, and then only with the greatest difficulty?

When I say few, I must explain myself to mean, few relatively to the whole number of professed Christians. Taken absolutely, the number is great and always has been. Sometimes, some have thought the number to be small, but they were mistaken. Elijah thought himself alone, but God gave him to understand that there were many--a host, spoken of as seven thousand--who had never bowed the knee to Baal. Ordinarily, such a use of the sacred number seven, is to be taken for a large, indefinite sum, much larger than if taken definitely. It may be so here. Even then, in that exceedingly dark age, there were yet many who stood unflinchingly for God.
But theirs is not the common experience of professed Christians. The common one which has served to create the general impression as to the difficulty of obtaining the Holy Spirit, is indeed utterly unlike this. The great body of nominal Christians have not the Spirit, within the meaning of Romans 8th. They cannot say--"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." It is not true of them that they "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Comparatively few of all, know in their own conscious experience that they live and abide in the Spirit.
Some of you may remember that I have related to you my experience at one time, when my mind was greatly exercised on this promise,--how I told the Lord I could not believe it. It was contrary to my conscious experience, and I could not believe any thing which contradicted my conscious experience. At that time the Lord kindly and in great mercy rebuked my unbelief, and showed me that the fault was altogether mine and in no part his.

Multitudes pray for the Spirit as I had done, and are in like manner disappointed because they do not get it. They are not conscious of being hypocrites; but they do not thoroughly know their own spirits. They think they are ready to make any sacrifices to obtain it. They do not seem to know that the difficulty is all with them. They fail to realize how rich and full the promise is. It all seems to them quite unaccountable that their prayer should not be answered. Often they sweat with agony of mind in their efforts to solve this mystery. They cannot bear to say that God's word is false, and they cannot see that it is true. It is apparently contradicted by their experience. This fact creates the agonizing perplexity.

V. How can we reconcile this experience with Christ's veracity.

In the next place, how can we reconcile this experience with Christ's veracity? How can we explain this experience according to the facts in the case, and yet show that Christ's teachings are to be taken in their obvious sense, and are strictly true?

REMARKS.

1. The difficulty is always and all of it, in us, not in God. You may write this down as a universal truth, from which there can be no exceptions.

2. The difficulty lies in our voluntary state of mind, and not in anything which is involuntary and beyond our control. Therefore, there is no excuse for our retaining it, and it should be at once given up.

There is no difficulty in our obtaining the Holy Spirit if we are willing to have it; but this implies a willing ness to surrender ourselves to his direction and discretion.

3. We often mistake other states of mind for a willingness to have the Spirit of God. Nothing is more common than this. Men think they are willing to be filled with the Spirit, and to have that Spirit do all its own work in the soul; but they are really under a great mistake. To be willing to be wholly crucified to the world and the world unto us, is by no means common. Many think they have a sort of desire for this state, who would really shrink from it if they saw the reality near at hand. That persons do make continual mistakes and think themselves willing to be fully controlled by the Spirit, when they are not, is evident from their lives. The will governs the life, and therefore, the life must be an infallible index of the real state of the will. As is the life, so is the will, and therefore, when you see the life alien from God, you must infer that the will is not wholly consecrated to his service--is not wholly in sympathy with God's will.

4. When the will is really on God's altar, entirely yielded up to God's will in all respects, one will not wait long ere he has the Spirit of God in the fullest measure. Indeed, this very consecration itself implies a large measure of the Spirit, yet not the largest measure. The mind may not be conscious of that deep union with God into which it may enter. The knowledge of God is a consciousness of God in the soul. You may certainly know that God's Spirit is within you, and that his light illumines your mind. His presence becomes a conscious reality.

The manner in which spiritual agencies, other than human manifest themselves in the mind of man, seems to some very mysterious. It is not necessary that we should know how those agencies get access to our minds; it suffices us to know beyond all question that they do. Christians sometimes know that the devil brings his own thoughts into the very chambers of their souls. Some of you have been painfully conscious of this. You have been certain that the devil has poured out his spirit upon you. Most horrid suggestions are thrust upon your mind--such as your inmost soul abhors, and such as could come from no other, and certainly from no better, source than the devil.

Now, if the devil can thus make us conscious of his presence and power, and can throw upon our souls his own horrid suggestions, may not the Spirit of God reveal his? Nay, if your heart is in sympathy with his suggestions and monitions, may He not do much more? Surely none can doubt that he can make his presence and agency a matter of positive consciousness. That must be a very imperfect and even false view of the case which supposes that we can be conscious of nothing but the operations of our own minds. Men are often conscious of Satan's thoughts, as present to their minds;--a fact which Bunyan well illustrated where he supposes Christian to be alarmed by some one whispering in his ear behind him, and pouring horrid blasphemies into his mind. Cases often occur like the following. A man came to me in great distress, saying, "I am no Christian; I know of a certainty. My mind has been filled with awful thoughts of God." But were those awful thoughts your own thoughts, and did you cherish them and give your assent to them? "No, indeed; nothing could have agonized me more." That is the work of the devil, said I. "Well," said he, "perhaps it is, and yet I had not thought of it so before."

So God's Spirit within us may become no less an object of our distinct consciousness. And if you do truly and earnestly wait on God, you shall be most abundantly supplied of his fullness.

5. To be filled with the Holy Ghost, so that he takes full possession of our souls, is what I mean by sanctification. This glorious work is wrought by the Spirit of God; and that Spirit never can take full and entire possession of our hearts without accomplishing this blessed work.

I do not wonder that those persons deny the existence of any such state as sanctification who do not know anything of being filled with the Holy Ghost. Ignoring his glorious agency, we need not wonder that they have no knowledge of his work in the soul.

6. Often the great difficulty in the way of Christian progress is an utter want of watchfulness. Some are so given to talking that they cannot hold communion with the Spirit of God. They have no leisure to listen to his "still small voice." Some are so fond of laughter, it seems impossible that their minds should ever be in a really serious frame. In such a mind, how can the Spirit of God dwell? Often in our Theological discussions, I am pained to see how difficult it is for persons engaged in dispute and mutual discussion, to avoid being chafed. Some of them are watchful and prayerful against this temptation, yet sometimes, we see persons manifestly fall before this temptation. If Christians do not shut down the gate against all abuse of the tongue, and, indeed against every form of selfishness, there is no hope that they will resist the devil and the world so far as to be conquerors at last.

7. The Spirit of God troubles or comforts us, according as we resist or receive this great gift. The gospel scheme was purposed for the end of accomplishing this complete union and sympathy between our souls and God, so that the soul should enjoy God's own peace, and should be in the utmost harmony with its Maker and Father. Hence, it is the great business of the Spirit to bring about this state. If we concur, and if our will harmonizes with his efforts, he comforts us; if we resist, he troubles us;--a struggle ensues:--if, in this struggle, we come to understand God, and submit, then his blessings come freely and our peace is as a river; but so long as we resist, there can be no fruit of the Spirit's labor to us, but rebuke and trouble. To us he cannot be the author of peace and comfort.

8. How abominable to God it must be for the church to take ground, in regard to the Spirit, which practically denies the truth of this great promise in our text! How dreadful that Christians should hold and teach that it is a hard thing to be really religious! What abominable unbelief! How forcibly does the church thus testify against God before the world! You might as well burn your Bible as deny that it is the easiest thing in the world to get the gift of the Spirit. And yet, strange to tell, some hold that God is so sovereign, and is sovereign in such a sense, that few can get the Spirit at all, and those few only as it may happen, and not by any means as the result of provision freely made and promise reliably revealed on which any man's faith may take hold. O, how does this notion of sovereignty contradict the Bible! How long shall it be so?

Do you, young people, really believe that your young hearts may be filled with the Spirit? Do you really believe, as our text says, that God is more willing to give his Spirit to those that ask him, than your own father or mother would be to give you good things? Many of you are here, far from your parents. But you know that even your widowed mother, much as she may need every cent of her means for herself, would gladly share the last one with you if you needed it. So would your earthly father. Do you really believe that God is as willing as they--as ready--as loving? Nay, is he not much more so? as much more as he is better than your father or your mother? And now, do you really need and desire this gift of the Spirit? And if you do, will you come and ask for it in full confidence that you have a real Father in heaven?

Do you find practical difficulties? Do you realize how much you dishonor God if you refuse to believe his word of promise? Some of you say--I am so poor and so much in debt, I must go away and work somewhere and get money. But you have a father who has money enough. Yes; but he will not help me. He loves his money more than he loves his son. Would not this be a great scandal to your father--a living disgrace to him? Surely, it would;--and you would be so keenly sensible of this that you would not say it if it were not very true, nor then unless some very strong circumstances seemed to require of you the painful testimony. If your mother, being amply able, yet would not help you in your education or in your sickness, you would hardly tell of it--so greatly would it discredit her character.

And now will you have the face to say--God does not love me; he does not want to educate me for heaven; he utterly refuses to give me the Holy Spirit, although I often ask him and beseech him to do so? Will you even think this? And can you go even farther and act it out before all the world? O, why should you thus dishonor your own God and Father!




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Conscience and The Bible in Harmony
Lecture VI
June 6, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--2 Cor. 4:2: "By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

The context shows that these words of Paul refer to his manner of preaching, and to the aim which he had in those labours.

I. Conscience is a moral function of the reason, or intellect.

II. The Bible and the human conscience are at one and entirely agree in all their moral decisions and teachings.


I. Conscience is a moral function of the reason, or intellect.

II. The Bible and the human conscience are at one and entirely agree in all their moral decisions and teachings.
What a remarkable fact is this! Here is a book containing myriads of precepts--that is, if you enumerate all the specific applications; yet they are comprised under two great principles--supreme love to God, and equal love to our fellow man. But in all these countless specific applications of these great principles, whatever the Bible affirms, conscience endorses. This is a most remarkable fact. It never has been true of any other book, that all its moral precepts without exception are approved and endorsed by the human conscience. This book, so endorsed, must be inspired of God. It is impossible to suppose that a book so accredited of conscience can be uninspired. It is the greatest absurdity to deny its inspiration. A book so perfectly in harmony with conscience must come from the author of conscience.

Men said of Christ when he taught--"Never man spake like this man"--so wonderfully did the truths taught commend themselves to every man's conscience. He spake "with authority," and "not as the scribes;"--for every word went home to man's conscience, and every precept revealing duty, was recognized and endorsed as right by the hearer's own convictions. This striking feature characterized all his teachings.

There never was a sinner, awakened to see his sins truly, who did not go into despair unless he saw the atonement. I could give you many cases of this sort which have fallen under my own observation, in which, persons, long denying the need of any atonement, have at length had conscience fully aroused, and have then invariably felt that God could not forgive unless in some way his insulted majesty were vindicated.

Indeed, God might be perfectly ready to forgive so far as his feelings are concerned, for he is not vindictive, neither is he implacable; but he is a moral governor and has a character, as such, to sustain. The interests of his created universe rest on his administration, and he must take care what impression he makes on the minds of beings who can sin.

In this light we can appreciate the propensity always felt by the human mind to put some Mediator between a holy God and itself. Catholics interpose saints and the Virgin--supposing that these will have a kind of access to God which they, in their guilt, cannot have. Thus, conscience recognizes the universal need of an atonement.

The Bible every where reveals the adequacy of the atonement made by Christ; and it is remarkable that the human conscience also promptly accepts it as sufficient. You may arouse the conscience as deeply as you please--may set it all on fire, and yet as soon as the atonement of Christ is revealed, and the mind understands what it is, and what relations it sustains to law and government, suddenly conscience is quiet; the sense of condemnation is gone; the assurance of an adequate atonement restores peace to the troubled soul. Conscience fully accepts this atonement as amply sufficient, even as the Bible also does.

But nothing else than this atonement can satisfy conscience. Not good works, ever so many or so costly; not penance, not any amount of self-imposed suffering and sacrifice. Let a sinner attempt to substitute ever so much prayer and fasting, in place of Christ as an atoning sacrifice, it is all of no avail. The more he tries, the more he is dissatisfied. Conscience will not accept it. Neither will the Bible. Most wonderfully, we find it still true, to whatever point we turn, that conscience and the Bible bear the same testimony--take the same positions.

Conscience affirms that there can be no other conceivable way of justifying the sinner except by faith in Christ. You may try ever so much to devise some other scheme, yet you cannot. You may try to get peace of mind on any other scheme than this--as some of you have--but all is of no avail. I once said to a Roman Catholic--"When you went to confessional, you hoped to be accepted and to get peace?" "Yes." "But did you find it to your full satisfaction?" "Not certainly. I cannot say that I knew I was accepted."

There never was a Catholic who had been through all their ceremonies, and afterwards, being converted to faith in Christ alone, experienced the deep peace of the gospel, who did not see the wide difference between his experience as a papist and his experience as a gospel believer. His conscience so completely accepts his faith in the latter case, and gives him such deep, assured peace;--while in the former case there could be nothing of this sort.

Yet each agree in teaching that God can forgive the penitent through faith in Christ, but can extend forgiveness to no sinner on any other ground.
REMARKS.

1. We see why the Bible is so readily received as from God. Few have ever read any treatise of argument on this subject; but as soon as one reads those parts which relate to morals, conscience at once affirms and endorses all. You need no higher evidence that he who speaks in the Bible is very God. The truth commends itself to every man's conscience, and needs no other endorser of its divine origin. Probably in all this congregation not one in fifty ever sat down to read through a treatise on the evidences of a divine revelation; and you can give perhaps no other reason for your belief in the Bible than the fact that it commends itself to your conscience.

2. You see why one who has seen this harmony between conscience and the Bible, cannot be reasoned out of his belief in the Bible by any amount of subtle sophistry. Perhaps he will say to his opponent--"I cannot meet your sophistries; I have never speculated in that direction; but I know the Bible is true, and the whole gospel is from God; I know it by the affirmations of my own mind. I know it by its perfect fitness to meet my wants. I know it has told me all I ever felt, or have ever needed, and it has brought a perfect supply for all my need." This he can say in reply to sophistry which he may have no other logic to withstand. But this is amply sufficient.

In my own case, I know it was the beauty and intrinsic evidence of the Bible which kept me from being an infidel. I should have been an infidel if I could, and I should have been a Universalist if I could have been, for I was wicked enough to have been either. But I knew the Bible to be true; and when I set myself to make out an argument against it, I could not divest myself of an ever present conviction that this was the wrong side. Just as a lawyer who sits down to examine a case and finds at every turn that his evidence is weak or irrelevant, and is troubled with a growing conviction that he is on the wrong side; and the more he examines his case and his law books, the more he sees that he must be wrong--so I found it in my investigations into the evidences of revelation, and in my readings of the Bible. In those times I was wicked enough for anything, and used to go out among the plain Christian people and talk to them about the Bible, and puzzle them with my questions and hard points. I could confound, even though I could not convince them, and then I would try to enjoy my sport at their expense. Sometimes afterwards, I would go and tell them I could show them how they settled this question of the divine authority of the Bible, although they could not tell me.

I don't believe there ever was, or ever can be, a candid man who shall candidly examine the Bible, compare its teachings with the affirmations of his own conscience, and then deny its authority.

3. Neither Paul nor Jesus Christ preached sermons on the evidences of a revelation from God;--how was it then that Christ brought out the truth in such a way as to reach the conscience, wake up its energies, and make it speak out in fearful tones? He manifested the truth in such a way as to commend it to every man's conscience.

4. Just in proportion as a man fails to develop his conscience, or blinds, abuses, or silences it, can he become skeptical. It will always be so far only as his conscience becomes seared and blind; while, on the other hand, as his conscience has free scope and speaks out truthfully will his conviction become irresistible that the Bible is true and from God.

5. The Bible is sometimes rejected because misunderstood. I once fell in with an infidel who had read much (not in the Bible) and who, after his much reading, settled down upon infidelity. I inquired of him as to his views of the inspiration of the Bible, when he promptly replied--"I know it is not true, and is not from God, for it teaches things contrary to my conscience." Ah, said I, and pray tell me in what particulars! What are these things, taught in the Bible, that are contrary to your conscience?

He began thus:

(1.) "It teaches the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity." But stop, said I, is that Bible, or is it only catechism? He soon found that he had to look in his catechism to find it, for it was not in his Bible.

(2) "It teaches that human nature, as made by God, is itself sinful." I soon showed him that the Bible said no such thing. He declared that this doctrine was contrary to his conscience; I admitted it, but vindicated the Bible from such impiety as ascribing the creation of sin to God.

(3) "But," said he, "the Bible certainly does teach that men are naturally unable to obey God, and, especially, are unable to repent and believe the gospel."

I replied, that is neither taught nor implied in the Bible, in the sense in which you urge it; but, on the contrary, the Bible both teaches and implies that sinners can obey God and are for that very reason responsible, and guilty if they refuse.

(4) There was one other point on which all the books were clear and strong, but which was utterly against his conscience--namely, "that Christ was punished for our sins. This punishing the innocent instead of the guilty," he said, "was one of the most unjust things that could be imagined." Well, said I, that is just what the Bible does not teach. It nowhere holds the doctrine that Christ was punished as a criminal. Punishment implies guilt, and is inflicted as penalty for crime,--neither of which is true in the case of Christ. He only suffered as an innocent being, and of his own free accord. You cannot say that this is wrong. If one man in his benevolence chooses to suffer for another, no principle of justice is violated. This he conceded.

(5) "According to the Bible," said he, "none can be saved without having their natures constitutionally changed. But no man can be held responsible for changing his own constitution."

Here, too, I showed him his misapprehension of the Bible. The change is only that which pertains primarily to the voluntary powers, and of course is just that which man is made capable of doing, and which he must do himself.

(6) He urged, I think, but one point more--namely, "that God has elected some to be saved, and some to be damned, and that none can escape their foreordained destiny."

To this you know I would reply that the Bible did not teach such an election, nor authorize such an inference, but everywhere implied the opposite. Such was our discussion.

You doubtless all know that such mistakes as these have led some men to reject the Bible. It is not strange that they should. I could never have received the Bible as from God if I had believed it to teach these things. I had to learn first that those things were not in the Bible, and then I was prepared to accept it in accordance with my conscience and reason, and from God.

6. Skepticism always evinces either great wickedness, or great ignorance as to what the Bible teaches, and as to the evidence on which its claims rest. Both the nature of the case and the testimony of observation conspire to prove this.

7. All the truths of natural religion are taught and affirmed both in the conscience and in the Bible. This is a most remarkable fact; yet easily shown in the fullest detail.

8. The conscience recognizes the Bible as its own book--the book of the heart--a sort of supplement to its own imperfect system--readily answering those questions which lie beyond the range of vision, which conscience enjoys. There are questions which conscience must ask, but cannot answer. It must ask whether there is any way in which God can forgive sin, and if so, what is it. Such questions conscience cannot answer without help from revelation. It is striking to observe how conscience grasps these glorious truths when they are presented, and the heart has come to feel its need of God's light and love. Mark how, when the moral nature of man has sent forth its voice abroad over the universe, far as its notes can reach, imploring light, and crying aloud for help, and listening to learn if any response is made;--then when it catches these responsive notes from God's written revelation, it shouts amen! AMEN! that brings me salvation! Let God be praised!

9. The skeptic is obliged to ignore the teachings of his own nature and the voice of his conscience. All those moral affirmations must be kept out of sight or he could not remain an infidel. It will not do for him to commune with his own heart and ask what testimony conscience bears as to duty, truth, and his God. All he can do to smother the spontaneous utterance of his conscience, he must needs do for the sake of peace in his sin and skepticism.

10. But these efforts must be ultimately vain, for, sooner or later, conscience will speak out. Its voice, long smothered, will break forth with redoubled force, as if in retribution for being abused so long. Many may live skeptics; few can die such. To that few you cannot hope to belong;--you already know too much on this subject. You cannot satisfy yourself that the Bible is false, and make yourself disbelieve its divine authority, so that it will stay disbelieved. Such a notion, resting on no valid evidence, but starting up under the stimulus of a corrupt heart, will disappear when moral realities shall begin to press hard on your soul. I am aware that in these latter times some young men make the discovery that they know more and are wiser than all the greatest and best men that have ever lived. They think so, but they may, in divine mercy, live long enough to unlearn this folly, and to lay off this self-conceit. One thing I must tell you,--you cannot die skeptics. You cannot die believing that God can accept you without faith in Christ. Do you ask, Why? Because you have heard too much truth. Even this afternoon you have heard too much to allow you to carry such a delusion to your graves. No! you cannot die in darkness and delusion. I beg you to remember when you come to die, that I told you, you could not die a skeptic. Mark my words then, and prove them false if you can. Write it down for a memorandum, and treasure it for a test in the trying hour--that I told you solemnly, you could not die a skeptic. It will do you no hurt to remember this one thing from me; for if you should in that hour find me mistaken, you can have none the less comfort of your infidelity. It is not improbable that I shall be at the death-bed of some of you this very summer. Not a summer has passed yet since I have been here that I have not stood by the dying bed of some dear young man. And shall I find you happy in the dark discomfort of infidelity? There is no happiness in it;--and if there were, you cannot have it, for not one of you can die an infidel! Dr. Nelson once informed me that he said this same thing to a young infidel. Not long after, this infidel was sick, and thought himself dying, yet his infidelity remained unshaken; and when he saw the Doctor next, he cast into his teeth that prediction, which he thought had been triumphantly disproved. "Dr. N.," said he, "I was dying last month; and, contrary to your strange prediction, my infidelity did not forsake me." Ah! said the Doctor, but you were not dying then! And you never can die an infidel! When that young man came to die, he did not die an infidel. His conscience spake out in awful thunders, and his soul trembled exceedingly as it passed from this to another world.

But such fears may come too late! The door perhaps is shut, and the soul is lost! Alas that you should lose eternal life for a reason so poor--for a compensation so insignificant.




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God Has No Pleasure In The Sinner's Death
Lecture VII
June 20, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Ezek. 18:23, 32: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his way and live? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye."

Text.--Ezek. 33:11: "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil way, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"

In speaking upon these texts, I am to show,

I. What this death is not;

II. What it is;

III. Why God has no pleasure in it;

IV. Why He does not prevent it;

V. The only way in which He can prevent it.


I. What this death is not.

II. What it is.

Positively, this death must be the opposite of that life which they would have if they would turn from their evil ways. Throughout the Bible we are given to understand that this is eternal life -- life in the sense of real blessedness. By the terms, death, and life, when used of the final rewards of the wicked and of the righteous, the Bible does not mean annihilation and existence. It does not teach that one class shall cease to exist and the other shall simply continue to exist; but most obviously implies that both alike have an immortal existence, which existence, however, is, in the one case, infinite misery; in the other, infinite blessedness.

III. Why God has no pleasure in it.

God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. He avers this, and even takes His solemn oath of it. Surely, it must have been His intention to make himself believed; and certainly He ought to be believed. "When He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself." Such "an oath for confirmation should be an end to all strife" of conflicting opinions.

Again, God can have no pleasure in the sinner's death, because, after the penalty is inflicted, He can show the sinner no more favor forever. Under any efficient administration, after the authorities have passed the sentence of the law, they must not retract. The support of government forbids it. There could be no force in penalty, and no influence in law, if its penalties could be lightly set aside, or could be set aside for any other grounds that such as would amply sustain the dignity and the principles of the administration. Hence, after God has taken the sinner's life, in the sense of our text He can show him no more favor or mercy forever. This must be a sore trial to His feelings, mercy is so much His delight.

Sinners have had all their good things in this life. So Christ distinctly taught in the account He gives of the scenes after death, in the case of the rich man and Lazarus. He represents Abraham as saying to the rich man "Son, remember that thou, in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things." This you bear in mind, was said in answer to his earnest entreaty that Lazarus might be sent to him and might dip the tip of his finer in water and cool his tongue, for, said he, "I am tormented in this flame." To this Abraham replied, "Son, remember that thou, in thy life time, receivedst thy good things." It is affecting to think that he had exhausted all his good things so utterly that not one drop of water remained to be given him now -- not a drop! It must be greatly trying to God's feelings, after having so much enjoyed doing good to even sinners in this world, that, after death He can do them no more good forever? Yet this is plainly the view which Christ gives of the case. It is the sinner's relations to God's government that preclude so utterly all further manifestation of mercy. He stands before that government in the relation of an enemy, one whom that government must punish as it would protect the rights and welfare of myriad's who depend on it for their happiness. It is truly an awful thought that the sinner must suffer so -- so intensely and without the least possibility of mitigation forever; and that God, when the sinner cries for one drop of water, must forever reply -- No, No, I have done you all the good I ever can do. You have had all your good things, even to the last drop of water!

IV. Why then, I am next to ask, does He not prevent it?
Again, the death that sinners die, though so great an evil, is yet a less evil than any change in His government which might be necessary in order to prevent it. For example, it may be said that God could annihilate moral agents, instead of punishing them in hell eternally. To this, I answer, if this were a better way God would certainly have adopted it. Hence, we are driven to the conclusion that it is a less evil to let His government go on, and let penalty take its course. In fact, to annihilate moral agents, for their sin, instead of punishing them in hell, would be to abandon the idea of moral government, administered under law, by rewards and penalties. It would amount to an acknowledgment of a failure under this system.

Again, God knows He can make a good use of the sinner's death. He can turn it to good purpose. Such a manifestation before the universe of the terrible evil of sin, may be indispensable to the best interests of the masses -- being the very influence they need to preserve them from falling themselves into sin. Under a government where so much depends upon developing and making all realize the idea of justice, what finite mind can fully estimate the useful results God may educe from the eternal death of sinners? This glorious idea of justice is manifestly most vital to a system of moral agents. Its importance to the universe is such as must greatly over-balance all the evil that can accrue from the punishment of sin.

These propositions I take to be altogether self-evident -- so much so, that none who understand the meaning of the terms, can deny them. If you admit the attributes of God, all the rest follows by the strictest logical necessity. If God is admitted to be holy, just, wise and good, then He must govern moral agents as He does; -- and must reclaim to obedience and induce to accept of pardon.

V. How can the death of sinners be avoided? REMARKS.

1. The goodness of God is no argument against the punishment of sin, but the very reverse of this; -- it is a reason why sin should be punished and will be. Men may say that God is too good to punish sin and may profess to hold that His goodness explodes the doctrine of future punishment. But really not one of these men is ever afraid that God will be unjust. Yet they fear him. And the thing they at heart fear is that He is good and too good to let sin pass unpunished. They are afraid He is good, and so good, that He cannot fail to punish sin.

2. Some will ask -- Will not the great misery of sinners in hell abridge God's happiness? I answer no. God has done all He can wisely do to save them. So He solemnly avers;-- "What more could I have done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" Why, then, should He be unhappy in the death of sinners?

3. Having done all He wisely could, He will be content with this. To do the best and the utmost that infinite love and power can do, satisfies Him, and He will not be restive and uneasy, so long as this conviction reposes on His bosom.

4. He will rejoice in the realization of the great idea of justice, and in the results of its manifestation before all finite minds. He does not rejoice in the misery, but does rejoice in the other results which accrue from the sinner's death. He rejoices that the great idea of justice is brought out before the universe so that they shall see what sin is, and what an exceedingly bitter thing it is to rebel against God and goodness.

God will rejoice none the less really in this immense good resulting from punishment, because of the conditions under which it is realized. It costs something to develop the great idea of justice; -- it necessarily must; it always does in any government. But the results are cheap even at such a cost. Hence, God rejoices in the use He can make of the sinner's death. Why should He not? He will be satisfied with Himself in view of all He has done, and satisfied with the results as a whole. Beholding them all He will say as of His original creation -- all very good. There are indeed incidental evils, but the good so indefinitely overbalances the evil that He cannot but be satisfied.

The death of the wicked will not abate the happiness of heaven. They will say that it could not have been wisely avoided. They know that every sinner richly deserves all the punishment he receives, and hence they will be content. They will not rejoice in the suffering, but will rejoice in the results of glory to God, stability to His throne -- good influence over all the unfallen. According to the scriptures, they shout, Alleluia, as they see the smoke of their torment ascend up forever and ever.

There is a moral beauty in the display of justice and holiness that will enrapture all the inhabitants of heaven. It will seem to them so infinitely fit and right and wise that God should reign and should sustain His law by means of penalty, so as to secure the highest possible moral power to promote holiness and deter from sin; -- how can they do otherwise than acquiesce and ever rejoice? But they discriminate -- as we also should -- between rejoicing in misery and rejoicing in its results. They rejoice, not in the misery, but in those glorious results which are so signally brought out before the universe.

5. It will be seen in heaven and felt throughout all eternity that God could have done no other way, wisely, than to punish sinners as He does. Hence, there will be no complaining.

Their sense of the wrong and mischief of sin is so just and so deep, and their sense of its ill-desert, also, will be so intense, that it will not abate from the eternal calmness of their souls to witness the execution of the law.

6. They will also see that it is the lest of two evils -- a less evil than to use any other means, possible to God, such, for example, as annihilating the wicked. Hence, they will not regret that God should do the best He can. Any change that should set aside punishment for actual sin would only be a greater evil than the punishment it sets aside, and hence they could not desire it. They will always see that a good use is made of punishment, and that positive good is educed from it. Just as we see that good use is made of the gallows in civil government. It is made conducive to the greater influence of the law to deter men from crime. Life is rendered more secure, and thus every important interest of life is promoted.

7. Here it should be borne in mind that it is not the object of government to do good to the criminal who is executed. In capital executions its only object is to do justice to the government. Punishment never has for its object to do good to the criminal. In so far forth as it is punishment, it has no aim specially towards the criminal, only to make of him an example for the good of the government and of the governed. That which aims at the good of the criminal is discipline. In this world God is administering discipline towards all sinners, and even towards His own children when they sin. In the next world all His treatment of the wicked will be penal, none of it disciplinary.

It is true that in human government, punishment and discipline are often blended, as in State's prison, where the criminal is undergoing the penal sentence of law, and yet the law also aims at his good, using means so far as may be for his correction of life and manners. But in capital executions all idea of discipline is dropped -- especially it is so after the fatal hour has come. After that hour, government does all it can by delay of execution, to impel the sinner to prepare to meet his God. Persons often confound discipline and punishment, failing to make those essential discriminations to which I have now adverted. It is important to notice distinctly that all those features in God's administration towards sinners which contemplate their good are discipline, not punishment.

8. It is a great thing under God's government to execute His law. This is immensely important in its bearings upon the sentiments and feelings of moral agents, and upon their continued obedience. It is especially in this administration of God's law that they see God revealed and learn to regard Him as the great Father of His creatures, evermore watchful to secure their highest obedience and blessedness. This execution of law is indeed done at a great expense of suffering to the criminal; but the fact that they all deserve it -- that there is no other way of sustaining law and its influence, and that an indefinitely great amount of good results from it, -- these facts conspire to hush every murmur and will by no means allow the blessedness of heaven to be interrupted by the execution of law on the wicked.

9. God will make sinners very useful in life and in death; in this world and in the next. They do not mean it; they mean only evil; but God means all the good, and will take care to insure it. He can over-rule their sin so as to bring out great good from it, all along through the whole course of their existence. He will so control it that they shall not have lived in vain; so that they shall not die in vain, and shall not make their bed in hell forever, in vain. No thanks to them. They have done nothing meritorious. No thanks to Satan that he laid the corner-stone of human salvation when he tempted Judas to betray Jesus, that he might be put out of the way. God's plans went too deep for Satan; for, while Satan thought to frustrate those plans, he only fulfilled them. He did not understand God's scheme for saving sinners, else he had not taken a step so directly adapted to promote it. So always, God lays His plans too deep for sinners. They try to frustrate God's plans, but to their confusion, at length find that they only promoted those plans the more. It was said in reference to the plans laid by Joseph's brethren, -- Ye meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to save many people alive. God suffered their plans to go forward and seem to be fully executed but then He put forth His hand and turned the whole to the utmost good. So God is wont to do in regard to the plans of the wicked.

But it is time that I should present distinctly before you and press on your immediate regard the great question of my text, -- "why will ye die?" To all who have not yet turned from your sins, God makes this earnest appeal. Fain would He know of you why it is that you will die. What answer will you give to this appeal? -- What can you say? That there is no help for you, and therefore you must die? But that is not true, for glorious help is laid on one who is mighty to save.

Will you insist that there is none to pity you? That too, is utterly false. Does not the great God pity you? And Jesus Christ too; and every angel in heaven? And indeed all the holy in God's universe?

Or will you say, there is no mercy for me? That also is alike false. There has been most abundant mercy shown you in the gospel. Nothing can exceed that mercy and compassion; and even today, after so long an abuse of it, you may perhaps yet find it waiting to bless you.

Or will you say -- I can't help myself? How can I turn to God? Doubtless you think you can turn at any time, or you would not so long have put it over to a convenient season. You intend at some time to turn to God; but when? Perhaps when it shall be forever too late! One day, or perhaps only one hour, too late!

I have perhaps mentioned in the hearing of some of you the case of a young man whose converted sister earnestly besought him to repent, and come at once to Christ. He put her off; she still entreated. Especially she pressed him one Sabbath, and felt that she could not be denied. At length, as he could not well do less, he said to her -- I have to make a short journey on Monday, and shall return on Tuesday; when this is over, I will attend to it. On Wednesday I promise you, I will devote myself to this work. Thus he promised. Monday came, he started on horseback to accomplish his business and get all things ready to turn to the Lord. God had done waiting on him! He was thrown from his horse, brought home a corpse, and on Wednesday, his set day for repentance, his funeral was attended by sad friends, and his body committed to the grave. Alas, who shall give the history of the spirit that God summoned so fearfully away?

Many cases of a similar character I have met with, painfully showing that God is not well pleased that sinners should deliberately set aside His proposed time and adopt their own. I once heard a young lady say that she meant to be converted just before she graduated. In fact she had her plans laid very definitely. On the Sabbath before commencement, she was to unite with the church and sit down with them to the table of the Lord. See there! how she proposed to take her own course and set aside God's earnest call to repent now! But God will surely have His way and will as surely defeat your plans. You cannot have your way against God, labor for it ever so much. It would be wrong for God to endorse your plans when they designedly disown His, and you ought not to wish Him to do so. You ought rather to say -- Lord, I do not wish Thee to come over to my wicked schemes. Let Thy perfect will be done! God forbid that I should die, if He has no pleasure in it. If thou, O God, hast no pleasure at all in my death, why should I have? Does not God know how awful a thing it is to die eternally?

Do you think, sinner, that God means to trifle with you? Ye who say that there is no danger of dying eternally for sin -- say how is this, -- that God should so solemnly ask you why you will die and under His solemn oath affirm that He has no pleasure in your death? Does God do all this to frighten you, when as you insinuate, there is really no death to fear? Is the great God deceiving you, or trying to disturb you with needless alarms? Is it not rather the case that you are deceiving yourself with hopes that are baseless and that must vanish away like the giving up of the ghost?




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On Being Searched of God
Lecture VIII
July 4, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Psa. 139:23, 24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

These words occur at the close of that wonderful Psalm, written under a vivid sense of God's omniscience and omnipresence, and which begins--"O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me."

In treating my text, I propose,

I. To show when this prayer, always appropriate, is especially and peculiarly so.

II. Why do men need divine searching?

III. I must next speak of the manner in which God answers prayer to be searched.


I. To show when this prayer, always appropriate, is especially and peculiarly so.

Again, when you have no spirit of prayer. When you have no inclination to go to God; when you know you need blessings, but do not feel inclined to go to God and seek them in earnest prayer; then cry to God for the searching grace of his Spirit.
Some of you may be in this state; will you ask yourself how this is, and what the reason of it can be?
Again, when you are not successful in your efforts to do good; when God does not animate your efforts and crown them with his blessing; then let not your soul rest, but arise and cry mightily to God that you may know wherefore his grace is withheld from your endeavors.

Again, when the Bible and religious truth in general, and gospel means, are not enjoyed; when you can neglect the Bible and not find it precious to your soul; and your soul is not deeply in earnest; then something is in the way; the Spirit of God is grieved, and you should awake to a most earnest search for this cause. This is an unnatural state of things for a Christian.

When the medium between our souls and God is not clear; when, instead of standing in his sunlight, there is plainly some thick cloud between God and your soul, and you cannot commune freely with him, then you need to be alive to your danger. If you are weak in faith, and your heart does not take hold of the great things of God and of salvation with earnest power, then something is wrong, and you should by no means suffer it to remain unsearched and still undermining your spiritual life.
II. Why do men need divine searching?

Many have supposed that they need the Spirit, not because they are not well disposed, but because there is some defect beyond and beneath their own activities and which therefore they cannot reach, and none but God can. Their need of divine aid is of such a nature that they can excuse themselves if they do not have it. Now in fact, if Christians examine themselves they will see that the very reason they need it lies wholly in themselves. This will appear, as I proceed to show what these reasons are.

But men are not wont to use this golden rule in honest application. When you see a difficulty spring up between two men, each wrong, perhaps, yet each justifying himself, you will find they have a false standard of judgment. If you bring their conduct to the standard of gospel love, you will readily see that all is wrong.

I have been often shocked at my own mistakes in judging myself from a false point of view, neglecting and forgetting Christ's spirit, in which he could even die for an enemy. Instead of looking at it in that light, I found myself inclined to take quite another view, and therein, I learned my great need of the Holy Spirit.

Persons sometimes say--We have been so tried and abused, we have good reason for feeling excited. Yet, after all, they cannot be satisfied in a course which conscience condemns. Yet they manage to keep themselves blind, while really their excuse is no excuse at all. It avails nothing that men try to justify themselves in wrong-doing because others have done wrong first, arguing that we may rightly injure those who have injured us. Such a state of self-justification needs to be thoroughly searched out by the Spirit of God.
Again, we often need God's light because we are blinded by the fear or the love of man. The fear or the love of the creature more then the Creator leads us astray. I think I could name ministers who have lost their power with God and with man, by means of being led astray by the fear or the love of some of their congregation. Their prayers are cold as death, and their position on great moral questions plainly shows that they do not stand in God's counsels.

Again, men often fall into the habit of professing more in their prayers and otherwise, than is strictly true. Sometimes they remain professors of religion, when they knew they ought not to, for they have no heart in it. They may excuse themselves by pleading that they are about as good as their neighbors are, yet they know this excuse can avail nothing before God. Such persons must fall into great darkness. O how many ministers have continued on in all the forms of religion with hearts hard as a stone, their very professions altogether hypocrisy and deceit before God!

Again, we need divine searching because we are so prone to attend to others' sins more than out own. We are in great danger of this, especially if we feel annoyed by others' sins, and get into a bad state of mind ourselves. Indeed, we are in the more danger precisely as we get farther away from God. Often this becomes a habit, insomuch that persons hear preaching in this way, neglecting entirely to take the part which belongs to themselves, and never allowing the truth to come close home to their hearts. Now unless God comes down to search such persons, they will never return to life and love again.
III. I must next speak of the manner in which God answers prayer to be searched.
A lady, having made a profession of religion and entered upon a Christian life, subsequently found herself so greatly tried, that she at length said, "I must give up all profession of piety and all attempt to live a Christian life unless I can succeed better. At that time she had not been taught that she might find deliverance through Christ. But at this juncture, the doctrine of sanctification was brought before her mind, and she felt her need of its provisions. She embraced it in theory, hoping, and for the time assuming, that this would bring her the desired relief. But this failed, and she was about to abandon the theory, when it was suggested that she had not faithfully put the doctrine in practice. One of her most besetting and powerful sins was in her temper. She began to see that she must have grace for a victory over this. Just at this crisis, her husband in family worship read the passage--"In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16:38) It thrilled her very soul. She cried out --"My temper is dead; through grace I have conquered, and my victory is complete." Many years afterwards, she said of herself--"Never since that hour have I felt any risings of unhallowed temper, and I no more expect to give way to that sin than I expect to cut my neighbor's throat."
Only last winter, a lady told me she had fallen into a dreadful state of mind, bordering on despair, so that her friends even feared that she would kill herself. At length, providence showed her what the matter was. Her husband had refused to perform the duty of family worship, and she got angry about it. She was so full of zeal for God, as she thought, that she was not aware of her great sin. At length, God brought help by converting her husband. Then, seeing that she was parted from him, and that she had been sinfully angry, her heart was broken down into penitence, and her soul restored to the joys of God's salvation.

In conclusion, let me say--

REMARKS.

1. Having made this prayer, be careful not to resist the divine searching. Whatever means God may use, let him go on, unresisted on your part. When we most need to be searched, we are in greatest danger of resisting the process.

2. Having begun, be careful not to desist from praying and self-searching till the work has gone to the bottom. Cease not, till you find your soul filled with peace and power, such as will reveal itself everywhere.

3. As fast as God reveals light, we should use it. Many begin well and pray well, but defer repentance and reform till they shall have seen the whole. They want everything revealed before they begin to repent and reform. Or they look for the blessing before they have fulfilled all the conditions. They say--"Give me the blessing, and then I will repent." This is no way to deal with God. Let them rather deal honestly and put away all iniquity as fast as they discover it.

4. When persons pray that God would search them, they should use all fit means to search themselves. Not to do this shows that you are not really honest in desiring the blessing.

Some of you have lived here many years, and passed through many scenes of refreshing, and many agencies of both providence and grace, designed for your good, but now seem to have thrown off a sense of responsibility and to have wandered far from God. How greatly do you need to open your hearts before God and expose all to the light of his face and truth. It would be wonderful if amid so many excitements, some should not be very far out of the way. I am sure something must be wrong here. We need a general awakening of mind, in which each one shall fix his mind on his own sins. After such a sermon as this, some one will say--"That is the preaching we need; do not you think the church needs such preaching?" And yet this very man who cares so benevolently for the church, needs the sermon more than any other man in town. The thing most of all needed is, that each man should apply it to himself--asking--In what respect do I need this sermon? For what do I need to be searched, and to pray that God would search me and try me, and see if there be any evil way in me? Some of you, I am afraid, are in most perishing need of this personal treatment. Brethren, when shall this church be as holy as it professes to be; as it is supposed to be; and as its theory leads people to assume that it is? When shall all our theories be reduced to practice?

5. It often happens that people most in the fog about their own state are most tried with the bad state of others. This is sometimes a great and sore delusion! Beware of it.

How many of you are in the habit of taking your spiritual reckoning every week, or even every month, to see where you are, and whether you may not be coasting along a lee shore, just on the rocks--heading towards them under wind and tide--the breakers roaring under your bow! Pray that God may search you all out, and leave nothing undisclosed! Pray that God may search all this people, each according to his need. This, more than anything else, is what the impenitent here need to see in every house and in ever Christian--each one an epistle of Jesus Christ, known and read of all. So would the gospel be honored, and its truth be enforced with resistless power.




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On Injustice To Character
Lecture IX
August 29, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Matt. 7:1-3: "Judge not, that ye be not judged, For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again, And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye."

This passage forbids us to judge persons; and our first inquiry should be --

I. What is not intended in this prohibition?

II. What is intended?

III. Wherein does character consist?

IV. How is character revealed?

V. What is the rule of judgment?

VI. What are the sources of injustice to character?

VII. Consider our danger of falling into this sin.

VIII. The great wickedness of this sin.

IX. The results of injustice to character.


I. What is not intended in this prohibition?

I answer,

II. What then does this passage mean?

I answer, it means to prohibit injustice to character. It forbids unjust judgments.

Here it becomes necessary to inquire --

III. Wherein does character consist?

I answer, in the voluntary state of mind of an active agent. I say by his state, rather than by any individual volition. You must take the man and his acts as a whole in order to estimate his character. His character is as the voluntary state of his mind. If this be committed to good, such is his character; if not evil, his character is to be estimated accordingly. Character always pertains to ultimate purpose and intention, and should never be predicated on individual, abnormal acts, which are aside from the general strain of a man's life.

IV. How is character revealed?

In the habitual life and temper, and not in any one individual act. Our Lord reveals the true doctrine when he says -- "By their fruits ye shall know them,"

V. What is the rule of judgment?

Not to judge from single, insulated acts. To judge David only by his acts towards Uriah and his wife, would do him great injustice. In that transaction, David acted not in, but out of his general character. Hence, we are never to judge by occasional, irregular acts; such are aside from the common course of one's life; but by its general tenor. Some persons have their easily besetting sins, that do occasionally develop themselves; yet their general character should not be judged altogether from these. To do so, would greatly wrong them.

VI. What are the sources of injustice to character?

All prejudice towards character is injustice. It is prejudgment -- forming an opinion in advance of adequate grounds for it. This is always wrong.

As to the sources whence unjust judgments arise, we may trace them,

Again, men should never be impetuous and rash in forming judgments of others. We sometimes see this in a most alarming degree. It is often a fruitful source of great wrong.
Again, the state of one's feelings often prejudices the judgment. A wrong bias in one's feelings almost always results in injustice towards others.
VII. Let us next consider our danger of falling into this sin.
Now, in this case, it was, doubtless, important to hear all sides and give the question a patient and full investigation. How much more, if the case had involved personal character?
VIII. I must now call your attention to the great wickedness of this sin. IX. Next, let us notice some of the results of injustice to character, and first -- to the authors of this injustice.
Again it augments the selfishness of the will. It is wonderful to see how the soul, under the sway of this sin, becomes committed to selfishness, loses all regard to others' rights and interests, and thus shuts itself up to the eternal dominion of the basest, purest selfishness. There cannot be a worse obstacle to conversion or to sanctification than this.
REMARKS.

1. God sustains to the universe a very difficult and responsible position. The reasons of His policy cannot be fully explained to His finite subjects, and, therefore, are almost of necessity misunderstood. At least it is safe to say that His reasons for His course will not ever be fully understood. He cannot explain if He would; and often it may not be wise to explain all He could. On every side He has many and most unreasonable prejudices to overcome. No earthly monarch ever had such opposition to contend against; no, not all of them together have had so much trial, so much grief, so much strange and blind opposition from this source as God has had. In part, this is to be ascribed to human depravity, and in part to the relations of the Infinite to finite minds. Christ had occasion to say to His friends, "What I do ye know not now, but ye shall know hereafter." God often needs to say to His people -- I cannot explain this to you now; you must have faith in Me.

2. This reveals the importance of faith in finite minds towards their Infinite Father. We know God is infinitely wise, and makes no mistakes. We equally know Him to be perfectly good, and, therefore, that He always acts with the best intentions; yet we cannot know all His reasons -- cannot fathom all His plans. Here, then, is the struggle -- here between unbelief and faith. Will you embrace all God's character and ways, so as to give Him the fullest credit for all He is and for all He does? This is the highest style of virtue; this most eminently pleases God.

3. As I have already said, no being in all the universe is the subject of so much injustice to character as God. He has reason to complain of His subjects, and to hold them responsible for their great sin in this thing. Rulers in all governments are in a very trying position. Civil magistrates, parents, teachers, -- often have their motives impugned. Often they have reason to feel that theirs is a thankless position. They find it perhaps quite impossible to reconcile their convictions of duty with the wishes and expectations of their subjects. Persons in such relations must make up their minds to bear meekly all they are called to suffer. Every parent has this class of trials more or less. Sometimes they are unable to make their children appreciate their views.

Hence, both rulers and ruled should exercise great patience and forbearance, and should be slow to judge unfavorably of each other, even though there should seem to be real testimony looking towards an unfavorable decision.

4. Mutual love and consideration are demanded in all the relations of life. Everything that may qualify the motives of others should be candidly considered. There should be an abounding fullness of that love which hopeth all things, -- since only this can prevent great injustice to character.

5. Violations of this precept are the greatest evils in general society. Who can bear to read the political newspapers? Sometimes the same objection lies equally against the religious papers. They are full of calumny; they reek with rankest abuse of character. Never since I have been a Christian have I been able to read a daily paper. I have never found one that was safe to read.

6. A great deal is said in professedly promoting reform which injures and retards reform. I have always supposed that the injustice done to character in the great reforms of the age has hindered these reforms more than everything else has done. For this reason, God is displeased with these movements, and suffers them to be frustrated, and truth, for the present, to fall to the ground; -- this being a less evil than for Him to seem to sanction a spirit so utterly alien to genuine love.

7. This sin strengthens itself, and, therefore, is one of the hardest to overcome. He who commits himself to evil speaking against a neighbor, will be strongly tempted to carry it out. He has said that neighbor is a bad man; now he must prove it. He must rake up more low and perhaps false scandal against him; -- else his own reputation will suffer. So he plunges deeper and yet deeper into this sin. Perhaps if called to account, he replies -- You think that statement of mine is not true; I will look the matter all over and see." I tell you, he won't! He will do no such thing as revise that opinion candidly. Far more likely his committal will blind him the more and he will become only the more confirmed in his sin at every step.

8. Many are so hardened as not to realize the relation of what they say to God and to the moral universes. They do not seem at all to appreciate the great evil of injustice to character. What sinner ever realizes the nature of his unbelief towards God? God says -- "He that believeth not, makes Him a liar!" How terrible to destroy confidence in God! What an awful, mischievous, damning sin! Look at the wrong done to Christ by the Scribes and Pharisees, and the mischief it did in the world. But for their virulence and prejudice in rejecting Christ, the people would have embraced Him as their Messiah. To all human view, if they had received Christ candidly, and given Him their hearts, the nation would have been converted, and that nation, converted, would have sent the gospel at once all over the world. Such was their location, and such their relation to the nations of the earth, they would have given the gospel to all nations in a single generation, and long ago, shouts of salvation would have rolled over every mountain, and echoed through every valley in all the globe! Alas, hell gloats over the misery and all nature groans under the evils, wrought by injustice to character! Who can measure the depth, and length and breadth thereof!

If this sin were not so common, it would be universally disgraceful. If, according to its real turpitude, it were in as low repute as other sins, who would dare commit it?

9. It is most painful to come near one who is in the habit of taking up evil reports and casting them about him as "firebrands and arrows, saying -- Am I not in sport?" You should avoid one who has this habit as you would a viper.

I have thought a mistake is working in community as to the manner in which we should treat persons who wrong society and manifest no repentance for this sin. It is easy and but too natural for us to put on a plaster where we should put in a probe. Certainly we ought to mark the man who goes about slandering society. In this thing, there are two extremes; one consists in treating such offenders without any compassion; the other, in overlooking their great wickedness. Plainly we should try to avoid both extremes.

How great is the cruelty of injuring the character of another, and especially, of using an influence to crush it! Their words eat as doth a canker, annihilating those on whom they fall! O how much does it become us to take care what we say of others' character!

It is most cruel towards God to injure the character of His children. God Himself feels outraged by such abuse offered to those He loves. We who are parents know very well how it affects us to have our children slandered, even though they may be wicked.

10. It is specially cruel to injure those who labor for our good. Ingratitude in this case heightens to wrong.

What an awful amount of sin the conductors of the press have to answer for! Especially for their course on the eve of an election. Then we cannot, often, believe a word they say. It would almost seem that many of them lie then on principle and by system! Perhaps the election is carried by such slander, and the men who rule us in the places of civil power are there because their friends had superior skill in falsehood and slander! Before high heaven, what a nation of slanderers! I have often had occasion to say to editors who coin and pass on slanders just before election -- If you allow a lie to go out from your press for election purposes, you must answer for it to God! Are you prepared to meet God for this thing?

A man not just to character is not just to anything! He is a totally dishonest man, and just to nothing. If he appears to be just, it is an appearance only. What an appalling thought! There can be no stronger proof of radical dishonesty of character, and unmitigated selfishness.

11. Some seem to regard confidence in those around us as a ridiculous weakness, if not crime. This is most unfortunate, for how much is he to be pitied -- perhaps blamed too -- who confides in no one, and lives in everlasting distrust of all mankind! The Psalmist once said, "All men are liars;" but he said it "in his haste," and we hope only when in haste.

When one shows a general want of confidence, he deserves none in himself. This is obvious as an axiom.

12. Perhaps in no other thing is frequent self-examination more demanded than in this matter of doing injustice to character. The temptation and tendency to violate the law of love is so great, we need to overhaul our practice continually. Evermore let us search our hearts and our words, asking -- Do I deal justly with others even as I would have others do with me? Do I judge the motives of others only as I would have another judge mine?

No department of self-examination is more difficult than this. Hence, it needs to be pressed faithfully, with much self-distrust, and thoroughly, through all the circle of our formed and expressed opinions as to others. On no point is there more danger of delusion, and on none is this delusion more likely to prove fatal. Professed Christians are but too apt to forget that this is radically a dishonest state of mind, and hence, must be inevitably damning.

It is shocking to notice how evil reports are gotten up, spread abroad and received; how a lie passes round and round, and how rarely it meets with one kind, honest, loving heart, to impede its progress!

Men guilty of this sin, will die and be damned for it unless they are willing to repent, confess and make restitution. Who does not say -- if a man steals but a horse or a sheep, and dies without confession and restitution, he cannot be saved. How much more must he die for such a sin as this, unrepented of and unforgiven!

This sin is so fearfully common, its great enormity is overlooked. Scarce anyone estimates it according to its real malignity. But suppose a sin of this kind should occur in heaven. Suppose one of the holy there should slander his brother unjustly! What a sensation! How would those pure and loving hearts be paralyzed with horror! And suppose society here were what it should be, how suddenly would men shut out from their fellowship one who could recklessly or maliciously traduce his brother! Is not this true? When we are really benevolent, what a shock comes over our feelings to hear one belch out an avalanche of venom! We are horrified! What! We say, is not this the spirit of hell?

In the great judgment God will show up this sin in its true light. Then He will place him that loves and him that receives, on a par with him that makes, a lie. The spirit of the act will give it its character then.

13. Where persons are really guilty, there is danger of doing them injustice. But God never falls into this danger. His judgment is eternally and perfectly just. And He would have us aim at entire justice. His word informs us that one of the loftiest angels did not bring a railing accusation against even the devil -- but said -- "The Lord rebuke thee." This example in high places stands for our admonition. We should no more abuse and wrong an enemy than a friend.

We would be specially on our guard in cases where we differ from others in opinion. Here pride of opinion comes in to heighten the danger of doing injustice to others.

14. Often, (as our text suggests) God visits retribution for this sin on men visibly in the present life. He shapes His providence's so that those who judge others censoriously, are themselves judged censoriously. But, if this retribution should not come down on men in this world, it surely will, (and only the more surely for the omission here,) in the world to come. God will judge those who thus judge their brother! And what a judgment must that be!




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God's Goodness Toward Men Basely Requited
Lecture X
September 12, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Psa. 109:5: "They have rewarded me evil for my good and hatred for my love."

David is here speaking apparently of himself, yet really says much that is appropriately applicable to the Messiah. This is common to those ancient prophets who were, in a sort, types of the Messiah, and is especially developed in the case of David, who, as God's chosen king of his covenant people, was so extraordinary a precursor and model of Zion's greater King.

In one aspect, this and several other kindred passages, have been a stumbling-block to some, and a trial to many. They are thought to breathe a vindictive spirit. But there is really in them no occasion for stumbling, for, justly interpreted, they contain nothing inconsistent with the revealed character of God - nothing repugnant to the genius and spirit of the New Testament. These objections grow out of ignorance of God.

God is benevolent. But benevolence has many attributes, and justice is one of them. When occasion calls for it, justice must be revealed. The occasions are less frequent now than they will be at some future day - because this is a period of probation, of long-suffering and of mercy. Under the Gospel, and during the progress of this great experiment of mercy on depraved hearts, we need not expect the ordinary manifestations of justice, that must obtain, in general, under God's government.

It should never be forgotten that God is not all mercy. If He were to become so, He could be no longer good. Indeed, it is impossible for us to conceive of a being all mercy and no justice, or all justice and no mercy.

In this psalm, the special manifestations are those of justice. We hear the writer pleading for justice. The Spirit of Christ within the Psalmist is praying God to execute justice on the wicked. Of course the Spirit which indited prayer in David's mind, was well aware of the necessity of justice in the government of God. Why, then, should He not direct David's mind to offer prayer accordingly? In the case of truly spiritual Christians, led by the Spirit of God, we see the same thing developed now. The soul demands the administration of justice. Under a deep conviction of its necessity as a means of the greatest good, strong desire is awakened, and this, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, assumes the spirit of prayer.

On all hands, it is conceded that God is good - perfectly, infinitely good; - in other words, is truly love. All unselfish, He is only and infinitely benevolent.

The text assumes that God does good to men, and affirms that they requite Him evil therefor. Let us now inquire,

I. In what God's goodness and love to men are manifested;

II. How these manifestations ought to be received;

III. How they are received in fact.


I. In what God's goodness and love to men are manifested.

Again, this love appears, also, in His establishing over man a government, such as he greatly needed for his welfare. Beyond all doubt, such beings as we are, need to be trained. Even in Eden, holy man needed God's watchful care to keep him from sin. Much more does he need God's care and help, since his fall. If our children need parental training to make them good men and women, much more do we, under God, our Father, to make us holy and happy. If this training is an act of benevolence in parents, much more is it in God.

Again, God's goodness to men appears in the fact that He writes His law in man's very nature, giving him a conscience whose voice responds to the voice of God. Surely, it was good in our Father to bring His law so very near as to write it in our inmost mind. For, if holiness is happiness, and hence, we must have God's law developed in all our moral being, then to give us a conscience on which this law should be written, is surely a development of real love.

But I have time only to glance at some of these things, passing unmentioned a great multitude of special developments.
II. Let us now inquire - How ought these manifestations to be received by us?
Again, how ought we to receive God's gift of a Sabbath? Shall we take it as an assault on our liberty? Shall we deem it only a burden and cry out - O, what a weariness it is? How strangely would this be standing in our own light, and accepting with suspicion what God gives in the purest wisdom and love! Therefore, all reason demands that, under the most afflictive rebukes of His providence, we should bow most trustfully and most humbly, knowing that all these things are intended in the utmost kindness and love. These very things are, more than all the rest, trying to our Heavenly Father's heart; yet they are so useful and even necessary to us, that He may not withhold them.
III. But I must now proceed to inquire, not how God's administration toward us ought to be received by us, but how it is. On this point, what are the facts?

The text has it - "They rewarded me evil for my good, and hatred for my love." Is this in accordance with the facts? Let us look at the position which sin takes towards God and the interests of His great family. Sin consists in selfishness. In all selfishness, the mind holds on to its own particular interests, real or supposed, and disregards the general interests in comparison with its own. But God, the Father of all, loving all equally, cannot endure selfishness in any one of them, for the good reason that it is intrinsically unjust and ruinous to interests which He loves and defends. He cannot bear to see one of His family outraging the rights of another one out of mere selfishness. This is the reason why He hates and withstands sin. It is not selfish in Him to take care of all the interests of His great family, nor to regard their general interests as of supreme importance, for they are really so. Consequently, it cannot be selfish in Him to maintain His own honor as King and Lord of all; for, unless He did, how could He rule His subjects so as to ensure their highest good? Hence, to be truly wise and good, He must maintain His dignity and authority against all the insults and abuses of selfish beings, and against all their encroachments on the interests of His great family. It should never be forgotten, that sin and selfishness are intrinsically unjust; - unjust to God and unjust to His creatures. This injustice God must and ought to oppose. Consequently, every being, persisting in his own selfishness, will fret against God and be rasped by unceasing collision with His righteous administration. It cannot be otherwise. A God who cares justly for all, must forever come into collision with creatures who care excessively for self. He will move on righteously; they will chafe and fret, selfishly; He, seeking evermore to secure the highest good of all; they seeking supremely the small and particular good of self as against all. Hence, it is impossible for a sinner remaining selfish, to deny that he renders to God evil for good. He opposes God for His love to all His great family. On this principle he opposes God's gospel - opposes His Law - opposes His Sabbaths - opposes His means of grace - opposes the course of His providence. Mark any one of these forms of opposition to God. See, for example, how men complain of God's providence. For what? Has God done anything wrong? They do not even pretend that He has. They act like bad children in a family, who are forever restive under a government which they know to be right, yet practically regard as wrong. You know how such children thwart all attempts for their good, rewarding their parents evil for all the good done and attempted to be done for themselves. What is all this rasping and fretting against God? Only selfishness working itself out in requiting God with evil for good - resisting measures which God adopts to bless His great family.

In conclusion, let me ask some personal questions.

REMARKS.

1. Would you, who remain in sin, be any better pleased if God should take a different course with you. What can He do to conciliate you? He would like to be at peace with you if He reasonably could, and never has sought a quarrel with you. Suppose He should abolish His law and not require you to obey Him in anything. Suppose He should not ask you to love your neighbor. Would this please you any better? To be released from all requisition from God to love your fellow-beings, would be quite a change; would you like it? You are not easy under His government now: would you have it reversed? Would you have God reverse the requisitions of His law and require you to hate instead of love your neighbor? Would you like this change? No. Your conscience would resist and condemn this new law not less than your selfish heart has resisted the old one. Yea, your whole moral nature would cry out against it. Especially when other selfish beings come down upon yourself, in obedience to this new law, you would exclaim against it as an infinite outrage. Nay, further, if God were merely to throw up the reins of government and leave every selfish being to prey upon your happiness as much as he pleased, you would cry out against even this as insufferable. You would say - Why does not God take care of His wicked creatures? Why does He not restrain their infamous selfishness? So, while you complain because God governs you to control your selfishness, you would complain infinitely more, and with some good reasons, too, if He were to do all what you demand for yourself! Let men alone, to be as selfish as they list.

2. Yet, again; would you have the penalty of His law altered? Would you have Him make it less? Would it better meet your demands then? But penalties, you know, are infinitely important. Law is good for nothing without them, and hence, their value is just as great as the value of the law itself. You would condemn the change which should annex a finite penalty to an infinitely valuable law. Of course you would, just as you would condemn a law which affixed a ten cent penalty to the crime of murder.

3. Can you suggest any change in His gospel? What change would improve it? Or can you say how His providence would be administered better? If so, explain how. You do not like its restraints, but suppose they were removed; would you be any the better? Does not your highest reason say there can be no change for the higher? Some of you, perhaps, do not like the restraints of his school, or of your own father's family; but does this prove that either is badly governed, or would be better if changed? Yet you cannot suggest any reasonable improvement. Your own reason affirms that all is as it should be, and that no change for the better can be made. No, in God's great kingdom, you cannot show that any change for the better can be made. Suppose I come to you as God's servant and say - What do you want? You are chafing and fretting against God; what would you have? What change would satisfy your demands? Can you name any change in His providence that would please you, and that you know would be on the whole an improvement? If so, what is it? What change do you demand in His gospel - or in His bible? Do you say, "It is so difficult for me to become a Christian!" What change shall God make to please you? Shall He forgive you without repentance? Would this please you? Shall He save you without faith on your part - without any confidence in Him? But this is a natural impossibility. Without confidence in God, you could not be happy anywhere in the universe.

4. What could be more unreasonable than your course toward God? He justly complains - "They have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love." You know this is true! You cannot deny it. And your misbehavior has not been caused by any fault in God, for God's law is unselfish. His whole course towards you is full of lovingkindness, while yours towards Him has been altogether selfish and mean.

5. What can be more trying to God than your course towards Him? Think of the sacrifices His love has made to bless you, and then consider how you have requited those sacrifices. Nothing can be so painful to a benevolent heart as this. If anyone among you has ever labored to do good to a friend, and that good so benevolently intended, has been requited only with abuse and evil, you know how this agonizes your heart! You can understand, in some measure, how God must feel when sinners requite Him evil for good. God says to them - "Thou has spoken and done evil things, as thou couldest." What worse could they do to Him than to abuse His love and repay His kindness with insult - His efforts to save with efforts to bring down on their own heads damnation?

So far as concerns God and the holy, it is infinitely better that you would make war on God for His goodness than for any wickedness. Therefore, it is not well that God should change to accommodate you. So of ourselves; if men will abuse us, let it be for our well-doing and not for our evil-doing. We must, by no means, do evil to accommodate them. It is an inexpressible consolation to God's people that sinners never can have any occasion to find fault with God for anything cruel, tyrannical or severe. There is not the least danger that anything will ever appear in any part of the universe to God's discredit;- nothing that can tarnish His name or reproach His administration, If there were the least reason to fear anything of the sort, it would clothe heaven in mourning, and thrill the hearts of the holy with horror.

Tell me, sinner, is not your course necessarily fatal, either to you or God? You oppose Him; He abhors you. If you are right, it will doubtless one day appear so, and then what can we say for God and His kingdom? But if God is right and you are wrong, you have within yourself the elements of the deepest ruin and destruction. You have such a moral nature - such powers of reason and conscience, that you will certainly condemn yourself, and load your own soul down eternally with self-reproaches and self-condemnation. Though all the universe beside you soul, were to caress you and shout your praises, yet your own conscience would come down on you with curses which no power in the universe can avert.

Then why not yield? Why not confess and repent? Come out now, in honesty and say - Lord, I have always been dreadfully wicked. I have obeyed neither Thy law nor Thy gospel. I have not received kindly the things that Thou hast so kindly given. So far from this, I have only been rasped and full of dissatisfaction. Have you ever gone before God to say - I have wronged Thee all my life by my suspicions? I have never realized that Thou has had kind intentions for me. To this day, my heart is hard as marble. I am only a wretch - a vile, ungrateful worm! Never have I received Thy blessings in a spirit corresponding to Thy love that gave them." Now why do you not cast yourself down before God in this way, saying - Lord, I know Thou hast been good, but I have been utterly and only evil; Thou hast sought to bless me, but I have only resisted and abused Thee! O break my spirit down in penitence! Can you say -Lord, I am afraid there is something wrong in Thy heart? Said a woman to me not long since - "God is not my Father. My heart will say - I am so poor, God will not own me. He is my adversary to resist me on every hand. He comes and stands in the way, as He sent an angel to meet Baalam." Now, I am aware that God's dispensations towards individuals sometimes have this appearance, even as old Jacob said - "All these things are against me." When God deals with them in real mercy, and strives to lead them in His own right way, they only rebel the more. Oh, how sad that men are so slow of heart to trust God!

Consider how Jesus Christ is treated, for it is He who speaks in the text. For His love, what hatred does He experience! He who has loved sinners, how strangely do sinners hate Him even to the ruin of their own souls!

But perhaps some of you will say - I know it all; my conscience is wounded desperately; where is any remedy for me? Where can I find any balm for my soul? How can I ever have peace again? My soul is so hard, and my conscience so dead, it surely must be that I am past hope - given over to be lost forever! But have you ever gone to that long-abused Savior, saying - Lord, is there any help for me? Can you persuade yourself to go humbly to Him for help? Mark what He says - Wilt Thou not from this time cry unto Me, - "My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?" Do you say - May I call Him Father? Do you ask, Where is He, that I may come even to His seat and pour out my confessions and my sorrows into His ear? Broken-hearted sinner, He is near thee - even where thou art - in thy room - at thy right hand; and it is only for thee to speak, and He heareth thee!




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Losing First Love
Lecture XI
October 10, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Rev. 2:4: "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love."

In speaking from these words, I shall:

I. Notice briefly what the first love of a Christian is;

II. How it manifests itself;

III. How it may be known that Christians have left their first love;

IV. Describe the state into which they fall;

V. The only remedy for this state of things.


I. What the first love of a Christian is.

The Christian's first love is best known by experience. Those who are really brought from great darkness into marvellous light-- from sensible condemnation into conscious and assured peace and joy in God, cannot but know what this first love of the convert is. Ardent, earnest, self-sacrificing,-- it makes religious duties supremely delightful, and fills the heart with joy in God all the day long.

II. How it manifests itself.

Again, nothing that God requires seems hard or grievous. No matter what it may be, "the yoke is easy and the burden light."
"'Tis love that makes his willing feet

In swift obedience move."

These states and experiences are, of course, unknown to the unconverted. Even some who think themselves converted, know them not, and are exceedingly jealous sometimes of those who do.
III. How it may be known that Christians have left their first love.
Again, this loss of first love is indicated by a sense of bondage. When the Christian performs his religious duties, not from any sense of love, but of bondage to conscience, you may know that "first love" is gone. Obedience is not spontaneous. Under one's first love, it always is.
IV. Describe the state into which they fall.
Ungodly men draw this inference: "If I must live such a life, let me put off its commencement as long as I can, for such a religion is not the thing to live by and enjoy." Who does not see that such an impression is most disastrous in all its influences?
They are fallen into impenitence, as our passage itself implies; for how else could the Savior call on them to "repent?" Can one who is impenitent go to heaven?
V. The only remedy for this state.

The only remedy for this condition is given in the text: "Repent and do your first works." Repent more deeply than ever before, for now there are new and more aggravated sins to be repented of. When one has waded through such a life, all his former sins, prior to his professed conversion, are as nothing compared with these. After being so far enlightened, and after having tasted the good word of God and his precious love - after having known God and Christ as revealed in the Gospel, and after having entered into covenant with God - then to violate this sacred covenant - to disown those solemn vows - to dishonor that ever-to-be-remembered name;- for all this, there can be no remedy short of coming down into the lowest dust before the Lord - lower than ever before - with confessions of greater guilt than ever before. Hence, it comes to pass that, where persons, once backslidden, do really return and repent, they are more thoroughly broken in spirit than they ever were before.

REMARKS.

1. Many persons keep just enough of what they call religion to fasten their delusions on their own souls. By dint of resolution and self-impulses, they keep up the forms of family prayer and of public worship, and by these means, they sustain the delusion that they are true Christians. If they had dropped these forms and gone into open apostasy, they would have known themselves, and would not have once thought of maintaining a hope of personal religion. The delusion could not have existed. But those who maintain the forms of religion, and the forms only, cannot have the witness of God's Spirit - can have no evidence from their own daily experience, but content themselves to live on the most meagre allowance of testimony to their own piety. They dare not speak very confidently, yet they are hopeful. They love to bring up the case of persons who had a great many doubts, and yet, on the whole are esteemed good Christian people. Some of them live on the doctrine of election, or perseverance of saints. Some live on the case of those who were reclaimed just before death. They sing the backslider's hymns and pray the backslider's prayer. From every quarter they are picking up shreds of matter of every sort wherewith to feed their own delusion. Sometimes, to help themselves out of their trouble, they set themselves to pick flaws in better Christians than themselves. This avails to relieve their conscience a little.

2. This is a most common delusion. A minister related to me certain facts respecting a doctor of divinity whom I had myself known, and in whom, I must say, I had never seen much evidence of personal piety. When this doctor of divinity came to die, he was greatly concerned about himself. My informant said - He asked me to pray that he might be restored to his first love! What! one who had lived forty or fifty years in the church, and one of her honored ministers too, yet, on his death-bed, asks his friends to that he may be restored to his first love,- really, that he may be converted! If we have not even so much as first love - not so much as when we started, what are we? What state are we in, if we have not as much love as when first converted?

3. Many persons have occasionally strong exercises of mind - often a compound of anxiety about their final salvation, and conviction of sin - yet it falls short of true religion. They quite fail of coming into a state of true love to God or to Jesus Christ. There is feeling, action, energy; but love is wanting! That deep love which affectionately honors and recognizes God as supreme Lord and Father, and which then goes forth to embrace in its arms all his offspring; that love which "suffereth long and is kind"- which is never weary in well-doing - which finds its life in acts of kindness: - this is not there.

My beloved people, I have been your pastor now a long time. Going in and out before you as I have these many years, I have seen most of you pass through seasons that have been greatly interesting to me. In some of you I have seen grace developed and shining all the more clear and lovely for your trials; but of some of you I am constrained to ask - Have you not lost your first love? Is it not very difficult for you to live a Christian life? Some of you are in such a state that I have not seen you at a prayer-meeting for a year. You were not confined to your bed by sickness; you were not out of town; what was the matter? What is your spiritual state?

Of some of you who do come to the prayer meeting I must ask - What is your state? Is your experience daily becoming more rich, and more fresh, and more quickening? Do you live more closely on God? Are you daily walking more and more surely in newness of life?




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Men, Ignorant of God's Righteousness, Would Fain Establish Their Own
Lecture XII
November 21, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Rom. 10:3: "For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."

Paul here states three facts in respect to the Jews, viz.: that they were ignorant of God's righteousness--that they sought to establish their own, and that they did not submit to God's. This is a condensed statement of their religious condition. The fundamental difficulty with them was, their ignorance of God's righteousness. On this rock the nation were wrecked. Not knowing Jesus, they were forever going about to establish their own righteousness--and forever unsuccessful.

What was true of the Jews is still true to an alarming extent of multitudes, both in and out of the church, among all classes in Christian lands. It may be said that all do this who are not really Christians and receive Christ.

In discussing this subject, I enquire,

I. When one may be said to be ignorant of God's righteousness.

II. When men may be said to go about to establish their own righteousness.

III. What this righteousness of God is--this of which sinners are so ignorant.


I. When one may be said to be ignorant of God's righteousness.

Again, men are ignorant of God's righteousness when they do not understand his method of making sinners righteous. The Jews did not feel any need of such a system as the gospel. They supposed they should be accepted if they merely obeyed their ceremonial law. In this they made a grand and fatal mistake. God never gave that law for this purpose, but for another entirely different from this. It was only introductory to the real gospel--intended to prepare the way for it. That ceremonial hinted plainly at the true system, and aimed to illustrate the great principles upon which it reposes.
Again, men are ignorant of God's righteousness when they fail to understand the conditions on which He can treat them as righteous, that is, can justify and save them. This was the mistake of the Jews and is the mistake of all sinners. They do not understand how it is that God proposes to make them righteous, and turn them from all their sin.
II. I am next to enquire, When men may be said to go about to establish their own righteousness.
Again, men are trying to establish their own righteousness when they depend on doing right for acceptance with God. How often do they tell you they mean to do about right, showing plainly by their manner, and by the use they make of this supposed intention, that they think hereby to secure favor with God. They turn off his claims with this plea, and so not at all believe they are in danger of being sent to hell. Now is this anything else but going about to establish their own righteousness?
Indeed, sinner! What do you know of personal holiness? What experience have you of a pure heart--of real love to God--of sincere regard for his will? Surely, you are only going about to establish your own righteousness.

Again, sinners evince the same spirit when they hold on to the idea that they are about as good as professors of religion. Some such, they know of, who are not any better than they should be, and with whom they think their own case might compare favorably. Such, are going about to establish their own righteousness.

This was the mistake of the Jews. They fasted twice in the week--were greatly given to prayer and alms to the poor. In these services, their scribes, priests, and Pharisees, spent a great share of their time. Thrice a year they went up to Jerusalem to the solemn feasts. Religious duties absorbed a large share of their time and money. You would be appalled to learn how much their temple cost, and their religious worship, sacrifices and offerings. On all these they placed the utmost dependence. But evermore, when men rely on other methods of salvation than God's, they are really going about to establish their own.
III. I am next to enquire what this righteousness of God is--this of which sinners are so ignorant.
Often it happens that you see professors of religion moving heaven and earth by their self-righteous efforts to get up some righteousness of their own. You will be struck in examining their religious system, to see how utterly Christ is left out of it, as a practical Savior. They think of their good and right things--not of Christ--as really the ground of their hope before God.
It is for this reason that conversion costs such a conflict. Often it seems indispensable that God should startle sinners with awful fears before they will yield. On Mt. Sinai and all around, the trump of God waxes louder and louder--the mountain is all ablaze, and rocks quake under Jehovah's mighty voice long and loud, till every nerve of the sinner trembles, and he sees nothing but darkness--until the atonement reveals a living Christ to his agonized soul.
You recollect, also, the case of the poor woman in the gospel. Christ had been invited to a rich man's table; they sat reclined at their meal, with their feet somewhat extended behind them, when this woman came up gently, clasped his sacred feet, bathed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Blessed woman! She knew her position as a lost sinner, and she had tasted the grace that forgives freely. What an act was that! Her humility of spirit charms us, and we read in her case the feeling of those who discard all righteousness of their own, and come to understand the righteousness of God.
REMARKS.

1. The ignorance of the Jews came of their great pride, and is not at all to be ascribed to the obscurity of the subject itself. The ignorance of sinners now, even under the gospel, is amazing. I have recently seen one who had been well instructed in the letter of these things, yet when he became deeply hungry for gospel life, seemed scarcely to know how to use one of the plainest truths it embraces. It was affecting to see him drink in a few of the simplest gospel truths, saying--"I am sure I never heard of that before--never thought of that." How common it is for sinners, under the Spirit's light, to say--"All this is new to me; I wonder I was never told of this before!"

2. Many feel the need of becoming truly religious; they mean to be, and they set themselves to work for it in some way. Perhaps they set themselves to serve God, but have no right idea of what it is to be truly religious. Hence, we find so few who seem, in their own experience, to know the deep power of the gospel. Ah, the deep foundations of their selfishness are not broken up. They have never been made conformable to Christ's death. Hence, the difference between this class and those who are utterly cut down and slain by the law--then raised from the dead to a new life in Christ.

3. When the sinner is truly convicted of sin, the way opens before him, and the first conditions are fulfilled for his free pardon. Now, he has new apprehensions of God's law--of its great spirituality. But it is not enough to know this; another lesson yet remains. I am glad to see you cut down under thorough conviction, but you must also learn not to fly in the face of that fiery law for salvation! Sinner, professed Christian, do you know how you are to be saved? You need not make any atonement; you need not suffer and toil to work up an atonement; no need of this at all. In my own first convictions, I said, under my great sorrow--I shall have to bear a great deal of this, I have been a sinner so long; I shall have to be nearly killed before I can be saved. Ah, how mistaken! God wants no such atonement--no such suffering of you. The atonement is all made, ready to your hands! Do you understand that no works, or prayers, or tears of your own can do anything for you towards an atonement, and towards constituting a ground of your acceptance before God? God himself has provided the lamb for the offering. Now come, as the ancient Jew came, and lay your hand on that dear sacrifice, and there confess your sins. The vail of the great temple is rent away, and you may enter the inner sanctuary; may come quite to the mercy-seat and lay your own hand on the head of the victim that takes away the sin of the world. Will you come?




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Adorning the Doctrine of God Our Savior
Lecture XIII
December 5, 1855

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
 

Text.--Titus 2:10: "But showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things."

In our last Friday prayer meeting, one of the brethren quoted this passage in prayer. It struck me with great force; indeed, I never had seen its beauty and power so fully before. It turned my mind upon this passage with so much interest, that I have concluded to present my views upon it in this morning's dicourse.

I. What is this doctrine of God our Savior?

II. What is it to adorn this doctrine?

III. What are the particular reasons for our thus adorning the gospel?

IV. What are the conditions of so adorning this gospel?


I. First, let us inquire, what is this doctrine of God our Savior?

The chapter in which the passage occurs, affords us all the answer we need. Paul is instructing Timothy how to teach and preach the gospel to his converts. He specially applies the gospel to "aged men," "aged women," "young women," "young men," to himself, as a "pattern of good words," and to "servants;" and in this latter connection, comes in our text. This exhortation is then enforced as well as explained in these remarkable words: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."

Let this suffice to show what the doctrine is that Christians of every class in life should strive to adorn. The essential idea of the doctrine is that God's infinite grace towards our lost world had for its aim to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us unto Himself -- in short, to make us holy.

II. We must next inquire -- what is it to adorn this doctrine?

To adorn it is to honor it, and make it honorable before all. It implies that we commend it by being ourselves an illustration of its meaning, and by evincing to all its spirit and efficacy. We are to prove the excellence of the doctrine by showing, in our own case, what it can do in the hands of the Holy Spirit to reform the world. The doctrine is good or otherwise, according to its practical results. If it accomplishes what it aims to, it is beyond expression valuable and glorious. That it can and does, is just the thing which God leaves for His people to prove by their lives. Hence, they must live so as to hold forth the excellence, beauty and power, of the gospel.

III. What are the particular reasons for our thus adorning the gospel?

Again, if we do not adorn the gospel, it will more deeply ruin us. The gospel, instead of blessing us, will only work for us a deeper damnation. There is no avoiding such a result from such a life.
Again, if we do not adorn the gospel, we shall greatly hinder and retard its success. We shall stumble others who would enter the narrow way. Our life scandalizes the gospel which it should, but does not, adorn. He who, professing the gospel, does not adorn it, gives his highest influence against it. He throws against it the whole weight of his example.
So it will always be. If this doctrine is really adorned, it will be sure to create inquiry. It must arrest attention. There are probably few men of the least observation who have not known certain persons whose lives have arrested their attention. A man can hardly live anywhere without coming in contact with someone of whom he is constrained to ask -- What is it that enables him to live so? What spirit is this? When they see its striking and beautiful manifestations, they are constrained to inquire thus for its causes, and are anxious to learn what they may be.

Mere philanthropists commonly ascribe everything to phrenological development, and make nothing of it but mere humanity. But let them come into contact with a living and earnest Christianity, and they will see the difference. They will see that while the Christian lays all due stress on the rights of man and of woman too, they lay yet more stress upon the rights of God, and ought to. They will see that God has a rightful claim to the homage of His creatures, and that no man deserves much praise for justice who does not give God His rights as well as man his. Thus, the presence of a living Christianity corrects the common mistake of the mere philanthropist. In fact, this class are wont to make this mistake only where they see no living Christianity, but only a doctrinal one -- only one which has its embodiment in creeds and pulpit teachings -- not in the spirit and life of its professors. Let them see the doctrine really adorned, and they will then know the difference.

It is remarkable that modern philanthropy goes out only to the animal part of our nature, being, in this respect, on a level with the sympathy of brutes towards their own species. It troubles not itself to save the soul -- all this is dropped out. You may see these philanthropists exceedingly zealous in defence of mere earthly interests, solicitous about visible and bodily joys and sorrows, boiling over with excitement about the body; but call them to labor for the soul, they have no heart in it -- no interst, no sympathy; those things lie beyond their sphere of care or concern.

Again, let this doctrine be steadfastly honored, and men will surely see the beauty and truth of the doctrine of sanctification. Let Christians persevere, and they will certainly overcome. Overcoming sin and Satan, they will certainly prove to all that there is a power in the gospel to save from sin. Here what they will say: "I have seen this man or woman now these years, and I know there must be something in them that I do not understand." Said one man of my acquaintance concerning a young lady who had been several weeks in his family, and whose life eminently adorned the gospel -- "Now, wife, I want you to tell me in what one thing that young woman sinned while she was in our family! Did you see her do or hear her say any single thing that was not in harmony with the gospel? I must confess, I say and heard nothing out of the right way." Yet he watched her with an eagle eye. He was not a Christian himself, and was by no means prejudiced in her favor as a Christian; but he could not help observing so peculiar a life, and he soon found that it commended itself most entirely to his moral feelings and judgements, so that he could say nothing against it.
If we adorn this doctrine people who know our life and yet do not embrace religion will feel severely self-condemned. Whether they are ungodly men out of the church or backsliders in it, they will see that their own course is wrong and without excuse. It will beget a sense of guilt and shame that they do not themselves live so as to adorn the gospel. They will see that they must adorn this gospel in heart and life, or they cannot be saved. For this world also they will see that they must be either a blessing in society or an odious nuisance.
IV. What are the conditions of so adorning this gospel? REMARKS.

1. What an interest every member of the true church must have that we should adorn the doctrine of God our Savior! Paul said -- "Who is offended and I burn not?" If any were stumbled in their Christian course, it seemed to set his soul on fire!

2. What an interest the wicked world must have in the living piety of the church. That ungodly man who has a pious wife might say -- I would not have her lose that piety of hers for a thousand worlds! I need it always before me, a living example and rebuke. So may all wicked men say of their Christain neighbors. If there is to be any hope of their salvation, they must have these instrumentalities which God Himself has ordained.

3. What an interest it gives us in defending the character of Christians. Those who love Christ and His cause will not circulate slander against Christ's children. They feel too keenly alive to the interests that cluster around the Savior's name! Sometimes you find persons deeply distressed because they see Christ dishonored through His friends. Sometimes even the fear that He will be, greatly agonizes them, so deeply are their hearts set on His honor and praise. I could name to you facts that show the greatest distress felt by Christians in the supposed dishonor done to Christ through His children

4. To be careless about adorning this doctrine evinces hypocrisy. There can scarcely be a stronger proof of it than this.

5. When we really love this doctrine of God our Savior, how watchful we become of each other. Then how it strikes one to see Christ dishonored. But those who are not in sympathy with Christ can see His name continually dishonored, yet manifest no grief. They feel none.

6. But living Christians will be jealous and tender of each other's reputation. It will offend and grieve them to see the character of Christian brethren assailed. How can it be otherwise, so long as they see Christ thus wounded in the dishonor cast on His doctrine through His professed people?




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GLOSSARY
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart

    Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE XII).

    Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit, but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).

    Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).

    Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).

    Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).

    Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

    Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity, because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

    Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect... it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

    Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).

    Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

    Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).

End of the 1855 Collection.