THE WRATH OF GOD AGAINST THOSE WHO WITHSTAND HIS TRUTH.
December 9, 1857
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Rom. 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against
all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness."
The following context shows that in these words
the apostle has his eye especially on those who, not having a written
revelation from God, might yet know Him in His works of nature. Paul's
view is that God's invisible attributes become apparent to the human mind,
ever since the creation of our world -- being revealed by the things He
has made. In and by means of these works, we may learn His eternal power
and His real Divinity. Hence all men have some means of knowing the great
truths that pertain to God, our infinite Creator. And hence God may, with
the utmost propriety, hold men responsible for accepting this truth reverently,
and rendering to their Creator the homage due. For withholding this, they
are utterly without excuse. In discussing the subject presented in our
text let us enquire,
I. First, what is the true idea of unrighteousness?
II. What is implied in "holding the truth in unrighteousness?"
III. What is intended by "the wrath of God revealed from heaven"
and why is it thus revealed against all such "unrighteousness"?
IV. Wherein and how is this wrath revealed?
I. What is the true idea of unrighteousness?
Beyond question, it cannot be less than the negation of righteousness,
and may imply more or less of positive wickedness. Here the question will
arise -- What is righteousness? To which I answer, rightness -- moral
rightness, the original term being used in regard to material things to
denote what is straight, as for example, a straight line. Unrighteousness,
the opposite of this, must mean what is morally crooked, distorted --
not in harmony with the rightness of God's law. To denote sin, the scriptures
employ some terms which properly signify a negation, or utter absence
of what should be. Some theologians have maintained that the true idea
of sin is simply negative, supposing sin to consist in not doing and not
being what one ought to do and to be. This idea is strongly implied in
our text. Sin is, indeed, a neglect to do known duty and a refusal to
comply with known obligation. Inasmuch as love is required always and
of all men, this must be a state of real disobedience. Suffice it then
to say that unrighteousness is an omission -- a known omission -- a refusal
to be what we should, and to do what we should. Of course it is only and
wholly voluntary. The mind's refusal to obey God is a matter of its own
II. What is implied in "holding the truth in unrighteousness?"
The meaning of the original term -- "hold" -- is to hold back,
to restrain. The idea here is that the man restrains the legitimate influence
of the truth and will not let it have its proper sway over his will.
The human mind is so constituted that truth is its natural stimulus. This
stimulus of truth would, if not restrained and held back, lead the mind
naturally to obey God. The man holds back the truth through his own unrighteousness
when, for selfish reasons, he overrules and restrains its natural influence,
and will not suffer it to take possession and hold sway over his mind.
III. What is intended by "the wrath of God revealed from heaven"
and why is it thus revealed against all such "unrighteousness"?
The obvious sense is that God, manifesting Himself from heaven, has revealed
His high and just displeasure against all restraining of the truth and
withstanding of its influence.
Before I proceed to show why this is, I must be permitted to come very
near to some of you whom I see before me this day and talk to you in great
frankness and faithfulness. I do not charge on you that you have been
outwardly immoral, but you have restrained the truth, you have withstood
its influence. You are therefore the very persons against whom the wrath
of God is said to be revealed. This is true of every one of you who has
not given himself up to the influence of truth; you have restrained that
natural influence; therefore against you God has revealed His wrath.
This is a terrible thing. The wrath of a king is terrible; how much more
so is the wrath of God! Ah, who can stand before Him when once He shall
arise in His wrath to avenge His truth and His own glorious name!
- 1. Why does God's wrath wax hot against this
sin? Comprehensively the reason is this -- withstanding the truth is
resisting God's revealed claims of love and obedience and is therefore
the whole of sin. All is comprised in it. This is the very essence --
the true idea of sin; it is deliberate, intelligent, and intentional
rebellion against God. There could be no obligation until your conscience
affirms it to yourself. The conscience cannot thus affirm obligation
until there is some knowledge of God revealed to the mind; but when
this knowledge is revealed, then conscience must and will affirm obligation.
Subsequently to this point, the more conscience is developed, the more
it unfolds, and the more strongly it affirms your obligation to obey
God. Suppose a person were created asleep. Until he awakes, there could
be in his mind no knowledge of God -- not one idea of God, and consequently
no sense of obligation to obey Him. But as soon as the moral functions
of the reason and the conscience create a sense of obligation, then
the mind is brought to a decision. It must then either choose to obey
or to disobey God. It must elect either to take God's law as its rule
of duty or to reject it.
The alternative of rejecting God makes it necessary
to hold back the truth and withstand its claims. We might almost say
that these processes are substantially identical -- resisting the natural
influence of Gods' truth on the mind, and withstanding the known claims
of God. When you know the truth concerning God, the great question being
whether or not you will obey it, if your heart says no! you do of course
resist the claims of truth; you hold it back through your own unrighteousness.
- 2. The very apprehending of moral truth concerning
God renders it impossible to be indifferent. Once seeing God's claims,
you cannot avoid acting upon them one way or the other. Hence to stop
there, after your duty is made known, and hold your mind aloof from
obedience, is being just as wicked as you can be. You disown your whole
obligation towards God, and practically say unto Him -- "Depart
from me, for I desire not the knowledge of Thy ways." Is not this
as wicked as you can be, with the light you may have at the time? What
more wicked thing could you do?
Let us look at this matter a little farther.
Holding back the truth through unrighteousness, implies the total rejection
of the moral law as a rule of duty. This must be the case, because when
light concerning the meaning of this law comes before the man, he repels
it and resists its claims, thus virtually saying -- That law is no rule
of duty to me. Thus resisting the influence of truth, he practically
denies all obligations to God. Truth coming before his mind, he perceives
his obligation, but he withholds his mind from its sway.
You may probably have observed that some persons seem to have no sense
of any other obligation save that created by human law. Legal obligation
can reach them, but not moral. They will not pay an honest debt unless
it is in such a shape that the strong hand of the law can take hold
of them. Others have no sensibility to any claims save those that minister
to their business reputation. Take away their fear of losing this; remove
all the inducements to do right save those that pertain to moral obligation,
and see if they will ever do any thing.
Now such men practically reject and deny God's rights altogether, and
equally so, their own obligations to God. Their conduct, put into words,
would read -- I have some respect for human law and some fear of human
penalty; but, for God's law or penalty, I care nothing!
- 3. It is easy to see that to hold back the truth
thus is the perfection of wickedness. For suppose a man refrains from
sinning, only because of his obligations to human laws. Then he shows
that he fears human penalties only, and has no fear of God before his
Again, this holding the truth in unrighteousness
settles all question as to the moral character. You may know the man
with unerring certainty. His position is taken; his course is fixed;
as to moral obligation, he cares nothing. The fact is perceived moral
obligation does not decide his cause at all. He becomes totally dishonest.
This of course, settles the question of his character. Until he reveres
God's authority, there is not a particle of moral goodness in him. He
does not act with even common honesty. Of course his moral character
towards God is formed and is easily known. If he had any moral honesty,
the perceived fact of his own moral obligation would influence his mind;
but we see it does not at all; he shuts down the gate on all the claims
of truth and will not allow them to sway his will; hence it must be
that his heart is fully committed to wickedness.
- 4. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all who thus hold back the truth, because this attitude of the
will shows that you are reckless of your obligations towards God. It
shows that, with you, a moral claim on your heart and conscience goes
for nothing. If you restrain the truth from influencing your mind, this
very fact proves that you do not mean to serve God. Some of you know
that you are not doing what you know to be your duty. You are conscious
that the presence of known duty does not move you. You have not done
one act of obedience to God's claims because they are God's.
Again, not only does this settle the question
of moral character -- which is of itself a good reason for God's wrath;
but it also settles the question of moral relations. Because it shows
that your moral character is altogether corrupt and wrong, it also shows
that in regard to moral relations, you are really God's enemy. From
that moment when you resist the claims of moral truth, God must regard
you as His enemy, and not by any means as His obedient subject. Not
in any figurative sense, but in its most literal sense, you are His
enemy, and therefore He must be highly displeased with you. If He were
not, His own conscience would condemn Him. You must know that it must
be His duty to reveal to you this displeasure. Since He must feel it,
He ought to be open and honest with you. You could not, in reason, wish
Him to be otherwise. All of you who know moral truth, yet obey it not
-- who admit obligation which yet you refuse to obey; you are the men
who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Let this be settled in every
one of your minds; that if you restrain the influence of any truth known
concerning God and your duty, then against you is His wrath revealed
IV. We must next enquire -- Wherein and how
is this wrath revealed?
Perhaps some of you are already making this enquiry. Moralists are wont
to make it and to say -- "We do not see any wrath coming. If we are
as good as professors of religion, why shall we not be saved as well as
Wherein then is God's wrath revealed against this great wickedness?
- 1. Your conscience affirms that God must be
displeased with you. It certifies to you beforehand that you are guilty,
and that God cannot accept you.
- 2. The remorse which will sometimes visit such
sinners yet more confirms God's displeasure. True, the feeling of remorse
belongs to the sensibility; but not the less does it give admonitory
warning. Its voice must be accounted as the voice of God in the human
soul. He who made that sensibility so that it will sometimes recoil
under a sense of guilt, and turn back to consume the life and joy of
the soul, did not make it a lie. It is strange that any should suppose
this remorse to be itself the punishment threatened of God against sin
and the whole of it. Far from it. This is not that punishment which
God has threatened; it is only a premonition of it.
- 3. The very fears men feel are often to be taken
as an indication that the thing they dread is a reality. Why is it that
men in their sins are so often greatly afraid to die? It is no other
than a trumpet-tone of the voice of God, sounding up from the depths
of their very nature. How can they overlook the fact that these grim
forebodings of coming doom are indeed a revelation of wrath, made in
the very nature God has given them!
- 4. Another revelation of God's wrath He makes
is in His judicial abandonment of sinners. God manifests His despair
of doing any thing more for their salvation when He manifestly withdraws
His Spirit and gives them over to hopeless abandonment. Withdrawing
His Spirit, He leaves them in great moral blindness. They may have been
able to see and to discriminate spiritual things somewhat before, but
after God forsakes them, they seem almost utterly void of this power.
Everything is dark; all is confused. The light of the Holy Spirit being
withdrawn, it were practically vain for the sinner himself or for his
sympathizing friends to expect his salvation. This mental darkness over
all spiritual things is God's curse on his rejection of truth, and significantly
forebodes his speedy doom.
- 5. Analogous to this is the indication given
in a moral paralysis of the conscience. Strangely it seems to have lost
its sensibility, its ready tact in moral discrimination is gone; its
perceptions seem unaccountably obtuse, and the tone of its voice waxes
feeble and almost inaudible. Practically, one might almost as well have
no conscience at all.
- 6. What does this paralysis of conscience indicate?
Plainly, that God has abandoned that soul. The conscience so long over-borne
by a perverse will, gives way, and God ceases longer to sustain its
It is painful to see how persons in this condition
strain their endeavors, but such debility comes down upon them -- they
become so indifferent; diverting influences are so potent -- they drop
their endeavors, powerless. Once their conscience had some activity;
truth fell on their mind with appreciable force, and they were aware
of resisting it; but, by and by, there insued a state of moral feeling
in which the mind is no longer conscious of refusing; indeed it seems
scarcely conscious of any thing whatever. He has restrained the influence
of truth until conscience has mainly suspended its function. Like the
drunkard who has lost all perception of the moral wrong of intemperance,
and who has brought this insensibility on himself by incessant violations
of his better judgment, so the sinner has refused to hear the truth,
until the truth now refuses to move him. What is the meaning of this
strange phenomenon? It is one of the ways in which God reveals His indignation
at man's great wickedness.
An ungodly student, put on the intellectual race-course alongside of
his classmates, soon becomes ambitious and jealous. At first, he will
probably have some sense of this sin; but he soon loses this sense,
and passes on as if unconscious of any sin. What is this but a revelation
of God's displeasure?
Again, this wrath against those who hold back the truth in unrighteousness,
is abundantly revealed in God's word. Think of what Christ said to the
hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees -- "Fill ye up, then, the measure
of your fathers." What did He mean by that? Their fathers had filled
their cup of sin till God could bear with them no longer, and then He
filled up His cup of wrath and poured it forth on the nation, and "there
was no remedy." So Christ intimates it shall be with the Scribes
and Pharisees. And what is this but to reveal His wrath against them
for holding back the truth through unrighteousness?
Again, He lets such sinners die in their sins. Observe how, step by
step, God gave them one revelation after another of His wrath against
their sin; remorse, moral blindness, decay of moral sensibility, and
the plain assertions of His word. All these failing, He gives them up
to some strong delusion that they may believe a lie. God Himself says
-- "For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they
should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not
the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." It is painfully
instructive to study the workings of modern delusions, especially spiritualism;
to notice how it has come in following the track of those great revivals
that blessed our country a few years since. Do not I know scores of
persons who passed through those revivals unblessed, and now they are
mad with this delusion? They saw the glory of God in those scenes of
revival power; but they turned away, and now they are mad on their idols,
and crazy under their delusions. God has given them up to die in their
sins, and it will be an awful death! Draw near them gently, and ask
a few kind questions; you will soon see that they make no just moral
discriminations. All is dark which needs to be light, ere they can find
the gate of life.
1. You may notice the exact difference between saints and sinners, including
among sinners all professors of religion who are not in an obedient state
of mind. The exact difference is this; saints have adopted Gods' will
as their law of activity, the rule that shall govern all their life and
all their heart. You reveal to them God's will; this settles all further
controversy. The very opposite of this is true of the sinner. With him,
the fact of God's supposed will has no such influence at all; usually
no influence of any sort, unless it be to excite his opposition. Again,
the Christian, instead of restraining the influence of truth, acts up
to His convictions. If the question of oughtness is settled, all is settled.
Suppose I go to Dea. A. or Dea. B., and I say, "I want you to do
a certain thing; I think you must give so much of your money to this object."
He replies, "I don't know about that, my money costs me great labor
and pains." But I resume and say -- "Let us look calmly at this
question;" and then I proceed to show him that the thing I ask of
him is beyond a doubt his duty to God and to man. He interposes at once,
"You need not say another word; that is enough. If it is my duty
to Christ and to His people, I ask no more." But the sinner is not
moved so. He knows his duty beforehand, but he has long been regardless
of its claims on him. You must appeal to his selfish interests if you
would reach his heart. With the Christian, you need not appeal to his
hopes or his fears. You only need show him his duty to God. The sinner
you can hope to move only by appeals to his interests. The reason of this
is that his adopted course of life is to serve his own interests, nothing
2. With sinners, the question of religion is one of loss and gain. But
with Christians, it is only a question of right and duty towards God.
This makes truth to him all important, and duty imperative. But the sinner
only asks, "What shall I gain?" or "What shall I lose?"
It is wholly a question of danger. Indeed so true is this that ministers
often assume that the only availing motive with a sinner must be an appeal
to his hopes and fears. They have mostly dropped out the consideration
of right as between the sinner and God. They seem to have forgotten that
so far forth as they stop short of the idea of right and appeal only to
the sinner's selfishness, their influence tends to make spurious converts.
For if men enter upon the Christian life only for gain in the line of
their hopes and fears, you must keep up the influence of these considerations,
and must expect to work upon these only. That is, you must expect to have
selfish Christians and a selfish church. If you say to them, "This
is your duty," they will reply -- "What have we ever cared for
duty? We were never converted to the doctrine of doing our duty. We became
Christians at all, only for the sake of promoting our own interests, and
we have nothing to do in the Christian life on any other motive."
Now observe, they may modify this language a little if it seems too repugnant
to the general convictions of decent people; but none the less is this
their real meaning. They modify its language only on the same general
principle of making everything subservient to self.
Again, we see how great a mistake is made by those selfish Christians
who say -- "Am I not honest towards my fellow-men? And is not this
a proof of piety?"
What do you mean by "honest?" Are you really honest towards
God? Do you regard God's rights as much as you wish Him to regard yours?
But perhaps you ask, as many do; What is my crime? I answer -- Is it not
enough for you to do nothing -- really nothing towards obedience to God?
Is it not something serious that you refuse to do God's will and hold
back the claims of His truth? What's the use of talking about your morality
while you disregard the greatest of all moral claims and obligations --
those that bind you to love and obey God? What can it avail you to say
perpetually -- Am I not moral and decent towards men?
Why is God not satisfied with this?
3. Ye who think ye are almost as good as Christians; in fact it is much
nearer the truth to say that you are almost as bad as devils! Indeed you
are fully as bad, save that you do not know as much, and therefore cannot
be so wicked. You say -- "We are kind to each other." So are
devils. Their common purpose to war against God compels them to act in
concert. They went in concert into the man possessed with a legion of
devils as we learn in the gospel history. Very likely they are as kind
towards each other in their league against God and goodness, as you are
towards your neighbors. So that selfish men have small ground to compliment
themselves on being kind and good to each other, while they withstand
God, since in both these respects, they are only like devils in hell.
And now, my impenitent hearers -- what do you say? Putting your conduct
towards God into plain language, it would run thus; "Thou, Lord,
callest on me to repent; I shall refuse. Thou does strive to enforce my
obligation to repent by various truths; I hold back those truths from
their legitimate influence on my mind. Thou doest insist on my submission
to Thy authority; I shall do no such thing."
This, you will see, is only translating your current life and bearing
towards God, into plain words. If you were really to lift your face toward
heaven and utter these words, it would be blasphemy. What do you think
of it now? Do you not admit and often assert that actions speak louder
than words? Do they not also speak more truthfully?
To those of you who are business men, let me make this appeal. What would
you think of men who should treat you as you treat God? You take your
account to your customer and you say to him; this account, sir, has been
lying a long time past due; will you be so good as to settle it? You cannot
deny that it is a fair account of value received, and I understand you
have abundant means to pay it. He very coldly refuses. You suggest the
propriety of his giving some reasons for this refusal; and he tells you
it is a fine time to get large interest on his money, and he therefore
finds it more profitable to loan it out than to pay his debts. That is
all. He is only selfish; all there is of it is simply this, that he cares
for his own interests supremely, and cares little or nothing for yours
when the two classes of interests -- his and yours, come into competition.
When you shall treat God as well as you want your creditors to treat you,
then you may hold up your head as, so far, an honest man. But so long
as you do the very thing towards God which you condemn as infinitely mean
from your fellow-men towards yourself, you have little ground for self-complacent
All this would be true and forcible even if God were no greater, no better,
and had no higher and no more sacred rights than your own; how much more
then are they weighty beyond expression, by how much God is greater, better,
and holier than mortals!
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
THE DOOM OF THOSE WHO NEGLECT SO GREAT SALVATION.
January 20, 1858
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Hebrews 2:3: "How shall we escape
if we neglect so great salvation?"
Escape what? What can Universalists say to such
a question as this? They whose first doctrine proclaims that there can
be no danger -- what will they say to this solemn question and its startling
assumption of peril from which there shall be no escape? How shall we
escape? -- says the inspired author -- as if he would imply most strongly
that there can be no escape to those who neglect this great salvation.
Salvation; -- the very term imports safety or deliverance from great impending
evil. If there be no such evil, there is then no meaning to this term
-- no real salvation.
I. The salvation published in the gospel;
and the greatness of its Author and Revealer.
II. The greatness of this salvation in many other points of view.
III. The language used in the Bible to describe the sinner's future
woe is very terrible.
IV. What is to be regarded as fatal neglect?
V. What is effectual attention?
I. The writer is speaking of the salvation published in the gospel;
and the idea that immediately suggested its greatness is the greatness
of its Author and Revealer.
- 1. It is because Jesus Christ by whom this gospel
came is so great, compared with angels, that the writer conceives of
this salvation as pre-eminently great and glorious.
- 2. This second chapter is closely connected
with the first. The train of thought reverts to the fact that God had
anciently spoken to their fathers by the prophets; but in these last
days, by His Son -- the very brightness of His own glory -- the Upholder
of all things, shown all through the Bible to be higher than angels,
through whose ministrations also, the Divine word had sometimes come
to mortals. Now then, since the word so revealed by angels, carried
with it the sternest authority, and every sort of transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall men escape
who neglect a salvation so great that even God's glorious Son is sent
from heaven to earth to reveal it! He, the Exalted Son, came down to
create and reveal this salvation; He wrought it out in death, confirming
His divine mission while He lived, by miracles; must it not, then be
a matter of supreme importance?
II. Yet the Bible has not left us to infer its
greatness from the glory of its Author alone; it presents to us the greatness
of this salvation in many other points of view.
- 1. It is great in its very nature. It is salvation
from death in sin.
Let men talk and gainsay as they will, this one
great fact is given us by human consciousness -- that men are dead in
sin. Every man knows this. We all know that apart from God's quickening
Spirit, we have no heart to love God. Each sinner knows that, whatever
may be his power as a mortal agent, yet, left to himself, there is in
him a moral weakness that effectually shuts him off from salvation,
save as God interposes with efficient help. Hence the salvation that
meets him in this weakness and turns him effectually to love and to
please God, must be intrinsically great.
- 2. Again, it is great because it delivers from
endless sinning and suffering.
Just think of that: endless suffering. How long
could you bear even the slightest degree of pain -- supposing it to
continue without intermission? How long ere you would find it unendurable?
Experiments in this matter often surprise us -- such for example as
the incessant fall of single drops of water upon the head -- a kind
of torture sometimes inflicted on slaves. The first drops are scarcely
noticed; but ere long the pain becomes excruciating, and ultimately
Just think of any kind of suffering which goes on ever increasing! Suppose
it to increase constantly for one year; would you not think this to
be awful? Suppose it to increase without remission for one hundred years
-- can you estimate the fearful amount? What then must it be if it goes
on increasing forever!
- 3. It matters not how rapid or how slow this
increase -- the amount, if its duration be eternal, must be ineffably
appalling! Nor does it matter much how great or how little the degree
at the outset; suppose it ever so small, yet eternal growth must make
it beyond measure appalling! You may suppose the amount of woe endured
to be represented by one drop for the first thousand years; yet let
it increase for the next thousand, and yet more for the next, and ere
eternity shall have rolled away, the amount will be an ocean! It would
take a great while to fill up such an ocean as the Atlantic by giving
it one drop in each thousand years -- yet time would fill it; it would
take yet longer to fill the Pacific at the same rate -- but time would
suffice to fill it; more time would fill up the Indian ocean; more yet
would cover this globe; more would fill all the vast space between us
and the fixed stars; but even this lapse of time would not exhaust eternity.
It would not even begin to measure eternal duration! How fearful then
must be that woe which knows no limit save eternity!
- 4. Some deny the sufferings of the wicked to
be penal inflictions, and insist that they are only the natural consequence
of sinning. I shall not stop now to enter upon any argument on this
point; but I ask, what difference does that make as to the amount or
endurableness of eternal woe? Penal or not penal, the Bible represents
it as eternal, and its very nature shows that it must be forever increasing;
how then can it be essentially lessened by the question whether it be
or be not penal infliction? Whether God has so constituted all moral
agents that their sin -- allowed to work out its legitimate results
-- will entail misery enough to answer all those fearful descriptions
given us in the Bible, or whether in addition to all that misery, God
inflicts yet more, penally, and this enlarged amount makes up the eternal
doom denounced on the finally wicked, it surely can be of small consequence
to decide, so far forth as amount of suffering is concerned.
- 5. Some deny that the cause of this suffering
is material fire. They may even scoff at this and think that by so doing,
they have extinguished the flames of hell, and have thus annihilated
all future punishment. How vain! Can a sinner's scoff frustrate the
Almighty? Did the Almighty God ever lack means to execute His word?
What matters is whether the immediate agent in the sinner's sufferings
be fire or something else of which fire is the fittest emblem? Can your
scoffs make it any the less fearful?
This fearful woe is the fruit of sinning; and
is therefore inevitable, save as you desist from sinning while yet mercy
may be found. Once in hell, you will know that, while you continue to
sin, you must continue to suffer.
III. The language used in the Bible to describe
the sinner's future woe is very terrible.
- 1. We may call it figurative. I suppose those
germs to be figures of speech, but I cannot tell. I have never been
there. If anyone here has been, let him speak.
- 2. It certainly may be literal fire. No one
of us can certainly know that it is not. It must be something equal
to fire; for we cannot suppose that God would deceive us. Whoever else
may speak extravagantly, God never does! He never puts forth great swelling
words of vanity -- sounding much, but meaning little. Take it then which
way you please, it is an awful revelation -- to die in your sins; to
go away into a furnace of fire -- to be among those, the smoke of whose
torment ascendeth up forever and ever! How strikingly is this doom symbolized
in the smoke of those doomed cities of the plain, "set forth as
an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire!" Their "smoke
ascended as the smoke of a great furnace." Abraham lifted up his
eyes and saw it! What sort of a night did he spend after that appalling
scene? He had risen early -- had made his way through the morning dew
to the hill-top overlooking Sodom, and then he saw the smoke of those
doomed cities ascending to heaven. So may the Christian parent perhaps
wend his way to the hill-tops of the heavenly city and look over into
the great pit, where the ungodly weep and wail forevermore! Shall it
be that any of your unsaved children will be deep in that pit of woe?
- 3. Observe again, this salvation is not merely
negative -- a salvation from sin and from suffering: it has also a positive
side. On this positive side, it includes perfect holiness and endless
blessedness. It is not only deliverance from never-ending and ever-accumulating
woe; it is also endless bliss -- exceeding in both kind and degree,
all we can conceive in this life. This is not the world to realize the
full bliss of unalloyed purity. There will be sin around us; there will
yet be some sad traces of it within us. Yet who of us does not sometimes
catch a distinct view of that purity and blessedness which we know reigns
in heaven? Most blessed views there are, yet no doubt dim and weak,
compared with the great reality. When that bliss shall be perfect --
when nothing more is left us to desire, but every desire of our soul
is filled to its utmost capacity, and we shall have the full assurance
that this blessedness must increase with the expansion of our powers
and with our advance in knowledge as we gaze with ever growing interest
into the works of the great God; this will be heaven! All this is only
one side -- the positive side of that blessedness which comes with this
Now set yourselves to balance these two things
one against the other; an ever-growing misery and an ever-growing blessedness.
Find some measuring line by which you can compare them.
You may recall the figure I have more than once mentioned here. An old
writer says -- Suppose a little bird is set to remove this globe by
taking from it one grain of sand at a time, and to come only once in
a thousand years. She takes her first grain and away she flies on her
long and weary course, and long, long, are the days ere she returns
again. It will doubtless seem to many as if she never would return;
but when a thousand years have rolled away, she comes panting back for
one more grain of sand -- and this globe is again lessened by just one
grain of its almost countless sands. So the work goes on. So eternity
wears away -- only it does not exhaust itself a particle. That little
bird will one day have finished her task and the last sand will have
been taken away, but even then eternity will have only begun. Its sands
are never to be exhausted. One would suppose that the angels would become
so old, so hoary with the weight of centuries, and every being so old,
they would be weary of life, but this supposing only shows that we are
judging of the effects of time in that eternal state by its observed
effect in this transient world. But we fail to consider that God made
this world for a transient life -- that for one that shall never pass
Taking up again our figure of the little bird removing the sands of
our globe, we may extend it, and suppose that after she had finished
this world, she takes up successfully the other planets in our system
-- Mercury, and Nevus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Herschel, each and
all on the same law -- one grain each thousand years, and when these
are all exhausted, then the sun, and then each of the fixed stars; until
the hundreds of thousands of those stupendous orbs are all removed and
gone. But even then eternity is not exhausted. We have not yet even
an approximation towards its end. End? There is no end! That poor old
bird makes progress. Though exceedingly slow, she will one day have
done her appointed task. But she will not even then have come any nearer
to the end of eternity! Eternity! Who can compute it? No finite mind;
and yet this idea is not fiction, but sober fact. There is no possible
room for mistake -- no ground for doubt.
Moreover, no truth can be more entirely and intensely practical than
this. Everyone of us here -- every one of all our families, every child
-- all these students -- are included. It concerns us all. Before us,
each and all, lies this eternal state of our being. We are all to live
in this eternal state. There awaits us there either woe or bliss, without
measure and beyond all our powers of computation. If woe, it will be
greater than all finite minds can conceive. Suppose all the minds ever
created were to devote their powers to compute this suffering -- to
find some adequate measure that shall duly represent it; alas, they
could not even begin! Neither could they any better find measures to
contain the bliss on the other hand, of those who are truly the children
of God. All the most expressive language of our race would say -- It
is not in me to measure infinite bliss or infinite woe; all the figures
within the grasp of all created imaginations would fade away before
the stupendous undertaking! Yet this infinite bliss and endless woe
are the plain teaching of the Bible, and are in harmony with the decisive
affirmations of the human reason. We know, that if we continue in sin,
the misery must come upon us; -- if we live and die in holiness, the
bliss will come.
And is this the theme, and are these the great facts which these young
men may be abroad to the ends of the world and proclaim to every creature,
and which these young women also may speak of everywhere in the society
where they move? Truly they have a glorious and sublime message to bear!
Again, suppose the joy resulting from this salvation to be a mild form
of peace and quiet of soul. We may suppose this, although we cannot
forget that the Bible represents it as being a "joy unspeakable
and full of glory;" but suppose it were only a mild quiet joy.
Even then an eternal accumulation of it -- a prolongation of it during
eternal ages, considering also that naturally it must forever increase
-- will amount to an infinite joy. Indeed it matters little how small
the unit with which you start, yet let there be given an eternal duration,
coupled with ceaseless growth and increase, and how vast the amount!
- 4. According to the Bible, this blessedness
of the holy is the full fruition of God's love. Hence the bliss which
it involves can be nothing short of infinite. It can have no limit.
A really comprehensive view of what it will be would be overpowering.
Who of you could bear the view of your future selves? Could you who
are saints? Suppose you could see yourselves as you will exist ten thousand
years hence. Suppose you were for a moment endowed with the power to
penetrate the future and see yourself as you will be before the throne
of God. If you were not apprised that it is yourself, you might fall
down and worship!
- 5. Or suppose the wicked could see their future
selves as they will be ten thousand years hence -- could see how full
of torment they will be, and what unutterable woes their souls shall
bear there; could they endure the sight?
And here does some one say -- How very extravagant
you are! Extravagant? Nothing can be farther from the truth than to
hold these views to be extravagant. For, grant only immortality, and
all that I have said must follow of necessity. Let it be admitted that
the soul exists forever, and not a word that I have said is too much.
Indeed, when you carry out that great fact to its legitimate results
under the moral government of God, all these descriptions seem exceedingly
flat -- they fall so very far short of the truth.
- 6. In the next place let it be considered that
neglect of this great salvation is fatal. So our text most emphatically
implies -- so the Bible often elsewhere most unqualifiedly affirms.
No sinner, therefore, need go about to weary himself to commit iniquity
-- as if he would fain make sure his doom; for mere neglect is fatal.
What more should he want?
IV. But let us enquire -- What is to be regarded
as fatal neglect?
For all have at some time been guilty of some neglect.
V. We shall reach the true answer to our question by asking another;
viz. -- What is effectual attention?
Plainly that and only that which ensures gospel repentance and faith in
Christ. Only that which ensures personal holiness and thus, final salvation.
That is therefore effectual attention which arouses the soul thoroughly
to take hold of Jesus Christ as the offered Savior. To fall short of this
is fatal neglect. You may have many good things about you -- may make
many good resolves and hopeful efforts; yet failing in this main thing,
you fail utterly.
1. You need only be a little less than fully in earnest, and you will
certainly fall short of salvation. You may have a good deal of feeling
and a hopeful earnestness, but if you are only less than fully in earnest,
you will surely fail. The work will not be done. You are guilty of fatal
neglect, for you have never taken the decisive step. Who of you is he
that is a little less than fully in earnest? You are the one who will
weary yourself for nought and in vain. You must certainly fall short of
2. It must be great folly to do anything short of effectual effort. Many
are just enough in earnest to deceive themselves. They pay just enough
attention to this subject to get hold of it wrong, and do only just enough
to fall short of salvation, and go down to death with a lie in their right
hand. If they were to stay away from all worship; it would shock them.
Now, they go to the assemblies of God's people and do many things hopeful;
but after all, they fall short of entering in at the door into Christ's
fold. What folly is this! Why should any of you do this foolish thing?
This doing only just enough to deceive yourself and others, is the very
course to please Satan. Nothing else could so completely serve his ends.
He knows very well that where the gospel is generally understood, he must
not preach infidelity openly, not Universalism, nor Atheism. Neither would
do. But if he can just keep you along, doing little less than enough,
he is sure of his man. He wants to see you holding fast to a false hope.
Then he knows you are the greatest possible stumbling-block, and are doing
the utmost you can to ruin the souls of men.
3. This salvation is life's great work. If not made such, it had best
be left alone. To put it in any other relation is worse than nothing.
If you make it second to anything else, your course will surely be ineffectual
-- a lie, a delusion, a damnation!
Are you giving your attention effectually to this great subject? Who of
you are? Have you this testimony in your own conscience, that you seek
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? And have you become acquainted
with Christ? Do you know Him as your Life and your Hope? Have you the
joy and the peace of believing? Can you give to yourself and to others
a really satisfactory reason for the hope that is in you?
This is life's great work -- the great work of earth; and now, in whom
of you is it effectually begun? You cannot do it at all without a thorough
and right beginning. I am jealous of some of you that you have not begun
right -- that you have mistaken conviction for conversion. Like some of
Bunyan's characters, I fear you have clambered over the wall into the
palace, and did not come in by the gate. Do you ask me why I fear this
of you? I will answer only by asking a question back. Don't you think
I have reason to fear it? Have you the consciousness of being pure in
heart, and of growing purer? Do you plan everything with reference to
this great work of salvation? What are the ways of life that you have
marked out for yourself? And on what principle have you shaped them? On
what subjects are you most sensitive? What most thoroughly awakens your
sensibility? If there is a prayer-meeting to pray for the salvation of
sinners, are you there? Is your heart there?
4. It is infinite folly to make the matter of personal salvation, only
a secondary matter; for to do so is only to neglect it after all. Unless
it has your whole heart, you virtually neglect it, for nothing less than
your whole heart is the devotion due. To give it less than your whole
heart is truly to insult God, and to insult the subject of salvation.
What shall we think of those who seem never to make any progress at all?
Is it not very plain that they give much less than their whole hearts
to this matter? It is most certain that if they gave their whole hearts
intelligently to it, they would make progress -- would speedily find their
way to Christ. To make no progress is therefore a decisive indication
of having no real heart in this pursuit. How can such escape, seeing they
neglect so great salvation?
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ALL THINGS FOR GOOD TO THOSE THAT LOVE GOD
January 6, 1847
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Rom. 8:28: "For we know that
all things work together for good to them that love God."
In illustrating the subject presented in these
words, I shall,
I. Show what the passage means.
II. Illustrate the manner in which this is accomplished.
III. Notice some particulars as illustrations of this truth.
IV. Show how we know this truth, as the text affirms that we do.
I. The most important question pertaining to our first topic of remark
is, Does the text affirm a universal proposition?
- 1. The language of the text is universal. It
affirms in an unqualified manner that all things work together for good
to God's friends. Now it is a good rule of interpretation to understand
scripture as it reads, that is, according to its most obvious sense,--unless
the nature of the affirmation, or some circumstances pertaining to it
seem urgently to demand a modification of this meaning. All sound-minded
men follow this rule in interpreting both the Bible and all other books
- 2. There is nothing in the nature of the case
to limit the meaning of this language. On this point especially there
is ample room to enlarge very greatly--but my time will not permit.
- 3. There is nothing in the context which demands
any limitation, but much on the contrary which favors the universal
- 4. There is nothing anywhere in scripture that
conflicts with this, understood as a universal truth. On the contrary
the Bible throughout teaches us that every thing in the whole plan of
God's universal government conspires to this result. All is adapted
to befriend his people and to promote their highest good. God is evermore
controlling all things for the good of his children. He is their great
and good Father.
II. The manner in which this result is accomplished.
This point deserves special consideration, because there are many things,
affecting true Christians, which in their present operation seem to work
together for their evil and not for their good.
It would require many sermons to investigate this subject thoroughly.
At present I can only sketch a few leading principles.
The highest well-being of moral agents depends upon their holiness. This
is perfectly obvious. Their holiness, moreover, is conditionated upon
knowledge. There can be no holiness in intelligent being without knowledge,
and holiness can advance only as knowledge advances. In fact, holiness
is nothing else but conformity of heart to knowledge, so that of course
there must be knowledge or there could not be holiness. Hence knowledge
is both the condition and measure of holiness.
Consequently every thing that is a means of knowledge is also a means
of holiness. Whatever gives moral agents a knowledge of themselves will
if they are holy in character increase their holiness, for they would
cease to be holy if they did not use their knowledge to increase their
Now all events that occur are providential;--that is, they occur under
the universal government of God, and occur as they do either because the
hand of God controls and shapes them, or because his wisdom permits them
to occur as they do, rather than interpose to prevent them. Hence all
events reveal God. No event can possibly occur which shall not teach moral
agents something concerning God, or themselves, or something useful that
they need to know. These events also teach us very much that reveals our
relations to God, and hence our duties towards him. And these are precisely
the things that are requisite to augment the blessedness of intelligent
These remarks apply especially to all those events that fall directly
within the range of our present knowledge. But things not within our present
knowledge are so related to things that are, as to have a remote bearing
upon us, and hence will ultimately come to be known to us. It is probably
not too much to presume that all events that ever did or ever shall occur
in this world will ultimately be known to all the people of God, and hence
will have an important bearing upon their holiness and highest well-being.
III. I am to specify some particulars which serve to illustrate the
doctrine of our text.
- 1. What we call mercies work out the good of
those that love God. For if men love God, these mercies quicken their
love and gratitude. Every real Christian knows this. It is a precious
part of his daily experience.
- 2. What we call rebukes have also the same tendency
to good. Though they may seem evil, yet are they really among the good
things that flow to us from the hand of our great Father. They serve
to increase our knowledge of God. They show us his faithfulness and
assure us that his heart is thoroughly set upon correcting all in us
that is wrong--and strengthening all that is right.
The rebukes of God's providence naturally serve
to increase our virtue, and hence are often among the very best things
God can give us.
- 3. Again, the crosses of saints work together
for their good. Those very things that disappoint their plans, and frustrate
their schemes are often among the indispensible things for their real
and highest welfare. They are the means by which God breaks them off
from their own ways and shows them that they must not have any ways
of their own at all. While men are in a state in which they can be crossed,
they of course need more discipline. You may recollect the remark made
by Dr. Payson that since he had given up his own will and quite lost
it so as to have no will of his own, he had not known a single disappointment.
He was perfectly satisfied with every thing just as God arranged and
ordered it, for he had no other will than God's. Now God is seeking
to produce such a state of mind in his children that they will say--"I
want only to do this or that according to the will of God. Nothing pleases
me except what pleases Him. I want to learn His will before I have any
special preference of my own. Then if His apparent will changes, I am
perfectly pleased, for His will is always best."
Now this state of mind should extend to all events
wherein the special will of God is not known by revelation. Hence crosses
are exceedingly well calculated for doing good to God's people and are
most kindly and wisely designed for this end. We are not to suppose
that it is agreeable to our Father to perplex and distress us; but it
is agreeable to Him to discipline and chasten us, because he knows that
the results are so precious.
It often happens that persons come to see the truth of this in their
own case. Then they say, "Now I see how well it has been for me
to be disappointed, and how good and wise my Heavenly Father has been
in doing it." When I have seen men eagerly set upon some earthly
good, I have said to myself, "They need to be disappointed, and
God will doubtless do it." I shall think it strange if He does
not. If they are real Christians and God loves and cares for them as
his children, He will surely being them under discipline to break off
their hold upon the world and save their souls.
- 4. Afflictions should doubtless be accounted
among our good things. The Bible teaches this in many passages. One
says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept
thy word." Another testifies-- "I know that in faithfulness
thou hast afflicted me." Afflictions therefore are not to be regarded
as evidences of peculiarly great guilt in those who experience them.
The case of Job seems to have been designed to teach us this lesson.
They rather evince the special faithfulness of God. "Whom the Lord
loveth He chasteneth."
- 5. All those trials which we call temptations
are to be accounted among these good things. They very often establish
our virtue and greatly develop and strengthen our graces. For this manifestly
they were intended. Hence the Apostle says, "My brethren, count
it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that
the trying of your faith worketh patience."--James 1:2-3.
- 6. The responsibilities which God throws upon
His children are among the things that work for their good. We may perhaps
be made to groan out under these things, and possibly stagger under
their burden, yet shall they work out good at last. They are perhaps
the very things that are needed to develop our powers. It may be that
nothing less than these burdens would make us feel our need of God's
daily support, and thus discipline us to daily dependence.
Moreover, some perhaps are naturally so sluggish
that God could not save them if He should not lay upon them almost crushing
- 7. Our own infirmities work out our good. How
often do we see this! Physical infirmities and frailties teach us our
dependence upon God, and bring us to walk softly with Him and before
Him. They often compel us to exercise sobriety, temperance and self-control,
and in this way often become our greatest blessings.
Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of
Satan, sent to buffet him. What it was we are not told, but the result
plainly shows that it was greatly useful to him.
Now all such things are in certain points of view greatly trying and
painful, yet in other respects, they are exceedingly valuable. And when
we shall ultimately come to see all their bearings, we shall see that
Infinite Wisdom sent them, or at least permitted them, and then overrules
them for our good.
- 8. Our very mistakes often work for our good.
Said a pious man once who had fallen into a great error--"Now that
is just like me" --that is just like me. I see it now. I might
not have seen myself as I am, if that had not happened."
- 9. The same is doubtless true of the sins of
those that love God. Peter's great sin in denying his Lord seems to
have been greatly blessed--that is overruled so as to work out good
to him. So with the sins of the children of God generally. Yet they
have no excuse for themselves and are none the less guilty for committing
them, because God is so good and wise as to counteract some of their
evil tendencies and bring good out from them instead of unmingled evil.
- 10. The infirmities, mistakes and sins of others
are among the things that work for our good. Who does not know how much
we are benefited by witnessing the sins of others! No thanks indeed
to them that their sins are a warning to us, nor can this circumstance
lessen their guilt.
Also the afflictions of others often work out
great good to us. The afflictions which we see others suffering may
and often do have much the same beneficial result as if we endured them
ourselves. So wonderfully has God framed the social economy of our nature
and of society.
Finally, it is plain that all events that occur under the providence
of God serve to promote the good of His people.
But we must hasten to enquire,
IV. How is it that we know this.
The Apostle says, "We know that all things work together for good
to those that love God." Now we cannot suppose he meant to say merely
that all inspired men know this. His meaning doubtless is that all Christians
may know it. For,
(1.) Reason affirms that it must be so under
the government of an infinitely wise and benevolent God. No one can
take just views of the character of God without seeing that he must
have had a plan for governing this world--must have foreseen all possible
and actual results--and must have provided that nothing should occur
in vain. That is, He must have determined to prevent the occurrence
of all those events which He could not overrule for so much good as
on the whole to justify Him in permitting their occurrence. These conclusions
are either the direct affirmation of reason, or they are arrived at
by the plainest inferences from its intuitions.
(2.) But it is a truth of revelation, and Christians may know it because
the Bible teaches it. The Bible every where directly or indirectly teaches
that God is overruling all events for the good of the righteous.
(3.) Experience and observation universally teach the same thing. Who
does not know that all real Christians can say this. Looking over their
past history, they can say-- "This and that--yea all these things,
have been made, through divine mercy and wisdom, to work out my good
and fit me for more usefulness here, or, at least for more glory hereafter."
It is instructive to see how many of the saints of God can set up here
their Ebenezer,. and testify-- "Hitherto has the Lord helped me!"
1. We may blame ourselves for that which upon the whole we do not regret.
For example, a man may commit a sin, and of course, he is guilty and inexcusable
for this, and ought most surely to blame himself for committing it. His
intention is all wrong and he is entirely to blame for it. Yet on the
whole it may not be a matter of regret that the sin viewed as an event,
occurred, because God has brought a vast amount of good from it.
As a full illustration of this point, take the sin of Satan in tempting
Judas and the sin of Judas in yielding to the temptation to betray Christ.
This transaction in both Satan and Judas was all evil and nothing else
but evil; and was none the less a sin and a great sin because the Lord
overruled it for so much good. Yet this good result has been infinitely
great. The event therefore is not to be regretted on the whole though
Satan and Judas are none the less to be blamed because the wisdom and
the love of God have brought so much good from their sins.
You will all recollect the view given in the Bible of the sin of Joseph's
brethren in selling him into Egypt. "Be not grieved, said he, nor
angry with yourselves that ye sent me hither, for God did send me before
you to preserve life." They had sinned, but God had educed so much
good from their sinful act, that it was now fit that they should rejoice
in those manifestations of wisdom and love.
2. God may blame us and often does, when perhaps on the whole He does
not see cause to regret the occurrence of the event. Doubtless God blamed
both Judas and Satan, yet He does not regret on the whole that great event
towards which their sin directly contributed. Referring to this event,
Peter said, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and
foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and with wicked hands have crucified
and slain." Their hands were none the less wicked for the good which
the Lord brought forth as a result from their evil doing. And it surely
may be that the event as a whole even, including the sins of Judas and
of the wicked Jews, is not regretted by the Most High.
3. It does not follow from this that sin is the necessary means of the
greatest good; or that God could not bring about a still greater good
if all his creatures were perfectly obedient. It cannot be shown that
in every instance where sin occurs, more good results than would have
resulted if holiness had been in its stead. Indeed we cannot conceive
of any higher blessedness to the created universe than universal holiness
and its consequent happiness. Now if in every instance when sin occurs,
holiness under the same circumstances had occurred, the result would of
course be universal holiness, and a degree of blessedness, than which
we can conceive of none higher. But it is not my intention now to enter
at length into this often disputed subject.
I am aware that those who maintain that sin is the necessary means of
the greatest good argue thus;--all holiness depends upon knowledge of
God; many truths respecting the character of God could never have been
revealed if sin had not occurred; hence sin is necessary to the greatest
amount of holiness and consequently of real good.
This reasoning would have weight if the case were such that creatures
could not be holy without such knowledge of God as nothing can reveal
but the occurrence of sin. But none can suppose that such can be the case
of moral agents under the government of God. The argument therefore only
shows that, sin having occurred, the Lord makes the wisest possible use
of it--a fact which none can reasonably doubt. It altogether fails to
prove that the state of the universe is better now than it would have
been if all had persevered in holiness under the light they had.
But it is especially to my purpose to maintain that God's overruling all
things for good to his people forms no apology or excuse for sin. No thanks
to the guilty sinner that a God of infinite wisdom can and does manage
to work good out of his intended evil. No thanks to him;--he is altogether
evil and wicked. He does not use it for good himself, nor mean it for
good, no more than the devil did in the case of Judas, or than Judas himself
did. Suppose that Christ's death, and his death in precisely that manner,
was the very best thing that could have occurred;--no thanks to Judas
or Satan for that; they meant only evil, and all the resulting good must
be ascribed to God alone.
Hence it does not follow that we should do evil that good may come. In
fact, it is in the nature of the case impossible that a man should do
evil for the sake of its resulting good. It is impossible that a man should
sin for the sake of doing good thereby, and with this design. Suppose
a man to say--let me sin on now for this is the way to do good! Pause
a moment and ask--What is sin? Surely it is not doing anything with the
design of bringing about good; no but, sin is mere selfishness--is always
a trampling down of the greater good for the sake of a far less good for
myself. Sin, therefore, never can have the greatest good for its object.
Every act that has the greatest good for its design, object or motive,
is holiness, not sin.
I am fully aware that the doctrine of my text has been greatly abused.
Men have said, "Because sin results in good, therefore let us sin
on, and leave it with God to bring out the good which he needs sin in
order to educe." But this is an outrageous perversion of this precious
truth. The fact that God can overrule sin for good affords not the least
mitigation of the guilt of any sinner. Every sinner is just as guilty
as if all sin tended to evil only and as if God had no power or disposition
to bring any good out of it whatever.
4. It often happens that we are unable to see how the providence of God
will result in our ultimate good. Events that affect us or our friends
look utterly dark and we seem almost compelled to say with Jacob, "All
these things are against me." All this must be evil to me and mine,
and cannot work out my good. But in such cases we are bound as believing
children to dismiss the views which sight gives us, and fall back upon
faith. We must now believe God, who says "All things shall work together
for good to those that love me." Let all my children believe that
and trust their own kind Father!
Now it is not wonderful that in a world like this, framed for a state
of trial, events should often assume such an aspect as this. It results
in the trial of our faith. And here apply those most pertinent and consoling
words of Jesus Christ-- "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou
shalt know hereafter." Howmuchsoever, then, the events of divine
providence may make us smart, or throw us into perplexity,. still let
us fall back upon the unfailing promise-- "All things shall work
together for good to those that love God."
5. We see why we should give thanks for all things, and why every thing
that occurs is, in reference to God and His agency in it, [a] matter of
gratitude. We see why we should thank Him for every thing he brings about
directly by his providence, and also for every thing He suffers to be
done by moral agents, Himself not preventing them from doing it. We should
thank God for not preventing the murderous deeds of Judas and of Satan;
for He had wise and good ends in view in not preventing them. Under the
circumstances, the Lord did the very best thing he could in permitting
those wicked beings to go on, and consummate the murder of his own dear
The same is true of every sin that occurs in the universe. So far as God
has any thing to do with it, we thank Him, because He does all things
well; always doing even in respect to sin the very best thing that under
all the circumstances of the case, He can do. For this then, we thank
Him. But for what sinners do, we cannot thank them, for they intend only
evil. They are to be cursed--not thanked for their sins, and cursed none
the less because God always overrules their sin to make it result in just
as much incidental good as He can.
6. We see why it is that we are required to rejoice always. Why should
not saints rejoice always in all that God is doing? Many of these things,
I know, often seem for the present, not joyous but grievous, yet in their
remote and ultimate bearings, they always work out great good, and the
greatest good which under the circumstances God could effect. A man who
is sick may need to resort to many unpleasant medicines; if maimed, he
may need for his best good a painful surgical operations; and these things,
though sad in many of their bearings, are yet good in their ultimate results,
and therefore it is cause of gratitude, when they are skilfully and successfully
performed. So with many of the events of life. They come, unmingled with
sorrow, but good in their ultimate result, and it would be a great mistake
to estimate them only by their present evil, leaving out of view the greater
7. It sometimes happens that persons are in this state; "I know,"
say they, "that 'all things work together for good to those that
love God;' but I am thrown into such circumstances of perplexity and darkness
that I cannot tell whether I am one of those who love God or not. The
only emotions of which I am sensible are those of pain and agony. I am
full of distress, and I can scarcely think of any thing else. Especially
I cannot feel on any other subjects but my own trials and sufferings."
Now all such persons should look at the attitude of their will and not
of their emotions. If they would do so, they would see through this mist,
and their perplexities would no longer harass them.
How often have I seen individuals in great distress, under deep trials
and perplexities; but strengthening themselves in the Lord their God,
they came forth from those scenes of tempest as the sun breaks out from
an ocean of storms, all the more glorious for the long and fearful hiding
of his beams. So the tried and believing Christian comes forth from his
sorest trials, having learned lessons concerning God unknown to him before.
Now he sees that his trials are among the greatest blessings he ever received
from the Lord.
8. What ever befalls the saints is to be rejoiced in. Trials may befall
our friends,--perhaps our own children; but if we have evidence that they
love God, we may rejoice in every thing that occurs to them. What if afflictions
come--wave after wave; all things shall issue in their ultimate good;--this
is as sure as the word and the government of the eternal God. Even if
we should see such a case as that of Job--and none perhaps ever looked
more dark--yet even in view of such a case we should rejoice; for we might
know that in every similar case as in that, God prepares his afflicted
child for a double blessing.
So also in the trial of Abraham's faith in the matter of offering up Isaac.
In this case some things are developed, not often noticed--things pertinent
to the case of some Christians at the present day. You recollect, God
commanded him to go and take his own son and put him to death, and then
offer him as a sacrifice on an altar. What! Abraham might naturally have
said, "what! God command me to kill my own son? The devil might do
this--but how can it be that God should do it? Surely I never heard any
thing like this in the ways of God before! This contradicts every thing
I have ever seen or heard of the Lord Jehovah! He commands me to commit
one of the most horrid crimes that ever can be committed. And then this
is my son of promise, and God has said that out of him he would make a
Surely this was one of the most severe trials. It threw Abraham upon his
naked faith. He had no resource but to fall back upon simple trust in
the Lord, and say, God has spoken--even the wise, the good, the just God,
and now let me trust his name! He can raise my Isaac from the dead if
need be in order to fulfill his promise.
Thus he stood his ground, and passed this great and fearful trial. O,
how useful and blessed were the results of this trial to Abraham, during
all his future life and through all his glorious existence. How gloriously
has this example of faith stood out before all the children of God from
that day to this! How many have had their faith quickened, directed, edified,
by this great example! And perhaps it is not too much to suppose that
sooner or later all the angels of heaven will be blessed by the far-reaching
influence of this example of trusting and obeying God.
It is a great mistake to overlook these future results of our trials.
We ought ever to keep them full in our view. Doing so is indispensable
in order to be able to rejoice continually in the Lord, and in all the
events that occur under his all-pervading providence. If we fail to do
so, how many things will disconcert us and make us stumble to the sore
wounding of our peace with God and of our confidence in him.
In continuing this subject I shall show that the opposite to the doctrine
of the text is true of the wicked; --all things shall work together for
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ALL THINGS CONSPIRE FOR EVIL TO THE SINNER.
January 20, 1847
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Rom. 8:28: "For we know that
all things work together for good to them that love God."
In my further discussion of this subject I shall
attempt to show that all events conspire to ruin the obstinate and finally
This is not directly taught in the text, but is implied in it, and is
abundantly taught us in the Bible.
It will be my object,
I. To show that this is and must be a universal
II. To point out some particulars that will illustrate it.
III. To show that we really know this to be true, even as we know its
opposite to be true of the people of God.
I. To show that this is and must be a universal truth.
It may be shown to be so in a great many ways. For example, thus: Moral
obligation is conditioned upon knowledge and is always equal to knowledge.
Whatever, therefore, increases knowledge increases guilt, if obligation
is not complied with but the individual continues to resist the light
and its claims.
One other point. Increasing guilt augments the sinner's ruin. The more
guilty, the greater his punishment. Hence whatever augments his guilt
conspires and conduces to aggravate his ruin.
It cannot be doubted a moment that all events that fall under the sinner's
observation, or become known to him by any means whatever in this life,
will increase his knowledge of God and of course his duty and obligation.
All these will consequently conspire at once to augment his guilt and
All those events that remain unknown to the sinner during his present
life may become known to him in the future life, and then may work out
their legitimate results--increased knowledge--augmented guilt--more aggravated
II. To point out some particulars that will illustrate it.
This whole point may be rendered more plain and practical by some detail
All the gifts of providence conspire to work out the sinner's ruin.
- 1. Of these the first is the gift of existence.
The existence which God gives the sinner is a blessing to him if he
uses it aright, but a fearful curse to him if he abuses it. But he does
abuse it in the worst possible manner so long as he lives in sin. Just
so long, he devotes the existence which God gives him to rebellion against
his Maker--and what can be a greater and fouler abuse of existence than
this! Every moment of life spent in sin must therefore prove a curse
to the sinner. It goes to aggravate his guilt and of course, his ruin.
And no sinner can avoid this fearful result,
if he will persist in sinning. Exist he must--he cannot prevent it--cannot
put an end to his existence--for death only changes its place and mode--does
not bring it to an end. Live, then, each sinner must, and if he will
go on in sin, he must go on augmenting his guilt and consequent ruin.
- 2. Reason is another gift of providence--a precious
blessing if devoted to God--if used legitimately and faithfully according
to its nature and design;--but if trampled down, abused, set at naught--if
its demands for right and for God are all repelled and denied--how fearful
the guilt which its possession and abuse involves!
In what respect do you differ from the lower
orders of created beings? They have understanding; they have will;--but
they lack reason;--this then is your pre-eminence above them. And will
you abuse this and bring yourself quite down to a level with them in
your conduct? How can you do so without awful, shameful, damning guilt?
- 3. Conscience is one of the functions of the
reason. Did your conscience ever stand up and accuse you? Did it ever
set your sins in order before your eyes and make you see and feel their
perfect guilt? If so, then you know something of that deathless worm
of your future cup;--you have had a little foretaste of the horrors
of self-accusation and self-condemnation. O there is nothing in your
existence so terrible as this! If you allow yourself to trample down
this law of God developed in your reason, you will arouse against your
own soul a fearful power within your own bosom that you can never resist
or appease! It will be heard--that dreadful tone of self-accusing--self-reproach;--what
can ever allay the pungency and anguish of its tortures!
- 4. Next look at what are most commonly intended
by the gifts and bounties of providence--the things on which you are
wont to lay much stress. Suppose you have health and wealth, friends
and education;--what are they? Are they working together for your good--your
real, highest, eternal good? This turns entirely on the question whether
they lead you to repentance, gratitude and love to God, or whether they
only yield you the pleasures of sin for a season, augment your mercies,
your ingratitude, your guilt and consequent damnation. You may call
these things good, and if you would use them in serving God and let
them lead your heart to Him in love and gratitude and sweet obedience,
they would be truly a good to you; but if you remain a sinner, you are
of course the greater sinner for having received and abused these greater
mercies, and they can only work out for you a far more exceeding and
eternal weight of damnation. You suffer the Lord to load you down with
his blessings here, and then abuse them so that they shall become only
as mill-stones about your neck in the lake that burneth with fire forever.
You know it must be so, and cannot be otherwise.
So it will be with all those things by which
you amuse yourself and seek to augment your enjoyment in sin. You count
yourself most happy if you can secure things;--but Oh! your final disappointment
when you shall see how they are converted into curses to your soul!
These very amusements may have diverted your attention from saving your
soul. They may have fanned and fed the fires of unhallowed passion--they
may have made you ten fold more the child of hell then otherwise you
could have been, and thus they may have exceedingly augmented your final
- 5. Again, what you deem your good fortune results
in the same augmentation of guilt and damnation. You deem yourself most
fortunate if you can secure earthly good;--but O! how do these things--abused--work
out your deeper damnation! How they help to treasure up wrath against
the day of wrath! Your Father sent that good fortune to turn your eye
toward his kind hand--to touch your heart with gratitude, and lead you
to repentance;--you abuse and pervert every thing, and swell the fearful
measure of your awful doom!
Let the wicked go on his way according to his
heart's desire, filling his cup with earthly joy, and finding all things
prosper in his hand;--yet saith the word of Jehovah--"Say ye to
the wicked, it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall
be given him."
- 6. Yet again, the trials and the curses that
fall to the sinner's lot shall all have the same result. You complain
of these things as if they worked out only evil and as if God designed
them for no other end; but in this you altogether fail to comprehend
the gracious designs of your Heavenly Father. He sends you earthly good
to melt your heart and you abuse it and wax more hard in sin;--then
why should he not change his hand and at least make trial, of possibly
reverses and disappointments will not bring you to reflection; or to
see whether He cannot tear you away from your idols and make you search
for the living God. He does so; but all is of no avail; you only fret
and complain. Not so do Christians. If God sends them mercies they are
grateful:--if chastisements, they are submissive. But how different
is it with you! If God sends you mercies, you are thankless. You sit
every day at the table which your Heavenly Father spreads and loads
down for you; but you can do it each day with a heart as cold as a stone.
It seems to be entirely out of the question for you to think of recognizing
your Father's hand, or your own augmented obligation to serve and please
If on the other hand He sends afflictions upon
you, you complain and harden, not humble, yourself under his chastising
hand. O, you ought to understand that these trials are a part of the
discipline with which God seeks to subdue your soul to his scepter.
And you ought to know that if his efforts fail, it is all evil to you,
utterly and infinitely evil. Oh, indeed! if all the resources of infinite
power, wisdom and love fail to change you, what can be more desperate
than your case or more guilty than your heart?
- 7. Your whole life of impenitence is filled
up with such results. Does the Lord take away your friend? Then you
repine; you feel that there never was a case so aggravated as yours,
and you will not bow under the hand that chastises you. How unlike the
Christians who when smitten looks up to his own Father's hand, and bows
beneath it; smiles, loves, trusts, adores. But not so do you accept
the punishment of your iniquity. Every effort the Lord makes to reclaim
you renders you only more hardened, more guilty, more fitted for destruction.
- 8. It is indeed grievous beyond expression to
see how these things work and what results are produced by all the varied
discipline which the Lord employs to save your soul. It is painful to
see that all these efforts only serve to harden your heart, until the
Lord is forced to say of you as in Isaiah 1 of the ancient Jews;--"Why
should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more. The whole
head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even
unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises,
and putrifying sores." The original in this passage seems to convey
the idea that they had been chastised till from the crown of the head
to the soles of the feet there was no longer a sound spot where another
blow could be inflicted. The resources of chastisement were exhausted,
and still no good result followed. So it sometimes happens that a parent
will chastise his child until he has no hope that mere chastisement
can do any good. This seems to be the state of mind which the Lord expresses
respecting the Jews. And He often has occasion for this state of feeling
towards impenitent sinners. He watches all round their path, searches
out all the avenues of their heart; tries now mercies and then afflictions,
and follows up the alternations perhaps year after year through a long
life--but all in vain. Ah, worse,--often infinitely worse than in vain,
for it only serves to augment the sinner's fearful guilt and final condemnation.
Strange that sinners do not see that this is true and in the nature
of the case must be. Strange you do not see that sickness, losses, judgments
of every kind are designed to subdue your refractory spirit, and of
course if they only serve to make you the more refractory, the result
can be nothing less than a fearful aggravation of your guilt and ruin.
Thus all your sins, instead of being overruled
for your good, serve only to heap up a mountain load of guilt, and swell
the miseries of your doom.
- 9. Again, the deeds of others, good, or bad,
only enhance your guilt. I beg of you to look a moment at this fact.
You live among professed Christians. If they are faithful to God and
to your soul, and adorn the gospel by their life, this only hardens
your heart, for you resist all the influences of their entreaties, prayers,
tears and godly life. On the other hand, if they dishonor the gospel,
you take offence--you stumble over them, and become the more bold and
hardened in your sins.
Now you know it would not be thus in either case
with Christians. If they fell in with truly pious brethren, their hearts
would be refreshed and their piety quickened; if with bad professors,
the result would be to quicken them to pray, to revive their own love
for Zion and their sympathy for the cause of Jesus Christ.
So also, if Christians are persecuted, it only works good to them, teaching
them forbearance and forgiveness of injuries; training them to love
their enemies and bless those that curse them.
Far otherwise with you, sinner. In fact, you never know what it is to
be benefited by any conduct, good or bad, of your fellow-beings. All
works only evil to you. Indeed, every thing works out evil and only
evil to you. The law of God--the gospel of God--the smiles of providence
or its frowns; all possible conduct of your fellow-men and all possible
varieties in the course of the Lord towards you--rain or sunshine--storm
or calm--prosperity or adversity--each and all serve only the one dreadful
end with you--that of augmenting your guilt, and of course your final
doom of misery.
Dreadful consideration! that your character should be such that all
possible events work evil and evil only to your soul! If you had a full
and a just view of your case as it is, you might truly say--"Whatever
happens is all evil to me. Whatever the times are--times of revival,
times of plenty, or times of famine--all is evil to me; times of health,
or times of pestilence--all is alike, evil to me. All conspire to fill
up the measure of my guilt and aggravate my eternal doom."
Often in looking at this have I felt as if I should sink--the view is
so saddening, so awful; sinners seem so stubborn and so refractory,
and it is so obvious and sure that every thing that occurs to the sinner
must work evil and evil only to his guilty soul.
- 10. Again, all those providential circumstances
that befall others, result alike in evil, to the sinner. If his neighbors
are sick, or if they are well, this sinner will abuse the warning voice
of God through his providence. Perhaps the sinner thinks that such things
as these are not going to affect his own case, but they surely will,
and inevitably must. They are the voice of God to him, and he must hear
or refuse. Continuing in sin, he does the latter, and of course augments
his own guilt and damnation.
- 11. It matters not how these events may affect
your neighbor, whether for good or for evil; they are in either case
evil and only evil to you. The same event may work good to another;
yet shall it be only evil to you. That funeral we attended this morning
when a dead child of God was laid in the grave of the saints; they may
have touched your sympathies, and you may have been moved to pity over
so early a death, but you might much more reasonably pity yourself.
When I see sinners at a funeral, I know they are often saying to themselves--
"I am glad that I am not there in the place of the dead;"
and yet it may be better far that you should die now than that you should
be spared any longer, Beyond all question it is better for you to die
and be laid in the grave in the place of the first death that occurs
rather than that you should live longer to make every death you hear
of, only an augmented curse to yourself. O, how horrible is this!
- 12. So also to live in a land of Bibles and
Sabbaths and enjoy instruction and choice influences enough to make
you and Angel of light:--and yet abusing and perverting them all, you
convert them into the worst form of curses. All the means God uses to
save you are working evil to you. God means them for good, but you pervert
them into evil. God would bless you, but you will curse yourself by
the very means He uses for blessing you. He would fain make all the
events of his providence work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory, but despite of the endeavors of infinite love, you
persist in working out of all these things your own deeper damnation.
III. We know it to be true that all things work
out evil to the sinner.
- 1. Though the text does not affirm this, yet
the Bible does, and so does reason, and experience and observation.
It is a truth that every man's reason must affirm. Every man knows that
the occurring events of God's providence increase his knowledge of God
and hence his obligation to love and obey him. Of course with this increase
of light comes also increasing guilt in resisting its claims, and in
the train of increasing guilt comes augmented ruin.
- 2. Now every sinner must know all this to be
true. There is not a sinner in this house whose reason does not affirm
each step in this process of argumentation to be true, and true as to
- 3. This leads me to say that every man's own
experience will testify that until he turns from sin by real repentance,
all the course of divine providence serves only to harden his heart.
He knows that the longer he resist and the more light he has to oppose,
the more hardened he becomes.
- 4. So all our observation of others testifies.
We see the sinner growing old in his sins--resisting one call of God
after another, breaking through every restraint, setting at naught the
repeated warnings of divine providence;--and we always see such a sinner
waxing fearfully hard of heart against God and the voice of his own
conscience. I have often been shocked to see how fearfully hardened
sinners sometimes become by resisting a long succession of means and
influences adapted to bring them to repentance.
- 5. The truth we have been illustrating is evinced
also by ample testimony from the word of God. The Bible seems every
where to assume that all things do and shall work evil to the sinner
who will not repent. Being "often reproved and still hardening
his neck, he shall be suddenly destroyed and that without remedy."
1. I remarked in my sermon this morning that Christians sometimes blame
themselves for things the occurrence of which upon the whole they do not
regret; so wondrously will God overrule those evil deeds of theirs for
great good. Thus God will not leave them to bitter and eternal regret
over the consequences of their failures or their sins, though they must
forever condemn their own sins and blame themselves for sinning. It is
one of the great mercies of the Lord towards them that He does not leave
them under the pang of everlasting regret in view of unmingled evil resulting
from their misdeeds.
But sinners are left to the double anguish of everlasting self-blame,
and eternal regret over the utterly ruinous results to themselves of all
their sins. Every event of their lives has been sin and only sin, and
all have worked out the legitimate results of sinning, all evil to them
and evil only and continually. Since they would not repent and would not
open their hearts to the healing and restoring influences of God's providence
and Spirit, the Lord could not counteract the natural tendency of sin
on their heart to augment its moral hardness and consequently their own
2. Sinners have never any good reason to rejoice as respects their own
prospects. In fact, remaining in sin, they have nothing in which they
can reasonably rejoice. Those very events of their lives in which they
are most apt to rejoice will probably be those which above all others
will fill them with anguish hereafter. Those very seasons of prosperity
in which you rejoice most now may be your bitterest grounds for regret
and sorrow when you shall come to see all their legitimate results upon
your character and doom. So long then as you continue in sin, so long
you have absolutely nothing to rejoice in. The more you rejoice and deem
yourselves prosperous and happy in earthly good, the more will these very
things pierce and sting your soul through all your future existence.
3. Others have no good reason to rejoice in any thing that befalls you,
so long as you remain in an impenitent sinner. The only valuable hope
they can have is that it may lead you to repentance. This failing, all
will work for evil and only evil to the sinner.
It often happens that parents rejoice in events that befall their ungodly
children. They rejoice perhaps to see them well settled in life, or peculiarly
fortunate in business. But none of these things are ever looked upon on
their true light except through the medium of the great truth we are now
considering. Whatever leaves them still in their sins works fearful ruin
to their souls, and the more joy it seems to bring, the more fearful will
be its power to curse and embitter all their future being.
4. While it is true that no event, however grievous in itself, can befall
a Christian which should make us grieve for him, it is equally true that
no event can befall the sinner in which we are not compelled to grieve
for its results upon him. Nothing can happen to him that will not fearfully
curse him, if he still persists in sin. It may be ever so well adapted
for his improvement, for his best good, for his happiness;--yet shall
he pervert it all to the greatest of evils to his soul.
See that young man about going to college. It might prove a blessing to
him, but it will prove to him only a curse. It will increase his knowledge,
and thus augment his guilt. It will give him greater pre-eminence and
influence; but if he improves this for greater sin and mischief, it will
curse him at the last with tenfold destruction.
Another has married him a wife--beautiful, accomplished, pious;--so much
the worse for him. It only serves to swell the sum of his guilt and ruin.
He may live in a land of Sabbaths, and in the midst of revivals;--so much
the worse; he may have pious, praying parents;--so much the worse.
5. Sinners need not stumble at the trials of the people of God. No more
or greater trials shall befall the Christian than are indispensable as
means to work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
The truth is, God's people need these trials. They must be carried through
many a fiery ordeal. What then? Let them rejoice, for all shall work out
their good. Let them be sick;--it shall do them good. Let them lose their
property;--it shall be for their good. Let their friends die;--all shall
augment their good. Every Christian may say--whatever befalls me, the
Lord will cause it to result in my greater good. Let a mighty wave dash
over him, lifting high its crest and sweeping him along with torrent power--it
does him good. Let another come with mighty force--it does him good. Another
still;--all is good. There he stands amid those mountain-waves, happy
in his God, for he believes that all shall work out good to his soul.
This is only the discipline his Father sends him, and why should it not
cheer his soul to think how all shall work out his eternal good.
Right over against this, every thing is occasion of grief and dismay to
the sinner, no matter how joyous his soul in its approach. Whatever befalls
me, he must say if he sees rightly--all is evil to me. Be it storm or
sunshine; whether I lie down in peace, or take my bed of pain and languishing,
all is prospectively evil to my soul!
How awful this condition! But it is even so; and the intelligence of every
being in the universe affirms that these results are all right and as
they should be.
6. All events to all eternity will make the impassable gulf between saints
and sinners only the more deep and broad. The fact is, these two classes
are oppositely affected by all the providences of God, and doubtless will
be so, by all that shall occur to them throughout eternity. God has so
constituted the human mind that in its selfish state, all right events
shall work out only evil; while in its renewed state all shall work out
good. Difference of character lays the foundation for this wide contrast
in the result. Only the sinner himself is ultimately to blame that all
things work evil to him. If he will do evil, then shall all things be
converted into evil in their results to him.
7. It is infinite folly for man to estimate events only according to their
present and most obvious bearings and relations. The result of this course
is and always must be that men will constantly and fatally deceive themselves.
If every sinner in this house could see all the final results of the events
that are transpiring now, he would stand amazed and transfixed with horror.
What! he would say--is untold anguish and horror coming out of this cup
of my earthly joy? Oh, if sinners could clearly see these things, they
would not so often bless themselves for their good fortune.
8. The arrangements of providence in respect to both saints and sinners
are made with a design to illustrate the character of God. All the events
of this life and all that occur throughout eternity also, will all serve
to illustrate the perfections of Jehovah. Not to have arranged all things
for this end would have been a great mistake--but God never makes such
mistakes. A wise and glorious end in view characterized all he does.
9. It is the perverse course of the sinner and nothing else but this that
makes the providences of God work out evil to him. Sinners are wont to
pity themselves, and say, alas for me, for God has made my lot such that
all things work only evil to me! Let all sinners know that the fault is
wholly and only their own, and that God has made the best possible arrangements
for their good. It is only their perversion that makes the best things
become to them the worst.
And sinners cannot help knowing this. After all their complaining and
fault-finding, they know that they have no plea to make against God. You
know, sinners, that it is all your own fault that every day is not a blessing
to you--that every sun-rising and sun-setting does not come fraught with
mercies to your soul. You know that you might place yourself in such an
attitude towards God that all his providences should work out your real
and highest good. You are now an enemy of God; but you know you may at
once become his friend. I can make the appeal to every sinner's own conscience.
You know that if you would not harden your own heart, all the events of
divine providence would result in your good. They would bring admonitions
that you would give heed to with the greatest profit to your soul, and
would throw you into scenes of discipline which could not fail to prove
a blessing to you. Only yield your heart to the providences, the truth,
and the Spirit of God, and you would become a child of God, and all things
would work your good.
I can well remember how it seemed to me before my conversion. I then saw
most clearly that all was good to the Christian;--if he was sick, all
was well to him;--or if in health, it was a real blessing. If he lives,
it was to enjoy the friendship of God;--if he died it was to enter upon
his eternal reward. Being himself a friend of God, evil could no sooner
befall him than it could befall his great friend, Jehovah. Nothing could
be an evil to him, for if he were ever so much afflicted, it would only
make him the more self-denying, meek, patient, heavenly.
But right over against this--the opposite in every respect, is the case
of the self-hardening sinner. He puts on an air of self-confidence and
enjoyment;--he would fain make you think that sinners are the only happy
men on earth. He dances along his way for a brief season, but it is on
slippery places;--and suddenly his feet slide--and he is in hell! So transient
is all the bliss that sin and Satan give. It is only a lure to endless
If sinners only appreciated their real condition, they could not rest
in sin one moment. All their levity would appear infinitely shocking to
themselves. I recollect to have seen several cases in which sinners were
in such a state of mind that they could not rejoice in any possible event.
There is one lady among you who could tell you a great deal about this
state of mind--a state of darkness, despair and anguish, in which every
thing was clearly seen to be evil and only evil, and all things however
apparently prosperous were working out evil and nothing else to her soul
and her eternal state. If the sun shown sweetly, all was gloom, for that
God who smiled through those sunbeams was her enemy. Each storm only reminded
her of Jehovah's wrath against the sinner. If friends loved her and sympathized
with her, all was evil;--she had no friends above, and deserved none here
below. So of every thing that could occur. All was evil, undiluted, unassuaged.
But when her soul came into the light and glory of the gospel, and found
peace and joy in God, the whole scene was at once perfectly changed. Her
husband has told me that he never knew her to fret or repine since that
blessed hour. I asked her once what was the secret of her remarkable equanimity.
She replied--"Once I escaped from the jaws of hell; from the dark
iron castle of Giant Despair. Ever since I have looked upon myself as
a miracle of grace, and I cannot regard any of the little troubles of
life as anything to be compared with those indescribable agonies. I am
often amazed to see how small a thing can disturb the equanimity of saints,
or raise the mirth of sinner."
If sinners are going to continue in their sins, they may as well bid farewell
at once to all peace and joy; and welcome anguish and black despair to
their souls. Let them say at once--All things are evil and nothing but
evil to me. Let them give themselves up to universal mourning, no matter
how soon, or how utterly. "Hail everlasting horrors, hail!"
But there is only one way of escape--open yet a moment longer. Turn to
God; yield your whole soul to him; accept his Son your Savior, and his
service as your choice for life;--then you are a child of God and his
foe no longer. Then all things are yours--and you are Christ's, and Christ
is God's. You are welcomed at once to the bosom of that glorious family
above, and the possession of the riches and joys of heaven is all your
But if you remain in your sins, as from present appearances you are likely
to do, all events and all agencies possible will work out your destruction.
Every step you take brings you nearer the vortex of that awful whirlpool--the
great Maelstrom of perdition. "Your steps take hold of hell."
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
GOD HAS NO PLEASURE IN THE SINNER'S DEATH.
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.
- 1. The death spoken of in our texts cannot be
that of the body. "It is appointed to all men once to die, and
after this the judgment." I need not say that men die a physical
death none the less surely because they turn to God and live.
- 2. This cannot mean spiritual death either,
for this death is nothing else than a sinful state of mind -- a fixed
habit and condition of sinning. If this had been the sense of the term
death in these passages, they should have read --Why are ye already
dead! -- not, Why will ye die? The death referred to is manifestly an
event yet future.
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
- 1. It is contrary to His very nature that He
should take pleasure in the sinner's death. Indeed such is the nature
of all moral beings that none of them can take pleasure in the misery
of others, in itself considered. If any of them could, then might devils
in hell find happiness in the misery of those whom they have brought
into that place of torment. But the very laws of moral nature are such
that it is painful to witness misery. Even the sufferings of the wicked
in hell only aggravate, instead of lessening, the misery of the devil.
He did not entice them there to enjoy their misery, but to vent his
selfish spite against God. Yet, as always must happen, selfishness punishes
itself, and the very thing Satan has done out of selfish hatred of God,
will only augment his own eternal anguish. It is intrinsically contrary
to the moral nature of any moral agent to enjoy the spectacle of suffering,
apart from any other collateral source of enjoyment.
- 2. On still higher grounds is it contrary to
God's nature that He should take pleasure in the sinner's death, for
His benevolence forbids it. He takes infinite delight in the happiness
of His creatures, and, therefore, cannot take delight in their misery
-- in itself considered.
- 3. It is abundantly manifest that God loves
sinners with the tenderest compassion. He pities them. So His word and
His nature conspire to show. Christ manifested this towards the wicked
Jews in most affecting words and even with tears, when He beheld that
doomed city and wept over it, saying --" If thou hadst known, even
thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace?
But now they are hid from thine eyes."
- 4. No doubt God will pity sinners in hell forever.
He has given the highest evidence that He loves sinners. Think how long
He spares them to live in their sins; at how great a sacrifice He sent
His Son to die for them, even while they were yet enemies. What proof
of love can be greater that this?
- 5. It must be that God regards the death of
the wicked as a great evil in itself, for it surely is so, and He must
regard things as they are, and according to truth. Misery is intrinsically
a great evil in itself, and it must seem to Him to be so. Nay, more;
it must seem a greater evil to Him than it can to you or to me, or to
any other being besides Himself, in the universe. He never could have
done what He has to save men if He had not viewed it so.
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
- 6. Another reason why God can have no pleasure
in the death of sinners is, that their depravity is henceforth unrestrained.
To see this working itself out intensely and without restraint, as long
as they exist, is sad indeed. Yet so it must be. God has done all He
wisely could do to restrain it while yet they lived on the earth, and
under all His efforts, it only waxed worse and worse. Now, therefore,
He desists from all further efforts forever.
- 7. God can take no pleasure in the death of
sinners, because, henceforward, their sufferings must be unmitigated
and endless. Can God have any pleasure at all in this? What an everlasting
accumulation of woe! Sorrow upon sorrow, swelling and expanding, deepening
and strengthening, beyond all our powers of estimation or expression;
-- verily God can take no pleasure in this and well does He take His
solemn oath to this effect -- "As I live, saith the Lord, I have
no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked.
IV. Why then, I am next to ask, does He not
- 1. The answer in one word is, because He cannot
and yet be good. In fact, if God could wisely prevent it, He should
have done so; else He could not be a good being. What wisdom allows
to be done for the relief or prevention of suffering, love requires
-- else He forfeits His claim to goodness. In order to give virtue its
utmost scope for development, moral agents are left free to obey or
disobey, and then take the consequences. We cannot see how else a really
moral government could be administered. Besides, the fact that God does
govern thus, shows what He can wisely do, and all that He can wisely
do. For it must be that God acts in accordance with His own sense of
what is wise and good; -- else He is not wise and good, for to have
wisdom and yet not act according to its dictates, is by no means to
be wise. So also, to claim to be good, and yet not act according to
goodness, is an absurd claim. Hence, if God is really wise and good,
we know that all His acts must be in harmony with His own ideas of what
is wise and good under the circumstances of every case. Hence, nothing
that ever occurs under His government can be wisely prevented. If it
could be, He would prevent it. No improvement can be made in His actual
administration. You cannot suppose it to be changed for the better.
- 2. Hence, God cannot deal with sinners otherwise
than He has without violating His own sense of what is wise and good.
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
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?
- 1. In no way that is inconsistent with the nature
and character of God, or with His relations to His creatures. This is
plain. You cannot expect that God will act inconsistently with His own
attributes of character in order to save sinners from death, or that
He will suffer any thing to be done that is thus inconsistent. Nothing
can He either do or suffer to be done that shall interfere with the
best interests of His government. It were the merest folly to expect
this. Hence, it is plain that if the sinner would be saved at all, he
must turn from his evil ways. He cannot expect God to turn from His
good ways and ought not to desire it. Hence, the only alternative is
-- repent, or die. Every sinner must cease to sin and must meet God's
conditions of life, or he must take death as his certain doom. To turn
from his sin is the naturally necessary condition of being saved from
eternal death. Who can doubt this? Who can rationally suppose that any
sinner can possibly escape death unless he turns from his sins to God?
- 2. That this is the only possible way of life
is further evident from the fact that sinners, continuing in their sins,
must be wretched from the very nature of sin. The death of the body
removes them from all physical enjoyment. Sin itself will then be left
to bring forth its legitimate fruits of disquiet, trouble, remorse of
conscience, -- so that even if there were no punitive inflections from
God, and no misery to be endured beyond the natural consequences of
sin, the wicked would be only wretched.
- 3. But, let it be considered, we cannot set
aside the governmental infliction of suffering, for this is a necessity
of government that it should have a penalty attached to the violation
of its laws, and should inflict this penalty. No government can exist
which does not punish when justice demands it. Its authority is at once
gone, and it ceases to be any government at all. Hence, God must punish
as long as the sinner refuses to turn.
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
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
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS.
November 9, 1853
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Luke 16:19-31: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed
in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day; and there was
a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's
table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the
angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried: and
in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried, and said, Father Abraham,
have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger
in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham
said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things,
and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou art
tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf
fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither
can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
"Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest
send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify
unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith
unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he
said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they
will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
A parable is a little anecdote or a case of supposed
history, designed to illustrate some truth. A simple and striking mode
of illustration--it makes no attempt at reasoning; indeed it takes the
place of all reasoning by at once revealing truth to the mind. In general,
parables assume certain truths--a thing which they have an ample right
to do, for some truths need no proof, and in other cases, a teacher may
speak from his perfect knowledge, and in such a case, there can be no
reason for demanding that he stop to prove all he asserts.
In the case of parables it is often interesting to notice what truths
they do assume. This is especially true of the parables of Christ for
none were ever more rich by virtue both of the truths directly taught
and also by virtue of the truths they assume. I may also remark here that
truths are taught in Christ's parables both directly and incidentally.
Some one great truth is the leading object of the illustration, yet other
truths of the highest importance may be taught incidentally, not being
embraced in his direct design.
The passage which I have read to you this morning, is probably a parable
though not distinctly affirmed to be so. The nature of the case seems
to show this; although these very circumstances might have all actually
occurred in fact and in the same order as here related.
In discussing the passage, I propose,
I. To notice some truths that are assumed
II. To present some that are intentionally taught.
I. Some truths that are assumed in this parable.
- 1. Christ assumes in this passage the direct
opposite of annihilation. He assumes that men are not annihilated at
death, nor indeed ever. For he speaks of things that take place immediately
after death. The men who lived on earth live beyond death and receive
according to the things they have done here in the body. It was no part
of his direct object to affirm this doctrine; yet his statements imply
it. Being himself the Great Teacher, it is not without reason that He
should assume the fundamental truths that pertain to man's future existence
under God's moral government.
- 2. He assumes that the state into which both
good and bad men pass at death is one of real and intense consciousness.
This of course denies the assumption that this state is an unconscious
one. You are aware that some do not hold to annihilation, yet hold to
unconsciousness in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection.
This doctrine, whether applied to saints or sinners, is entirely set
aside by our Saviour's teachings in this narrative.
- 3. He assumes that the righteous and the wicked
recognize each other after death. The rich man knew both Abraham and
Lazarus. Abraham knew him. They all respectively knew each other. The
statements represent the colloquy to have been held between the rich
man and Abraham. Abraham, though long since in heaven, knew both this
rich man and Lazarus. It was not our Lord's design directly to affirm
this, yet he obviously implies it.
- 4. It is also assumed that they are acquainted
with each other's state and history. All these matters were entirely
familiar to their minds.
- 5. It is fully assumed that at death the righteous
go immediately to a state of bliss and the wicked to a place of torment.
This lies out undeniably on the face of the passage.
II. I am next to notice some of the truths distinctly
and directly taught in this passage.
- 1. That at death angels conduct the righteous
to their place of blessedness. It is expressly said of Lazarus that
he was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. Dogs were his companions
here up to his death; angels immediately thereafter. When the dogs could
minister to his wants no longer, angels stepped in and took his case
in charge. They bore him away to the home of the blessed.
We may infer that this is the common employment
of angels. Paul in Hebrews 1:12 strengthens this position, in his question,
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for
them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
- 2. Saints after death are sensible of no want.
They have nothing left to desire. They are sensible of wanting nothing
that can be needful to their highest happiness. In this life they may
have had their cup filled with bitterest grief; but at death, this cup
is removed for ever away, and quite another cup is placed to their lips--forever.
Lazarus had his evil things in this world; poverty, pain, sores, and
want, were his portion here; but after death, he knew these things no
more at all. They passed away forever.
- 3. On the other hand sinners after death are
full of want, and have no good at all. The rich man asked for only the
very smallest favour. He had fared sumptuously every day; but now he
is reduced so low, he can only beg for one drop of water to cool his
tongue. He asks for only so much as might adhere to the tip of one's
finger when taken from the water. You have seen persons lie under a
burning fever--prostrate, parched, can't say a word, can only beckon
for water--water--one drop to cool their burning tongue. See the man
dying;--he tries to move a little, towards the water;--ah he fails;
he sinks back in his bed for the last time, and the burning fever has
used up all his strength. You who have suffered from fever know what
this means--to have a consuming fire shut up within you. Here mark.
The Great Teacher makes the rich man cry out, "Send Lazarus, that
he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I
am tormented in this flame." Why did he not ask for an ocean of
water, or a pail-full at least, or a pitcher-full; why restrict himself
to the least drop? Plainly he knew himself to be placed beyond all good.
He knew this was the utmost he could ask, and even this is denied him!
What could our Lord have designed but to teach this? How irresistibly
is this taught and with what overpowering force! What remarkable facts
are these! How obviously and how forcibly is the truth taught here that
saints at death pass into a state all joyful, but the wicked into one
of unutterable torment!
- 4. We learn the state of mind in which the wicked
are. This man asks for only the very slightest mitigation. He says not
one word about pardon; this he knows to be impossible. How small the
boon he dares to ask! How very small if he could have had it, would
have been the boon of one small drop of water on a tongue tormented
in flame. Yet he does not dare to ask for anything beyond this;--nor
even this of God! He knew and he most deeply felt that he had cast off
God and God in turn had cast off him. He could not think of speaking
to God. He could venture to speak only to Abraham, and this solitary
Bible case of prayer to saints in heaven surely affords no very plausible
foundation for the Romish practice. This rich man had not the least
hope of release from his woe. He did not ask so great a boon as this.
Deep in his soul he felt that such a request was for ever precluded.
It is remarkable too that, though the boon he
did ask was so trifling and his need so great, yet even this pittance
was denied him. Abraham gave him plainly to understand that this was
impossible. Son, said he, remember that thou in thy lifetime hast received
thy good things; thou hast had thine all; there are no more for thee
- 5. Besides this, there is a great gulf fixed--parting
forever the saved from the damned: we cannot go to you if we would;
you cannot come to us, however much you may desire it. Most plainly
does Christ teach in this representation that the state of both the
righteous and the wicked is fixed, fixed forever, and forever changeless.
There can be no passage open therefore as some would fain have it, from
one world to the other. They who are in heaven can never get to hell
to help the suffering ones there if they would; and on the other hand,
the miserable in hell can never get to heaven. What less than this could
the Saviour have intended to teach--that each class enter at death upon
another state which is to each alike unchangeable? The righteous cannot
pass the great gulf to hell; the wicked cannot pass it to heaven. Once
heaven's gate was open to even the sinner on his repentance; now it
is open to him no more. He has passed away from the world where his
moral state can be changed. He has entered on one where no change can
reach him any more at all forever.
- 6. The wicked dread to have their friends come
to them in this place of torment. You see this feeling most distinctly
manifested in this parable. The reason of the feeling is obvious. They
are still human beings and therefore it can be no joy to them to have
their earthly friends come into their place of woe. They have human
feelings. They know they can look for no alleviation of their own woe
from the presence of their friends. They know that if those friends
come there as they did they can never escape; therefore they beg that
those friends may never come. Therefore this rich man prays that Abraham
would send Lazarus to his five brethren, to testify to them, lest they
also come into that place of torment.
- 7. The state of mind that rejects the Bible
would reject any testimony that could be given. This is plainly taught
here, and can be proved. It can be proved that the testimony of one
who should rise from the dead is no better or stronger than that of
the Bible. Paul said he had been caught up to the third heaven, but
men would not believe him. Or take the case of Lazarus, raised beyond
all question from the dead. We are not told what he taught, nor is it
said that his instructions made any special impressions on the living
unbelievers of that generation. Those of you who have read the history
of William Tennant--a co-labourer with Whitfield and Edwards, know how
he apparently died; how after death he went to heaven; how he too like
Paul, saw there unspeakable things which no man could utter; how he
returned again and lived several years as one who had seen the glories
of heaven; but was this stronger evidence than the Bible itself? Did
it surpass in strength of demonstration the teachings of Moses and of
the prophets? Yet more, did it surpass the force and evidence with which
Jesus spake and also his apostles? No, verily. When unbelief has taken
possession of the mind, you may pile miracle on miracle; men will not
believe it. Suppose ever so many should rise from the dead. Men who
reject the Bible would not believe their testimony. They would insist
either that they had not been really dead, or that if they had been,
they did not bring back a reliable report from that other country. They
would make a thousand objections, as they do now, against the Bible,
and with much more plausibility then than now. Now, they only know their
objections are really unfounded; then they would have more plausible
objections to make, and would be sure to give them credit enough to
refuse to repent under their teachings. They would not be persuaded
- 8. The estimation in which God holds men may
not be learned from their outward circumstances. His favor cannot be
inferred from the trappings of wealth; nor is it precluded by any amount
of poverty. These external things neither prove nor disprove God's approbation
of the hearts and the life of men.
- 9. The righteous need not envy rich sinners.
Lazarus did not envy the rich man. He saw that he was petted for his
great wealth, but pitied rather than envied him. He doubtless understood
that this man was having his good things in this world. So good men,
if they have faith, understand that those rich and wicked men are receiving
all their good things in this world therefore are far from being objects
- 10. The former poverty of the righteous poor
will give a keener relish to the joys of heaven. Think of the abject
poverty of this man--wandering about with no home, no place even to
lay his head. So multitudes in Eastern countries may be seen lying around
the city walls like the swine of the streets. I saw them in Malta when
I was there, and in Sicily also. They had no home to go to, no resources
against a sick or stormy day. So Lazarus lived and it was from such
a life and such scenes that he was transferred to the royal palace of
Jehovah. Take the case of some poor beggar lying helpless outside the
palace-walls of Queen Victoria. Suppose him suddenly taken up and exalted
to the highest honors of the palace itself. How would his joy intoxicate
his brain--too much for flesh and blood to bear! So poor saints passing
from the dunghill on earth to the golden palaces of heaven. It is well
they lose their nerves in the change, for surely nerves of flesh could
not bear so great a change. See Lazarus, sick and sore, perhaps putrid--licked
by dogs; but he reached at length the crisis of his sorrows, and all
suddenly the mortal coil drops, and his spirit takes wings--angels receive
him; he soars away and heaven opens wide its gates of pearl to make
him welcome! Sometimes when I have stood and seen the Christian die--have
seen him struggle and pant and gasp and pass away, I have said, What
a wonderful change is this! See how that eye grows glassy and dark;
then it closes; it sees no more of earth, but all suddenly it opens
on the glories of the upper world to be closed no more forever!
- 11. But to have the luxuries of this life superseded
by the poverty and woe of hell--how awful! This rich man had royal wealth.
We are told that he fared sumptuously every day--not only on special
occasions, but every day! Every day too he was clad in purple and fine
linen; but now how wonderful the contrast! Nothing is said of the burial
of Lazarus; perhaps he had none worth noticing; but this man had a funeral.
It was a noticeable fact. Perhaps thousands gathered round his remains
to do him honour--but where is he? Lifting up his eyes in hell, being
in torments! What a change! From his table and his palace, to hell!
Lazarus passed from his sores and beggary to heaven; the rich man, from
his pomp and pride and feasting, to hell. As the great poverty of Lazarus,
so set off in contrast with heaven, must have given great edge and keenness
to the joys of that world, so on the reverse scale, how dreadful the
contrast which this rich man experienced! If we always get clearer and
stronger views by contrast, surely we have a picture drawn here that
is adapted to teach us awful truth and force it home on the soul with
- 12. If it be true that angels convey saints
to heaven, as we are taught both here and elsewhere in God's word, then
it is not irrational to suppose that what many saints say in their dying
hours of the things they see is strictly true. Gathering darkness clouds
the senses, and the mind becomes greatly spiritual as their looks plainly
show; those looks--the eye, the countenance, the melting whisper, these
tell the story better than any words can do it; indeed no words can
describe those looks--no language can paint what you can stand by and
see and hear--a peace so deep and so divine; this shows that the soul
is almost in heaven. In all ages it has been common for some dying saints
to hear music which they supposed to be of heaven and to see angels
near and around them. With eyes that see what others cannot see, they
recognize their attending angels as already come, "Don't you hear
that music?" say they. "Don't you see those shinning ones?
they come, they come!" But attending friends are yet too carnal
to see such objects and to hear such sounds; for it is the mind and
not the body that has eyes. It is the mind that sees, and not the body.
No doubt in such cases, they do really see angelic forms and hear angelic
voices. The Bible says--"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the
death of his saints." How gloriously do these closing scenes illustrate
- 13. If this be true of saints, then doubtless
wicked spirits are allowed to drag the wicked down from their dying
beds to hell. Nor is it unreasonable to suppose that they too really
see awful shapes and hear dreadful sounds. "Who is that weeping
and wailing? Did I not hear a groan? Is there not some one weeping as
if in awful agony? O, that awful thing; take him away, take him away!
He will seize me and drag me down; take him away, away!"
So the wicked are sometimes affected in their
dying moments. There is no good reason to doubt that these objects seen
and sounds heard, by saints and sinners in their last earthly moments,
are realities. You who have read Dr. Nelson's book on infidelity, cannot
but have noticed especially what he says of the experience of persons
near death. These things passed under his observation chiefly while
he was a physician, and while yet an infidel himself. Dying sinners
would cry out, "O, that awful creature! take him away, away; why
don't you take him away?" Ye who know Dr. Nelson, must have known
that he did not say these things at random. He did not admit them without
evidence, or state them without due consideration.
- 14. We are left to infer the character of this
rich man from his worldly-mindedness. Christ did not seem to deem it
necessary to state that he was a wicked man, but left this to be inferred
from his self-indulgent life. He needed only to say of him that he lived
for self-gratification; that he used his wealth for himself only, and
not for the good of man, or for the glory of God. This explained his
People act very much in this world, as if they
supposed poverty would disqualify them for heaven. They would seem to
hold the exact opposite of the truth. Christ said, "How hardly
shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven"; and yet, who
seems to have the least fear of losing heaven by means of the snare
of wealth? How wonderful is the course that men pursue, and indeed a
great many Christian men are pursuing! A Christian mother, writing to
me from New York, said, "All, even Christians, are giving themselves
up to making money, MONEY, MONEY! They are wholly given up to stocks,
and banks, and getting rich." There is a great deal of this spirit
all over the country, and even here. But look at it in the light of
this parable and of our Saviour's assumption in regard to the character
of this rich man, and what a fearful state is this to live and to die
- 15. What can Universalists say or believe when
they read such passages as this? What miserable shifts they must make
to interpret these words! I recollect when I tried and wanted to be
Universalist, and for this purpose went to their meetings and heard
their arguments; I said to myself, "For very shame, I could never
use such arguments; no, not for the shame of admitting and avowing such
absurdities!" What can be more absurd than to resort to such sophistry
and special pleading to set aside statements so clear and direct to
the point as these in this chapter.
- 16. God is giving to all sinners--to you sinners
in this place--a great many rich gifts. What use are you making of them?
What are you doing with these gifts? What are you doing with these things
which God comes down each day to bring to you? Are you cavilling, to
prevent Christ from saving you if you can? Many act as if they meant
to avoid being saved if by any means they can. You act just like reprobates.
But I must explain myself. I often meet with persons whose spirit makes
me believe they are reprobates. You know that all things are eternally
present to the mind of God. He saw how these sinners would treat the
gospel. He saw they would repel and hate Christ--would not love his
service nor accept the offers of his great salvation. He saw all this
in his past eternity; therefore he reprobated them; therefore he gave
them over to their own hearts' lusts. Those things which God saw in
the depths of his eternity, we only see as they boil up upon the surface
of actual present life. You see them resist the Spirit; you see them
cavil and fight against God's truth; you know they are fighting against
God. So strongly does the conviction fasten on the minds of Christians
in some cases, that they cannot pray for those who they are assured
are reprobates. Said a very pious woman, "For ten years, I have
not prayed for that son." Why? She saw that he was set against
God, and she could not pray for him. It is indeed an awful thing to
find such cases in Christian families. Nobody can tell the agony of
a parent's heart to see a son setting at naught all the claims and all
the mercies of God, and working his dismal way obstinately down to the
depths of an eternal hell. Some of you before me today, know that you
have children who give awful evidence of being reprobate!
Hear that man across the street sighing as he
moves along. What is the matter? He is in agony for a hardened, reprobate
You call at a neighbor's door; you ring the bell; the mother comes.
You see the tear in her eye; she can scarcely speak. What is the matter?
She has a son, and she fears he is a reprobate. All his conduct heightens
the awful fear that he is given over of God.
But let those who have not gone so far, take warning. Some of those
whom you have mocked and reviled, you may by and by see in glory. They
may be in Abraham's bosom, and you afar off! You may cry to them for
help, but all in vain. Will they rush to your help? No. You see your
father, your mother, afar off in that spirit land,--you think they will
fly to succor you, and bring you at least one drop of water,--they used
to do so many a time when you were in pain. Ah! many a time has that
mother watched over your suffering frame, and rushed to your relief;
but will she do so now? "My son, hear this: there is no passing
from this place to that. You once lived in my house and lay in my bosom,
but I cannot bring you one drop of water now!" And has it come
to this? Must it come to this? Ah, yes, it must come to this!
Christian parents, one word to you. Suppose you conceive of this as
your case. You see one of your children crying, "O give me one
drop of water to cool my burning tongue!" I know what Universalists
would say to this. They say, "Can a parent be happy, and see this?
And do you think a parent is more compassionate than God?"
But in that hour of retribution, those Christian parents will say even
of the sons and daughters they have borne, "Let them perish, they
are the enemies of God and of his kingdom! Let them perish, since they
would not have salvation! They must perish, for God's throne must stand
and ought to stand, though all the race go down to hell!"
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
THE WANTS OF MAN AND THEIR SUPPLY.
July 19, 1854
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Luke 15:14: "He began to be in want."
Text.--Matt. 5:6: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled."
The parable of the prodigal son is intended to
illustrate the case of the sinner, coming to himself, opening his eyes
to his true condition, and feeling himself destitute, empty, and wretched.
I. Man, in consciousness, is a wonderful being.
II. Man has also an intellectual nature.
III. Man has another side to his nature--the moral and spiritual department.
I. Man, as he stands revealed to himself in consciousness, is a wonderful
- 1. By the earliest teachings of consciousness
he finds himself to be a duality, consisting of body and soul. Farther
revelations made in consciousness show him to be in some respects a
tri-unity. For example, he has three classes of mental attributes: sensibility,
intellect, and will. Still further, and yet more important in its bearings,
he finds himself a tri-unity, inasmuch as he has three sides to his
nature; one related to the material universe around him; another to
all objects of thought and knowledge; and still another, related to
God and to duty. He has first a body, and through this, peculiar relations
to the world he lives in. He has appetites for food, and numerous wants
that terminate on the physical universe. These wants crave their appropriate
supplies, and cannot be satisfied with anything else. In the order of
time, these are earliest developed. They are few in number, that is,
they may be; and those which are real are so. This class alone cease
at death. Yet while they exist, they must be supplied.
- 2. Another fact deserving notice in reference
to this class of wants is that man immediately assumes the existence
of the objects to which his physical wants are correlated. The infant
assumes this by instinct. There is no need that you should prove to
man that these objects exist. He assumes this, and has only to inquire
where they may be found. By a necessity of his nature he assumes their
existence, and sets himself forthwith to search for them.
II. In the next place, let it be noticed that
man has also an intellectual nature.
- 1. He is made capable of knowledge, and has
also an intense desire to know. These are real wants of his being. God
has provided for their supply in the illimitable ocean of truth which
invests him on every side. God has also breathed into his soul a spirit
of inquiry, and acting out its deep impulses, he must inquire into the
truth and reason of things. It is curious to notice the difference between
children and other animals. If you had never seen an infant before,
and were to study his developments for the first time, you would be
forcibly struck with these remarkable traits. The little one begins
to notice, and to look inquiringly almost as soon as it begins to look
at all. See him fix his eyes upon his little hands, as if he would ask,
What are these? He looks into his mother's eye as if he would ask a
thousand questions, long before he can utter a word. But you can find
no such manifestations of thought and inquiry in the kitten and the
lamb. Give them enough to eat and scope for rest and play, and they
are satisfied. They will never seem to ask you the reasons of things.
Nay more, you cannot awaken within them a spirit of inquiry by any appliances
you can employ. It is not in them, and you cannot get it in.
- 2. But the infant is a philosopher by birth.
He has intellectual wants lying in his very nature, and he cannot be
satisfied without their supply. He must know the reasons of things.
This is the true idea of philosophy. The lower animals will lie down
perfectly satisfied without knowing the reasons of things, or anything
more about things than just suffices to meet their animal wants. But
man, even from infancy, has wants pressing upon him in this direction,
and he rouses himself like a lion from his lair, to grasp the good his
inner being craves in this direction. He cannot be satisfied without.
He finds himself related to the whole universe of matter, and O!, what
a world is opened to him for inquiry and knowledge! How naturally he
looks up and abroad! It is not easy for the horse or the ox to look
up. Their eye is prone; but man's is outward and upward. Man is made
- 3. It is this spirit of inquiry which leads
so many young people to this place. They come here to get knowledge.
How they hang on our lips, and press on us for the reasons of things,
as if they could not be satisfied till they have penetrated to the bottom
of every subject.
- 4. Men assume that there is an explanation of
everything. They assume that these innate demands for knowledge were
created, not to be denied--not to remain ungratified, but to be gratified.
Hence they grasp after knowledge, searching for it as for silver, and
as if they deemed it more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine
gold. What young man or young woman has not felt such curiosity excited,
as to extort the cry--I must know: I must find out the facts on this
subject, and the reasons of the facts besides!
III. Thirdly, man has yet another side to his
nature--the moral and spiritual department, correlated to God, to his
attributes and law, and to great questions of duty and destiny.
- 1. Man learns from consciousness that he has
such a side to his being--such a department in his nature. Hence he
inquires after God. He raises questions about right and wrong, and asks
to know the nature of virtue and vice. Often he finds in himself a great
uneasiness of which he cannot well difine the cause. It puts him upon
pressing these inquiries into his responsibilities and his mission in
this state of his existence.
- 2. Let it now be especially observed that man
instinctively assumes the existence of those things which stand related
to each of these three sides of his nature. The infant begins to feel
after his food with no thought of question as to the fact of there being
food provided for his wants. When intelligence opens, the same assumption
is made, that there are verities to be known, and the reasons why these
things are so rather than otherwise. In like manner, when the eyes of
the moral man begin to open, he assumes his own immortality, and assumes
also the existence of a God. This is, indeed, the true account of his
knowledge of this truth. Some have supposed that the idea of God in
the human mind is wholly a thing of education. It is so in the same
sense in which much of our intellectual knowledge is. There are many
things about God which we need to learn from his word and from his works.
But no man needs to have it demonstrated to him that there is a God,
any more than a child needs to have it proved that there is food provided
for him in the physical world, or the adult, that there are things to
be known. The great cardinal truths pertaining to the existence of God,
accountability, and duty, are assumed as readily and surely as men assume
that there are truths correlated to their intelligence, or supplies
in nature for their animal wants. It is of no use to say that some men
are atheists and therefore this doctrine cannot be true. Some men have,
by speculation, befooled themselves into the belief (so they say) that
there is no physical universe. But they believe in its existence none
the less, and crave the good it proffers, and cannot live without it.
Each one of these philosophers, although he may deny the existence of
any physical universe, and declare there is no such thing as matter,
yet expects his dinner at the appointed hour, and needs it for his comfort
full as much as if he had not denied the existence of any such thing.
So these atheists only know there is a God, although they say, "in
their heart," there is none.
- 3. It is vastly difficult for any man to feel
at ease while he is resisting the constitutional demands of any department
of his nature. "Alas!" said a young and ambitious lawyer,
who was driving his business and his books and his briefs,--"alas!"
said he, "what is the matter with me! I try to study, and cannot.
I try to be happy, but I am not. What do I want? Wherein is the lack
that, with all I have, yet leaves me so wretched?"
It was this strain of inquiry which led him to
see that he needed God for his portion, and could not find a paradise
- 4. Men need not wait for the proof of their
immortality, or for proof of the necessity of virtue as a means for
happiness. They know these things by a spontaneity of their moral nature.
They know that holiness is a great want of their moral nature. How plainly
do they see and know that they need such a being as God, to love and
to obey, to trust and to adore!
I appeal to these students. If you have cultivated
the habit of self-study, you have learned that you cannot find out yourself
without finding God. Tracing out the problems of your own existence
reveals to you your Maker. An irresistible conviction will force itself
upon you that there is a God, and that you have everything to hope from
his favor, and everything to fear from his frown. A view of yourself
and of your own spiritual wants will show you that nothing else can
supply your need but God. Have you not already found that the more you
study, and the more you cultivate the habit of reflection, the less
you can make yourself happy without God? Most of you find it impossible
to enjoy yourselves in sin as you were wont to do before you gave yourselves
to thought and reflection. The higher you ascend in the grade of moral
and intellectual culture, the more intensely will you feel the want
of moral culture and moral enjoyments. It is impossible for you to rise
as a man without feeling a growing demand for the presence and influence
of God, as your Father and Friend.
- 5. Commonly, as the human mind opens to surrounding
objects, and as its powers successively develop themselves, attention
is first turned to physical wants, and next to intellectual. In one
or the other of these pursuits, or in both, man is wont to become so
engrossed as mainly to overlook the moral side of his nature. Yet the
wants of his moral being will develop themselves, often in such a way
at first as to make him exceedingly wretched, while yet he does not
see what ails him, and quite fails to comprehend the reason of his unhappiness.
No amount of knowledge or purely mental culture can make him happy.
On the contrary, the more he knows the more he wants, and the more intensely
dissatisfied he becomes with himself.
The objects that supply his bodily wants are
at hand. He meets them on every side, and in abundance. So also, pushing
his efforts for this end, he finds ample materials for supplying his
intellectual wants. He finds enough for mind to feed upon--enough to
exercise his faculties, and interest him in studious thought and earnest
- 6. So also with his moral and spiritual wants.
These have their correlated objects. God is all around him. In the kingdoms
of nature he sees the handiwork of an intelligent, designing Maker;
and in the ways of providence, he cannot help seeing the agency of a
kind and beneficent Father. As his natural eye gives him the material
world, so his spiritual eye would give him God in everything--were it
not for the blinding influence of a bad heart. This fearfully darkens
his vision to those great spiritual truths he so much needs to know.
While he might be advancing hour by hour in the knowledge of God and
of spiritual truth, going down into the great depths of sympathy with
God, he finds instead a fearful conflict between his depraved impulses
and his conscience, under the influence of which, truth gains but a
slow access to his soul. Moreover, the moral side of his nature being
latest developed, he often becomes so engrossed with sensual or intellectual
pursuits, that he scarce has any power left for effective thought upon
moral subjects. How fearfully some give way to worldly interests and
claims, and others also to intellectual pursuits, some of you must know
but too well.
- 7. Yet those moral wants you have neglected
will some day arise and make their demands heard. It is well if they
assume this urgency while yet their supply is possible. The prodigal
son was a case of one who felt the pressure of these wants. He said--"I
must go home to my father." David entered on record his testimony--"My
soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty
land where no water is." "As the hart panteth after the water
brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for
God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?"
The mind thus becomes deeply conscious of cravings and aspirations which
have God for their object, and which nothing but God can supply. If
you examine the nature of these wants, you find them in part social.
The mind craves communion with other minds. It thirsts for society,
and wisely concludes that no society, no fellowship with other minds,
can in any wise compare with communion with God. Perhaps he has tried
the fellowship of mortals, and found it still unsatisfying. Hence he
craves the richer, far richer, fellowship with the Father and with his
Son Jesus Christ. He longs to rise above communion with the finite to
hold communion with the Infinite. Weary of drawing instructions from
erring man, he thirsts for the pure fountains of knowledge as they flow
from the Infinite Intelligence. Conscious that he must himself exist
forever, he craves the acquaintance and sympathy of his eternal Maker
and Father. As he comes to know something of his great and glorious
Friend, he feels that he needs an eternity in which to study God in
his multiform and wonderful works and ways. And when he comes to breathe
the atmosphere of purity which invests the glorious Presence, how intensely
does he long for deliverance from all moral corruption! O, how does
his soul thirst for an ever-growing conformity to God! The language
of holy men on the sacred page is exceedingly strong on these points,
as we may see from David's Psalms and Paul's Epistles. The latter declares,
"Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency
of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord; for whom I have suffered
the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ
and be found in Him." No one can read these strong utterances of
feeling, desire, and purpose, without seeing that the mind may develop
itself with amazing intensity in this direction. There is scope and
occasion for its utmost energies and aspirations.
1. He must be wretched who neglects to supply his physical wants. He must
pay the stem penalty of his neglect, as he will soon learn to his sorrow.
Each organ of the body needs its appropriate development, exercise, and
nutriment. He who should disregard the laws of his constitution in respect
to the proper supply of these constitutional demands will find ere long
that the penalty of such neglect is fearful and sure.
In like manner, if he stultifies himself and takes no pains to inquire
after truth and knowledge; if he never troubles himself to know, and denies
to his intellectual nature all its just demands, he must be far more wretched
than a brute can be. But let a man neglect all spiritual culture and training,
he becomes far more wretched still. Physical demands cease with the death
of the body; the spiritual must continue during his entire existence,
stretching on and still on forever, and probably forever increasing.
2. How cruel for a man to consider himself as merely a brute. Giving himself
up to a grovelling life, regardless of his spiritual nature and even of
his intellectual nature also, what a wretch he must be! Ye, who are students,
know how to pity, and how to despise him! You can understand what he loses,
for you know what satisfaction is taken in finding out the reasons of
things. But see the mere animal who never looks abroad, never raises an
inquiry. Why does he not set himself to study and think? Why not cast
his thoughts abroad for knowledge? Why does he live a fool and a dunce,
when he might be a man?
3. How cruel to treat anybody else as a mere animal! This is the most
cruel thing you can do towards a fellow-being. You deny the existence
of those great qualities which constitute him a man. You feed him as you
would a horse, withholding all aliment for his intelligent mind. You feed
him and your horse, each for the same reason;--you want to keep him in
working order to serve your selfish purposes. You regard all knowledge
beyond what your horse needs as only so much injury to him. Holding your
slave as his master, do you send him to school? Never. Do you teach him
to read? Never. Do you provide him any means of instruction? No. In the
same manner you shut down the gate upon his moral nature. You close up
the windows of his soul and keep it as utterly dark as possible to the
light of heaven. You tighten the thumb-screws down on every inlet of knowledge,
so that he shall never know that he is anything more or other than a beast!
Is not this horrible? What then shall we say of the man who does just
this upon himself!
4. The more a man develops his intellectual faculties, yet neglects moral
culture, the more miserable he becomes. It is striking to see how wretched
the most highly cultivated men become. During all the latter years of
his life, Daniel Webster was never seen sober, but he was wretched. While
in his senses, his mind was deep in sorrow. Look in upon Congress and
see there the great men of our land and of other lands; not a man of them
is happy without piety and sound moral culture. Go and ask Byron if his
gigantic mind, and almost superhuman genius, made him an angel of bliss.
Ask him if he found this world a paradise. Perhaps no man ever cursed
his fellow-beings more intensely, or enjoyed less in their society, than
he. All such men, with high intellectual culture, make themselves wretched
because they leave their moral powers in a state of utter wreck and distortion.
There is no escape from this result. High intellectual culture must inevitably
develop the idea and the claims of God. Let them turn their inquiries
which way they will, they find God, and must feel more or less convicted
of obligation to love and obey them. Repelling these obligations, it is
impossible that they can be otherwise than wretched. I alluded to the
case of a young lawyer who asked--"What makes me so unhappy? I feel
myself thoroughly wretched, and surely I can see no reason for it."
The secret was this. All his life long he had neglected God. His studies
had more and more brought God to view, and his sensibilities, under the
action of conscience, had become exceedingly acute. How could he be otherwise
than wretched? He might not see the reason of his unhappy state; yet if
he had well considered the laws of his moral nature, he would have found
the reason lying there. Many of you begin to find the same results in
your experience, and you must realize them more and more if you remain
alienated in heart from God while yet your intelligence is more and more
revealing God and his rightful claims on your heart.
5. Neglecters of God are not well aware either of the cause or the degree
of their wretchedness. The wants of their physical nature are all met.
They are fed and clad, and have every comfort that their physical system
craves. Their social wants too are met. They have friends and society.
They have also cultivated taste and any desired amount of objects for
its gratification. There is a library and books in plenty. There are works
of art from the masters in every profession. What more could they need?
Yet they are wretched. What is the matter? How many thousand times has
this inquiry been made--What can be the matter with me? I have everything
heart can wish, or the eye desire; books, teachers, unbounded sources
of information, yet I am unhappy; what does ail me?
I can tell you what. There is another side of your nature, more important
than all the rest, and more craving, yet you shut off all its demands,
and deny its claims. You have a conscience, yet you resist its monitions.
You have desires, correlated to God, yet you deny them their appropriate
gratification. No fact is more ennobling to human nature than this, that
man has desires correlated to God even as he has to his fellow men, so
that he can no more be happy without God than he can be without the sympathy
and society of man. We all understand this law of human nature. We see
man thirsting for companionship with his fellow man, longing for society,
and we cannot fail to see and to say that man is so constructed in his
very nature that he must have society. Deprive him of it and he is wretched.
Now the striking fact is that man has an equally strong demand in his
very constitution for sympathy and fellowship with God. Unless this too
be supplied, he cannot be happy.
Suppose you were to meet a man as ignorant of his physical wants as most
men are of their spiritual. He does not understand that he must have food
for his stomach; clothes for his body; heat to warm him in the winter
frosts. Ah! you would see the reason of his misery. Strange he does not
know enough to supply his wants!
Or suppose him equally ignorant of his intellectual wants. He starves
his soul of knowledge. Lean and barren, he seems to be panting for something
higher and better, yet unaware both of the nature of this craving and
of the proper source of supply. How easily could you tell him that "for
the soul to be without knowledge is not good."
So there is also a moral side to man's nature, and he can never be supremely
happy till he becomes morally perfect. He struggles to get out of his
moral agony; feels as if he should die if he cannot get out from under
this moral load. Who has not felt this loathing of his abominable self,
because he did not and would not search after God! Never did any man long
for food or water more intensely than the man, who suffers himself to
attend to the inner voice of his moral being, thirsts after God.
6. Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst, for when they cry unto God
to be filled, He will fill them. Let them cry unto God for bread and water;
does He not hear their cry? Ah, verily,--He hears the young ravens when
they cry, and the young lions when they roar and suffer hunger; and the
infant voices of his intelligent creation are not less sure to come up
into his ear. Does He not love to supply these wants which grow out of
the nature He gave them? Indeed He does. He spread out the fair earth
and its rich fields of lovely green. He meant to fill the earth with supplies
for man and beast, yea, for every living thing.
In like manner, of the mental wants of his intelligent creatures. He loves
to meet these with open hand;--loves to excite the spirit of inquiry and
then supply to us the means of gratification. The things we need to know
He loves to teach us.
But our moral and spiritual wants, he is infinitely more ready to supply.
Does not your inner heart say,--verily, this must be so? It is so. No
sooner does the soul go forth after God, than He is near--ineffably near.
It is wonderful to see how soon God is found when once the soul begins
in true earnest to inquire after Him. Is it not striking that God should
so love to reveal himself and should take such pains to insinuate himself
into our confidence, and, as it were, work himself into universal communion
and contact with our whole souls, so as to fill every moral want of our
being? In view of this desire and effort on his part, and in view also
of the means provided and promised for this result, we can see why God
should command us to "be filled with the Spirit." Such infinite
supplies provided and such earnest desire manifested on the part of God
to have us appropriate these supplies to their utmost extent;--it is as
if an ocean of water were suspended above our heads, and we have only
to lift the valve and let down these ocean waters upon our needy souls.
There is the promise, let down like a silken cord; what have we to do
but to take hold of it and pull down infinite blessings!
7. Until man feels his spiritual wants, he will resist all attempts you
may make to bring him to God. Hence the necessity of touching the mainspring
of danger,--of arousing his fears, and developing his moral sensibility.
Hence the need of appeals to his conscience and to his sense of danger.
Until you can make his moral nature sensitive and rouse up his dark and
dead soul to moral feelings, there is no hope for him. But when you can
touch this side of his nature and quicken him to feeling and even to agony
under the lash of conscience, and make him really appreciate his wants,
then he begins to feel his wants, and to ask how they can be met and supplied.
This is the true secret of promoting revivals. You must go around among
these dark, insensible minds and pour in light upon this side of their
nature. You must wake them up to earnest thought--you must rouse up the
man's conscience and soul till he shall cry out after God and his salvation.
I always have strong hopes of students; for although they sometimes get
wise in their own conceits, and sometimes render themselves ridiculous
by their low ambition, yet, taken as a class, there is great hope of them.
If suitable means are used, very many of them will be converted. Probably
no class of students ever passed through college, the right means of instruction
and influence being used with them, without deeply feeling the power of
truth, and many of them becoming converted. They must, almost of necessity,
feel every blow that is struck; every truth, brought home clearly through
their intelligence upon their conscience, wakens a response; and impels
the soul to cry out after God. Hence I have strong hopes of you. Yet many
of you, I know, are not now converted. God grant you may be soon! I hope
the hearts of this Christian people will reach your case in strong effectual
prayer. You can indeed resist every effort made to save you--if you will;
you can reject Christ, however earnest his entreaties or tender his loving
kindness; but you cannot change your nature so that it shall be happy
in rebellion against God and his truth; you cannot hush the rebukes of
an abused conscience forever; these wants of your inner being must be
met, or what will become of you? Your bodily wants will soon cease; and
you need not care much therefore for them. Your intellectual pleasures
also must ere long come to an end; for how can they pass over with you
into the realm of outer darkness where are weeping and wailing and gnashing
of teeth? Doubtless that is a state not of light, and truth, and joy in
pursuit of knowledge; but of delusions, and errors, and of knowledge agonizing
its possessor with keenest pangs forever and ever! I do not believe sinners
will have any intellectual pleasure in hell. It cannot be possible that
they will enjoy any knowledge they will have there, or any means of attaining
knowledge. The very idea is precluded by the relations that conscience
must sustain to everything they know. All possible knowledge must have
some bearing upon God, duty, and their moral relations, and hence must
serve only to harrow up their sensibilities with keenest anguish. O how
will they gnash their teeth and gnaw their tongues in direst woe forever!
"There is no peace," saith my God, "to the wicked!"
More and more deeply dissatisfied to all eternity! Execrating and cursing
their insane selves for the madness of rejecting God and his gospel when
they might have had both. Now it only remains for them to wail in bitterness
and anguish, lifting up their unavailing cries, to which the thunders
of Jehovah's curse respond in everlasting echoes--"Woe to the wicked;
it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him."
O sinner, will you yet press on into the very jaws of such a hell!
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ON BELIEVING WITH THE HEART.
December 3, 1856
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Rom. 10:10: "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness."
The subject brought to view in this passage requires
of us, that we should, distinguish carefully between intellectual and
There are several different states of mind which are currently called
faith, this term being obviously used in various senses. So, also, is
the term heart used in various senses, and indeed, there are but few terms
which are not used with some variety of signification. Hence, it becomes
very important to discriminate.
Thus, in regard to faith, the Scriptures affirm that the "devils
also believe and tremble," but it surely cannot be meant that they
have heart faith. They do not "believe unto righteousness."
Faith in the intellect is a judgment -- an opinion. The mind so judges,
and is convinced that the facts are so. Whatever the nature of the things
believed, this is an involuntary state of mind. Those things believed
may be truth; they may relate to God and may embrace the great fundamental
facts and doctrines of religion; yet this faith may not result in righteousness.
It is often true that persons have their judgments convinced, yet this
conviction reaches not beyond their intelligence. Or perhaps it may go
so much further as to move their feelings and play on their sensibility,
and yet may do nothing more. It may produce no change in the will. It
may result in no new moral purpose; may utterly fail to reach the voluntary
attitude of the mind, and hence, will make no change in the life.
But, heart faith, on the other hand, is true confidence, and involves
an earnest committal of one's self and interests, to the demands of the
truth believed. It is precisely such a trust as we have in those to whom
we cling in confidence -- such as children feel in their friends and true
fathers and mothers. We know they are naturally ready to believe what
is said to them, and to commit themselves to the care of those they love.
The heart is in this. It is a voluntary state of mind -- always substantially
and essentially an act of the will. This kind of faith will, of course,
always affect the feelings, and will influence the life. Naturally, it
tends towards righteousness, and may truly be said to be "unto righteousness."
It implies love, and seems in its very nature to unify itself with the
affections. The inspired writers plainly did not hold faith to be so purely
an act of will, as to exclude the affections. Obviously, they made it
include the affections. I must now proceed,
I. To notice some of the conditions of intellectual
II. What are not, and what are, conditions of heart faith.
I. Some of the conditions of intellectual faith.
- 1. Sometimes, but not always, faith of the heart
is essential to faith of the intellect. Thus, it may be necessary that
we have heart faith in a man before we are duly prepared to investigate
the facts that relate to his character. So, in relation to God, if we
lack heart faith in Him, we are in no state to deal fairly with the
evidence of His works and ways. Here it is well to notice the vast difference
between the irresistible assumptions of the mind respecting God, and
those things which we arrive at by study and reasoning. Heart faith
seems essential to any candid investigation.
- 2. It is also essential to our conviction as
to the truth. I am not prepared to judge candidly concerning a friend,
unless I have some of this heart faith in him. Suppose I hear a rumor
about my best friend, affirming something which is deeply scandalous.
My regard for him forbids my believing this scandalous report unless
it comes most fully sustained by testimony. On the other hand, if I
had no heart confidence in him, my intelligence might be thrown entirely
off, and I might do both him and myself the greatest injustice.
Many of you have had this experience in regard
to faith. Often, in the common walks of life, you have found that, if
it had not been for your heart confidence, you would have been greatly
deceived. Your heart held on; at length, the evidence shone out; you
were in a condition to judge charitably, and thus you arrived at the
- 3. Heart faith is specially essential where
there is mystery. Of course there are points in religious doctrine which
are profoundly mysterious. This fact is not peculiar to religious truth,
but is common to every part of God's works -- which is equivalent to
saying -- it is common to all real science. Any child can ask me questions
which I cannot answer. Without heart confidence, it would be impossible
for society to exist. Happily for us, we can often wisely confide, when
we cannot, by any means, understand.
- 4. In the nature of the case, there must be
mysteries about God, for the simple reason that He is infinite and we
are finite. Yet, He reveals enough of Himself to authorize us to cherish
the most unbounded confidence in Him. Therefore, let no one stumble
at this as though it were some strange thing, for, in fact, the same
thing obtains to some extent in all our social relations. In these,
we are often compelled to confide in our friends where the case seems
altogether suspicious. Yet, we confide, and by and by, the truth comes
to light, and we are thankful that our heart faith held us from doing
Again, heart faith is specially in place where
there is contradictory evidence.
- 5. Often it may seem to you that God must be
partial. Then, the mind needs the support of confidence in God. You
go on safely if there is underlying all, the deep conviction that God
is and must be right. See that woman, stripped of everything -- husband,
children, all; how can she give any account of this? You may remember
the case of a woman who traveled West with her husband and family; there
buried her husband and all but two little ones, and then made her weary
way back with these on foot. Pinching want and weariness drove her into
a stranger's dwelling at nightfall; there a churlish man would have
turned her into the street, but his wife had a human heart, and insisted
on letting them stay, even if she herself sat up all night. Think of
the trying case of that lone widow. She does not sleep; her mingled
grief and faith find utterance in the words -- "My heart is breaking,
but God is good!"
How could she make it out that God is good? Just
as you would in the case of your husband, if one should tell you he
had gone forever, and proved faithless to his vows. You can set this
insinuation aside, and let your heart rise above it. You do this on
the strength of your heart faith.
So the Christian does in regard to many mysterious points in God's character
and ways. You cannot see how God can exist without ever beginning to
exist; or how He can exist in three Persons, since no other beings known
to you exist in more than one. You cannot see how He can be eternally
good, and yet suffer sin and misery to befall His creatures. But, with
heart faith we do not need to have everything explained. The heart says
to its Heavenly Father, "I do not need to catechize Thee, not ask
impertinent questions, for I know it is all right. I know God can never
do anything wrong." And so the soul finds a precious joy in trusting,
without knowing how the mystery is solved. Just as a wife, long parted
from her husband, and, under circumstances that need explanation, yet
when he returns, she rushes to meet him with her loving welcome, without
waiting for one word of explanation. Suppose she had waited for the
explanation before she could speak a kind word. This might savor of
the intellect, but certainly it would not do honor to her heart. For
her heart confidence, her husband loves her better than ever, and well
You can understand this; and can you not also apply it to your relation
to God? God may appear to your view to be capricious; but you know He
is not; may appear unjust, but you know He cannot be. Ah, Christian,
when you comprehend the fact of God's wider reach of vision, and of
His greater love, then you will cry out with Job -- "Though He
slay me, yet will I trust in Him." When you have trusted so, think
you not that your heart will be as dear to Christ as ever?
II. Let us next consider, what are not, and
what are, conditions of heart faith.
- 1. It is not conditioned upon comprehending
the facts to be believed. We may know a thing to be a fact, while yet
we are entirely unable to explain it. The reasons and the explanations
are quite a different thing from the evidence which sustains the fact,
and commends it to our belief.
- 2. Let it also be borne in mind that it is not
half as necessary to know all the reasons in the case of God's ways
as in man's. The ground of the difference is, that we know, in general,
that God is always right -- a knowledge which we cannot have in regard
to man. Of God, our deepest and most resistless convictions assure us
that all is right. Our corresponding convictions in the case of man
are far from being irresistible. Yet, even in regard to men, we often
find that a conviction of their rectitude, which is far less than irresistible,
lends us to trust. How much more should our stronger convictions as
to God, lead us evermore to trust in Him!
Again, this heart faith in God does not rest
on our ability to prove even that God exists. Many an earnest Christian
has never thought of this, any more than of proving his own existence.
An irresistible conviction gives him both, without other proof.
But, positively, God must be revealed to your inner being so that you
are conscious of His existence and presence. There is not, perhaps,
in the universe, a thing of which we can be more certain than of God's
existence. The mind may be more deeply acquainted with God than with
any other being or thing. Hence, this heart confidence may be based
on God's revelations to the inner soul of man. Such revelations may
reach the very highest measure of certainty. I do not mean to imply
here that we are not certain of the facts of observation. But this is
a stronger assurance and certainty. The mind becomes personally acquainted
with God, and is conscious of this direct and positive knowledge.
- 3. A further condition is, that the soul be
inwardly drawn to God. In our relations to each other, we are sometimes
conscious of a peculiar sympathy, which draws us towards a friend. This
fact is a thing of consciousness, of which we may be quite unable to
give any explanation. A similar attraction draws us to God, and seems
to be a natural condition of the strongest forms of heart faith.
- 4. It is quite essential to heart faith that
we have genuine love to God. In the absence of good-will towards God,
there never can be this faith of the heart. The wife has no heart faith
in her husband, save as she loves him. Her heart must be drawn to him
in real love -- else this heart faith will draw back and demand more
In view of this principle, God takes measure
to win our love and draw our hearts to Himself. As human beings do towards
each other, so He manifests His deep interests in us -- pours out His
blessings on us in lavish profusion, and, in every way, strives to assure
us that He is truly our friend. These are His methods to win the confidence
of our hearts. When it becomes real to us that we owe everything to
God -- our health, gifts, all our comforts -- then we can bear many
dark and trying things. Then, we know that God loves us even though
He scourge us, just as children know that parents love them, and mean
their good, even though they chastise them. Under these broad and general
manifestations of love, they confide, even though there be no present
manifestations of love. You may remember how Cecil taught his little
daughter the meaning of gospel faith. She came to him, one day, with
her hands full of little beads, greatly delighted to show them. He said
to her calmly --"You had better throw them all into the fire."
She was almost confounded; but, when she saw he was in earnest, she
trustfully obeyed and cast them in. After a few days, he brought home
for her a casket of jewels. "There, said he, my daughter, you had
faith in me the other day, and threw your beads into the fire; that
was faith; now I can give you things much more precious. Are these not
far better?" So you should always believe in God. He has jewels
for those who will believe, and cast away their sins.
Again, I observe, heart faith is unto righteousness -- real obedience.
This trustful and affectionate state of heart naturally leads us to
obey God. I have often admired the faith manifested by the old Theologian
Philosophers who held fast to their confidence in God, despite of the
greatest of absurdities. Their faith could laugh at the most absurd
principles involved in their philosophy of religious truth. It is a
remarkable fact that the greater part of the church have been in their
philosophy necessitarians, holding not the freedom, but the bondage
of the will; their doctrine being that the will is determined necessarily
by the strongest motive. Pres. Edwards held these philosophical views,
but despite of them, he believed that God is supremely good. The absurdities
of this philosophy did not shake his faith in God. So all the really
Old School Theologians hold the absurdities of hyper-Calvinism, as for
example, that God absolutely and supremely controls all the moral actions
of all His creatures.
Dr. Beecher, in controversy with Dr. Wilson, some years since, held
that obligation implied ability to obey. This Dr. Wilson flatly denied.
Whereupon Dr. B. remarked that few men could march up and face such
a proposition with winking. It is often the case that men have such
heart confidence in God that they will trust Him despite the most flagrant
absurdities. There is less superstition in this than I used to suppose,
and more faith. Men forget their dogmas and philosophy, and despite
of both, love and confide.
Some men have held monstrous doctrines -- even that God is the author
of sin and puts forth His divine efficiency to make men sin, as truly
as, by His Spirit, to make them holy. This view was held by Dr. Emmons;
yet he was eminently a pious man, of childlike, trustful spirit. It
is indeed strange how such men could hold these absurdities at all,
and scarcely less so, how they could hold them and yet confide sweetly
in God. Their heart must have been fixed in this faith by some other
influence than that of these monstrous notions in philosophy and theology.
For, these views of God, we absolutely know, were contrary to their
reason, though not to their reasonings -- a very wide and essential
distinction -- which is sometimes overlooked. The intuitive affirmations
of their reason were one thing; the points which they reached by their
philosophical reasonings, were quite another thing. The former could
not lie about God, the latter could. The former laid that sure foundation
for heart faith; the latter went to make up their intellectual notions,
the absurdities of which, (we notice with admiration,) never seemed
to shake their Christian faith. While these reasonings pushed them on
into the greatest absurdities, their reason held their faith and piety
- 5. The faith of the heart is proof against all
forms of infidelity. Without this nothing is proof. For if men without
piety drop the affirmations of their intuitive reason, and then attempt,
philosophically, to reason out all the difficulties they meet with,
they almost inevitably stumble.
- 6. Heart faith carries one over the manifold
mysteries and difficulties of God's providence. In this field there
must be difficulties, for no human vision can penetrate to the bottom
of God's providential plans and purposes.
- 7. So, also, does this faith of the heart carry
one over the mysteries of the atonement. It is indeed curious to notice
how the heart gets over all these. It is generally the case that the
atonement is accepted by the heart unto salvation, before its philosophy
is understood. It was manifestly so with the apostles; so with their
hearers; and so, even with those who heard the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The Bible says but very little indeed on the point of the philosophy
of the atonement.
- 8. It is in no sense unreasonable that God should
require us to have such faith in Him. Properly considered, He does not
require us to believe what we do not know to be true. He does not ask
us to renounce our common sense and exercise a groundless credulity.
When we trust His general character and accept certain dark dispensations
of providence as doubtless right, what is it that we believe? Not the
special reason for this mysterious dispensation, but we believe that,
despite of its dark aspect to us, God's hand in it is both wise and
good, and we believe this because we have abundant ground to confide
in His general character. It is as if you were to tell me that a known
and tried friend of mine had told a lie. I should say, I cannot believe
it. I know him too well. But you say -- "Here is the evidence.
It looks very dark against him." "Very likely," I reply,
"but yet I cannot believe it. There will be some explanation of
this. I cannot believe it."
Now I consider myself fully authorized to reject
at once all surmises and rumors against my known friend. I am bound
to do so, until the evidence against him becomes absolutely conclusive.
This is altogether reasonable. How much more so in the case of dark
things in God's doings!
For it should be considered that man may deceive us; God never can.
We do not know man's heart always, to the very core; and if we did,
it may change; what once was true, becomes false. But not so with God;
our intuitive convictions affirm that God is always good, and always
wise; and, moreover, that there can never be any declension in His love,
or any revolution in His character.
- 9. Consequently Christians are often called
on to believe God, not only without, but against, present evidence.
Abraham, called out of his home and country,
to go into a strange land, obeyed, not knowing whither he went. He might
have asked many questions about the reasons; he does not appear to have
Commanded to offer up Isaac, he might, with apparent propriety, have
expostulated earnestly. He might have said, "Lord, that would be
murder! It would outrage the natural affection which Thou hast planted
in my bosom. It would encourage the heathen around us in their horrid
abominations of making their children pass through the fire of Moloch."
All this, and more he might have said; but, so far as appears, he said
nothing -- save this; "The Lord commands, and I obey. If He pleases
He can raise up my Isaac from the dead." So he went on and virtually
offered up his son Isaac, and "in a figure, received him again
from the dead." And God fixed the seal of his approbation on this
act of faith, and held it out before all ages as a model of faith and
obedience, despite of darkness and objections.
So Christians are often called to believe without present evidence,
other than what comes from their knowledge of God's general character.
For a season, God lets everything go against them, yet they believe.
Said a woman, passing through great trials, with great confidence in
God -- "O Lord, I know Thou art good, for Thou hast shown me this;
but, Lord, others do not understand this; they are stumbled at it. Canst
Thou not show them so that they shall understand this?"
1. The demand for reasons often embarrasses our faith. This is one of
the tricks of the devil. He would embarrass our faith by telling us we
must understand all God's ways before we believe. Yet we ought to see
that this is impossible and unreasonable. Abraham could not see the reasons
for God's command to offer Isaac a bloody sacrifice; he might have expostulated;
but he did not. The simplicity and beauty of his faith appears all along
in this very thing -- that he raised no questions. He had a deeper insight
into God's character. He knew too much of God to question His wisdom,
or His love. For, a man might understand all the reasons of God's ways,
yet this knowledge might do him no good; his heart might rebel even then.
In this light you may see why so much is said about Abraham's faith. It
was gloriously trustful and unquestioning! What a model! No wonder God
commends it to the admiring imitation of the world!
2. It is indeed true that faith must often go forward in the midst of
darkness. Who can read the histories of believing saints, as recorded
in Scripture, without seeing that faith often leads the way through trials.
It would be but a sorry development of faith, if at every step God's people
must know everything before they could trust Him, and must understand
all His reasons. Most ample grounds for faith lie in His general character,
so that we do not need to understand the special reasons for His particular
3. We are mere infants -- miserably poor students of God's ways. His dealings
on every side of us appear to us mysterious. Hence it should be expected
that we shall fail to comprehend His reasons, and consequently we must
confide in Him without this knowledge. Indeed, just here lies the virtue
of faith, that it trusts God on the ground of His general character, while
the mind can by no means comprehend His reasons for particular acts. Knowing
enough of God to assure us that He must be good, our faith trusts Him,
although the special evidence of goodness in particular cases may be wanting.
This is a kind of faith which many do not seem to possess or to understand.
Plainly they do not confide in God's dealings.
4. It is manifestly needful that God should train Christians to exercise
faith here and now; since in heaven we shall be equally unable to comprehend
all His dealings. The holy in heaven will no doubt believe in God; but
they must do it by simple faith -- not on the ground of a perfect knowledge
of God's plans. What a trial of faith it must have been to the holy in
heaven to see sin enter our world! They could see few, perhaps none of
the reasons, before the final judgment, and must have fallen back upon
the intuitive affirmations of their own minds. The utmost they could say
was -- We know God is good and wise; therefore we must wait to see the
results, and humbly trust.
5. It is not best for parents to explain everything to their children,
and especially, they should not take the ground of requiring nothing of
which they cannot explain all the reasons. Some profess to take this ground.
It is for many reasons unwise. God does not train His children so.
Faith is really natural to children. Yet some will not believe their children
converted until they can be real Theologians. This assumes that they must
have all the great facts of the gospel system explained so that they can
comprehend their philosophy before they can believe them. Nothing can
be further from the truth.
It sometimes happens that those who are converted in childhood become
students of theology in more advanced years, and then, getting proud of
their philosophy and wisdom, lose their simple faith and relapse into
infidelity. No, I do not object to their studying the philosophy of every
doctrine up to the limits of human knowledge; but I do object to their
casting away their faith in God. For there is no lack of substantial testimony
to the great doctrines of the gospel. Their philosophy may stagger the
wisest man; but the evidence of their truth ought to satisfy all, and
alike the child and the philosopher. Last winter I was struck with this
fact -- which I mention because it seems to present one department of
the evidences of Christianity in a clear light. One judge of the court
said to another -- I come to you with my assertion that I inwardly know
Jesus Christ, and as truly and as well as I know you. Can you reject such
testimony? What would the people of this State say to you if you rejected
such testimony on any other subject? Do you not every day, let men testify
to their own experience?" The judge replied, "I cannot answer
"Why, then," replied the other, "do you not believe this
testimony? I can bring before you thousands who will testify to the same
Again I remark, it is of great use to study the truths of the gospel system
theologically and philosophically, for thus you may reach a satisfactory
explanation of many things which your heart knew and clave to and would
have held fast till the hour of your death. It is a satisfaction to you,
however, to see the beautiful harmony of these truths with each other,
and with the known laws of mind, and of all just government.
6. Yet Theological students sometimes decline in their piety, and for
a reason which it were well for them to understand. One enters upon this
study simple hearted and confiding; but, by and by study expands his views;
he begins to be charmed with the explanations he is able to give of many
things not understood before; becomes opinionated and proud; becomes ashamed
of his former simple heart faith, and thus stumbles fearfully if not fatally.
If you will hold on with all your simple heart confidence to the immutable
love and wisdom of God, all will be well. But it never can be well to
put your intellectual philosophy in the place of the simplicity of gospel
Herein is seen one reason why some students do not become pious. They
determine that they will understand everything before they become Christians.
Of course they are never converted. Quite in point, here, is a case I
saw a few years since. Dr. B., an intelligent but not pious man, had a
pious wife who was leading her little daughter to Christ. The Dr. seeing
this, said to her -- Why do you try to lead that child to Christ? I cannot
understand these things myself, although I have been trying to understand
them these many years; how then can she? But some days after, as he was
riding out alone, he began to reflect on the matter; the truth flashed
upon his mind, and he saw that neither of them could understand God unto
perfection -- not he anymore than his child; while yet either of them
could know enough to believe unto salvation.
Again, gospel faith is voluntary -- a will trust. I recollect a case in
my own circle of friends. I could not satisfy my mind about one of them.
At length, after long struggling, I said, I will repel these things from
my mind, and rule out these difficulties. My friend is honest and right;
I will believe it, and will trust him none the less for these slanders.
In this I was right.
Towards God this course is always right. It is always right to cast away
from your mind all those dark suspicions about Him who can never make
mistakes, and who is too good to purpose wrong. I once said to a sister
in affliction -- Can you not believe all this is for your good, though
you cannot see how it is? She brightened up, saying -- I must believe
in God, and I will.
Who of you have this heart faith? Which of you will not commit yourself
to Christ? If the thing required were intellectual faith, I could explain
to you how it is reached. It must be through searching the evidence in
the case. But heart faith must be reached by simple effort -- by a voluntary
purpose to trust. Ye who say -- I cannot do this -- Bow your knees before
God and commit yourself to His will; say, "O, my Savior! I take Thee
at Thy word." This is a simple act of will.
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ON BEING HOLY.
September 2, 1857
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--1 Pet. 1:16: "Be ye holy, for I am holy."
This precept enjoins holiness, and our first business
should therefore be to enquire what holiness is. It is plain that the
Bible uses the term as synonymous with moral purity; but the question
will still return -- What is moral purity?
I answer -- Moral fitness; that which we see to be morally appropriate;
it is in substance, moral propriety; in other words -- perfect love; such
as God requires. It is sympathy with God and likeness to Him; the state
of mind that God has. Holiness in God is not a part of His nature in such
a sense that it is not voluntary in Him; but it is a voluntary exercise
and state of His mind.
The same is true of all beings. Holiness is not a thing of nature as opposed
to free action, but must always be a free and a moral thing. It is not
possible to any beings but such as are made in the image of God in the
sense of being moral agents. They must have free will, and then must voluntarily
conform themselves to rectitude. Nothing less or other than a voluntary
conformity of themselves to the moral law can be holiness. In them all,
holiness is that state of mind which is precisely appropriate to their
nature and relations. This state is expressed in one word -- love, meaning
by this, benevolence -- good will to all. When this term is used in its
widest sense, it includes all moral duty. Hence this command to be holy
requires that we bring ourselves into a moral adjustment to God and our
entire moral duty.
Why should we be holy?
God, as in our text, requires it. "It is written -- 'Be ye holy,
for I am holy.'"
The contest also combines with the text to enforce the duty by God's example.
"As He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of
conversation" -- according to the ancient precept -- "Be ye
holy, for I am holy." Because I am holy, therefore be ye holy likewise.
Our Lord enforced the same duty by the same reason; (Matt. 5:48) "Be
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect."
What are the reasons of this requirement?
- 1. We cannot but require it of ourselves. Our
own nature irresistibly demands it of us -- his own individual conscience
of every moral agent. There is no moral agent whose nature does not
require holiness of himself. Each one is so constituted that it is impossible
he should not require this of himself. Hence there must always be a
war in his own bosom unless he yields to this demand. He knows he ought
to, and therefore, by a necessity as strong as his own nature, he must
become holy, or fail of peace and conscious self-approval.
No moral agent can respect himself unless he
is holy. He may be careless and thoughtless; and may thus slide over
and past some of the self-reproach he must otherwise feel for unholiness;
but he can never have any honest self-respect unless he behaves himself
in a comely and decent way which he believes to be in his circumstances
Need I urge that self-respect is a thing of very great importance? Few
are fully aware how very important self-respect is to themselves and
to others. Let a young man lose his self-respect, and what is he? What
hope can you have of his stability and manliness? A young woman void
of self-respect, is no longer herself. Who does not know how complete
she falls from her position as a virtuous woman!
This form of self-respect pertains to our relations to this world and
to society; but suppose a moral agent in like manner, to lose his self-respect
towards God. How fearful must be the influence of this loss on his heart!
How reckless or moral rectitude he becomes in all that pertains to his
Or suppose God to lose His self-respect. Suppose He should cease to
do what is honorable to Himself, and should no longer care to act in
a manner worthy of His own esteem. How fearful must be the consequences
first to Himself, and next to His whole universe! Suppose Him to be
morally impure, no longer adjusting His conduct to His own standard
of right. It shocks us unutterably to conceive of God as acting in a
way unworthy of Himself. We know how keenly every sensitive and right-minded
being feels the disgrace of having consciously acted in a way unworthy
of himself. Those who have been conscious of this pain have often thought
how God must feel, if, with His infinite sensibilities, He should act
unworthy of Himself. You sometimes experience this feeling and therefore
know how you loathe yourself and have no peace or rest in your soul.
It is true that these considerations may have but little weight with
those who know nothing of holiness, and who have never cultivated their
own right feelings and sentiments; but those of you who have been near
to God and have had your "heart sprinkled from an evil conscience,"
must appreciate it.
- 2. Another reason why we should be holy is,
that God requires it of us. He has made us in His own image -- like
Himself in the attributes of intellect, sensibility and free-will; and
therefore for the same reasons that make Him require holiness of Himself,
He must require it of us. He must require it of us because it is His
duty to do so.
He requires us to be holy because He cannot make
us happy unless we will become holy. Our nature being what it is, it
is forever impossible that we should be happy without being holy. God
is happy, because He is holy; He knows that we exist under the same
law of nature and necessity; hence His benevolence prompts, nay compels
Him to use this necessary means of securing our happiness.
1. Sinners know they are not holy. All know this, yet many often say --
What have I done so very bad? No matter whether very bad, (judged by the
popular standard,) or not; you know you are not holy. Now do not suppose
yourself to be holy as God is holy. You know there is none of this character
in you. How much so ever confused men's sentiments on this subject may
be, it is universally true that they conceive of God as being holy in
a sense in which they are not themselves. Whatever they may say of it,
they know this.
2. The hope that unconverted people often have that they shall be saved,
is utterly without foundation. Many try to think they have not done anything
so bad that they deserve to be sent to hell!
How strange that such men should think themselves fit for heaven! Christ
said -- "Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again."
No marvel that men should need a radical change! Hearts so foreign from
love, so full of selfishness -- how can such hearts dwell in heaven! The
unholy man's hope of heaven -- how utterly absurd! What nonsense that
men should cherish such hopes without any holiness to fit them for it!
Just as if heaven were a certain place, of no peculiar character, and
to go there would be to ensure one's bliss! You know better! You know
something about the business and the delights of the Christian -- you
know they are such as you delight not in. The Sabbath is no privilege
to you. Rather you exclaim, "behold, what a weariness it is!"
Social worship has no spiritual attractions for you. How then can you
suppose that heaven would be a world of joy to you?
3. Many who know they must become holy, are yet very ignorant of the way
in which they are to become so. Having begun in the Spirit, they try to
become perfect in the flesh. Their reliance is more on resolutions, than
on Christ embraced by faith. A leading minister of the Presbyterian church,
not long since, heard a sermon showing that men are sanctified by receiving
Christ into the heart by faith. He remarked -- "We are just beginning
to receive this doctrine. We have a long time been trying to become holy
Of many it is true that all their efforts are by works of law. They seem
not to know that all the efforts they make without Christ avail nothing
save only sin.
4. Pardon without holiness is impossible, in this sense: that the heart
must turn from its sins to God before it can be forgiven. Repentance is
really nothing more or less than turning from sin to holiness; and who
does not know that the Scriptures teach that repentance must precede pardon?
Reversing this order would ruin the sinner. The idea that God can reverse
it, works only ruin to those who accept it.
5. The command to be holy implies the practicability of becoming so. I
meet with some professed Christians who on this subject have really no
hope. They feel that need of being holy, but they are in despair of attaining
it before they die. Now these Christians claim to be believers, but they
are not. The grand difficulty in their case is, that they do not believe
God's word of promise. They have no faith that men can become holy in
this life, yet they say they believe in Christ. Yet what is Christ if
not a Savior? A Savior from what if not from sin? Is it not expressly
said -- "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people
from their sins"? Does it not seem strange that so many profess to
be believers in Christ, but yet avow that they do not believe the plainest
things said in the Bible of Christ? They claim to be believers! What!
are they believers, gospel-believers, and yet do not believe what Christ
says! Nay more, they tell you it is dangerous to believe that you can
be holy in this world! Said a Unitarian minister -- "How strange
that the Orthodox should object to sanctification in this life"!
He had been reading the views presented here, and said, "Why can
they object? If they profess to believe that Jesus is a divine Savior,
and that in Him all fullness dwells, why should they object? They should
either give up their doctrine of a divine Savior, and deny that He is
able to save to the uttermost, and abandon their ideas of a divine Redeemer,
or admit your views to be true" -- and certainly there seems to be
force in his reasoning.
I have never been more struck with this great idea -- salvation from sinning,
by Jesus Christ -- than I have during the past winter. I found it everywhere
as I read the New Testament, and indeed in the Old Testament also. O how
strange that the church should be fighting the idea of becoming holy through
Jesus Christ! How strange that they should insist that He will not do
such thing! Is it not wonderful?
6. Christ's promise and relations to His people imply a pledge of all
the help we need. The entire gospel scheme is adapted to men -- not in
the sense of conniving at their weakness, but of really helping them out
of it. It does not say -- "Go on in your sins;" does not smooth
this path by saying -- "No man can live sinless in this world;"
but it says -- "Take hold of Christ's strength and He will help you."
It does not encourage you to hold on in sinning, but it urges you to take
hold of Christ for all the help you need to overcome the practical difficulties
in your way. Its language is -- "My grace is sufficient for thee,
for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
While you affirm your moral obligation, you are more and more impressed
with your moral weakness. But this weakness is what Christ counterbalances
with His strength. In the extremest weakness, His strength finds largest
scope and fullest development. "As thy day, so shalt thy strength
be" -- when thou shalt thoroughly cast thyself on the arm of the
Hence, the command to be holy is no apology for despondency, but should
really encourage us to take hold of the strength promised to meet human
7. God sympathizes with every honest effort we make to become holy. Wherever
He sees a moral struggle in any soul, it interests Him exceedingly. He
sympathizes infinitely more deeply than we do. And yet some of us know
how deeply we sympathize where we see a convert getting hold of the idea
of sanctification by Christ. In some such cases I have known the joy of
older Christians to be really inexpressible. When I have seen gospel ministers
getting hold of the idea of sanctification and struggling to reach the
experience of that idea, I have said to myself -- If we can feel so deeply
in view of such a struggle, how much more must God feel! Do you not think
God feels? Ah, indeed in every pulse of His infinite and boundless sensibility!
8. If we become partakes of His holiness, we are made sure of the river
of His pleasures. This comes both of the nature of the case and of the
revealed laws of His kingdom. Holiness becomes God's house forever. And
while it is fearfully true that without holiness, no man shall see the
Lord, it is delightfully sure that the holy shall see and enjoy spiritual
blessedness in His presence.
9. All men will sometimes feel the necessity of this holiness. In some
cases, it is felt most deeply. Last winter I became acquainted with a
woman, hopefully a Christian, but who had heard very little on this subject.
She had been converted under circumstances where the great desolation
and moral darkness became the immediate occasion of her awakening. From
such surroundings, she had struggled up into the light. Yet when she came
to hear the real gospel, and the way of holiness was opened to her mind,
it was wonderful to see how she did grasp and devour this blessed bread
of life! It met a great void in her spiritual nature, and her soul exulted
in it with exceeding joy.
You often feel these struggles. You know you need something more and higher;
you cannot be satisfied with your present state; you are conscious something
is wrong between your soul and God, and you have a deep conviction that
you need more holiness. Why then do you not lay hold of this hope set
before you in the gospel?
10. There is no rest, short of being holy. Many try to find rest in something
less, but they are sure to fail. They suspend further efforts and would
fain believe they shall have rest where they are; but all such hope is
vain. There can be no rest short of coming into sympathy with God and
into spiritual union with Jesus Christ.
11. Many insanely suppose that when they come to die, they shall be sanctified
and prepared for heaven. Let us sit down by the bedside of such a man
-- one who expects to be sanctified in death. What is he doing? What progress
is he making? Would you speak kindly to him and enquire after his spiritual
progress? But you must not allude to religion -- the doctor would not
like to have you. He says it might retard the man's recovery. He wants
his mind to be perfectly quiet and unthinking. It will not do therefore
even to whisper the name of Jesus! And is it supposable that this dying
man is taking hold vigorously of that blessed Name which you may not even
whisper in his ear? Is he gaining the victory over the world by faith
in the Lamb of God? Do you judge from what you see and hear that his soul
is in a mighty struggle with the powers of selfishness and sin, a struggle
in which faith in Jesus ensures the victory? Ah! he sinks -- he goes down,
lower and lower; sometimes all consciousness seems to be lost; and can
you think that in these dying hours, his soul is entering into sympathy
with Christ -- is bursting away from the bands of temptation and taking
hold with a mighty grasp of those exceeding great and precious promises?
I do not ask you what you admit as to the possibility of miracles on a
death-bed; but I ask if you think the circumstances are favorable for
the mental effort which the nature of the case demands in renouncing sin
and in receiving Jesus Christ by faith for sanctification?
12. No man has any right to hope unless he is really committed to holiness
and in all honesty and earnestness intends to live so. If he does not
intend to live a holy life, let him know that he is not in the way to
heaven. If he is in his sins and indulges himself in sinning, by what
right or reason can he suppose himself traveling towards the abodes of
infinite glory? If he hopes for heaven at the end of such a life, he is
Is not every person in this house most fully convinced that he must become
holy if he would be saved? Notwithstanding all the looseness of your views
on this subject, do you not know that you must be holy if you would find
a home in heaven?
Do you believe that in any practical sense you really can become holy?
Doubtless you do; for where would you be if you knew you must be holy
and yet know equally well that you cannot be? You are not in this dilemma.
You cannot bring yourself to think that the ever blessed God has ever
shut up His children in a dilemma so hopeless.
The case with you probably is, that you know you ought to become holy,
but you are not ready to be just now. If I should call on the younger
classes, they would say -- I have so much to do, how can I? Certainly
I am not ready now. The middle-aged also are equally unprepared yet. The
great evil is that men will not act on their own convictions. They have
convictions; they know what they ought to do and that it is infinitely
wicked for them not to do, yet they do it not. There they stop. They stop,
not in the point of gospel rest, but in the point where impenitent sinners
often stop -- convicted of sin, but not acting up to their convictions
of duty. Suppose one should come to you and try to hire you to make no
further effort to become more holy; could you be hired to any such committal?
It would affect you very much as it would have done when you were first
convicted of sin, if some one had tried to hire you to defer all effort
to come to Christ for a score of years longer. You would have cried out
-- "Get thee behind me, Satan," -- "don't tempt me to sell
my soul!" Satan took a more cunning course. He only said -- Waive
it just now; let it lie over till you find a convenient season. So offered,
the bait took, and you swallowed it; and so thousands are putting off
their effort to become holy. You would be horror-stricken with the proposal
to put off all effort to become holy for ten years longer; but the thought
of putting it over for an indefinite time -- supposed to be not very long,
does not startle you at all.
O my hearers, what shall the end be of such procrastination? May it not
be that in your real heart you have no love of holiness, and have never
sought it as the pearl of great price? Can it be well for you to go on
still in a course that leads you farther every day from God? Will you
forget that He is holy, and that if you would behold His face in peace,
you too must become holy?
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
April 27, 1859
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Luke 9:23: "And He said to them all, 'If any man will come
after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow
In order to understand this solemn declaration
of our Lord, the first important point to be ascertained is this --
I. What is the true idea of taking up the
cross and denying one's self?
II. Why does Christ demand of us self-denial?
III. Our text says -- 'Take up your cross daily."
I. What is the true idea of taking up the cross and denying one's self?
- 1. This question presupposes the existence of
appetites and propensities which call for indulgence, and then it means,
obviously, that in some cases this indulgence must be refused. This
is the precise point of the text -- a man who will follow Christ must
deny himself in the sense of denying the gratification of all appetites
and propensities whenever and how far soever such gratifications are
forbidden by the law of benevolence. All impulses towards self indulgence,
whether in the line of avoiding things we fear, or seeking things we
love, must be denied, and ruled down by a determined will whenever indulgence
is not demanded but is forbidden by the law of love. Within the limits
of God's law, these constitutional appetites may be indulged; beyond
those limits, they must be denied. At whatever point they run counter
to the law of love to God or love to man, they must be put down.
- 2. The thing demanded therefore by this law
of Christ's kingdom is, that you consult and obey the will of Christ
in this whole matter of self-indulgence; that you obey neither desire
nor appetite -- that you never gratify your love of approbation -- never
seek any forms of personal enjoyment in disobedience to Christ. You
must never do this where duty is known, lest you displease God, for
plainly He has rightful control over all your powers.
- 3. Under this principle you must do all your
duty to your fellow men -- whether to their bodies or to their souls,
denying all those worldly desires and propensities which would conflict
with this duty, making Jesus Christ Himself your model and His expressed
will your perpetual rule.
II. The question will arise in many minds --
Why does Christ demand of us self-denial?
- 1. Is it because God loves to see us self-mortified
-- because He takes pleasure in crucifying the sensibilities to enjoyment
which He has given us? By no means. But the true answer is to be found
in the fact that He has made us rational and moral beings -- our rational
faculties being intended for the control of our entire voluntary activities,
and our moral nature rendering us properly responsible for the self-control
which God requires. In the lower orders of creation around us, we see
animals void of moral responsibility because they are constituted irrational
and incapable of responsible moral action. To them, propensity must
be law, because they can know no other. But we have a higher law to
obey than they. Their highest good is promoted by their obedience to
mere physical law; but not so with us. Our sensibilities are blind,
and therefore were never intended to be our rule of life. To supply
such a rule, God has given us intelligence and conscience. Appetite
therefore cannot be our rule, while it can and must be the rule of all
the lower, irrational animals.
- 2. Now it is a fact that our sensibilities are
out of harmony with our conscience, often clamoring for indulgence which
both reason and conscience forbid.
If we give ourselves up to the sway of appetite
and unguided sensibility, we are surely misled. These appetites grow
worse by indulgence, a fact which of itself shows that God never intended
them to be our rule. Often artificial appetites are formed, of such
a nature, moreover, as to be exceedingly pernicious in their effects.
Hence we are thrown into a state of warfare. Constant appeals are made
to us to arouse our propensities to indulgence; and over against these,
constant appeals are made by the law of God and the voice of our reason,
urging us to deny ourselves and find our highest good in obeying God.
God and reason require us to withstand the claims of appetite sternly
and firmly. Note here that God does not require this withstanding, without
vouchsafing His aid in the conflict. It is remarkable how the resolute
opposition of any appetite, in the name of Christ and under the demands
of conscience will readily overcome it. Cases often occur in which the
most clamorous and despotic of these artificial appetites are ruled
down by the will, under the demands of conscience and with the help
of God. At once they lie, all subdued, and the mind remains in sweet
- 3. Here let us consider more attentively that
we are conscious of having a spiritual and moral nature as well as a
physical. We have a conscience, and we have affections correlated to
God, as truly as we have affections correlated to earthly things. There
is a beauty in holiness, and there are things correlated to our spiritual
tastes as truly as to our physical. Under proper care and effort, our
religious nature may be developed towards God, even as our physical
nature is towards earthly objects. We are social beings in our earthly
relations and not less so in our spiritual nature. We are social spiritually
as well as physically, though we may not be aware of it, because our
spiritual sociality may have been utterly uncultivated and undeveloped.
But we really need divine communion with God and social fellowship with
our Infinite Maker. Prior to regeneration this moral capacity of ours
is a waste. All men have a conscience and may be aware of it, but they
have no spiritual affections towards God, and hence they assume that
religion must be a very dry thing. They cannot see how they can enjoy
God's presence and prayer. They are all awake to earthly fellowship
and friendship, but dead to fellowship and friendship with God. Their
love in the form of affection has been drawn out towards man but not
towards God. They seem not aware that they have a nature capable of
being developed in loving affections towards their divine Father. Hence
they do not see how they can ever enjoy religion and religious duties.
The coldness of death comes over their souls when they think of it.
- 4. This spiritual side of our nature needs to
be cultivated. It has been so long kept back and crushed down, it greatly
needs to be brought up. But in order to do this and develop the spiritual
side of our nature, it is indispensable that the worldly side be crushed
and brought under. For flesh is a dangerous foe to grace. There is no
harmony, but only repellency and antagonism between the earthly affections
and the heavenly. Unless we subdue the flesh we shall die. It is only
when, through the Spirit, we mortify the deeds of the body that we can
The Roman church has in past ages distinguished
itself for its mortifications of the flesh -- externally considered.
These mortifications have thrown off the Protestant world into the opposite
extreme. Among all the Protestant sermons I have heard, I do not recollect
one on the subject of bearing the cross and denying one's self. I must
think that this subject is exceedingly neglected among our Protestant
churches. Papal Rome having run wild with this idea, Protestants have
taken fright and run off into the opposite extreme. Therefore we need
a special effort to guard against this tendency and to bring us back
to reason, sense and scripture.
Until I was converted I never knew that I had any religious affections.
I did not even know that I had any capacity for spontaneous, deep, outgushing
emotions towards God. This was indeed a dark and fearful ignorance,
and you may readily suppose I knew little of real joy while my soul
was so perfectly ignorant of the very idea of real spiritual joy. But
I take it this absence of all right ideas of God is by no means uncommon.
If you search, you will find this to be the common experience of unconverted
- 5. We all know that the gratification of our
animal nature is pleasure -- not the highest sort indeed, yet is a kind
of pleasure. How much more must the gratification of our nobler moral
affections be joyful! When the soul comes to feast on its spiritual
affections, it begins to taste real happiness -- a bliss like that of
heaven! I fear many have never comprehended what the Bible means by
- 6. Now let it be well considered that the spiritual
side of our nature can be developed and gratified only by a benevolent
crossing of our appetites -- a crossing of them, I mean, under the demands
of real benevolence towards our fellow men and towards God. This must
be our aim, for if we make our personal happiness the end, we can never
attain to the exalted joy of true fellowship with God.
It is curious to see how the sensibility is related
to self-denial, so that denying ourselves from right motives becomes
the natural and necessary means of developing our spiritual affections.
Beginning with taking up the cross, one goes on from step to step, ruling
down self-indulgences and self-gratification, and opening his heart
more and more to fellowship with God and to the riper experience of
- 7. A further reason why men should deny themselves,
is that it is intrinsically right. The lower appetites ought not to
govern us; the higher laws of our nature ought to. The evidence of this
is simply the evidence which proves it to be the duty of beings created
rational to use their reason and not degrade themselves down to the
level of beasts.
- 8. Another reason is that we can well afford
it, for we are surely the gainers by it. I admit that when we resist
and deny the demands of self-indulgence, it goes a short way and on
a small scale, against happiness; but on the spiritual side we gain
immensely, and immensely more than we lose. The satisfaction which arises
from real self-denial is precious. It is rich in quality and deep and
broad as the ocean in amount.
- 9. Many think that if they would find pleasure
they must seek it directly and make it their direct object, seeking
it moreover in the gratification of their appetites. They seem to know
no other form of happiness but this. It would seem that they never have
conceived the idea that the only way to enjoy themselves really is to
deny self, fully up to the demands of right, reason, and of God's revealed
will. Yet this is the most essential law of real happiness. Where shunning
the cross begins, true religion ends. You may pray in your family; you
may sternly rebuke sin wherever it is disagreeable to yourself, and
do all this without Christian self-denial; but while living in habits
of self-indulgence, you cannot stand up for Christ and do your duty
everywhere manfully, and especially you will be all weakness when the
path of duty leads you where your feelings will be wounded. And no man
can expect to escape such emergencies always. If then you would maintain
the path of duty without swerving, and enjoy real life and blessedness,
you must determine to deny yourself wherever God and reason demand it,
and fully up to the extent of those demands. So will you gain more than
you can lose. If you are firm and determined, your path will be easy
- 10. It often happens that the entire drift of
a Christian's feelings is towards self-indulgence, so that if he allowed
himself to be guided by his feelings he would surely make shipwreck
of his soul. God, on His part, shuts him up to simple faith. Then if
he follows the Lord's guidance, he will triumph, and all suddenly his
"soul is like the chariots of Amminadab." A case in point
is now before my mind of a man who once lived here. After a period of
Christian life, he went from our place, backslid from God sorely, became
almost an infidel, quite a Swedenborgian, became wealthy, and just when
you might suppose him to have gained the heights of earthly happiness,
and when he supposed so himself, he became, instead completely wretched.
He was forced to fall back upon himself and say -- I must return to
God and do His will -- the whole of it, whatever it may be, or I shall
utterly perish. I will, said he, put an extinguisher upon every worldly
affection. Nothing that is hostile to God's will shall be tolerated
a moment. No sooner had he done this than all his religious life and
joys came back again. Then his wife and neighbors began to say of him,
"He is indeed a new man in Christ Jesus." From that day, the
peace of God ruled in his heart and his cup of joy was full to overflowing.
Any man, therefore, can afford to deny himself, since thereby he opens
his heart to the joys of immortal life and peace. This is the only way
of real happiness.
- 11. This subject explains many of the otherwise
strange facts of Christian experience. Here is one man who cannot pray
before his family. Enquire more deeply into his case and you will probably
find that he cannot enjoy anything in religious duty. Enquire yet further
into the cause and you will find that he does not deny himself, but
lives under the laws of self-indulgence. Poor man, he cannot please
- 12. Another cannot come out and confess Christ
before men. The truth probably is that he has not made up his mind to
deny himself at all. On the contrary, he really denies Christ. He shuns
the cross. Ah, that is not the way to heaven. In that path you can have
no communion with God. Try it a thousand times and you will still find
the same result, no peace, and no communion with God.
III. Our text says -- 'Take up your cross daily."
- 1. So you must. This is the only possible way
of holy living. And it must be done firmly, sternly and continually.
It must be made your life-work, save as you gain a respite by substantial
victory over your propensities to self-indulgence. Let a man attempt
to rule down the appetite for alcoholic drinks, and do it at special
seasons only, say once a day, or once in a week, while all the rest
of the time he gives himself to full indulgence, he must utterly fail.
He never can succeed unless he takes up his cross daily and bears it
all the time. Absolutely he must persevere, or his efforts are all for
nought. Precisely in proportion as we sternly take up our cross, it
grows light and we grow strong to bear it. When a man indulges himself
in tobacco, each day's indulgence makes him more a slave. On the contrary,
each successive day's abstinence makes him more a conqueror. If a man
resolutely declares -- By the help of God, no lust, no appetite, shall
have dominion over me -- then holding on, he comes off conqueror. The
more firmly you adhere to this principle and the more steadily you rule
down the clamors for self-indulgence, so much the more speedily and
surely do you gain the victory. Although at first you take up this work
tremblingly, if you hold on, you will gain ground. These appetites will
take less and less hold upon you. Bearing your cross will itself make
you strong for your toil in the Christian life.
- 2. Shunning the cross grieves the Spirit. If
you neglect duty, if you fail to pray in your family, omitting it perhaps
because you have company present, you may be very sure the Spirit of
God is grieved. Satan throws these temptations in your path, and you
give him every advantage against you. You will perhaps try to pray while
in this state; but, oh! God is not with you! You have been placed where
you should have done some things unpleasant to flesh and blood; you
evaded the claims of present duty; you went to bed at night without
doing your duty. How was it then with your soul? Did not dark clouds
shut off the light of God's face? Did you have any comfort of His presence?
Or any communion with your Savior? Pause and ask your heart for the
1. So long as the religious sensibilities are not developed, men will
of course feel a strong demand for worldly affections. What do they know
about the religious affections of the heart? What do they know of real
love to God, or of the consciousness of the Spirit's witness to their
hearts that they are God's children? Really nothing. They have never crossed
their sensual propensities. Of course they have not taken the first step
towards developing the heavenly affections of the heart. Consequently
all their enjoyments are earthly. Their hearts are only below. But just
in proportion as they deny themselves do they fall into adjustment to
their spiritual nature.
2. It is a great and blessed thing for the Christian to find his nature
conformed progressively more and more to God; to find it manifestly coming
round right and adjusting itself under divine grace, to the demands of
3. Cross bearing, persisted in, brings out a ripe spiritual culture. The
soul longs intensely for spiritual manifestations and loves communion
with God. Hear him say -- How sweet the memory of those scenes when my
soul lay low before God! How did my heart enjoy His presence! Now I am
always sensible of an aching void unless God be there.
4. When men go about to seek enjoyment as an end, they surely miss it.
All such seeking must certainly be in vain. Benevolence leads the soul
out of itself, and sets it upon making others happy. So real blessedness
5. Your usefulness as Christians will be as your cross bearing and as
your firmness in this course of life. For your knowledge in spiritual
things, your spiritual vitality, your communion with God and, all in one
word, your aid from the Holy Ghost, must turn upon the fidelity with which
you deny yourself.
6. If you have once known the blessedness of spiritual life, and your
heart has been molded into the image of the heavenly, you can no longer
return to the miserable flesh-pots of Egypt. There is no longer any possibility
of your enjoying earthly things as the portion of your soul. Let that
be considered settled. Abandon at once and forever all further thought
of finding your joys in worldly, selfish indulgences.
7. To the young, let me say, your sensibilities are quick and lean to
worldly things. Now is the time for you to be stern in dealing with your
self-indulgent spirit before you have gone too far ever to succeed. Are
you strongly tempted to give way to self-indulgence? Remember it is an
unalterable law of your nature that you must seek your peace and blessedness
in God. You cannot find it elsewhere. You must have Jesus for your friend,
or be eternally friendless. Your very nature demands that you seek God
as your God -- the King of your life -- the Portion of your soul for happiness.
You cannot find Him such to you save as you deny yourself, take up your
daily cross, and follow Jesus.
8. To those of you who being yet in your sins, cannot conceive how you
can ever enjoy God, and cannot even imagine how your heart can cleave
to God, and call Him a thousand endearing names, and pour out your heart
in love to Jesus, let me beg of you to consider that there is such communion
with God -- there is such joy of His presence, and you may have it at
the price of self-denial and whole-hearted devotion to Jesus; not otherwise.
And why should you not make this choice? Already you are saying -- every
cup of worldly pleasure is blasted -- dried up and worthless. Then let
them go. Bid them away, and make the better choice of pleasures that are
purer far and better and which endure forever.
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ON FOLLOWING CHRIST.
June 9, 1858
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--John 21:22: "Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry
till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me."
These words Christ spake to Peter. He had previously
given Peter to understand that in his advanced life his liberty would
be restrained, and that he would have the honor of glorifying God by a
martyr's death. A question arose in Peter's mind -- more curious than
wise -- how it would fare with his fellow disciple, John. So he enquires
-- "Lord, what shall this man do?" Gently rebuking this idle
inquisitiveness, Jesus replied -- "If I will that he tarry till I
come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me."
1. This reply involves a principle, and hence it has a wide practical
application. It is really addressed to us.
2. Assuming it to be thus addressed to all at the present day, what does
it teach? What does Jesus say to us?
Suppose He stood where I do this moment and you knew it to be Jesus Himself,
and saw that He was preparing to speak. You see the halo of glory around
His head; you note the blending of meekness and majesty that identifies
Him most fully as one like unto the Son of God, and your whole soul is
moved within you to catch every word He may utter. Oh what an earnest
expectation! If He were to speak in this house, you would hear the ticking
of that clock more plainly than you now do. If you chanced not to catch
every word distinctly, you would ask one and another -- What did He say!
What was that!
I. What is this command?
II. What now should be the attitude of our minds?
III. What is this thing which He requires?
IV. What is implied in obeying this command?
V. Why shall we follow Him?
VI. Will you set yourself to find some excuse? What are your excuses?
I. He speaks, you observe, in the form of a positive command; what
is this command?
Remember, if it be the Lord Jesus Christ, He has the right to command.
Who else in earth or heaven has this right more absolutely than He? It
must be of the utmost consequence to us to know what He does command us.
Whatever it be, it must vitally affect our well-being both to know and
to do it. Words from one so benevolent must be for our good. Certainly,
He never did speak, but He said things for the good of those to whom He
- 1. It must also be for the general good; for
the Great King and Lord of all never overlooks what pertains to the
- 2. Moreover, it must be safe to obey. Certainly;
how can it be otherwise? Did it ever happen that any man obeyed Him
and found it unsafe?
- 3. Of course it must be our DUTY to obey. How
can it be that Christ shall ever command us, and we be not bound solemnly
to obey Him?
- 4. Also it must be possible for us to obey.
Did Christ ever enjoin impracticable things? Could He possibly do a
thing so unreasonable?
All these points must be assumed and admitted.
How can we ever doubt a moment on any one of them? This then is the
state of the case.
II. What now should be the attitude of our minds?
- 1. Manifestly this -- Let Him speak; we will
surely listen and obey. What does He say? Every word He says, I know,
will be infinitely good. Let me catch every intimation of His will.
"His words shall be sweeter to my taste than honey or the honey
- 2. But will any of you turn away saying -- "I
don't care what He says?" Will you not rather feel this -- "Let
Him say what He will, it is all good and I will surely hear and obey
- 3. If such be your attitude towards Him, then
we are ready to examine what He says. Observe, He gives us something
to be done, and moreover, something to be done by yourself. No matter
just now to you what others may do, or what God's providence may allot
to them. "What is that to thee?" It has always been the temptation
of the human heart to look at the duties of others rather than one's
own. You must resist and put down this temptation. Christ has work for
you to do, and it becomes you to address yourself earnestly to do it.
Observe also, that it is to be done now. He gives you no furlough, not
even to go home and bid farewell to those of your house. He can take
no excuse for delay.
III. Now let us ask -- What is this thing which
He says -- "Follow thou Me." What does this mean? Must I leave
my home? Must I abandon my business? Am I to change my residence? Am I
to follow Him all over the land?
- 1. The latter meaning was plainly the true one
when Jesus dwelt among men in human flesh. He then called certain men
to follow Him as His servants and disciples, and they were to attend
Him in all His journeyings -- to go where He went and to stop where
He stopped. They were to aid Him in His missionary work.
- 2. Now, Christ is no longer here in human flesh;
and therefore following Him cannot have precisely that physical sense.
Yet now, no less than then, it implies that you obey His revealed will,
and do the things that please Him. Now, you are to imitate His example
and follow His instructions. By various methods, He still makes known
His will, and you are to follow whithersoever He leads. You must accept
Him as the Captain of your salvation, and let His laws control all your
life. He comes to save His people from their sins and from the ruin
that sin, unforgiven, must bring down; and you must accept Him as such
a Savior. This is involved in following Him.
IV. But here let us enquire somewhat more fully,
What is implied in obeying this command?
- 1. Of course it implies confidence in Him who
commands, a confidence in the exercise of which you commit yourself
fully to obey Him and trust all consequences to His disposal. There
can be no hearty, cheerful obedience without this implicit confidence.
- 2. It implies also a willingness to be saved
by Him -- that is, saved from sin. You make no reservation of favorite
indulgences; you go against all sin and set yourself earnestly to withstand
every sort of temptation.
- 3. It involves also a present decision to follow
Him through evil or good report -- whatever the effect may be on your
reputation. You are ready to make sacrifices for Christ, rejoicing to
be counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
- 4. It is a very common fault to admit what Christ
requires, yet to fail very much in doing it. This is saying, I go, sir
-- but going not. Such a man does not follow Christ.
- 5. He requires immediate action. He has work
for you to do today, and He demands of you that you commit yourself
to full obedience.
V. Let us next enquire -- WHY shall we follow
Suppose Christ were here personally and from this desk announced this
command -- Follow thou Me. Would you ask to know why? You could very soon
assign some weighty reasons. Your own mind would suggest them. And do
you know any reasons why you should not follow Him? I presume it is settled
in every mind why you should obey this command now and here, without one
moment's delay. Is there any of you that can assign any reason why you
should not obey this command? Does any of you doubt at all whether this
be your duty? Can you think of any reason why it is not?
- 1. Then it must be your duty, and you ought
to do it. The matter should lie in your mind thus -- If this is my duty,
of course I must do it at once. Doing duty is the business of my life.
- 2. You owe it to Jesus Christ to follow Him.
If you are a student, none the less should you follow Jesus everywhere.
See that young man. You ask him why he goes to college; what does he
say? Does he say -- Because I would be better prepared to teach men
about Jesus Christ? Coming to his teachers, does he say -- Give me an
education; give me all the discipline of mind and heart you can, that
I may be the better able to teach and preach Jesus Christ? Tell me all
you know of Christ; pray for me that God may teach my heart the whole
gospel? Is this what he says? In this sort of way should a Christian
student follow Christ.
Do you not owe this to Him? Can any one of you
deny this? Have you any right to live to yourselves? If you could gain
some good for the moment, could you think it right to have your own
way, and disown Christ? What if you were to gain the whole world and
lose your own soul?
- 3. You owe it to yourself to take care of your
own soul. God lays on you the responsibility of saving your own soul,
and you must bear it. No man can bear that responsibility for you. You
must bear it for yourself alone.
- 4. You owe it to your friends to follow Christ.
You have friends over whom you may exert a precious influence. For their
sakes you ought to know Christ, that you may lead them also to follow
Him. You have friends also who have done much for you and have loved
you much. It is due from you to them that you should follow Christ.
You owe it to your father and mother. Are they praying souls? It is
due to the sympathy they feel for you and to the strong desire they
have for your salvation. If they have never prayed, it is time they
did, and time that you should lead them to Christ.
- 5. You owe it to the whole world. There are
millions who know not Jesus, some of whom you might teach so that they
shall not die and never have known Him.
- 6. One more thought as to yourself. Such as
you make yourself by obeying or not obeying this precept, you will be
to all eternity. What you do in this matter will have its fruits on
your destiny long after the sun and stars shall have faded away. You
have no right to live so that when you die, men shall say -- There goes
from earth one nuisance, and hell has more sin in it now than it ever
- 7. Again; this is the only path of peace. If
you would have peace, you must seek and find it here. Here thousands
have found it; but none ever found it any where else.
VI. Jesus Christ says to you -- "Follow
thou Me." Will you set yourself to find some excuse? What are your
- 1. Do you say -- "There are so many opinions
among men. I don't know what to do."
Ah but you do know. It is only a pitiful pretense
when you say you don't know your duty. Who of you does not know enough
to be simple-hearted and to go on in duty and please God? No opinions
of men need stumble you if you simply follow Christ. You talk about
the various opinions among Christian sects; but differ much as they
may in lesser matters, on the great things of salvation, they are all
agreed. They all agree essentially, that to follow Christ in confidence
and simple love is the whole of duty and will ensure His approbation.
Follow this simple direction, and all will be well with you.
- 2. But some will say -- "I believe all
will be saved."
You do, indeed! Will they all become like Christ
before they die? Do they all in fact become holy in this world? Christ
is in heaven. Can you go there unless you become first like Him in heart
and in life?
What is such a belief good for? Often has this question been forced
on my mind in Boston -- what is this belief that all men will be saved,
good for? People plead this belief as their excuse for not following
Christ, "since we shall all come right at last any how." Can
this belief make men holy and happy? Some of you will answer -- "It
makes me happy for the present, and that is the most I care for."
But does it make you holy? Does it beget true Christian self-denial
and real benevolence? A faith and a practice which make you happy without
being holy are but a poor thing. Indeed, it cannot fail of being utterly
mischievous, because it lures and pleases without the least advance
towards saving your soul. It only leaves you the more a slave of sin
- 3. But you say -- "It makes me so miserable
to believe that any will be forever lost!"
What then? What if it does make you feel unhappy?
It may make you unhappy to see your guilty friend sent to the penitentiary
or the gallows now; but such a doom may be none the less deserved --
none the less certain, because it hurts your feelings.
How can there be any other way of final happiness save through real
holiness? The fountain of all happiness must lie in your own soul. If
that is renewed to holiness and made unselfish, loving, forgiving, humble
-- then you will be happy of course, but you cannot be happy without
such a character.
- 4. Some of you may say -- "I don't believe
in the necessity of a change of heart."
Yes you do; you are altogether mistaken in regard
to the matter if you suppose you don't believe in the necessity of a
change of heart. There cannot be such a man in all Christendom -- a
man who does not know that by nature his heart is not right with God;
yet that it must become right with God before he can enjoy God's presence
in heaven. Is there one whose conscience does not testify that, before
conversion, his heart is alienated from God? Do you not know that you
are unlike God in spirit and that you must be changed so as to become
like God before you can enjoy Him? What! a sinner, knowing himself to
be a sinner, believe he can be happy in God's presence without a radical
moral change! Impossible! Every man knows that the sinner, out of sympathy
with God, must be changed before he can enjoy God's presence and love.
Every man, unchanged by God's grace, knows himself to be a sinner and
not holy by nature.
A case in point to show the force of truth on even hardened hearts,
came lately to my knowledge. A Christian lady being on a visit to one
of the towns in Canada, was called on by a gentleman of high standing
in society, but who had always lived a prayerless, ungodly life. A man
of strong will and nerves, professedly a skeptic, he yet took the ground
before this Christian lady that he was ready, as a means of becoming
a Christian, to do any thing that she should say. Well, then, said she,
kneel down here and cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
"What!" replied he, "do this when I don't believe myself
a sinner?" You need not excuse yourself on that ground, said she,
for you know you are a sinner. Having passed his word of honor to a
lady, he could not draw back, and therefore kneeled and repeated the
proposed words. Arising, he asked, what next? Do so again; and say the
same words. He raised the old objection -- I don't believe myself a
sinner. She made the same answer as before, and a second time he repeated
the words of that prayer. The same things were said -- the same thing
done, the third time, and then, hardened as he was, his heart felt the
force of those words, and he began to cry in earnest -- "God, be
merciful to me, a sinner!" His heart broke, and he prayed till
So often, when men say they don't believe this and that, they do believe
it so far as conviction is concerned. They know the truth respecting
their own guilt.
- 5. But you plead, perhaps, this: I must attend
to other duties first; my studies, or my business.
No, my friend; no other duties can come before
this. This is the greatest duty and ought to be the first. Hear what
the Savior said on this very point. He said to one man -- "Follow
Me;" and he answered -- "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury
my father." This is a strong case, and is placed on record for
our instruction because it is strong. It may seem to you very unnatural
that Jesus would call any man away from a duty so obvious and so inborn
in every human heart; yet what did He say? He gave no heed to this plea,
but answered -- "Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and
preach the kingdom of God." Not even the last rites of burial to
the dead, must be allowed to stand before obedience to Christ's call.
No doubt Christ saw a disposition in this man to plead off, and therefore,
He saw the necessity of meeting it promptly. Suppose the man had said
at first, "Yes, Lord, I am ready; my father lies unburied; but
I am ready if Thou callest me, to follow Thee even now;" it is
at least supposable if not probable, that Jesus would have answered
-- Yes; I will go with thee to that funeral. Let us lay the dead solemnly
in their last bed, and then go to our preaching.
Another man replied to his call, saying, "Lord, I will follow Thee;
but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at home in my house."
To him, Jesus replied, "No man having put his hand to the plow
and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Thus Christ teaches
that no duty can possibly come before this of giving up your heart to
follow Him. You must make up your mind fully to this life-business,
and really enter upon it -- else all things else are only an offence
Do you say, I must study? You must first make up your mind to do all
for Christ, else study can be no acceptable duty. When Jesus says to
you -- "My son, give Me thy heart," He wants nothing else
instead of your heart. He does not wish to be put off with some other
duty, than the very one He calls for. When He says -- "Follow Me;"
He demands an explicit answer, whether you will or not, and He cannot
accept anything evasive.
1. You are now, each one of you, called to follow Christ, with the implied
pledge on His part, that if you give yourself to Him, He will give Himself
to you. Think of that. Would it not be a blessed thing to have Christ
give Himself to you, to be your eternal Friend -- your Portion and Joy
Suppose Jesus were passing along here, and were calling one and another
by name to follow Him. When He came near you, would you not be saying
in your heart -- "I hope He will certainly call me"? Or can
it be you would say -- "I hope He will not call me!" Can it
be you could say that? Would you not rather say -- Oh is it possible He
will pass me by; how awful! Can it be? And if so, shall I never see Him
passing by so near again?
O sinner, Jesus is now passing by you, so near; arise and speak to Him
for He does call you; and you must decide now whether you will follow
Him or not -- and decide for eternity!
2. Don't think about others. Say not as Peter said -- "Lord, what
shall this man do?" This is an old and artful device of your adversary
-- this turning your mind to think about others. If you are wise, you
will think about yourself only.
3. It is a great comfort to reach the point where you say -- I will follow
Him any how, let others do as they please. I will go after Christ. This
is just what you should say; and when you come to this point with a full
heart, you will find it is a most precious decision.
4. You are now called to decide your own future destiny. Some decision
upon it you will certainly make. You take a step here today which may
decide all your future being. Is it not well that you take this step right?
(1.) Suppose I should now say -- Come, separate
yourselves according to the decision you make. All ye who will follow
Christ, come into this aisle; what will you do?
(2.) Will you refuse and say -- I will not follow Christ yet; I have
ends of my own to accomplish first; I will not be His servant now? Is
this your decision? Shall we ask to have it put on record? It will go
on record any how, whether you ask it or not.
(3.) Some of you will perhaps say -- I will not decide just now. I did
not come here today expecting to decide so great a question at this
What, indeed! Did not you expect to hear a gospel sermon today? And
did you not know that in every gospel sermon there is in fact a gospel
call on you to repent and follow Jesus?
(4.) But will you now turn again and say -- "Lord, I can't understand,
I cannot realize why I should follow Thee." Don't say that; for
you can understand it. And you can decide this question today.
But says some young man -- If I should go after Him, I am afraid I should
have to forego some of my favorite plans for life. I might have to give
up my intended profession. Another might be debarred from some lucrative
business that pays better than following Christ.
Then you can go and tell your Savior so. Tell Him how the case lies.
Tell Him you cannot trust Him to provide for your worldly interests.
You are afraid He would send you also to preach the kingdom of God,
and might pay you but poorly for your services. Perhaps He will excuse
you from His service here and from entering into the joy of your Lord
(5.) There is a young man who says -- I can't follow Christ now, because
I cannot leave my dear Christian mother. Then go upon your knees and
spread out your excuse before the Lord. Say to Him -- My good mother
gave me the best Christian instruction and her constant prayers; she
did every thing to make me Thy servant; but now since Thou art calling
me to follow Thee, I find I cannot go and preach Thy love to a dying
world. She cannot spare me and I cannot leave her.
Indeed, you cannot afford to. And your pious mother thinks her claim
is above that of the Savior! Well, you must both make your choice.
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
CONDITIONS OF PREVAILING PRAYER.
1 & 2 & 3
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--Matt. 7:7, 8: "Ask, and it shall be given you."
Text.--James 4:3: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss,
to consume it upon your lusts."
May 26, 1847
CONDITIONS OF PREVAILING PRAYER--No. 1
These passages are chosen as the foundation of several discourses which
I design to preach on the condition of prevailing prayer.
Before entering directly upon the consideration of those conditions, however,
I deem it important to make several remarks upon the general subject of
prayer and of answers to prayer. These will occupy our attention on the
1. The Bible most unequivocally asserts that all that is properly called
prayer is heard and answered. "Every one that asketh," that
is, in the scriptural sense of the term, "receiveth, and he that
seeketh, findeth." This declaration is perfectly explicit and to
2. Prayer is not always answered according to the letter, but often
only according to the spirit.
This is a very important distinction. It can be made plain by an example
taken from scripture. Paul informs us that he was afflicted with a thorn
in the flesh. He has not told us precisely what this was. He calls it
his "temptation that was in the flesh," and evidently implies
that it was a snare and a trouble to him, and a thing which might naturally
injure his influence as an apostle. For this latter reason, probably,
he was led to "beseech the Lord thrice that it might depart from
him." This prayer was obviously acceptable to God, and was graciously
answered--answered, however, you will observe, not in the letter of it,
but only in its spirit. The letter of the prayer specified the removal
of this thorn in the flesh; and in this view of his prayer it was not
answered. The spirit of the prayer was doubtless that his influence might
not be injured, and that his "temptation" from this evil thing,
whatever it was, might not overpower him and draw him into sin. Thus far,
and in these respects, his prayer was answered. The Lord assured him,
saying, "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made
perfect in weakness." This was a real answer to Paul's prayer, although
it did not follow the particular way of doing it that Paul had named in
his prayer. Paul had asked that certain desired results might be secured
to him in a particular manner. The results sought constituted the spirit
of the prayer; the specified manner constituted the letter. The Lord secured
to him the results, and perhaps even more fully than Paul expected or
specifically asked; but He did it, not in Paul's specified way, but in
So it often happens when we pray. The ways of the Lord are so much wiser
than our own, that he kindly and most benevolently declines to follow
our way, and takes his own. The great end, however, which we seek, if
our prayer is acceptable to Him, He will certainly secure, perhaps more
perfectly in his own way than he could in ours.
If, therefore, we suppose that prayer must always be answered according
to the letter, we shall find ourselves greatly mistaken. But the spirit
of acceptable prayer God will always answer. If the letter and the spirit
of prayer were in any case identical, the Lord would answer both; when
they are not identical, he may answer only according to its spirit.
3. No person can be saved unless in such a state of mind as to offer
acceptable prayer. No man can be justified before God at all, unless
in such a state of mind as would be accepted in prayer. This is so plain
as to need no proof--so plain as to preclude all doubt.
4. Many things are really answers to prayer which are not recognized
as such by the suppliant, nor by observers.
This you will see may very easily happen in cases where the spirit and
the letter of prayer are diverse from each other. An observer, of course,
is not likely to notice any thing but the letter of another's prayer.
Consequently, if his prayer is answered only in the spirit of it, and
not in the letter at all, he will fail to recognize the answer. And the
same thing may occur in respect to the suppliant himself. Unless he notices
particularly the inner state of his own mind, he may not get definitely
before his eye the real thing which constitutes the spirit of his own
prayer. If his attention is chiefly turned towards the letter of it, he
may receive an answer to its spirit, and may not notice it as a real answer
to his prayer.
The acceptable prayer of any Christian may be quite a different thing
from what others suppose it to be, and sometimes different from what himself
supposes. In such cases, the answer will often fail to be recognized as
an answer. Hence it is of vital importance that we should ourselves understand
the real spirit of our own prayer.
All this applies yet more frequently in respect to others than to the
suppliant himself. Usually they see only the letter of a prayer and not
the spirit. Hence if the latter is answered and not the former, they will
naturally suppose that the prayer is not answered, when really it is answered
and in the best possible way. Skeptics often stand by tauntingly, and
cry out, "You Christians are always praying; but your prayers are
never answered." Yet God may be really answering their prayer in
the spirit of it, and in the most effectual and glorious manner. I think
I could name many instances in which, while skeptics were triumphing as
if God did not hear prayer, He was really hearing it in regard to the
true spirit of it, and in such a way as most signally to glorify Himself.
5. Much that is called prayer is not answered in any sense whatever,
and is not real prayer. Much that goes under the name of prayer is
offered merely for the form of it, with neither care nor expectation to
be answered. Those who pray thus will not watch to see whether their prayers
are answered in any sense whatever.
For example, there are some who pray as a matter of cold duty--only because
they must, and not because they feel their need of some specific blessing.
Hence their prayer is nothing but a form. Their heart is not set upon
any particular object. They only care to do what they call a duty; they
do not care with anxious heart for any object they may specify in their
prayers. Hence the thing they really care for, is not the thing they pray
for. In words they pray for this thing; in heart for quite another thing.
And the evidence of this is in the fact that they never look after the
thing they pray for in words. If they prayed in heart for any thing, they
would certainly look to see whether the blessing asked for is given.
Suppose a man had petitioned for some appointment to office, and had sent
on his application to the President or to the appointing power. Probably
his heart is greatly set on attaining it. If so you will see him watching
the mail for the reply to his communication. Every day you may see him
at the office ready to seize his letter at the earliest possible moment.
But if on the other hand, he applied only for form's sake; and cares nothing
about the office, or does not at all expect it, you will see him about
other business or pleasure, which he does care for.
The latter case rarely occurs in human affairs, but in religious things
nothing is more common. Multitudes are engaged from time to time in what
they call praying; their object being often only to appease their consciences--not
to obtain any desired blessing. Of course the quiet of their conscience
is the only thing they really seek by prayer, and it would be absurd in
them to look after any other answer than this. They are not wont to be
guilty of this absurdity.
Of course those who pray thus are not disappointed if they are not heard.
It would be so in case of petitions addressed to men; it is so naturally
when petitions are addressed to God.
A real Christian sometimes asks in the letter of prayer for what he finds
God cannot give. In such a case he can be satisfied only with the consideration
that God always exercises his own infinite wisdom and his not less infinite
love. One great thing that lay nearest his heart if he was in the true
spirit of prayer will be granted, namely, that God may be honored in the
exercise of his own wisdom and love. This God will surely do. So far forth,
therefore, the spirit of his prayer will be granted.
It deserves special notice that those who pray as a matter of form only,
and with no heart set upon the blessing named in the prayer, never enquire
for the reasons why they are not answered. Their minds are entirely at
ease on this point, because they feel no solicitude about the answer at
all. They did not pray for the sake of an answer. Hence they will never
trouble themselves to enquire why the answer to the words of their prayer
fails of being given.
How many of you who hear me, may see in this the real reason why you so
rarely look after any answer to your prayers; or the reason why you care
so little about it, if your mind should chance to advert to it at all?
Again, when our petitions are not answered either in letter or in their
spirit, it is because we have not fulfilled the revealed conditions of
acceptable prayer. Many persons seem to overlook the fact that there are
conditions of acceptable prayer revealed in the Bible. But this is a fact
by far too important to be ever wisely overlooked. It surely becomes every
Christian to know not only that there are conditions, but also what they
Let us, then, fully understand that if our prayers are not answered, it
is because we have failed of fulfilling the revealed conditions. This
must be the reason why our prayers are not answered, for God has assured
us in his word that all real prayer is always answered.
Nothing can be more important than that we should thoroughly understand
the conditions of prevailing prayer. If we fail thus to understand them,
we shall very probably fail to fulfill them, and of course fail to offer
prevailing prayer. Alas, how ruinous a failure must this be to any soul!
There are those, I am aware, who do not expect to influence God by their
prayers; they expect to produce effects upon themselves only. They hope
by means of prayer to bring themselves to a better state of mind, and
this is all they expect to gain by means of prayer.
To all such I have two things to say:
(1.) It may be that an individual not in a right
state of mind may be benefited by giving himself to prayer. If the prayer
is offered with sincerity and solemnity--with a real feeling of want,
as it is sometimes in the case of a convicted sinner, it may have a
very happy effect upon his own state of mind. When such a man gives
himself up to confession and supplication, and spreads out his case
before the Lord, it is usually a most important step towards his real
conversion. It helps to bring the character and claims of God distinctly
before his mind, and has a natural tendency to make his own soul realize
more deeply its guilt, its need of pardon, and its duty of submission
and of faith in Christ.
But if any person should suppose that a case of this sort involves all
that is included in prevailing prayer, he mistakes greatly. In prevailing
prayer, a child of God comes before him with real faith in his promises
and asks for things agreeable to his will, assured of being heard according
to the true intent of the promises; and thus coming to God he prevails
with him, and really influences God to do what otherwise he would not
do by any means. That is, prayer truly secures from God the bestowment
of the blessing sought. Nothing less than this corresponds either with
the promises of scripture, or with its recorded facts in respect to
the answers made to prevailing prayer.
(2.) God is unchangeably in the attitude of answering prayer. This is
true for the same reason that He is unchangeably in the attitude of
being complacent in holiness whenever he sees it. The reason in both
cases, lies in his infinitely benevolent nature. Because he is infinitely
good, therefore and for no other reason is it that He is evermore in
the attitude of answering suitable prayer, and of being complacent towards
all real holiness. As in the latter case, whenever a moral change takes
place in a sinner of such a nature that God can love him, his infinite
love gushes forth instantaneously and without bounds; so in the former
case, as soon as any suppliant places himself in such an attitude that
God can wisely answer his prayer, then instantly the ear of Jehovah
inclines to his petition, and the answer is freely given.
To illustrate this point, suppose that for a season some obstacle interposes
to obstruct the sunbeams from the rosebush at your door; it fades and
it looks sickly. But take away the obstacle, and instantly the sunbeams
fall in their reviving power upon the rose. So sin casts its dark shadow
upon the soul, and obstructs the sunbeams of Jehovah's smiles. But take
away the obstacle--the sin--and the smiles fall in of course, and in
their full blaze on that penitent and morally changed heart. The sun
of Jehovah's face shines always; shines in its own nature; and its beams
fall on all objects which are not cast into some deep shade by interposing
sin and unbelief. On all objects not thus shaded, its glorious beams
forever fall in all their sweetness and beauty.
Hence all real prayer moves God, not merely by
benefiting the suppliant through its reflex action, but really and in
fact inducing Him to grant the blessing sought. The notion that the whole
benefit of prayer is its reflex influence upon the suppliant, and not
the obtaining of any blessing asked for, is both vain and preposterous.
You might as well suppose that all the good you get by removing obstacles
that cut off the sunbeams, is the physical exercise attending the effort.
You might as well deny that the sunbeams will actually reach every object
as soon as you take away that which throws them into the shade.
God does truly hear and answer prayer, even as an earthly parent hears
the petition of a dutiful child, and shapes his course to meet the petition.
To deny this involves the denial of the very nature of God. It is equivalent
to denying that God is benevolent. It seems most obviously to deny that
God fulfills his promises; for nothing can be more plain than the fact
that God promises to be influenced by prayer so as to bestow blessings
to the suppliant which are given to none others, and on no other condition.
If God is pure and good, then it must needs follow that--the obstacle
of sin being removed in the case of a fallen being--the divine love must
flow out towards him as it did not and could not before. God remains forever
the same, just as the sun forever shines; and then his love meets every
object that lies open to his beams, just as the sun's rays cheer every
thing not shaded by positive obstructions.
Again, God may hear the mere cry of distress and speedily send help. He
"hears the young ravens when they cry," and the young lion too
when they roar and seek their meat from God. The storm-tossed mariners
also, "at their wit's end, cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and
he bringeth them out of their distress." His benevolence leads him
to do all this, wherever he can without detriment to the interests of
his government. Yet this case seems not to come under the promises made
to believing prayer. These cases of distress often occur in the experience
of wicked men. Yet sometimes God seems obviously to hear their cry. He
has wise reasons for doing so; probably often his object is to open their
eyes to see their own Father, and to touch their hearts with a sense of
their ingratitude in their rebellion against such a God.
But be the reason what it may, the fact cannot be disputed. Cases not
unfrequently occur, in which persons not pious are afflicted by the dangerous
illness of near friends or relatives, and lift their imploring cry of
distress to the Lord and He hears them. It is even said in scripture that
Christ heard the prayer of devils when they "besought him much that
he would not send them away out of the country," and said, "send
us into the swine, that we may enter into them."
Manifestly the Lord often hears this kind of prayer, whenever no special
reason exists for refusing to hear it. Yet this is far from being that
peculiar kind of prayer to which the special promises of hearing and answering
prayer are made.
It is however both interesting and instructive to see how often the Lord
does hear even such prayer as these cries of distress. When the cattle
moan in the fields because there is no water, and because the grass is
withered, there is One on high who listens to their moans. Why should
he not? Has he not a compassionate heart? Does not his ear bend under
the quick impulse of spontaneous affection, when any of his creatures
cry unto him as to their Father, and when no great moral considerations
forbid his showing favor?
It is striking to see how much the parental character of the great Jehovah
is developed in the course of his providence by his hearing this kind
of prayer. A great multitude of facts are exhibited both in the Bible
and in history, which set this subject in a strong light. I once knew
a wicked man who under deep affliction from the dangerous illness of his
child, set himself to pray that God would spare and restore the dear one;
and God appeared to answer his prayer in a most remarkable manner.
Those of you who have read the "Bank of Faith," know that Mr.
Huntington, before his conversion, in many instances seemed to experience
the same kind of signal answers to his prayers. Another anecdote was told
me the past winter which I should relate more freely if it were not somewhat
amusing and laughable as well as instructive. A wicked man who had perhaps
never prayed since he was a child, was out with a hunting party, on the
confines of Iowa, hunting wild buffalo. Mounted on trained horses, lasso
in hand, they came up to a herd of buffalo, and this man encountered a
fierce buffalo bull. The animal rushed upon him, and at his first push
unhorsed him; but quick as thought in his fall, the man seized his own
horse's neck, swung upon the under side of the neck, and there held on
in the utmost peril of his life; his horse being at full gallop, pursued
by a ferocious wild bull. To break his hold and fall, was almost certain
death, and he was every moment in the utmost danger of falling under the
flying feet of his rushing horse. In this predicament he bethought himself
of prayer; but the only words he could think of, were,
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep."
Perhaps he had never heard much other prayer than
this. This lay embalmed among the recollections of his childhood days.
Yet even this prayer the Lord in his infinite mercy seemed to hear and
answer by rescuing the man unhurt from this perilous condition. The case
affords us a striking exemplification not only of the fact that God hears
the cry of mere distress, sometimes even when made by wicked men, but
also of another fact, namely, that the spirit of a prayer may be a very
different thing from its letter. In this case, the letter and the spirit
had no very close resemblance. The spirit of the prayer was for deliverance
from imminent peril. This the Lord seems to have heard.
But it should be continually borne in mind, that these are not the prayers
which God has pledged himself by promise to hear and answer. The latter
are evermore the believing prayers of his own children.
Our great enquiry now has respect to this class of prayers, namely, those
which God has solemnly promised to answer. Attached to the promises made
respecting this class of prayers are certain conditions. These being fulfilled,
God holds himself bound to answer the prayer according to the letter and
spirit both, if they both correspond; or if they do not correspond, then
He will answer according to the spirit of the prayer. This is evermore
the meaning of his promise. His promise to answer prayer on certain conditions
is a pledge at least to meet it in its true spirit, and do or give what
the spirit of the prayer implies.
It now becomes us to enquire most diligently and most earnestly for the
conditions of prevailing prayer. This point I shall enter upon in my next
June 9, 1847
CONDITIONS OF PREVAILING PRAYER--No. 2
Text.--Matt. 7:7, 8: "Ask, and it shall be given you."
Text.--James 4:3: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss,
to consume it upon your lusts."
I will commence the present discourse by briefly
recapitulating the prefatory remarks which I made in my first sermon on
this subject. I then observed,
1. That all real prayer is heard and answered.
2. Prayer is not always answered according to the letter of it, but
often only according to its spirit. As an instance of this, I spoke
of the striking case recorded respecting Paul's thorn in the flesh.
3. None can be saved who are not in a state of mind to prevail in prayer.
4. Many things are really answers to prayer which are not recognized
by the suppliant as such nor by those who witness the prayer, the blessing
bestowed, or the thing done in connection with it.
5. Much that is called prayer is not really prayer at all.
6. Many neither care nor expect to be heard, and therefore do not watch
to see whether their prayers are answered. They pray merely as a duty;
their heart being set on doing the duty and appeasing their consciences,
and not on obtaining the blessing nominally asked for.
7. Nor do such persons feel disappointed if they fail of obtaining what
they profess to ask for in prayer.
8. They do not trouble themselves to enquire why they are not answered.
If they can only discharge their duty and appease their consciences,
they have their desire.
9. Failure to obtain the blessing sought is always because the revealed
conditions are not fulfilled.
10. Nothing is more important for us than to attend to, and understand
the revealed conditions of prevailing prayer.
11. God may answer the mere cry of distress when benevolence does not
forbid it. He often does hear the sailor in the storm--the young ravens
in their hunger; but this is a very different thing from that prayer
which God has pledged himself by promise to hear and answer on the fulfilment
of certain conditions.
This Brings Us To A Consideration Of The Conditions
Of Prevailing Prayer.
1. The first condition is, a state of mind in which you would offer
the Lord's prayer sincerely and acceptably.
Christ at their request taught his disciples how to pray. In doing so,
He gave them an epitome of the appropriate subjects of prayer, and also
threw a most important light upon the spirit with which all prayer should
be offered. This form is exceedingly comprehensive. Every word is full
of meaning. It would seem very obvious however that our Lord did not intend
here to specify all the particular things we may pray for, but only to
group together some of the great heads of subjects which are appropriate
to be sought of God in prayer, and also to show us with what temper and
spirit we should come before the Lord.
This is evidently not designed as a mere form, to be used always and without
variation. It cannot be that Christ intended we should evermore use these
words in prayer and no other words; for he never again used these precise
words himself--so far as we know from the sacred record--but did often
use other and very different words, as the scriptures abundantly testify.
But this form answers a most admirable purpose if we understand it to
be given us to teach us these two most important things, namely, what
sort of blessings we may pray for, and in what spirit we should pray for
Most surely, then, we cannot hope to pray acceptably unless we can offer
this prayer in its real spirit--our own hearts deeply sympathizing with
the spirit of this prayer. If we cannot pray the Lord's prayer sincerely,
we cannot offer any acceptable prayer at all.
Hence it becomes us to examine carefully the words of this recorded form
of prayer. Yet, be it remembered, it is not these words, as mere words,
that God regards, or that we should value. Words themselves, apart from
their meaning, and from their meaning as used by us, would neither please
nor displease God.--He looks on the heart.
- Let us now refer to the Lord's prayer, and
to the connection in which it stands.
"When ye pray," says our Lord, "use
not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think that they shall
be heard for their much speaking."
Yet be it well considered, the precept, "Use not vain repetitions,"
should by no means be construed to discourage the utmost perseverance
and fervency of spirit in prayer. The passage does not forbid our renewing
our requests from great earnestness of spirit. Our Lord himself did
this in the garden, repeating his supplication "in the same words."
Vain repetitions are what is forbidden; not repetitions which gush from
a burdened spirit.
This form of prayer invites us, first of all to address the great
God as "Our Father who art in heaven." This authorizes us
to come as children and address the Most High, feeling that he is a
Father to us.
The first petition follows--"Hallowed be thy name." What is
the exact idea of this language? To hallow is to sanctify; to deem and
There is a passage in Peter's Epistle which may throw light on this.
He says, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." The meaning
seems plainly to be this;--Set apart the Lord God in your hearts as
the only true object of supreme, eternal adoration, worship, and praise.
Place Him alone on the throne of your hearts. Let Him be the only hallowed
So here in the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, we pray that both
ourselves and all intelligent beings may in this sense hallow the name
of the Lord God and sanctify Him in their hearts. Our prayer is--Let
all adore thee--the infinite Father--as the only object of universal
adoration, praise, worship, and love.
This prayer hence implies:
(1.) A desire that this hallowing of Jehovah's
name should be universal.
(2.) A willingness to concur heartily ourselves in this sentiment.
Our own hearts are in deep sympathy with it. Our inmost souls cry
out--Let God be honoured, adored, loved, worshipped and revered by
all on earth and all in heaven. Of course, praying in this spirit,
we shall have the highest reverence for God.--Beginning our prayer
thus, it will so far be acceptable to God. Without such reverence
for Jehovah's name, no prayer can possibly be acceptable. All irreverent
praying is mockery, most abhorrent to the pure and exalted Jehovah.
The second petition--"Thy kingdom
come." What does this language imply?
(1.) A desire that God's kingdom should be
set up in the world and all men become holy. The will is set upon
this as the highest and most to be desired of all objects whatever.
It becomes the supreme desire of the soul, and all other things sink
into comparative insignificance before it. The mind and the judgment
approve and delight in the kingdom of God as in itself infinitely
excellent, and then the will harmonizes most perfectly with this decision
Let it be well observed here that our Lord in giving this form of
prayer, assumes throughout that we shall use all this language with
most profound sincerity. If any man were to use these words and reject
their spirit from his heart, his prayer would be an utter abomination
before God. Whoever would pray at all, should consider that God looks
on the heart, and is a holy God.
(2.) It is implied in this petition that the suppliant does what he
can to establish this kingdom. He is actually doing all he can to
promote this great end for which he prays. Else he fails entirely
of evincing his sincerity. For nothing can be more sure than that
every man who prays sincerely for the coming of Jehovah's kingdom,
truly desires and wills that it may come; and if so, he will neglect
no means in his power to promote and hasten its coming. Hence every
man who sincerely offers this petition will lay himself out to promote
the object. He will seek by every means to make the truth of God universally
prevalent and triumphant.
(3.) I might also say that the sincere offering of this petition implies
a resistance of everything inconsistent with the coming of this kingdom.
This you cannot fail to understand.
We now pass to the next petition--"Thy
will be done in earth as it is in heaven."
This petition implies that we desire to have God's will done, and that
this desire is supreme.
It implies also a delight in having the will of God done by all his
creatures, and a corresponding sorrow whenever it fails of being done
by any intelligent being.
There is also implied a state of the will in harmony with this desire.
A man whose will is averse to having his own desires granted is insincere,
even although his desires are real. Such a man is not honest and consistent
In general I remark respecting this petition that if it be offered sincerely,
the following things must be true:
(1.) The suppliant is willing that God should
require all He does, and as He does. His heart will acquiesce both
in the things required and in the manner in which God requires them.
It would indeed be strange that a man should pray sincerely that God's
will might be done, and yet not be willing himself that God should
give law, or carry his will into effect. Such inconsistencies never
can happen where the heart is truly sincere and honest before God.
No, never. The honest hearted suppliant is as willing that God's will
should be done as the saints in heaven are. He delights in having
it done, more than in all riches--more than in his highest earthly
(2.) When a man offers this petition sincerely, it is implied that
he is really doing, himself, all the known will of God. For if he
is acting contrary to his actual knowledge of God's will, it is most
certain that he is not sincere in praying that God's will may be done.
If he sincerely desires and is willing that God's will should be done,
why does he not do it himself?
(3.) It implies a willingness that God should use his own discretion
in the affairs of the universe, and just as really and fully in this
world as in heaven itself. You all admit that in heaven God exercises
a holy sovereignty. I do not mean by this, an arbitrary unreasonable
sovereignty, but I mean a control of all things according to his own
infinite wisdom and love--exercising evermore his own discretion,
and depending on the counsel of none but himself. Thus God reigns
You also see that in heaven, all created beings exercise the most
perfect submission, and confidence in God. They all allow him to carry
out his own plans framed in wisdom and love, and they even rejoice
with exceeding joy that He does. It is their highest blessedness.
Such is the state of feeling towards God universally in heaven.
And such it should be on earth. The man who offers this petition sincerely
must approximate very closely to the state of mind which obtains in
He will rejoice that God appoints all things as He pleases, and that
all beings should be, and do, and suffer as God ordains. If man has
not such confidence in God as to be willing that he should control
all events respecting his own family, his friends, all his interests,
in short, for time and eternity, then certainly his heart is not submissive
to God, and it is hypocrisy for him to pray that God's will may be
done on earth as in heaven. It must be hypocrisy in him because his
own heart rebels against the sentiment of his own words.
This petition, offered honestly implies nothing less than universal,
unqualified submission to God. The heart really submits, and delights
in its submission.
No thought is so truly pleasing as that of having God's will done
evermore. A sincere offering of this prayer or indeed of any prayer
whatever involves the fullest possible submission of all events for
time and for eternity to the hands of God. All real prayer puts God
on the throne of the universe, and the suppliant low before Him at
(4.) The offering of this petition sincerely, implies conformity of
life to this state of the will. You will readily see that this must
be the case, because the will governs the outward life by a law of
necessity. The action of this law must be universal so long as man
remains a voluntary moral agent. So long therefore the ultimate purpose
of the will must control the outward life.
Hence the man who offers this prayer acceptably must live as he prays;
must live according to his own prayers. It would be a strange and
most unaccountable thing indeed if the heart should be in a state
to offer this prayer sincerely and yet should act itself out in the
life directly contrary to its own expressed and supreme preference
Such a case is impossible. The very supposition involves the absurdity
of assuming that a man's supreme preference shall not control his
In saying this, however, I do not deny that a man's state of mind
may change, so as to differ the next hour from what it is this. He
may be in a state one hour to offer this prayer acceptably, and the
next hour may act in a manner right over against his prayer.
But if in this latter hour you could know the state of his will, you
would find that it is not such that he can pray acceptably--"Thy
will be done." No, his will is so changed as to conform to what
you see in his outward life.
Hence a man's state of heart may be to some extent known from his
external actions. You may at least know that his heart does not sincerely
offer this prayer if his life does not conform to the known will of
We pass to the next petition--"Give
us this day our daily bread."
It is plain that this implies dependence on God for all the favors and
mercies we either possess or need.
The petition is remarkably comprehensive. It names only bread, and only
the bread for "this day;" yet none can doubt that it was designed
to include also our water and our needful clothing--whatever we really
need for our highest health, and usefulness, and enjoyment on earth.
For all these we look to God.
Our Saviour doubtless meant to give us in general the subjects of prayer,
showing us for what things it is proper for us to pray; and also the
spirit with which we should pray. These are plainly the two great points
which he aimed chiefly to illustrate in this remarkable form of prayer.
Whoever offers this petition sincerely is in a state of mind to recognize
and gratefully acknowledge the providence of God. He sees the hand of
God in all the circumstances that affect his earthly state. The rain
and the sunshine--the winds and the frosts, he sees coming, all of them,
from the hand of his own Father. Hence he looks up in the spirit of
a child--saying, "Give me this day my daily bread."
But there are those who philosophize and speculate themselves entirely
out of this filial dependence on God. They arrive at such ideas of the
magnitude of the universe that it becomes in their view too great for
God to govern by a minute attention to particular events. Hence they
see no God, other than an unknowing Nature in the ordinary processes
of vegetation, or in the laws that control animal life. A certain indefinable
but unintelligent power which they call Nature, does it all. Hence they
do not expect God to hear their prayers, or notice their wants. Nature
will move on in its own determined channel whether they pray or restrain
Now men who hold such opinions cannot pray the Lord's prayer without
the most glaring hypocrisy. How can they offer this prayer and mean
anything by it, if they truly believe that everything is nailed down
to a fixed chain of events in which no regard is had or can be had to
the prayers or wants of man?
Surely, nothing is more plain than that this prayer recognizes most
fully the universal providence of that same infinite Father who gives
us the promises and who invites us to plead them for obtaining all the
blessings we can ever need.
It practically recognizes God as Ruler over all.
What if a man should offer this prayer, but should add to it an appendix
of this sort--"Lord, although we ask of thee our daily bread, yet
Thou knowest we do not believe Thou hast anything at all to do with
giving us each day our daily bread; for we believe Thou art too high
and Thy universe too large to admit of our supposing that Thou canst
attend to so small a matter as supplying our daily food. We believe
that Thou art so unchangeable, and the laws of nature are so fixed that
no regard can possibly be had to our prayers or our wants."
Now would this style of prayer correspond with the petitions given us
by Christ, or with their obvious spirit?
Plainly this prayer dictated by our Lord for us, implies a state of
heart that leans upon God for everything--for even the most minute things
that can possibly affect our happiness or be to us objects of desire.
The mind looks up to the great God, expecting from Him, and from Him
alone, every good and perfect gift. For everything we need, our eye
turns naturally and spontaneously towards our great Father.
And this is a daily dependence. The state of mind which it implies is
We must pass now to the next petition, "Forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors."
In this immediate connection, the Saviour says, "For if ye forgive
men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But
if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive
your trespasses." The word trespasses, therefore doubtless explains
what is meant by debts in the Lord's prayer. Luke, in reciting this
Lord's prayer, has it--"Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive
every one that is indebted to us." These various forms of expression
serve to make the meaning quite plain. It may often happen that in such
a world as this, some of my fellow men may wrong or at least offend
me--in some such way as I wrong and displease God. In such cases this
petition of the Lord's prayer implies that I forgive those who injure
me, even as I pray to be forgiven myself.
The phraseology in Matthew makes the fact that we forgive others either
the measure, or the condition of our being forgiven; while as given
by Luke, it seems to be at least a condition if not a ground or reason
of the request for personal forgiveness. The former reads--"Forgive
us as we forgive," &c. and the latter;-- "Forgive us,
for we also forgive every one indebted to us."
Now on this petition I remark,
(1.) It cannot possibly imply that God will
forgive us our sins while we are still committing them. Suppose one
should use this form of petition;--"Lord, forgive me for having
injured Thee as Thou knowest that I do most freely forgive all men
who injure me;" while yet it is perfectly apparent to the man
himself and to everybody else that he is still injuring and abusing
God as much as ever. Would not such a course be equivalent to saying,
"Lord, I am very careful, Thou seest, not to injure my fellow
men, and I freely forgive their wrongs against me; but I care not
how much I abuse and wrong Thee!" This would be horrible! Yet
this horrible prayer is virtually invoked whenever men ask of God
forgiveness with the spirit of sin and rebellion in their hearts.
(2.) This petition never reads thus; "Forgive us our sins and
enable us to forgive others also." This would be a most abominable
prayer to offer to God; certainly if it be understood to imply that
we cannot forgive others unless we are specially enabled to do so
by power given us in answer to prayer; and worse still, if this inability
to forgive is imputed to God as its Author.
However the phraseology be explained, and whatever it be understood
to imply, it is common enough in the mouths of men; but nowhere found
in the book of God.
(3.) Christ, on the other hand, says;--Forgive us as we forgive others.
We have often injured, abused, and wronged Thee. Our fellow men have
also often injured us, but Thou knowest we have freely forgiven them.
Now, therefore, forgive us as Thou seest we have forgiven others.
If Thou seest that we do forgive others, then do Thou indeed forgive
us and not otherwise. We cannot ask to be ourselves forgiven on any
(4.) Many seem to consider themselves quite pious if they can put
up with it when they are injured or slighted; if they can possibly
control themselves so as not to break out into a passion. If, however,
they are really wronged, they imagine they do well to be angry. O,
to be sure! somebody has really wronged them, and shall they not resent
it and study how to get revenge, or at least, redress? But mark; the
Apostle Peter says, "If when ye do well and suffer for it, ye
take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." "For even
hereunto were ye called," as if all Christians had received a
special call to this holy example. O how would such an example rebuke
the spirit of the world!
(5.) It is one remarkable condition of being answered in prayer that
we suffer ourselves to harbour no ill-will to any human being. We
must forgive all that wrong us, and forgive them too from the heart.
God as really requires us to love our enemies as to love our friends,--as
really requires us to forgive others as to ask forgiveness for ourselves.
Do we always bear this in mind? Are you, beloved, always careful to
see to it that your state of mind towards all who may possibly have
wronged you is one of real forgiveness, and do you never think of
coming to God in prayer until you are sure you have a forgiving spirit
Plainly, this is one of the ways in which we may test our fitness
of heart to prevail with God in prayer. "When thou standest,
praying, forgive, if thou hast ought against any." Think not
to gain audience before God unless thou dost most fully and heartily
forgive all who may be thought to have wronged thee.
Sometimes persons of a peculiar temperament lay up grudges against
others. They have enemies against whom they not only speak evil, but
know not how to speak well. Now such persons who harbor such grudges
in their hearts, can no more prevail with God in prayer than the devil
can. God would as soon hear the devil pray and answer his prayers
as hear and answer them. They need not think to be heard;--not they!
How many times have I had occasion to rebuke this unforgiving spirit!
Often while in a place laboring to promote a revival, I have seen
the workings of this jealous, unforgiving spirit, and I have felt
like saying, Take these things hence! Why do you get up a prayer-meeting
and think to pray to God when you know that you hate your brother;
and know moreover that I know you do? Away with it! Let such professed
Christians repent, break down, get into the dust at the feet of God,
and men too, before they think to pray acceptably! Until they do thus
repent all their prayers are only a "smoke in the nose"
Our next petition is-- "Lead us not
into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
And what is implied in this?
A fear and dread of sin;--a watchfulness against temptation; an anxious
solicitude lest by any means we should be overcome and fall into sin.
On this point Christ often warned his disciples, and not them only,
but what He said unto them, He said unto all,--"Watch."
A man not afraid of sin and temptation cannot present this petition
in a manner acceptable to God.
You will observe, moreover, that this petition does not by any means
imply that God leads men into temptation in order to make them sin,
so that we must needs implore of Him not to lead us thus, lest He should
do it. No, that is not implied at all; but the spirit of the petition
is this;--O Lord, Thou knowest how weak I am, and how prone to sin;
therefore let thy providence guard and keep me that I may not indulge
in anything whatever that may prove to me a temptation to sin. Deliver
us from all iniquity--from all the stratagems of the devil. Throw around
us all thy precious guardianship, that we may be kept from sinning against
How needful this protection, and how fit that we should pray for it
This form of prayer concludes--"For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory forever, amen."
Here is an acknowledgment of the universal government of God. The suppliant
recognizes his supremacy and rejoices in it.
Thus it is when the mind is in the attitude of prevailing prayer. It
is most perfectly natural then for us to regard the character, attributes,
and kingdom of God as infinitely sacred and glorious.
How perfectly spontaneous is this feeling in the heart of all who really
pray, "I ask all this because Thou art a powerful, universal, and
holy Sovereign.--Thou art the infinite Source of all blessings. Unto
Thee, therefore, do I look for all needed good either for myself or
my fellow beings!"
How deeply does the praying heart realize and rejoice in the universal
supremacy of the great Jehovah! All power, and glory, and dominion are
thine, and thine only, for ever and ever, amen and amen. Let my whole
soul re-echo, amen. Let the power and the glory be the Lord's alone
for evermore. Let my soul for ever feel and utter this sentiment with
its deepest and most fervent emphasis. Let God reign supreme and adored
through all earth and all heaven, henceforth and for ever.
1. The state of mind involved in this prayer must be connected with a
holy life. Most manifestly it can never co-exist with a sinning life.
If you allow yourself in sin, you certainly cannot have access to God
in prayer. You cannot enter into the spirit of the Lord's prayer and appropriately
utter its petitions.
2. The appropriate offering of this prayer involves a corresponding sensibility--a
state of feeling in harmony with it. The mind of the suppliant must sympathize
with the spirit of this form of prayer. Otherwise he does, by no means,
make this prayer his own.
3. It is nothing better than mockery to use the Lord's prayer as a mere
form. So multitudes do use it, especially when public worship is conducted
by the use of forms of prayer. Often you may hear this form of prayer
repeated over and over in such a way as seems to testify that the mind
takes no cognizance of the sentiments which the words should express.
The chattering of a parrot could scarcely be more senseless and void of
impression on the speaker's mind. How shocking to hear the Lord's prayer
chattered over thus! Instead of spreading out before God what they really
need, they run over the words of this form, and perhaps of some other
set forms, as if the utterance of the right words served to constitute
If they had gone into the streets and cursed and swore by the hour, every
man of them would be horribly shocked, and would feel that now assuredly
the curse of Jehovah would fall upon them. But in their senseless chattering
of this form of prayer by the hour together, they as truly blaspheme God
as if they had taken his name in vain in any other way.
Men may mock God in pretending to pray, as truly as in cursing and swearing.
God looks on the heart and He estimates nothing as real prayer into which
the heart does not enter. And for many reasons it must be peculiarly provoking
to God to have the forms of prayer gone through with and no heart of prayer
Prayer is a privilege too sacred to be trifled with. The pernicious effects
of trifling with prayer are certainly not less than the evils of any other
form of profanity. Hence God must abhor all public desecration of this
Now, brethren, in closing my remarks on this one great condition of prevailing
prayer, let me beseech you never to suppose that you pray acceptably unless
your heart sympathizes deeply with the sentiments expressed in the Lord's
prayer. Your state of mind must be such that these words will most aptly
express it. Your heart must run into the very words, and into all the
sentiments of this form of prayer. Our Saviour meant here to teach us
how to pray; and here you may come and learn how. Here you may see a map
of the things to pray for, and a picture of the spirit in which acceptable
prayer is offered.
July 21, 1847
CONDITIONS OF PREVAILING PRAYER--No. 3
Text.--Matt. 7:7, 8: "Ask, and it shall be given you."
Text.--James 4:3: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss,
to consume it upon your lusts."
In a former discourse on this text, I mentioned,
among other conditions of prevailing prayer, that confession should be
made to those whom our sins have injured, and also to God. It is most
plain that all sins should be confessed to God, that we may obtain forgiveness
and be reconciled to him; else how can we have communion of soul with
him? And who can for a moment doubt that our confessions should not omit
those of our fellow beings whom we have injured?
2. In the next place I remark that restitution should be made to God
and to man.
To man we should make restitution in the sense of undoing as far as possible
the wrong we have done, and repairing and making good all the evil. If
we have impeached character wrongfully, we must recall and undo it. If
we have injured another even by mistake, we are bound, if the mistake
come to our knowledge, to set it right,--else we are criminal in allowing
it to remain uncorrected. If the injury done by us to our neighbor affect
his property, we must make restitution.
But I wish to call your attention more especially to the restitution which
we are to make to God. And in respect to this, I do not mean to imply
that we can make good our wrongs against God in the sense of really restoring
that which we have withheld or taken away; but we can render to him whatever
yet remains. The time yet to be given us we can devote to him, although
the past has gone beyond recall. Our talents and influence and wealth,
yet to be used, we may freely and fully use for God; and manifestly, so
much as this, God and reason require of us, and it were vain for us to
hope to be accepted in prayer unless we seriously intend to render all
the future to God.
Let us look more closely into this subject. How many of you have been
robbing God,--robbing him for a long time, and on a large scale? Let us
(1.) We all belong to God. We are his property
in the highest possible sense. He brought us into being, gave us all
we have, and made us all we are; so that He is our rightful owner in
a far higher sense than that in which any man can own any thing whatever.
(2.) All we have and are, therefore, is due to God. If we withhold it,
we are just so far forth guilty of robbing God. And all this robbery
from God, we are unquestionably bound, as far as possible, to make up.
(3.) Do any of you still question whether men ever do truly rob God?
Examine this point thoroughly. If any of you were to slip into a merchant's
store and filch money from his drawer; you could not deny that the act
is theft. You take, criminally, from your fellow-man what belongs to
him and does not at all belong to yourself. Now can it be denied that,
whenever by sin you withhold from God what is due to him, you as really
rob God as any one can steal from a merchant's drawer? God owns all
men and all their services in a far higher sense than that in which
any merchant owns the money in his drawer. God rightfully claims the
use of all your talents, wealth, and time for himself--for his own glory
and the good of his creatures. Just so far, therefore, as you use yourselves
for yourselves, you as really rob God as if you appropriated to yourself
any thing that belongs of right to your neighbor.
(4.) Stealing differs from robbery chiefly in this: the former is done
secretly;--the later by violence, in spite of resistance, or, as the
case may be, of remonstrance. If you go secretly, without the knowledge
of the owner, and take what is his, you steal; if you take aught of
his openly--by force--against his known will, you rob. These two crimes
differ not essentially in spirit; either is considered a serious trespass
upon the rights of a fellow-man. Robbery has usually this aggravation;
viz. that it puts the owner in fear. But the case may be such that the
owner may do all he wisely can to prevent being robbed, and yet you
may rob him without exciting alarm and causing him the additional evil
of fear. Even in this case, there might still be the essential ingredient
of robbery; forcibly taking from another what is his and not yours.
(5.) Now how is it that we sin against God? The true answer is, we tear
ourselves away from his service. We wrest our hearts by a species of
moral violence away from the claims he lays upon us. He says--Ye shall
serve me, and no other God but me. This is his first and great command;
and verily, none can be greater than this. No claim can be stronger
than God's upon us.
Still, it evermore leaves our will free, so that we can rebel and wrest
ourselves away from the service of God, if we will do so. And what is
this but real robbery?
Suppose it were possible for me to own a man. I know we all deny the
possibility of this, our relations to each other as men being what they
are; but for illustration it may be supposed that I have created a man
and hence own him in as full a sense as God owns us all. Still he remains
a free agent,--yet solemnly bound to serve me continually. But despite
of my claims on him and of all I can wisely do to retain him in my service,
he runs away; tears himself from my service. Is not this real robbery?
Robbery too of a most absolute kind? He owed me every thing; he leaves
So the sinner robs God. Availing himself of his free agency, he tears
himself away from God, despite of all his rightful owner can do to enlist
his affections, enforce his own claims, and retain his willing allegiance.
This is robbery. It is not done secretly, like stealing, but openly,
before the sun; and violently too, as in the case of real robbery. It
is done despite of all God can wisely do to prevent it.
(6.) Hence all sin is robbery. It can never be any thing less than wresting
from God what is rightfully his. It is therefore by no figure of speech
that God calls this act robbery. Will a man rob God? "Yet ye have
robbed me, even this whole nation." Sin is never any thing less
than this,--a moral agent owned by the highest possible title, yet tearing
himself away from his rightful owner, despite of all persuasions and
of all claims.
(7.) Hence, if any man would prevail with God, he must bring back himself
and all that remains not yet squandered and destroyed. Yes, let him
come back saying--Here I am, Lord; I have played the fool and have erred
exceedingly, I am ashamed that I have used up so much of thy time,--have
consumed in sin so much of that strength of mind and body which is thine;--ashamed
that I have employed these hands and this tongue and all these members
of my body in serving myself and Satan, and have wrested them away from
thy service: Lord, I have done most wickedly and meanly; thou seest
that I am ashamed of myself, and I feel that I have wronged thee beyond
So you should come before God. See that thief, coming back to confess
and make restitution. Does he not feel a deep sense of shame and guilt?
Now unless you are willing to come back and humbly confess and freely
restore to God the full use of all that yet remains, how can you hope
to be accepted?
(8.) You may well be thankful that God does not require of you that
you restore all you have wrested from him and guiltily squandered; all
your wasted time and health perhaps, and influence;--if He were to demand
this, it would at once render your acceptance before him, and your salvation
too, impossible. It would be forever impossible, on such a condition,
that you should prevail in prayer.
Blessed be God, He does not demand this. He is willing to forgive all
the past--but remember, only on the condition that you bring back all
the rest--all that yet remains to be used of yourself and of the powers
God has given or may yet give you.
So much as this God must require as a condition; and why should He not?
Suppose you have robbed a man of all you can possibly get away from
him; and you know that the facts are all known to him. Yet you come
before him without a confession or a blush and ask him to receive you
to his confidence and friendship. He turns upon you--Are not you the
man who robbed me? You come to me as if you have never wronged me, and
as if you had done nothing to forfeit my confidence and favor; do you
come and ask my friendship again? Monstrous!
Now would it be strange if God were, in a similar case, to repel an
unhumbled sinner in the same way? Can the sinner who comes back to God
with no heart to make any restitution, or any consecration of himself
to God, expect to be accepted? Nothing can be more unreasonable.
(9.) It is indeed nothing less than infinite goodness that God can forgive
trespasses so great, so enormous as ours have been;--O what a spectacle
of loving-kindness is this! Suppose a man had stolen from you ten thousand
pounds, and having squandered it all, should be thrown in his rags and
beggary at your door. There you see him wasted and wan, hungry and filthy,
penniless and wretched; and your heart is touched with compassion. You
freely forgive all. You take him up; you weep over his miseries; you
wash him, clothe him, and make him welcome to your house and to all
the comforts you can bestow upon him. How would all the world admire
your conduct as generous and noble in the very highest degree!
But O, the loving-kindness of God in welcoming to his bosom the penitent,
returning sinner! How it must look in the eyes of angels! They see the
prodigal returning, and hear him welcomed openly to the bosom of Jehovah's
family. They see him coming along, wan, haggard, guilty, ashamed, in
tattered and filthy robes, and downcast mien--nothing attractive in
his appearance; he does not look as if he ever was a son, so terribly
has sin defaced the lineaments of sonship; but he comes, and they witness
the scene that follows. The Father spies him from afar, and rushes forth
to meet him. He owns him as a son; falls upon his neck, pours out tears
of gladness at his return, orders the best robe and the fatted calf,
and fills his mansion with all the testimonies of rejoicing.
Angels see this--and O, with what emotions of wonder and delight! What
a spectacle must this be to the whole universe--to see God coming forth
thus to meet the returning penitent! To see that He not only comes forth
to take notice of him, but to answer his requests and enter into such
communion with him, and such relations, that this once apostate sinner
may now ask what he will and it shall be done unto him.
I have sometimes thought that if I had been present when Joseph made
himself known to his brethren, I should have been utterly overwhelmed.
I can never read the account of that scene without weeping.
I might say the same of the story of the prodigal son. Who can read
it without tears of sympathy? O, to have seen it with one's own eyes--to
have been there, to have seen the son approaching, pale and trembling;--the
father rushing forth to meet him with such irrepressible tenderness
and compassion;--such a spectacle would be too much to endure!
(10.) And now let me ask--What if the intelligent universe might see
the great God receiving to his bosom a returning, penitent sinner. O,
what an interest must such a scene create throughout all heaven! But
just such scenes are transpiring in heaven continually. We are definitely
told there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner
that repents. Surely all heaven must be one perpetual glow of excitement--such
manifestations are ever going forward there of infinite compassion towards
sinners returning from their evil ways.
Yet be it evermore remembered,--no sinner can find a welcome before
the face of God unless he returns most deeply penitent. Ah! you do not
know God at all if you suppose He can receive you without the most thorough
penitence and the most ample restitution. You must bring back all that
remains unwasted and unsquandered. You must look it all over most carefully
and honestly, and say--Here, Lord, is the pitiful remnant--the small
amount left: all the rest I have basely and most unprofitably wasted
and used up in my course of sin and rebellion. Thou seest how much I
have squandered, and how very little is left to be devoted now to thy
service. O! what an unprofitable servant I have been; and how miserably
unprofitable have I made myself for all the rest of my life.
It were well for every hearer to go minutely into this subject. Estimate
and see how many years of your life have gone, never to be recalled.
Some of these young people have more years remaining, according to the
common laws of life, than we who are farther advanced in years. Yet
even you have sad occasion to say--Alas, how many of the best years
of my life are thrown away, yes, worse than thrown into the sea; for
in fact they have been given to the service of the devil. How many suits
of clothing worn out in the ways of sin and the work of Satan. How many
tons of provisions--food for man, provided under the bounty of a gracious
Providence--have I used up in my career of rebellion against my Maker
and Father! O, if it were all now to rise up before me and enter with
me into judgment--if each day's daily bread, used up in sin, were to
appear in testimony against me; what a scene must the solemn reckoning
Let each sinner look this ground all over, and think of the position
he must occupy before an abused yet most gracious God, and then say--How
can you expect to prevail with God if you do not bring back with a most
penitent and devoted heart, all that remains yet to you of years and
of strength for God.
How much more, if more be possible, is this true of those who are advanced
in years. How fearfully have we wasted our substance and our days in
vain! How then shall we hope to conciliate the favor of God and prevail
with him in prayer, unless we bring back all that remains to us, and
consecrate it a whole offering to the Lord our God?
3. We must pass now to another condition of
prevailing prayer; namely, that we be reconciled to our brother.
On this subject you will at once recollect the explicit instructions of
our Lord; "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest
that they brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before
the alter, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then
come and offer thy gift."
This passage states very distinctly one important condition of acceptable
prayer, and shows that all men are not at all times in a fit state to
pray. They may be in a state in which they have no right to pray at all.
If they were to come before the Lord's altar in this state, He would bid
them suspend their offering of prayer, go back at once, and be reconciled
to their brother.
(1.) It is important for men to understand that
they should approach God in prayer only when they have a right to pray.
Others seem entirely to misconceive the relations of prayer to God and
to themselves, and think that their prayers are a great favor to God.
They seem to suppose that they lay the Lord under great obligations
to themselves by their prayers, and if they have made many prayers,
and long, they think it quite hard if the Lord does not acknowledge
his obligation to them, and grant them a speedy answer. Indeed, they
seem almost ready to fall into a quarrel with God if He does not answer
I knew one man who on one occasion prayed all night. Morning came, but
no answer from God. For this he was so angry with God, that he was tempted
to cut his own throat. Indeed, so excited were his feelings and so sharp
was this temptation, that he threw away his knife the better to resist
it. This shows how absurdly men feel and think on this subject.
Suppose you owed a man a thousand dollars, and should take it into your
head to discharge the debt by begging him to release and forgive it.
You renew your prayer every time you see him, and if he is at any distance
you send him a begging letter by every mail. Now inasmuch as you have
done your part as you suppose, you fall into a passion if he won't do
his and freely relinquish your debt. Would not this be on your part
sufficiently absurd, sufficiently ridiculous and wrong?
So with the sinner and God. Many seem to suppose that God ought to forgive.
They will have it that He is under obligation to them to pardon and
put away from his sight all their sins the moment they choose to say.
(2.) Now God has indeed promised on certain conditions to forgive; and
the conditions being fulfilled, he certainly will fulfil his promise;
yet never because it is claimed as a matter of justice or right. His
promises all pertain to an economy of mercy and not of strict justice.
When men pray aright, God will hear and answer; but if they pray as
a mere duty, or pray to make it a demand on the score of justice, they
fundamentally mistake the very idea of prayer.
But I must return to the point under consideration.
4. Sometimes we have no right to pray.
"When thou bringest thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest
that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift, and go,
first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
The meaning of this precept seems to be plain. If you are conscious of
having wronged your brother, go at once and undo that wrong. If you know
that he has any good reason for having aught against you, go and remove
that reason as far as lies in your power to do so. Else how can you come
before God to ask favors of Him?
Here it is important to understand certain cases which though they may
seem, yet do not really come under the spirit of this rule. Another man
may suppose himself to have been injured by me, yet I may be entirely
conscientious in feeling that I have done no otherwise than right towards
him, and still I may be utterly unable to remove from his mind the impression
that I have wronged him. In this case, I am by no means cut off from the
privilege of prayer.
Thus it often happens when I preach against backsliders that they feel
exceedingly hurt and think I have wronged them unpardonably; whereas I
may have been only honest and faithful to my Master and to their own souls.
In such a case I am not to be debarred the privileges of prayer in consequence
of their feelings towards me. It were indeed most absurd that this should
shut me away from the mercy-seat. If I am conscious of having done no
wrong, the Lord will draw me near to himself. In such a case as this I
can make no confession of wrong-doing.
But the case contemplated by our Lord is one which I know I have done
wrong to my neighbor. Knowing this, I have no right to come before God
to pray until I have made restitution and satisfaction.
(1.) Sometimes professors of religion have come
to me and asked, Why are we not heard and answered? We pray a great
deal, yet the Lord does not answer our prayers.
Indeed, I have asked them--Do you not recollect many times when in the
act of prayer you have been reminded of having injured a brother, and
yet you did not go to him and make restitution, or even confession?
Yes, many have said; I can recollect such cases; but I passed them over,
and did not trouble myself with them, I do not know that I thought much
about the necessity of making confession and restitution, at all events
I know I soon forgot those thoughts of having wronged my neighbor.
(2.) You did, indeed; but God did not forget. He remembered your dishonesty
and your neglect, or perhaps contempt of one of his plainly taught conditions
of acceptable prayer, and he could not hear you. Until you had gone
and become reconciled to your brother, what have you to do with praying?
Your God says to you--Why do you come here before me to lie to my very
face, pretending to be honest and upright towards your fellow-beings,
when you know you have wronged them, and have never made confession
In my labors as an Evangelist, I have sometimes fallen into a community
who were most of them in this horrible state. Perhaps they had sent
for me to come among them saying that they were all ready and ripe for
a revival, and thus constrained me to go. On coming among them I have
found the very opposite to be the fact. I would preach to the impenitent;
many would be convicted; and awful solemnity would prevail; but no conversions.
Then I would turn to the church and beg them to pray, and soon the fact
would come out that they had no fellowship with each other and no mutual
confidence; almost every brother and sister had hard feelings towards
each other; many knew they had wronged their brethren and had never
made confession or restitution; some had not even spoken kindly to one
another for months; in short it was a state of real war; and how could
the Dove of Peace abide there? And how could a righteous God hear their
prayers? He could do no such thing till they repented in dust and ashes,
and put away these abominable iniquities from before his face.
(3.) It often happens that professors of religion are exceedingly careless
in respect to the conditions of prevailing prayer. What! Christian men
and women in such a state that they will not speak to each other! In
such relations to each other that they are ready to injure one another
in the worst way--ready to mangle and rend each other's characters!
Away with it! It is an offence to God! It is an utter abomination in
his sight! He loathes the prayers and the professed worship of such
men, as he loathes idolatry itself.
Now although cases as outrageous as those I have
described, do not occur very frequently, yet many cases do occur which
involve substantially the same principle. In respect to all such, let
it be known that God is infinitely honest, and so long as he is so, he
will not hold communion and fellowship with one who is dishonest. He expects
us to be honest and truthful, willing ever to obey him, and ever anxious
to meet all the conditions of acceptable prayer. Until this is the case
with us, He cannot and will not hear us, however much and long we pray.
Why should he? "Thou requirest truth in the inward parts," said
the Psalmist of his God, as if fully aware that entire sincerity of heart,
and of course uprightness of life towards others, is an unalterable condition
of acceptance before God. It is amazing to see how much insincerity there
often is among professed Christians, both in their mutual relations to
each other, and also in the relations to God.
5. Again, we ought always to have an honest and good reason for praying
and for asking for the specific things we pray for.
(1.) It should be remembered that God is infinitely
reasonable, and therefore does nothing without a reason. Therefore in
all prayer you should always have a reason or reasons that will commend
themselves to God as a valid ground for his hearing and answering your
You can have a rational confidence that God will hear you only when
you know what your reasons are for praying and have good grounds to
suppose they are such as will commend themselves to an infinitely wise
and righteous God.
Beloved, are you in the habit of giving your attention sufficiently
to this point? When you pray, do you ask for your own reasons? Do you
enquire; Now have I such reasons for this prayer as God can sympathize
with--such as I can suppose will have weight with his mind?
Surely this is an all-important enquiry. God will not hear us unless
He sees that we have such reasons as will satisfy his own infinite intelligence--such
reasons that He can wisely act in view of them;--such that He will not
be ashamed to have the universe know that on such grounds He answered
our prayers. They must be such that he will not be ashamed of them himself.
For we should evermore consider that all God's doings are one day to
be perfectly known. It will yet be known why he answered every acceptable
prayer, and why he refused to answer each one that was not acceptable.
Hence if we are to offer prayer, or to do any thing else in which we
expect God to sympathize with us, we ought to have good and sufficient
reasons for what we ask or do.
(2.) You can not help seeing this at your first glance at the subject.
Your prayer must not be selfish but benevolent--else how can God hear
it? Will he lend himself to patronize and befriend your selfishness?
Suppose a man asks for the Holy Spirit to guide him in any work; or
suppose he ask for that Spirit to sanctify himself or his friends. Let
him be always able to give a good reason for what he asks. Is his ultimate
reason a selfish one--for example, that he may become more distinguished
in the world, or may prosecute some favorite scheme for himself and
his own glory or his own selfish good? Let him know that the Lord has
no sympathy with such reasons for prayer.
Thus a child comes before its parent, and says, Do give me this or that
favor. Your reason, my child, says the parent;--give me your reason;
what do you want it for?
So God says to us, his children;--your reason, my child; what is your
reason? You ask, it may be, for an education; why do you want an education?
You say, Lord furnish me the means to pay my tuition bills and by board
bills and my clothing bills, for I want to get an education. Your reason,
my child, the Lord will answer; your reason; for what end to you want
to get an education? You must be able to give a good reason. If you
want these things you ask for, only that you may consume them upon your
lusts; if your object be to climb up to some higher post among men,
or to get your living with less toil, or with more respectability, small
ground have you to expect that the Lord will sympathize with any such
reasons. But if your reasons be good: if they are such that God will
not be ashamed to recognize them as his own reasons for acting, then
you will find him infinitely ready to hear and to answer. O, he will
bow his ear with infinite grace and compassion.
(3.) Your hope of success in prayer therefore should not lie in the
amount, but in the quality of your prayers. If you have been in the
habit of praying without regard to the reasons why you ask, you have
probably been in the habit of mocking God. Unless you have an errand
when you come before the Lord, it is mocking to come and ask for any
thing. There should always be something which you need. Now, therefore,
ask yourself,--Why do I want this thing which I ask of God? Do I need
it? For what end do I need it?
A woman of my acquaintance was praying for the conversion of an impenitent
husband. She said, "It would be so much more pleasant for me to
have him go to meeting with me, and to have him think and feel as I
do." When she was asked--Is your heart broken because your husband
abuses God, because he dishonors Jesus Christ, she replied, she never
had thought of that--never; her husband had troubled and grieved her,
she knew; but she had not once thought of his having abused and provoked
the great and holy God.
How infinitely different must that woman's state of mind become before
the Lord can hear and answer her prayer! Can she expect an answer so
long as she takes only a selfish view of the case? No, never until she
can say, O my God, my heart is full of bleeding and grief because my
husband dishonors thee; my soul is in agony because he scorns the dying
blood and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So when parents urge their requests for the salvation of their children,
let them know that if they sympathize with God, he will sympathize with
them. If they are chiefly distressed because their children do not love
and serve their own God and Savior, the Lord will most assuredly enter
into the deep sympathies of their hearts, and will delight to answer
their requests. So of the wife when she prays for her husband, so universally
when friend prays for friend. The great God seems to say evermore--"If
you sympathize with me, I sympathize with you." He is a being of
infinite sympathies, and never can fail to reciprocate the holy feelings
of his creatures. Let the humblest subject in his universe feel sincere
regard for the honor and glory of God and the well being of his kingdom,
and how suddenly is it reciprocated by the Infinite Father of all! Let
one of all the myriads of his creatures in earth or heaven be zealous
for God, then assuredly will God be zealous for him, and will find means
to fulfil his promise,--"Them that honor me I will honor."
But if you will not feel for him and will not take his part, it is vain
for you to ask or expect that he will feel for you and take your part.
(4.) It is indeed a blessed consideration that when we go out of ourselves
and merge our interest in the interests of God and of his kingdom, then
he gathers himself all round about us, throws his banner of love over
us, and draws our hearts into inexpressible nearness of communion with
himself. Then the Eternal God becomes our own God, and underneath us
are his almighty arms. Then whoever should "touch us, would touch
the apple of his eye." There can be no love more watchful, more
strong, more tender, than that borne by the God of infinite love towards
his affectionate, trustful children. He would move heaven and earth
if need be, to hear prayer offered in such a spirit.
O for a heart to immerse and bathe ourselves, as it were, in the sympathies
of Jehovah--to yield up really our whole hearts to him, until our deepest
and most perfect emotions should gush and flow out only in perfect harmony
with his will, and we should be swallowed up in God, knowing no will
but his, and no feelings but in sympathy with his. Then wave after wave
of blessings would roll over us, and God would delight to let the universe
see how intensely he is pleased with such a spirit in his creatures.
O then you would need only put yourself in an attitude to be blessed
and you could not fail of receiving all you could ask that could be
really a good to your soul and to God's kingdom. Almost before you should
call, He would answer and while you were yet speaking he would hear.
Opening wide your soul in large expectation and strong faith before
God, you might take a large blessing, even "until there should
not be room enough to receive it."
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
AN APPROVING HEART, CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER.
March 3, 1847
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--1 John 3:21, 22: "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then
have we confidence toward God. And whatever we ask, we receive of him,
because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing
in his sight."
In resuming and pursuing this subject, I shall,
I. Show that if our heart does not condemn
us, we have and cannot but have confidence toward God that He accepts
II. That if we have confidence that our heart does not condemn us, we
shall also have confidence that God will grant us what we ask;
III. Show why this is so, and why we know it to be so.
I. If our heart really does not condemn us, it is because we are conscious
of being conformed to all the light we have, and of doing the whole will
of God as far as we know it.
- 1. While in this state it is impossible that
with right views of God's character, we should conceive of him as condemning
us. Our intelligence instantly rejects the supposition that he does
or can condemn us, that is for our present state. We may be most deeply
conscious that we have done wrong heretofore, and we may feel ourselves
to be most guilty for this, and may be sure that God disapproves those
past sins of ours, and would condemn us for them even now, if the pardoning
blood of Christ had not intervened. But where pardon for past sins has
been sought and found through redeeming blood, "there is therefore
no more condemnation" for the past. And in reference to the present,
the obvious truth is that if our conscience fully approves of our state,
and we are conscious of having acted according to the best light we
have, it contradicts all our just ideas of God to suppose that He condemns
us. He is a father, and he cannot but smile on his obedient and trusting
- 2. Indeed, ourselves being in this state of
mind, it is impossible for us not to suppose that God is well pleased
with our present state. We cannot conceive of Him as being otherwise
than pleased; for if he were displeased with a state of sincere and
full obedience, he would act contrary to his own character; he would
cease to be benevolent, holy, and just. We cannot therefore conceive
of him as refusing to accept us when we are conscious of obeying his
will so far as we know it. Suppose the case of a soul appearing before
God, fully conscious of seeking with all the heart to please God. In
this case the soul must see that this is such a state as must please
- 3. Let us turn this subject over till we get
it fully before our minds. For what is it that our conscience rightly
condemns us? Plainly for not obeying God according to the best light
we have. Suppose now we turn about and fully obey the dictates of conscience.
Then its voice approves and ceases to condemn. Now all just views of
the Deity require us to consider the voice of conscience in both cases
as only the echo of his own. The God who condemns all disobedience must
of necessity approve of obedience, and to conceive of him as disapproving
our present state would be in the conviction of our own minds to condemn
- 4. It is therefore by no means presumption in
us to assume that God accepts those who are conscious of really seeking
supremely to please and obey him.
Again let it be noted that in this state with
an approving conscience, we should have no self-righteousness. A man
in this state would at this very moment ascribe all his obedience to
the grace of God. From his inmost soul he would say--"By the grace
of God, I am what I am;" and nothing could be farther from his
heart than to take praise or glory to himself for anything good. Yet
I have sometimes been exceedingly astonished to hear men and even ministers
of the gospel speak with surprise and incredulity of such a state as
our text presupposes--a state in which a man's conscience universally
approves of his moral state. But why be incredulous about such a state?
Or why deem it a self-righteous and sinful state! A man in this state
is as far as can be from ascribing glory to himself. No state can be
farther from self-righteousness. So far is this from being a self-righteous
state, that the fact is, every other state but this is self-righteous,
and this alone is exempt from that sin. Mark how the man in this state
ascribes all to the grace of God. The apostle Paul when in this state
of conscious uprightness most heartily ascribes all to grace. "I
laboured," says he, "more abundantly than they all, yet not
I, but the grace of God that is in me."
- 5. But, observe that while the Apostle was in
that state, it was impossible that he should conceive of God as displeased
with his state. Paul might greatly and justly condemn himself for his
past life, and might feel assured that God disapproved and had condemned
Saul, the proud persecutor, though he had since pardoned Saul, the praying
penitent. But the moral state of Paul the believer, of Paul, the untiring
labourer for Christ--of Paul whose whole heart and life divine grace
has now moulded into its own image--this moral state Paul's conscience
approves, and his views of God compel him to believe that God approves.
So of the Apostle John. Hear what he says "Whatsoever
we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do those
things that are pleasing in his sight." But here rises up a man
to rebuke the apostle. What! he says, did you not know that your heart
is corrupt, that you never can know all its latent wickedness, that
you ought never to be so presumptuous as to suppose that you "do
those things that please God?" Did you not know that no mere man
does ever, even by any grace received in this life, really "keep
the commandments of God so as to do those things that are pleasing in
his sight?" No, says John, I did not know that. "What,"
rejoins his reprover, "not know that sin is mixed with all you
do, and that the least sin is displeasing to God!" Indeed, replies
John, I knew I was sincerely trying to please God, and verily supposed
I did please him and did keep his commandments, and that it was entirely
proper to say so--all to the praise of upholding, sanctifying grace.
Again, when a man prays disinterestedly, and with a heart in full and
deep sympathy with God, he may and should have confidence that God hears
him. When he can say in all honesty before the Lord--"Now, Lord,
thou knowest that through the grace of thy Spirit my soul is set on
doing good to men for thy glory; I am grieved for the dishonour done
to Thee, so that rivers of water run down my eyes, because men keep
not thy law," then he cannot but know that his prayers are acceptable
- 6. Indeed no one, having right views of God's
character, can come to him in prayer in a disinterested state of mind,
and feel otherwise than that God accepts such a state of mind. Now since
our heart cannot condemn us when we are in a disinterested state of
mind, but must condemn any other state, it follows that if our heart
does not condemn us, we shall have, and cannot but have confidence that
God hears our prayers and accepts our state as pleasing in his sight.
Again, when we are conscious of sympathizing
with God himself, we may know that God will answer our prayers. There
never was a prayer made in this state of sympathy with God, which he
failed to answer. God cannot fail to answer such a prayer without denying
himself. The soul, being in sympathy with God, feels as God feels; so
that for God to deny its prayers, is to deny his own feelings, and refuse
to do the very thing he himself desires. Since God cannot do this, he
cannot fail of hearing the prayer that is in sympathy with his own heart.
- 7. In the state we are now considering, the
Christian is conscious of praying in the Spirit, and therefore must
know that his prayer is accepted before God. I say, he is conscious
of this fact. Do not some of you know this? Ye who thus live and walk
with God, do you not know that the Spirit of God helps your infirmities
and makes intercession for you according to the will of God? Are you
not very conscious of these intercessions made for you, and in your
very soul as it were, with groanings that cannot be uttered? Your heart
within pants and cries out after God, and is lifted up continually before
him as spontaneously as it is when your heart sings, pouring out its
deep outgushings of praise. You know how sometimes your heart sings,
though your lips move not and you utter no sound;--yet your heart is
full of music, making melody to the Lord. Even so, your soul is sometimes
in the mood of spontaneous prayer, and pours out its deep-felt supplications
into the ears of the Lord of Hosts just as naturally as you breathe.
The silent and ceaseless echoing of your heart is, Thy kingdom come--Thy
kingdom come; and although you may not utter these words, and perhaps
not any words at all, yet these words are a fair expression of the overflowing
desires of your heart.
And this deep praying of the heart goes on while
the Christian is still pursuing the common vocations of life. The man
perhaps is behind the counter, or in his workshop driving his plane,
but his heart is communing or interceding with God. You may see him
behind his plow--but his heart is deeply engrossed with his Maker;--he
follows on, and only now and then, starts up from the intense working
of his mind and finds that his land is almost finished. The student
has his book open to his lesson; but his deep musings upon God, or the
irrepressible longings of his soul in prayer consume his mental energies,
and his eye floats unconsciously over the unnoticed page. God fills
his thoughts. He is more conscious of this deep communion with God than
he is of the external world. The team he is driving or the book he professes
to study is by no means so really and so vividly a matter of conscious
recognition to him as is his communion of soul with his God.
In this state the soul is fully conscious of being perfectly submissive
to God. Whether he uses these words or not, his heart would always say--"Not
my will, O Lord, but thine be done." Hence he knows that God will
grant the blessing he asks if he can do so without a greater evil to
his kingdom than the resulting good of bestowing it. We cannot but know
that the Lord delights to answer the prayers of a submissive child of
Again, when the conscience sweetly and humbly approves, it seems impossible
that we should feel so ashamed and confounded before God as to think
that he cannot hear our prayer. The fact is, it is only those whose
heart condemns them who come before God ashamed and confounded, and
who cannot expect God to answer their prayers. These persons cannot
expect to feel otherwise than confounded, until the sting of conscious
guilt is taken away by repentance and faith in a Redeemer's blood.
Yet again, the soul in this state is not afraid to come with humble
boldness to the throne, as God invites him to do, for he recognizes
God as a real and most gracious father, and sees in Jesus a most compassionate,
and condescending high Priest. Of course he can look upon God only as
being always ready to receive and welcome himself to his presence.
Nor is this a self-righteous state of mind. O, how often have I been
amazed and agonized to hear it so represented! But how strange is this!
Because you are conscious of being entirely honest before God, therefore
it is maintained that you are self-righteous! You ascribe every good
thing in yourself most heartily to divine grace, but yet you are (so
some say) very self-righteous notwithstanding! How long will it take
some people to learn what real self-righteousness is? Surely it does
not consist in being full of the love and Spirit of God; nor does humility
consist in being actually so full of sin and self-condemnation that
you cannot feel otherwise than ashamed and confounded before both God
II. We are next to consider this position, namely,
that if our heart does not condemn us, we may have confidence that we
shall receive the things we ask.
- 1. This must be so, because it is his Spirit
working in us that excites these prayers. God himself prepares the heart
to pray;--the Spirit of Christ leads this Christian to the throne of
grace and keeps him there; then presents the objects of prayer, enkindles
desire, draws the soul into deep sympathy with God; and now--all this
being wrought by the grace and Spirit of God, will He not answer these
prayers? Indeed He will. How can He ever fail to answer them?
- 2. It is a remarkable fact that all real prayer
seems to be summed up in the Lord's prayer, and especially in those
two most comprehensive petitions--"Thy kingdom come; thy will be
done on earth as it is in heaven." The mind in a praying frame
runs right into these two petitions, and seems to centre here continually.
Many other and various things may be specified; but they are all only
parts and branches of this one great blessing--Let God's kingdom come,
and bear sway on earth as it does in heaven. This is the sum of all
Now let it be observed that God desires this
result infinitely more than we do. When therefore, we desire it too,
we are in harmony with the heart of God, and He cannot deny us. The
blessing we crave is the very thing which of all others He most delights
- 3. Yet let it be noted here that God may not
answer every prayer according to its letter; but He surely will according
to its spirit. The real spirit is evermore this--"Thy kingdom come--thy
will be done;" and this, God will assuredly answer, because he
has so abundantly promised to do this very thing in answer to prayer.
III. Why will God certainly answer such a prayer,
and how can we know that He will?
- 1. The text affirms that "whatsoever we
ask we receive of him because we keep his commandments and do those
things that are pleasing in his sight." Now we might perhaps understand
this to assign our obedience as the reason of God's giving the blessing
sought in prayer. But if we should, we should greatly err. The fundamental
reason always of God's bestowing blessings is his goodness--his love.
Let this be never forgotten. All good flows down from the great fountain
of infinite goodness. Our obedience is only the condition of God's bestowing
it--never the fundamental reason or ground of its bestowment. It is
very common for us in rather loose and popular language to speak of
a condition as being a cause or fundamental reason. But on a point like
the present, we ought to use language with more precision. The true
meaning on this point undoubtedly is that obedience is the condition.
This being fulfilled on our part, the Lord can let his infinite benevolence
flow out upon us without restraint. Obedience takes away the obstacle;--then
the mighty gushings of divine love break forth. Obedience removes the
obstacles;--never merits, or draws down the blessing.
- 2. If God were to give blessings upon any other
condition, it would deceive multitudes, either respecting ourselves
or himself. If he were to answer our prayers, we being in a wrong state
of mind, it would deceive others very probably; for if they did not
know us well, they would presume that we were in a right state, and
might be led to consider those things in us right which are in fact
Or, if they knew that we were wrong, and yet
knew that God answered our prayers, what must they think of God? They
could not avoid the conclusion that He patronizes wrong doing, and lifts
up the smiles of his love upon iniquity;--and how grievous must be the
influence of such conclusions!
It should be borne in mind that God has a character to maintain. His
reputation is a good to himself, and he must maintain it as an indispensable
means of sustaining his moral government over other creatures. It could
not be benevolent for Him to take a course which would peril his own
reputation as a holy God and as a patron and friend of holiness and
not of sin.
- 3. God is well pleased when we remove the obstacles
out of the way of his benevolence. He is infinitely good, and lives
to do good and for no other purpose--for no other end whatever except
to pour forth blessings upon his creatures wherever He can without peril
to the well-being of other creatures under his care and love. He exists
for ever in a state of entire consecration to this end. Such benevolence
as this is infinitely right in God, and nothing less than this could
be right for him.
Now, if it is his delight and his life to do
good, how greatly must he rejoice when we remove all obstacles out of
the way! How does his heart exult when another and yet another opportunity
is afforded him of pouring out blessings in large and rich measure.
Think of it, sinner, for it applies to you! Marvellous as you may think
it, and most strange as it may seem--judged of by human rules and human
examples, yet of God it cannot fail of being always true that He delights
supremely in doing you good, and only waits till you remove the obstacles;--then
would his vast love break forth and pour its ocean tides of mercy and
of grace all around about you. Go and bow before your injured Sovereign
in deep submission and real penitence, with faith also in Jesus for
pardon, and thus put this matter to a trial! See if you do not find
that his mercies are high above the heavens! See if anything is too
great for his love to do for you!
And let each Christian make a similar proof of this amazing love. Place
yourself where mercy can reach you without violating the glorious principles
of Jehovah's moral government; and then wait and see if you do not experience
the most overwhelming demonstrations of his love! How greatly does your
Father above delight to pour out his mighty tides of blessings! O, He
is never so well pleased as when he finds the channel open and free
for these great currents of blessings to flow forth upon his dear people!
A day or two since I received a letter from the man in whose behalf
you will recollect that I requested your prayers at a late church prayer
meeting. This letter was full of precious interest. The writer has long
been a stranger to the blessedness of the gospel; but now he writes
me--"I am sure you are praying for me, for within a week I have
experienced a peace of mind that is new to me."
I mention this now as another proof of the wonderful readiness of our
Father in heaven to hear and answer prayer. O what love is this! To
what shall I compare it, and how shall I give you any adequate view
of its amazing fullness and strength? Think of a vast body of water,
pent up and suspended high above our heads, pressing and pressing at
every crevice to find an outlet where it may gush forth. Suppose the
bottom of the vast Pacific should heave and pour its ocean tides over
all the continents of the earth. This might illustrate the vast overflowings
of the love of God; how grace and love are mounting up far and infinitely
above all the mountains of your sins. Yes, let the deep, broad Pacific
ocean be elevated on high and there pent up, and then conceive of its
pressure. How it would force its way and pour out its gushing floods
wherever the least channel might be opened! And you would not need to
fear that your little wants would drain it dry! O, No! you would understand
how there might be enough and to spare,--how it might be said--"Open
thy mouth wide and I will fill it;" how the promises might read--"Bring
ye all the tithes into my store house, and prove me now herewith, if
I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out blessings
till there be not room enough to receive them." The great oceans
of divine love are never drained dry. Let Christians but bring in their
tithes and make ready their vessels to receive, and then, having fulfilled
the conditions, they may "stand still and see the salvation of
God." O how those mountain floods of mercy run over and pour themselves
all abroad till every capacity of the soul is filled! O how your little
vessels will run over and run over--as in the case of the prophet when
the widow's vessels were all full and he cried out--O hasten, hasten--"is
there not another vessel?" Still the oil flows on--is there not
another vessel? No more, she says; all are full; then and only then
was the flowing oil stayed. How often have I thought of this in seasons
of great revival, when Christians really get into a praying frame, and
God seems to give them everything they ask for; until at length the
prophet cries out--Is there not yet another vessel? O bring more vessels,
more vessels yet, for still the oil is flowing and still runs over;--but
ah, the church has reached the limit of her expectation--she has provided
no more vessels;--and the heavenly current is stayed. Infinite love
can bless no more; for faith is lacking to prepare for, and receive
1. Many persons, being told that God answers prayer for Christ's sake,
overlook the condition of obedience. They have so loose an idea of prayer
and of our relations to God in it and of his relations to us and to his
moral government, that they think they may be disobedient and yet prevail
through Christ. How little do they understand the whole subject! Surely
they must have quite neglected to study their Bible to learn the truth
about prayer. They might very easily have found it there declared, "He
that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall
be an abomination." "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination
to the Lord." "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will
not hear me." All this surely teaches us that if there be the least
sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer. Nothing short of entire
obedience for the time being is the condition of acceptance with God.
There must be a sincere and honest heart--else how can you look up with
humble confidence and say--My Father; else how can you use the name of
Jesus, as your prevailing Mediator;--and else, how can God smile upon
you before all the eyes of angels and of pure saints above!
When men come before God with their idols set up in their hearts, and
the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face, the Lord says,
"Should I be inquired of at all by them?" Read and see. (Ezekiel
14:3-5) The Lord commissions his prophet to declare unto all such:--"I,
the Lord, will answer him that cometh thus, according to the multitude
of his idols." Such prayers God will answer by sending not a divine
fullness, but a wasting leanness; not grace and mercy and peace, but barrenness
and cursings and death.
Do not some of you know what this is? You have found in your own experience
that the more you pray, the harder your heart is. And what do you suppose
the reason of this can be? Plainly there can be no other reason for it
than this;--you come up with the stumbling-block of your iniquity before
your face, and God answers you according--not to his great mercies, but
to the multitude of your idols.
Should you not take heed how you pray?
2. Persons never need hesitate because of their past sins, to approach
God with the fullest confidence. If they now repent, and are conscious
of fully and honestly returning to God with all their heart, they have
no reason to fear being repulsed from the footstool of mercy.
I have sometimes heard persons express great astonishment when God heard
and answered their prayers, after they had been very great and vile sinners.
But such astonishment indicates but little knowledge of the matchless
grace and loving kindness of our God. Look at Saul of Tarsus. Once a bitter
and mad persecutor, proud in his vain Pharisaism;--but now repenting,
returning, and forgiven--mark, what power he has with God in prayer. In
fact, after penitence, God pardons so fully that, as his word declares--he
remembers their iniquities no more. Then the Lord places the pardoned
soul on a footing where he can prevail with God as truly and as well as
any angel in heaven can! So far as the Bible gives us light on this subject,
we must conclude that all this is true. And why? Not because the pardoned
Christian is more righteous than an angel; but because he is equally accepted
with the purest angel, and has besides the merits and mediation of Jesus
Christ,--all made available to him when he uses this all-prevalent name.
Oh, there is a world of meaning in this so-little-thought-of arrangement
for prayer in Jesus' name. The value of Christ's merits is all at your
disposal. If Jesus Christ could obtain any blessing at the court of heaven,
you may obtain the same by asking in his name--it being supposed of course
that you fulfil the conditions of acceptable prayer. If you come and pray
in the spirit of Christ; his Spirit making intercession with your spirit,
and your faith taking hold of his all-meritorious name, you may have his
intercessions before the throne in your behalf, and whatever Christ can
obtain there, He will obtain for you. "Ask, therefore, now"--so
Christ Himself invites and promises--"ask and receive, that your
joy may be full."
O, what a vantage ground is this upon which God has placed Christians!
O what a foundation on which to stand and plead with most prevailing power!
How wonderful! First, God bestows pardon, takes away the sting of death;
restores peace of conscience and joy in believing; then gives the benefit
of Christ's intercession; and then invites Christians to ask what they
will! O, how mighty! how prevalent might every Christian become in prayer!
Doubtless we may say that a church living with God, and fully meeting
the conditions of acceptable prayer might have more power with God than
so many angels. And shall we hear professed Christians talk of having
no power with God! Alas, alas! Surely such surely know not their blessed
birthright. They have not yet begun to know the gospel of the Son of God!
3. Many continue the forms of prayer when they are living in sin, and
do not try to reform, and even have no sincere desire to reform. All such
persons should know that they grievously provoke the Lord to answer their
prayers with fearful judgments.
4. It is only those that live and walk with God whose prayers are of any
avail to themselves, to the church, or to the world. Only those whose
conscience does not condemn them, and who live in a state of conscious
acceptance with God. They can pray. According to our text they receive
whatever they ask because they keep his commandments and do the things
that are pleasing in his sight.
5. When those who have been the greatest sinners will turn to God, they
may prevail as really as if they had never sinned at all. When God forgives
through the blood of Jesus, it is real forgiveness and the pardoned penitent
is welcomed as a child to the bosom of infinite love. For Jesus' sake
God receives him without the least danger of its being inferred that Himself
cares not for sin. Oh, He told the Universe once for all how utterly he
hated sin. He made this point known when he caused his well-beloved Son
to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, and it pleased the Father
to bruise him and hide his face from even the Son of his love. O, what
a beautiful, glorious thing this gospel system is! In it God has made
such manifestations of his regard for his law that now He has nothing
to fear in showing favour to any and every sinner who believes in Christ.
If this believing sinner will also put away his sin--if he will only say--In
the name of the Lord I put them all away--all--now--forever; let him do
this with all his heart, and God will not fear to embrace him as a son;--this
penitent need fear nothing so long as he hides himself in the open cleft
of this blessed Rock of Ages.
Look at the case of the prodigal son. Famished, ragged, poor, ready to
perish, he remembers his father's house and the plenty that abounds there;
he comes to himself and hence looks upon things once more according to
their reality. Now he says--"In my father's house there is bread
enough and to spare, but here I am perishing with hunger." But why
is he ready to perish with hunger? Ah, he ran away from a bountiful and
kind father, and spent all his substance in riotous living. But he comes
to himself. There, see him drawing near his father's mansion--once his
own dear home;--see;--the father rushes to embrace him; he hastens to
make this penitent son most welcome to his home and to his heart. So God
makes haste to show that he is not afraid to make the vilest sinner welcome
if he only comes back a penitent and rests on the name of Jesus. O what
a welcome is this!
Follow on that beautiful illustration of it which the Saviour has given
us. Bring forth the best robe. Invite together all our friends and neighbours.
Prepare the music. Spread the table, and kill the fatted calf. It is fit
that we should make merry and be glad. Lead forward this long-lost son
and put on him my best robe. Let there be joy throughout my house over
my returned and penitent son.
And what does all this show? One thing--that there is joy in the presence
of the angels of God, and joy in the very heart of God himself over one
sinner that repenteth. O, I wonder sinners will not come home to their
Father in heaven!
6. Sinner, if you will come back to the Lord, you may not only prevail
for yourself, but for your associates and friends. I was once in a revival
where a large company of young men banded themselves together under a
mutual pledge that they would not be converted. Father Nash was with me
in that revival season, and on one occasion while the young men alluded
too were all present, he made a declaration which startled me, and almost
shocked himself. Yet, as he said afterward, he dared not take it back,
for he did not know how he came to say it, and perhaps the hand of God
might be in it. "Young men," said he, "God will break your
ranks within one week, or he will send some of you to hell."
It was an awful time. We feared that possibly it might not prove to be
so, and that then the result would be exceeding bad upon the minds of
that already hardened band. But it was spoken, and we could only cry unto
Time rolled along. About two or three days after this declaration was
made, the leader of this band called to see me, all broken down and as
mellow as he could be. As soon as he saw me, he cried out, "What
shall I do?" "What are you thinking about?" said I. "About
my wicked companions," said he, "all of them in the way to hell."
"Do you pray for them?" I asked. "Oh, yes," said he,
"I cannot help praying for them every moment." "Well, then,"
said I, "there is one thing more; go to them and entreat them in
Christ's name to be reconciled to God." He darted out of my room
and began this work in earnest. Suffice it to say, that before the week
was closed almost all of that band of young men were converted.
And now let me say to the impenitent sinners in this assembly, If others
do not labour to promote a revival, begin at once and do it yourself.
Learn from such a case as I have just stated, what you can do. Don't you
think you could do something of the greatest value to souls if you would
seriously try? Who is there here--let me see--what young man or young
woman is there here now impenitent,--do not you believe that if you would
repent yourself, you might then go and pray and labour and secure the
conversion of others, perhaps many others of your companions?
Sinners are usually disposed to throw all the responsibility of this labour
and prayer upon Christians. I throw it back upon you. Do right yourselves
and then you can pray. Do right, and then none can labour with more effect
than yourselves in this great work of bringing back wandering prodigals
to their father's house.
Christian hearer, is it not a dreadful thing for you to be in a state
in which you cannot prevail with God? Let us look around;--how is it with
you? Can you prevail with God; and you--and you? Who are they and how
many are there in such a state that their prayers avail nothing, and who
know before they pray and while they are praying that they are in no fit
state to offer prevailing prayer? One of the brethren, you recollect said
to us at a recent church meeting, "I have lost my power to prevail
with God. I know I am not ready for this work." How many others are
there, still in the same awful condition?
O how many have we here who are the salt of the earth, whose prayers and
redeeming influence save the community from becoming perfectly putrid
with moral corruption? I hope they will be found alive and at work in
this trying hour. O we must have your prayers for the impenitent--for
the anxious--for backsliders;--or if you cannot pray--at least come together
and confess your sins;--tell your brethren and sisters you cannot pray
and beg of them to pray for you that you may be brought back to the light
and the peace and the penitence of real salvation.
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
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.
- 1. Our dependence on God is universal, extending
to all things. This fact is known and acknowledged. None but atheists
presume to call it in question.
- 2. Prayer is the dictate of our nature. By the
voice of nature this duty is revealed as plainly as possible. We feel
the pressure of our wants, and our instincts cry out to a higher power
for relief in their supply. You may see this in the case of the most
wicked man, as well as in the case of good men. The wicked, when in
distress, cry out to God for help. Indeed, mankind have given evidence
of this in all ages and in every nation;--showing both the universal
necessity of prayer, and that it is a dictate of our nature to look
up to a God above.
- 3. It is a primitive conviction of our minds
that God does hear and answer prayer. If men did not assume this to
be the case, why should they pray? The fact that men do spontaneously
pray, shows that they really expect God to hear prayer. It is contrary
to all our original belief to assume that events occur under some law
of concatenation, too rigid for the Almighty to break, and which He
never attempts to adjust according to his will. Men do not naturally
believe any such thing as this.
- 4. The objection to prayer that God is unchangeable,
and therefore cannot turn aside to hear prayer, is altogether a fallacy
and the result of ignorance. Consider what is the true idea of God's
unchangeableness. Surely, it is not that his course of conduct never
changes to meet circumstances; but it is this--that his character never
changes; that his nature and the principles which control his voluntary
action remain eternally the same. All his natural--all his moral attributes
remain for ever unchanged. This is all that can rationally be implied
in God's immutability.
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!
- 5. Intercourse with God is a necessity of moral
beings, demanded by creatures as a necessity of their natures. No doubt
this is true in heaven itself, and the fact that this want of their
natures is so gloriously supplied there, makes heaven. The Bible represents
spirits in heaven as praying. We hear them crying out--"How long,
O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them
that dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10). True, their subjects of
prayer are not in all respects the same as ours; we have things to pray
for which they have no occasion to ask for themselves. They are neither
sick nor sinful; but can you suppose they never pray, "Thy kingdom
come?" Have they lost all sympathy with those interests of Zion?
Far from it. Knowing more of the value of those interests, they no doubt
feel more deeply their importance, and pray more earnestly for their
promotion. From the nature of the case, God's treatment of the inhabitants
of heaven must be conditioned on their voluntary course in regard to
him and his kingdom. It must be governed and determined by their knowledge,
their progress in knowledge, and their improvement of the means and
powers at their command. Obviously their voluntary worship, gratitude,
thanksgiving, and service of every sort, must vary their relations to
God, and consequently, his course towards them. He will do many things
to them and for them which he could not do if they did not pray, and
praise, and love, and study, and labour. This must be true even in heaven,
of apostles, and prophets, and of all glorified saints. God makes to
them successive revelations of himself, each successively higher than
the preceding, and all dependent on their voluntary devotion to him
and to his glory. They are for ever advancing in his service, full of
worship, praise, adoration, and this only prepares them the more to
be sent on missions of love and service, and to be employed as the interests
of God's kingdom require. Hence, we see that God's conduct towards saints
in heaven depends on their own voluntary course and bearing towards
him. This is a necessity of any and every moral system. If saints in
heaven are moral agents, and God's government over them is also moral,
all these results must follow. In this world sin exists; and in this
fact we see an obvious necessity for this law of moral administration.
But the holy in heaven are no less moral and responsible than the sinning
on earth. The great object of God's administration is to assimilate
moral beings to himself; hence, He must make his treatment of them depend
on their moral course towards him.
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
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."
- 1. Men ought to pray always, because they always
need the influence of prayer. Consider what is implied in prayer and
what prayer does for you. Prayer bathes the soul in an atmosphere of
the divine presence. Prayer communes with God and brings the whole mind
under the hallowed influence of such communion. Prayer goes to God to
seek pardon and find mercy and grace to help. How obvious, then, that
we always need its influence on our hearts and lives. Truly, we need
not wonder that God should enjoin it upon us to pray always.
- 2. God needs prayer from us as a condition of
his doing to us and for us all he would. He loves us and sees a thousand
blessings that we need, and that he would delight to bestow; but yet
he cannot bestow them except on condition that we ask for them in Jesus'
name. His treatment of us and his bestowment of blessings upon us must
depend upon our views and conduct, whether we feel our dependence on
him, whether we confess and forsake all sin--whether we trust him and
thoroughly honour him in all things. His action towards us must depend
upon our attitude towards him. It is essential in the management of
a moral system that we should pray and trust, in order that he may freely
and abundantly give, and especially that he may give in a way safe to
us and honourable to himself. Nothing can be substituted for our own
praying, either in its relations to God or to ourselves. We cannot get
along without the personal benefit of prayer, confession, trust, and
praise. You cannot substitute instruction, ever so much or so good;
for these things must enter into the soul's experience; you must feel
them before God, and carry out the life and power of these truths in
your very heart before the Lord; else they are worse than unknown to
you. You are not likely to understand many of these things without prayer;
and even if you were to understand them, and yet not pray, the knowledge
would only be a curse to you.
- 3. What can be so useful to us, sinners, as
direct communion with God--the searching of the heart which it induces--the
humility, the confessions, the supplications? Other things have their
use. Instruction is good; reading God's word may be a blessing; communion
with the saints is pleasant;--but what are they all, compared with personal
intercourse with God? Nothing else can make the soul so sick of sin,
and so dead to the world. Nothing else breathes such spiritual life
into the soul as real prayer.
- 4. Prayer also prepares us the better to receive
all blessings from God, and hence should be constant.
- 5. Prayer pleases God as governor of the universe,
because it puts us in a position in which he can bless us and gratify
his own benevolence.
- 6. Search the history of the world, and you
will find that where there has been most true prayer, and the soul has
been most deeply imbued with the divine presence, there God has most
abundantly and richly blessed the soul. Who does not know that holy
men of old were eminent for usefulness and power according as they were
faithful and mighty in prayer?
- 7. The more we pray, the more shall we be enlightened,
for surely they are most enlightened who pray most. If we go no farther
in divine things than human reason can carry us, we get little indeed
- 8. The more men pray, the more they will love
prayer, and the more will they enjoy God. On the other hand, the more
we pray--in real prayer--the more will God delight in us. Observe this
which I say, Delight; the more will God truly DELIGHT in us. This is
not merely the love of benevolence, for God is benevolent to all; but
he delights in his praying children in the sense of having complacency
in their character. The Bible often speaks of the great interest which
God takes in those who live near him in much prayer. This is naturally
and necessarily the case. Why should not God delight in those who delight
- 9. The more we pray, the more God loves to manifest
to others that he delights in us, and hears our prayers. If his children
live lives of much prayer, God delights to honour them, as an encouragement
to others to pray. They come into a position in which he can bless them
and can make his blessings on them result in good to others--thus doubly
gratifying the benevolence of his heart.
- 10. We can never reach a position in which we
shall not need prayer. Who believes that saints in heaven will have
no need of prayer? True, they will have perfect faith, but this, so
far from precluding prayer, only the more ensures it. Men have strangely
assumed, that if there were only perfect faith, prayer would cease.
Nothing can be more false and groundless. Certainly, then, we never
can get beyond prayer.
- 11. If I had time I should like to show how
the manner of prayer varies as Christians advance in holiness. They
pray not less, but more, and they know better how to pray. When the
natural life is mingled largely with the spiritual, there is an outward
effervescing, which passes away as the soul comes nearer to God. You
would suppose there is less excitement, and there is less of animal
excitement; but the deep fountains of the soul flow in unbroken sympathy
- 12. We can never get beyond the point where
prayer is greatly useful to us. The more the heart breathes after God,
and rises towards him in heavenly aspirations, the more useful do such
exercises become. The aged Christian finds himself more and more benefitted
in prayer as he draws more and more near to God. The more he prays,
the more he sees the wisdom and necessity of prayer for his own spiritual
- 13. The very fact that prayer is so great a
privilege to sinners makes it most honourable to God to hear prayer.
Some think it disgraceful to God. What a sentiment! It assumes that
God's real greatness consists in his being so high above us as to have
no regard for us whatever. Not so with God. He who regards alike the
flight of an archangel and the fall of a sparrow--before whose eye no
possible event is too minute for his attention--no insect too small
for his notice and his love,--his infinite glory is manifest in this
very fact that nothing is too lofty or too low for his regard. None
are too insignificant to miss sympathy--none too mean to share his kindness.
- 14. Many talk of prayer as only a duty, not
a privilege; but with this view of it they cannot pray acceptably. When
your children, full of wants, come running to you in prayer, do they
come because it is a duty? No, indeed! They come because it is their
privilege. They regard it as their privilege. Other children do not
feel so towards you. And it is a wonderful privilege! Who does not know
it and feel it to be so? Shall we then ever fail to avail ourselves
- 15. Finally, we are sure to prevail if we thoroughly
persevere and pray always, and do not faint. Let this suffice to induce
perseverance in prayer. Do you need blessings? And yet are they delayed?
Pray always and never faint; so shall you obtain all you need.
III. Our third general inquiry is, Why do not
men pray always? Many reasons exist.
- 1. In the case of some, because the enmity of
their hearts towards God is such that they are shy and dread prayer.
They have so strong a dislike to God, they cannot make up their minds
to come near to him in prayer.
- 2. Some are self-righteous and self-ignorant,
and therefore have no heart to pray. Their self-righteousness makes
them feel strong enough without prayer, and self-ignorance prevents
their feeling their own real wants.
- 3. Unbelief keeps others from constant prayer.
They have not confidence enough in God as ready to answer prayer. Of
course, with such unbelief in their hearts, they will not pray always.
- 4. Sophistry prevents others. I have alluded
to some of its forms. They say, God being immutable, never changes his
course; or they urge that there is no need of prayer, inasmuch as God
will surely do just right, although nobody should pray. These are little
sophistries, such as ignorant minds get up and stumble over. It is wonderful
that any minds can be so ignorant and so unthinking as to be influenced
by these sophistries. I can recollect how these objections to prayer
came up many years since before my mind, but were instantly answered
and set aside, they seemed so absurd. This, for instance,--that God
had framed the universe so wisely that there is no need of prayer, and
indeed no room for it. My answer was ready. What was God's object in
making and arranging his universe? Was it to show himself to be a good
mechanic, so skilful that he can make a universe to run itself, without
his constant agency? Was this his object? No! But his object was to
plant in this universe intelligent minds and then reveal himself to
them and draw them to love and trust their own infinite Father. This
object is every way noble and worthy of a God. But the other notion
is horrible! It takes from God every endearing attribute and leaves
him only a good mechanic!
- 5. The idea that God mingles his agency continually
in human affairs, prevails everywhere among all minds in all ages. Every
where they have seen God revealing himself. They expect such revelations
of God. They have believed in them, and have seen how essential this
fact is to that confidence and love which belong to a moral government.
It seems passing strange that men can sophisticate themselves into such
nonsense as this! Insufferable nonsense are all such objections!
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?
- 6. Another reason is, men have no real sense
of sin or of any spiritual want; no consciousness of guilt. While in
this state of mind, it need not be expected that men will pray.
- 7. In the other extreme, after becoming deeply
convicted, they fall into despair and think it does no good to pray.
- 8. Another reason for not praying much is found
in self-righteous conceptions of what is requisite to success in prayer.
One says, I am too degraded, and am not good enough to pray. This objection
is founded altogether in self-righteous notions--assuming that your
own goodness must be the ground or reason for God's hearing your prayer.
- 9. A reason with many for little prayer is their
worldly-mindedness. Their minds are so filled with thoughts of a worldly
nature, they cannot get into the spirit of prayer.
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.
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.
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
ON PRAYER FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT.
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.
- 1. Remarking upon this text, I first observe
that when we rightly understand the matter, we shall see that the gift
of the Holy Ghost comprehends all we need spiritually. It secures to
us that union with God which is eternal life. It implies conversion,
which consists in the will's being submitted to God's control. Sanctification
- (1.) this union of the will to God perfected
- (2.) the ascendancy of this state of the
will over the entire sensibilities, so that the whole mind is drawn
into union and sympathy with the mind and heart of God.
II. It is supremely easy to obtain this gift
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
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.
- 1. How very injurious and dishonorable to God
are the practical views of almost all men on this subject! The dependence
of men on the Holy Spirit has come to be the standing apology for moral
and spiritual delinquency. Men every where profess to want the Holy
Spirit, and more or less, to feel their need and to be praying for this
gift; but continually and every where they complain that they do not
get it. These complaints assume, both directly and indirectly, that
it is very difficult to get this gift;--that God keeps his children
on a very low diet; and on the smallest possible amount even of that;
that he deals out their spiritual bread and water in most stinted amount--as
if he purposed to keep his children only an inch above starvation. Pass
among the churches and hear what they say and how they pray;--and what
would you think? How would you be shocked at the strange, may I not
say, blasphemous assumptions which they make concerning God's policy
in giving, or rather not giving, the Holy Spirit to those that ask him!
I can speak from experience and personal observation. When I began to
attend prayer-meetings, this fact to which I have alluded struck me
as very strange. I had never attended a prayer-meeting till I had come
to manhood, for my situation in this respect was very unlike yours here.
But after I came to manhood, and prayer-meetings were held in the place
where I lived, I used to attend them very steadily. It was a matter
of great interest to me, more than I can explain, or well express. I
was filled with wonder to hear Christians pray, and the more so as I
then began to read my Bible, and to find in it such things as we have
in our text today. To read such promises, and then hear Christians talk
was surprising. What they did say, coupled with what they seemed to
mean, would run thus: I have a duty to perform at this meeting; I cannot
go away without doing it. I want to testify that religion is a good
thing--a very good thing--although I have not got much of it. I believe
God is a hearer of prayer, and yet I don't think he hears mine--certainly
not to much purpose. I believe that prayer brings to us the Holy Spirit,
and yet, though I have always been praying for this Spirit, I have scarcely
ever received it.
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.
- 2. Often, when I am urging Christians to be
filled with the Holy Ghost, I am asked--Do you really think this gift
is for me? Do you think all can have it who will? If you tell them of
instances, here and there, of persons who walk in the light, and are
filled with the Spirit, they reply:--Are not those very special cases?
Are they not the favored few, enjoying a blessing that only a few can
hope to enjoy?
- 3. Here you should carefully observe, that the
question is not whether few or many have this blessing; but--Is it practically
within reach of all? Is it indeed available to all? Is the gift actually
tendered to all in the fullest and highest sense? Is it easy to possess
it? These being the real questions, we must see that the teachings of
the text cannot be mistaken on this subject. Either Christ testified
falsely of this matter, or this gift is available to all, and is easily
obtained. For, of the meaning and scope of his language, there can be
no doubt. No language can be plainer. No illustrations could be more
clear, and none could easily be found that are stronger.
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?
- 1. This impression obviously grows out of the
current experience of the church. In fact, but few seem to have this
conscious communion with God through the Spirit; but few seem really
to walk with God and be filled with his Spirit.
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
- 2. It is a curious fact that persons who have
really the most piety are often supposed to have the least, so few there
are who judge of piety as God does. Those who preach the real gospel
are often refreshed to find some in almost every congregation who manifestly
embrace it. You can judge by their very looks,--their eyes shine and
their faces are all aglow--almost like the face of Moses, descended
from the mount.
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
- 3. Here is another fact. Many are praying--apparently--for
the Spirit of God, but do not get it. If you go to a prayer-meeting,
you hear every body pray for this gift. It is so, also, in the family,
and probably in the closet also. Yet, strange to tell, they do not get
it. This experience of much prayer for this blessing, and much failure
to get it, is every where common. Churches have their prayer-meetings,
years and years in succession, praying for the Spirit, but they do not
get it. In view of this fact, we must conclude, either that the promise
is not reliable, or that the prayer does not meet the conditions of
the promise. I shall take up this alternative by and by; just now, my
business is to account for the prevalent impression that the Spirit
of God is hard to get and keep, even in answer to prayer,--a fact which
obviously is accounted for by the current experience of nominal Christians.
- 4. It should also be said that the churches
have been taught that God is a sovereign, in such a sense that his gift
of the Spirit is only occasional, and is then given without any connection
with apparent causes--not dependent, by any means, on the fulfilment
of conditions on our part. The common idea of sovereignty excludes the
idea that God holds this blessing free to all, on condition of real
prayer for it. I say real prayer, for I must show you by and by that
much of the apparent praying of the church for the Spirit is not real
prayer. It is this spurious selfish praying that leads to so much misconception
as to the bestowment of the Holy 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
V. How can we reconcile this experience with
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?
- 1. I answer, what is here taught as to prayer
must be taken in connection with what is taught elsewhere. For example,
what is here said of asking must be taken in connection with what is
said of praying in faith--with what is said by James of asking and not
receiving because men ask amiss, that they may consume it upon their
lusts. If any of you were to frame a will or a promissory note, binding
yourself or your administrators to pay over certain moneys, on certain
specified conditions, you would not think it necessary to state the
conditions more than once. Having stated them distinctly once, you would
go on to state in detail the promise; but you would not expect any body
to separate the promise from the condition, and then claim the promise
without having fulfilled the condition, and even perhaps accuse you
of falsehood because you did not fulfil the promise when the conditions
had not been met.
- 2. Now, the fact is that we find, scattered
throughout the Bible, various revealed conditions of prayer. Whoever
would pray acceptably must surely fulfil not merely a part, but all
of these conditions. Yet in practice, the church, to a great extent,
have overlooked, or at least has failed to meet these conditions. For
example, they often pray for the Holy Spirit for selfish reasons. This
is fearfully common. The real motives are selfish. Yet they come before
God and urge their request often and long,--perhaps with great importunity;
yet they are selfish in their very prayers, and God cannot hear. They
are not in their inmost souls ready to do or to suffer all God's holy
will. God calls some of his children through long seasons of extremest
suffering, obviously as a means of purifying their hearts; yet many
pray for pure hearts and for the Spirit to purify their hearts, who
would rebel at once if God should answer their prayers by means of such
a course of providence. Or, God may see it necessary to crucify your
love of reputation, and for this end may subject you to a course of
trial which will blow your reputation to the winds of heaven. Are you
ready to hail the blessings of a subdued, unselfish heart, even though
it be given by means of such discipline?
- 3. Often your motive in asking for the Spirit
is merely personal comfort and consolation--as if you would live all
your spiritual life on sweet-meats. Others ask for it really as a matter
of self-glorification. They would like to have their names emblazoned
in the papers. It would be so gratifying to be held up as a miracle
of grace--as a most remarkable Christian. Alas, how many in various
forms of it, are only offering selfish prayers! Even a minister might
pray for the Holy Spirit from only sinister motives. He might wish to
have it said that he is very spiritual, or a man of great spiritual
power in his preaching or his praying; or he might wish to avoid that
hard study to which a man who has not the Spirit must submit, since
the Spirit does not teach him, nor give him unction. He might almost
wish to be inspired, so easy would this gift make his preaching and
his study. He might suppose that he really longed to be filled with
the Spirit, while really he is only asking amiss, to consume it on some
unhallowed desire. A student may pray for the Spirit to help him study,
and yet only his ambition or his indolence may have inspired that prayer.
Let it never be forgotten, we must sympathize with God's reasons for
our having the Spirit, as we would hope to pray acceptably. There is
nothing mysterious about this matter. The great end of all God's spiritual
administrations towards us in providence or grace is to divest us of
selfishness, and to bring our hearts into harmony with his in the spirit
of real love.
- 4. Persons often quench the Spirit even while
they are praying for it. One prays for the Spirit, yet that very moment,
fails to notice the Spirit's monitions in his own breast, or refuses
to do what the Spirit would lead and press him to do. Perhaps they even
pray for the Spirit, that this gift may be a substitute for some self-denying
duty to which the Spirit has long been urging them. This is no uncommon
experience. Such persons will be very likely to think it very difficult
to get the Spirit. A woman was going to a female prayer-meeting, and
thought she wanted the Holy Spirit, and would make that her special
errand at that meeting. Yet when there, the Spirit pressed her to pray
audibly and she resisted, and excused herself.
- 5. It is common for persons to resist the Spirit
in the very steps he chooses to take. They would make the Spirit yield
to them; He would have them yield to him. They think only of having
their blessings come in the way of their own choosing; He is wiser and
will do it in his own way or not at all. If they cannot accept of his
way, there can be no agreement. Often when persons pray for the Spirit,
they have in their minds certain things which they would dictate to
him as to the manner and circumstances. Such ought to know that if they
would have the Spirit, they must accept Him in his own way. Let him
lead, and consider that your business is to follow. Thus it not infrequently
happens that professed Christians maintain a perpetual resistance against
the Holy Spirit, even while they are ostensibly praying for his presence
and power. When He would fain draw them, they are thinking of dictating
to him, and refuse to be led by him in his way. When they come really
to understand what is implied in being filled with the Spirit, they
draw back. It is more and different from what they had thought. That
is not what they wanted.
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
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
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!
continued / THE WAY OF SALVATION Sermon
taken from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
AFFLICTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED CONTRASTED.
June 24, 1846
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Text.--2 Cor. 4:17: "For our light affliction, which is but for a
moment, worketh for us far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Read also Psalm 73.
Few things are more interesting than to contemplate
the contrast every where drawn in the Bible between the righteous and
the wicked. No man can thoroughly study this contrast without being greatly
affected by it. Throughout the Bible we find this contrast drawn in the
strongest colors respecting their character, their afflictions, their
joys, their entire earthly course, and their final destiny. It is my design
in this discourse to notice some particulars.
I. The best saints are chastened.
II. I pass in the next place to remark that precisely the opposite in
every respect is said in the Bible of the sinner.
Our text from St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians speaks of the righteous.
It affirms that their afflictions are light, are transient, and productive
of augmented glory. We have another passage of similar import which asserts
that "all things work together for good to them that love God."
The Bible throughout holds language directly opposite to this respecting
But I am first to give a few particulars respecting the case of the righteous.
I. They have afflictions.
This is asserted and implied throughout the Bible. And the whole course
of God's providence in every age teaches the same things. The best saints
are chastened. Affliction is not excluded from their cup because of their
piety. Their afflictions may be in themselves as painful--may be as frequent
and as long protracted as those which befall the wicked.
The book of Job shows that formerly this fact was greatly misunderstood.
In those times of comparative darkness, when the light of written revelation
had scarcely begun to fall upon the nations, some men, even some good
men, seemed not to have understood the meaning of the divine dispensation
towards the righteous.
But I have several specific points of remark to make respecting the afflictions
of the righteous.
- 1. They are light. Paul calls it--"Our
light affliction." This, you will observe, is a term of comparison.
We need therefore to inquire with what our afflictions are to be compared
in order to be reasonably deemed light.
Obviously the afflictions of the righteous are
light compared with what they know and feel that themselves deserve.
This is one of the considerations which make their afflictions seem,
in their own view, to be light.
Their afflictions are not said to be light compared with those of the
wicked. But they are light and every real saint feels them to be so
compared with what himself deserves.
Again, they are light compared with what Christ suffered in working
out our salvation. Whenever we think of Christ's circumstances, apprehending
in some measure his trials from being rejected of his people, from the
unbelief and fickleness of his professed friends, from the wickedness
and coming ruin of his nation, which he could neither remedy nor avert;
from the malice of his murderers, and from his position as our sacrifice;--when,
I say, we duly apprehend such points as these, we always see that all
our own utmost afflictions are light compared with his. I have never
yet seen a Christian who did not feel this when reminded of the sufferings
endured by Christ in his earthly afflictions.
Again, these afflictions are light when compared with those that await
the wicked. Compared with those, they are too small to admit of being
estimated as any thing at all. They are less than the fine dust of the
In the same view, these afflictions of the righteous are light compared
with what they themselves must have suffered if Christ had not suffered
in their stead, and if they should not by the discipline of suffering
here be so purified that God can take them to heaven at death. It is
well for all Christians to consider both these points;--namely: how
the sufferings of Christ have saved them from the terrible necessity
of ever lasting anguish, and also how the moral discipline of suffering
here may perform a most important and indispensable agency in preparing
the soul for exemption from all further suffering in a world of peace
and joy. Then you will see how light your afflictions are compared with
what they might have been, and indeed must have been if God had forborne
to adopt the great remedial system.
- 2. I must pass to remark that these afflictions
of the righteous are short. They are short compared with eternity; short
compared with what we deserve that they should be; short compared with
the measureless duration of the sufferings of the wicked. Let their
duration be compared with any of these points, and you cannot fail to
see that they are indeed but for a moment.
- 3. All these afflictions of the righteous are
in respect to them means of grace. So the apostle implies. In his view
they "work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
They do this only as they serve to prepare the soul for glory;--by no
means because they merit a reward of glory. But in their disciplinary
character and results, they work for the Christian a weight of glory
which infinitely exceeds all the weight of the afflictions themselves.
- 4. The perceived design and tendency of these
afflictions rob them of their sting. When the people of God see this
design and this tendency, they feel more like embracing and kissing
the rod than like repelling it. Indeed it usually happens that they
can testify after the scene of trial is past,--"It is good for
me that I have been afflicted. Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now have I kept thy word." And often, while passing through
the very furnace, the conviction that the hand of their own Father is
in it; that it is designed for their good, and if they will fall in
with this kind design, it cannot fail to do them infinite good--these
thoughts serve to sustain them so that not so much as the smell of fire
is on them. Or to change the figure, these thoughts, dropped as an anodyne
into the cup of their sorrows, transform what else had been gall and
wormwood, to the sweetness of honey.
- 5. A consciousness of their own ill-desert serves
to inspire patience and submission. Let the Christian only realize this,
and he will cry out--all these afflictions are nothing compared to what
I have deserved at the hand of God. I cannot murmur. All this is no
suffering at all when seen in the light of my deservings.
- 6. The fact that they are so short makes them
appear so light.
With almost universal application it may be said
of the afflictions of the righteous--"Weeping may endure for a
night, but joy cometh in the morning." A night of unbroken sorrow
may appear long--but soon the morning comes in its joy, the night of
anguish is forgotten. What Christian does not know this? Where is the
Christian who has not had this written out in his own experience? Hence,
under the heaviest pressure of affliction, he can still expostulate
with his own despondencies--"Why art thou cast down, O my soul,
and why art thou disquieted within me; hope thou in God; for I shall
yet praise him who is the health of my countenance and my God."
I can well recollect that before my own conversion I was deeply struck
with this, that Christians were the only persons in the world who had
any reason to be joyful. I could easily see that they had consolations
which none others had. I saw that nothing could possibly befall them
which could ultimately be an evil. All things I saw must work good and
nothing but good for them. Reading such passages as our text, showed
me plainly that all was well for them, and that they alone, of all men
on the earth had a legitimate right to be joyful.
The opposite I saw must be true in every instance in the case of the
wicked. All these thoughts passed often through my mind while in my
law office. Even then I could not help thinking intensely on these points,
nor could I help seeing the force and the bearing of earthly afflictions
to curse the wicked and to bless and not harm the righteous. In this
state of my mind, I did not perhaps quite envy Christians their lot,
but I felt that none but they had any reason to be cheerful. The sinner,
I plainly saw, had no business to be cheerful. Nothing could benefit
his condition and prospects but to howl and mourn in most hopeless anguish.
Nothing but ill was on him; nothing but ill yet more awful was before
Nor in my case did those views result from a state of melancholy or
depression of spirits. I never had any tendencies of that sort. These
convictions were the result of sober and intense thought. I studied
the great questions of the Christian religion intensely, and I could
not fail of being deeply impressed with the mighty contrast between
the state of the righteous even in this world, and that of the wicked.
My situation in regard to early religious instruction, was rather peculiar.
I heard no preaching but the strongest form of Old Schoolism, and had
to grope my way along through all its absurdities, and think out all
my religious opinions in the very face of all the preaching I heard
in my earliest years. This led me to think deeply and thoroughly upon
the great points of the Christian life. Hence when I saw a sinner in
his sins I could see nothing cheerful in his case. All was full of gloom.
But a Christian--what if he does suffer now? All will soon be well.
His sufferings are soon over. Who can help seeing this? It seems to
me now--as it did then, quite impossible for any thinking man to avoid
thinking on this subject, and if he thinks at all how can he fail of
being struck with the immense contrast between the case of the righteous
and that of the wicked?
- 7. The joys of the saints are only the beginning
of heaven. The Bible does not represent them as being short, like their
sorrows; but represents their joys as long and their grief as short.
Their joys are enduring, deep, full, fadeless; not light and fleeting
as are those of the sinner.
II. I pass in the next place to remark that
precisely the opposite in every respect is said in the Bible of the sinner.
To show this I will read you the 73d Psalm. I select this, not because
it is more striking or more decisive than many other passages in the Bible
on the same subject; but because it brings out more distinctly the very
truths I wish to lay before you.
It appears that before the volume of written revelation was filled up,
and before men had learned to interpret the providences of God, as now
in the light of revelation we are enabled to do, some men were greatly
perplexed with the course of divine providence towards the righteous and
the wicked. Such seems to have been for a time the case with the writer
of this 73d Psalm. "Truly," he says, "truly God is good
to Israel;"--"truly"--as if the conviction had just now
become fixed in his mind, and he had just learned this fact, so long obscured
in darkness,--"truly God is good to such as are of a clean heart.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped."
What was the matter? He proceeds at once to tell us. "For I was envious
at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are
no bands in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble
as other men; neither are they plagued like other men." He evidently
speaks not of all wicked men, for some of them have trouble as other men
have; but he speaks of the prosperous classes--of those who seem during
much of their life to have all that heart can wish. "Therefore pride
compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish.
They are corrupt and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak
loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens; and their tongue walketh
through the earth. Therefore his people return thither; and waters of
a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and
is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly who
prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed
my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." It is all in
vain he says for me to have washed my hands from sin, and to have denied
myself its pleasures, for I have been sorely plagued notwithstanding--more
sorely even than most of these wicked men;--"for all the day long
have I been plagued, and chastened every morning." But at this point
he checks himself;--it strikes his mind that to talk in this strain will
be a stumbling-block to God's people; it will throw them into the same
state of perplexity and repining; and he sees instantly that this will
not answer; what then shall I do, says he? "When I thought to know
this, it was too painful for me;" I was yet more painfully perplexed;
I dared not speak out my feelings least I should offend the generation
of God's children. And yet my heart was hot within me, and how could I
refrain from speaking out the deep, burning perplexities of my soul? "It
was too painful for me until I went into the sanctuary of God;" I
knew not how to solve this mystery, that I should have so many troubles
and the wicked so few--"until I went to the sanctuary, then I understood
their end." "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places;
thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation
as in a moment; they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when
one awaketh, so O Lord, when thou awakest thou shalt despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was
I and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee." I was stupid as a
beast; why did I not understand before this that the triumphing of the
wicked is short, and that their richest joys terminate almost in a twinkling,
in everlasting desolation and anguish? "Nevertheless, I am continually
with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with
thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory." "Thou shalt
guide me"--what a blessing to have the infinitely wise God for a
guide! "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth
that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is
the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that
are far from thee shall perish, thou hast destroyed all them that go a
whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put
my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works."
We see now that if sinners are joyful, the Bible represents their joy
as only for a moment. I might quote passages almost without number to
prove this. But there is no need that I should.
On the other hand, the Bible shows that when Christians are afflicted
it is but for a moment, and that their afflictions are light also. O how
light compared with the full lot of the wicked!
But what of the wicked man? Is he joyful? Yes, he has a feverish excitement
and he calls it joy, but it cannot last; it vanishes away ere he has done
quaffing off the mere foam of his pleasure-cup. Light too are all his
joys--light as air; in their very nature they never can be solid and substantial;
they are as the chaff which the wind drives away. Sinner, you know there
is nothing in them worthy of the name of joy. You know they are vain,
false, fickle, unsatisfactory; the first breath of adversity scatters
them all; disappointment has hidden her sting beneath their fairest flowers.
You have known all this in your own sad experience, and yet you are loath
to admit it, and more loath still to act as if it were true.
Again the sinner's joys are only the means of aggravating his future sorrows.
Instead of being as in the case of the righteous an antepast of heaven,
they are a prelude to hell. Every joy of the sinner in this world is a
fruit of God's mercy, and every such mercy abused, will be prolific in
wrath and torments in the world of retribution. God will visit for all
those abused mercies.
Then, moreover, those joys of earth will be food for thought in that world
of tormenting self-reflections. Conscious guilt for mercies abused will
harrow up the soul of the lost sinner with unutterable pangs.
Yet again, every sinner knows that his good things are the opposite of
what he deserves. The sweet consciousness of integrity and of deserving
well at the hand of God, he never has, or can have. He knows that all
in his case is ill-desert--desert of utter and unmingled sorrows.
Once more. In the hour of trial, how great the contrast between the afflictions
of the wicked and those of the righteous! The wicked man under his afflictions
can only say--if his eyes are open--These are only the beginnings of my
sorrow. I have only just begun to drink the bitter cup, the dregs of which
are to be my portion forever and ever.
Yes, the wicked must bear their sufferings in this life, comfortless and
unsustained. No Christian's hope gladdens and cheers their heart. No solace
can they have in the bitter hour. Faith in Christ is, with them, entirely
out of the question; they can think of Christ only as the being whose
blood they have trampled under foot--whose mediation for sinners they
have set at naught; and now they can hear Him say only this--"Because
I have called and ye refused, therefore when ye call I will not answer."
It avails nothing to speak to them of Jesus. The name soothes not their
aching bosoms; it only harrows up their souls with more bitter self-reproaches,
and keener despair. No hope have they;--certainly no good hope through
grace: for they have set all grace at naught.
Thus the very opposite things are true of their afflictions which are
true in the case of the righteous. While the afflictions of the righteous
are light because of his buoyant, trusting, submissive, peaceful state
of mind; the afflictions of the wicked are heavy because of his wicked
state of mind. He has no power to resist and bear up under them.
Suppose an ungodly man is visited with bereavement. His property is torn
away. Alas, it is his all; and what has he more? This was his God, and
now it is gone, perhaps forever. It leaves him no good to enjoy. The Christian
too may lose all his property in a twinkling; but then his Father in heaven
is infinitely rich, and he need not fear lest he come to want. His great
treasure remains untouched by the fires or the floods of earth. He can
have a thousand angels to minister to his wants if he needs their aid,
and his Father sees it best to send them.
Suppose the sinner is bereaved of some dear friend, a parent or a bosom
companion, or a child of his strong and tender love. The blow comes down
upon him with unmitigated weight. He has no Savior, no hope, no consolation--no
being in the universe able to save, to whom he can flee.
These sorrows are heavy because they are enduring. They intermit only
for a brief space and then another avalanche rolls over him again, crushing
all his fondest hopes and spreading desolation all around him. And then
the thought must flash across his mind--These are only the beginning of
sorrows. I am bereaved here;--O how much more bereaved when every friend
shall be torn away! Bereavement makes me wretched now--what shall I be
There is another point of most solemn import. The wicked man's afflictions,
instead of working for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of
glory, will only work in his case a far more exceeding and eternal weight
of damnation. For all these afflictions are only appliances on the part
of God to reclaim the sinner from sinning and bring him to Jesus for salvation.
If he resists them all, they cannot fail to aggravate his final doom.
Hence the more thorough and searching his trials, the greater his guilt,
and the more heavy his final punishment. Hence we see that the more he
suffers here--supposing him to resist the design of God to reclaim him
by these trials, the more must he suffer hereafter as a punishment for
his deeper guilt.
The reverse of this we know is true of the Christian as the more he suffers
here the more he enjoys hereafter.
It is most striking to notice here that while all things joyful or sad
work together for good to the Christian, all things, whether prosperous
or adverse--joyous or afflictive, work together for ill to the sinner.
The more he enjoys here, the more miserable he must be hereafter; and
the more he suffers here, the more he must suffer hereafter. If there
is in this an apparent paradox, it is still true, and you will instantly
see its truth when you come to see the relation of the whole course of
God's providence here towards the sinner, to this sinner's final doom.
All God's providences are means of trial to the sinner, and if he abuses
them all, and resists their influence, they cannot fail to work for him
a deeper damnation.
Alas, the guilty course and the fearful end of the sinner! Instead of
being able to say, with the Christian--welcome afflictions; welcome pains
and trials and bereavements; welcome even the cross itself;--he can only
say--Woe is me;--these heavy afflictions that make me weary of life now,
are working for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of damnation!
Nothing for me here but bitterness, and a vain pursuit of hollow pleasures,
all working for me a more dire damnation for my everlasting portion!
1. If we would understand the Bible we must attain a position from which
we shall see things as the inspired writers saw them. They estimated all
things in the light of eternity. When they speak of earthly things, they
compare them with eternity, and deem them long or short--valuable or valueless,
as they are estimated in this scale of comparison. And why should they
not? If we are to exist forever, there is surely no other rational way
of estimating the value of whatever shall affect our entire well-being.
Our happiness or misery in the next world is a part of the whole sum of
our good or ill in existence as much as the portion which falls to us
in this world.
Hence if earthly scenes and interests are brief and but for a moment compared
with eternity, let them be called and deemed light and of small account.
So the sacred writers seemed to regard them.
Many have fallen into serious errors in consequence of not understanding
this. When the apostles speak of its being only a step to the day of judgment,
some have supposed their real meaning to be that Christ's second advent
was really just about to occur. But it is by no means certain that this
was their real meaning. Minds so deeply impressed as theirs were, with
the solemn realities of eternity are wont to view eternal scenes as very
near at hand. The intervention of earthly scenes and events between--events
in which their mind takes no interest--is scarcely thought of.
Now we need to be in such a state of mind as theirs in order to understand
their language. Then we shall estimate all earthly things in the near
view of the solemn realities of the eternal world.
2. Afflictions are light or otherwise, very much according to the state
of mind in which they are experienced. In one state, a mere trifle will
appear heavy; in another state the same trial will seem scarce worth regarding.
The mind sustained of God can sustain almost any thing God shall lay upon
it; but when a man has all his own burdens to carry alone, and can scarcely
bear the burden of his own wounded spirit and rebellious, repining heart,
how can he bear the superadded weight of affliction?
3. It is often exceedingly interesting to contemplate the afflictions
of the righteous. When we see the afflicted soul sustained triumphantly
by grace, and consider also how these light afflictions must educe a far
more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, we see it a most blessed thing
to be afflicted. O it is a joyful scene. Their state of mind is such that
they scarcely feel the pain of their afflictions. They know themselves
to be blessed, and their souls sometimes exult in scenes of deep affliction
with exceeding joy. They have so much of God in their souls;--God takes
occasion by means of the affliction to make such peculiar manifestations
of his glory and his goodness to their souls that they may well exult
in the precious good of being afflicted.
You may have heard it said of one of the daughters of Pres. Edwards, that
while a husband whom she tenderly loved lay a corpse in the house, her
joy was so great that she sought some secret place to give it vent lest
it should be misconstrued by those who could not appreciate the abounding
consolations of the great joy with which God was pleased to fill her soul.
Now what was this? How shall we account for it? But one rational account
can be given. The Lord was pleased to make this affliction in her case
a sort of conductor along which the electric fires of his own love and
presence reached and filled her soul. She became so filled with the joys
of the Spirit that she could not be sensible to the bitterness of grief.
Now another woman in a different state of mind would have hung over that
lifeless body--would have bathed it with her bitter tear; would have given
way to inconsolable grief. Why? Because, in her state of mind, the consolations
and joys of God are wanting.
Payson, you may recollect, said near the close of his life--"Since
I have given up my will, I have never in a single instance been disappointed."
You need only be in a state in which you have no will but God's--then
all will be well with you. Form no purpose except on this condition--"If
the Lord will, I shall do this or that." Let a man get into this
permanent state of mind, and where is he? Where he never can be disappointed.
However his plans may issue, all seems well to him, because he wishes
nothing otherwise than God would have it, and God's ways can never be
frustrated. As a man once said of the weather when asked what he thought
the weather would be--"Just such as pleases me," said he. But
how could he know this? What does this mean? The answer is easy. Said
he, "It will be such weather as pleases God, I know, and whatever
pleases God will perfectly please me." Thus, beloved, if you are
only weaned thoroughly from your own wills, and molded into sweet submission
to the will of God, every thing will go just right. However much the course
of divine Providence may seem to frustrate your plans and threaten mischief
to your interests, you can say, "This pleases my Heavenly Father,
and therefore I know it is best, and it shall please me."
I very distinctly recollect attending a funeral in a case where a man
had lost a most beloved wife by a sudden death. But O, there was such
a smile on his countenance, a smile so calm, so resigned, so sweet, so
like heaven--I never can forget it. Such a countenance as his;--it seemed
to betoken any thing else but affliction. Why? His heart was with God.
But while this is all joyful and interesting; on the contrary all is agonizing
when you come to see the wicked under affliction. Alas! they have no consolation.
I once witnessed a funeral scene in New York. A most ungodly man died
leaving two ungodly daughters fatherless. Their mother had died before,
and they felt themselves thrown upon a blank world, orphans. They wept
and wailed enough to move a heart of stone. Their tears and cries were
agonizing. I felt unutterable anguish as I saw their forlorn, despairing
grief. But I could do little else than stand and weep. I talked to them
of Jesus, but they had no Jesus. This name, so dear to the Christian heart,
had no charms to them. They did not know him. They had never learned to
trust him;--they had never made him their friend. Alas! they had no friend
in the universe. Their father had gone to hell, and they were following
on in the same path. O, it was enough to tear a man's heart all to pieces
to witness such a scene! I could not help crying out, O, were they only
Christians! O, if they only had Jesus for their friend!
But these are only the beginning of sorrows. These are only the first
tastings of that bitter cup which to all eternity they must drink to its
dregs. These are only the first drops of that awful, rising, gathering
hail storm, about to whelm them in its wide wasting ruin. If you have
ever seen the awful tornado, rolling up in its mountain masses of cloud
and hail from the west, roaring, crashing, sweeping along;--now its first
drops fall--it is coming, coming--even these first drops thrill through
the quick pulse and the beating heart of the houseless, naked wanderer--ah
how can he bear that rushing avalanche of storm!
To the sinner in this world--the few drops of affliction cut him down;
he cannot stand before these few small drops;--how can he stand when God
shall make bare his awful arm and clothe it with majesty to visit wrath
upon the guilty according to their deeds? O sinner, how can thy heart
endure, or thy hands be strong in the day when God shall deal with thee?
The first drops crush you down; you cannot bear even the first small drop,
but sink and wail out under even these;--what next? Next comes the solid
hail--hear it roar. O that crash--as if it would tear the world in pieces!
The first drops scattered in this world scald and scathe him--ah surely
he never can endure in that dread day when the storms of Jehovah's wrath
shall begin to beat forever on his guilty spirit!
When I have seen sinners under conviction, gnawing their very tongues
literally as I have seen it--drawing blood, I have cried out in the inward
anguish of my soul--If this is conviction, what is hell? O my soul, WHAT
IS HELL? No hope;--no hope, no end, no escape;--O, if there were only
some way of escape--or some end though after myriads of ages had rolled
away in the agonies of the second death;--then it would not be all utter,
hopeless despair. These thoughts of final relief might come as the elixir
of life to bring at least a few drops of comfort; but no! hell has no
hopes for its doomed ones;--it has no balm for the wounded spirits of
its guilty, self-ruined victims. Every thought in every sinner's mind
there, is only the fire and the gall of hell upon the dark malign spirits
of that prison-house of despair!
Finally, brethren, let me say, it is exceedingly useful to us to contemplate
this contrast between the earthly state of the righteous and of the wicked.
Let Christians do this often and thoroughly. I have found it exceedingly
useful to me to do it. It quickens the deep sympathies of my heart for
my dying fellowmen and calls forth gushing gratitude for the mercies of
gospel salvation. It is sometimes an evil to dwell too long and too exclusively
upon the Christian's hope and the Christian's heaven, and neglect to dwell
upon the bitter doom of the wicked. O, we must not forget their awful
state! Our business here is to pull them out of those fires. Then let
our hearts feel their awful peril. Let us often follow out this striking,
heart-affecting contrast between the righteous and the wicked. If ministers
would often do this, carrying out this contrast in all its great and striking
points, O how would both they and their churches travail in birth for
souls, and be filled with unutterable emotions of benevolent solicitude
for the souls of the perishing!
Brethren, do you satisfy yourselves with the dainties of the Christian
life and live to eat rather than to labor and toil? Do you come up here
to this sanctuary to regale yourselves with spiritual manna, and give
no crumbs to those who must starve in the agonies of the second death?
Do you lose sight of the sorrows of the wicked, and quite forget their
case? Do you--can you forget their awful afflictions here and hereafter--so
heavy, so enduring, so fearful? O! can you let these things pass from
your minds, and live on as if all were well? Beloved, you must one day
give account for souls--for souls saved or lost.