What Saith the Scripture?
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
March 27, 1839
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--I Cor. 10:31: "Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
In this discussion, I design to show,
I. What is to be understood, by the glory of God.
II. How we may glorify Him.
III. To what extent, we are to apply this rule, in practice.
IV. The importance of glorifying God.
V. That whatever is short of this, is enmity against God.
I. I am to show, what is to be understood, by the glory of God.
Theologians speak of the essential, and declarative glory of God.
His essential glory is the intrinsic excellence of his natural, and moral attributes. His declarative glory is his renown, or reputation, or the estimation in which he is held, by moral beings.
It is in the latter sense, that the term is manifestly used, in the text. In the former sense, our conduct has nothing to do with the glory of God. But in the latter sense, as we shall see, it has everything to do with it.
II. I am to show how we may glorify God.
III. I am to show, to what extent, we are to apply this rule, in practice.
But if the business be in its nature lawful, yet, if it be transacted, in a selfish manner--if it be manifest to those with whom you deal, that your main object is to get, and not to communicate good--to accumulate property, and not to diffuse happiness abroad, this is exactly the reverse of glorifying God. It is a misrepresentation of his character, and religion; and there are no more effectual agents of the devil, than those professors of religion who are selfish in the transaction of their business. God's temper, and spirit is to give, give, GIVE--their spirit, and temper is to get, get, GET. This is the exact contrast of true religion.
By this, I do not mean, that we are not to regard a correct taste, in these things. God has every where, in his works, displayed a most exquisite, and infinitely refined taste; and to pay no regard to this, is to violate a fundamental law of our nature, and to misrepresent God.
But in our houses, and equipage, and furniture, we are to see to it, that we do not appear to have our hearts upon such things, and as if we sought our happiness in them; but, on the contrary, should show to the world, that we seek those things only, that are convenient, and have no fellowship with display, and useless, and worldly ornament.
There are two extremes, upon this subject, both of which are as ridiculous as they are wicked. One is to launch forth into all manner of extravagance; and the other is to discard all taste, decency, and utility, and rush back to barbarism. Now both these extremes are to be avoided by Christians. While they do not neglect the decencies and conveniences of life, they are to avoid useless display, and ornament.
Few things are more dishonorable to God, than for a Christian to load down his table, or pollute his closet, with plays and novels, with Shakespeare, Byron and Walter Scott. Are these the spirits with whom Christians are to commune? Do these promote the knowledge of God? Can a Christian make these his favorite companions, and yet make the world believe, that he considers the knowledge of God as of the greatest importance? The Bible represents the knowledge of God as the sum of all that is desirable in knowledge; and declares, that to "know God, is life eternal."
Take the following Bible declarations of the importance of true wisdom; (i.e.) of a knowledge of God, Job 28:12-28: "But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth says, It is not in me; and the sea saith, It is not with me. It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold. Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof: for he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; to make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out. And unto him he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
Now can a Christian believe this, and spend his time with novels? He can scarcely give a higher demonstration, that he neither believes, nor loves the Bible, than in choosing such companions for his closet. Certainly it is not paying God a very high compliment, nor attaching much value to a knowledge of him, nor making the impression upon mankind, that divine knowledge is infinitely more important than any other, for Christians to spend their time, in the light, and miscellaneous reading of the day.
IV. I am to show the importance of glorifying God.
If, on the contrary, you exhibit disinterested love, in all your life, you will be a living illustration of the spirit of the glorious gospel, and will thus glorify God.
V. I am to show that whatever is short of this, is enmity against God.
But none are so efficient agents of the devil, as inconsistent professors of religion. They are enemies, in the camp. They are God's professed children, and it is taken for granted, that they know God, and that their testimony may be relied on; and as they are God's own witnesses, if they testify against, and misrepresent him, his cause must fail. It is more injurious than the slander of a legion of devils. It is by no means true, as some have supposed, that Satan wishes to have every body openly wicked. The testimony of one worldly professor, is more influential, in favor of Satan, than that of a host of infidels. He would, doubtless, be glad to have all men professors of religion, if they would be inconsistent enough to misrepresent, and thus betray God.
Now there is no neutral ground upon this subject. Christ has said, "he that is not with me, is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." It is impossible, that you should not in all your life, and walk, and spirit, either honor, or dishonor God. Your whole spirit, and temper, and deportment, are watched, and scrutinized, by those around you; and inferences are continually drawn, either in favor of, or against the God you profess to worship.
1. You see why God is represented, in the Bible, as seeking his own glory, as a thing of the highest importance to the universe. Infidelity has objected to the idea of God's seeking his glory, as if, in this, he was proud, and jealous, and ambitious, of being esteemed. But when it is understood, that by his glory is meant his reputation, it is easy to see, that in a moral government of such an extent, and duration as his, the estimation in which the great head of the government is held, by the subjects, is of infinite importance. And should he not pursue his glory, as of the greatest good, he would not estimate things according to their real value.
This text lays down an easy rule, by which to judge of the lawfulness of any employment, in which we propose to engage. If it is business, the question is, is it such an employment as Christ would engage in, under the circumstances? Is it that kind of business, in which you can reasonably expect to represent, and honor God?
If any amusement invites us, the question is easily settled. Should anyone see me engaged in it, would it be honorable to God, and fairly represent the spirit of his religion?
2. We are not only bound to live to the glory of God, but to choose those employments, and pursue them, in that manner, which will best glorify God. We are to inquire, for what employment we are best suited--in what way we can not only do good, but do the most good! And when we have understood ourselves--our adaptedness, and calling to any employment, we are cheerfully, and with all our hearts, to engage in it, for the glory of God.
3. Herein may be seen the true point of distinction, between real saints, and hypocrites. The true Christian loves God supremely, God's honor, and glory, are of course, dearer to him, than any thing, and every thing else. He just as naturally devotes himself to the glory of God, and lives only for that end, as a man naturally pursues that in which he has supreme delight. If a man is not conscious that this is the end for which he lives--that the glory of God, is dearer to him than all things else, he certainly has not the spirit of God, and it is preposterous to call himself a Christian.
Now right over against this is the hypocrite. He professes to live for the glory of God; but yet he certainly knows, or ought to know, by his own consciousness, that if he seeks God's glory at all, it is with him a subordinate, and not a chief end. He knows full well, if he will be honest with himself, that selfishness lurks in all the religion he has. Instead of having a strong, and permanent consciousness, that he is living for God, the most that he can say is, he hopes he is thus covering up his hypocrisy.
4. From this subject, it is easy to see, how shocking and abominable, are the pretensions of many professing Christians. How many of them are engaged in employments, in which they cannot hope to glorify God, and can make no such pretension, without rendering themselves ridiculous.
5. Public sentiment seems to have restricted the obligation of this rule to ministers. They are expected to live for the glory of God. Every body feels, that a minister, in his particular employment, should aim at the glory of God. And should a minister engage in many branches of business in which laymen think it lawful for themselves to engage, it would shock common sense.
It is wonderful to see, that where selfishness does not blind them, how ready men are to form right opinions. Previously to the commencement of the Temperance Reformation, I recollect of having heard of a minister, who, by ill health, or for some other cause was prevented from preaching; and for the maintenance of his family, he established a grocery, in which he sold alcohol. This was, even then, universally reprobated. It seemed to shock the common sense of the whole community. And yet multitudes of laymen, and even Christian laymen, were engaged in the same employment, without supposing themselves to be doing anything wrong.
Now why should the operation of this rule, be thus, by public sentiment, restricted to ministers? It certainly cannot be, unless salvation is also restricted to them. Every man is as much bound to observe this rule, as a minister; and the same reasons that make it obligatory upon a minister, make it obligatory on every man. Now you would say, and say truly, that a minister was no Christian--that he could not be saved, if, in his employment, he did not aim at the glory of God--if his main object was to support his family, under the pretense of complying with the command, to provide for his own household, you would say, that he could not be saved. Now a minister may have, and is bound to have, just as much respect to the maintenance of his family, as any other man may lawfully have to the maintenance of his. But neither has any right to pursue any worldly object, or any heavenly objects whatever, as an end, other than the glory of God. Every man, who has a family, is bound to make the maintenance of his family one of the ways, and one of the means of glorifying God. But to pursue this as an end, is ruin and death.
6. Every man is bound to pursue that employment to which he is called of God, as much as a minister is.
He is bound to be as careful, and diligent, in ascertaining his duty, and mark the leadings, and providences of God, in relation to his employment for life, as a minister is; and he has no right to pursue any business, to which he is not called, by the Providence, and Spirit of God, any more than a minister has, to preach without such a call.
7. It seems sometimes as if nearly all the laymen in the Church, must go to hell. You find them driving in different directions, and pursuing almost every kind of business, and, in great multitudes of instances, without the least pretense, that they were ever called to that particular employment, by the Spirit, or Providence of God.
I, some time since, asked a lawyer, if he supposed God called him to that particular employment, and if he engaged in it from such motives, as he supposed a minister ought to engage in the work of the ministry. He frankly said, "No." "How then," I inquired, "can you be saved? Are you not bound to live for the glory of God, as much as any minister? Are you not living in the habitual neglect of known duty? Is not the whole tenor of your life selfishness, and a palpable violation of the commandment of God?" In the light of this text, he could not deny, that it was so. Now there are hundreds, and thousands of such laymen, in the Church. They know themselves to be pursuing courses of life, from such motives as they would utterly condemn, in a minister. And they would judge, and rightly judge, that he had no religion at all. Know then, assuredly, that in your employment, whatever it is, unless you have such an eye to the glory of God, as you know a minister ought to have, in his employment, you cannot be saved.
8. From this subject, you can see the great wickedness of dishonoring God, in our methods of obtaining property, under the pretense that we shall devote it to benevolent purposes. Unless we get money, in a manner which is honorable to God, it is in vain to pretend to make any amends, for the manner of getting it, by the use we make of it.
9. You see how absurd and wicked it is, to engage in any business, that is dishonorable to God, for the purpose of paying debts. Because it is dishonorable to God to be in debt, some persons will engage in employments that violate the law of love, and trample on God's commandments, for the sake of getting money to pay their debts. Now why not as well steal to pay your debts, or engage in highway robbery, or piracy? It is as absolute a violation of the law of God, to obtain property by any selfish means, as to steal, or engage in piracy.
10. Every pretended conversion, that does not result in shaping the man's business, and life, and spirit, in conformity with this precept, is a spurious conversion. Have you seen a man engaged in the selfish transaction of any business, and does he profess conversion? Now mark me, if one of the first fruits be not the reformation of his business, that man is deceived. If his business was unlawful in kind, he will renounce it altogether. If the fault was in the manner of transacting a business, lawful in its kind, he will instantly reform the manner. And it is an outrage to common sense, to call that man a Christian, the secret of whose life, and thoughts, and especially whose business transactions are not turned manifestly into the channel of glorifying God.
11. The same is true of those seasons of religious awakening, in which great multitudes profess conversion to God. If the fruits of these excitements fall short of the principle laid down in this text--if it does not break up, and reform the business transactions of selfish men, no matter how great their excitement of mind may have been--they have, after all, fallen short of true conversion--they have not yet taken the first step in religion, and do not yet understand in what it consists.
12. Since my last lecture was written, a question has been proposed to me, by a brother, an answer to which may well be given here. It is, Does the law of love, when applied to business transactions, require that a man should merely support his family, by his business, and have nothing more, or less, reserved to himself? I answer,
(1) That the support of a man's family is not to be the end at which he aims; but, as I have already said, the support of ourselves, or families, is to be regarded by us, as one of the means of glorifying God.
(2) That the support of ones-self, or family, is by no means to be the criterion, by which we are to be governed in the transaction of business, (i.e.) whatever it may cost to support ourselves, or families, is not to regulate the prices, at which we are to buy or sell. If a man should keep one cow, and under the pretense of her being the support of his family, should attempt to sell milk at two shillings per quart--this certainly would not be lawful, any more than keeping one hen, and attempting, under the pretense of supporting his family, to sell eggs for one dollar each, would be lawful. The truth is, that no man has a right to attempt to support himself, or family, in such a way as this.
So, on the other hand, if a man be engaged in an extensive business, the amount
of his necessary expenditures, in the maintenance of his family, is not to be the
criterion by which he is to be governed, in his established prices. But in buying,
and selling, he is to have the same regard to the interest of every individual, with
whom he trades, as to his own. He is to sell as low as he can, without injuring himself,
more than he benefits others. And the amount of what he makes must depend upon the
amount, and nature of his business.
Suppose a wholesale merchant to employ an immense capital, and perform a vast amount of business, and suppose him to supply one hundred country merchants with goods, and in this suppose him to consult the good of each, equally with his own. In this case, the aggregate of his income would be equal to the aggregate of all their income together. So that, in fact, he might become very rich, and have it in his power, to exercise great hospitality, and greatly promote benevolent objects, and still consult every man's interest, with whom he trades, equally with his own.
13. Here another question may be, and has been recently asked. It is said, if every man is bound to sell so low, as to consult every customer's interest, equally with his own, then those who have a small capital cannot live, by their business. To this I answer,
That no man has a right to live, by business, by which he cannot support himself, and transact it, upon the principle of the law of God.
I was asked, the other day, this question: Suppose a certain man, in the employment of an immense capital, should conduct his business upon the principle of the law of God; and, in consulting his customers' interests as much as his own, should undersell those of smaller capital, or sell at prices so low that they would become bankrupt, in attempting to support their families, at these prices? Now, in this case, it is said the man of great capital, would ruin the business of all the rest. To this I reply,
It is every man's duty to benefit the public as much as possible. And if one man can supply the market, at a lower rate, than others, he ought to supply it, and no others have a right to complain. Individuals, and their families, are not to be supported at the expense of public, and higher interests. If other individuals cannot afford to act upon the law of love, their business ought to cease. And they are bound to engage in some employment, in which they can conform themselves to the law of God. The very question I have been answering, is founded upon the supposition, that every man has a right to engage in any particular calling, and support his family by it, whether consistent, or inconsistent with the public good. But this is the direct reverse of the truth.
If one man, therefore, is so circumstanced, that he can supply the whole demand, in any market, more advantageously to the public, than another, he not only has a right, but is bound to do so; and the other is under obligation to retire.
Another question has been proposed, (viz.) If persons are to sell, as cheap as they can, without injuring themselves, more than they benefit those with whom they deal, would not their profits be so small as to prevent their accumulating property with which to do good? Now this is indeed a strange question. If a man is living, and conducting business, upon the principles of the law of God, or of love, he is all the time, doing good upon the largest scale possible. And can it be imagined, that he would really do more good, by overreaching his customers, for the sake of giving his property to others? Shall a man do injustice to one man, and violate the law of God, for the sake of giving to another man? As well might a man steal, to give to the poor, or support the gospel, under the pretense of doing good, as in any other respect, to violate the law of love, for the sake of acquiring property, to do good with. It should be understood, that the man who lives, and feels, and acts, and transacts business upon the principles of the law of God, is continually doing all the good in his power. He is diffusing more happiness, by far, than if he were grinding the faces of his customers one day, to give to some benevolent object the next.
It is as ridiculous, as it is wicked, for a man to violate the law of benevolence, under the pretense of having something to give away. Suppose that every man were conformed to the law of love; then every man would be continually doing all that he possibly could do, for benevolent objects. And in such a case, where would be the necessity of one man laying up money, to give to these objects? He is giving, as fast as he receives, to benevolent objects. The fact is, that, in such a case, the coffers of all benevolent institutions would immediately overflow. The ice that has so long locked up the channels of love, would be universally dissolved, and the streams of light, and life, and love, would flow on, until what are now commonly called objects of charity, and benevolence, could not be found.
14. I have often been led to inquire, in what do Christians of the present day, suppose religion to consist? It seems as though they thought it consisted in praying in their closets--reading their Bibles--attending church on the Sabbath--and occasionally giving something for the support of the institutions of religion. Now religion consists, in no one, nor in all these things together. And millions of such things would not make a particle of true religion. Religion consists in the true benevolence of the heart. Not a mere desire to do good, but a willing good--a benevolence that controls the conduct--that is, active, blessed, god-like.
15. To glorify God, is the only object for which you have any right to live, for one hour. And you can live for no other purpose, with the least reasonable hope of being saved. If this be not the end, and object of your life, I forewarn you, that your hope will perish "in the giving up of the ghost."
16. And now, beloved, let me ask you, have you ever laid your all upon the altar, and rendered yourselves, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God?
Is it your daily prayer, and constant endeavor, to be used all up with the most divine economy for God?
Do you husband your time, your strength, your all, in such a way as to make the most of your influence for the promotion of the glory of God?
Is it really in your heart to live, and die for Him?
Are you willing--nay, are you supremely desirous, and are you conscious of this desire, to live, or die--to be sick, or well--rich, or poor, or in any other circumstances, that will make the most of you, and use you up with the greatest economy for God?
Do those with whom you sit at table, see that you eat and drink for the glory of God--that you have made yourself acquainted with dietetics, so far, at least, as to exclude whatever is injurious?
Do you prove to them, by the quantity, and quality, of your food, that you are not a creature of appetite--that you live, not to eat, but eat to live, and live to glorify God? "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
Next "Oberlin Evangelist"
Homepage Holy Bible .Jehovah Jesus Timeline .Prophecy Philadelphia Fellowship Promises Stories Poetry Links
Purpose ||.What's New || Tribulation Topics || Download Page || Today's Entry
Topical Links: Salvation || Catholicism || Sound Doctrine || Prayer