What Saith the Scripture?
True and False Religion
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
February 13, 1839
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Gal. 5:1: "Stand fast, therefore,
in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with
the yoke of bondage."
The observances of the ceremonial law were designedly a
typical representation of the gospel. The Jews had misunderstood them, and supposed
that their observance was the ground of justification and acceptance with
God. After the introduction of Christianity, many of the Christian Jews were exceedingly
zealous for their observance, and for uniting the ceremonial dispensation with Christianity.
On the contrary, Paul, "the great Apostle of the Gentiles," insisted upon
justification by faith alone, entirely irrespective of any legal observances and
conditions whatever. There were a set of teachers in the early days of Christianity
who were called Judaizers, from the fact, that they insisted upon uniting legal observances
with Christianity, as a ground of justification. Soon after the establishment of
the Galatian Churches, by St. Paul, these Judaizers succeeded in introducing this
corruption into the Christian Churches. To rebuke this error, and overthrow it, was
the design of this epistle. The yoke and bondage spoken of in the text, was the yoke
of legal observances. The liberty here mentioned is the liberty of love--of justification--and
of sanctification, by faith alone.
In discussing this subject, I design to show,
I. What it is to make a man a slave.
II. What it is to be a slave.
III. What true liberty is.
IV. That the religion of many persons is mere slavery.
V. That true religion is genuine liberty.
I. I am to show what it is to make a man a SLAVE.
To enslave a man is to treat a person as a thing--to set aside moral agency; and
to treat a moral agent as a mere piece of property.
II. I am to show, what it is to be a SLAVE.
It is not to be in a state of involuntary servitude, for, strictly speaking, such
a state is impossible. The slaves in the Southern States are not, strictly speaking,
in a state of involuntary servitude. Upon the whole, they choose to serve their masters,
rather than do worse. A man cannot act against his will, but his will may be influenced
by considerations that set aside his liberty. To be a slave, is to be under the necessity
of choosing between two evils. Thus the slaves in the Southern States prefer being
as they are, to being in a worse condition--to being imprisoned or whipped for attempting
to escape. But plainly, this is a choice between two evils, neither of which, if
left to themselves would they choose. So a wicked man may choose to obey human laws,
rather than suffer the consequences of disobedience; still he may abhor the laws,
and feel himself shut up to the necessity of choosing between two evils. So a wife
who does not love her husband, may choose, upon the whole, to live with him, rather
than break up her family--lose her character--and subject herself to poverty and
reproach. And yet, if she does not love her husband, she will consider living with
him, merely as the least of two calamities. She feels shut up to the necessity of
choosing between two courses, neither of which is agreeable to her. All that can
be said, is that she chooses that course which, upon the whole, is the least disagreeable.
To be obliged to choose against our feelings and inclinations--to be shut up to the
necessity of pursuing a course of life not chosen for its own sake, but as the least
of two evils--is the very essence of slavery.
III. I am to show what true liberty is.
- 1. True liberty does not consist in the unrestrained indulgence of lust and selfishness.
- 2. Nor in freedom from all law, or rule of action.
- 3. But true liberty consists in the privilege of choosing and pursuing that course
of life in which our whole moral being will harmonize--where violence is done to
no law of the mind.
- 4. In other words, and more particularly, it consists in pursuing that course
which is preferred for its own sake--that course of life which is not chosen as the
least of two evils; but of all possible courses, is that which the mind prefers;
e.g. a wife who loves her husband, and prefers his society to that of any other man,
is free, in the proper sense of the term, in living with him; whereas, if she preferred
another man to him, and lived with her own husband, from other considerations than
love, she would be a slave, and not free.
A man who obeys wholesome laws, from love to virtue and good order, is free in
the highest sense; but when he obeys law from restraint, not because he loves virtue,
but from fear of punishment, he is a slave. Here it is plain that his choice of obedience
is, by him, considered as a choice of two evils, and not that course of conduct which
he prefers for its own sake.
IV. The Religion of many persons is mere Slavery.
- 1. Their religion is not that in which they are most deeply interested. Their
conduct shows that many other things interest them more deeply than the subject of
religion--upon which they are more excited and engaged. Their religion seems to be
like the labor of children. Children choose to play for its own sake--in that they
are deeply interested. Therein you see their engagedness and zeal. But when put at
work, it is manifest that this is submitted to as the least of two evils. They don't
love work for its own sake, but prefer it to punishment. Just so it seems to be with
the religion of many professors. Religion is not that to which they naturally turn
as the great central object of their affections, and to which they return with the
force of gravity, as soon as the pressure of any object that has diverted their attention
for a time, is removed. On the contrary, their attention is somewhere else, even
while they are outwardly, and languidly attending to what they call religion.
- 2. Their religion is altogether a secondary business. It is not the great, absorbing,
commanding, prominent object of their lives; but is so far huddled into a corner,
that everyone may see that religion is not their main business, that they have some
other business, and that religion is a matter by the bye.
Thus, what they call their religious duties--their prayers--reading the scriptures,
&c. are hurried over, or for slight causes wholly omitted. While that which constitutes
their main business, commands their time, and thoughts, and hearts.
- 3. Religion, with them, is a matter rather of conscience, than of the heart.
They feel themselves driven by the remonstrances of conscience, to the performance
of their religious duties, rather than drawn by the deep love of religion itself.
- 4. That their religion is slavery is evident from the fact that it does not constitute
their happiness. This demonstrates that it is not a thing chosen for its own sake.
True, they cannot be happy without it, nor can they be happy with it. Conscience
will not suffer them to rest without something they can call religion. And yet they
do not choose it for its own sake. The mind is not satisfied with it, nor is it made
happy by it.
- 5. They are religious upon the same principle that men take medicine in time
of sickness. It is submitted to for the benefits of it. The medicine may be nauseous
and offensive in itself, but is submitted to as the least of two evils.
- 6. Just so religion is by many submitted to as something they must attend to.
Not that it is loved for its own sake. Nor that the mind chooses it as that course
which, on every account, is most desired and valued by the mind; but as something
that it will not do to neglect.
- 7. Religion is regarded by this class of persons as the most important, yet not
the most loved employment. Their reason affirms that it is the one thing needful.
But their hearts do not affirm that it is the one thing most loved, and rejoiced
in for its own sake.
- 8. The real state of mind in which this class of persons are, may be learned
from the fact, that in exhorting others to attend to the subject of religion, they
rather dwell on the danger of neglect, than on the blessedness of the thing itself.
- 9. And that this does not arise merely out of the fact that they expect such
considerations to be most influential with those to whom they speak--you will observe
that in speaking about or considering their own case, they are influenced mainly
by the same reason they press upon others. Religion is, with them, some thing that
it will not do to neglect. The hazard of neglect--the stings of conscience, and the
misery that neglect brings with it, are the things which most influence them.
- 10. They are under circumstances of constraint. They must serve God--they must
attend to their duty--they must prepare for death.
- 11. Their enjoyment consists mostly in their hope, and not in the exercise of
religion itself. Did they never expect to be more happy in their religion than they
are now, they would be "of all men the most miserable." Hence they drag
out their religion, in obedience to the dictates of conscience, knowing that it does
not constitute their happiness here--but somehow they hope it will be more agreeable
to them in heaven.
- 12. Their religion acts by way of restraint and It serves as a bridle to rein
in, and restrain their rampant, sinful propensities, on the one hand, and a whip
to urge them forward in their religious duties, on the other. It is not that course
of life which of all possible, or conceivable courses, is the most agreeable to them
for its own sake. But they have an existence, and there is no alternative. They must
be religious, or they must be damned. They must continually be thrown upon the terrors
of their conscience, or drag on in duty, however much their heart may reluctate.
- 13. Consequently, you hear them calculating about how much is their part, in
any religious or benevolent enterprise; and they seem to be glad when they think
they have done what they suppose falls to their share. Then they think they have
done up their duty, and may rest awhile, or attend to their own affairs. --Hence,
- 14. The inquiry, how little they can get along with doing, and giving, and praying,
and still maintain a hope? How little religion is compatible with going to heaven?
In short, it is plain that their religion, instead of being their happiness, as
something chosen for its own sake, and pursued on its own account, is their misery,
as the least of two evils. Instead of making them happy, enough of it would be hell.
V. I am to show, that true religion is genuine liberty.
- 1. Because it is that which is chosen for its own sake--that course which the
mind prefers to all other conceivable courses of life.
- 2. It is the highest good, in the estimation of the mind that possesses it.
- 3. If left entirely unbiassed[sic.] by every other consideration, and having
all other possible and conceivable courses of life, and conduct spread out before
it, the religion of Christ would be its supreme, eternal choice.
- 4. It is that in which the whole being, in all its powers, unites and harmonizes.
The reason--the conscience--the understanding--all the affections and emotions--in
short, the volitions, and all that makes up the moral being, unite and sweetly harmonize,
in the exercise of this divine religion.
- 5. Consequently it constitutes real, permanent happiness.
- 6. It casts out fear--fear of hell--fear of disgrace--fear of man--and all fear
that hath torment is annihilated, and the mind sweetly bathes itself in an ocean
of love and peace.
- 7. The soul yields obedience to all the requirements of God joyfully. For the
will of God marks out to it the very course, of all others, which it delights to
pursue. The affectionate wife obeys her husband, and his wish is her law, not of
constraint but willingly, because her happiness is wrapped up in doing his will.
She loves him, and to please him is her element and her life. Just so it is with
the true Christian. To please God is his supreme joy.
- 8. The true Christian never yields to the will of God by constraint; but always
prefers the will of God, whenever that will is known. In other words he really wills
what God wills, as soon, and as far as he knows what that is. He may have desires
for this and the other object, and may express those desires to God in prayer. He
may think this, or that course would be most for the glory of God. But true religion
always prefers that God's will should be done. His will is controlled by infinite
wisdom and love. It is impossible, therefore, that true religion should ever be made
miserable, by being obliged, or constrained to submit to the will of God.
- 9. True religion is not submitted to, by him that possesses it, as medicine,
but is like food, that we eat for its own sake. We love our food, and should eat
it for the pleasure of eating, whether we expect to be benefited by it or not. Just
so in religion--The mind is not mainly influenced by the benefit to be received;
but it is the food of the mind--the natural aliment on which it lives.
- 10. The truly religious man does not inquire how little religion he can get along
with; but how much he may possess.
- 11. Not how much sin may be indulged in, and yet he get to heaven; but how he
can be rid of all sin, whether he goes to heaven or not. Not how sinful he may be,
and still be a child of God; but how holy he may and can be.
- 12. His religion makes up his happiness. It is the continual exercise of it that
mainly makes him blest, and enough of the same kind would make heaven.
1. From what has been said, it is manifest, that many professors of religion, in
reality, regard God as a great slaveholder. I do not mean that they would say this
in words. Nor that they understand that they do regard him in this light. The reason
is, that they do not understand themselves to be slaves. If they realized what slavery
is, and that they themselves have the spirit of slaves, and are, in their religion,
all that is meant by being slaves, they would then be shocked with the irresistible
inference that they do regard God as a Slaveholder.
2. What an abomination such a religion must be in the sight of God. Instead of seeing
his professed children engaged, heart and soul, in his service--finding it the essence
of true liberty, and their supreme joy--he beholds them groaning under it, as a severe
burden, submitted to only to escape his frown.
3. You see, in this discourse, the true distinction between the religion of law,
and that of the gospel. The religion of many professors seems to set as painfully
on them, as a straitjacket. It is evidently not their natural element. It is the
bondage of law, and not the religion of peace.
4. Many express indignation against Southern slavery, as they may well do, but who
are slaves themselves. They know full well, that if they would be honest with themselves,
their religion is to them a yoke of bondage. They are afraid of death--afraid of
the judgment--afraid of God.
They submit to religion as the only method of escaping "the wrath to come."
But yet, let it be known to them, that there is no hell--no solemn judgment--that
men will universally be saved, do what they will, and they will feel relieved of
a weighty burden. They will feel rid of the responsibilities of moral agents, and
cast off their religion as of no consequence.
5. This slavery is utterly inexcusable, and consists in the perverse state of the
6. Such religion is worse than no religion.
(1) It is not any more safe, than no religion.
(2) It is more hypocritical than none.
(3) It confirms self-righteousness.
(4) It begets, and perpetuates a delusion in the mind.
(5) It ruins the soul of the professor, and is a stumbling block to others. What
is a greater stumbling block, for example, than for an impenitent husband to see
his wife possessing this painful, legal religion? Instead of observing her happy,
humble, sweet, heavenly minded, and peaceful, like an angel, he perceives that her
religion makes her complaining, uneasy, and irritable; in short, that it is the lashings
of conscience, by which she is actuated, and not the constant flow, of the deep feelings
of her heart.
(6) This kind of religion is more dishonorable to God than none. It is really the
contrast of true religion. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law."
Now the religion of which I have been speaking, is the very opposite of all this.
To be sure, a man who is openly irreligious, dishonors God. But a man who professes
to be God's representative--to exhibit God's spirit--and to be the reflection of
his image; and then go about the duties of religion, as a task to be submitted to,
instead of pouring out the overflowings of His benevolence--to unclench His hard
hand, at the stern biddings of conscience--is to publish as gross a libel upon the
character of God, and the religion of the gospel, as is possible.
(7) It is worse than none, inasmuch as it prevents conviction, and true conversion.
Persons in this state suppose themselves to be truly religious, and seem not to dream
that this is the very opposite of true religion.
Now, while under this delusion, it is vain to expect their eyes to be opened, and
to anticipate a real and thorough conversion to God.
7. All who have left their first love, are again entangled in the yoke of bondage.
If any of you have known what it was to love God with all your heart, you have known
what it was to be free. You know, by your own consciousness, that your religion was
then the essence of true liberty. But if you have laid aside your love, no matter
by what other principles you are actuated, you are "entangled again in the yoke
of bondage." Your religion has ceased to be liberty, and you have become a slave.--Now
I ask you, "Where is the blessedness" you once spoke of? Have you that
great peace that they possess who love the law of God? Does the peace of God rule
in your hearts? Is Christ's joy fulfilled in you? Or are you lashed along by your
conscience, actuated by hope and fear, and any, and every other principle than love?
And now, beloved, I ask you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether you have
the religion of the gospel. I have, in this discourse, endeavored to set before you,
in as simple a form as is possible, the grand distinction between true saints and
hypocrites. To which of these classes do you belong? Remember the eye of God is upon
you. "Be ye not deceived, for God is not mocked." "If the Son hath
made you free, then are ye free indeed." And I exhort you in the words of the
text, "Stand fast therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free,
and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." But, on the other hand,
if the Holy Ghost sees you with the chains of slavery upon your soul, driven on by
conscience, as by a slave-holder, working out your painful religion, lest you should
lose your soul, I beseech you, in the name of Christ, get up out of this bondage--lay
aside these chains--"loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, 0 captive daughter
of Zion,"--lay aside this legal yoke, and come forth from slavery, and death,
that Christ may give you liberty and life.
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
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