What Saith the Scripture?
The Gospel the Savor of Life or of Death
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
July 29, 1840
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--2 Cor. 2:14-17: "Now thanks be
unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor
of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ
in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are the savor of death
unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life: and who is sufficient for
these things: for we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity,
but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."
In remarking upon this text, I will endeavor to show:
I. That God has great delight in the Atonement of Christ.
II. That a full exhibition of Christ must do great good, whether men are saved or
III. That such an exhibition of Christ will produce great and manifest changes in
the character of those who hear.
IV. That God will be as truly honored in the damnation of those who reject, as in
the salvation of those who receive Christ.
I. God has great delight in the Atonement of Christ.
- 1. From scripture testimony, Phil. 2:5-11:--"Let this mind be in you, which
was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to
be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form
of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as
a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the
cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is
above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven,
and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
From this passage, it appears that God was highly pleased with the Atonement of
Christ Jesus, on account of which "He highly exalted Him, or gave him a name
above every name."
Isaiah, 53:10-12:--"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him: He hath put Him to
grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed,
, He shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge
shall my righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore
will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the
strong; because He hath poured out his soul unto death; and He was numbered with
the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Here also God is represented as being so pleased with the Atonement of Christ as
to give Him a great reward for his labor of love.
The text also contains the same doctrine, and multitudes of other passages that might
- 2. God has great delight in the Atonement of Christ, because he sincerely desires
the salvation of men. He knew it was impossible to save them upon the principles
of his government, without an Atonement. And his delight in the Atonement of Christ,
as the means of their salvation, is equal to his desire for their salvation.
- 3. The self-denial of Christ must have been greatly pleasing to his Father. What
virtuous father would not consider himself as greatly honored by the exhibition of
such a spirit as Christ manifested in dying for his enemies? When God saw his Son
willing to leave the realms of glory, to take upon Him the form of a servant, to
deny Himself even unto death, for the sake of making the salvation of his enemies
possible, this must have been infinitely pleasing to a God of love.
- 4. His whole life and death under the circumstances in which He lived and died,
must have been infinitely pleasing to God--his life, under circumstances of such
trial, so spotless, so meek, so just like God, such an exhibition and illustration
of what God is--his death, so submissive, so Godlike, it must have come up before
his Father "as an odor of a sweet smell."
- 5. The bearing of the Atonement upon the universe, must have given it great value
in the sight of God. But I shall enlarge upon this thought under the next head, viz.:
II. A full exhibition of Christ must do great good, whether men are saved or
- 1. Because it fully reveals and demonstrates the infinitely great love of God
to the universe. Should the province of an earthly monarch be betrayed into rebellion
by slander, and the insinuation of selfishness in the government, would it not be
highly honorable to the sovereign, instead of sending forth his armies, to crush
and slay them, to send forth his son to expostulate, instruct, and insure them of
the disinterested love and good-will of the government toward them. Now suppose that
this son, associated with the father in the government, should go forth, not at the
head of an army, but alone, unarmed, unattended, unprotected, should go from town
to town, on foot, taking unwearied pains to instruct them, healing their diseases,
spending whole nights in prayer for them, and when persecuted in one town should
go to another--suppose that he should continue this course of teaching, of expostulation,
and of prayer, and when at last they rose to murder him, should meekly suffer himself
to be crucified, rather than injure a hair of any man's head, would not such a demonstration
as this, of the love and disinterestedness of the government, greatly confound its
enemies, and greatly honor the sovereign? Who cannot see that it certainly would?
- 2. A full exhibition of the Atonement, must do great good whether sinners are
saved or lost, because it fully contradicts the slander by which our race were drawn
off from their allegiance to God. The serpent instigated our first parents to rebellion
by insinuating that God was selfish, in prohibiting their eating of a certain tree.
It was necessary therefore, that this slander should be thoroughly repelled and refuted.
The infinitely great and disinterested love of God exhibited in the Atonement is
the most impressive refutation of it.
- 3. The full exhibition of the Atonement of Christ must do great good because
it fully justified God as having acted all along, under the influence of the most
perfect love, and condemns sin as infinitely unreasonable, inexcusable, and abominable.
- 4. Such an exhibition of the Atonement must do great good because it demonstrates
God's great willingness and desire to save his enemies, whether they will be saved
or not. It rolls the responsibility of their salvation or damnation upon themselves.
It proves that while they have forfeited their lives, God has no desire to take this
forfeiture at their hands. It proves that while they deserve to die, He has no pleasure
in their death.
- 5. The full exhibition of the Atonement manifests the great value of their happiness
in his estimation, and his great reluctance to punish them--that his love for them
was so great as to give his only begotten Son to die for them--that He accounted
the death, even of his own Son, as a less evil than their destruction, notwithstanding
they so infinitely deserved to be destroyed.
- 6. A full exhibition of the Atonement of Christ must do great good, whether sinners
are saved or lost, because it must establish forever the confidence of all holy beings
in God. But for the Atonement, the universe might have been open to the surmise at
least, that there was possibly something not exactly right in the dealings of God
with the inhabitants of this world. But the disinterested love of God, manifested
in the Atonement, must forever put his character entirely and infinitely beyond all
- 7. A full exhibition of the Atonement of Christ must do great good to the universe,
whether sinners are saved or lost, because it reveals to sinners, to the whole world,
and to the universe, the sincerity of God, by exhibiting the fulness of the provisions
of grace. It demonstrates that the provisions are ample, that there is love and grace
enough in God's heart, and ample fulness in the provisions of the gospel for the
salvation of every sinner, and this stops every mouth, and leaves the damnation of
every sinner, to be wholly chargeable upon himself.
III. Such an exhibition of Christ must produce great and manifest changes in
the character of those who hear.
- 1. Because they cannot but receive or reject it. If they receive it, it will
of course make them holy, fill them with love to God and men, and mold their whole
character into the image of Christ. If they reject it, it must greatly confirm their
selfishness and depravity, greatly harden their hearts, and place them in an attitude
of greater, and more daring, and odious, and shameless rebellion than before.
- 2. Such an exhibition of God as is made in the Atonement, must of necessity either
subdue or greatly aggravate the spirit of rebellion and hostility of his government.
It is impossible that it should not be so. If this exhibition of love does not subdue
a sinner, it is because of his unbelief. And he cannot disbelieve the infinite and
disinterested love of God, in view of the Atonement, without virtually charging God
with the most abominable hypocrisy, and with every thing that is hateful. His soul
must take this attitude, or it must consent to the truth as it is revealed in the
Atonement. Now the consent of the heart to this truth must fill the soul with love,
and the life with holy conformity to his law. But the rebellion of the heart against
this truth, must greatly deepen and strengthen, and forever confirm the reign of
sin in the heart and life.
- 3. Such a great change of feeling as must necessarily result from an understanding
of the Atonement of Christ, must be manifest in the temper and life. With but little
knowledge of God, sinners may proceed in the indulgence of their lusts, without being
sensible of any direct hostility to God. But when He reveals his love to them in
the Atonement, they must necessarily either take strong ground against Him, or repent,
abandon their sin, and give up their whole being to his influence. This knowledge
must necessarily produce an immense change in the temper of their mind toward God.
Before, they knew and perhaps thought but little of Him. But after understanding
the Atonement, they cannot but know and think much of Him. And the attitude of their
minds must be that of ferocious resistance and rebellion, or of gentle and Christ-like
obedience. Such a change of the temper as this, must and will manifest itself in
some way in the life.
- 4. When Christ is fully preached, persons must be fully subdued, or confirmed
in sin. I say FULLY preached. It is amazing to see how many sinners have sat under
what is supposed to be the gospel, and yet have little more knowledge of Christ than
a heathen. They have never as yet conceived the idea of the love of God, as exhibited
in the Atonement, and remain as quiet, and as self-complacent as a Pharisee, without
ever being stirred up on the one hand, to opposition, or on the other, to submission.
But when Christ is so exhibited as to force home light upon the sinner's conscience,
and compel him fully to understand the doctrine of Atonement, the offices, relations,
and love of Christ, as a sin pardoning, and sin subduing Savior, the soul must be
soon subdued, or confirmed in sin.
IV. God will be as truly honored in the damnation of those who reject, as in
the salvation of those who receive Christ.
- 1. Because it will be known He did all the nature of the case admitted, to save
those who are lost--that when they had forfeited their lives, He took not the forfeiture
at their hands. But when they infinitely deserved damnation, He pitied and spared,
and sent his Son to die for them--that they refused salvation either by the law or
gospel--that they would neither obey the law, nor repent and be forgiven--that nothing
that infinite love could do for them, could persuade them to accept salvation.
- 2. His sending them to hell after manifesting so great a desire to save them,
will most impressively demonstrate and illustrate his holiness and justice. So great
was his pity and love for them, that He would sooner die Himself, in their behalf,
than send them to hell, and yet so great is his holiness and justice, that when they
refuse salvation upon the only principles that can reconcile justice and mercy, he
does not hesitate to send them to the depths of hell. If an earthly sovereign should
order his own children to execution, for rebellion against the laws, would not this
be an impressive exhibition of his regard to public order, and of attachment to the
principles of his government? What an amazing reluctance did God manifest in the
Atonement, to sending sinners to hell. And after such an exhibition of bleeding mercy,
if He is obliged to send them to hell, how infinitely honorable to Him, will be such
an exhibition of his Holiness and Justice.
- 3. The damnation of the finally impenitent, will greatly increase public confidence
in God. What a glorious magistrate is this, how infinitely desirous to avoid public
execution, and yet so attached to the principles of his government, so in love with
order, so high and holy in his regard to the public interests as to sentence his
own children to an eternal hell, if they persist in rebellion, and those very children
for whom his love is so great as to have laid down his own life for them! What must
the universe think of a sovereign that could do this! What an infinitely holy and
glorious king is this! And how must such an exhibition as this establish forever
the confidence of all holy beings in Him and his government.
- 4. The damnation of the wicked, as rejecters of the gospel, will give to the
law of God great power. The death of Christ has magnified the law, and made it honorable,
has manifested God's great regard for it, and demonstrated that, sooner than repeal
it, or suffer it to be trampled under foot, he would have his own Son to die, that
a way might be opened for setting aside its penalty in consistency with the honor
of its precept. The damnation of the wicked, will greatly strengthen the power of
his law, by showing that so high is God's regard for it, that when so costly an expedient
for setting aside its penalty had failed to subdue the sinner, he would execute his
penalty upon him notwithstanding his love and compassion for him, were infinitely
1. This subject sets in a strong light, the error of those who represent God the
Father as being angry with Christ, and as seeking his vengeance upon Him, and all
such like representations. On the other hand God says, "This is my beloved Son
in whom I am well pleased." Instead of God's being angry with Christ, He was
infinitely pleased with Him for undertaking the work of redemption.
2. From this subject, we see that sinners cannot rob God of his glory. Sinner, you
need not suppose that the Atonement will be lost to the universe, although you reject
it. It may be worse than lost to you. But to God and to the universe, it will not
be lost. Not one drop of the blood of Christ was shed in vain. And whether you accept
the Atonement or not, God's government shall receive the full benefit of Christ's
3. We see the mistake of those who hold to a limited Atonement, and alledge as a
main argument in its support, that if Christ died for all men, He died in vain for
those who are finally lost, and that such a provision were vain and useless. Now
this goes upon the supposition that the exhibition of God in the Atonement, is to
have no bearing upon his character and government in any other world than this. Nay,
it is founded in such a contracted view of the moral bearings of the Atonement, as
even not to see that in the estimation of those who are saved, a real provision for
those who reject, would be infinitely honorable to God.
4. From this subject we see that the value of the Atonement, is not at all to be
estimated by the number saved. If not one sinner was saved--if all mankind persisted
in rejecting it, the exhibition of that love which is made in the Atonement, would
be infinitely important to the universe, in confirming holy beings, and strengthening
the power of his government.
5. We see that the usefulness of ministers to the government of God, is not at all
to be estimated by the number of persons saved under their ministry. Look at the
text, "for" says the Apostle, "we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ
in them that are saved and in them that perish. To the one we are the savor of life
unto life, and to the other the savor of death unto death."
If then ministers fully exhibit Christ, God is as truly honored when men reject,
and are damned, as when they believe, and are saved. They cannot but be useful to
the universe in proportion to their faithfulness. Their usefulness respects God and
his government. To the sinner they may be "a savor of death unto death."
But unto God they are "a sweet savor of Christ not only in them that are saved,
but in them that perish." They hold forth the love of God in Christ. In this
God is glorified, and Christ is preached, in which they "do rejoice and will
rejoice," and in which all holy beings will rejoice; sinner, whether you are
saved or lost.
6. The opposition excited by preaching Christ, will as really glorify God, as the
holiness produced by it. I say nothing of the degree in which the one or the other
will glorify God. But that in both God will be really glorified. If the preaching
of Christ produces holiness, God will be glorified by it. If sinners rise up and
oppose, it will only further illustrate the nature of sin, and the character of sinners,
and more impressively illustrate his justice in their damnation.
7. Neither God nor ministers aim at the damnation of sinners, nor rejoice in their
destruction, when they are sent to hell. But they do rejoice in the triumph of justice,
in that infinitely glorious exhibition of God's character, which is made in their
8. The more singly and earnestly God and ministers desire and labor for the salvation
of sinners, the more their final damnation, if they are lost, will glorify God. If
God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--if ministers and Christians all labor earnestly
and honestly, and with all long suffering for the salvation of sinners, and they
will not be saved, then sinner, remember when you go weeping and wailing along down
the sides of the pit, God's justice will be the more glorious, by how much the greater
pains have been taken to save you.
9. To promote the salvation of men and to honor God in their damnation, ministers
must have strong and manifest sympathy with God. The more strongly they sympathize
with God the more fully will they exhibit his great desire to save men. And the more
fully they exhibit God the more thoroughly do they strip the sinner of all excuse
and show that his damnation is imperiously demanded by the principles of eternal
10. Ministers glorify God in proportion as they preach or exhibit the whole gospel.
If they pour out before the sinner the whole heart of Christ, if they exhibit Him
in all his love, relations and offices, if they unveil the fulness of his compassion
and grace, they are removing the sinner infinitely far from all excuse, and rendering
his damnation at every step, a more illustrious and impressive exhibition of the
holiness of God.
11. Opposition to the preaching of Christ is to be expected though not desired. Though
the damnation of the sinner will glorify God, yet his salvation is to be preferred,
as his salvation would glorify God, to say the least, as much as his damnation. In
addition to which his salvation is a real good in itself, and a good which God and
all holy beings greatly desire.
12. But if sinners will oppose, ministers should not be discouraged by it and feel
as if they were doing no good. My brother, if you are really preaching Christ, exhibiting
Him in your pulpit, in your life, and in all your ways, you are certainly doing good
and great good, to the universe, and greatly glorifying God. If every sinner in your
congregation goes down to hell, be not discouraged, my brother. "Hold up the
hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." But do you say my compassions
are moved for them, I cannot bear to be to them a savor of death unto death. How
shall I meet them in the Judgment and see them sent to hell--my neighbors, the people
of my prayers and my tears, the souls for whom my heart has groaned, and agonized,
and bled. My brother, God pities them more than you do. Christ's heart has bled for
them more than yours. They are the people for whom He has not only prayed and wept,
but for whom He has actually died. How shall he meet them in the Judgment, and weep
over them as He did over Jerusalem, and say, "O sinners, sinners, how often
would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would
not. O that thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace. But now are they
hidden from thine eyes." "How shall I give thee up? How shall I deliver
thee? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is
turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." O my brother lift up
your thoughts to the compassionate but infinite holiness and firmness of Christ.
He knew how these sinner would treat his Atonement. Notwithstanding He would die
for them. He knew that He should be to them a savor of death unto death; yet He knew
that He should greatly glorify God by dying for them and offering them mercy.
And now my brother, be willing to exhibit in your body the dying of the Lord Jesus.
Be willing to make up in your self-denying labors and sufferings, for their salvation,
the sufferings of Christ that remain, that through you, God may be glorified, that
you may be "unto God a sweet savor of Christ both in them that are saved and
in them that perish."
13. Here we have the true ground of consolation, when we see men hardening under
our ministry. If in revivals of religion, we estimate the good that is really done,
by the number of conversions only, we overlook one important item, in the amount
of glory that shall redound to God. The truth is, that in revivals of religion, ministers
are not only a sweet savor of Christ in them that are converted, but also in them
that are hardened. To the one class they are "a savor of life unto life, and
to the other of death unto death." In both these classes God is greatly glorified.
14. Every one may know, and is bound to know what effect the gospel is producing
on himself, and whether it is to him the "savor of life unto life or of death
15. We should observe what its effect is upon our families, and narrowly watch its
influence upon the minds of all around us, and lay ourselves out with all our might,
to make it the savor of life unto life. But if through the perverseness of the sinner's
heart, he will make it the savor of death unto death, let us rejoice not in his hardness
nor in his destruction, but in the fact that the holiness and justice of God will
be the more gloriously illustrated in his damnation.
16. And now sinner where are you? Did you ever realize the circumstances of awful
solemnity and responsibility in which God has placed you? Do you know what you are
doing? Do you understand the relation which the gospel ministry sustains to you?
Do you not tremble when you see your minister, and know that God has unalterably
ordained that he shall be unto you the "savor of life unto life, or of death
unto death"? Do you know that he is the messenger of God to your poor soul?--and
that you can no more prevent his being to you a savor of life or death, than you
can prevent your own existence. Sinner, Christ has not died in vain. Ministers do
not preach in vain. Christians do not pray in vain. The Holy Spirit does not strive
in vain. Heaven from above does not call in vain. Hell from beneath does not warn
in vain. God's mercies are not in vain. All these influences are acting upon you.
They will act, they must act. They must be to you the "savor of life unto life
or of death unto death." How infinitely solemn and awful are your circumstances.
How dreadful your responsibility! How short your life! How near your death! Are you
prepared for solemn judgment? Sinner will you go down instantly on your knees, and
offer up your whole being to God, "before wrath comes upon you to the uttermost"?
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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