What Saith the Scripture?
Thy Will Be Done
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
July 20, 1842
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Mat. 6:10: "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven."
1. EVERY system of Theology assumes the truth of some system of Mental Philosophy,
and indeed every theological opinion takes for granted, or assumes as true, some
principle of Mental Philosophy. And however much any man may rail against metaphysics,
still it is true that the railer himself has his system of metaphysics, by which
he interprets the Bible, and in consistency with which he frames his theological
opinions. It is very common, however, when any attempt is made to overthrow any theological
error, or to establish any theological truth, by an appeal to our own consciousness
of the laws of mind, and to the Bible as interpreted in view of these laws, for the
objector to cry out vehemently against metaphysics, as if this were a conclusive
objection to all such argumentation, that it is metaphysical. Now who does not know
that the objector himself, in attempting to establish an opposing theory, assumes
as true an opposite system of Mental Philosophy, and is no less metaphysical than
his opponent, notwithstanding his violent zeal against metaphysics?
2. The fundamental point of difference between the Old and New schools in Theology, respects the freedom of the will. From this point they diverge; and when consistently carried out, the two schemes or schools differ fundamentally on most of the important questions in theology. It is in vain to attempt to cover up this fact; for any one who has not seen it to be true, is yet ignorant of the great principles and legitimate bearing of the points at issue. Few men, however, of either school, are consistent throughout, and nothing is more common than to find old school men zealously contending for doctrines that properly belong only to the scheme of the new school theologians--when it is perhaps just as common to find new school men, as they call themselves, zealously defending dogmas that properly belong to the scheme of the old school, and can, with no consistency whatever, be embraced by a new school man as truth. And thus a strange confusion and inconsistency prevails among theologians of both schools, and it is remarkable, and even wonderful, that there should be so little consistency in the theological views of so great a majority of theologians of all schools.
3. I have stated that the point of divergence between the old and new schools is the freedom or necessity of the will. Upon this point, the old school maintain that the will always is as the greatest apparent good is; or, in other words, that the mind always chooses that which appears to be upon the whole the most agreeable--and that the choice is always determined by the objective motive, or that which is presented to the mind as a reason for choice. Many of them will not say, that choice is necessitated by motive, while at the same time they maintain that motive is the cause of choice as absolutely as a physical cause produces its effect. And that the difference between the determination of choice by motive and the production of an effect by a physical cause does not lie in the nature of the connection but in the nature of the terms connected--that the certainty is just as absolute in the one case as in the other. And when they explain themselves, it is manifest and self-evident, that the necessity is just as great in the one case as in the other.
4. Those who are truly consistent old school men maintain, and ever have, since the days of Augustine, that men are wholly and naturally unable to do any thing good--that their will is necessarily determined to evil by what they call original sin, or native depravity. They maintain that moral obligation implies no power whatever to act right, or to do the will of God. With them, sin is a necessity of human nature since the fall of Adam. And free agency amounts only to the power of committing sin.
If, according to their view, the will is necessitated by motives, then it follows that all action is necessary as opposed to free, and the doctrine of universal fatalism is true. But if the will is free, as is maintained by the new school, and all moral depravity belongs to moral action, then a system of theology directly the opposite of that of the old school, in nearly every important point, must be true.
That I may give this subject as fundamental a discussion as my time and the nature of the case admits, I will, the Lord willing, as briefly as I can, discuss the following propositions:
I. How we know any thing.
II. What are the primary faculties of the human mind.
III. Wherein human liberty consists.
IV. To what acts and states of mind moral responsibility extends.
V. What constitutes sin.
VI. What constitutes holiness.
VII. What the will of God is.
VIII. How it is done in heaven.
IX. What is implied in the sincere offering of the petition I have chosen for a text.
X. That nothing short of a state of mind that can sincerely offer this petition can be virtue, or true religion.
I. How we know any thing.
II. What are the primary faculties of the mind.
Consciousness does not directly give us the faculties themselves, but the mind infers them from phenomena perceived by consciousness. Every phenomenon, act, or state of mind implies a corresponding faculty; that is, that the mind possesses the power of performing that act. In other words, it is able to act in that manner. When, therefore, consciousness gives us certain classes of actions, we affirm with intuitive certainty that the mind possesses corresponding faculties.
There are three primary or fundamental classes of actions, namely--acts or states of the Intellect--acts or states of the Sensibility--and acts or states of the Will. By this language I mean--
Let it be understood, then, that the primary faculties, as implied in the phenomena
given by consciousness are Intellect, or Intelligence, Sensibility, and Will.
III. Wherein human liberty consists.
It cannot consist in acts or states of the Intelligence, or in acts or states of the Sensibility, but must consist in the sovereign power of willing or choosing in any direction, in view of an object of choice.
IV. To what acts and states of mind moral responsibility extends.
But the thought which I wish to impress here is, that the law levels its claims to present ability. The law does not say, love the Lord thy God with the strength you possessed when you was [sic.] a child, and serve Him only with the powers you then had, but with all the powers you at present have. If your capacity to serve God, and to promote the great ends of benevolence, has been increased, either by the grace of God or by their diligent use and development in the exercise of your own agency, the law does not satisfy itself with claiming the measure of obedience you might have rendered before this increase of ability, but requires that all your present strength and power shall be completely and unreservedly consecrated to God. So on the other hand, if your ability has been in any way diminished, either by your own act or in any other way, the law requires of you nothing more than that whatever power is left should be consecrated unreservedly and perfectly to God. If your ability has been abridged by your own fault, you are guilty for thus abridging it, and for this you may be punished. But you cannot be held responsible for not doing what you are no longer able to do. For example, suppose it were my duty last week to visit and warn a certain sinner to flee from the wrath to come, but the man is now dead and beyond my reach. For not warning him when I had opportunity I am guilty. But I am now under no obligation to warn him, for the simple reason that I am naturally unable to do so. I may justly be punished for my former neglect, but I cannot be held responsible for not warning him at the present time. If I cut off a hand, I can no longer be required to use it, though I may be guilty for cutting it off, and held responsible for that. In such cases, God requires repentance for the act that abridged our capacity, but in no case requires that which has become naturally impossible.
When a man loses the ability to pay his debts, and that too by his own fault, he is no longer under a moral obligation to pay them any faster than he has power to do so. He may be punished for rendering himself unable, but can no more be under a moral obligation to pay them while unable, than to warn a man who is dead, to flee from the wrath to come. The reason why he is no more under moral obligation in the one case than in the other is precisely the same, namely, that he has no power to do so.
So if a man becomes deranged by his own fault, he is not a moral agent while deranged, and his great sin lies in having made himself deranged.
The spirit of the legal maxim that a man shall not take advantage of his own wrong, is that the guilt of the act which incapacitates a man for duty, is equal to the guilt of all the default of which it is the cause.
It is maintained by some that the law of God does not limit its claims to present ability, but that it requires the same degree of service now, the same amount of love and zeal, and consequent usefulness in us that it might have required had we never curtailed our ability by sinning, but on the contrary had fully developed our powers by perfect and perpetual obedience. To this I answer,
So of our ignorance. We cannot be under obligation to do that of which we are
entirely ignorant, although our ignorance is our fault. James 4:17; "Therefore
to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Here it
is as fully implied as possible that if a man does not know to do good he is not
under obligation do to it. Our obligation is first to know what duty is and then
to do it. To do that of which we are entirely ignorant is naturally impossible and
can no more be morally binding upon us than it is to warn a dead man. Nor does it
alter the case if our ignorance is our fault. The sin lies in being ignorant, and
not in omitting to do that of which we have no knowledge Therefore the spirit of
the legal maxim, "Ignorantia legis non excusat," is that the guilt of wilful
ignorance is equal to all the default of which it is the cause, and not that a man
can be under moral obligation to perform impossibilities.
If the law requires the same amount of love and service that we might have rendered had we acquired all the knowledge possible, I see not how any saint in heaven can ever perfectly obey, for it will always remain true that he might have known numerous truths and relations more than at any given time he will know, had he not sinned in neglecting to know the truth. So that if the law require at present, and will forever require, all of every moral being that might have been required had he never sinned, it must remain true forever, not only that every saint on earth, but for all that appears, that every saint in heaven, will forever continue to fall short of rendering the obedience the law requires, and therefore live eternally in sin.
It is not a little curious and wonderful, that the same mind, as is often the case, should maintain the doctrine of natural ability in man to do all his duty, and yet that it is the duty of every individual to render the same service to God, in kind and in degree, that might have been rendered had he never sinned, and still admit that this degree of service, in this state, is naturally impossible. I not unfrequently meet with persons who call themselves new school men, who strongly contend for the doctrine of natural ability to do all God requires, and who will insist on men's being entirely holy, and urge and command the Church to forsake all sin, and yet inconsistently and absurdly maintain that to forsake all sin, and entirely to obey the law would imply the rendering of the same degree of service that they might have rendered had they never sinned, which they themselves admit to be impossible. I had in substance, the following conversation with a brother.
Do you believe in the doctrine of natural ability--that men are able to do all that God requires of them? Yes, he replied, and I insist as much as you do, upon their doing all their duty and being entirely holy. I asked again--Do you believe that doing their whole duty and being entirely holy implies entire obedience to the law of God? Yes, be sure I do. And you believe that men are naturally able to do this? Yes, was his reply, and I insist upon it as much as you do. I then asked, "Do you believe that the law of God levels its claims to the present ability of men, so that men are entirely able perfectly to obey? No, he replied, and I think there is your error. You so explain the law as to bring it down to the present ability of man. How else, I asked, should I do? If I insist upon man's natural ability perfectly to obey it, am I not bound so to expound it as to level its claims to their natural ability? But what do you do? Do you believe that the law of God requires of a man just that degree of love and service and efficiency that he might have rendered had he never sinned? Yes, said he, and this is the very point where we differ. I exalt the law, and maintain that God requires that every moral agent, however long he has sinned, however ignorant he may be, and how much soever he may have curtailed his natural ability by sin, should render the same degree of service he would have done had he never sinned; while you, he continued, still addressing me, so expound the law as to level its claims to the creature's present natural ability. And, my brother, I asked, which is most consistent. I so expound the law as to level its claims to the present natural ability of the subject, and then consistently urge him up to immediate and perfect obedience. You maintain that he is able perfectly to obey, but yet that the law requires that which you confess to be naturally impossible, and then absurdly call upon him to perform that which is by your own thus showing naturally impossible. Now what consistency or candor is there in your professing to believe in his natural ability to do all his duty, and then maintain that the law requires natural impossibilities, and all at the same breath denounce him for not keeping the whole law; maintaining that he is able to keep it, and yet inconsistently contending that it requires that which you confess to be naturally impossible? You are bound, as an honest man, to give up the doctrine of natural ability; to publish to the world that men are entirely unable to obey the law of God; and no longer insult their intelligence and outrage their sense of justice, by requiring them to perfectly obey it; or else so to interpret it as to bring obedience within the limit of their natural ability, and cease to denounce those as heretics who consistently and conscientiously do this. I say that you are bound to do this.
And here let me ask, if it is not a shame and a sin for persons to hold and teach
the doctrine of natural ability perfectly to obey the law--that the law requires
natural impossibilities--call upon men to universally and perfectly to obey the law
on pain of eternal death--and accuse those of being heretics and far gone in error,
who are consistent enough, while they maintain the doctrine of natural ability, to
maintain also that the law levels its claims to the present ability of men, and for
this reason call upon all men, every where, unreservedly and perfectly to obey it?
The very language and spirit of the law manifestly levels its claims to present human ability. The question therefore is what are men naturally able to do or avoid? Observe, the point of inquiry before us now is, to what acts and states of mind does moral responsibility extend. As I have shown that the law is the standard and that it levels its claims to present ability, the true inquiry is what acts and states of mind are possible to men, or what acts and states of mind can be avoided by them? We have already seen that consciousness gives us the phenomena of our own minds; and that whatever we know with certainty we know through the medium of our own consciousness. It teaches us that the will is the controlling faculty of the mind--that volition necessitates outward action. Volition also necessitates thought, feeling or emotion by directing the attention of the mind to subjects of thought and to objects calculated to excite emotion. Consciousness then teaches us that whatever is possible to man he can do by willing, and any thing that does not follow the act of his will is naturally impossible to him. If he cannot do it by willing and endeavor, and by sincerely intending and aiming to do it, it is naturally impossible to him. Consequently man cannot be responsible for any thing which he cannot do or avoid, by willing and endeavoring to do or avoid it. For example: If I will to move and my muscles do not obey volition, muscular action is impossible to me. If I will to think and thought does not follow, if I will to feel and direct my attention to corresponding objects and emotion does not follow, thought and emotion at the time are impossible to me. In short, whatever does not follow volition directly or indirectly as the natural and necessary result of volition, is impossible to me. So if I will to avoid any thing whatever, and the thing follows in spite of my volition, it is unavoidable by me. If by will and endeavor I cannot avoid it, the thing is necessary in such a sense that I am not responsible for its occurrence. Man therefore is not responsible,
1. For his nature being what it is;
2. Nor for the existence of the constitutional appetites and propensities;
3. Nor for the existence of the appetites or propensities under the appropriate circumstances of our being;
4. But he is responsible for their guidance, control and subjection to the law of God so far as they are subject to the control of the will.
But to the law and the testimony. The law of God is the rule, and by it we know to what acts and states of mind moral responsibility extends.
1. The law of God is in spirit a unit. Love, or benevolence, is the fulfilling of the whole law. This is repeatedly asserted in the Bible, that all the law is fulfilled in one word.
2. The love which constitutes obedience to the law of God is an act or state of the will, and consists in supreme, disinterested benevolence. This is all that the law requires; and man is responsible, and can be responsible only for this state of the will. If he is perfectly, and universally, and disinterestedly benevolent, he perfectly obeys the law of God. Whatever emotions, thoughts, acts, or states of mind do not follow from this state of the will, as its natural and necessary sequence, are naturally impossible to him, and therefore moral obligation cannot extend to them. Whatever thoughts, emotions, acts, or states of mind come to pass, notwithstanding this perfectly benevolent state of the will, he has no power to avoid, and therefore such acts, emotions, and states of mind, can have no moral character. To maintain the contrary of these positions, is not only to set all true philosophy aside, but is also a flat denial of the Bible itself.
3. It is abundantly taught, and again and again asserted in the Bible, that love, or benevolence, is the fulfilling of the law--that all the law is fulfilled in one word, love. And it should ever be borne in mind, and well considered by all men, that the Bible takes the very same ground upon this subject with true philosophy. Benevolence is good-willing. It is willing the good of being for its own sake, and on account of its intrinsic value; and, consequently, it is the very nature of benevolence to will every good according to its relative value, as perceived by the mind.
4. Every mind is to be guided by its own best judgment in respect to the relative value of different interests, except where God has revealed their relative value; in which case, this revelation is to decide us. But in applying the great principle of the law of God to human conduct, we are manifestly to be guided, not by the views which God has, nor which angels have, nor which any other beings except ourselves have, of the relative value of different interests. But we must judge for ourselves, under the best light afforded us, what is the relative value of the different interests with which we are surrounded, and how the law of God requires us to demean ourselves in respect to them. And every being wills right, or just as the law of God requires him to will, when he regards and treats every interest just as its relative value, as understood by his own mind, demands. When he wills every good for its own sake, and the promotion of every interest according to its relative value in his own best judgment, he fully obeys the law of God.
5. We have seen that the will necessitates thought, action, and feeling. Therefore, moral character cannot strictly belong to thought, action, or feeling. If I will to stab a man, moral character does not attach to the dagger--to the hand that holds it--to the muscle that moves it--but to the mind in the exercise of willing. The same is true of thought or feeling. Mind is strictly responsible only for its voluntary acts. And the moral character of all acts and states of mind is found in that act of the will that produced them by a natural necessity.
6. We have seen, and know by our own consciousness, that man is free and sovereign. He is, therefore, responsible for any act or state of mind that can be produced or avoided, directly or indirectly by willing and endeavor, and for nothing more or less. For the plain reason that every thing, more or less, is naturally impossible to him. Hence, the law of God makes all virtue to consist in benevolence. And if the Bible did not represent all virtue as consisting in benevolence, a correct philosophy, as learned from our own consciousness, would compel us to reject its authority.
7. If the will, then, is conformed to the law of God nothing can be morally wrong for the time being. For whatever does not follow by natural necessity, from this state of the will, is naturally impossible to us. So, on the other hand, if the will is wrong, nothing can be morally right; for, whatever acts or states of mind result from a wrong choice, by a natural necessity, have the same character, so far as they have any character at all, with the choice that produced them. This is the philosophy of total depravity. We truly say, that if a man's heart is wrong every thing that he does is wrong. By his heart we mean his choice, intention, purpose. If his intention or choice be selfish, nothing can be morally right; because his character is as his intention is; and it is naturally impossible that the emotions and actions which follow from a selfish intention should be morally right. If this is not true philosophy, then the doctrine of the total depravity of the unregenerate is not true.
8. The doctrine of total depravity as consisting in the selfish state of the will, and of entire holiness, as consisting in the benevolent state of the will, must stand or fall together. If any thing about a man can be sinful, while his will is in a perfectly benevolent state, it must be true that when the will is in a perfectly selfish state, some things or many things in the same mind may be at the same time truly holy. And if a man can be all the while sinning, while his heart or will is in a state of disinterested benevolence, he can all the while be partly holy, while his heart or will is unregenerate and in a state of entire selfishness. If the emotions and actions of a man whose will is in a perfectly benevolent state can be sinful, then the emotions or actions of a man who is in a perfectly selfish state can be holy. So also, if the actions and emotions which follow from a selfish state of the will must of necessity be sinful, so the actions which follow from a benevolent state of the will must in the same sense be holy.
9. Let it be remembered, therefore, that whoever maintains that present sinfulness can be predicated of a man in a perfectly benevolent state of the will, must also admit that holiness may be predicated of one in a perfectly selfish state of the will. This is the doctrine of the Bible, and the doctrine of true philosophy, that true benevolence, or the willing of every good according to its relative value, as perceived by the mind and for its own sake, is the whole of virtue. God's interest is to be willed as the supreme good, and every other interest according to its relative value, so far as we are capable of knowing. And this is holiness, and nothing else is.
V. What constitutes sin.
VI. What holiness is.
I now come to a direct examination of the text, and inquire,
VII. What the will of God is.
VIII. How is the will of God done in Heaven?
We are directed in the text to pray that the will of God may be done on earth as it is done in Heaven. In answer, then, to this inquiry, let me say,
I come now to a fundamental inquiry,
IX. What is implied in a sincere offering of this petition to God?
What is the real state of mind in which an individual must be, sincerely to offer this prayer?
X. Nothing short of a state of mind that can and does offer this petition sincerely, is true religion.
1. This petition in the mouth of a selfish being is hypocrisy. It must be in all cases downright hypocrisy for a selfish man to offer this petition to God.
2. This petition is hypocrisy on the lips of any one whose will is not in entire and universal harmony with the will of God so far as that will is known. If there be any thing in which the will is not entirely conformed to the known will of God, in offering this petition, the petitioner is a hypocrite, and abuses, flatters, and mocks God.
3. We see what Christ intended by the command, "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Many persons feel shocked at the idea of any one being even for a moment without sin in this life. And to expect to be, in any proper sense, perfect in this life is with them wholly out of the question. From the manner in which they speak of the subject of perfection, it would seem Christ's command to be perfect as God is perfect is a most extravagant requisition, and something which Christ did not so much as expect would be obeyed in this world. If they are consistent also they must suppose that in requiring us to offer this petition to God, He must have intended that we should use the language of hyperbole, and not that we should seriously expect or even suppose it possible that the will of God should be done on earth by any human being as it is done in heaven. But the truth is that Christ simply intended to require men to be truly religious. We have just seen that nothing short of that state of the will that is for the time being as perfectly conformed to the will of God as is the will of the inhabitants of heaven, can by any possibility be true religion. He meant therefore merely to say, be truly religious. Be what God requires you to be. Do not rebel in any thing against the will of God, but be upright, sincere, or perfect, which is the same thing. It is therefore, as I have before said, true that every moral being that can sincerely offer this prayer is, and must be, in his measure, for the time being, so far as the state of his heart is concerned, as perfect as God.
4. In another sense, every moral being in the universe comes infinitely short of being as perfect as God is. God's knowledge is infinite, and his will is entirely conformed to his infinite knowledge. The knowledge of every other being is finite, and conformity of will to finite knowledge must of necessity fall infinitely short of conformity of will to infinite knowledge.
5. Entire conformity of heart or will to all known truth, is moral perfection, in the only sense in which a moral being is ever perfect.
In a little child who had but one ray of light and the knowledge of but one moral truth in his mind, entire conformity of heart to that truth would be in him moral perfection. Nothing less in him could be virtue, and nothing more could be required. Whether one, ten, ten thousand, or ten thousand million truths and relations are apprehended by the mind, nothing short of conformity to them all can by any possibility be virtue. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." In God nothing can be virtue short of conformity to all the truth known to Him. The same is true of the highest moral agent as well as the lowest. And nothing more or less is properly intended by moral perfection than universal conformity to all known truth.
6. Let not the distinction between perfection as a state and perfection as an act be overlooked. The thing for which we are required to pray in the text, no doubt, is a state of perfection, or of entire conformity to the will of God, and that this may be as universal on earth as it is in heaven.
7. A state of mind that can habitually offer this petition must be in entire conformity to all known truth, or in other words it must be in that state intended by entire consecration to God.
8. If the question be asked whether a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, let it be answered by inquiring whether a state of mind that can sincerely and habitually offer this petition to God, is attainable?
9. The petition for pardon in the Lord's prayer, must respect past sin, and cannot respect the state of mind in which this petition can be offered sincerely. For a man cannot be sinning while he is sincerely saying, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
10. What perfect mockery it is to teach thoughtless children to say the Lord's prayer and offer this petition. And what a dreadful influence it must have upon them to teach them to offer this prayer without instructing them with reference to its meaning, and informing them of the great wickedness of insincerity.
11. How this petition sounds as it is used in the Church service and repeated by hundreds and thousands of thoughtless sinners, who neither know nor care what they say. Many offer it and mean nothing by it; and some offer the petition and leave it for others to do the will of God, considering, it would seem, that it is their part to offer the petition, and leave it for others to live according to it.
12. The request for pardon is never lawful and acceptable to God, except only when the mind is in a state in which it can sincerely offer this petition. If this petition cannot be sincerely offered, and the soul cannot sincerely say "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," it is in a state of present rebellion against God, and therefore has no right to ask for forgiveness.
13. The great mass of professors of religion have, I fear, fallen entirely short of conceiving rightly of the nature of true religion, and it is high time that the subject were thoroughly investigated, and that the Lord's prayer in its true spirit and import should be deeply pondered by the Church, and the inquiry should be raised, what is implied in the sincere offering of this prayer to God. Unless these fundamental inquiries are started and pressed, until the Church come to an intelligent understanding of them, false hopes will continue to be cherished, and thousands of professing Christians will go down to hell.
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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