What Saith the Scripture?

On Being Almost Persuaded to be a Christian

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture III
March 14
, 1855

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Acts 26:28: "Agrippa said unto Paul -- almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."

Discussing the subject presented here, I shall,

I. Notice the fact that men are made Christians by persuasion.

II. Show what are not reasons why they are not altogether persuaded.

III. What are the reasons why they are only almost and not altogether persuaded.

I. Men are made Christians by persuasion.

II. It is next pertinent to inquire what are not the reasons why men fail of being persuaded to become Christians.

Ordinarily, it is not for want of intellectual conviction that they ought to become Christians. For the most part, in Christian lands, the gospel has been preached so fully and so truly that the general intelligence is enlightened, and all men know that they ought to put away sinning and embrace the salvation provided for them in the gospel. They fail to do this, not for want of sufficient reasons to carry conviction that they ought to. Especially, we may say, that almost everyone has light enough before his mind to carry conviction of this duty, if he were honest and would weigh this question seriously and with candor.

The real and exact difficulty is, they do not make up their mind to obey the decisions of conscience and their better judgment. They are not so persuaded as to determine to act now. For the most part they hope to become Christians at some time. As Agrippa, so they, do not yield to their convictions. Selfish considerations overrule their better judgment.

Here I may safely appeal to your own consciences. Let me come very near to you, even as if I were alone with you and were to urge upon your honest hearts this plain question. Is it not a matter of fact that you are in reason and conscience convinced that you ought to become Christians, but yet you suffer some selfish reasons to prevail over you, and deter you from doing manifest duty? You know you ought to do it; you know the reasons why you do not are utterly unsound -- radically selfish!

III. Let us see what these reasons are -- the reasons why you are only almost persuaded to become a Christian.

This is for many reasons more often the case with young men than with young women, yet is sufficiently apt to occur with the latter, in some seductive form, and of such power as to overrule all the demands of conscience.

Those who feel this may not be fully conscious of it; but such is the fact. God's rights do not weigh, in their minds, as a straw. You may talk to them of God's right to govern them; you make no sort of impression. What is the reason of this? It is not that they regard God's claims as a dream of somebody's imagination, and deny the fact; but it is because they have a deep and overpowering contempt for God, and therefore no appeal on that ground reaches their sensibility -- nothing arouses them to action. So deep and so utter is their want of moral honesty, every appeal based on God's rights falls powerless. In their esteem, moral obligation is equivalent to no obligation at all. There is in their minds a total lack of all honorable sentiments, feelings and principles of action, as towards God. Not one sentiment of honor toward the great God! Does honor bind the child to revere his parent? What would you say of one who had been dependent on you for everything, and yet should totally disregard all his obligations to you? Suppose the obligation to be the greatest possible from man to man; and the disregard to be as utter as the sinner manifests towards God, how would you feel? Horrified! You would have such feelings of indignation, you could scarcely think of the offender with calmness. And yet what are the utmost obligations of man to man, compared with those of all men towards God?

So of a young woman who is accomplished and moral, yet withholds her heart from God. She is altogether in the way of saving souls, and all the more because she has so much morality. I saw a young lady of this description enter a sick room where lay one of her young associates, just passing away to the realities of another world. Calling forward this moral sinner, she reached forth her pale hand, saying, "I am not a Christian because I leaned on you. You were so moral and so happy in sin, you had the greatest influence over me, and I easily put off the claims of my God and Savior." That young lady trembled and begged to be excused that she might retire from such a scene, but the dying girl said, "No, no; you must hear me now, my last words. How could you let me go on in my sins! Oh, my soul is lost!"

The great difficulty with sinners is that they take a selfish view of the whole subject. Having fully committed themselves to their own interests, all considerations are viewed in a selfish light. They regard nothing, save as it addresses either their hopes or their fears. If this striking fact were properly considered, it would show the need and the character of the divine Spirit's influences.

Sinners, taking only a selfish view of God's claims, are not at all prepared to take a disinterested view of the subject. They are not prepared to become Christians, although they are quite prepared to look around and see if they cannot become more happy.


1. Sin is the greatest mystery in this world. How can it be accounted for? I have often wondered at the case of men convinced of duty, who yet will persist in their sins, despite the utmost reason to forsake them. Sometimes they seem to be infatuated. In fact, they are. It is a spiritual infatuation!

2. How strange to hear sinners object to the mysteries of religion. Indeed! They assume that there is something vastly mysterious in religion, and therefore they cannot embrace it! There can be no greater mystery than sin! All the mysteries in religion are as nothing compared with the mystery of sinning! It is safe to say that if we had not facts to prove it, nobody could believe that men would persist in sin as they do, despite all conceivable reasons to the contrary course. What can be more strange? Sin is indeed a mystery so deep, who can tell what it is and why it is? Surely, no sinner can tell. See that sinner hold his soul, as it were, in his hand, play with it as with a top, and then in the face of Calvary, throw it into hell! Knowing full well that sin brings him no good, but only evil; assured, too, that all good is given by piety, he can yet throw his soul away, for nothing! Truly, this is one of the mysteries of the universe, to be resolved into the sovereignty of a free agent abusing his liberty of free action, having been created with power to abuse it at his own option.

3. The infatuation of the sinner is an obvious fact. People may abuse Adam and other agencies tending to sin, as much as they please. Yet they cannot help knowing that this infatuation is a matter of their own, and that whatever relation it may bear to any other beings or agencies in the universe, themselves alone are to blame for their own sin. They inwardly know that they are the sole authors of their own sin, how much so ever other agencies may have been its occasions and temptations. The dreadful infatuation lives and reigns in their own souls. Suppose you were to see thousands of people rushing towards and over a precipice, and should also see all sorts of influences thrown in their way to stop them; fathers and mothers rushing in before them with imploring cries, beseeching them to stop -- pleading, rebuking, yet all in vain; on they go, and over, and down, down they plunge, with eyes wide open; how astonishing! Whole oceans of men, rushing down the steep of death -- an army of maniacs! No wonder that when Christians get their eyes open to this fearful scene, they almost die! They would if they were long subjected to this dreadful view without some sort of alleviation. You hear them saying, "Lord, I shall surely die unless Thou interpose to save these sinners, or in some way relieve me from this dreadful position of seeing souls perish before my very eyes!"

4. How shocking to hear sinners claim that they are doing about right, while yet they live in utter sin against God and the Lamb! They claim that they have none but honorable feelings and sentiments, and even talk of their moral honesty! What a burlesque upon the truth is all such talk as this! Especially, how strange is it that such sinners should set themselves up for reformers! There is something supremely ridiculous in these pretensions to be reformers. They, who have not the first particle of genuine benevolence -- who can rob God of everything they owe Him, yet profess to love the poor slave and the poor inebriate! How deep does this love go down? Is there any moral bones in it at all? If I am morally honest, can I rob and abuse my own mother? Having done just this and all this, can I then turn around and make pretensions to honor and propriety? Yet the sinner, having robbed God all his life-time, pretends to honor, and even to practice, righteousness!

5. When a man has all needful convictions of duty, he is then and thenceforth, without excuse. Every honest man's position is this: Show me what I ought to do, and I will do it. No other question need be asked than this one -- Ought I to do this? This question settled, nothing more is needed. To settle the question of oughtness, and then stop there without doing duty, is to tempt God. It is to provoke Him to consuming wrath! Such a sinner is utterly without excuse. "I know, says he, that I ought to do this." Then you must do it -- as you would be a man, and would acquit yourself of a man's responsibilities! Say -- "Anything that is my duty, I will do at all hazards; if it be my duty, I will begin now!" But to see intelligent and moral beings throw all these obligations and convictions to the winds -- how fearful!

6. For sinners to wait God's time to repent, is infinitely absurd. God's time is now; you wait, just to miss His time and provoke Him to deny you any more time at all. You are persuaded of your duty now. What more do you ask of God than this? What more can you in reason desire of God than that He should reveal to you your condition, your peril, your way of escape, and the reasons which urge you to flee for help to the Lamb of Calvary? All this He has done; and now, in tones of love and pity, calls on you to give heed to His call. Will you do it?

of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart

  1. 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 XII).

  2. 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).

  3. 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).

  4. 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).

  5. 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).

  6. 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).

  7. 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).

  8. 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 III).

  9. 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).

  10. 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).

  11. 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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