What Saith the Scripture?
Owing God- No. 1
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
June 24, 1857
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"How much owest thou unto my Lord?"
These words are part of the parable of the unjust steward. In this parable Christ
teaches the importance of using wealth so as to fulfill the conditions of being received
It is not my purpose to comment on the parable itself. I select this verse as my
text, not for its doctrine, but for its suggestions. In this way texts are sometimes
selected, not as teaching any special doctrine, but because they forcibly suggest
truths elsewhere taught.
This question -- "How much owest thou unto my Lord?" leads us to consider,
I. The rights of God.
II. How much hast thou already paid?
III. What has been the foundation-motive for this act?
IV. What does God propose to do in the case? And what does He propose to have done?
I. The rights of God.
These should be considered in several different relations.
Our age is remarkable for a great deal of talk about rights; inalienable rights;
rights of the North and of the South; State rights; Federal rights and Woman's rights;
-- every other sort of rights but God's rights. On the latter, little is said, little
seems to be thought. I propose to speak to you this morning in behalf of God's rights;
- 1. His rights as Creator of the universe. That He is the sole Creator of the
universe is a fact assumed on all hands, and therefore there is no occasion to prove
This fact must invest Him with an absolute right of property in everything made,
and pre-eminently in the intelligent beings on whom He has conferred His richest
Let it be noted that the rights of property resting in all other beings but God are
relative; God's only are absolute. A right that a man has to his coat or his wages
may be good as against the claim of his fellow-man, but is no right as against the
claims of God. God's rights, on the contrary, are absolute, in the sense of being
everywhere and always good -- good against all other claims possible or conceivable.
- 2. Let us also consider His rights as conditioned on His susceptibilities. Being
a moral agent, with infinite sensibilities to happiness, He must have an infinite
claim on all the moral subjects of His government to promote His happiness. Deeply
susceptible to the happiness of having affectionate children to love and trust Him,
this very susceptibility creates an obligation on their part to render Him the love
and homage which will conduce to His happiness. This consideration seems to be strangely
overlooked by most of His creatures in this world.
- 3. Next, let us study His rights as conditioned on His natural and moral attributes.
The natural attributes of God; omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc., are
all in their nature infinite. Whatever claim on us and right on His part can result
from such attributes, must therefore be unlimited, because there can be no limit
to His knowledge, power or presence.
- (1.) His moral attributes; benevolence, justice, mercy, etc., are all perfect
in kind and in degree, and hence God's right on the score of possessing these attributes
must be unlimited.
- (2.) The mutual relations existing between these two classes of attributes serve
to perfect their claim on us. For if God were perfectly good, yet without omniscience
and wisdom, He might make mistakes. If He were ever so well disposed, yet lacked
the requisite power to carry out His purposes, such a failure must make an important
deduction from the respect due Him and from the trust we might repose in His government.
But now, being not only good but all-wise and all-powerful, He never can mistake
and never can fail in any of His endeavors. Hence no subject of His can ever doubt
that His claims are infinite; none, that He deserves our implicit and perfect confidence.
This will not be denied, yet it may not have been well considered.
- (3.) I have said that on the mere ground of His susceptibility to happiness,
He has a claim on our benevolence. I now add, that on the mere ground of His goodness,
He has an infinite claim on our complacency.
- (4.) On grounds already presented He has a claim on our cordial affection. Perfect
goodness constitutes an eternal foundation for this claim.
- (5.) Being both wise and good, He has the highest possible claims on our sympathy.
Himself engaged in the noblest object possible -- that of blessing His great family
to the utmost extent of His resources, He rightly claims the cordial co-operation
of all intelligent beings. Every one of them is bound to promote this same object
with all his powers. The same reasons that move God to labor for this end should
also move His creatures. Of course this implies that God has a right to our universal
and perfect obedience. Being wise and good, He is bound to rule; the interest of
His moral universe bind Him; and consequently, they equally bind us to obey.
This obligation includes the universal submission of all His creatures to everything
He does or omits to do. It is their business to acquiesce in all His ways and with
unqualified confidence and resignation. And we should not make a virtue of a forced
submission, yielding to His will because we cannot help it; but should submit to
His doings because we know He is worthy to be trusted. Even when we cannot fathom
the reasons of His course, we yet know He must have good reasons, and are bound to
honor Him by the most implicit confidence.
- (6.) God has a claim also on our universal adoration and praise. He rightfully
claims that we should acknowledge His attributes and duly appreciate His character,
and that we should also commend His character and His infinite worthiness to others.
No one can honestly deny this.
- (7.) Let us also consider those rights of God which are conditioned on our dependence
and on His fatherly care. We live and move and have our being in Him. He feeds and
clothes us; sustains us in life and crowns this life with His love. Our dependence
on Him is absolute and perfect, since we have no power to make our own blood to flow,
or lungs to heave or our digestive organs to work. Not one of these life-processes
is under our own control, so that we can dispense with God's upholding hand.
He sent these young people here to school; supported them before they came here;
gives them life and health and all things. How much do you think it has cost Him
already? Sometimes persons seem quite thoughtless of what God does for them and how
much it costs Him to supply their wants. One winter during my absence from home,
my eldest son thought he would keep account with his mother of work done and of benefits
received. He kept it faithfully one week. When he came to settlement, he was greatly
surprised to find himself so deeply in debt. Notwithstanding he had done some little
things, he found he had by no means paid for his board, room, tuition and clothing.
He looked very thoughtful. It was a new idea that he was always to be in debt, and,
so deeply in debt too. What could he do?
So it would be in your account with God. Perhaps you have never thought of it; but
if you ever were to think of it, you would see that it costs far more to supply your
wants than you have been wont to think. How much owest thou unto my Lord for all
His care in supplying your wants?
I once met an old man who used tobacco, and asked him how much it had cost, and how
much he supposed God had charged against him for his waste of God's money on this
filthy indulgence. I said to him -- Estimate also how much time it has wasted and
how much of your strength; how much mental power; and how much you have lost of the
spirit of prayer. He paused a few moments, and said "I never thought of it in
this light before. I do not know what I can say for myself."
God has been every way your benefactor. Now, what has He a right to expect from you?
Certainly, that you should abstain from everything injurious to yourself or to others.
If parents may demand so much as this from their children, how much more may God,
of His! You cannot hear the conduct of ungrateful children spoken of without tears.
What, you exclaim, can that son so abuse his own father, and the mother that bare
him! Can he forget how they watched around his bed in his sickness, and bore with
him in his waywardness and folly?
- (8.) These obligations you say are not mere abstractions by any means, but are
the most solemn realities. Yet they are as nothing, compared with the rights of God
and the claims He has on His creatures, and the wrongs done Him when He is treated
with ingratitude of heart or life.
- 4. Let us next consider His rights as conditioned upon redemption. O might we
only see what an amount of obligation He has rolled upon us by redeeming us from
the curse of the law and at such a cost!
- (1.) Think how He took us out of the hands of public justice -- a thing He had
no right to do and could not honorably do until He had first honored public justice
and satisfied its claims. Do not start at this and say -- Has not God the right to
do anything He pleases? Let it be considered that although God has rights, so also
have the universe of beings whom He had made. For their sakes, God could not pardon
one sinner, until He had duly regarded the claims of public justice. This He might
accomplish in either of two ways. He might execute the penalty on every sinner, or
He might devise some equivalent which should answer governmentally the same purpose,
inasmuch as it would equally manifest the heart of the King towards His law and the
welfare of His subjects. The latter course was chosen, and a substitute was found
in His own beloved Son on whom He "laid the iniquities of us all."
- (2.) How much did He pay? Suppose there is a similar exigency upon you. You are
a public officer. It devolves on you to sustain law by administering the penalty,
or its equivalent. The law is broken; will you smite, or will you spare?
You have an only son, dear to your heart. Can you give him up to shame and to
an agonizing death for the sake of safely pardoning those transgressors? Can you
estimate how much a sacrifice of this sort would cost you?
- (3.) God has bought you with a price. Bought? Did He not own you altogether before?
Yes, but you had brought yourself into such relations to public justice that He must
needs buy you again, or you are lost. Now, what are His rights as conditioned on
His having paid the price of your soul -- paid it too by the blood of His own and
only Son! Does not this purchase intensify His claims and augment them exceedingly?
Suppose you had violated the laws of this State, and the Governor had sacrificed
his own son to deliver you. Would you not feel that he had fresh claims on you, immensely
greater than ever before? You had no claims on him but those of your own wretchedness,
and yet he gave heed to those claims. And yet all this, if true, would give us but
a faint illustration of what God has done for you through the sacrifice of His Son.
Have you ever considered how vast, how deep, how infinite your obligations to Him
must be? Surely He has a right to your deep, unselfish, and infinite devotion. Christ
died for all, that they who live by His death should not henceforth live to themselves,
but to Him who hath loved them and given Himself for them. Ought you not to devote
to Him a life thus saved -- a soul thus redeemed? What! Has He redeemed you from
death that you might oppose Him and live to yourself? Do you not see that He has
a claim on you for all your possible love and service? Surely there is no service
possible on your part which is not most emphatically due to Him who hath loved and
- (4.) God's rights are peculiar and infinitely great. They are peculiar, because
none are altogether like them in kind; none can ever approach them in degree. In
the broad field of human relations, there are some rights which are analogous, so
much so that they aid us in understanding the nature of God's claims on us; yet none
can be found in all respect like His. Thus for example no rights of property can
be absolute save those of God. All other property-rights are only relative. My rights
to my property are good against the claims of fellow-beings; but they are nothing
against the claims of God. He owns me and mine. But my fellow-beings do not own either.
- (5.) God's rights are peculiar in degree. The rights of no other being are infinite;
His are. No being has infinite susceptibilities but God; consequently none but God
has a claim on His creatures for infinite benevolence.
There is no other being whose rightful authority is universal and infinite. The
rights of every other being to authority are so far below His that we must regard
them as infinitely less. All the rights of parents to authority over their children
-- of kings to rule over their subjects, -- all vanish to nothing compared with His.
Yet parents and kings have rights of authority. But they are only the shadow, of
which God's infinite authority is the substance.
What would any of you who are students think of yourself if you had trampled on the
reasonable authority of one of your teachers? If you had a just sense of your own
meanness, you would be ashamed to be seen in the streets -- ashamed to hold up your
head. How much more if you had contemned the whole Faculty! You would feel within
you the deep mutterings of self-reproach, just indignation and shame, because you
had set at nought an authority which you are bound to respect.
Alas how little men think of their obligation to love and honor God!
- (6.) There is no other being whose rights and claims are sustained by every possible
consideration. Let any one of you look at the considerations that bear of whom it
is true that obligation comes from every possible source -- grows out of every relation,
presses you from every side, springs up from every spot beneath your feet and looks
down with authority from every point above you? Truly there is no limit and no measure
to this obligation.
- (7.) God has a right to claim that every man should treat himself and everybody
else as belonging of right to Him. He has a right therefore to keep an account with
you and to charge you with every meal He puts on your table and gives you health
to partake; with every breath you draw; with all the strength you have to use; with
all that property which should be used for Him. Why not? Is not this true? You know
and must admit it. And you also know that if these gifts of God are not so used for
Him, He is really wronged; and more wronged than we can ever be by any robbery of
what we call ours. The wrong is higher in kind, by so much as His rights and claims
are greater and higher in their nature than ours can be.
Moreover, it is not only true that a wrong inflicted on God is higher and more
aggravated than any wrong against man can be, but it is also true that He will realize
and feel it more keenly that we ever can. The more holy a man is the more keenly
will he feel any injustice. No matter whether the injustice be done against himself,
or against someone else. He may have a forgiving spirit and yet may feel the wrong
only the more keenly. He will feel it the more by how much the greater his holiness
So God must have a keener sense of the injustice done to Him than any creature can
have of the injustice done against a creature. Yet farther; God's sense of this wrong
and injustice is greater than the aggregate of all the wrong and of all the sense
of wrong and injustice ever felt in the universe. You talk about the sense of wrong
felt by the slave. No doubt it is often keen. You speak of the wrong done to parents
by their ungrateful children; but what is all this compared with that which God experiences
and which He suffers?
What will you think of the forbearance of God -- say, ye who have suffered injustice
so long and have felt the pang so keenly? You have been a slave perhaps and you have
felt the iron of oppression enter into your very soul. You have felt a sense of wrong
enkindled in your bosom, which is seemed to you could never be extinguished -- and
you cried out -- How long, O Lord; O Lord, how long wilt Thou not avenge our blood!
If you were to be reproved for this intense feeling, you would reply -- you need
to be a slave yourself and to feel these wrongs in your own bosom; then you could
better judge! It is only a mockery of others' unknown woes, for you to talk about
meekness and patience, when you know nothing about this sense of wrong!
How much more keenly God must feel! Who can measure the depth of the keenness of
His sense of the wrongs done to Him?
We sometimes see women feel deeply indignant underneath the wrongs they suffer. This
may be not without some reason. But let us look into the reason God has for feeling
this sense of injustice. Come, count up all the wrongs heaped on Him; measure all
the accumulated sense of wrong ever felt in the universe; what is all this, compared
to the sense of wrong felt by God, coming upon Him from the abuse He receives from
Yet God's forbearance holds out still. His infinite heart waits yet. His patience
and forbearance are not yet exhausted. O how would you feel! You think it an insult
if anyone whispers in your ear a hint about longer forbearance. You cannot bear it.
Then what will you think of God's unutterable forbearance and long-suffering?
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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