What Saith the Scripture?
Great Peace- No. 2
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
February 26, 1862
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Psa. 119:165: "Great peace have they who love thy law, and nothing shall offend them."
That "nothing shall offend them."
The word "offend" means -- to stumble, to cause to fall. The thing affirmed therefore is -- that while this love of God's law continues in the heart, nothing shall offend them.
Now a mystery is not as absurdity. As absurdity involves a perceived contradiction -- points intuitively seen to be either self-contradictory or contradictory to some evident truth. It is that which is plainly contradictory to reason; but a mystery is something above reason. It is something we cannot account for, and which, perhaps, we cannot so analyze as to grasp or comprehend; but still it does not plainly contradict reason -- it only lies beyond its grasp.
Now a loving, confiding heart approaches all such revealed truths with awe. He accepts them as declared facts or truths, and exclaims with the Psalmist -- "My heart is not haughty, neither are mine eyes lofty; nor do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of its mother; my soul is even as a weaned child."
This truth is high, so high I cannot attain to a perfect comprehension of it. It is deep: I cannot explain it. It is too broad for me to compass it. I accept the fact, for I am but small; I am but as a little one: it is enough that my Father says so, and here my soul shall rest.
It is not unfrequently the case that the providences of God seem to us at the time, unreasonable -- perhaps, even cruel, or unjust, or contrary to his character as revealed in the Bible.
It may seem so on the face of it. It is true that a more thorough consideration of the whole subject will show that the God of Providence and the God of the Bible are one. Still events will often occur that greatly stumble ungodly souls. It is amazing to see the amount of strife against God's providence that is manifest in this world. Men seem not aware of the fault they are continually finding with God.
To avoid the conviction that they are contending with God in providence, they either deny or overlook the fact that God is concerned in the events against which they contend. Really the world is full of complaint and dissatisfaction with God, because of his providence.
But it is not so with any who love God's law all such accept every event as occurring under God's providence, and they consequently exclaim -- These are but parts of thy ways: they are mysterious; I cannot explain them, yet I cordially accept them. I do not ask God to explain to me his reasons for them prematurely. I know there must be good and sufficient reasons for them. In due time I shall know what these reasons are. At present I do not care to know. I prefer to trust. I want room left for faith. I would feel myself, and would have God see that I can trust him, however mysterious his present providences may be.
But one who loves God's law will be greatly grieved with the sins of good men, yet it will not cause him to fall, but will rather make him cry out -- Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. It will inspire him with awe and fear, and cause him to cling more closely to the cross.
1. This 119th Psalm has always appeared to me to reveal true Christian experience in a striking manner. The state of mind expressed in every verse of this psalm, is just what Christians are experiencing as they move along in their pilgrimage. It would seem as if the Psalmist had copied from a diary of his own exercises. If thoughtful, intelligent Christians were in the habit of recording in a diary their daily exercises, they might after a few years, copy from their own diary all the essential points found here. Hence I think this psalm must have been an inspired diary. The saint who wrote it was a poet, and inspired of God to select such passages from his own experience as are here recorded. It is a Bible experience, perfectly replete with the Bible. At every verse the love of God's word and law boils up, and shows clearly the state of mind which every Christian is conscious of passing through.
2. How opposite is this experience to the Antinomian experience of many who profess to be Christians. Antinomians talk about loving the law of God, but they do not wish to hear about duty. They want to hear about "doctrine," -- by which they mean justification in sin, and by a faith that does not sanctify. By "doctrine" they mean that by one act of faith, men are brought into such a state of perpetual justification, that however they may live afterwards they are still saved. Justification by an unjustifying faith, is their doctrine. You do not hear them exclaiming -- "Oh how love I they law!" How I love duty! How I love all God's commandments! How I love the obligation of every requirement of God! Ah! preaching duty to them is not edifying: it is legal to them; it is not comforting; it is not gospel. They want to be told that they are justified by their one act of faith while they are living in sin.
But just read from this 119th psalm, and see if you find any antinomianism here.
3. The state of mind of which I have been speaking finds the deepest satisfaction in the preceptive parts of God's word. It is so well satisfied with God's requiring such things, it perceives so much divine fitness, propriety, and beauty in these requirements, that its own highest ideal of what God should require is fully met. It would be dissatisfied if God required less. Such a soul loves to yield implicit obedience to God. This is its life and joy. It finds the very oil of its joy and life in the obedience it so cordially renders to God.
4. To hear duty preached is always very agreeable and edifying to those who love God's law. Herein a minister will soon find on whom he can depend as true Christians. Let him bring forth the preceptive parts of the Bible, and he will find at once who love the law of God. There are many who will appear to be greatly edified if you preach to them simply justification by faith, leaving out of view the requirements of God. While you only hold up Christ as a justifying Savior, they seem to be greatly delighted, and say -- how precious he is! But when you urge upon them his most express requirements, they are not pleased. They think this is legal. It is not gospel!
5. From what has been said, it is easy to see how God's revealed will often detects false hopes. His will revealed in providence will often detect professors of religion in being the enemies, not the friends, of God. They seem to be his friends while every thing goes to suit them; but if God's providence or will runs across their path and interferes with their selfish schemes, he touches them; they rebel; they stumble; they are too much tried; they begin to complain, and you see that they do not love the law of God.
6. We can see why it is that many professors of religion have been stumbled, and have even become skeptics by the conformity and sins of the church of God. Since the anti-slavery agitation has commenced, we have had in this country many mournful examples of this. The conservatism of ministers and their want of sympathy with the slave, have caused some to renounce religion, and to lose all confidence, not only in the piety of those conservative professors, but in the reality of religion itself.
Now, so far as my observation extends, it is a remarkable fact that this class of persons, who have become skeptics under such circumstances, never manifested a loving zeal in religion. Their religion never seemed to be love. Their zeal was rather legal than loving and of the gospel. So far as I have known it, their religion was rather of the head than of the heart. They have stumbled; but there is no good reason to think that they loved the law of God, for if they had, their experience and consciousness would have put it out of the question for them to give up religion itself, the Bible, prayer, and communion with God. Not even if tens of thousands should stumble all around them, yet with their experience of the truth of religion, and of the love of God and of his law, it would seem that they could never give up the Bible as God's word and the religion of Jesus as from heaven.
7. A sense of condemnation in the soul reveals the fact of non-acceptance of God's whole will. I often find persons who are manifestly under conviction. They are in trouble and under a sense of condemnation, yet they often think they accept God's whole will. But in this they are manifestly mistaken.
God knows there is some point not yet yielded. As soon as his whole will is accepted, all is quiet. This conscious quietness and peace, beget hope and remove a sense of condemnation.
8. This union with God's will is the end of strife and the beginning of heaven in the soul. No man knows or can know real happiness until his strife against God ceases. He is forever annoyed by the revelations of God's will in providence, and in all its other ways of manifestation. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." There is no end in time and no bound in space to the disturbing elements that disquiet the soul of one who is striving with his Maker. An omnipotent influence struggles against him. That Holy Ghost and conscience within him, and the providence of God without, forbid his having rest of soul.
But let him yield his whole being to the law or will of God, and then nothing can stumble him. He lives and moves and has his being in God, and if at peace with God and with himself, though the surface of his sensibilities might be filled with pain, yet in the depths of his soul, he has rest deeper than words can express. It is often surprising to see how much pain there may be in the sensibility and yet peace at the bottom of the mind.
In crossing the Atlantic some years since, we were overtaken by a gale of wind. Upon the deck the roar and confusion was terrific. The sea boiled like a pot. The spray from the crests of the waves blew upon the face with almost force enough to blister it. While I stood upon deck, the noise of the waves howling and roaring and foaming was almost deafening.
But when I stepped into the engine room, every thing was quiet. The mighty engine was moving with a quietness and stillness in striking contrast with the roar without. It reminded me of the peace that can reign at the bottom of the soul, while storms and tempests are howling without.
So it is often with the mind. Oftentimes the outward circumstances are trying; the nerves are in a state of intense excitement and bodily pain, but in the realm of conscience, all is peace. There is harmony between the conscience and the will, and between the soul and God. Within there is great peace.
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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