Sermons from the Penny Pulpit
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|Not Far from the Kingdom of God.|
|Quenching the Spirit.|
|The Sinner's Self-Destruction.|
|The Rationality of Faith.|
|The Reward of Fervent Prayer.|
Delivered on Sunday Evening, September 6, 1850,
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
(of Oberlin College, U. S.)
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORSFIELD, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by Joon H. Lee.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God." --Mark xii. 34.
THESE words occur in the following connection--"And one of the Scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, (that is Christ and the cavilling Jew), and perceiving that he answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments, is, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength--this is the first commandment. And the second is like namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There are none other commandments greater than these. And the Scribe answered, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is one God, and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God."
The "Kingdom of God," as the phrase is here used, does not mean the visible Church of God; for this man was at that time connected with the visible Church. Christ did not speak of the visible Kingdom of God; but of that invisible kingdom which is set up in the heart, and consists in Divine authority being established there. Christ said, on another occasion, "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, lo here! or lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you."
This Scribe saw the great fact of the spirituality of the Divine law--that after all, religion consisted in that love to God which the law requires--and by his answer to the Saviour, Jesus saw that he had broken so far through the common prejudices of his nation, as to have overcome that darkness which supposed religion to consist in the mere formality of the ceremonial law. He understood that love was the great thing needed--the great thing in which all true religion consisted. Jesus saw, therefore, that nothing was wanting but faith, and the real building up of the heart. He was so near to the Kingdom of God--so instructed, as that a single act of the mind would bring him within it. He only had to yield his heart to what his intellect perceived--he only had to submit his heart to this--and by that one act he would be in the kingdom. He, therefore, said--"Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." In speaking to these words I propose--
II. WHEN IT MAY BE TRULY SAID A MAN IS NOT "FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
III. THE NEARER MEN COME TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE MORE SOLEMN IS THEIR RESPONSIBILITY--THE MORE AWFULLY CRITICAL IS THEIR CRISIS.
I. WHEN IT MAY BE TRULY SAID, THAT A MAN IS "FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
Please to keep in mind then, what is signified by the kingdom of God--it is that law which is the rule of his universal kingdom, set up in the heart of the subject--established in full authority of the mind, yielding obedience to it. Through the heart in which this law is set up, the King controls the life of the subject.
When the mind is entirely engrossed with something else--when things connected with this Kingdom of God are not the subjects of thought and attention at all, a man is far enough from the Kingdom of God. This is the case with great numbers of persons; they have "no time" to look through into the real, spiritual virtue, of this kingdom and its laws; they give themselves up to business and pleasure, and think about everything else but what they ought to think about--it may well be said of such persons, that they are "far from the Kingdom of God." They have everything to learn yet.
Again, when persons are in worldly prosperity, full of worldly mindedness and ambitious projects, they are far enough from the Kingdom of God. Of course, their minds cannot be said to be directed in that way at all. Some of you, perhaps, have so increased in your worldly affairs, that even on the Sabbath, worldliness often engrosses your thoughts--even on the Sabbath-day, the world has such a hold upon you, that you have more of worldly thoughts than of any other. Is this your case? Then you are far enough from the Kingdom of God. Some of you have such prospects of getting rich, and elevating yourselves and families, that you turn your backs on religion and all thoughts of Salvation. You, too, are far enough from the Kingdom of God, and perhaps likely to be.
But, again, when there are no reverses and changes to cross the path--when everything goes as you would have it, floating regardlessly along the tide of events, careless, prayerless--are you doing this? If so, far enough are you from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when persons are in great spiritual darkness and ignorance, and know but little about religion--when they have gross conceptions of it--of course, such persons are far enough from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when entrenched in error, giving themselves up to believe some lie, silencing the voice of conscience, cleaving to refuges of lies, they are far enough from the Kingdom of God. When the reins are given to the appetite, and pleasure is the great pursuit of men, running hither and thither, crying who will show us any good? How can we get pleasure, and enjoy ourselves in worldly things? That class of persons, of course, may be said to be far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when filled with the prejudices of education, false ideas of religion, are men far from the kingdom of God. Who does not know, for example, how many false theories and doctrines of religion there are. Look at the Jews, how full they were of the prejudices of education. The Jews, in general, had not gone so far as this Scribe, by any means, inasmuch as he had come to see what the spirituality of the law really intended. Now, how many are there in this country, who think religion is made up of ordinances? As the Jews, they suppose religion to consist in certain ordinances--in submission to certain priests, prelates, baptisms, and purifications--mere ordinances. Who does not see how full the Catholic Church is of this? How much of this there is after all in those gross ideas of religion and those prejudices of education, which close the mind like a bolted door, against God. Thus it was with the Jews; they had so much to unlearn, as to place the mass of them in an attitude of hopeless resistance. As far as salvation was concerned, they were gone beyond the reach of those efforts which God could wisely make to save them. It frequently happens that persons listen to some curious notions, and are so blinded by, and intrenched in them, that what they have learned will cost them probably more pains than they will ever take to rid themselves of them. Hold out the gospel to them--they have immediately some prejudices of education which strongly militate against its reception. They raise, perhaps, election, Divine Sovereignty, dependence on the Holy Spirit, or something else, which they call "orthodoxy;" they must "wait God's time"--"if they are elected they are sure to be saved," and all such stuff. Now to unlearn all that men have been taught of this kind, is oftimes as hopeless, as for the Jews, or Roman Catholics, to unlearn all their prejudices and falsehoods. There is a sense, however, in which God is sovereign--in which, without the Holy Spirit, they cannot be converted; so is the doctrine of election true; but they have perverted the true sense. Oh! how difficult it is for them to get into the Kingdom of God! Far enough are they from the Kingdom of God.
Again, let us say that persons are far from the Kingdom of God, when their prejudices lead them not to listen to sermons on the subject. They have clearly closed their ears, and will not allow themselves to be instructed, and warned of their responsibility. They will not hear even their own children, wives, or parents; surely it may be said of such persons as these, and, it may be, perhaps some of you belong to this category, are not far from the Kingdom of God. When they are so strongly entrenched in their position it is easy enough to see that such persons are far from the Kingdom--that it would be a wonder, almost, if they are saved. Many persons are troubled about many things--they give themselves so much care about the things of the world, as really to have no time to attend to their souls. Some are engrossed with politics, some in business speculations--some stumble at the conduct of professors of religion--others wait to see if the young converts "turn out well." They say, "We'll see. Wait." Many have done this till their feet have fallen. What were they doing? "O! Lord," they will say, "I was waiting to see whether those were really converted who profess to be; when, all at once, the foundation gave way--I fell! Yes! I was carried to the grave, and my spirit went weeping and wailing down the sides of the pit!"
Again, when persons are without interest, or where their interest is of such a kind, that it is a struggle against religion, they may be said to be far from the Kingdom of God. But I come not to the second part of the subject.
II. WHEN IT MAY BE SAID A MAN IS NOT "FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
Many of you, perhaps, have been in this condition; some of you may even be so now. When the subject of religion has come to engage the attention of your mind, so far as to induce you to make up your mind to attend to it, and to do it now--when an individual has gone so far as to make this a present business--it may be said, in a very important sense, that he has taken an important step in his approach towards the Kingdom of God, although not an entrance into it. A step, it may be, infinitely important--as much so, perhaps, as his eternal salvation--is here taken; this will afterwards be seen.
Again, where a person has made up his mind to be honest with God, and with himself. This dishonesty on the part of men is a very great obstacle; they are unwilling to be honest--to ask God, honestly, "Lord, what wilt thou have me do." It is indeed a great point gained, where an individual says, I will now just look the subject in the face like an honest man. I could tell you many cases of individuals--just in this position--they have made up their minds to attend at once to the subject; some also, have said, "I will now be honest with God." I could tell you many cases, indeed, many men in the United States have taken exactly this course, and soon, subsequently, been fully received into the Kingdom of God. When they have once made up their minds to be honest with God, it may truly be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. After all, the question is, not what I have persuaded myself to believe, but what God says. Let us have truth whatever way it is. When a man comes into such a state as this, how easily men find truth! When they come to God for instruction, casting aside all their prejudices--when their errors give way, and men find themselves no longer stubborn and confident in them--when they find they can no longer maintain the position they hold--it may be said, they are not far from the Kingdom of God. This was the case with the Scribe here referred to; but whether he ever entered the Kingdom or not, has not been recorded. It was clear, however, that he had broken through the prejudices common to his nation, and had come to understand the real spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.
But let me say again. When persons find the excuses by which they have been accustomed to soothe their consciences, begin to fail, it may be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. No sinner intends always to neglect the gospel; but he has, as he thinks, some valid excuse for present delay. When men find themselves stripped of their excuses--when they see and feel that they have not any excuse, and come so far as not to be disposed to make excuses; it may be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. I recollect that such a period arrived, in my own experience, and I had fought my way through darkness, error, mysticism; I had made many excuses, and settled one truth after another, intellectually, and did not, for a long time, fail to make excuses for delay. But at length, one after another gave way, till, finally, I very distinctly came into this position. I really could not get up any excuse; and feel very unhappy at my inability to see any further hiding-place--I had no excuse that I was not ashamed to make. Now, if any of you are in this attitude--if you see your excuses are really good for nothing--if you are ashamed to make them, and resolve to make them no more--it may be truly said you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Whether you will ever enter, will appear by and bye; but you are certainly now not far from the Kingdom of God. If you really see all your evasions go for nothing, it is because the truth has found you out, and the Spirit of God has enlightened you. He had enlightened this Scribe.
Again, when business causes us so entirely to engross the mind, and religion is set in such a light, as that the business cannot wholly engross the mind, and, in or out of business, you are pressed solely with the great question of Salvation. I recollect the time when I myself sat down to examine a point of law, and in spite of myself, I could not read the page half down before the subject of religion was so pressing upon me, that I could not get on--I could not possibly engross myself so wholly with my professional duties. I dismissed it again and again, but it came up as often as I dismissed it. When religion gets such a hold on the mind as this--that a man cannot engross himself with his business, and feels that his business is but a trifle compared with eternal life--when this appears to the mind, that the business lasts but a few days, and where am I? when the mind comes into such an attitude--when the Spirit of God presses the subject in this manner--you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when pleasure can no longer fully engross the mind--when pleasure seems no longer to be pleasure--when those things which have formerly so enchanted and fascinated the mind, lose their hold upon it--when the eternal realities present themselves to the mind--when the heart stands quivering under the lashes of conscience by day and by night, and the great truths of salvation are weighing upon the spirit--rely upon it that such an individual is not far from the Kingdom of God.
As I go over these points, inquire, each one of you of yourselves, "Is this, or was it ever my case?"
But, again, when conscience becomes so much awakened as that an individual can no longer comfortably go on in sin--cannot go on it without great pain and agony, finding by experience, that a transgressor's heart is continually agonizing within himself, filled with conviction and distress about sin--rest assured such a one is not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when spiritual darkness gives way, so that persons come to see their relations to God as a reality--when they come to understand the gospel and the way of salvation--when they see it developed distinctly, so that they can easily understand it, and see their need of a Saviour--in short, when the truths of religion come to be revealed to the mind, so that the mind really conceives them in their relations--such persons may be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God. This was the case with the Scribe, and has often been the case with persons in these days. Many of you, doubtless, remember the time in your history, when you saw with a clearness of vision you never had before--perhaps you are in this state now--when you saw your relations to these truths, the motives and necessities of the plan of Salvation, and its suitability to your wants--then the word is nigh unto thee, even in thy mouth; and if thou believest on Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved. Who has dispelled the mists around you? The Holy Ghost has done it. You stand within one step--the single act of committing yourself in confidence to these truths, will bring you within the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes individuals are surrounded with special means--special efforts are made which take hold of the mind of an individual, a family, a congregation, or even a whole community, till large numbers may truly be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God.
But let me say again, especially when Christians have the spirit of prayer and pray for sinners--when Christians, in any family or congregation, receive the spirit of God in answer to prayer--when God is drawing very near to them through revivals--it may be said that all persons within the circle of such influences, are not far from the Kingdom of God. This will explain Christ's meaning, when he said, "Be ye sure of this--the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you."
Again, when persons are "almost persuaded" to be Christians, they may be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God. We read of one in apostolic times, who said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." He was all but ready to yield. Perhaps some of you are in this condition; you have been here many times, and are almost persuaded to yield: you are brought so near, as almost to enter the Kingdom of God. You can remember the time, many of you, if it be not now, or lately, you can well remember it--when the Spirit of God was working within you--when all your mind was in a state of quivering anxiety and intense agitation--when some death or other providence arrested your attention--you thought, and looked, and hesitated, almost making up your mind to submit. You came right upon the gate of this Kingdom; you could truly have said you were not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when the question comes to be balanced in the mind--Shall I now accept the Saviour? or shall I not? When the question is pressed for your acceptance--when you are told that now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation, and yet hesitate, looking at it--oh! how near you often are, perhaps within a hair's-breadth, so to speak, of deciding the question for life and for heaven! Oh, how near! Almost ready to commit yourself, you have seen and felt the necessity and suitability of the atonement of Christ--the blood ran through your veins--you could hear your own heart beat--your pulse was quickened--your very soul was on the tiptoe, so to speak, balancing the question; still you looked and hesitated; how near you were to the Kingdom of God.
This leads me to say, again, when persons are often placed in such circumstances, that the truths of the gospel spread before the mind--they are beginning to be pointed out clearly--an individual is often brought into such a position, that he must either say yes or no, and yes or no to the very question of life or death, of Christ or no Christ. It often comes right to this, that he not only sees his sins, the spirituality of God's law, the meaning of the gospel, its relations to him--he is crowded right up to this, and is only a hair's-breadth from the Kingdom of God. The Divine hand is beckoning him over the line, the Spirit strives, stretches out his hand and calls him--he fairly hops on the line. Oh, how near is such a one to the Kingdom of God! Why, methinks angels look on with wonder, as they see men sometimes standing upon the very line itself, fairly "slewing" over--all but in the Kingdom of God, and yet they don't give their hearts fully up! When we get to the solemn judgment I am expecting to learn that multitudes I have seen here during these many evenings, have been drawn into that attitude. Oh! where are you now? where are you now?
III. THE NEARER A MAN COMES TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE MORE SOLEMN HIS RESPONSIBILITY--THE MORE AWFUL AND CRITICAL HIS CRISIS.
The man to whom the words of our text were spoken had already made some advance upon the condition of the people generally; the law was lying revealed to him in all its spirituality--it was perceived in his intellect--it was as near as possible to his heart, so to speak. Now, the more persons are enlightened, in the sense here meant, the nearer they are. Christ did not mean to say, however, that he was any the better, for being thus near, if after all he never entered--he was not "almost a Christian" in the sense of "almost [as good as] a Christian." He saw what God's law in its spirituality required; and for it to take possession of his heart, would be the "Kingdom of God" within him. The more a person is enlightened, the greater his responsibility; this man, therefore, was all the worse, instead of better, for his nearness if he did not ultimately accept it. So it is with every sinner; the nearer they come, if they fail to enter it, the greater the wickedness; the better you understand the truth, if you refuse to yield to it, the worse you are, and the more dreadful will be your final account. Of course the nearer persons come to the Kingdom of God, if they decide against it, the guilt of the wrong decision, under such circumstances, is not only greatly increased, but the consequences of it, at such a time, is vastly more likely to be fatal, than under any other circumstances. When persons are in darkness--engrossed with worldly things, they do not reject the truth in any such sense, or commit such a high crime; in short, they do not take such ground as to shut them up in their own impenitence, as they do when they see the truth clearly, and understand what they are doing, and then deliberately decide for the wrong. How fatal is their decision! See how deliberately they reject it!
Look at the case of Agrippa. He was "almost a Christian." Ah! almost! But was that all?--was that all? "I would to God," says Paul, "that thou wert not only almost, but altogether such as I am, except these bonds." Felix--when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come--Felix trembled, but said, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have more convenient season I will send for thee." There is much of this in the present day. How many of you do this? But, mark, when was the "convenient season?" Oh, sinner! inquire in hell, Is Felix there? Where's Agrippa? Is Agrippa here? And did these men hear the Apostle preach? "Yes." Did they hear him plead for the Kingdom of God, and was one "almost persuaded" and did the other tremble? But where are they now? Almost up to the Kingdom of God in time; but now as far from it as hell is from heaven.
A few further remarks must conclude what I have to say.
It is no doubt a general truth, and from conversations with multitudes of men, in various parts of the world, I have been inclined to think it is a universal truth--that nearly all men, who listen at all to the gospel, are, at some time of their lives, really near to the Kingdom of God. Religion has come home to them at some time or other. I never found an individual who, when closely pressed on these subjects, did not acknowledge that he had, at some period of his history, been crowded quite close up to the Kingdom of God. It is remarkable to see how some providence--some striking circumstances in which they have been placed--some storm at sea; some danger on land; sickness, death--look back into your history, and you will discover that the question has, at some time, pressed you, and you have been balancing it in your minds, and you were very near to a proper decision.
But I remark again. When men are in this condition, Satan is remarkably watchful. The Bible represents him as being ever ready to take the word away as soon as it is sown in the heart. See Satan's subtlety in putting by the crisis, sliding the individual past, and keeping him in a state of carelessness. Sometimes after an impressive service, when on the very eve of deciding aright, he suggests, "Better wait till you get home," or some thought is suggested to your attention--some little squabble, or something comes into the mind and you turn away and look in another direction.
Now let me ask you, dying sinner, have you not, at sometime or other, been thus made the dupe of Satan, when none knew the workings of your mind but God and yourself? Perhaps it was in the dreary watches of the night when, unable to sleep, God made you wake up to a sense of your position; and, such was your agitation, that perspiration bathed your forehead, from the anxiety of your mind. Sin stared you in the face--God's claims so pressed you that your nervous system quivered. Ah! how near you were! One single act-the act of committing your soul to Christ, would have put you within the Kingdom of God. But where are you now?
This leads me to say when persons are brought close along upon the verge of the Kingdom of God--of the peace and joy of believing in Christ--so close that they can look over--that there is nothing but a single step between them and laying hold on eternal life--how very near they are to the Kingdom of God! If you could take a map of your life, some of you would see that, at some period of it the Spirit had directed your crooked way along till--there! see your place on the map! You are on the very margin of the stream! Its waters are flowing at your very feet. One step is all that is between you and eternal life, which is holding out all its charms; but, alas! where are you now? Oh! where are you now? As you have gone back to be engrossed with business, cares, and pleasures--oh! what a lengthened way there now is between that point and your present position--what a way you are from these fair fields on whose borders, with your "almost persuasion" you then stood. You have not yet taken your reckoning to discover your position. It was once said of you, "that man is not far from the Kingdom of God."
Now, perhaps, long tracks of error and wrong-doing have come between you. You have gone on in disobedience, and scepticism, and sin,--oh! sinner, hark! Do you hear that roar? What is that? "What is it?" Do you not know that you are nearing that tremendous precipice?--that you are reeling onwards to that mighty whirlpool? Hark! Rise up and flee; for death and hell are there! But, oh! your ears are deaf, your hearts are dull, and your eyes are dim!
Once more; God is leaving men entirely without excuse. Is it not true that if to-night the summons should be given--the great bell should be tolled--if to-night you were called to judgment you would be without excuse? There, who is that gone? Where is that man, and that woman? "Where are they?" They are gone to render account to the great God whom they have rejected. And is there any injustice--anything at all unreasonable in all this? No, indeed.
But, to-night, it is with those who have not wandered so far away that I am principally concerned--those who have been so near, and wandered on very far away I have less hope of--the momentous crisis is past. I will not say there is no hope for you; but this I say, it is with those who have not wholly passed that crisis that I have now to deal. The opposite party are very seldom, perhaps, aware of the thing which they have done. Perhaps his decision turned upon some mere trifle, as other great things often do; Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; Adam and Eve fell into sin, dragging after them the whole of the race, through the merest trifle; and it often happens that persons break away from God, and run into sin for a very small matter.
Suppose Satan should tempt a man who is just on the borders of the Kingdom of God, to commit an enormous iniquity? Oh! No. Satan is wise enough not to do any such thing. He plies the man with something he considers a trifle--something he thinks he can do without doing himself or anybody else much harm--he tempts him to defer his decision till he reaches his home, or something of that kind, and it is this awful procrastination through which Satan prevails, and by which the deluded heart is separated and led away.
But, I say again, suppose it may truly be said that some of you who have not entered the Kingdom of God are well aware that some of these Sabbath evenings during which special services have been held, you have been brought into the state described, as not far from the Kingdom of God, if you never have before. A man once came to one of these Sabbath evening services who had previously been sceptical with regard to the necessity of his immediately attending to the salvation of his soul; he went up into the British School-room to the address to the Inquirers which is given after service; he confessed to a friend present, that he was then and there perfectly convinced of the necessity of at once giving up his sins; but, he said, he had a certain business transaction to take in hand the next week which he must do first; or else he could not do it at all. I was told of this before he left the room, and made for him through the crowd; but he slipped out before I got to him; I have never seen him since!
How is it with you, dying sinner, to-night? This is my last Sabbath with you. I may never meet you again till the solemn judgment when many of you may perhaps rise up and say, "Oh! Mr. Finney, under your ministry, at the Tabernacle, I was not far from the Kingdom of God; but I decided wrong!" Oh! did you decide wrong? How an angel might weep to hear you say so! "Ah!" you will say, "I wandered and wandered, and never came so near again; and now I have lost my soul!"
Oh! sinner, how shall it be with you to-night? Shall it be said again of any of you that you were not far from the Kingdom of God and yet you would not come into it?
Sinner, how is it? Oh! how is it? Will you decide to-night one way or the other? How is it? Oh! how will you decide to-night? How? How? HOW? If there is rejoicing in the presence of the Almighty over one sinner that repenteth, what quivering must there be over your present indecision! Oh! if those ministering angels who are waiting to carry the results of your decision to the Courts above, were permitted to break their silence, how they would cry out. Oh sinner, sinner, sinner--oh! decide aright, and have eternal life!
But oh! as they float about amongst you, with their invisible wings of love, to see how you will decide--watching you in your adjournment to the British School Room--beholding there the quivering of your mind as it trembles like the magnetic needle--and you wait--yes, you wait till you get home; but if the angels were permitted to give utterance they would cry aloud, "Oh! you are lost, you are lost! and the echo would fly to heaven! Oh, sinner, decide to-night--decide aright, and let it be told in the Courts above, that a wave of holy joy may sweep throughout those blissful regions!
It was reported of a man in this country, a person of great wealth, who devoted his time and talents to the cause of benevolence, and who was residing for a time in a place where there was a revival of religion, and nearly the whole of which was his property, that one evening the minister preached on the rejoicing there is in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, when this gentleman rose at the conclusion of the sermon, and said that he thought the time was come for him to decide. "Who," he asked, "dare now commit himself to God?" He then recapitulated very briefly the points of the discourse, and seemed to be lost in thought. "Who will do it?" said he, "shall I? Shall I? I will!" he exclaimed, "and let Gabriel tell it in heaven! I will, and let Gabriel tell it in heaven!" He then sat down; it was like a wave of light gleaming over the people. Since then everybody has known his position with regard to religion.
Dying sinner!--dare you now say, "I will, this night, accept Christ, and let it be written in heaven, and I will abide by it for ever?"
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QUENCHING THE SPIRIT
delivered on Friday evening, July 14, 1850
by the REV. C. G. FINNEY
(of the Collegiate Institute, America)
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Joon H. Lee.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Quench not the Spirit." --I Thess. v. 19
"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." --Ephesians iv. 30
The Holy Spirit is the author of spiritual life itself - of all its heat and warmth in man - of all those states of mind that result from his influences. He is the author of all spiritual joy and peace in the soul; that is, his influences are exerted in creating that life and heat which belong to spiritual religion. He also employs himself in producing that joy and peace of mind which are peculiar to Christians. To "quench" him is to extinguish his light and heat - that peculiar light which he brings to the mind, and the heat which naturally results from it. The language is here figurative, of course; he is said to be like a refiner's fire; to "quench" him, therefore, would be to put out that fire.
To "grieve" him is to destroy that spiritual peace of mind of which he is the author, in the human soul. When this is destroyed by anything we do, the Spirit of God is spoken of as being himself grieved - his agency is resisted and he is represented as being, therefore, grieved. There is a sense, undoubtedly, in which the Spirit of God himself is grieved: he is a moral agent. He can and does feel. There is a sense in which he is himself grieved. I have, however, another object mainly in view now. In speaking to the words of my text, I shall consider -
II. How the spirit may be grieved or quenched.
III. The fearful consequences of doing this.
I. Things implied.
The injunction not to quench the Spirit clearly implies that it may be done, and that there is a probability of its being done; if it were an act impossible or improbable, we should not find such an injunction in Holy Writ. It implies not only a danger of its being done, but also that it is wicked to do so.
The Holy Spirit is represented in the Bible as being a moral agent. Feelings peculiar to a moral agent are ascribed to him. He is represented, too, as being infinitely interested in giving himself up to the great work of saving us from sin and death. Again: he is infinitely holy, and therefore opposed to iniquity in every form or degree. His influences are represented as teaching and enlightening, but not by a physical, irresistible agency, in the sense that he over-rules the freedom of the human mind; he enlightens, warns, and sanctifies through the truth; he operates by the presentation of such considerations as will most prevail with a moral agent. This must be the way in which he operates, for holiness to be the result of his operations. Holiness in substance, therefore, cannot be created by any creative power. Holiness is love; his influence, therefore, must be truth, and prevails not by setting aside liberty, but by teaching how to use it aright, and by presenting such considerations as will induce men to do so. This is done, not by a physical, but a persuasive and enlightening agency.
II. How may the spirit be quenched or grieved?
The Spirit of God is grieved and quenched in all cases where the mind is unwilling to see the truth on any subject. Oftentimes individuals are unwilling to be convinced on certain points, and will not come up to the light. They avoid coming under the pressure of the truth on certain given points, and wherever this is done the Spirit of God is resisted, quenched, and grieved.
Again: the Spirit of God is grieved wherever the mind is so satisfied as to admit the truth, and yet unbelief prevails. There are multitudes of persons who confound conviction of the truth with faith, and do not know any better than to suppose that when convinced of the truth they have faith. Now there is not a greater error in existence. Being convinced of the truth of a statement is infinitely far from faith, which is the minds voluntary act in view of what the Spirit of God convinces us of.
Unbelief is the rejection of what the Spirit presents to our minds, refusing to commit ourselves to it, take it home, and obey it. Now faith is that committal of the mind to the truth, when received, which God urges; it is this committal of the mind, in fact, that God does urge, in distinction from that which convicted sinners name. Convicted sinners are convinced of God's claims and character - of the necessity and sufficiency of the atonement of Christ, and many other things; yet he withholds because he is unwilling to yield up his sin, and to become a Christian implies the doing of this. But he will not do it, hence he will not receive Christ, take home the truth to his own mind, repose his all in and upon it. Where the truth is thus presented and yet resisted, there is unbelief, and wherever that prevails there the Spirit of God is grieved, resisted, and quenched.
The Spirit is grieved, resisted, and quenched by all evasions of the truth on questions of reform involving self-denial. There are a great many truths, the reception of which calls for great denial - a breaking off of certain things in which we have been in the habit of indulging ourselves. Suppose now a slaveholder, when the question of the moral character of his class comes up, and suppose that although he is wholly unacquainted with the arguments of his opponents and will not so much as read or even talk or listen to anyone upon the subject suppose also that when he does eventually read or hear a discussion of the question, still, after all, he will not yield to the truth which is presented - he resists the Spirit.
It is remarkable to see to what an extent this has been manifested in the United States. Then there is the trade in ardent spirits. Traders in these things deal with the question just as the slaveholders do - they selfishly maintain their position and will not give up the traffic. Well now, on any question of reform calling for self-denial, wherever the mind resists, is not candid in receiving and obeying the truth, the Spirit of God is quenched. There are a great many customs prevalent in society which the gospel utterly condemns and whenever these questions come up, and the mind will not receive the truth and make the necessary sacrifices, who does not see that this is quenching and grieving the Spirit who is trying to lead them away from all such practices?
Again: indulging in resentful or otherwise hostile feelings towards anyone is sure to quench and grieve the Spirit, especially wherein such feelings are persevered. Many have known what it was to indulge in such feelings 'till at length, they have ceased to commune with their God.
Again: to indulge in a censorious spirit - finding fault, and putting a bad construction on everything, is another mode of transgressing the law laid down in our text. Sometimes you will see an individual who puts a bad construction on things which admit of a good construction, making out that certain individuals have wrong motives, bad dispositions; they do this where the motives may be good for what they know. Now all such conduct as this no doubt grieves and quenches the Spirit of God.
But I remark again: any unnecessary, unbenevolent unbrotherly publication of the real failings of individuals is another way in which this sin may be committed. Persons may commit this crime by telling the truth unnecessarily, and thus finally injuring the person. You have no right to speak even of the faults of others unnecessarily; nor will you do so if you are as careful of his, as you wish him to be of yours - " Love your neighbours as yourselves." If this were the case, how careful would you be of your neighbours. Wherever this is not the case - wherever the tale-bearer is listened to - wherever you treat your brother or neighbour in a manner different from that in which you desire to be treated yourself - there, undoubtedly, the Spirit of God is grieved. Never do or withhold that which you would not like done to or withheld from yourself.
Again: This sin is committed where persons make self-justifying, God-condemning excuses for their sins. Thus some grope on in darkness, error, and distress of mind from year to year, because, instead of taking the blame of sin to themselves, they make excuses which virtually throw it upon God. This is grieving the Spirit. Every selfish person -everyone who is set upon the promotion of his own interests instead of the promotion of God's glory grieves the Spirit of God. Such an act is a virtual apostasy from God. They have professedly committed themselves to God, and have no right to do anything but for him. A man can never enjoy communion with God while in pursuit of any selfish ends -while he seeks things merely for his own pleasure, and not for God. If you do this you virtually take back your consecration to God, and devote yourself to your own interests. It matters not at all in what manner you may excuse yourselves for so doing; you have no excuse; and especially is this the case where light has been poured upon the subject. Now, who can suppose that in those days, such a man as John Newton could, even for a time, continue in the slave-trade without some compunctions of conscience? But suppose he should have no recourse to the Bible, and ask, "Were there not slaves in the days of the New Testament?" Why did not Christ denounce it? Slavery was known to the Apostles, Why did not they denounce it, if it were so wicked?
This is easily enough answered. But suppose men justify the slave-trade in this way? And in the Southern States of America this very common. They forget that Christ had a previous question to settle before he could make any direct attack on the several sorts of sin. When Christ came into the world, instead of his mission being acknowledged, he had to debate every inch of ground. His divinity and divine mission demanded primary attention; it was necessary that the world should first recognize his authority to lay down regulations, and prohibit practices. It would have been utterly out of place for him to have attempted to set right social questions before he had established his authority to interfere with such matters. Again: it is said the Apostles did not denounce slavery. They too had a great question which demanded their first attention. They had to establish the fact of Christ's resurrection, divinity, and messiahship, as well as the divine authority of their own commission. This being done, they would naturally commend to the world the Scriptures of truth, and let them tell what things are right and what is wrong. Now, who does not see that it is a selfish evasion for a slaveholder to talk thus? It would have been absurd for him to have denounced any particular sins without establishing his authority to denounce sin at all.
Suppose a man in this country should attempt thus to justify slavery; you would not go with him. When light is poured upon this question, it becomes a heinous offense, and no man can pursue it without forfeiting his right to be called or treated as a Christian. I can recollect the time when we all thought the use of ardent spirits was necessary - we all thought no one could do without them; but by and by, the question was taken up. Many resisted. It was the rising or falling of many in Israel. Many rose up in resistance, and sin quenched the Holy Ghost - and where are they? A desolation has come over some of their churches through taking wrong grounds on this question.
But let me say again: if any person allows himself to pursue any branch of business which is a great evil to society, he is guilty of the sin here spoken of. Suppose he prides himself on his intention to make a good use of his money; suppose a pirate were to plead that he was going to give his money to the Bible Society, would that mitigate his crime? No indeed. There was a rich man in my country, who professed to be converted, made up his mind as he said at the time, to give up all that he had to the Lord. I saw nothing of him for a time, but after some years he called at our house, and we had some conversation. I found he had left his former place of residence, and was removing to another part of the country. I asked him where he was going to, and he replied that he "was going West, in fact, he was going to St. Louis. He had failed in business." "Failed in business?" I exclaimed, "How is that?" It turned out that he had been speculating in the provision line in order, as he said, to get money to send out evangelists. In order to do this, he bought up all the provisions along a certain road, put a high price upon them, and thus raised money from the poor along this great thoroughfare. He had, according to his notions, been speculating for God. I asked him what business he had doing such a thing as that; and informed him that I was not the least surprised that he had failed. Did God want him to punish the poor in order that he might spread the gospel? No, indeed.
Again, there is the liquor trade. There are may persons who will resist light on this subject, and talk just as men who are determined not to forsake a business which they know is an abomination to the world and a curse to society. Yes! If all the tears could be collected together which this business has caused to be shed, they would make enough, perhaps, for them to swim in. It has broken hearts, ruined families, dethroned reason, desolated firesides - everything is laid waste. All this, and more than this, has resulted from the sale of these deadly drinks. some say it is necessary. For the sake of argument I will admit this, in certain instances; but mark, is it not a fact assumed and believed that it will be abused? - that vastly more will be abused than is really needed? - and is not the traffic, therefore, undesirable at all? Suppose no more were used than the comparatively small quantity which is actually necessary - suppose it were not abused, and that there was no probability that it would be abused, how many liquor dealers, think you, would there be in London? How many of them would think of living by the business if they presumed no more than is necessary would be used? Now it is the assumption that it will be abused that renders it so desirable an object of traffic. Every man engaged in it presumes this, or he would not do so. Who, then, can pursue such a trade as this, and enjoy communion with the Holy Ghost at the same time?
Time was when good men used it because they thought they needed it; but now the frightful extent of its awful ruin has been shown. Drinking, and slavery, and everything of the kind might go on, without its wickedness being dreamt of; but when light is poured upon the subject, and men still refuse to see, it is utterly inexcusable.
It is a remarkable fact, that those who have resisted this reformation - ministers who have refused to yield after they have been shown the sinfulness of their position - it is astonishing to see how they have withered; this has been particularly manifest in my country amongst those who have continued to truckle to the slave power, after seeing the sinfulness of the traffic. The frown of God has been upon them as manifestly as it could be; they have quenched the Spirit. It would be impossible to calculate the good which has been effected where holy men of God in the ministry have taken the lead in these reforms.
There are multitudes of things in business - modes of doing business - by which the Spirit of God is grieved for instance, when the error is seen, and yet the will is allowed to struggle with the Spirit of God. Many men are uneasy and restless from resistance to the Spirit of God in such matters; there is some want of candour, and consequently there is a fetter upon their spirit - there is a strife, an agonizing in their soul - they know there is something wrong - they have not the joy and peace belonging to a Christian; - the fact is, they are engaged in a struggle with their Maker - quenching and grieving his Spirit in the presentation of the truth on some question which has come before them. Liquor dealers, and all who use those drinks, are in danger of falling into this state.
I would not apply my remarks so generally in this country as in America, because public opinion is not so far advanced here as it is there; I would not, therefore, assert that none of you who use these drinks enjoy communion with God. Even Newton, Whitfield, and the Countess of Huntingdon were slaveholders; but were they now alive would they be slaveholders? No, indeed! God is on the way to reform mankind on these points; that state of the world is coming right square up to them. God is turning the attention both of the church and the world to these great evils. Light is blazing forth on every hand and now will anyone pretend to say that Whitfield, or Lady Huntingdon, would be slaveholders if they were alive now?
Now, who does not see that it is the duty of every Christian in the world to take up whatever self-denial these reforms may involve? I have known multitudes of men who have turned their liquors into the street; and who, when urged to dispose of it for chemical purposes, have replied - "No, we will touch not, taste not, handle not the unclean thing."
When the evils resulting are so great, and there is no mode of counteracting them but by taking off their hands - let me say that all jealousy, envyings, and party feeling, are so many ways of quenching and grieving the Spirit of God. I have seen the piety of churches decline rapidly and fearfully from this cause in great cities, and yet they could not make it out; whereas if you question them individually, you will find numbers of them in such an attitude towards one another, that the Holy Spirit, who loves them both, must, in some measure, withdraw his influence.
Who, in this age of the world, thinks to preach against gluttony? Yet it is one of the commonest forms of sin. An individual once confessed to me that he had for years been unable to attend properly to his business in consequence of indulging in too hearty a dinner; but that during the whole of that time he had never once heard gluttony preached against, or condemned from the pulpit as sinful. Now I suppose it may perhaps be different in this country; but I think that a great deal needs everywhere to be done, whatever may already have been said, even to Christian people, in the subject of excessive eating.
The same may be said of drinking and other evil indulgences, such as the use of tobacco in its various forms. How few like to look at this in the proper light. They surely cannot plead that they smoke, snuff, or chew to the glory of God. In some few diseases, somewhere about one in five thousand, tobacco may be used with benefit. If professors of religion allow themselves in such self-indulgent habits, how can they expect to enjoy communion with God? Is it not unreasonable to persons to use such articles, wasting God's money for them, and rendering themselves even odious? I was astonished the other day to fall in with a minister, whose hands, and the entrances to whose pockets, were considerably besmeared with snuff. He talked of religion as if he never thought of this; but most men know that all such habits are contrary to the duty of the Christian. I have known some who when told that such were wrong, would get up and leave the house - they were unwilling to be shown the real nature and tendency of these things, but if they are unwilling at least to ascertain by honest investigation, whether such things are right or wrong, they must assuredly quench the Spirit. There is no way in which we can keep a clear medium open between our hearts and God without weighing all our habits in the balances of the Bible. If we would have the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, and so on, we must ever be wide awake to listen to reproof, and honestly apply every principle of the gospel to all our life, and to everything we do.
I used tobacco once myself, even for sometime after I was converted. A brother conversed with me on the subject. I had supposed it beneficial to me for certain reason. "Brother," he said to me, "do you think now that it is right?" I reflected for a moment. He made a suggestion or two on the subject. At length, I put my hand into my pocket, and got out my box, which I had just filled. "There," said I, "take that." I saw him some years after, but I had not resumed the use of it, and have never felt inclined to do so since. I do not speak boastingly, but I have become quite afraid of doing anything which would tend to quench the Spirit. I have always tried to do this; if aught gets between my soul and God, I have been in the habit of saying, "O Lord, tell me what is the matter! What am I doing? What stands in the way?" We should act in such a way as if Jesus saw and was with us, just as he saw and was with the disciples. Let that be the rule. Let no man do or say anything of what Jesus might say. "I am sorry to see you doing or omitting to do so and so - engaged in such and such a business." Let your proceedings be of such a nature that you can say, "O Lord, art thou sorry to see me do this? Does it grieve thee? Does thine heart approve of my doing it?"
Now, do you for one moment suppose that a slaveholder, for instance, could do this, and go away supposing that God would have him continue his atrocious traffic? And do you believe that men engaged in business of other kinds, which are injurious to society - the liquor trade, for instance - can go and say, "Lord, is this for thy glory? Wilt thou approve, and add thy blessing?" Can they say, "Help me, O Lord, to sell as much liquor today as I can - to throw out as much alcohol in all the forms in which I can get people to buy it?" Can they pray so? No man has any right to engage in any business on which he cannot ask the blessing of God. Who would think, in these days, of going to pray in that way? Who would think of going to pray that multitudes of evils which now exist may be put away, while they themselves are among the very persons who do these things.
Now, brethren and sisters, you who are, so many of you, strangers to me, that I do not know if there be anyone in this house who is actually guilty of this, but if there be, I wish to warn such a one in love. I ask you, are you doing these things with the idea that you are honouring God? Can you say when you go to your liquor shops, "O God, bless me in this business, help me to do a deal of business, and thereby glorify thee?"
But let me say again: Refusing to receive a brother who calls for self-denial is grieving and quenching the Holy Ghost, refusing to sympathize with Christ in his self-denying exertions to do good to the world. He has led the way by showing what he is willing to do to save mankind. Now those who hold back, unwilling to unite with him upon the same principles on which he acted, resist and grieve the Spirit.
Not long since an individual was talking to his pastor about the propriety of setting an example to his flock by abstaining himself if only for the sake of others. But he said, "Their abuse of it was no reason for his abstinence. They abused many other things as well as that." Now, was this the principle on which Paul acted? No indeed, he was ready to give up meat "as long as the world lasted." On the same principle Christ might have said he did not see why he should suffer because mankind had abused the government of the Almighty in making a bad use of their moral agency. Christ acted upon the principle of saving those who had no excuse for their sins - not the unfortunate, but the wicked. Thus it is that missionaries and other Christians deny themselves so that when the good to them is less than the evil to others, they instantly come out and forego their own good because it is so much less than the evil which might result to others. But when we take such astounding ground as in the case of the said minister, what can we expect but darkness of mind and fruitlessness of life? In order to have the Spirit of God, we must yield to him, and if we do not do this - if we do not go from one degree of self-denial to another - we resist the Spirit who is trying to lead us up to a higher ground than we have hitherto occupied. The church has never been on a ground so high as to give herself entirely up to reform the world; but he is pressing her up and up. Her business, therefore, is to prepare herself to go the whole length of reforming herself, and those around her, and prepare for any degree of self-denial that may be required in order to accomplish this. But if anyone shall insist upon not giving up this and that, although he knows that the good to be obtained, and the evil to be shunned will far outweigh all that can be gained from indulgence - what would become of the church and the world should they imitate him?
Suppose, for instance, we admit that alcoholic drinks are, in some cases, useful? Who believes that the use of them is so great a good as the evil of their abuse? The same cannot be said of meat and drink seeing that they are necessaries of life, and cannot be done without. Things indispensable to life cannot be done without - we are not called upon, therefore, under any circumstances, to give them up. But there are drinks and other things which are working a great injury to society, and which it has been demonstrated again and again, may safely be dispensed with - all will admit that the injury which results to mankind bears no comparison to the doubtful benefit which is said to be derived by us individually - it is clear, therefore, that we ought to give them up. What was the principle on which Christ acted? Why, he said, because of my relation and character, it is better that there should be this suffering on my part, than that the human family should suffer eternal death!
If the suffering he endured had been greater than that which he prevented, the course he adopted would have been neither wise nor benevolent. He gained for the universe an unspeakable benefit, and prevented an inconceivable injury. His rule should be our guide. Self-denial does us good. Shall we offer the Lord only that which costs us nothing? Shall we say that while a thing is a good to us we cannot give it up? Why not? If your so doing will avoid a greater evil, and procure a greater good, you are bound to give it up, if you are bound to be benevolent at all. If you will not sacrifice a small good to yourself for the sake of a great good to others, what kind of a Christian must you be? You go in direct opposition to the Spirit of Christ and of the Apostles. Now if a man speculates about his indulgences - if he "does not see why he should give up" this or that, and the other thing - who can expect him to have a face so clear as to look up to God and say, "Thou knowest, O Lord, that I would rather die than scatter evils thus around me by anything I should do!" The fact is, beloved, there is a world to be said on this subject. Now who does not see that shuffling and conniving like this is grieving the Spirit?
Some of you are aware of the great and powerful revivals which swept through America, and that when the slavery question came up, the ministers of the North and South were united in one great ecclesiastical connection; they cried out in many quarters, that we should not disturb this connection. The North poured down the truth upon the South, and even the Northern ministers sometimes would not allow notices of anti-slavery meetings to be announced from their pulpits - not even anti-slavery prayer-meetings - but treated the matter just as many ministers in this country do the temperance question. Neither would they speak out and denounce the sin of slavery. The result was, the blight of the Almighty came upon the churches, revivals disappeared, the churches were grieved, the Spirit was grieved! The very same course was pursued over there with regard to temperance; and here let me say, if I am not mistaken, you have got some solemn lessons to learn on this subject in England. I would that all the ministers of England were here tonight! But some of them will not hear us on the subject; they are unwilling to broach it, or to name it broached by the churches! What will become of them and their churches? We shall see! If their churches must be shut to these subjects - if this question is to be resisted - mark me! if you do not experience a similar suffering to that which afflicted the American churches. There are many doleful tales to tell on that subject. But these things must be put away; the chains of the slaves must be snapped asunder; intemperance must be swept away; God will have it so. The cars are coming! The train approaches! Off the track! Off the track!
Let no man trifle with God on these subjects. These great evils must be rolled off from the face of society. The poor must no longer be countenanced in running to the tippling houses; they must be reasoned with, and retreated. Consider! You do not need it. You are better without it. Do not go!
I wish I had time to tell you some affecting instances of Christians going to
the ditch, taking the drunken men out, treating them kindly, - giving the whole force
of the influence and example against these drinks. How many tears have thus been
wiped away! How many hearths have thus been surrounded with joyous smiles where desolation
once prevailed? There is much to be done; do not resist these movements. Do not stand
in the way lest you grieve the Spirit of God. I would not, however, deal in indiscriminate
condemnation. Time was when there was as much darkness in America on this subject
as there is here. I would say to all, "Be willing to practice what you know,
and remain open to further conviction." Go for the whole. Say, "I will
wash my hands in innocency, then will I compass thine altars, O Lord." I had
much more to say on this head, did time permit; but I must now just notice some of
III. The fearful consequences of doing this.
First, Great blindness of mind. You are probably aware that such has been the blindness of some men, that they have undertaken from the Bible to prove that slavery is a Divine institution, so benighted have they become! You do not need, in England, to be told that this is gross darkness; and it began in their shutting their eyes to the truth, which begat a coldness of mind and hardness of heart; their whole being was brought under dominion of their lusts; they were chained and bound fast in the fetters of their sin; they are waxing worse and worse - becoming more and more confirmed in sins which I have not time to particularize.
You can all, from the rapid outline I have presented, that instead of at once getting a universal reformation - all classes denying themselves, setting an example, and the church taking the lead, what are they doing? They are falling back - shrinking from their work. There is great wreck of ministerial character, oftentimes, where there is not a thorough walk right up to the work. There cannot be much prevailing prayer where there is so much quenching the Spirit, so few of the fruits of the Spirit, these self-indulgent habits and God- dishonouring practices.
You can see from the remarks I have made that many of you are tempting God by praying for the Spirit while, at the same time, you are quenching. There is great danger of the Spirit leaving you. Some years back a minister about forty years of age came to me after service and said, "Brother Finney, I am in a terrible state of mind. I must abandon the ministry. When at the Theological Seminary, I took the wrong side in a discussion; but having committed myself, I here defended my position contrary to my convictions. I then soon lost the spirit of prayer, and was almost afraid to enter the ministry. The curse of God has been on me ever since. I have been many years in the ministry, yet I do not know that I have been instrumental in the conversion of a single soul. What shall I do? My fruitless vine is dry and withered!"
He told me many more things of a similar character; but the case was not new to me. I have seen instances of individuals having taken the wrong side, and of God holding them up as a warning to others, lest they fall under the same condemnation.
And now, let me ask you, Are you prepared to go the full length of doing what you think Christ, should you meet him, would ask you to do? If you are not prepared to do this, you are resisting the Spirit - you are quenching the Holy Ghost. Are you holding back? What are you doing? Will you live at this "poor, dying rate," or be filled with the Spirit? If so, do not quench the Spirit; resist and grieve him no longer; but give up all your life, heart, and soul, relying upon him; the fruits of the Spirit will abound in you, and if you do this, those around you will take knowledge of you, if indeed you exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of Christ.
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DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, JANUARY 5, 1851
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
(Of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, America,)
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by Ernest Thomas.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." -- James ii.10.
The New Testament is the spirit of the Old revealed. From the state of mankind, and, therefore, from the necessity of the case, God began to deal with men, in his first revelation to them, respecting their outward demeanour, and gradually gave them a more spiritual revelation as they were able to bear it. For example, the New Testament reveals the spiritual meaning of both the moral and ceremonial law, it opens up the full meaning of the types and shadows which were designed, under the old Testament dispensation to teach great truths in relation to religion, but their meaning, and real intention, were lost sight of by a great portion of the Jewish nation, who came to regard them simply in the letter; the New Testament was therefore designed to reveal the deep spirit and meaning of them. When Christ came the veil was put away; we no longer have the letter but the spirit. Jesus and his apostles made it their business to expound the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures. Christ often expounded the law to show what was the true spirit and meaning of it, resolving it all into two great branches -- "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself." Duties to God and duties to man. Christ thus taught us that the motive, the state of the heart, the intention with which every thing is done constitutes it either sin or holiness. You will find that the New Testament writers, and Christ himself especially, when speaking of the outward conduct of man traces it right back to the heart; and they taught that if any action proceeded from love to God and our neighbour, it was right and good; but if not it was wicked, whatever the outward form of it might be. Now, I say, Christ first and his apostles, and all the inspired teachers of Christianity afterwards made it a prime object of their teaching to show what was the real spirit of the law at all times: they taught that love was the fulfilling of the law; that all law -- meaning the law of the Old Testament, was fulfilled in one word --love; and, therefore, whatever action was not from love was sin. It is of very great importance that we should keep our eyes on this fact, for we cannot properly understand either the Old or the New Testament, unless we understand the method of God's dealings with men, that he adapted his instructions to their necessities, training them from infancy to manhood, gradually developing his instructions as they were able to receive them. In the Old Testament he gave men all the instruction in a particular form which was necessary for them at the time; and then in the New the veil was taken away from the Old. Those who were pious under the Old Testament dispensation, were justified by faith, and saved even as those under the New, but the best of them knew but comparatively little of spiritual religion. Jesus Christ himself said of John the Baptist, that he was greater than all those who had come before him, but he also said, that the least in the kingdom of God was greater than he. That is to say, the least under the New Testament dispensation was greater than the greatest under the Old.
In speaking from the words that I have read, I propose to pursue the following order:--
II. WHAT IS INTENDED.
III. SHALL SHOW THAT THIS IS PLAINLY THE DOCTRINE OF REASON AS WELL AS REVELATION.
I. What is not intended by the assertion in the text.
Observed, the affirmation is this -- "Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Now I remark, first, that he did not intend to say that any man might obey the spirit of one precept and at the same time disobey the spirit of another precept: to interpret it thus would be to make the text speak directly the opposite of what it does say. The text does not say that you can truly keep all the precepts but one, for this is the very thing which the Apostle takes pains to deny; if we understand him to mean that, then we understand him to assert a palpable contradiction. He says, if a man offends in one point he is guilty of breaking the whole law--then of course he meant to deny that a man can keep the law in some particulars and break it in others at the same time..
II. What then is intended!
Why he plainly means this--and it is perfect accordance with the spirit of the whole of the New Testament -- that if the letter of every precept but one, is obeyed, while the spirit of that one is knowingly violated, the whole law is broken -- if in any one particular he knowingly, sins he violates the whole law. I will explain the reason for this by and by -- I am now explaining the meaning. I say, then, that the violation of one law is the violation of all law. That is when the spirit of a precept is violated, there can be no real true obedience of any other precept.
III. We have next to inquire whether this doctrine is sanctioned by human intelligence
as well as revelation.
Observe, this doctrine was but very little understood under the Old Testament dispensation, for reasons that I have already mentioned. They were taken up with the letter of the law, and, therefore, were not disposed to trace back their actions to the heart -- and to understand that all outward actions were the result of the state of the heart. Now the New Testament was designed to correct this great and almost universal error.
In showing you that this is the doctrine, and the only doctrine of human reason, such as human beings can acknowledge, I observe first; the letter of the law refers to outward acts; it says thou shalt do so and so, and thou shalt not do so and so; it requires certain things to be done, and certain things to be omitted -- this is the letter of the law. In the ten commandments you have an illustration of what I mean. Now observe, the Jews, as a nation, did not consider that these outward actions had no moral character only as they proceeded from certain states of mind -- consequently when they had fulfilled the letter of the law they thought that they had kept the law. If they did not commit adultery in the outward act, they thought they had kept the law; if they did not kill, or bear false witness, they thought themselves free from all the condemnation and penalties which were attached to the violation of these commands. But Christ said, if a man should so much as look upon a woman to lust after her, he had already committed adultery with her in his heart; and in the same way he took up every one of the precepts of the moral law, and every precept of religion to be found in the Old Testament, and resolved it all back into the state of the heart in which everything was done. This, to be sure, was a most terrible blow to the hopes of the self-righteous, to those who had a great regard for their own doings, but he saw that this was needed.
Let me say again: the spirit of the law always respects the motive from which an action springs. It is so in all criminal courts in every country. The letter of the law says thou shalt not do this or that, and yet in trying a case of crime the judge and jury always try to get at the motive which prompted the action. Suppose, for example, they found that an individual did anything outwardly, but that he was insane when he did it, they would say that his deed was not a crime. To be sure, courts of law are obliged, in general, to take the outward act as indicative of malicious intention; but if it can be proved that there was no such malicious intention -- that the motive was not to do harm, but to do good -- the action would not be treated as a crime. Courts of Law and Equity always seek to ascertain the motive from which a thing is done, and if it can be arrived at the doctrine of reason is always supplied to the case -- the spirit of the law, therefore, in all cases respects the motive from which any action proceeds.
In the next place; the moral law, or the law of God, requires supreme love to God, and equal love to man. The whole of the law is summed up in these two requirements -- love to God and love to man. And this love must not be a mere emotion: the whole being must be devoted to the end to which God is devote: it must be a voluntary devotion to God because of the end which he seeks. In other words -- it is good-will within; it is the mind in a voluntary state yielding itself up, not to self-interest, but the glory of God, and the good of all beings.
Let me say again: it is easy to see that the state of mind which will supremely devote itself to one great end, cannot at the same time give itself up for the promotion of a different end: his mind cannot be devoted to one end and all his outward conduct tend in a directly opposite course; the very fact that he is devoted to an end will regulate his being, and be the mainspring of all his outward actions. If a man's mind is devoted to God, his outward actions will be an illustration of his thoughts: his heart is full of love to God, and he is set upon realizing the end at which God aims; and, therefore, all his outward actions will be a succession of endeavours to realize that end. Selfishness, in all sinners, is the end at which they aim; and their outward life is nothing more than a perpetual succession of efforts to gratify themselves; hence it is easy to see that all their actions will have one great end in view -- the promotion of their own interests. This, I say, everybody knows, that knows anything about mind and its actions.
But let me say once more: when there is supreme love to God, and equal love to our fellow-men -- that is where we love them as we love ourselves -- we cannot consent in any way to wrong God or our neighbours. Suppose now, that a man loves God supremely, is supremely devoted to his interests, it is impossible that he could sin knowingly, and do that which is inconsistent with God's interests. His whole life is an endeavour to secure that upon which his heart is set. Suppose then that his heart is set upon pleasing and glorifying God, can he consent to sin in such a state of mind, and thus dishonour, displease, and set at naught the authority of God? It is a contradiction and an absurdity to say that he can. This is the doctrine of the law as well as the gospel, for the gospel does not in any case set aside the law. So far is it from being true that the gospel has set aside the law, that it is only a condensation of the requirements of the law, and it contains the whole substance and the very essence of the law doubly sanctioned and enforced. Hence it is said, "If he that despised Moses's law died without mercy, of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing!: Again: if a man loved his neighbour as himself, it is impossible that he should consent to wrong his neighbour, but on the other hand, he will seek his neighbour's interests equally with his own.
Then let me say in the next place; obedience to God implies a supreme regard to God's authority. Now every one can see that every known sin is a rejection of his authority. For example. Suppose an individual does anything whatever from a supreme regard to God's authority, he cannot act in any other thing in a way quite inconsistent with that authority. Suppose he does any one thing from a supreme regard for the authority and interests of God, he cannot, while in that state of mind do something, in the accomplishment of which he must reject the authority of God and trample it down. The thing is preposterous, as every man perceives. A man cannot act without regard to the authority of God in one thing, and yet at the same time act from supreme authority to him in another thing.
But let me say again: it is easy to see that a man cannot pick and choose among the commandments of God, and obey some and disobey others. Supreme love to God is an exercise of the mind, and a man cannot have this and yet act the opposite -- it is a palpable contradiction: a man with supreme love to God in his mind cannot consent to violate any commandment of God.
This leads me to remark again; that the true spirit and meaning of what the apostle says, is as obviously and strongly asserted by reason as it is by revelation. What the apostle asserts is this -- if a man should do any or all of the things required in the decalogue, or ten commandments, in the letter, and yet should violate the true Spirit of one law, he would prove that he did not keep any of them from a right motive -- that he did not really obey the law at all in its true spirit and meaning. If I should keep those which did not cost me much self-denial, or keep them in the letter, but violate them in the spirit, this would prove that none of them were kept from a right motive. Hence, if any one indulges in the commission of any one sin, and yet appears in everything else to be virtuous, you may know that he has not true religion in his hear, that he is only religious in appearance. From what the apostle says in this passage it is plain, that if men pretend to have faith, and pretend to have love, and yet do not obey God, that they are deceiving themselves, and are violating the spirit of the whole of God's law. You can thus see, my dear hearers, that if the heart is right the conduct must be, and if the heart is wrong the conduct is wrong, whatever it may appear outwardly. The conduct is sinful, because it does not proceed from right intention. If the law of God is not obeyed in the spirit of it, it is disobeyed, whatever the outward life may be. If there is no reverence for the authority of God, no supreme devotedness to God, and not equal love for our neighbours, the law is violated. This leads me to say again -- if the spirit of the law is violated, -- for the spirit of the law is the spirit of the gospel, and the spirit of the gospel is the spirit of the law -- and both are the spirit of heaven; both are the spirit of God, and both are found in heaven; therefore, whatsoever falls short of obeying the spirit of the law, also falls short of obedience to the gospel.
Some remarks must close what I have to say this morning. First: viewed in relation to God's government of men there are no little sins. A great many persons have wondered, in reading the Old Testament, why certain sins were punished with death, which in the present day are hardly regarded as sins at all. The penalties for breaking the law under Moses were very different to what they are now in governments generally. The fact is, that under that dispensation it was peculiarly necessary for the infliction of a severe penalty against sin; and there were peculiar reasons why the law of the Sabbath should have been so rigidly enforced upon the Jews. But if you reflect for a moment you will see that there are no little sins, because every sin is a rejection of God's authority: every sin is a renunciation, for the time being, of allegiance to the Divine government. Of course there can be no little sins, for every sin involves a breach of the whole law, in the spirit of it; every one of them involves a refusal to love God with all the heart, and our neighbours as ourselves; every one of them involves a setting up of our own interests above that of Jehovah. There are no little sins then under the government of God; for everyone one of them involves rebellion against his authority. When we come to look at human society, and judge of the actions of men only as they effect it, we get comparative ideas of sin; but when we come to look at sin as a violation of the law of God, then we can see that every one who commits sin, in any degree as judged by human society, is an open enemy of God.
But let me say once more: when we truly understand this subject we shall see that when God's government is regarded, those sins which people are apt to call little sins, are really the greatest. That is, they involve the most guilt when viewed in their relations to God. When people practice little forms of self-indulgence, little lies, little acts of unjust dealing, of course the temptation is small, and the smaller the temptation if complied with, the greater the sin. Suppose, for example, an individual, the force of temptation, should commit some horrible crime against society, which is bad enough to be sure; but suppose another man, under very slight temptation consents to cast off God's authority in something else! Not it is true that in the former case the man consented to cast off God's authority too, and the crime consists in sinning against God's authority; the crime does not consist in sinning against human law, and human society. observe, then, in both instances, the sin is against God. The one is called a crime, but the other is not generally regarded as such, and yet both as crimes against God are equally wicked, or it may be, as I have said, that that which is not regarded as a crime by man, may be the greatest sin against God, because it was committed under very slight temptation. You are passing along the street, and you see a woman with a basket of oranges, her head is turned, you pop your hand into her basket, and slip an orange into your pocket. A very trifling thing, you say, I only took an orange. See that man with a plate of buttons, two for a penny, or it may be more, his back is turned, and a man puts his hand into the plate and slips a penny worth of buttons into his pocket. Now, what has he done! Why, under a very little temptation he has consented, with the eye of God looking right on him, to cast off God's authority and trample upon it for the value of a penny! Now he does not love that man whom he robbed, as he loves himself! His conduct says as plain as possible, God has commanded me to love my neighbour as myself, but I will love myself, and not my neighbour -- I do not care what God says; I will do as I please. Now sinner, you would be afraid to say that, but you do it. You are too hypocritical and cowardly to say it; but you do it right in the face of Almighty God!!
Once more: the least sins against society are often the greatest against God. Suppose a case. Look at that man, he is under the greatest excitement, some one has seduced his wife in his absence from home; he returned and found it out; in his desperation and agony he meets the man who has so grievously injured him, and he takes his life. He has committed a great crime against society and against God. Now take another case -- two men with two dogs pass along the street -- the dogs begin to fight -- one of the dogs receive some slight injury, and a slight scuffle ensues between their owners; and one injures the other. Now in this latter case there was very little temptation to commit the sin of injuring a neighbour compared with the former, and, therefore, this latter sin was as great as the former, and, perhaps, greater in the sight of God.
Once more: it is easy to see, from what has been said, how it is that multitudes misapprehend their true spiritual condition -- I mean men are outwardly conformed to the letter of God's law, but who are not truly Christian men. It is very important to understand this, and come to a thorough understanding that it is not by obedience to the letter of the law that a man can be accepted of God. Take an illustration. We will suppose, if you please, that one of Her Majesty's ships of war turn pirates; they exhibit the black flag, the death's head and cross bones, and go forth to make war upon the ships of all nations. Now they understand very well the importance of discipline, and it is strictly enforced because they are fully aware that they cannot secure their own ends without it. They take a ship, and the booty is distributed fairly to every man in proportion to his rank. Perhaps there is not a better disciplined ship in Her Majesty's navy; nor one in which there is more concern for the feelings and comfort of the whole crew. Now suppose that this ship should want provision and ammunition, and should seek a supply from the government on the score of their discipline and kindly feeling which exist among themselves! The government would ask whether their object in all they did was to vindicate the honour of their country and promote her interests! Now the reverse of this being true of them, is it not easy to see that they would be rightful refused their request by British Government! Where is the virtue of all their discipline and kindly feeling if they are employed in opposing the government and the interests of the citizens! Thus the moralist may boast of his morality, but all he does is from a selfish motive and for a selfish end, and this what constitutes him a sinner. Now suppose that human society in any part of the world should become perfect so far as intercourse between themselves in concerned. Their object is to secure some selfish end. It is indispensable that they should be faithful and kind to each other, as a condition of securing their selfish object. Suppose they should have the utmost discipline among themselves, and even manifest great benevolence. But if all this has relation to their own selfish objects, and not to the glory of God and the good of his kingdom, they are sinners, and only sinners continually. A merely moral man -- a man who is not converted, a man who does, not act from love to God -- has not a particle of anything good within him. In all his conduct he tramples on the authority of God's law -- he acts from a selfish motive, and not from love to God, he has no reference to God in what he does.
Let me say again: I fear that there are great many professors of religion, who suppose that they are truly religious although they knew that there are some forms of sin which they have not given up -- things which the law and the gospel both condemn. But they expect Christ to justify them. They think they have some religion, and do not expect to be very pious because they cannot be perfect, and so they indulge in some forms of sin, and are under the influence of certain forms of selfishness, and are thinking all the while, that because they keep such and such other commandments in the letter, that they will be saved at last. Thus they do not keep any of the commandments in the spirit of them, as God requires them to be kept, and if a man obeys not the law in the spirit, he does not obey it at all.
Once more: it is of the greatest importance that men should understand this, for there cannot be a more dangerous idea than that men can serve God and mammon at the same time; that men can pick and choose among God's commandments -- break those, and keep these in the letter, and yet be religious! This can never be. Human reason, as well as the Scriptures affirm that this must be true, and that its opposite cannot.
Now I must break off my remarks, but before I sit down let me ask you a question. My dear hearers, are you conscious of indulging in any forms of sin? And if you are, do you still hold on to the hope that you will be saved? Are you indulging in these things that you know to be sins; so that if you were to meet Jesus Christ in the street you would have no occasion to say -- is such a thing sin? You would be ashamed to ask such a question; for in the deep recesses of your heart you know it is sin. For let me say, although some persons try to persuade themselves that such and such things are not sins, yet if they knew they should not live ten minutes, they would conclude and acknowledge at once that they were. Now I do not mean that a Christian may not fall, under the influence of a powerful temptation, into sin, even as bad as David did. David was a good man, but under the influence of a powerful temptation he fell. But I doubt if a man could do what David did, in the present day of gospel light, and yet be a Christian. But if a Christian fall into sin he will not remain in its indulgence: he will be very anxious to have all his sins searched out, and forgiven. A true Christian will act from supreme love to God, and equal love to man. Now suppose a man should say -- in somethings I keep the true spirit of the law and of the gospel, but there are some forms of sin I have never given up; there are such and such things in which I have always indulged myself; notwithstanding I love God supremely, and supremely regard his authority, in some things I yield my will entirely up to God, but in others, I disobey him. Now what sort of talk would that be? It would be just the religion of a mass of people! They act in this way; but if they were to put it into words it would amount almost to blasphemy!
Another thing I would mention is this -- if sinners would only say right out what they practice, what an awful state of society should we call it. If men were to profess the utmost contempt for God's authority we should be shocked. But men by their conduct; some by swearing and taking the name of God in vain, and others by cheating and taking advantage of their neighbours in every little thing, are really saying -- I do not mind what God says; I have a great contempt for his law; I do not care whether I grieve him or his Spirit; I will do just what I like. If those who are so would only say it, the people would rise up and cast such blasphemy out of society. Suppose a child should be told to do a certain thing, and he should say, I will not, but go right away and disobey you before your eyes. You command them, but they treat you with contempt. They do not say I will not obey, but smile in your face a go and disobey you -- what would you think of them? I will tell you what you would think, that the wickedness of their conduct could not be described in words.
O sinner! sinner! You do just this every day towards God, every one of you! But mind I do not bring this against you as a railing accusation: I have no personal quarrel with you; but I know you would despise me as a dishonest man if I should hesitate to tell you to your face, as God's minister, how you treat him! I have been a sinner myself, and have treated God as you are now treating him; and I know how you feel. When I was an impenitent sinner I never respected a man who did not tell me of my sins -- I despised him. Now sinner, how long will you go on in this way rebelling against God and despising his authority? Will you make up your mind that this shall be no longer? When you can reconcile yourself to such treatment from your children, then you may treat God so, but not before. Will you then turn unto God and live? or will you continue to rebel and perish for ever? Which will you do?
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THE SINNERS SELF-DESTRUCTION
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY EVENING, JANUARY 5, 1851,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY
(Of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, America,)
AT THE TABERNACLE, MORESFIELDS, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by Ernest Thomas.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Do thyself no harm." -- Acts xvi.28.
Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel at Philippi, and Satan, it appears took new ground with them at this place, which, for a time, served greatly to embarrass them. There was a woman there who was the subject of demoniacal possession, and when the apostles were preaching she followed them from place to lace, and called out after them -- "These are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation;" and, of course, inasmuch as she was such a character, and so well-known Paul was very much grieved that she thus went after them, and bore testimony of this kind. He, therefore, cast the unclean spirit out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. This naturally gave great offence to those who made profit by her proceedings, and as they were influential persons they caused not small stir in the city. The brought them before the magistrates, and charged them with "turning the world upside down." After this they were sent to jail, and thrust into the inner prison, and, lest they should possibly escape, their feet were made fast in the stocks. At midnight they prayed and sang praises unto God, and all the prisoners heard them. There was a great earthquake, and the very foundations of the prison were shaken, the bars and bolts were removed, and the doors thrown open. This awoke the jailer, who was sleeping in a part of the same building. Coming from his room, and beholding the state of things around him, he concluded the prisoners had escaped; and knowing that he should be hardly dealt with, he was greatly excited, and drawing his sword, was about to destroy himself. This was observed by Paul, who cried out with a loud voice -- "Do thyself no harm: we are all here." Then the jailer called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."
God is always concerned lest the sinner should do himself harm, and what Paul said to the jailer in this case needs to be said to great multitudes of people in the present day; indeed, one way or the other, God is continually cautioning them not to injure themselves. It is not because this text teaches any particular doctrine that I have chosen it to-night, but for the purpose of calling attention to certain things of great importance.
II. SIN IS THE GREATEST HARM.
III. THE SOURCES OF DANGER.
IV. THINGS WHICH YOU SHOULD GUARD AGAINST, AS THEY ARE FATAL.
I have said that no one can do a moral agent real spiritual injury but himself. Persons can tempt others, but unless the individual tempted consents, there is no sin on his part. The tempter may sin, but to suffer temptation is no sin. Truly and properly even Satan himself cannot inflict spiritual harm upon men without their consent; for, unless they consent; for, unless they consent, they are not really harmed by temptation. In fact, although Satan never means them to do so, they are often benefitted, rather than injured by temptation, when they manfully resist it. Where individuals designedly tempt others, it is no thanks to them if it works good instead of evil. No one can inflict sin upon another; sin is a voluntary act on the part of the sinner; nobody can sin for you, or make you sin without your own consent, in any such sense as that God will hold you responsible for it.
This leads me to the next point. Sin is the greatest harm you can inflict upon yourself. Whatever else you may do it is of trifling importance compared with this. Sin is an eternal wrong to the immortal soul. But I need only to mention such points; it is unnecessary to enlarge on them. Whenever you wrong others by sin, you always do yourselves a greater wrong than you do them. Suppose, for example, that you have cheated another man, injured his character, or in some way inflicted an injury upon him; you have not inflicted any spiritual injury upon him, although you have wronged him temporally. But mark, in wronging him you have far more deeply wronged yourself; for your act was sin, but the wrong you have done him is not of so great importance -- it is not so great a wrong to him as if he himself had committed a sin.
Now let me turn to the sources of danger. You are all apprized of the existence of temptation, which the Bible divides into three descriptions -- the world, the flesh, and the devil. By the world is meant all that is without -- by the flesh, our own nature -- by the devil, the infernal influences by which we are sometimes tempted.
But my main design is to call attention to certain things by which men are in danger of doing themselves harm, and to can on them to be on their guard against them. First, I remark that men are in danger of doing themselves harm by the indulgence of prejudice. I have no doubt but that prejudice is one of the most common occasions of sin. Men are in very great danger of being prejudiced. For example, nearly the whole Jewish nation appears to have been ruined by prejudice. They were so committed to certain views, and so prejudiced in favour of certain doctrines which they had been taught, that when Christ came he was so completely over-against their prejudices -- so different from what they expected -- they had so given themselves up to their prejudices, that it had become their ruin. Who can contemplate the influence of religious prejudice without feeling inclined to warn everybody to be on their guard against it?
Prejudice is a pre-judgment, a making up of the mind beforehand without the requisite light and evidence. Now, in every age of the world this has been one of the great evils of mankind, and probably the judgment day will reveal the fact, that prejudice has ruined as many souls as almost any other thing in the world. Religion consists in believing and obeying the truth. Now, just so far as an individual is prejudiced, just so far he will, of course, not be under the influence of the truth. If he is committed to a one-sided view he will not know, do, or be sanctified by the truth, and of course, therefore, will not be saved. It is striking to see to what an extent mere prejudice ofttimes governs people on questions so definitely important as that of religion.
I have already adverted to the history of the Jewish nation, and the same is true, to an amazing extent, with respect to nominal Christians in the church. There is, perhaps, no denomination of Christians in which you will not find individuals who give the strongest evidence that their religion, such as it is, is a mere prejudice; and, in fact, some communities the mass of the membership appears to be in this condition; so that to attempt to preach to them contrary to their views, is useless, seeing that just so far as it is opposed to their views, in so far they deem your teaching erroneous. This is an all-powerful argument with them. So amongst the Roman Catholics, for instance; every individual who knows anything of them knows how extremely difficult it is to get them to listen to anything unless it comes to them in a certain shape. Their religion itself is a mere mass of prejudices, and not, in reality a religion at all, and this the mass of them abundantly show in their lives.
Some years since I was called to labour in a locality in the United States where a multitude of Germans had taken up their abode. They were strongly imbued with the peculiar views entertained by their denomination. They were taught their catechism up to a certain age, when they came before the minister, answer certain questions, and if they can do so they are admitted to communion, and then confirmed; this, they are taught to believe is religion. I have frequently been told, when labouring amongst them -- "Oh! I'm a Christian already." "Are you indeed? Who made you a Christian?" "Dr. Millenberg," was the reply in one case. "Well, but do you call that religion?" I have asked, "Oh, yes, that is our religion." Now, every drunkard I met in the streets had been to the communion, said his catechism, learned his lesson, and been received into the bosom of the church. So fatal and deep was their prejudice that it was astounding to see the masses in such a position. Their minister, for instance, would make such appeals to them as this, if there was any great revivals of religion in the neighbourhood -- "Why do you go to hear such preaching as this? If you embrace that religion you will turn against your fathers, and you may as well say your fathers are gone to hell! Did they pray and do such and such things? Did they tell their religious 'experience,' and how they were 'converted?' Will you turn against your fathers, give them all up, and proclaim by your conduct that they are all gone to hell?" In this way they were harangued from Sabbath to Sabbath; and is it wonderful that while persons thus have their prejudices appealed to, that they die in their sins by thousand after thousand? No minister, who appeals to the people's prejudices, can hope to promote religion thereby; they cannot be in a more unfavourable attitude to become truly religious; for, until they become honest-hearted, as little children, they will not be converted. Prejudices against individuals is ofttimes a very great obstacle to conversion. people do not seem to see that even when convicted these prejudices prevent their being converted. In fact, this was as total a barrier to their being converted as if they were in the habit of stealing, getting drunk, or anything else of that kind. This is not sufficiently understood. People who indulge unreasonable prejudices in this way, are often surprised to find they make small progress in religion; they cannot think how it is. Some persons are apt to fall into this error from their natural temperament; and such persons are in danger of doing themselves fatal harm. This is one of the rifest resources of destruction among men. How few there are after all, comparatively, whom you do not find so unreasonably committed either in favour of, or against somebody, that they are in a perfectly dishonest state of mind. Press them with religion, if you please, such is their dishonesty you can do them no good. I say the more on this subject because, when conversing with those persons, I have often found that they had never thought of these prejudices as a hindrance of their spiritual prayers.
Another thing against which persons need to be warned, is resistance to, and trifling with their own consciences. The reason that there is so little sensibility on the subject of religion is, that persons have trifled so long with their own consciences. People complain that they have none of the influences of the Holy Spirit; this is very common. How is it? If we could see through their past history we should perceive times when they felt keenly on religious subjects, especially when they sinned; but they indulged first in one sin and disregarded the reproof of conscience, and then in another and another, till at length the voice of the inward monitor was allowed to pass unheeded, and eventually, except in very extreme cases, it scarcely spoke at all, and finally sinks down into an indignant silence!
There are two things belonging to what we generally term conscience -- the mind's judgment, the moral character of the man, and that kind of feeling created by them -- i.e., a feeling answerable to the mind's judgment of our moral conduct. That which is more generally understood by the term conscience is the twinge of the sensibility; for so is reason related to the feeling part of the mind that when it points out sin in an individual, (that is before he becomes benumbed by resistance) it will produce a feeling impelling the mind to avoid such things. When the mind says such a thing is right, and it is your duty to do it -- that is, when the judgment of the mind says so -- there is a feeling pressing the individual up to do it, or if he has done it without this it causes a deep sting of remorse, when this feeling has not be trifled with, it makes the mind bleed to the very centre; but, when resisted the impulsive part ceases, the remorse ceases, and at length even when any thing is clearly seen to be a duty, not the least impulse is felt to do it. It affirms such and such to be duty, but there is no echoing feeling or tendency in the mind to go in that direction -- only a cold naked judgment, that he ought to do it. He has done something wrong, oh! yes; and there is the cold judgment, and that is all, there is no remorse. When persons have thus completely silenced the impulsive voice, and there is nothing left but the cold naked judgment -- what then? They complain of the "want of conviction." They have "no heart to become religious," no feeling on the subject. They know themselves to be sinners, but they feel it not, and care not for it. They know they are in danger of going to hell, but it does not alarm them. They know they have lived in sin, but they do not feel it; they are like a marble pillar. I have no doubt that some of you recognize in this picture your own past or present condition. Cannot you remember when you believed a thing to be wrong, felt strongly drawn back from it; or, if you did it, you felt a sting of remorse which made you writhe, and perhaps even led you to pray and confess it to God? But how is it now? Where is all that impulse now? Perhaps the cold naked affirmation is present -- that you can never resist -- but, make, perhaps all the results which tend to life within yourself is gone. Where are your now? Ah! where are your now? I would earnestly caution you to be careful how you trifle with conscience, for when you have once stifled its voice -- where are you then?
Another mode by which men are in danger of doing themselves fatal harm is by resisting the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is always true that when the conscience is resisted, the Holy Spirit is resisted, and that this impulse is often, if not always, connected with the Divine influence. When the Spirit of God is quenched and grieved away, there is the utmost danger that the conscience will become entirely silent, and that no truth can savingly reach the soul: for, observe, it is through the conscience that the Spirit of God works, and that the truth takes hold on men; but for a man's conscience, he would no more be converted than a marble pillar. If you take this away, virtually, by resisting it, there is no more hope of your conversion than if you had no conscience.
There is another thing which persons need to be warned, and that is getting into some snare form which they can hardly escape. it is dreadful to see how men fall into such snares. it is the policy of Satan to crowd men early in life into some position from which he knows they will not retreat. Men sometimes do certain things which are almost sure to be fatal to them; Satan therefore crowds them always into these false steps -- into the commission of some sin, or the assumption of some false position -- they commit themselves to something which the dare not confess, and they cannot repent without confessing -- how shall they get out of it? For example, who does not know the influence of telling a lie? Sometimes a sinner's telling a lie will almost certainly ruin him. He will get himself into such a position by telling this lie in order to "make everything straight," and then telling another to cover the first up, and so on, and on that the results of this one sin will often prove fatal; not that such an offense, in itself, was unpardonable, but it necessarily committed the mind to a course of lying, and it rushes on in a course involving the sacrifice of one principle after another, and onward and onward you go.
Let me ask all persons here - have you well considered this going? Did you young men ever seriously reflect on the danger of telling your employer a lie? Have you done so? What a step you have taken? You will probably be led to tell some one else a lie in order to cover it up, and then you will be led to another and another and so on. Where will you stop? The same is true of business transactions; the devil never shocks men at first by some atrocious proposition; he strives to lead them into unguarded positions -- to push them into danger by committing themselves, by some apparently trifling act, to a certain course of conduct -- and then he seeks to cut off their retreat. For instance, there is a young man who has taken some small advantage of his employer, and dare not confess it for fear of being thrown out of employment -- what shall he do? He conceals it, and then goes on in a course of deceit to keep it concealed. Whenever it is likely to come out he resorts to some new fraud to cover it up; and thus his escape is rendered more and more difficult. Oh! sinner do thyself no harm. Do not take the first penny or first farthing! Sinners, of all persons, have most need to be on their guard against placing themselves in such a position as to cut off their own retreat.
Another thing to be guarded against is the formation of some bad habit. How many thousands of young men have come to the City of London, for example and allow themselves to get into some bad habit! They have been taught better at home; their parents have warned them; and watched their start in London with fear and trembling. They come here, and give up their old habits of order, and keep late hours at night, give way to intemperance, and so the occasional indulgence grows up into a habit, becomes conformed, and often almost ineradicable. Persons should be on their guard against the formation of these artificial appetites; for they are always more despotic and dangerous than those which are natural. For example, the appetite for alcohol is an artificial appetite; that is, no unperverted constitution ever sought poison, loved it, and took to the habitual use of it; and if this habit once gets the mastery over an individual, how awfully dangerous is their position! The use of tobacco belongs to the same category; it, too, is a totally artificial appetite; there is nothing more odious to the taste, at first. When I walk along the streets, and see your poor ill-clad artisans with their pipes in their mouths, how I pity them! It has got such a hold on many persons, that the sacrifice, to them, would be great indeed. Let me say to all smokers, snuffers, and chewers, who are present to-night -- Is this a proper use for you to make of God's money? Is this the way to treat your constitution? Is this a practice which will commend itself when you come to render an account to God? Perhaps some of you will say, these, after all, are very insignificant things to preach about; but to you young men, they are not small things at all; for such habits invariably lead to something worse.
Men need also to be warned against engaging in any improper business. I mean some business which will ruin you souls, if persisted in. Be careful what you do in this direction. Undertake no business which is injurious to your fellow-men -- nothing which is inconsistent with the well-being of society -- no business, in short, that you cannot pursue honestly, with an enlightened, upright heart, for the glory of God. now this is a very common sense thing. Every one can see that when an individual engages in a business he cannot consecrate to God, by that very engagement he has formally withdrawn his allegiance from Christ, and set up for himself. Be careful, then, for you had better have no business at all, ten thousand times than engage in one in which you cannot keep your conscience void of offence. But you must also be careful not to err by pursuing a proper business, for improper motives; if you take the most proper business in the world, and pursue it in an improper manner, it will be fatal. It may be selling Bibles, even; if you go about it selfishly, and yet say, "I am vending Bibles,' -- what if you are? Take care! Mark me, you may just as easily be selfish in that calling as in anything else. In fact, the more sanctimonious the exterior of a business, the greater your danger of pursuing it from wrong motives, without being aware of it. Take for instance, the preaching of the gospel. You can all see at once, that a man who preaches the gospel because of the nature of the profession, might easily give himself credit for it, while it was in fact only selfishness; because he preached the gospel that he might take it for granted that he was in the service of God, whereas he was serving himself in the gospel and not of the gospel. Be careful, then, that you do not prosecute your business selfishly; for if you do, it will be fatal to your souls.
Avoid dangerous companions; if they are agreeable, they are so much the more dangerous on that account. It is always a great snare to young people when they fall in with a very agreeable but unprincipled companion. That young man is a very agreeable companion; he often calls on you, treats you very politely; sometimes asks you, perhaps to an oyster supper, or something else; but he is an unprincipled young man, though he does not at once show it -- all the worse for you; the greater your danger. if he were not agreeable you would not be in so much danger of receiving fatal harm. But he is very agreeable, and the devil knows it, and loves to have him make himself agreeable; he may draw you into some snare, and you are committed for life and for death. It is just the same with books; they are often all the more dangerous because of their being agreeable.
Again --amusements. Ah! how very amusing they are! But where do they tend? You "must have some amusement," you say. How many millions have been destroyed by not being on their guard against these things! Beware also, of worldly ambition. You see a great many examples of this. Beware of the love of gain. What would it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your own soul? Look at such a man getting rich -- do you envy him? The Lord may let him have it -- but what then? The richest man in America, a few years since, was called upon by a person who was employed to write his biography. (A person who knew him well, told me that he was the most wretched man he ever knew; so numerous were the calls upon him for charitable objects, that at length he became uneasy whenever he heard a knock, lest it might be some one to beg his money; and such was the state of mind when his biographer called upon him.) "On the whole what do you think of your life, now that you have nearly done with it?" said the biographer. "I think it is a failure," was the reply. "A failure?" exclaims the biographer. "Yes, a failure," was again the response. He had more money than any man in America, yet he considered his life to have been a failure. Ah! he had been greedy of gain; he had loved money, and had got it, but he had lost his soul. he had committed himself to gain, till it had become a passion, and he was eaten up with it. Are you, any of you, doing yourselves harm in this way? Are you so intent on obtaining property that it haunts you even on the Sabbath? Indeed? Why then are you benumbing your souls--riveting your own chains. You ought to take warning, and fly from it as from the very gates of Hell!
Another great danger is that when men become wealthy, they are liable to become "purse proud," and thus ruin themselves. Even intemperance itself is ofttimes not more fatal to the soul; it is manifestly inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel; but there is a great temptation to it. It is remarkable to what an extent men who succeed in acquiring property become haughty in their demeanour. Others indeed need to be warned against family pride. This is a fatal snare by which men do themselves infinite harm.
Again. persons often run to men for advice instead of to God. Some years since, at Detroit, in America, there lived a gentleman who belonged to one of the highest families in the place, and who was surrounded by a large circle of the very uppermost class of society. He was deeply convicted of his sins, very anxious about his soul, at length he became so intensely anxious that he could no longer refrain from speaking to me on the subject. I pressed him to submit. "I cannot do it," said he "without consulting my friends, without which I never take any important step, as they would think it unkind and ungenerous of me." "But are you going to consult unconverted men about your soul?" "Oh! Yes." "But I am certain if you do this, you will tempt the Spirit of God." But he "thought he should not." I pressed him for half an hour to make at once his peace with God. But no, he persisted to the last that his relations must be consulted; and so important a step must not be taken without their consent. Persons often thus consult their friends, and virtually commit themselves to their advice, rather than follow the dictates of their own conscience, their sense of right, and the law of God. They want no advice where the path of duty is so plain; but the fact is, they are afraid to displease their friends, and they therefore go on displeasing God! What a foolish and fatal course is this! -- flesh and blood before God!
The next rock on which may split is the harbouring of resentment, and while this is done conversion is utterly impossible. They have not the spirit which God requires; for except you forgive others their trespasses, God will not forgive yours. Some people harbour resentment more easily than others, and seem almost unconscious of it, and appear unable to see that they are injuring themselves by so doing. Have you been injured? "Yes," and therefore you entertain a spirit of resentment, and thought of retaliation if you have an opportunity. Do you, indeed? Now do you know that Satan pleases himself with these thoughts; for even if that man has ruined you, you are doing yourself more wrong than he had done; for, mark me, the wrong that he has done you could not injure your soul, if you did not harbour resentment. You pass that man by, and do not speak to him on any account; and pray, is that the spirit to be saved in? Avoid, therefore, doing yourself injury by harbouring a spirit of revenge. Be equally careful to shun feelings of envy and jealousy. I have often thought that were we to look over human society we should find, perhaps, a very great number of persons who are kept from being converted, and go down to their graves in their sins because they have been all the time harbouring ill-feeling towards some one who has injured them. Something has occurred in early youth, or even in childhood, which has placed an individual -- or, perhaps, an entire family -- in the position of enemies, and you go down to the grave hating them. Now the Bible teaches us plainly that this state of mind is fatal to the soul. Satan chuckles over it -- avoid it! Guard against all feelings of enmity or retaliation towards anybody, from any cause whatever; I have always taken the greatest pains on this point in my own family. Parents! What kind of an example are you setting your children on this point? Consider well and examine your position in this respect.
Guard against bearing any sin on your, conscience: There is some sin of omission or of commission which, perhaps, you are putting off, it may be leaving it for a death-bed. You have wronged somebody, and you think confession to them and restitution, as far as circumstances permit, will at present, disgrace you but that you will attend to it before you die. You are too proud, in fact to do it now; you will attend to it when you come to die; but will God accept the act then, think you? When death knocks you will find yourself in no such a position as you are calculating upon; if you thus deliberately refuse or neglect to confess and forsake your sins -- you are all but certain to die as you have lived, for you have been tempting God. Do not, therefore, delay to attend to this matter. Many neglect to do what they know to be their duty, and yet pray to God as if they had really done all that they ought, till they eventually harden their hearts to a degree which is absolutely fatal -- till they have, in fact totally lost their religious sensibility. Beware, then, of the delusion that you can possibly be saved while you are in any respect guilty of dishonesty -- beware of tempting God and ruining yourselves by the indulgence of so fatal an error. If God forgave you, while you were dishonest of insincere in any respect, he would become the minister of unrighteousness -- he cannot do it.
But I must hasten to a close; I will, therefore, content myself with very briefly indicating some other things which need to be guarded against. Be careful lest, by some incautious act, you be drawn into a position which requires the practice of habitual deception -- which necessitates either confession, which might perhaps disgrace you, or involves the necessity of making your life a perfect lie. Sometimes lovers deceive each other with regard to pecuniary prospects or something else, and what awful consequences have been known to result! But the wrong you are doing to yourself is, in all such cases, even greater than the wrong done to others. Sin is the greatest absurdity in the universe, yet -- only think! -- here are you, selfish beings, doing yourselves the greatest injury that can possibly be done to you! All the wicked men on earth, or all the devils in hell could never have done what you will do, if you go on in your present course -- they could never have ruined your soul! This will, be the most agonizing consideration in hell -- that you have done it all yourself. You, and you alone, have done this infinite harm to your immortal soul!
Suppose some of you have placed yourselves in such a position -- taken some false oath, committed some theft, or done some injury in some way, and you are sorry for it, but refuse to confess to the party concerned, and do all in your power to make restitution! -- and suppose that it should be told in the solemn judgment that, instead of making restitution you threw yourself on Christ? Suppose it should be found that God had forgiven you while in this dishonest state of mind? But you cannot suppose such an absurdity, for it would disgrace him before the whole universe. But you are too proud to make restitution. Indeed! Then you are too proud to be saved! Beware, then -- I speak to young men particularly -- beware, young men, of taking the first step in a course, the results of which are so terrible! Beware of the first lie -- the first dishonest act! If you have already commenced such a course, forsake it at once; no results which may ensue, can be so great an evil as your going to hell. There is no evil so great as that. But many are too proud, and prefer to go on in deceit, because they have gone on in it so long that they tremble at the sacrifice -- but one hour of hell will be infinitely worse than the worst of such cases can possibly be!
Do not leave it till you come to die -- after you have gone on in injustice -- quenching the Spirit and stifling conscience -- how do you think to make it up so easily with God at your latest moments, when the breath is just departing from your body? Oh! Sinner, how awful will then be your reflections! How your weakened memory will start again into activity, and recall the time when you told the lie that committed you to a course of lying to cover it up -- when you indulged in the first act of extravagance, which finally led you to plunder your employers! You will then see the vast and awful importance of the counsel I now give -- to avoid the first act, or, if that be too late, to come out of it while the sacrifice is yet comparatively small, and do not -- let me entreat you -- do not defer till the matter becomes so serious as to render your confession and restitution next to an impossibility! Perhaps a week, or a day, longer in your present course, may lead you to some act which will render the retracing of your steps tenfold more serious than it is at the present moment; and, in fact, may thereby seal your destiny for eternity!
Sinner! Mercy yet calls. Jesus is here with the offer or pardon and salvation. No matter how great your sin. If you will now, indeed, back right out, and pour it all out before the Lord, wash you hands in innocency, bathe yourself in the blood of Jesus, and you shall be forgiven!
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THE RATIONALITY OF FAITH
Delivered on Sunday Morning, January 12, 1851
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
(Of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, America,)
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by Ernest Thomas.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." -- Romans iv.20.
These words were spoken of Abraham, as you will see by reading the connexion in which they are found. Faith is the heart's confidence in God. This is faith in its generic form; its specific form relates to particular things -- belief in the promises, in Christ, in the doctrines of the Bible, and in all the various assertions that God makes in his word. This specific form of faith differs from faith in its generic or simple form, which implies a general confidence in the existence, attributes, and character of God. The mind's resting in these things is faith; that is faith in its simple form. Mark, faith in God is not a mere assent to these things, nor a mere intellectual conviction that they are true; but faith is the heart, and the mind, and the will, resting in this truth -- that God is, that he possesses certain attributes, and a certain character. Faith in its specific form is the belief of the heart in certain declarations of God, a belief in his wisdom and goodness; in his assertions respecting Christ, and in all those things which he has said and promised. There a great many specific forms in which faith develops itself -- but the root of it is heart confidence in God himself.
In speaking from the words which I have chosen for my text this morning I purpose to notice --
II. SHOW HOW FAITH DISPOSES OF THESE THINGS; AND THAT TRUE FAITH IS NOT SUBDUED AND OVERCOME BY A CONSIDERATION OF THESE THINGS.
III. I SHALL SHOW THE GREAT OBJECT OF THESE TRIALS OF FAITH
IV. PROFESSORS THAT STUMBLE OF STAGGER AT THESE THINGS LOSE THE BLESSING CONSEQUENT UPON THEM, AS A NATURAL NECESSITY.
I. I shall notice some of the things which are calculated to try the faith of God's creatures.
One that is very common and most striking is the existence of so much evil and misery in this world. God declares that he is acquainted with all. He affirms that he is omnipotent, omniscient -- he is every where present, and knows all things, and is all powerful. He declares himself infinitely good, and disposed to do god. Now, that under the government of such a being as this there should be so much evil, and so much that is sinful, and so much misery -- as a matter of fact we know there is -- is greatly calculated to try the faith of men. That these things should exist, and be every where observable in this world to an immense extent, is to many minds so great a mystery, so difficult to reconcile with the existence and declared attributes of God, that they stumble, and even call in question the fact, that there is a God at all. By the bye, another thing that God asserts, and that reason also affirms, is the existence of a providence which guides and controls all events; that God has a design in everything that he does; that at the very beginning God had a design, and that in what he does he is pursuing this design to its accomplishment; and that this design proceeds from a being who is infinitely good and infinitely wise.
Now the existence of this evil that there is in the world does not seem to harmonize with the things that God says of himself -- with his wisdom and goodness -- many minds therefore find great difficulty in getting over these facts, and it is more than unbelief ever can accomplish. Understand, it is not a present my design to explain this, but simply to notice the facts at which unbelief stumbles, and which are calculated to try the faith of God's creatures. The introduction of sin into this world, and its existence in the world is greatly calculated to try the faith of the most holy being in the universe. There is no doubt that they were unable to comprehend for a time why God allowed such a state of things to be; the reason for all this may have gradually developed itself, but at first the difficulty that was presented to their minds could have only been overcome by faith -- how this is done I shall observe in another part of my discourse.
But let me say again: the manner in which the Bible reveals God is also a great stumbling-block to many; the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, there are a great many that stumble at it because they cannot understand it, any better than they can understand a great many other things; because they cannot understand it they reject it, and say that it cannot be, and so they will not receive it simply because they cannot explain it. Just so with respect to the incarnation of the Son of God; many men because they cannot understand how humanity and Deity could be united, reject the doctrine, and will not believe it. Now it is admitted at once, there is no occasion for denying it, and to do so would be as absurd as it is unnecessary, that these doctrines are very mysterious; but they are announced as facts, that God was in Christ, that Christ was both God and man; of course it is readily admitted that this declaration is a great trial to the faith of finite creatures; but then the announcement is made by God himself and ought to be believed. The doctrine of the atonement is another stumbling-block to men; that God should give his own Son to die for the sins of mankind, and that he should actually suffer, is a difficulty that can only be overcome by faith -- unbelief will suggest a multitude of difficulties and reject it.
But let me say again: the resurrection, the doctrine of justification by faith, the doctrine of sanctification by faith, and all the other doctrines of the bible, are stumbling-blocks to the minds of men. Indeed individuals who find no difficulties in them have not faith, and show that they have not well considered them; but however difficult they may be, there is ten thousand times greater absurdity in disbelieving than in exercising faith in them, given as they are on the testimony of God himself. But, nevertheless, unbelief finds great difficulty in admitting them. The mind that has not confidence in God refuses to believe, because it cannot explain how these things all are -- of course, such a mind will stumble and stagger at every step.
But once more, the manner in which sin was introduced into the world is also a great stumbling-block to those who have no confidence in God, and therefore cannot rest upon the revealed fact, unless they can explain it. Of course if they cannot receive what God says, unless he gives them his reasons for everything that he does, they will find great difficulty in getting along. Suppose a child should have no confidence in his Father, and should therefore want the reasons for his father's conduct in eveything that he did, and should require to have explained to him in a satisfactory manner how eveything was done before he could believe it -- who cannot see that a family of such unbelievers, stumbling and staggering at every step, would have no confidence in their father at all; for if he was a man conducting a very extensive business on a vast scale, they could not understand as children what even perhaps many men could not comprehend if it were explained to them. How absurd then for the children not to put confidence in their father because they could not understand the reasons for all his conduct.
But let me say again: the very greatness of God's promises is often a sever trial to faith. He promises things so great to persons so undeserving--indeed so ill-deserving--that unbelief finds it difficult to believe him, because he says so much, and promises so much. But again: the providence of God is often a great trial to faith. How remarkable was the conduct of god towards Abraham, and how greatly calculated to try his faith. He called him out of his father's house, and Abraham obeyed not knowing whither he went. God had reasons in his own mind for his conduct in this matter -- he intended to make of Abraham a great nation, and through him communicate his will to men, and that from his family the Saviour of men should proceed -- but he gave Abraham no such intimation of what he was going to do; he called him from his country, and told him to go to a certain place that he should show him. After Abraham had obeyed the command, God promised to give him a certain land for a possession and to his seed after him; and although he had no family, God called him and said, Look toward the heavens and see if you can count the stars for multitude, and promised that his seed should be as numerous as the stars of heaven -- and that he would give him the land of Canaan for a possession, and make him the father of many nations. This promise was long and remarkably delayed; he lived in the land that was promised to him for a possession only on sufferance, and when his wife died, he was obliged to purchase a burial place in that very land that God had promised should be his own -- yet we see no signs of any stumbling in his faith. After a long period had elapsed, God promised Abraham that he should have a son by his wife Sarah. Now both Abraham and Sarah were very old, she was long past the age when it was common for women to have children, nevertheless Abraham believed that god would do what he had promised. Those who will read and ponder well all the circumstances connected with the triall of Abraham's faith, will se that he must have been very severely tried indeed. Now, mar, by and by, after a long time, this promised son was born. The lad grew -- when all at once God takes Abraham by surprise -- as he seems always to have done -- and says "Take thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, and go to a mountain that I will tell thee of, and offer him there for a burnt-offering." He not only says to Abraham, "take thy son," but he reminds him that it is his only son, whom he loves; and it is this son, this son of promise, this beloved son, whom he is to offer upon the altar. Now, how infinitely strange is all this; yet Abraham staggered not; he believed that God was able to raise him from the dead. He had such strength of faith that he appears not to have been much trouble of mind about it; he does not seem even to have discovered to Sarah that he had received any such communication from God; he was so calm that Sarah did not perceive anything was the matter with him. The next morning he started with his servants to offer Isaac at the place which God was to point out to him. When they came in sight of the place, he caused his servants to wait, lest they should interfere with him when carrying out the command of God. Abraham and his son ascended the mountain where the sacrifice was to be offered: Isaac did not understand what was going to be done -- he knew indeed that Abraham was going to offer a burnt offering, for they had the fire and the wood, but he did not know that he was to be the victim, it did not occur to him at all, for he asked where the lamb was that Abraham intended to offer. So calm was Abraham, that Isaac did not notice anything different in his manner; and to the question of his son, Abraham replied, the Lord will provide himself with a lamb for a burnt-offering. When he had prepared the altar, he bound Isaac and laid him on the wood, just as he would have done a lamb, and then took the knife and he was about to slay him, but God called, and said, "Abraham, Abraham" -- repeating his name rapidly, so as to arrest his attention in a moment, "lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son form me. And when Abraham lifted up his eyes, he saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and he offered it instead of his son." God did this to test the implicitness of Abraham's faith; and this was as plainly manifested as if he had sacrificed his son -- for he did do it so far as his mind was concerned; he believed that God would raise him from the dead if sacrificed, for he had no doubt at all that God would fulfill his promise. Now this was a beautiful exhibition and illustration of faith. But let me say, this was exceedingly calculated to try Abraham, as you will perceive. And the manner in which God very often fulfills his promises to men is to them a great stumbling-block -- they are expecting him to fulfill them in one way, and he takes a direct opposite course, which is calculated to subvert all their ideas of things. Now all such things as these are exceedingly calculated to try our faith in God. But strong faith will not suffer itself to stumble at such things. Why sold it? Faith embraces at once all the attributes of God; and, therefore, has confidence in him, and does not seek to understand everything before yielding the heart to him. There are, and must be, multitudes of things that we cannot understand, nor would it be useful for us to understand at present.
II. We see then, how it is that faith disposes of these difficulties.
If God's attributes are what he declares them to be, there are things that cannot be explained to finite beings. Now for example; take the doctrine of the Trinity. To be sure human reason cannot explain that, nor is any explanation called for; God simply announces the fact in the bible, that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are God. Now that God should manifest himself in ten hundred thousand beings at one and the same time is not contrary to reason. For example, we find that at one time, before the destruction of Sodom, three individuals appeared to Abraham, and one of them who is called Jehovah, informed Abraham what they were going to do, and Abraham put up a prayer to have Sodom saved -- you recollect the afflicting circumstance. We learn that there were three men, or apparently so; two of them probably were angels in human form, and the other was no less a being than Jehovah himself. Now mark! Who can doubt but that God could have assumed the same form in millions of cases at the same time in different parts of the world, for there would be nothing contrary to reason in that. There is nothing then unreasonable in the supposition that God should exist in three persons or three hundred thousand million persons! We say there is nothing unreasonable in it. Who does not know that there is not? What then do men mean when they say that they cannot believe in the Trinity? Why not believe? What do such men suppose they know about infinity? Can they affirm of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that these three cannot exercise and manifest the attributes of God? But as the fact is announced, there need be no evidence of it to the man who has faith. Faith makes no effort to understand it. If you object to this, let me ask, how do you know that you exist yourselves? O yes, you say, we know that we exist; we believe it. What makes you believe it? Can you explain it? Did you choose your body? Can you tell the connection between matter and spirit? How can you prove what yourselves are?
Some years since, I was walking with a gentleman in the city of New York, and we were talking about religion and mind, and he stopped right short in the street and said, "you say such and such things about mind; now what is mind?" "If you tell me," said I, "what matter is, I will tell you what mind is." "Why," said he, "matter has the the property of extension, solidity, and so forth;" but he did not name any of the primary attributes of matter. "Well," I replied, "mind wills, thinks, feels, and the like." He looked at me quite astonished. I continued, "you have told me some of the attributes of matter, can you tell what those attributes are?" "I do not know," said he. "Neither can I explain what the substance of mind is." If the wisest philosopher in the universe were standing in this pulpit, a little child might ask him such questions as he could not answer or explain any more than we can explain the doctrine of the Trinity not a bit. There is not a single thing in the universe in all the kingdom of nature when you come to dive to the bottom of it, which is not as difficult to explain as any doctrine of the Bible. Why then believe in any and all of these things? Why believe in your own existence? The fact is, that men do not disbelieve things because they are mysterious 'till they come to the subject of religion, because the world around them is so deeply mysterious that there is not a single thing that they can understand to the bottom, yet they are enabled to believe in them. It is very frequently the case that people do not realize that there is a mystery in anything but religion.
Now I know that philosophy can in part explain many things, and that those things which a few years ago were considered mysterious and even marvelous, are now understood. Science has already placed mankind in a position to explain the theory of many things that were deep mysteries and spread them out before the minds of the people. But speaking generally, both with regard to the spiritual and the natural world, men have to live by faith. They believe in the various things around them in the natural world although they may not be able to understand them. The same is true of spiritual things; we must receive much on testimony that cannot be explained to us; and probably, in many cases, God would not explain them to us even if we could understand them because it would not be well for us, but he leads us step by step to a correct understanding of things that may be useful and necessary for us to know.
Now in relation to the question of sin and its necessary attendant, misery, as it exists in our world; there is a mystery about it. Of course, every mind affirms that where sin is, there misery ought to be; but the question of wonder is, how sin came into the world, why it was permitted! But that this is a wise order of things, nobody can doubt. Man was made superior to all the rest of the inhabitants of this globe; and we see by his power and sagacity and knowledge, he was designed to be the head of the creation. But mark! men are in rebellion against God. This is a simple matter of fact; there is nothing more certain in the universe than that men as a race have set God at nought and bid him defiance.
Now reason affirms that the curse of God should be written upon everything in the universe in order to testify to God's real character, and that it should not be mistaken. But while we see that God does testify against sin, there are also indications that he has a strong disposition to be merciful as far as he wisely can; but the difficulties are many and great in the way of his forgiving sin. But let me say, faith in God does not find it very difficult to remove all these obstructions. Disbelief says sin exists, and looking at God's government as a system of moral law, it does not appear that sin can ever have been forgiven; in such a government, pardon is impossible. But faith says at once, God is kind, wise, and good, as well as infinitely powerful; misery and sin exist, but they are allowed to continue in the world only for a wise purpose to assist in bringing about the end at which he aims; for although sin is so great an abomination, God will bring good out of it. Look at the sin of Judas; the devil put it into his heart to betray the Son of God to his enemies and to his dismay, he saw the greatness of his crime; but God overruled their evil intentions. His purpose was that the blood of his dear Son should be shed as an atonement for sin.
Now, although we cannot understand the reason why God should permit the existence of sin in the world at all, faith can easily dispose of the difficulties which may suggest themselves. Faith believes that everything that God does must be infinitely good and wise. The fact is, unbelief in such matters is the most unreasonable thing in the world. If you profess not to believe anything 'till you understand it, why do you believe in your own existence? What do you know of volition? You move your muscles, but how you cannot tell. Faith, I say, disposes of all these difficulties, and is not unreasonable in so doing. Take Abraham's case. God promises that Abraham shall have a son. "I shall have it," he says; "I am very old, and Sarah is very old; no matter how old, God is able to give us a son." The child is born and is growing up when God calls to Abraham and tells him to go and offer Isaac in sacrifice, and Abraham says, "I will go, God has a good reason for the requirement; I know he must; he cannot have any other; he is infinitely good and infinitely wise; he cannot have made any mistake. The path then of duty is plain and I will walk in it." Oh, says unbelief, how will the promise be fulfilled, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called!" "I do not know," said Abraham, "but God is able to raise him from the dead." Thus, you see his faith very quickly disposed of the difficulty although it was very great. Now is there anything inconsistent with reason in all this? Why no. Just look at it right in the face.
My own reason tells me that God is infinitely perfect in all his attributes, everywhere and in everything, and that either permissively or actively, he is concerned in everything that takes place. I find myself in a universe surrounded by a multitude of things that I cannot explain and that even God himself could not explain to me because of my limited capacity, but these things are true nevertheless; and as the law of progression operates, I come to understand many things which were before, dark and inexplicable to my mind. And does not reason tell us that there must be a vast many things in the government of an infinite God that a finite mind cannot comprehend? But when a man is in a spiritual state of mind, faith takes the place of knowledge. The little child, for instance, lives by faith. Human society exists by faith; destroy all confidence, all faith, and society could not exist; and no business be transacted. And in the spiritual state of man, faith is just as necessary. I have not time to enlarge upon this now. We now come to explain briefly
III. The design of these trials.
Everyone can see that one great object is to strengthen faith. I have often heard it remarked, by intelligent people too, that in heaven faith will not exist, because there, we shall walk by sight. Now there is some truth in that, but much greater error. It is true that many things which we merely believe here we shall know there; but there will be much to call forth our faith; for there must be in the government of God much that it would require millions of ages to understand, and we shall go on acquiring knowledge throughout the immensity of eternity, and thus, there will be need of faith in God in eternity as in time; it will be as true in heaven as on earth. Suppose that the angels had not faith, why the fall of man must have given a shock to the inhabitants of heaven. But they believed that God had some wise design in that he permitted man to fall. Now this is the way faith disposes of everything; and let what will come, there is no alarm or doubt but all will be right.
I had intended to show in the next place that those who stumble and stagger must lose the blessing consequent upon believing as a natural necessity, which everyone can see must be the case, but I see that I must close with one remark. Those who will not believe God, there is no hope for. Suppose you had a family of children and they should lose confidence in you as a business man, they would stagger and stumble at every step you took just because you could not explain to them all your plans. You say to them, dear children, I cannot explain these things to you, I am labouring for your good, therefore be quiet, be passive, and have confidence in me that all will be well; but if they will not, what can you do with them? They must remain in their unbelieving, unconverted state. Now it is the same in God's government. There are many things that cannot be explained to men and yet they will not exercise faith, and if they persist in their unbelief, they will go stumbling and fretting to the gates of hell! Some people will take nothing on trust; they must catechize their Maker; and if he does not explain everything to them, they have no confidence in him hence, it is said that they shall have their part with liars in the lake of fire. My dear hearers, the most unreasonable and blasphemous abomination in the world is unbelief.
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THE REWARD OF FERVENT PRAYER
Delivered May 15, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,522.
This lecture was typed in by Ross and Ruth McElwee.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" --Ps. lxxxi. 10.
These words were addressed by God to the Church. There is nothing in the context in which they are found that particularly demands explanation. I would, therefore, proceed at once to say that this promise and injunction being addressed to the Church was also, of course, addressed to individual Christians. Whenever a promise or an injunction is applicable to the Church, it is also applicable to each individual composing the Church. This reveals to us the principle on which God deals with His people. The spirit of what is written here is even more true. In briefly considering this subject, I propose to show:
II. What it implies.
III. What its relationship is to our responsibilities.
I. What this language means.
Of course it is figurative: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." Does it mean literally to open the mouth wide and He will fill it with something without our understanding what?
"I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt."
This was addressed to the Church of old, and the spirit of it is addressed to the Church in all ages. It is said in the eighth verse, "Hear, 0 my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; there shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The language, then, is figurative, and is to be understood in the following ways.
God enjoins us to ask of Him great things. The injunction is not only, "Open thy mouth," but open it wide; open it fully to its utmost capacity; by which it is to be understood that we are to ask of God great things, as great as we can conceive, We are merely creatures, and therefore our conceptions are low, and the spirit of the injunction tells us that we should ask great things of our heavenly Father. With our finite powers, we can conceive of Him "who is able to do for us abundantly above all that we can ask or think." Let the request be ever so great, He can grant it. In your petitions to Him, therefore, "open thy mouth wide," ask for things as great as you can conceive.
Another thing we are to understand by this language is, we are to expect those great things for which we ask. We are required to ask believingly in expectation that He will give the things which we ask.
The spirit of this injunction also means that we are to attempt to accomplish great things for God. We are to ask earnestly, to ask largely, to ask perseveringly in order that we may honor and glorify Him. Here, I might add, we are to understand that all our petitions must be addressed in the name of Christ from right motives.
II. What it implies.
The injunction "open thy mouth wide" is followed by the promise "and I will fill it."
This language implies that God is interested in us. What would motivate Him to say this to us if He were not interested in us? Why should He exhort us to open our mouths wide and ask of Him great things if He had no interest in us? This language must surely imply that for some reason or other He has great interest in His Church, and, of course, in each individual composing that Church.
It implies that He is interested in those things He requires us to do. He is interested in giving us the great things which He has promised, and in our possessing them to enable us to do what He requires of us.
God's Full Provision
God has made provision for us in every situation. He does not require great things of His people without promising the grace to help them perform that which He requires of them. But He does require many and great things of His people. He requires them to go forth to the conquest of the world, and many other things He requires of them in the various relations that they sustain to the world and to society.
Now, you must not complain that you cannot accomplish what is required of you, that you cannot do this or that because of your littleness or insufficiency. For God says, open your mouth wide for ability to do His will and He will fill it. He will enable you to do what is required of you. I say, then, that this language implies His interest in us personally, and that He is greatly interested in giving us the things for which we ask. He is quite able out of His fullness to supply all our need, to give us everything we want to enable us to accomplish everything He requires of us.
This language is addressed to different classes of individuals who maintain particular relations in life regarding special and particular circumstances. For example, it is addressed to local authorities, ministers, parents, and private Christians. Whatever the circumstances, this language relates to your particular needs: "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
It is of great importance for everyone to understand that God is interested in each individual. He takes all things into account. He placed us in our various relations; therefore, He must be interested in us. He is able to make His grace sufficient to enable us to do all that is required of us so we may honor and glorify His name. People can never be too well assured of this: "I am Jehovah, thy God." What is implied in that? "Thy God." "Open thy mouth wide," therefore, "and I will fill it." These words apply to every individual in all the relations of life.
Now, think of what your relations are. Think of your circumstances, of your peculiar trials, difficulties and respon sibilities, and the duties you are called upon to perform-no matter what they are. Only understand God as addressing you by name-old and young, rich and poor, influential or otherwise-no matter, only understand God as saying to you, "I am Jehovah, thy God: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." He is interested in your maintaining these responsibilities in a manner worthy of Him, as being His children.
I have often thought of the magnitude of unbelief. The unbelief of many is so great that they entirely overlook the secret depths of meaning that the promises of God contain, and they stumble at some of the plainest things in the Bible.
Suppose the King of England should send his son to travel on the Continent or in America, and should say to him, "Now, son, you are going among strangers, so remember your great responsibilities: you are my son, and you are my representative. When the people see you they will form an opinion of me, and they will estimate my character very much by yours, as a natural consequence. Now, remember, wherever you are, that the eyes of the people are upon you and my honor is concerned in your behavior. I have great interest in you; first, because you are my son; and second, because you are to be my representative among those who do not know me personally. I am, therefore, greatly concerned that you should not misrepresent me. For particular and weighty reasons, therefore, I want you to conduct yourself like a prince, and that you may do so, you shall always have the means. Remember never to exercise any kind of economy that will disgrace your father and the nation you represent. Draw upon me liberally. Of course, you will not squander needlessly upon your lusts, for such conduct would disgrace yourself and dishonor me: but what you want for the purpose of representing fully the Sovereign of England you can have. Draw largely; always remember this."
Now observe, God has placed His people here in a world of strangers to Him. He has placed them in various relations. He has admonished them to remember that they are His children and they are also His representatives in this world. God says to them, "I have placed you in these relations that you may honor me. I love you as my own children. I have given my Son to redeem you, and thus I have proved my personal regard for you. I always desire that you should walk worthy of the high vocation wherewith you are called. Remember, you are my representatives in the midst of' a rebellious world; therefore, 'let your light so shine before men, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven."'
God's own interest in us leads Him to tell us to ask largely of Him. His intrinsic regard for us as our Father, as His redeemed children, is very great. Indeed, in every point of view,
He has the deepest interest in us. That we may not dishonor Him, He tells us He will give us grace to meet all our respon sibilities and discharge our duties. "Open your mouths wide," He says, "and I will fill them." "I will 'supply all your needs.'l am glad to do it. I shall delight to do it. I am interested in doing it."
Now, don't you ever forget this. Ask largely enough, ask confidently enough, and ask perseveringly enough to meet all your needs. I suppose that no one is disposed to call in question the truth of any of these principles.
These words, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," imply that provision is made to supply our needs, and that God's ca pability is so great that He does not fear that we shall need anything, or be able to conceive of anything, beyond His power to grant. Hence, He tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. Observe, He does not caution us about asking too much, but He tells us here, as in many other parts of the Bible, to make our requests unlimited: "Ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." Of course it means "what you will" for a right reason, not for a selfish and improper reason.
We are not restricted at all in Him. It is not intended that we should hesitate to accomplish anything which He requires of us. We are not restricted in Him, for He says, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." In any of the circumstances or relations in which we may ever be placed, or whatever we may be called upon to accomplish, we are never to regard ourselves as restricted in Him.
If He requires His people to go forth to the conquest of the world, they are abundantly able to take possession of the land. We are to have confidence in Him, and to take possession of it in His name and in His strength. If He tells us to compass the city and blow with the ram's horns, the walls of Jericho shall surely tumble down-there is no mistake about it.
In this injunction and promise is implied that if we fail in anything to perfectly represent or obey Him in every respect, and in all things to be and do what He requires of us, the fault is not His but ours. It is not to be resolved into "the mysterious sovereignty of God," for the fault is ours. If we fail, it is not because God by any arbitrary sovereignty withheld the power, but because as a matter of fact, in the possession of our liberty we failed to believe and appropriate the promises.
God Is Honored By Big Requests
This injunction and promise implies that God considers himself honored by the largeness of our requests. If we ask but a trifling thing, it shows that we find ourselves either unable or unwilling to expect or believe any great thing of Him. What does it imply when people ask small favors of God? I know very well what people say-they are so unworthy that they cannot expect to get any great things in answer to their poor requests. But is this real humility, or is it a voluntary humility? Is it a commendable state of mind? "Our prayers are so poor, are so unworthy, that we cannot expect to receive much in answer to them; therefore, we have not confidence enough to ask great things, and so we only ask for small things that we may without presumption expect to receive." Is this a right disposition of mind? This is that voluntary humility which God denounces: it is self-righteousness. What state of mind must that individual be in, who, instead of measuring his requests by the greatness of God's mercies, the greatness of His promises and the largeness of His heart, shall measure them by his own worthiness or unworthiness? Why, the fact is, if an individual will measure his requests by such a standard, he will ask nothing better than hell, and he may expect nothing better. This is applicable to all men in all ages, if they make themselves the standard of their requests. But if we are to rely upon God's promises, God's faithfulness, God's abounding grace in Christ Jesus and God's eternal love, then there are infinite blessings in store for His people, which the goodness of His heart is trying to force upon them. Then, pray, what has our great unworthiness to do, only to commend us to God's grace and mercy? Whenever, therefore, we ask great things of God, and expect great things from Him, we honor Him, inasmuch as we say, "Lord, although we are infinitely unholy and unworthy of thy bless ings, yet we judge not of what thou art willing to give us, mea sured by our unworthiness, but by thine own wonderful love to the world as shown in the gift of thine own and well-beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we will not ask small things of so great a God. We will ask great things because it is in thine heart to give them, and thou findest it more blessed to give than we do to receive." Now, it is by this sort of confidence that we honor God.
Some ask scantily, sparingly, for fear of overtaxing or over burdening God. What a mean, low, and contemptible view this is of God! Suppose the prince, whom we referred to, had been very sparing in drawing upon his father's accounts. Suppose that he drew only five or ten dollars at a time. The strangers among whom he was living would have noticed it. They would have said, "What can it mean? Why does he not draw more? How is he so poor? Is his father so miserly or so poor?" Thus dishonor would be brought upon his father and his country because the prince drew so sparingly when he might have had plenty.
Now, God has sent His children to this land, and He has told them that they are the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth," a "city that is set upon a hill." And He says, "Let your light shine"; show yourselves worthy of your heavenly Father. Now, suppose that from a lack of confidence, or for some other reason, they draw very sparingly. Everybody will see that they get but little from God in answer to prayer. A miserable, lean, famishing supply is all they get from their heavenly Father. There is but a slight spiritual distinction between them and the world in which they live; they have so little grace, so little faith, so little of anything that one might suppose God would surely provide for His children. Is this honorable to God? What, profess to be children of God and never realize your high distinction! Living in a world of rebels, having no more grace than you have, you never thought of the dishonor you bring upon God. What do you think of your Father? Do you think that God your Father is satisfied? To see you, people would think you had no Father, that you were poor orphans. And yet God says, "'open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it'; ask of Me such things as you need. Why, then, do you go about in such a miserable condition? Why live at such a dying rate, always in doubt, darkness and trouble? Do you not know that I am the Lord your God, and that if you open your mouth wide, I will fill it?"
Now, brethren, is not this true? Is this some newfangled doctrine not taught in the Bible? Or is it true that professing Christians generally have infinitely misconceived this matter, not understanding what God requires of them, or that they have dishonored Him in the highest degree by such conduct. They the light of the world! Why, their lamps are gone out! They cannot get any oil; and if they could, they have no money to buy it. Why is your lamp gone out? Has God your Father failed to send you a remittance? At all events, the lamp's gone out and left you in obscure darkness-a worldly spirit has come over you. What is the matter? You have been going by little and little till you have lost almost all confidence in God, and scarcely expect to receive anything from Him in answer to your prayers.
I don't know how it is with you, but I know that the great mass of professing Christians are in this miserably low state. They seem neither to know that they dishonor God by their conduct, nor that God is ready and willing to give them abundance of grace if they will believingly seek for it.
Of course, if God considers himself honored by the largeness of our requests, it must be upon the condition that we really have confidence in Him, expecting to receive those things for which we ask. If we should ask great things in words but not mean what we ask, or if we do not expect to receive answers to our petitions, we dishonor God by mocking Him. Always observe and remember this: a man who really expects great things from God and asks of God in faith with right motives will receive them. Those who honor God, God will honor.
God regards himself as honored by everything we accomplish in His name: by our asking great things of Him, and by our attempting great things in His name.
God Is Dishonored By Feeble Requests
Suppose a man goes forth in the name of the Lord Jesus to carry the Gospel to those who are in darkness, believing what Jesus has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Suppose that in this confidence he attempts great things, and aims at the conquest of cities and nations. The greater his aims in God's name and strength, so much the greater is the honor that God receives. He goes forth relying on God, as God's servant, as God's child, to accomplish great things in His name and strength. God considers himself honored by this. God considers himself honored by the high attainments of His children and dishonored by their low attainments. He is honored in the fact that their graces so shine forth that it shall be seen by all around that they have partaken largely of His Spirit.
Exalted piety is honorable to God. Manifestations of great grace and spirituality of mind honor God. He is greatly honored by the fruits of righteousness His people bring forth. Christ himself says, "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bring forth much fruit." Ministers should be greatly fruitful. They should bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in their tempers, in their lives, in the strength of their faith and labors of love. Can you doubt that God has great interest in these things? Indeed His great desire, that you should bring forth fruit to His glory, is shown in the fact that He says, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
And it must imply, also, that He is greatly dishonored by the opposite of this. Professing Christians who have but little faith make but feeble efforts, and have but very little to distinguish them from the world around them. Nothing can be more offensive to God than for His professed servants to have so little confidence in Him that they ask sparingly to receive sparingly. It must be admitted, I suppose, that the conceptions of the general population of Christians are very low-they expect but small things from God. But this is dishonorable to God, as I have said, and He is endeavoring by every possible means to encourage our faith. At one time He will go into the nursery, where the mother is with her children, and say, "Mother, if thy son should ask for bread, would you give him a stone? or if he should ask a fish, would you give him a serpent? or if he should ask an egg, would you give him a scorpion to sting him to death?" The mother is surprised, and can scarcely contain herself. "Well," He says, "I did not suppose you would do so; but if these things would be far from you-if you would by no means do them, and feel indignant at the bare suggestion of the possibility of such a thing, 'how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?"' "How much?" Why, as much as He is better than you are.
A parent has no higher happiness than to give his little ones what they ask for if it is for their good. A father or a mother purchases some dainty thing; they can hardly bear to taste it themselves-the children must have it. "If ye, then, being evil"- compared with God, infinitely evil-"know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give?" Oranges, sweets, candy? No; "the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." That is the great blessing which you need. Oh, if we could only have more of the Spirit!
Christians live as if God had but little of the Holy Spirit to give. But is this the representation of the Scriptures? No, indeed; but infinitely the reverse of this. Some professing Christians live like spiritual skeletons, and, if they are reproved for it, they say, "Oh, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit." Indeed, and is that the reason you are so much like the world? Why you do not prevail with God to convert your children, and the clerks and people around you? Grieve not the Holy Spirit with such excuses; seek, and ye shall find. God is infinitely more ready to give you His Holy Spirit than you are to give good gifts to your own children.
When God exhorts His people to open their mouths wide, and promises to fill them, we are to understand that He seeks in them a clear medium through which to communicate His blessings to those around them. This is a natural law of the divine economy. If you are parents and have unconverted children, or have those around you unconverted, God seeks to make you an agent by which He can communicate the blessings of salvation to them.
When God thus urges people to open their mouths wide in order that He may fill them, we are to understand that His heart is very much set upon their having the things which He is seeking to give them. He takes the highest interest in their having these things-a greater interest than they do themselves. He restrains not His gift at all; the infinite fountain of His love and blessing flows everlastingly, so that every empty vessel may be filled; and, when they are all full, this living stream still flows on forever.
We must not be afraid of asking too much. When we seek a favor from a finite being, we might ask so much as to be thought unreasonable; but, when we come to an infinite being, we cannot ask too largely. Oh, brethren, always remember that.
III. What its relationship is to our responsibilities.
We are entirely without excuse to God for not being and doing what would in the highest degree satisfy His divine mind. We are not restricted in Him, but in ourselves.
We are not only without excuse to God, but we are cruel to ourselves. How cruel a man would be to himself if he starved himself to death in the midst of plenty, of which he might freely partake. Now, what excuse can a Christian have for all his doubts, fears, darknesses and perplexities, and how cruel he is to himself when such marvelous provision is made to set the Christian free from all such unhappy experiences. Do we live under such circumstances, and yet have a life of complaining? Indeed! And is it a law of God's house that His children almost starve? Is it a rule of God's house that His children should not have grace enough to lift them above perplexities and unbelief? Does God starve His children to death? "They do all they can; can't they get grace enough," says the devil, "to prevent their living so much like my own servants? So much alike are they, indeed, that nobody can distinguish them from my children!" Dear children, is there not an infinite mistake here? Are we not dishonoring God if we do not avail ourselves of the great things which God has provided us?
It is cruelty to the world also. God has said, "Go forth and conquer the world: disciple all nations." Has He said this to His people, and do they slumber, do they hesitate? What is the matter, brethren? Are not the words, "Come over and help us," borne on the four winds of heaven? "Come over into Macedonia and help us"; send us missionaries, send us Bibles, send us tracts, send us the Gospel? And is the Church unable to do it? What is the matter? Do let me ask, is there not something entirely wrong here? Does God require His people to make brick without straw? Has the world any right to expect the gospel of salvation to be sent to them by the Church? Brethren, consider!
What cruelty it is to those around us and those who sustain relations to us. We have such a promise in the Bible, yet our children remain unconverted! Think of it!
If Christians would but avail themselves of all the blessings which God has provided and really become filled with the Spirit, what do you suppose would be the result? Let me ask this question, "Suppose every Christian in your city should really comply with the appeal and be filled with the Holy Spirit, what do you suppose would be the natural effect upon the populace? Suppose every Christian were to open His mouth wide, and should receive the Holy Spirit, do you not believe that in one year a very great change would occur in the city, so that you would scarcely know it?" I have not the least doubt that more good would be done than has been done before in your city. If one church could be thoroughly awakened, another and another would follow, till the whole city would be aroused and every chapel would be filled with devout inquirers after salvation. This has been the case frequently in American cities; and the like may occur in any city if Christians are but thoroughly alive to their duties and responsibilities. If every Christian in your city would make up his mind to take hold of the promise of God, and thus come into deep sympathy and fellowship with Him, the effect would be astonishing. Like the lamps of the city, Christians are scattered over it so they may give light to the multitudes around them; but if they are not lighted up, the purpose for which they were intended is not accomplished. Let every Christian in your city be filled with the Holy Spirit, and what would be the result? Your city would move! Your state would move! America would move! Europe would move! Asia would move! The world would move!
Now, brethren, does this appear extravagant? If so, it is because you do not consider the power of the promises of God and what the churches are able to effect in His name. The guilt and the weakness of the Church is her unbelief. This is so great that she does not expect to do much. We must now conclude with a few remarks.
Many people so confound faith with sight that they are ready to say, "If God should make windows in heaven, then might this thing be." A great many people have no faith except in connection with sight: give them the naked promise and they cannot believe it; they must have something they can see. Few individuals can walk by faith. When they see a thing accomplished, they think they have strong faith; but only let this appearance be put out of sight and their faith is gone again. Now, what a Christian ought to be able to do is this: take God's promises and anchor right down upon them without waiting to see anything; because, somebody must believe simply on the strength of God's testimony, somebody must begin by naked faith, or there will be no visible testimony.
God always honors real faith. He is concerned to do so. God often greatly honors the faith of His people. He frequently gives them more than they expect. People will pray for one individual, and God will often honor their faith by not only converting that individual but many others also.
I once knew a man who was sick, and a neighbor of his, an unconverted man, frequently sent from his store things for his comfort. This poor man said to himself, "I cannot recompense Mr. Chandler for his kindness, but I will give myself up to pray for him." To the surprise of all the neighborhood, Mr. Chandler became converted; this he testified before the whole congregation, which had such an effect that a great revival ensued and many souls were brought to God. This poor man gave himself up to pray for one individual, and God honored his faith by converting many, thus fulfilling the declaration of His Word, that He will "do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
Instead of finding that God gives grudgingly and sparingly, He gives abundantly. God always acts worthy of himself. You ask a blessing of God in faith and He says, "Be content, and take a great deal more so that your cup shall run over." The fact is, where but little is attempted, little expected, little will be received; but where little is really obtained, the fault is not with God, but entirely with us.
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Delivered May 12, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
and at the Borough Road Chapel, Southwark, in November 1849.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,518.
This lecture was typed in by Ross and Ruth McElwee.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" --Matthew vi. 10.
These words are part of what is commonly called "The Lord's Prayer," and it is one of the petitions which our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to present to God. I must assume that certain things are admitted by my readers, among them, that you admit that the will of God is perfectly done in heaven, that God is perfectly obeyed there, and that everything is done there perfectly in accordance with His will. This I shall not attempt to prove, but shall take for granted that it is admitted by all my readers. In speaking from the words of our text, I design to call to your attention:
II. What is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition to God.
III. That to be in this state of mind is a present and universal duty.
IV. The guilt of not being in this state of mind.
V. This state of mind is a condition of salvation.
I. Some of the principal relations in which the will of God may be contemplated.
Now, observe that God must be a moral agent if He is a virtuous being. This I take to be a universally known truth and conceded-that God's virtue must be voluntary, that it must consist, substantially, in the same thing in which all virtue consists. If, then, God is a moral agent and a virtuous being, and has an intelligent will, He must live for some good and desirable end. He must exercise His will for some good purpose, and not act at random and without discretion or aim; but that wherever He exercises His agency, it is for some good purpose or end.
We say then, first, that God's will may be contemplated in relation to the end upon which it is fastened and which it is endeavoring to realize. In this must the virtue of God, and all other moral agents, substantially consist. If God has chosen a worthy and good end, He is a worthy and good being; but if He has chosen an unworthy end, He cannot be called a good being; for goodness cannot consist in divine substance, irrespective of divine action and will. God's virtue, then, consists in the attitude of His will.
Now, if I see that God has proposed to himself some great and good end, upon which His heart is set-upon which it was set from all eternity-and that this design and aim is really what it ought to be-what the divine intelligence would point out as an end worthy of being chosen and realized, then I can understand the relation of God's will and character thus far: that He is pursuing an end well worthy of himself. We are told in His Word that this end is to secure His own glory and the good of the entire universe.
In the second place, the will of God may be contemplated in respect to the means which He uses in order to secure this end. I refer to the government of God: as all that is implied in the movements of the universe that secure the end at which He aims. We may contemplate the will of God as it relates to both physical and moral government: as it relates to the arrangements and order of nature-the physical universe which He has created; and as it relates also to the moral government-rewarding the good, and punishing the guilty.
The will of God also may be contemplated as the will of a sovereign, who exercises sovereignty over His people; not ar bitrarily, for which there is no reason, but in that He acts according to His own will without consulting any other being. God's will, then, may be contemplated in relation to His character, His government, the exercise of His providential government in the physical creation; and in respect to all moral agents, prescribing the law and showing how it was to be obeyed, and then punishing those who refuse to obey and rewarding those who do obey. God's will may be regarded as the law of the sovereign, acting according to His own discretion, and aiming at those things which to himself shall seem wise.
II. What is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition to God.
"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Now, doubt less, when our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray this prayer, He meant something more than that they should just repeat these words. They were intelligent beings and moral agents, and doubtless He intended that they should express the state of their own minds. He would not, therefore, have them understand that they would be regarded as offering acceptable prayer because they offered this mere form. He intended that they should use this language in sincerity of heart, understanding and meaning what they said. I suppose this will not be doubted. Then the question which we have to answer is, "What is the state of mind required in an individual, and which must be implied in his offering such a petition as this to God?"
The acceptable offering of this petition must imply that the petitioner understands what God's will is. I mean this, he must have some knowledge of the true character and will of God. If he has not a true conception of this, he may fall into grievous errors. Suppose an individual should conceive of God as a selfish being. Suppose that he should conceive of God's will as being neither wise nor good; and if with this state of mind, he should pray for God's will to be done in the earth, would he offer an acceptable petition to God? By no means. Then, to be acceptable, he must conceive rightly of what God's will is. He must regard God as a wise and good being. For if God's will was neither wise nor good, people ought not to do His will. Suppose that God's will was neither wise nor good, and yet He should require us to offer this petition, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"-and that there was nothing, neither wise nor good, done in heaven, it could not be our duty, as moral agents, to offer such a petition. The offering of this petition, then, implies that we understand God's will as perfect, both as to its wisdom and goodness.
An acceptable offering of this petition must imply that we have implicit confidence in His will, as being perfectly wise and perfectly good; for if we have not this confidence, we cannot honestly and intelligently pray this prayer.
The acceptable offering of such a petition as this implies sincerity of heart. If an individual asks anything of God, he is required to ask it in sincerity. But what is implied in an indi vidual being sincere in asking this of God? It must imply that he really desires God's will should be done, that this petition is in accordance with His will and expressive of the true state of His heart. If it is not so, then the offering of such a petition would be hypocrisy. Of course it follows, secondly, that the state of mind which can sincerely offer this petition to God must be in entire harmony with the will of God, so far as God's will is known. If there is anything in which his will is not conformed to the will of God, he cannot offer this petition without base hypocrisy.
The acceptable offering of this petition implies, of course, that we understand and embrace the same end that God embraces; that is, that we really consecrate ourselves to the end for which God lives, and that we sympathize with Him in the end for which He consecrates and exercises all His attributes. If we have not the same end in view that God has, how can we say, "Thy will be done"?
Unless we sympathize with Him in the means that He uses, how can we say, "Thy will be done"?
An acceptable offering of this petition to God also implies a willingness to say and do just what He tells us. If we are not satisfied with the divine conduct in all respects, how can we say, "Thy will be done"? If we are not willing for Him to require of us just what He does; if we have in our hearts any objections to what He does; if we regard His will as exacting and unjust to us, we can never offer this petition acceptably. But suppose that intellectually we admit that His will is not grievous. That is not enough if the heart does not fully consent, for observe this prayer is to be the prayer of the heart.
The acceptable offering of this petition not only implies that we are willing that He should require just what He does, but that He should require it on the condition of all the pains and penalties upon which He does require it.
It implies an entire willingness on our part to obey Him.
How can a person sincerely pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," who himself is not willing to do the will of God? If he is not truly and really obedient, to God's will as they are in heaven, so far as he knows His will, how can he offer such a petition as this? If he is resisting God's will on any point and in any form, he cannot without gross hypocrisy offer this petition. The offering of this petition implies that we sympathize with the spirit of heaven, that our hearts are really yielded up in most solemn and earnest devotedness to God. For how can people whose wills are not yielded up to the will of God, without being hypocrites, say to God, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? In heaven, the will of God is perfectly done, universally done; and shall a person acceptably offer such a petition as this if he is not in a state of mind to go the full length of God's will and subscribe heartily to it? It cannot be.
Observe, then, that the acceptable offering of this petition must imply present obedience in the heart to God. The will of the petitioner must have been given up to the control of the will of God. His will must be the expression of God's will so far as he knows it, or he cannot honestly offer such a petition as this to God. I say that the acceptable petitioner must do the whole of the will of God, so far as it is expressed, in whatever way it is made known: whether through Christ, through the Spirit, through providential arrangements and occurrences, through the Word of God, through the workings of his own heart and mind, or in whatever other way this will is made known.
The heart that is sincere in offering this petition must really embrace and express the whole of God's will as really and truly as it is embraced and expressed in heaven itself. By this I do not mean to affirm that the will of God is known to the same extent in earth as it is in heaven; but so far as it is known, the petitioner must as really and truly embrace it and obey it as they do in heaven. It is not to be supposed that God's will is fully known upon earth; undoubtedly many things concerning the will of God have not been fully revealed to us, so that we cannot understand all the details of His will; but, in so far as we understand it, there will be a willingness to obey it entirely.
The acceptable offering of this petition implies the absence of all selfishness in the mind that offers it. God is not selfish; selfishness is the will set upon itself, regardless of all else. The person who offers this petition cannot be selfish. The very pe tition implies the present absence of selfishness.
An acceptable offering of this petition implies that we really hold ourselves at the divine disposal as honestly and truly as we suppose they do in heaven. Who does not suppose that every being in heaven holds himself at the divine disposal? It must be that every being there considers himself as belonging to God-that to God all his powers are consecrated; and that any indication of the divine will as to how these powers are to be disposed is to be readily adopted and carried out by the agent himself. Who can conceive that there is any hesitation to do the known will of God in any particular?
To sincerely offer such a petition as this to God, there must be an entire consecration of the will and the whole being to Him. A person who offers this petition acceptably must be in such a state of mind as to consider that he has no right to the disposal of himself. He must lay his whole being upon God's altar and hold himself entirely at the divine disposal. The same is true of all he possesses. Who doubts that everything in heaven is held as belonging to God? We know not what things the inhabitants of heaven have in possession, or what their employments are-what they may be employed about, and what instruments they may use to promote the great end that God is intending to realize. But this we know, that whatever they have influence over is all held at the divine disposal. No one in heaven thinks of disposing of anything to promote any selfish interests of his own. Who can believe that anyone there has a separate private interest?
Now, how should we regard our possessions if we are to offer this petition acceptably to God? Why, God's will respects the release of our possessions, our time, our talents, our influence, our character and everything to Him. These must be held at the divine disposal, given to the divine discretion, laid on His altar and left there. No one can offer this petition acceptably to God without doing this. If he would be selfish, and selfishly use anything in the whole world, he is in no state of mind to offer this petition to God. If he is endeavoring to promote his own will, do you suppose he is fit for heaven? Do the inhabitants of the heavenly world act without consulting God, without reference to His will? No, indeed! When people say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," does not this imply that everything on earth is to be done at the divine disposal, and to be as truly disposed of for God as they are disposed of in heaven? Let it be understood, then, that he who offers this petition to God must as really design to obey Him, use all his powers and everything that he possesses for His glory, just as they do in heaven. If he has not this deliberate and solemn purpose in his mind, what does he mean by such a petition as this?
The offering of this petition implies that the petitioner is really and truly willing to make sacrifices of any personal ease and comfort for the promotion of God's glory, so far as he un derstands that he ought. Who doubts that in heaven they are willing to be sent to any part of the universe, or to give tip personal case or anything else for the promotion of the great end for which God is aiming? We are informed in the Bible that "angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation." Any moment they may be called to self-denial and arduous labor. Doubtless they are often called, but do they hesitate, do they consider it a hardship? No; because they sympathize with God and with Christ in this great work. They do not hesitate to make any personal sacrifices that are demanded of them. They are perfectly cheerful and happy in it. Now, a person who would say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," must be willing to make any sacrifice that he knows is to be in accordance with the will of God. If it is plainly a matter of duty for him to do this or that, to go here or there, he must be perfectly willing to comply, or how can he offer this petition?
The state of mind in which this petition can be acceptably offered implies that there is an opposition to sin as real as there is in heaven. I suppose not to the same degree, because we have not the same appreciation of its character that they have; but, insofar as it is understood here, the individual that offers this petition is as really opposed to sin as they are in heaven.
An individual who offers this petition acceptably to God must have as real a sympathy with all that God has as they have in heaven. In heaven they doubtless sympathize with all that is good, so the individual who offers sincerely this prayer must have intense hatred to all that is wicked, and must deeply sympathize with all that is good. There must be as true a renunciation of self and all selfishness, and as genuine a disposition to please God in every heart that offers this petition, as there is in heaven. I speak not of degree, because I suppose we do not apprehend these things so clearly as they do; but, insofar as we understand what God loves, our sympathy must be as real as it is in heaven.
III. That to be in this state of mind is a present and universal duty.
Every person is bound, now, to be in this state of mind. I say every man; not merely Christian ministers and professing Christians, but every moral agent is bound to be in this state.
It is demanded by the nature of things. How can people be released from this obligation? Every person knows that he ought to obey God; he affirms it by an affirmation that is irresistible. Everyone knows that God's will is wise and good. Who ever heard this called in question by anyone who had a true idea of God developed in his mind? Every moral agent admits he is bound to consent that God's will should be done, and that he ought himself to do it.
Every moral agent knows, too, that it is not his duty merely to do this sometime or other, but it is his present duty. He has no right for a moment to resist the divine will. I need not, of course, enlarge upon this part of the subject, because I suppose that these truths need only to be stated to be universally rec ognized and affirmed to be true, as seen in the light of their own evidence. Are not men so constituted as to have it confirmed by a law of their own nature that they ought to conform to the will of God? They would not be moral agents if they were under no obligation to obey the will of God.
IV. The guilt of not being in this state of mind.
If an individual is not in this state of mind, he refuses to sympathize with God. If he knows that all God's aims are directed toward an end worthy of the pursuit of God, worthy of the Creator of the universe, and yet he refuses to agree with God in this end, he sets it at naught, he turns his back upon it, though he knows it is good.
If an individual is not in this state of mind, he is unwilling that God should govern the universe, not only in relation to the end that He seeks, but also in the means that He uses. He refuses his consent that God should govern the universe in any shape. The man who will not obey God's law, really rebels against the will of the lawgiver; he actually refuses to consent that God should govern.
Let me say that the individual who is not in this state of mind really refuses in his heart to consent that God should be good. He would not have God do what He is doing. He is unwilling to obey Him. He would rather that God did not require what He does; that He would not do what He does do; and yet these things are implied in the goodness of God and are essential to His goodness. God would not be a good being if he did not require and do just as He does. The individual who is not in this state of mind, then, refuses to consent that God should be a good being-that God should do that which He knows is proper to do. Now just think of this, he rebels against that which constitutes the very goodness of God.
The individual who is not in this state of mind really refuses that God should comply with the necessary conditions of His own happiness; for the necessary conditions of God's happiness must be His virtue. An individual who is unwilling to obey God is unwilling that God should comply with the necessary conditions of His own happiness. The individual who is in this state of mind cannot say, "Thy will be done," for he is really at war with the holiness and happiness of God-he is arrayed against both. He is unwilling that God should will as He does. And since holiness belongs to His will and consists in willing as He does will, all God's actions are included in the actions of His will. The individual who is not in harmony with God not only refuses to sympathize with Him, but he also refuses to consecrate himself to the end for which God is consecrated. He arrays himself against God. Yes, he virtually says, "Let God cease to be. Let Him not require what He does. Let Him not pursue the end that He does. Let Him not govern the universe; let not His will be universal law!" He may just as well go one step further and say, "Let God not be happy; let Him be infinitely and eternally miserable." For if God were not holy, who does not know that He would be infinitely unholy? And I tremble to say it, but who does not know that if God were a wicked being, instead of a good being, the workings of His own infinite nature would fill His mind with infinite agony?
Now, observe, what does a man mean when he takes this attitude-that he will not consent to have God's will done, that he will not obey Him, that he is virtually opposed to His being good? Why, if God is not good, what must be the consequences? If He may not will as He does, and require as He does, and do as He does, He must do the opposite! And does not sin imply this-that the sinner really takes this attitude? Yes, it does! People who refuse sincerely to offer this petition are opposed to the holiness and the happiness of God, and would consent to the eternal overthrow and total ruin of God and His whole empire! This is certainly implied in resistance to the will of God.
Let it be understood that no moral agent can be indifferent to the will of God: he must either subscribe to it, or resist it: he must yield himself to it, or array himself against it! And if against it, no thanks to him if there is any particle of good in God's universe; no thanks to any moral agent who cannot honestly and sincerely subscribe to this petition. It matters not to him if any being in the universe is either holy or happy! He is opposed to it all! The state of his mind is perfectly opposed to it all, and, were he to have his will, he would annihilate the whole of it, and introduce sin and misery into every part of the universe. How great, then, must be the guilt of an individual who has his will opposed to the will of God. I could expand upon this at large, but must now proceed to my next point.
V. This state of mind is a condition of salvation.
By a condition of salvation, I don't mean that it is the ground upon which sinners will be saved, that they will be saved because of universal and perfect obedience. But I affirm this, that it is a condition in this sense, that without being in this state, salvation is both naturally and governmentally impossible.
It is naturally impossible. Heaven is no place for the person whose will is not in harmony with the will of God. Suppose that he entered there, he would introduce a jarring note. He would introduce discord; heaven would be no place for him.
It is governmentally impossible for him to possess heaven, whose will is not in harmony with the will of God. God is the Governor of the universe. God's will is infinite, and where God is, His will must be the law. In every community there must be some one mind that sways every other, or there will be discord. Some will must give law to the universe. There must be someone whose will is universally confided in as perfect, and that will must be universally performed or there will be jarring, there will be clashing. God, therefore, as Governor of the universe, must be obeyed. The indication of His will must carry all minds with it. Now, to the person who hates God's will, this would be intolerable; therefore, governmentally it is impossible for any person to enter heaven who cannot sincerely say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
I must now conclude by making a few observations. How shocking it must be for people to use the Lord's Prayer as a mere form. Just think of it! While he is living in known sin, an individual offers such a petition to God! What can he mean? What profanity! What blasphemy is involved in it! It makes one's hair stand on end to hear an individual pray in that manner to Jehovah, the heart- searching God.
How shocking it is for some congregations (many of whom, perhaps, are unconverted, ungodly men and women) to make use of such petitions as this, pretending to worship God. Yet how common it is to repeat this prayer as a mere form; and it is often introduced into the nursery, and the children repeat it without being told what is implied in it. Why, no wonder their hearts become hardened. But perhaps someone will say, "If this be so, I will not offer this petition at all." But what petition, I ask, will you offer? For remember that you can offer no petition acceptably unless you offer it sincerely!
For example, let us read over these very petitions. "After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven." What does this imply? Why, the recognition of God's relation as our Father. "Hallowed be thy name." What is implied in that? Why, a similar state of mind as that which I have just pointed out. "Thy kingdom come." What is implied in the offering of that petition? Why, that you have set your heart upon the same end that God has, that your will is to obey His will, that you are consecrated to the interests of His kingdom.
Then follows the petition contained in the text, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." "Give us this day our daily bread." What is implied in that? Why, the recognition of the universal providence of God. "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"; not, as some say, "forgive us our trespasses, and enable us to forgive them which trespass against us"; but "as we forgive them which trespass against us." If you do not forgive the trespasses of others, you pray to God not to forgive you yours. It implies, then, a most forgiving state of mind on your part. I have often been acquainted with the state of mind of certain individuals in respect to others, and I have wondered, when they attempted to pray the Lord's Prayer, that this petition did not choke them. How many people, when they pray this prayer, really pray to God that He would not forgive them at all'? For they don't forgive their enemies.
But let us proceed a step. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." What state of mind does this imply? Why, a dread of sin, and an opposition of the heart to it; and a most sincere yearning of soul to be conformed to everything that is good. "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
Now, suppose that any should say, "Why, if this is a true exposition of the Lord's Prayer, I shall never dare to offer it again." And what prayer will you offer? Take any other petition, and does not an acceptable offering of it by you imply that you agree with God, and that you will submit to all His will? Can you expect Him to hear and answer you unless you are in an obedient state of mind? Why, if you expect Him to hear and answer you while you refuse to obey Him, you do not regard the plain declaration of His Word, which says, "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination."
"Well," some of you say, "if this be true, it is no use for a sinner to pray." What do you mean by that? Of no use for a sinner to pray! Well, of what use can it be for a sinner to lie to God and mock Him? Do you ask me if I mean to prohibit sinners praying? I say, no! But I want to prevent their being hypocrites. Let them pray, but let them cease to be sinners, and submit themselves to the will of God. They should consecrate themselves to God at once. It is their present duty. They need not say, "I will not pray because I am a sinner!" What business have you to be a sinner? "My will is not in a right state," you say. But why is it not in a right state? The sinner is bound to pray on pain of eternal death, but he has no right to tell lies to God. He is bound to be sincere and honest with God. And is it difficult for people to be honest and sincere? Is it an impossible thing? For my right hand, I would not discourage any individual from praying; and neither, for my right hand, would I encourage him to pray with a heart wicked and rebellious against God. The truth is, men ought to know that they are shut up by the divine requirements and the affirmations of their own minds to unqualified submission to the will of God upon pain of eternal death.
It is easy to see, from what has been said, that a great many individuals offer the Lord's Prayer and other prayers, and leave it for others to do the will of God. They pray, "Thy will be done" but they leave it to others to perform this will.
It is easy to see what it is to be truly religious; it is to have the will entirely given up to God. It implies, of course, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and much more of which it is not now my design to discuss, as I must confine my attention to the point before us.
Many people will say that this ought to be the state of their minds, that they ought to offer this prayer in sincerity without solemnly inquiring, "Am I really willing that God's will should be done? Do I really do it?" But this is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition, that, for the time being, we are in a state in which we really do all we know of our duty. By a necessary law, if the will is right, the outward life will correspond.
There is an amazing degree of carelessness among many people as to what they really say in prayer. They begin, and talk right on, without considering that God requires truth in the inward parts. They often say many things that are not true. They verify what the Lord says, "They did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied unto him with their tongues."
While individuals are not in this state of mind, there is no true peace. While their wills are not under the control of God's will, and while they are not devoted to him, what multitudes of things are continually occurring to agonize them and destroy their peace of mind! But when individuals yield up their wills to the will of God, they breathe an atmosphere of love, and live in profound peace and tranquillity.
When people are in this state of mind, and regard everything as an expression in some sense of God's will, how easily God's will sits upon them!
Much that is called prayer is really an expression of self- will. I would here refer to a case that occurred some years ago in the western part of the State of New York. A gentleman of high standing, intelligent and influential, became very annoyed by the minister of the congregation where he usually attended, pressing upon his hearers the fact that they were not willing to be Christians. The man to whom I refer insisted that he was willing- had long been willing-to become a Christian. His wife remarked that she had never seen him so irritated before upon any subject.
The minister kept turning that over, and pressing it upon the people that they were not Christians because they were not willing to become Christians. But this man was obstinate in affirming that he knew, for his own part, that he was willing to become a Christian, and would anybody deny that he knew the state of his own conscience? He went home in this state of mind one evening, and in the morning his mind was so weighed down that he sought relief by going in a place alone to pray. He kneeled down to pray, but found that he could not pray; he could not think of anything that he really wished to say. It occurred to him to say the Lord's Prayer. The moment he opened his mouth to say, "Our Father," he stopped to consider, Do I recognize God as my Father? He hesitated and trembled to say it. "Hallowed be thy name." No, that is not the expression of my heart. "Thy kingdom come" was the next petition, and he said he was conscious he never wanted the kingdom of God to come, that he had never lived to promote it, and was not living now to promote it. Then he came to the next petition, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." He paused for a moment, and the inquiry rushed upon him, How is God's will done in heaven? Am I willing that it should be done in earth? Am I willing to do it myself? As these inquiries came over him, he perceived for the first time what was included in being a Christian. He now saw that to be a Christian implied that the heart should be consecrated to God, that he should fully obey God's will. He felt that he did not do that; that he never had done that; that never, by his own will, had the will of God governed him.
He continued upon his knees, and the perspiration poured down him, because he was in such agony of mind. He now felt what the minister had said was true, and the question came up, Why am I not willing to be a Christian? He felt there was no reason why he should not, and no excuse that he could make for refusing any longer. If he was not willing to do as he ought, he felt he ought to go to hell, and be willing to go and take the consequences-that he ought to be sent there and have no disposition to open his mouth by way of objecting. He himself said, "I gathered up all my soul and energies, and rose up in my strength, and cried at the top of my voice, 'Thy will be done.' I know that my will went with my words; and then so great a calmness came over me that I can never express it, so deep a peace instantly took possession of me. It seemed as if all was changed; my whole soul justified God and took part against itself."
I need not enter into this further; but let me say, dearly beloved, when you go away, can you kneel before your Maker and say, "O my God, let Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven, require just what Thou doest, require of me just what Thou doest; 0 God, my whole being cries out, Let Thy will be universally done in earth as it is in heaven"? Or can you not say that? You ought to be able to say it, and to be honest in saying it; but if you never have yet, let me ask you to do so at this very moment. If you have never found peace before, you shall know what it is to go to bed in peace for once. You shall know what that peace of God is that passes understanding, and drink of the river of His pleasures. Do not rest until the attitude of your mind is to do all the will of God.
FOR MORE SERMONS BY C. G. FINNEY:
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"These sermons were preached by Pres. Finney at Oberlin during the years 1845-1861... Few preachers in any age have surpassed Pres. Finney in clear and well-defined views of conscience, and of man's moral convictions; few have been more fully at home in the domain of law and government; few have learned more of the spiritual life from experience and from observation; not many have discriminated the true from the false more closely, or have been more skillful in putting their points clearly and pungently. Hence, these sermons under God were full of spiritual power. They are given to the public in this form, in the hope that at least a measure of the same wholesome saving power may never fail to bless the reader." -HENRY COWLES.
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"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
by C. G. Finney
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