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Phila delphia > True and False Religion by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist
Lecture IV

True and False Religion

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
February 13, 1839

Lecture IV.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Gal. 5:1: "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

The observances of the ceremonial law were designedly a typical representation of the gospel. The Jews had misunderstood them, and supposed that their observance was the ground of justification and acceptance with God. After the introduction of Christianity, many of the Christian Jews were exceedingly zealous for their observance, and for uniting the ceremonial dispensation with Christianity. On the contrary, Paul, "the great Apostle of the Gentiles," insisted upon justification by faith alone, entirely irrespective of any legal observances and conditions whatever. There were a set of teachers in the early days of Christianity who were called Judaizers, from the fact, that they insisted upon uniting legal observances with Christianity, as a ground of justification. Soon after the establishment of the Galatian Churches, by St. Paul, these Judaizers succeeded in introducing this corruption into the Christian Churches. To rebuke this error, and overthrow it, was the design of this epistle. The yoke and bondage spoken of in the text, was the yoke of legal observances. The liberty here mentioned is the liberty of love--of justification--and of sanctification, by faith alone.

In discussing this subject, I design to show,

I. What it is to make a man a slave.

II. What it is to be a slave.

III. What true liberty is.

IV. That the religion of many persons is mere slavery.

V. That true religion is genuine liberty.

I. I am to show what it is to make a man a SLAVE.

To enslave a man is to treat a person as a thing--to set aside moral agency; and to treat a moral agent as a mere piece of property.

II. I am to show, what it is to be a SLAVE.

It is not to be in a state of involuntary servitude, for, strictly speaking, such a state is impossible. The slaves in the Southern States are not, strictly speaking, in a state of involuntary servitude. Upon the whole, they choose to serve their masters, rather than do worse. A man cannot act against his will, but his will may be influenced by considerations that set aside his liberty. To be a slave, is to be under the necessity of choosing between two evils. Thus the slaves in the Southern States prefer being as they are, to being in a worse condition--to being imprisoned or whipped for attempting to escape. But plainly, this is a choice between two evils, neither of which, if left to themselves would they choose. So a wicked man may choose to obey human laws, rather than suffer the consequences of disobedience; still he may abhor the laws, and feel himself shut up to the necessity of choosing between two evils. So a wife who does not love her husband, may choose, upon the whole, to live with him, rather than break up her family--lose her character--and subject herself to poverty and reproach. And yet, if she does not love her husband, she will consider living with him, merely as the least of two calamities. She feels shut up to the necessity of choosing between two courses, neither of which is agreeable to her. All that can be said, is that she chooses that course which, upon the whole, is the least disagreeable.

To be obliged to choose against our feelings and inclinations--to be shut up to the necessity of pursuing a course of life not chosen for its own sake, but as the least of two evils--is the very essence of slavery.

III. I am to show what true liberty is.

A man who obeys wholesome laws, from love to virtue and good order, is free in the highest sense; but when he obeys law from restraint, not because he loves virtue, but from fear of punishment, he is a slave. Here it is plain that his choice of obedience is, by him, considered as a choice of two evils, and not that course of conduct which he prefers for its own sake.

IV. The Religion of many persons is mere Slavery.

Thus, what they call their religious duties--their prayers--reading the scriptures, &c. are hurried over, or for slight causes wholly omitted. While that which constitutes their main business, commands their time, and thoughts, and hearts.

In short, it is plain that their religion, instead of being their happiness, as something chosen for its own sake, and pursued on its own account, is their misery, as the least of two evils. Instead of making them happy, enough of it would be hell.

V. I am to show, that true religion is genuine liberty.


1. From what has been said, it is manifest, that many professors of religion, in reality, regard God as a great slaveholder. I do not mean that they would say this in words. Nor that they understand that they do regard him in this light. The reason is, that they do not understand themselves to be slaves. If they realized what slavery is, and that they themselves have the spirit of slaves, and are, in their religion, all that is meant by being slaves, they would then be shocked with the irresistible inference that they do regard God as a Slaveholder.

2. What an abomination such a religion must be in the sight of God. Instead of seeing his professed children engaged, heart and soul, in his service--finding it the essence of true liberty, and their supreme joy--he beholds them groaning under it, as a severe burden, submitted to only to escape his frown.

3. You see, in this discourse, the true distinction between the religion of law, and that of the gospel. The religion of many professors seems to set as painfully on them, as a straitjacket. It is evidently not their natural element. It is the bondage of law, and not the religion of peace.

4. Many express indignation against Southern slavery, as they may well do, but who are slaves themselves. They know full well, that if they would be honest with themselves, their religion is to them a yoke of bondage. They are afraid of death--afraid of the judgment--afraid of God.

They submit to religion as the only method of escaping "the wrath to come." But yet, let it be known to them, that there is no hell--no solemn judgment--that men will universally be saved, do what they will, and they will feel relieved of a weighty burden. They will feel rid of the responsibilities of moral agents, and cast off their religion as of no consequence.

5. This slavery is utterly inexcusable, and consists in the perverse state of the heart.

6. Such religion is worse than no religion.

(1) It is not any more safe, than no religion.

(2) It is more hypocritical than none.

(3) It confirms self-righteousness.

(4) It begets, and perpetuates a delusion in the mind.

(5) It ruins the soul of the professor, and is a stumbling block to others. What is a greater stumbling block, for example, than for an impenitent husband to see his wife possessing this painful, legal religion? Instead of observing her happy, humble, sweet, heavenly minded, and peaceful, like an angel, he perceives that her religion makes her complaining, uneasy, and irritable; in short, that it is the lashings of conscience, by which she is actuated, and not the constant flow, of the deep feelings of her heart.

(6) This kind of religion is more dishonorable to God than none. It is really the contrast of true religion. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against which there is no law." Now the religion of which I have been speaking, is the very opposite of all this. To be sure, a man who is openly irreligious, dishonors God. But a man who professes to be God's representative--to exhibit God's spirit--and to be the reflection of his image; and then go about the duties of religion, as a task to be submitted to, instead of pouring out the overflowings of His benevolence--to unclench His hard hand, at the stern biddings of conscience--is to publish as gross a libel upon the character of God, and the religion of the gospel, as is possible.

(7) It is worse than none, inasmuch as it prevents conviction, and true conversion. Persons in this state suppose themselves to be truly religious, and seem not to dream that this is the very opposite of true religion.

Now, while under this delusion, it is vain to expect their eyes to be opened, and to anticipate a real and thorough conversion to God.

7. All who have left their first love, are again entangled in the yoke of bondage. If any of you have known what it was to love God with all your heart, you have known what it was to be free. You know, by your own consciousness, that your religion was then the essence of true liberty. But if you have laid aside your love, no matter by what other principles you are actuated, you are "entangled again in the yoke of bondage." Your religion has ceased to be liberty, and you have become a slave.--Now I ask you, "Where is the blessedness" you once spoke of? Have you that great peace that they possess who love the law of God? Does the peace of God rule in your hearts? Is Christ's joy fulfilled in you? Or are you lashed along by your conscience, actuated by hope and fear, and any, and every other principle than love?

And now, beloved, I ask you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether you have the religion of the gospel. I have, in this discourse, endeavored to set before you, in as simple a form as is possible, the grand distinction between true saints and hypocrites. To which of these classes do you belong? Remember the eye of God is upon you. "Be ye not deceived, for God is not mocked." "If the Son hath made you free, then are ye free indeed." And I exhort you in the words of the text, "Stand fast therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." But, on the other hand, if the Holy Ghost sees you with the chains of slavery upon your soul, driven on by conscience, as by a slave-holder, working out your painful religion, lest you should lose your soul, I beseech you, in the name of Christ, get up out of this bondage--lay aside these chains--"loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, 0 captive daughter of Zion,"--lay aside this legal yoke, and come forth from slavery, and death, that Christ may give you liberty and life.

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

  1. Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE XII).

  2. Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit, but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).

  3. Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).

  4. Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).

  5. Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).

  6. Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  7. Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity, because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  8. Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect... it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  9. Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).

  10. Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  11. Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).


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