What Saith the Scripture?
The Light of the World
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
August 12, 1840
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Matt. 5:14-16: "Ye are the light
of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a
candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto
all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see
your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
I shall show,
I. That the world is in great spiritual darkness.
II. That Christians, under God, are to enlighten it.
III. How they are to do this.
IV. If the world is not enlightened, it is the fault of Christians.
I. The world is in great spiritual darkness.
- 1. Impenitent sinners are universally ignorant of the true God. Many of them
may have a correct theory in some respects. But after all they know not God. To know
God and Jesus Christ, is to have eternal life. And while in their sins, they have
no correct apprehension of the true God.
- 2. They are in great darkness in respect to the spirituality of his law. If they
understood the spirituality of his law, they would understand something of his character
and of their own. The truth is they have no correct apprehensions of the true spirit
and meaning of God's law.
And here let me say that when we speak of the spirituality of God's law, there
are many minds who seem to turn away from us as if we were speaking very mystically.
What, they say, law is law. We can understand what God's law says as well as you
can, and do understand it as well as you do. And why should you mystify and speak
of its spirituality as if it had some occult meaning which none but the initiated
can understand? To this I reply:
- (1.) That to be sure, law is law.
- (2.) That every law has its letter and its spirit: i.e. the general statement
of its propositions in words is its letter; the true intent and meaning of it, in
its real application to every state of facts, is its spirit. Now the world are in
total darkness in respect to the true meaning of the law of God. E.g. The first commandment
is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Now this command has both
its letter and its spirit. And so has every commandment of God. Its letter prohibits
all idolatrous worship. Its spirit requires supreme, disinterested, universal, perpetual
love to God, with every holy affection carried out in every holy action.
As a farther illustration, take the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."
The letter of this commandment, prohibits the secret taking of another's property,
and using it as if it were our own, without intention of returning it. But the spirit
of this commandment forbids all covetousness and requires us to love our neighbor
as ourselves. It prohibits our using our neighbor's good, selfishly, whether with
or without his consent. It prohibits every form of fraud, speculation, and taking
any advantage in business, that is inconsistent with the royal rule, "Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself." Now who does not know that unconverted sinners
are in the dark in regard to the spirituality of these and every other command of
God. What horrible conviction and consternation would fill the world if sinners but
thoroughly understood the spirituality of God's law.
- 3. Sinners are ignorant of themselves. They know very little of their own constitution,
and in most cases still less of their character. This ignorance of their own character
is a natural consequence of their ignorance of the law of God. Being ignorant of
the true intent and meaning of the standard with which they are to compare themselves,
they are of course utterly mistaken in regard to their true character. Judging of
themselves only in the light of the letter, and overlooking the breadth of the spirit
of the law, they of course form an estimate of their character altogether different
from the true one.
- 4. Sinners are altogether ignorant of their true desert. Being ignorant of the
spirituality of the law, they know not either the number or the exceeding demerit
of their sins.
- 5. Sinners know not their own helplessness, nor do they understand the remedy
which God has provided for healing their souls. They neither care for, nor know but
little about the remedy, because they are ignorant of their disease.
- 6. Sinners are ignorant of what is really good for them, and what will in the
highest manner promote their own well being, both in time and eternity.
- 7. Consequently they are pursuing exactly the course, that must eventually and
necessarily result in their everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord
and the glory of his power.
II. Christians, under God, are to enlighten the world.
- 1. Because they have the true light. They know God. They understand the spirituality
of his law. They know the character of man. They know his guilt, desert, helplessness,
and necessities. They have seen their own ignorance, and know that the world is in
darkness and lieth in wickedness. They have the most certain knowledge of this, and
the best of all knowledge, that of their own experience. They also know the remedy
for sinners. They have been enlightened by the true light. True Christians have all
been taught of God. They know God and Jesus Christ, whom to know is life eternal.
They are conscious of so knowing him as to have eternal life abiding in them. They
can truly say, from their own consciousness, "Where as I was blind, now I see."
They then are the persons, and the only persons in all the world, that are capable
of enlightening the world. It is in vain for unconverted philosophers or statesmen,
or any unconverted persons whatever to talk of enlightening the world. The light
that is in them is great darkness. And when they talk of enlightening the world,
they know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm. They speak at random, and deceive
their followers. They are blind leaders of the blind, and they all stumble on together
upon the dark mountains, till teachers and disciples fall into the pit of destruction
- 2. The world must be enlightened through human instrumentality. Constituted as
men are, truth must address them through the medium of the senses. Consequently God
found it necessary to unite Himself with human nature in order to enlighten men.
Taking to Himself human nature, He lived, and conversed, and ate, and drank, and
held conversation with men through the medium of his human nature. And this possessed
their minds of the true idea of who and what He is. He exhibited in his own life,
and in all his deportment, the spirit of his own law. By his teachings, but more
especially by his life, He called the attention of men away from the letter to the
spirit of his law, and when He gave them precepts, He gave them illustrations of
their meaning in his own example, and thus possessed their minds of the nature of
true religion, and what it was to love their neighbor as themselves.
- 3. None have had the true light but those who have received it through the instrumentality
of the saints of God. From the earliest period of man's existence, God has caused
the light to shine upon the world through human beings. Sometimes He has had but
few representatives on earth. And gross darkness has covered the whole face of the
earth, except here and there a little spot has been lighted up, by some pulpit and
saint of God. Noah was a light to the old world in its worst estate. Daniel was a
light in the idolatrous court of Nebuchadnezzar. Prophets and holy men have been
scattered up and down in the earth enough to preserve the true knowledge of God,
to a greater or less extent, through these representatives. The Lord Jesus Christ,
first in his forerunner John, next in his own person, afterwards in his apostles,
and now in all his saints, is enlightening the world. His people are now the medium
through which He discovers Himself to mankind. His spirit dwells in them "working
in them to will and to do of his good pleasure." They are his disciples who
teach his doctrines, exhibit his spirit, and thus at once rebuke and enlighten the
darkness of the world.
III. How Christians can enlighten the world.
Under this head I inquire what constitutes the Christian's light, or what renders
him a light to others? Ans.
- 1. It is not simply his creed.
- 2. Not simply his profession.
- 3. Nor is it his profession and creed together.
- 4. Not his sanctimonious appearance on the Sabbath.
- 5. Nor his sitting at the communion table.
- 6. Nor does his light consist in all these together. But,
- 7. His light consists in his temper and spirit.
- 8. In his good works in a most strict regard to the universal law of love. As
Christ did, so does the Christian. His life is a commentary upon the law of God.
He is giving continual illustrations in his own tempter and spirit and life, of the
spirituality, the true intent and meaning of the law of God.
- 9. In his practical and firm opposition to all that is unholy or injurious to
the souls or bodies of men, and in the manifestation of his undying attachment, to
whatever is holy, lovely and of good report.
Christians then can enlighten the world, not
- 1. By conforming to whatever is wrong in their tempers, views or practices--not
by any direct or indirect connivance at their sins, worldly mindedness, or whatever
is the result of their darkness.
- 2. Not by any compromise of principle or by conciliating their favor, by keeping
out of view the points of difference between themselves and sinners. Some professors
of religion seem disposed to avoid all controversy with impenitent men, to lessen
as far as possible the differences of opinion, and views, and practices between themselves
and sinners. They seem to think that the true way to enlighten them, is by falling
in with them as far as possible and by conforming in a great measure to their customs,
views, business practices, and almost every thing else. Now this is as far as possible
from the true philosophy of enlightening the world. It is as if you attempted to
clear the eye-sight of your neighbor by putting out your own eyes. It is like attempting
to pull the mote out of your neighbor's eye, not by plucking the beam out of your
own eye, but by filling your own eye both with beams and motes. If you wish to convince
a man that he is in the dark, you must hold up your own light, in contrast with his
darkness. If he can see your light, it will discover his own darkness.
- 3. Christians can never enlighten the world by any thing that will imply that
they lay but little practical stress upon the points of difference between them and
sinners. It is in vain to attempt to enlighten the world by any course of conduct
that is calculated to make the impression that the real difference between saints
and sinners lies merely or mostly in opinion, if after all the practices of Christians
are such as demonstrate that their opinions have very little to do with practice.
- 4. Christians can enlighten the world by holding up the light of their own example
on all subjects in strong and constant contrast with the example of the ungodly.
- 5. They can enlighten the world by a patient and firm perseverance in well doing,
in spite of all the opposition of earth and hell. To what a wonderful extent did
the Apostles and primitive Christians succeed in enlightening the world. This was
a thing of course. Their lives were a perpetual light, dissipating the moral darkness
around them. They did not hold forth a flickering, waving, and uncertain light. It
was clear, steady, pure, and had well nigh banished darkness from the earth. In the
text Christ says, "let your light so shine before men that they may see your
good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven." "So shine."
How? Ans. By exhibiting our good works in contrast with their evil works, and that
- 6. By exhibiting our self-denial, in contrast with their self-indulgence, and
- 7. By exhibiting our heavenly mindedness, in contrast with their worldly mindedness.
- 8. By showing that our conversation is in heaven, in contrast with their showing
that their conversation is of earth.
- 9. By showing that our treasure is in heaven, in contrast with their showing
that their treasure is on earth.
- 10. By showing our conformity to correct principles, in contrast with their disregard
- 11. By showing our conformity to the laws of our being, in contrast with their
shameless violations of them.
- 12. By manifesting our faith in Christ, in contrast with their unbelief.
- 13. By manifesting our sweet submission to all the providential dealings of God,
in contrast with their restlessness and rebellion against his providence.
- 14. By holding up on every subject and in every way, both by precept and example,
the light of truth in opposition to their darkness. In these and in similar ways
can Christians enlighten the world. But by blinding the light, by making any compromise,
by frittering away the points of difference, by going one hair's breadth aside from
the love of truth, for the sake of conciliating their favor, they will not, and never
can enlighten them.
IV. If the world is not enlightened, it is the fault of Christians.
- 1. Because Christians have the means of enlightening the world. They have the
gospel and the means of spreading it throughout the world. They have the true light
in their own hearts, and have the means of exhibiting it to all mankind.
- 2. They have abundant opportunities to enlighten the world. God has stationed
them in different parts of the world, for the very purpose of enlightening the world.
He has commanded them to go, and given them the means of going and holding up their
light in every dark corner of the world. When the early Christians clung together
in Jerusalem, he scattered them in all countries by the force of a persecution. And
they "went every where preaching the gospel." And being thus scattered,
they learned the true philosophy of enlightening and converting the world.
- 3. The world is expecting and looking to Christians to enlighten them. The eyes
of ungodly men are turned to the Church, and marking their example, taking knowledge
of their lives, spirit, and ways, and wherever among professors, there is a true
Christian, his light is seen, as a matter of fact, to rebuke the darkness around
- 4. If the world is not enlightened, it is the fault of Christians, because, if
the truth is properly and fully exhibited, it will dispel their darkness. The human
mind is so constituted that truth "commends itself to every man's conscience
in the sight of God." There is no mistake about this. The human mind is true
to its own laws. And when truth is clearly, strongly, and constantly exhibited, it
will and must rebuke the darkness of any human mind.
- 5. The principal business which Christians have in this world is, to enlighten
the world. Christ has gone to heaven. He has left Christians as his representatives,
to carry out the revelation of God and shine as lights in the world. If He should
take all Christians immediately from the world, it would leave the world in impenetrable
and hopeless darkness, notwithstanding all that has been done to enlighten it. These
must be illustrations of religious truth. The minds of men are so dark, they are
prone to view religious truth so much in the abstract, and as so purely a matter
of opinion, that without living illustrations, truth seldom, if ever gains possession
of their minds.
- 6. Christians are in fault, if the world is not enlightened, because they can
have any degree of spiritual illumination which they need to carry forward and complete
the enlightening of the world. Christ has promised you the Holy Spirit, and has told
you that God "is more willing to give it than earthly parents are to give good
gifts to their children." Every needed aid is abundantly guaranteed by the same
promise of God to Christians. And in full view of these exceeding great and precious
promises Christ has said to them, "Ye are the light of the world." And
now, "let your light so shine before men that they, seeing your good works,
[not merely hearing your good doctrines, but seeing your good works,] may glorify
your Father who is in heaven.
- 7. Nothing can prevent your enlightening the world, but a refusal on your part
to perform good works. If you perform good works men will see them. If they see them
they will be constrained to glorify your Father which is in heaven. If then men are
not enlightened, it is because you do not perform good works. In other words, it
is because you are not Christians. Observe Christ does not say, ye ought to be the
light of the world. But "Ye are the light of the world." As the mind of
Christ is true, real Christians are the light of the world. And this is a matter
of fact. True Christians have the spirit of Christ, for the possession of this spirit
is what constitutes them Christians. The spirit of Christ will always manifest itself
in performing the works of Christ. If therefore men do not see your good works, and
glorify your Father which is in heaven, it is only because you have the form, and
not the spirit of Christianity. And "if the light that is in you be darkness,
how great is that darkness."
1. How much evil is done by temporizing and keeping out of view the great and numberless
points of difference between Christianity and the spirit of the world, as if we could
show ungodly men the necessity of a great and radical change in themselves, by as
nearly conforming our lives and tempers to theirs as possible. It is only by strong
and constant contrast that the conviction of the necessity of a radical change in
themselves, is to be forced home upon them. The more striking and constant this contrast,
the better: the more universal and perfect this contrast is, the more sudden and
irresistible will be their conviction of the necessity of a great and radical change
2. We see from this subject how utterly injudicious it is to conceal the true light,
on any great subject of reform, whenever a favorable opportunity should present itself
to hold it up. Some ministers and professors of religion, seem to be always waiting
to have the people find out the truth themselves, and for such a public sentiment
to be formed as will anticipate and render it popular to hold up any heretofore unpopular
or offensive doctrine. They seem not inclined to go ahead and rebuke the darkness
of the public mind, by holding up the true light. They seem to dread the loss of
their own popularity, and as they say, fear to injure their usefulness, by calling
things by their right names, by declaring their own experience of the power of the
gospel of the blessed God, by at once preaching and bringing out the whole truth
before the world. In order to render themselves popular with all parties, they will
so hold forth certain unpopular truths, as that the already initiated, will perceive
that they believe them and correctly teach them: but in such language, with such
provisos and caveats as that none others will suspect them of believing or teaching
any such thing. If the whole Church and congregation were but to get right, without
their instrumentality, if a public sentiment should be formed that would invite their
coming out in plain language, they would then become bold champions for the truth.
But they are waiting for the Churches to learn the truth before they declare it to
them. And when it becomes popular to tell the whole truth, they will be the first
to tell it.
3. The same is true of multitudes of professing Christians, in respect to their lives.
For their worldly-mindedness, and for all forms and degrees of conformity to the
world, they plead the force of public sentiment, that it will not do to differ from
every body else, and that the law of expediency demands of them a good degree of
conformity to the world, in order to secure an influence over them. But is this the
way to enlighten the world? Instead of setting yourself to correct public opinion,
do you suffer yourself to become the mere creature of it? Instead of opposing what
is wrong in the views and practices of mankind, on every subject, do you fall in
with them, and thus strengthen their bands, and confirm them in their darkness, expecting
that by and by public sentiment will change so that you can do your duty without
losing your influence, so that you can declare what God has done for your soul, relate
your experience of the power of his grace, and hold up your light in the midst of
the acclamations of the crowd? What a delusive dream is this!
4. Christians should remember that silence on any great subject of moral reform,
that hiding their light either in precept or example, when a suitable opportunity
occurs for exhibiting it, implies either that they do not believe it, or that it
is with them a mere matter of opinion, and that they lay little or no practical stress
upon it. Or else it implies that they are ashamed of it.
5. How cruel it is to let people remain in darkness through a fear of losing our
own popularity. On what multitudes of subjects, are people injuring both their bodies
and their souls for lack of correct information. And how shameful and cruel it is
for those who have the true light, to hide it.
6. We see from this subject, the importance of believers in the doctrine of entire
sanctification in this life, holing up this infinitely important doctrine, both by
principle and example, whenever they have the opportunity. They should be "living
epistles known and read of all men."
7. Unless Christians hold up the true light in contrast with the world's darkness,
they are the greatest curses that are in the world. They are like a false light,
that decoys the unwary mariners upon the rocks and quicksands. The world knows that
you are professors of religion, that you are set as a moral lighthouse. They therefore
think it safe to steer in the direction in which your light indicates that they should
go. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, what a curse are you to your
family, your neighborhood, and the world around you. They will look at you. They
mark your words. They ponder well your temper, and spirit, and life. They feel themselves
safe in copying your example, in drinking in of your spirit, and in steering their
course to eternity, by your light. And what a cruel monster are you, if you mislead
them. What do you say of pirates who erect a false light upon some shoal, to decoy
the unwary mariners to dash upon it, for the sake of plunder? Does not your blood
curdle in your veins? Do not cold chills run over you? Does not your soul shudder
when you read of the abominable selfishness of those who hold up false lights to
mariners at sea, destroying so many lives, and so much property, for the sake of
gratifying their odious selfishness? But professors of religion, you are the light
of the world. Do you hold up a false light in the midst of the world's darkness?
And when thousands of sinners are hovering round about upon your coast, benighted
and bestormed, and looking to you for light, are you engaged in your selfish projects,
exhibiting a carnal, earthly, and devilish spirit, while they are running upon the
rocks and quicksands, ruining their souls, and going to hell by scores around you?
Hear the wail of that lost soul, as it dashes upon the rocks, and sinks to hell.
It lifts its eyes and cries out, O, I did not dream that evil was near. I had my
eye upon that professor of religion. I transacted business upon the same principles,
upon which I saw he transacted his. I kept my eye upon him and steered my bark by
his light. And oh, unutterable horror, I am in the depths of an eternal hell!
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
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