What Saith the Scripture?
Salvation Always Conditional
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
December 16, 1840
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--1 Cor. 10:12: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
In remarking upon this subject I will show:
I. What is intended by one's thinking that he standeth.
II. Show in what such a confidence may be founded.
III. That this confidence, whatever may be its foundation, cannot secure the soul against falling into sin and hell.
IV. That continued watchfulness and wakeful, activity of soul, are indispensable to continued holiness and final salvation.
I. What is intended by one's thinking that he standeth.
The original word rendered thinketh, in this text, is used, according to some distinguished commentators, not to weaken but to strengthen the sense. In Luke 8:18, the same word is rendered seemeth. Thinketh, in this text, means great confidence, a strong assurance; as if the Apostle had said--Let him that has great confidence, or a strong assurance that he standeth, take heed lest he fall.
II. In what such a confidence may be founded.
III. This confidence, whatever may be its foundation, cannot of itself secure the soul against falling into sin and hell.
IV. Continued watchfulness, and wakeful activity of soul, are indispensable to continued holiness and final salvation.
It is true, that should we enter more particularly into this subject, these classes of motives might be several times subdivided; but such subdivisions would carry me too far from my main design. I must, therefore, pass on to say--
This is equally true of spiritual blessings. He gives grace only from day to day, from hour to hour, and from moment to moment. He gives to no man a stock of grace upon which he can depend in future, without a constant reliance upon God, and a continual abiding in Christ. He deals with no man in spiritual things in such a manner that he can say to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much spiritual goods laid up in store for many years." But he has made continual reliance upon Christ indispensable to perseverance in holiness.
Just so in regard to spiritual things. If by regeneration, God really did, as some have supposed, change the very constitution of the soul, introduce, or implant within the soul a holy principle, that becomes a part of the constitution itself; in short, if He so remoddled [sic.] the faculties, or made any such constitutional change whatever, as to beget the impression, that the constant indwelling, abiding influences of the Holy Spirit, are not essential to continued holiness, it would of course be the cause of universal backsliding and alienation from God.
1. No one act of faith, nor any other exercise, can render salvation from sin or hell unconditionally certain. This is manifest from the fact, that warnings and threatenings are every where addressed to the saints; which would be absurd, if their justification or sanctification were already unconditionally certain.
2. It is a capital mistake, and a dangerous error, to maintain, that one act of faith brings the soul into a state of unconditional and permanent justification. That this view of justification cannot be true, is manifest from the following considerations:
(1.) If the believer is so justified, as not to come under condemnation if he sins, it must be because the law of God is abrogated. Some have maintained, that the penalty of the law is for ever set aside in his case, on the exercise of the first act of faith. Now if this is true, then, as it respects him, the law if in fact abrogated; for a law without a penalty is no law. If the penalty is, as to him, for ever set aside, in such a sense that he may sin, and yet not be condemned, and subject to that penalty, to him there is no law. The precept is only counsel or advice, as distinguished from law. But if the law is set aside he has no rule of action--no obligatory standard of duty with which to compare himself; and he can, therefore, be neither sinful nor holy, any more than the brute.
(2.) That a believer is not unconditionally and permanently justified by any one act of faith, is evident from the fact, that every believer feels condemned in his own conscience, when he sins. And if our own conscience, or heart, condemn us, is not God greater than our heart--and shall not He condemn us? "Shall mortal man be more just than God?"
(3.) The believers are not unconditionally and permanently justified by one act of faith, is plainly asserted, in Ezek. 18:21-29, and 33:12-16, [as quoted under the fourth division of the third head of this lecture.] Nothing can be more in point than these passages of scripture. For here it is expressly affirmed, that "if a righteous man forsake his righteousness, his former righteousness shall not be remembered;" but "in his sin that he sinneth shall he die."
To this it is replied, that these and similar passages are hypothetical--that they do not assert, that any righteous man will fall from his righteousness; but only, that if he should, he would be condemned. I answer:
That this is the very thing for which I am contending. I admit, that these and other kindred passages are hypothetical, and insist that for this very reason, they flatly contradict the proposition, that by one act of faith believers are unalterably and unconditionally justified. They make the condition of continued justification to be, continued obedience; and the condition of perfect justification to be, perfect obedience.
(4.) That one act of faith does not permanently and unconditionally justify the believer, is evident from the fact already alluded to, that the Bible every where abounds with warnings, reproof, encouragements, and every possible inducement to perseverance in holiness to the end--every where making the condition of final salvation to be, continuance or perseverance in holiness to the end of life.
To this it is objected, that these threatenings, warnings, &c., are the means by which the saints are caused to persevere in holiness.
Yes, truly, I answer, so they are. And this very fact proves, that they are not unconditionally or permanently justified, and, that they are justified no farther than they are sanctified. For what could all these warning and threatenings amount to--why should they be recorded--or what possible influence could they have, upon the supposition that they are already perfectly, permanently, and unconditionally justified, and that, therefore, their final perseverance and final salvation are already unconditionally secure? Indeed, it is absurd to say, that by one act of faith, they have become unalterably justified, and yet, that only upon certain conditions, viz: their persevering to the end, can they be saved.
(5.) That believers are not, by one act of faith, brought into a state of permanent or unconditional justification, is evident, from the manifest tendency of such a sentiment. This is asserting, in its most objectionable form, the sentiment so often attributed to Calvinists by our Methodist brethren--that if a man is once converted he will be saved, however much he may backslide, and even should he die in a state of utmost backsliding.
3. The certain knowledge and belief of unconditional salvation from sin, or hell,
or of unconditional justification and salvation, would break the power of moral government,
and insure a fall. It would destroy the balance of motives, and nullify entirely
the power of that class of motives that are addressed to the hopes and fears of men.
What, I pray you, would all the warnings of the Bible avail to sustain the virtue
of a man, who already knew himself to be in a state of unconditional salvation from
sin, condemnation, and hell? Do you answer, that he does not need them, and that
all regard to them would be selfishness. I ask, why then, are they found in the Bible,
actually and every where addressed to the saints?
To this it may be replied, that a sanctified soul is influenced by love, and not at all by hope and fear. I answer:
It is true, that love is the mainspring of action; but it is also true, that both the hopes and fears of men sustain such a relation to moral government, as that considerations addressed to them, make up an indispensable part of those influences that sustain the soul in a course of steady obedience.
To this it is objected again, that those saints who have believed themselves to be in a state of unconditional justification, and who have had the felt assurance of their final perseverance and salvation, have not found that this felt assurance was a stumbling-block to them; but have felt sustained in virtue by this very consideration. To this I answer:
That if, by the faith of assurance is meant, our assurance of final perseverance in holiness, and consequent salvation, I can easily see, that such an assurance would not be a stumbling-block to the soul. But, mark, this is not an assurance of unconditional justification. For, saints who have this assurance, have universally believed, that their justification and salvation were conditioned upon their continued holiness. They have believed that if they fall into sin, they are condemned, and that, should they die in their sins, or in a backslidden state, they would be damned. Their belief and assurance have been, that they should, through grace assisting them, be enabled so to exercise faith and persevere in the use of their powers of moral agency, as to be finally justified and saved. This assurance is eminently calculated to encourage them in all ways of well-doing, and in the most strenuous efforts to perfect holiness in the fear of God. But suppose they get the idea, that they have so believed in Christ as to render their continued holiness, their permanent justification, and final salvation, unconditionally certain--this is an eminently dangerous and ruinous belief, and is, as far as possible from any state of mind encouraged by the word of God.
4. Moral beings cannot be in a state of unconditional sanctification or justification, in any world. This is manifest, from the fact, that they cannot be put beyond the natural possibility of sinning. If they were, they would be put beyond the possibility of being holy. Holiness implies moral liberty. Moral liberty implies the power of doing right or wrong. It is, therefore, naturally impossible, that moral beings should in any world be placed under circumstances, where their eternal justification, sanctification, and salvation, are unconditionally certain. The continued justification of the inhabitants of heaven, must be for ever conditioned upon their continued holiness. And their continued holiness must ever depend upon and consist in the right voluntary exercise of their powers of moral agency. And nothing but that grace which is perfectly consistent with the exercise of their own liberty, can render their final perseverance certain.
5. "Faring always," or "passing the time of our sojourning here with fear," as the Apostle commands, does not imply unbelief, and is not a sinful state of mind; because the promises of God are all conditional--and as the promises of sanctification are conditioned upon our own faith, and the promises of justification conditioned upon our sanctification, and as all is suspended upon the right use of the powers of moral agency which we possess, it behooves us to "fear always--to walk softly, to gird up the loins of our minds, to be sober, vigilant, and to run with patience the race set before us."
6. The assurance that we shall never sin again, does not secure us against sin, and has, in this world of severe temptation, a manifest tendency to procure our fall.
7. Nor does a fall, in such a case, in the least degree tend to prove, that there is no such state as that of permanent sanctification in this life.
8. Nor does it impeach the veracity of Christ. Some persons have supposed, that they have attained a state of permanent sanctification, and felt assured that they should never sin again. They maintained that the veracity of Christ was pledged in such a sense, that He would be guilty of falsehood, if He should suffer them to fall into sin; and especially have they inferred this from the fact, that some promise that Christ would keep them, had been deeply impressed upon their own minds. Afterwards, however, they have fallen into sin, and been greatly tempted to entertain hard thoughts of Christ, to impeach his veracity, and deny his truth.
Now the mistake in this case was, in overlooking the fact, that all the promises of Christ are, from their very nature conditioned upon the continued exercise of faith in us. Misunderstanding the promise, and leaving out of view the condition, was the foundation of the assumption, that Christ was pledged for your perseverance in holiness; and if you have fallen into sin the blame is your own. You expected of Christ what He has never promised, except upon a condition that you have not fulfilled.
To this view of the subject it has been objected, that if this is true, the promises of the gospel amount only to this, that Christ will keep us if we will keep ourselves. To this I answer:
That in a very important sense this is true. I have formerly felt this objection strongly myself, and was strongly inclined to, and even entertained an opposite opinion. What, I said, can the promise of the gospel mean nothing more than this, "I will keep him who will keep himself?" Much consideration and prayer, with searching the word of God, have led me to the conviction, that this is the exact truth, and this opinion is in exact keeping with the whole providential government of God.
Take all temporal blessings. Who does not know that all the promises of daily bread, are so conditioned upon the use of indispensable means, as that they amount to this-- "I will feed him who will feed himself; I will take care of him who will take care of himself." Take all the promises that respect the things of this life, and the same will be found to be true. If God promises health, it is upon the condition, that we obey the laws of our physical existence; so that the promise amounts to this-- "I will keep him who will keep himself in health." If He promise to prolong our natural life, it is upon condition that we comply with the indispensable laws of life. So that the promise amounts to this-- "I will keep him alive who will keep himself alive."
Now the same is emphatically and eminently true of all spiritual blessings. Who does not know, that as a matter of fact, every believer progresses in religion precisely in proportion to his own faithfulness--that God keeps him from falling, when he watches, and thereby keeps himself from falling--that he has the spirit of prayer, in proportion as he watches unto prayer, and prays in the Holy Ghost--and that, as a matter of fact, He keeps the saints, only through their own watchfulness, faithfulness, and efforts. So that it may be truly said, that He keeps those only who will keep themselves--that He saves those only who will save themselves. Nor does this in the least degree set aside, or depreciate the grace of God; nor at all deny or set aside any correct idea of the sovereignty of God. Who ever supposed, that the farmer, who tills his land, the mechanic, who plies his trade, or the student, who trims his midnight lamp, either denies or sets aside the sovereignty of God, in accomplishing the ends at which he aims. Indeed, the sovereignty of God consists in this--in bringing about the great ends of his government, through the agency of his creatures; and no correct idea of his sovereignty will ever leave out of view, the use of the natural and indispensable means of procuring the things which He has promised.
9. Nor does this view of the subject at all touch the question of the perseverance of the saints, as I understand that doctrine to be taught in the Bible. The doctrine there inculcated, if I understand it, is not, that by one act of faith men are brought into a state of unconditional and unalterable justification; but that the saints, through the grace of God, will be kept in ways of obedience, to the end.
10. Although there can be no unconditional certainty of perpetual holiness, justification, or final salvation, in any world, yet we can have such a kind of assurance of all these, as to cast out all slavish fear, that hath torment. Think you not, that the angels know, and saints in heaven know, that if they should sin, they would be sent to hell? And think you not that they know they have power to sin, are liable to sin, and that without watchfulness, and wakeful activity, and perseverance, they will sin? They must know this; and yet, this knowledge does not bring them into slavish bondage; but affords just that healthy and holy stimulus to holy perseverance, that is demanded by the very constitution of moral agency, in any world.
11. Sanctification, justification, and final salvation, are all put upon the same ground. And it cannot be true, that men are justified, any farther than they are sanctified; or that they are, or ever can be saved, any farther than they are cleansed from sin. Gospel justification is generally defined to be pardon and acceptance. But can a man be pardoned, any farther than he is penitent? Can the soul be accepted any farther than it is obedient? Certainly it cannot be, unless Antinomianism is true, and the law of God is abrogated. The distinction, then, that is commonly made, (which I, following the current of the Church, without sufficient examination, once held myself,) between instantaneous justification and progressive sanctification, must be without foundation. Every man feels that he is condemned, and not justified, when he sins, and that he is kept out of condemnation only by keeping out of sin. This is the doctrine of the Bible. It is the doctrine of conscience and of common sense. And that is certainly a most licentious view of the doctrine of justification, that maintains that justification is perfected while sanctification is imperfect; that justification is instantaneous, while sanctification is progressive.
Beloved Christian brother, why do you pray for forgiveness when you sin? Is it not because you feel condemned? But if you were already perfectly and permanently justified, you are mistaken in praying for forgiveness; for you are already forgiven, and not condemned. You cannot possibly be pardoned, unless you are condemned; for what is pardon, but setting aside the execution of law? If, therefore, men are permanently justified by one act of faith, they not only have no need of pardon from that moment, however much they may sin, but to pardon them is impossible, as they are not condemned. And why, let me ask you, should Christ teach you to pray daily for the forgiveness of your past sins, if by one act of faith, you are permanently justified? Let me conclude, then, by saying, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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