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Phila delphia > Love Worketh No Ill by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture XXVII
Love Worketh No Ill

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"
March 3, 1841

Lecture XXVII.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Rom. 13:10: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

In discussing this subject I shall show:

I. What the love that constitutes true religion is not.

II. What it is.

III. Who is to be regarded as our neighbor.

IV. Why love worketh no ill to our neighbor.

I. What the love that constitutes true religion is not.

II. What the love that constitutes true religion is.

III. Who is to be regarded as our neighbor.

IV. Why this love worketh no ill.

In the 13th chapter of first Corinthians, the Apostle describes this love as the foundation and sum of all virtue; and after asserting in the strongest language, that no faith or work is of any value without it, he mentions several of its prominent characteristics, with the manifest design of distinguishing that which constitutes true religion from every thing else.


1. From this subject we learn the delusion of an Antinomian religion. Vast multitudes of professors of religion suppose religion to consist in frames and feelings, instead of good-willing. They can relate what they call a good experience. They can talk of their views, and raptures, and peace of mind; and in these things they manifestly suppose true religion to consist. Now, I have already said, and wish here to repeat it, that as these frames consist in emotions, and are only indirectly under the power of the will, they are the very lowest forms of virtue, and doubtless may exist, where there is no true religion at all. They may arise solely out of a mistaken view of God's character and relations, and of our own character and relations. The Universalist doubtless exercises the love of complacency toward the God which he worships. The Antinomian feels complacency in God, as he understands his character. Thus every form of enthusiasm, fanaticism, and delusion, may be united with complacency in an imaginary God. Indeed it is very easy to see, that almost any possible or conceivable state of the emotions, or mere feelings, may be produced, by mistaken views of things. Now as the mere feelings or emotions of the mind depend upon the views and opinions which are entertained by the mind, very little dependence can be placed upon them, even as evidences of true piety. Much less should it be supposed, that true piety consists in them. Many persons are carried away with dreams, and entertain the strangest and most absurd opinions on religious subjects; but their emotions will be found to correspond with their views, thoughts and opinions. And these emotions will sometimes be exceedingly deep and overpowering, and it matters not at all whether these opinions are true or false. Persons will feel just as deeply in a dream, in view of the most absurd and ridiculous things that a dreaming mind can imagine, as if those things were actual realities. Now it would be strange indeed if the reality and depth of these emotions should be depended upon as evidence of the reality of their objects. The solemn fact is, that there is a great, very common, but ruinous mistake upon this subject, in making religion to consist in emotions, and what are very commonly termed affections, instead of consisting, as it really does, in the state and actions of the will.

It appears to me, that Pres. Edwards has committed a sad mistake upon this subject, in confounding the sensibility with the will, and has laid a foundation for a vast amount of delusion.

And here let me be understood. Emotions, or frames and feelings, are the certain and necessary results of a right state of the will, or of the benevolence or good-willing that constitutes true religion. If the will is right, it will direct the attention of the mind to the consideration of those subjects that will naturally and necessarily beget lively and deep emotions of gratitude, complacency, godly sorrow, and all those states of mind of which Christians speak, and which they are so apt to conceive as constituting true religion. But these constitute the happiness, rather than the virtue of the mind. They are rather the reward of holiness than holiness itself. To be sure, they are virtuous so far as they are indirectly under the influence of the will. But they are only virtuous on that account, and are so, therefore, in no other sense than thoughts, and the decisions of conscience may be virtuous. Thought is the spontaneous & necessary acting of mind when the will directs the attention to an object of thought. The decisions of conscience are the necessary decisions of reason when the attention of the mind is directed by the will, to a consideration of those subjects that come under the jurisdiction of conscience. Both the thoughts and the decisions of conscience are necessary, when the attention of the mind is thus employed by the will. These actions of the mind are, therefore, moral actions, in the same sense that the outward or bodily actions are moral actions. The muscles move at the bidding of the will. And whenever any state of mind, or motion of the body, is under the control of the will, there is a sense in which these actions have moral character. But separate them from the actions of the will, and they have no moral character at all. Now if the will be right, there is a sense in which the thoughts, and decisions of conscience, and outward actions may be virtuous; and if the will be wrong, there is a sense in which they are all vicious.

It should, however, be borne continually in mind, that the praise or blame-worthiness lies in the voluntary actions of the mind, or in the decisions of the will; and, properly speaking, in the decisions of the will alone.

2. From this subject it is easy to see, that where there is true religion, there must of necessity be a corresponding life. The emotions do not control the actions of body or mind. Consequently, if religion consisted in emotion, it might exist in the mind in its reality and strength, without being evinced in the outward conduct. For we know, that men often exercise the deepest feelings and emotions on subjects, while they refuse or neglect to act in conformity with their feelings. But the same cannot be said of the actions of the will. Men always act outwardly in conformity with their volitions. Their outward actions are connected with the actings of their will, by a natural necessity. Good-willing, therefore, or true religion, always manifests itself in a holy life. Inaction and supineness in religion are absurd and impossible, where true religion exists. Benevolence, or good-willing, must produce action and good action, by a natural necessity. It is therefore absurd and ridiculous to say, that a man has true religion, and yet is not employed in doing good, where he is able to act at all. Remember, I beseech you, that religion is benevolence or good-willing, and not mere feeling or emotion; and because it is good-willing, it necessarily produces good acting. So that the very essence of religion is activity, exertion, or effort of heart and life, to promote universal good. A religion of supineness is therefore not the religion of Christ. Antinomian inaction is as opposite to true religion as light is to darkness. And a person can no more be truly religious, and give himself up to inaction, and ecstasy, and peace, and joy, than he can do any thing else that involves a contradiction. Religion consists in the state or actings of the heart, or will; and is, therefore, in its very nature, essential activity. I mean as I say. Religion is activity itself. It is the mind, willing the good of universal being.

3. You see also the great delusion of making religion to consist in a complacent love of God and of Christians. I have already said, that complacency is an emotion, and where the will or heart is right, will always be exercised towards God. But it is rather the effect, than the essence of true religion. It appears to me, that many mistake in supposing, that the love of the brethren, which is so largely insisted on in the Bible, is complacency rather than benevolence. But a little consideration will show, that the love of the brethren and Christians, insisted upon by Christ and his Apostles, is benevolence, and not complacency. It is spoken of as the same kind of love with which Christ loved us. Hence, it is said, that "as Christ laid down his life for us, we should be ready to lay down our lives for the brethren." But the love of God and of Christ for the world was benevolence, and not complacency. It was a love exercised to enemies, and not to those that were holy, and consequently must have been benevolence.

4. We see the mistake of those who excuse themselves for the want of love to the brethren, because they say they do not see in them the image of Christ. The love that we exercise to the image of Christ is complacency. And this excuse shows that those who make it suppose the love required of them to be complacency and not benevolence; and that, consequently, where there is no holiness manifest, there is no obligation to exercise love. Now this is a ruinous mistake. For the love which we are required to exercise to the brethren is good-will, or benevolence, and therefore does not respect their moral character. So that a true Christian exercises deep and permanent affection for the brethren, whatever may be their spiritual state. There are many persons who seem to give themselves up to the most censorious and denunciatory speaking of heartless professors of religion, and seem to think, that this is all well enough, because they are all backsliders or hypocrites. Now, I would humbly ask, is this benevolence? Is this love?

To this benevolence the love of complacency is added, where there is a foundation for it, or a manifestation of holy character. And complacency will render it still more certain, that he who exercises it will avoid all evil speaking. But benevolence itself, where there is no manifestation of holy character, as I have already shown, will naturally avoid speaking evil, or "working ill to our neighbor."

5. You see from this subject, the delusion of those who profess to be religious and yet transact business upon selfish principles. Selfishness and benevolence are exact and eternal opposites. Said a professional man to me, not long since, "I have been surprised, that the religion of those who have been long religious does not do more to overcome their selfishness." This is just the same thing as to express surprise, that those who have long professed to be religious have no religion. The fact is, that the very beginning of religion, or the new birth itself, is the overthrow of selfishness, as the reigning principle of the mind. It is the establishment in the mind, as a permanent state of the will, of the antagonist principle of benevolence. Hence, it is said, that "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world," and that "he who is born of God cannot sin, for his seed remaineth in him, so that he cannot sin, because he is born of God." By this I do not understand the Apostle to mean, that a soul that is born of God cannot be seduced into occasional sins, by the power of temptation; but that he cannot live in sin. He cannot transact his daily business upon selfish principles, which are the essence of all sin. It is therefore absurd and impossible, that a benevolent or truly religious mind should transact business upon selfish principles.

6. Love, or benevolence, and its necessary fruits, is the whole of religion. I say necessary fruits, because the actions of the mind and body are connected with the actions of the will, by a natural necessity; so that the fruits of holiness are the necessary products of a right state of the heart, or will.

7. Where there are no fruits there is no true religion. It is in vain for unfruitful souls, Antinomians, and persons who sit down in inaction, to pretend to be pious. They talk in vain of their views, their experience, and their raptures. Unless the fruits of benevolence, or good-willing, are upon them; unless, like Christ, they go about doing good, when they are able to go about at all, it is a delusion and nonsense for them to suppose, that they are truly religious.

8. We see from this subject the delusion of those individuals, and churches, and ecclesiastical bodies, who seem to be given up in a great measure to censoriousness and vituperation, engaged it would seem, in little else than watching for the haltings and the errors of their brethren, and who seem to be abandoned to a spirit of fretfulness rather than of love or good willing. In this remark, I do not of course mean to accuse the whole Church of being in this state, but speak of those who really are in this state.

9. You see the delusion of those editors of news papers, whose columns savor of gabble rather than of the sweet benevolence of God. Look into their pages: is that the "love that worketh no ill to his neighbor"? Why, instead of working no ill to his neighbor, it would work the ruin of the world if people had any confidence in what they read in such periodicals. No thanks to some of the editors of the present day, if their papers do not work unlimited mischief. It will only be because the readers have ceased to confide in them. I do not of course design this remark to be of universal application, but that there are lamentable cases to attest the truth of this remark, will be acknowledged with sorrow by those who truly love the Lord.

10. We see the delusion of those whose religion consists in desiring the happiness of those who are at a distance, while it neglects the happiness of those in its immediate neighborhood. Multitudes of individuals will go to the Monthly Concert and pray for the heathen, will give money to send the Gospel or the Bible to the heathen, but their prayers seem always to overlook those right around them, and who are more immediately and necessarily affected by their conduct. Their own domestics or clerks, or laborers, are perhaps daily rendered unhappy by their malevolence and peevishness. They are left in a great measure unprayed for, unwarned, unblessed by them. They seem to be engaged in anything but promoting the happiness of those within their reach, and yet suppose themselves to be truly religious. But herein is a great delusion. It is the religion of the imagination and desires. It is like the piety of a man who contemplates going on a foreign mission--feels deeply as he says for the heathen, but never bestirs himself to save the souls of men at home. He can go through with his education as lazily as a drone. He can let his own class-mates and perhaps his own room-mate go down to hell unblessed and unwarned. He can let his own neighborhood and his own kindred sink down to death and hell around him, and yet imagine himself to feel truly benevolent and to long for the salvation of the heathen; never promote piety and revivals of religion at home, and yet work himself into the belief that he shall do it abroad. But again I say this is the religion of the imagination, and a deep and ruinous delusion. Let such a man go on to heathen ground and be surrounded with the naked and cold realities of heathenism, and he will find at last his sad mistake; and were it not for his pride of character and fear of the loss of reputation, he would soon find his way back to Christian lands, and the repose and indolence of a contemplative life. How many there are who are in the constant neglect of the happiness of all in their immediate neighborhood, whose prayers and efforts seem always to overleap the heads of all within their reach, and light down upon distant and unknown lands. Now true benevolence embosoms all mankind, but it always concerns itself for the time being, to secure the well-being of those most immediately within its reach. Those that compose the domestic circle are the objects upon which it necessarily and primarily exerts itself. Through these it flows abroad to all that are near, especially, and ceases not till it reaches those that are afar off. In this sense it is true that "charity begins at home," but not in the sense in which this is generally understood. This saying is generally supposed to mean that charity regards self-interest first and most, but the very fact that the term charity is used which is synonymous with benevolence, shows that the true meaning of this saying is, that benevolence begins by seeking the happiness of those in its immediate neighborhood, and continues to extend itself until it reaches those that are afar off.

11. The kind of religion or rather of irreligion of which I have just been speaking would be of no benefit if the world were full of if. Suppose that all mankind had this kind of religion, each one desiring and praying for the happiness of those beyond his reach, but neglecting and trampling upon the happiness of all within his reach. Who then would be happy? Every one employed in making those immediately in contact with him unhappy, and only seeking the happiness of those at a distance, who are in their turn rendering themselves and those immediately around them unhappy while they are desiring and praying for the happiness of others at a distance. Such religion as this would leave the world in wretchedness if every man on earth possessed it.

12. You can see how real religion makes its possessor happy. There is a sweetness and a divine relish in the exercise of benevolence itself, and in addition to this the emotions of the mind will, ordinarily, be in accordance with the state of the will or heart. And thus true religion necessarily results in the happiness of its possessor.

13. You see what a truly religious family, neighborhood or universe would be. Every one employed in making those around him happy to the full extent of his power. A most divine religion this! Take but a single family, where benevolence is the law of every inmate. See the husband and wife, brothers and sisters, and all the inmates of the family, how careful they are not to injure each other's piety, or unnecessarily to wound each other's feelings--how kindly they watch over each other for good--how watchful they are to each other's interests and happiness--how pleased each one is to deny himself to promote the general good. The law of kindness dwells ever on their tongues. Such a family is a little picture of heaven. Wherever such a family is found, it is an oasis, or a little green spot in the midst of a vast wilderness of moral death.

14. You see the utter unreasonableness of infidelity. Infidels affect to disbelieve the necessity of a change of heart. But what do they mean? do they not know by their own observation that mankind are by nature supremely selfish? And can they be happy without a radical change of heart? A world of selfish beings make up heaven! The idea is absurd and ridiculous. It is self-evident that without that change of heart which consists in a radical change of character from selfishness to benevolence, mankind can never be saved.

15. You see from this subject how to detect false hopes. False professors are either inactive in religion, or manifest a legal spirit in opposition to the spirit of love. There are two extremes that should always be well guarded in religion. The one is antinomianism, which satisfies itself with frames and feelings while it makes little or no exertion for the salvation of the world. The other is a legal zeal that bustles about often harshly and furiously and professes to be working for God, when there is a manifest dash of bitterness and misanthropy in the countenance and manner and life. This is not the love that worketh no ill to his neighbor. It is not the benevolence and spirit of Christ; and all such religion is spurious however zealous, however active, and however apparently useful it may be.

16. Spurious conversions often throw the mind into a state of fermentation and deep feeling which of course soon subsides. But true conversion consists in a change of choice, and is of course an abiding state of mind. Where there are revivals of religion the chaff may be easily discovered from the wheat when the effervescence of excited emotion has passed by. You can then see whether the will is under the control of truth. While the emotions are strong they may induce a series of volitions which would lead for the time being to the conclusion that the will or heart is really changed, but as soon as these emotions subside, if the heart is not changed, the selfish preference will again resume its control; and just in proportion as the excitement ceases will it become apparent in the man's life, and spirit, and temper, and especially in his business transactions, that his selfish heart or preference is not changed, and that he is still an unregenerate man. The fact that the emotions very often induce volition, and many times a series of volitions inconsistent with the governing preference of the will or heart, renders it impossible for us, in the midst of the excitement of a revival, to distinguish clearly between true and false conversions; but as the excitement subsides, if we are willing to be guided by the word of God, we can clearly distinguish between those that are born again, and those that are not. And we are bound so to distinguish, and to deal faithfully, and promptly, and energetically with those who are seen still to remain in selfishness.

17. You see the vast importance of distinguishing that which constitutes true religion, and all those frames and feelings upon which so much stress is laid in many portions of the Church, who are yet inactive in the cause of Christ and who suppose themselves holy simply because they know not what holiness is. They do not understand that their frames are the result of their views and opinions, and whether their opinions are right or wrong, cannot be known by their frames or emotions, but by the actings of their will. They may have love in the form of emotion--they may have peace, and joy, and even ecstasy in the form of emotions, without one particle of true religion. And if they are not really in a state of efficient good-willing--if they are not engaged in doing good, in promoting individual and general happiness to the extent of their power, it is absolutely certain that they are not truly religious. O that this were understood! O that it were known that religion is benevolence--the love that is willing to lay down the life for its neighbor! How much that is called religion is working continual ill to its neighbor! But blessed be God, true religion worketh no ill to its neighbor. Give me then religious neighbors, and I am content. Give me irreligious neighbors, and I will try to do them good. Let him hear that hath an ear to hear. Amen.


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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