What Saith the Scripture?
Mediatorship of Christ
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
June 23, 1841
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Josh 24:19: "Joshua said
unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is a holy God."
In this discussion I will show:
I. In what the holiness of God consists.
II. That there are two kinds of service, both of which claim to be rendered to God.
III. Which constitutes the acceptable service of God.
IV. What is implied in it.
V. How these two kinds of service cannot, and how they can be distinguished from
VI. If any man would serve the Lord, he must begin by making his heart holy.
I. In what the holiness of God consists.
- 1. It consists in benevolence, love, or good-willing; willing the universal good
- 2. All his moral attributes are modifications of benevolence, and his holiness
consists in a disposition, under all circumstances, to do just that which is upon
the whole best to be done, and most promotive of the general good, to whatever self-denial
and exertion it may call Him.
II. Two kinds of service, both claiming to be rendered to God.
Legal and gospel services. Legal service is a course of life pursued, not from supreme
love for and delight in it for its own sake, but from other considerations, sometimes
originating merely in constraints or restraints of conscience, hope, fear, regard
to reputation, personal safety, and multitudes of such like considerations.
Gospel service is not a constrained, but a joyful compliance with convictions of
duty, from supreme love to the path of duty, and delight in it for its own sake.
The first is regarded by the mind, as, after all, only a choice between two evils,
neither of which is supremely lovely and desirable to the mind for its own sake.
This is slavery, and this kind of service turns upon the very same principle upon
which the service of slaves is rendered. They prefer laboring for their masters,
to the evils which would result from their refusal. They therefore, upon the whole,
choose to labor as they do; but it is only a choice between two evils. As liberty
is out of the question, they must labor, or suffer the consequences. They therefore
prefer to labor. But this, after all, is slavery. This kind of service rendered to
God, is bondage and slavery.
The last, or gospel service, is regarded by the mind as supremely good or lovely,
and desirable for its own sake. This is true liberty. It is the very course of life
which the mind would prefer, if left free to choose between all possible courses
of life; and that solely on its own account, or for the sake of its intrinsic value.
I know not how to illustrate the difference between these two kinds of service, more
naturally and familiarly, than by adverting to the conduct of children. They will
labor, rather than be frowned upon by their parents. But labor is not regarded by
them as desirable for its own sake; but is only chosen as the less of two evils.
They would prefer play to labor, if left wholly to themselves. They love their amusements
for their own sake. Now such is the true service of God. It is not submitted to as
the less of two evils. It is not regarded merely as something that must be done,
however irksome the task. It is not an up-hill business, a grievous labor, in which
there is no satisfaction. But, like the plays of children, it is delighted in and
loved for its own sake.
III. Which constitutes the acceptable service of God.
- 1. Supreme devotedness of heart to the same end to which God is devoted. God
is love, or benevolence, and is supremely devoted to the good of universal being.
His heart is full of zeal, and his mind is wholly bent in promoting universal good,
as far as it can possibly be done. Now the true service of God consists primarily
in a heart of supreme benevolence, or of supreme devotedness to the glory of God
and the interests of the universe.
- 2. It consists in the supreme devotion of the whole being to the same end to
which God devotes all his attributes--to promote his own happiness and glory, not
because it is his own, but because it is infinitely the greatest good in the universe--to
promote the holiness and happiness of moral beings, and the universal good of sentient
existence, is that to which God has devoted his entire being.
- 3. It consists in devoting the whole being to this end, for the same reasons
for which God devotes Himself to the promotion of this end. Suppose you employ a
servant who labors only for his wages, and feels no interest in the end which you
are aiming to promote. He takes no interest in your business, for its own sake--has
no disinterested desire to promote the end at which you aim; but simply labors for
his wages. He begins as late in the morning, rests as long at noon, labors as sparingly,
and breaks off as early at night as will possibly do, without being curtailed in
his wages. Now you rightly say this man is serving himself and not you. He is a mere
eye-servant. He is entirely selfish, and has an entirely different end in view, from
what you have. And now suppose the end you have in view is not selfish, is not your
own aggrandizement, the promotion of your own interests of happiness, but the promotion
of the general good--would you not blame such a servant for not taking an interest
in the end itself? Would you not regard his selfishness with abhorrence? Would you
not regard him as engaged in self-service, and as deserving the severest reprobation?
Suppose a king to be entirely disinterested, and engaging all his attributes, and
all his wealth, and all his time, in the disinterested promotion of the public interests--suppose
him to say to his subjects, "Here, lay hold and help me to forward this great
work, and as your individual interests are parts of the public interest, I will see
that you have your reward. But the thing I require of you is, that you take an interest
in the end for its own sake. If you do not take an interest in the end for its own
sake, your labor will all be selfishness and slavery. If you do not love the work
on its own account, it will of course make you miserable. It will hang heavily on
your hands, and you will long for the going down of the sun. But let your heart be
deeply imbued with the spirit of doing good; let this be the grand object of your
life--love it for its own sake, and your labor will be to you a continual feast."
Now suppose that the subjects should take hold of the work as mere mercenaries, caring
for nothing but their wages, taking no interest in the public happiness and well-being;
but simply serving for reward. This would be a selfish, eye-service, and not heart-service.
This would be serving self, and not the king.
Now the true service of God consists, not only in devoting the whole being to
the promotion of the same end, but also with the same motives, or for the same reasons;
that is, from supreme benevolence, or an absorbing disposition to do good for its
own sake, and because it is good.
- 4. It consists in doing all this with the same feelings with which God engages
in this work. If the heart is fully devoted to this work--if the whole being is given
up to it, as God's being is given up to it--and if this is done for the same reasons,
and from disinterested love to the work itself, the feelings with which we engage
in it will naturally and necessarily be the same in kind as those in which God engages
in it . The feelings with which we engage in it and pursue it, must depend upon our
motives for engaging in it. If our motives are the same with God's, our feelings
will be the same in kind with his.
IV. What is implied in acceptable service to God.
- 1. This kind of service in sinners, implies a radical change of heart, from selfishness
to disinterested benevolence. Here let me be understood. By disinterested benevolence
I do not mean, that the mind feels no interest in it; but I mean the direct opposite
of this--that the mind does take the deepest, nay, a supreme interest, in promoting
the good of being, for its own sake and on its own account.
- 2. It implies a deep and efficient sympathy with God, in regard to the great
end of life. By deep, I mean, not a mere superficial sympathy, consisting in the
emotions, but a sympathy of heart, a sympathy lying in the deep foundations of moral
action. Persons may have emotions and desires, that consist merely in the effervescence
of an excited mind, while the heart, or the deep fountain of moral action, is after
all supreme selfishness. By a deep sympathy, then, I mean a sympathy of heart, of
will, of preference, and purpose. By an efficient sympathy, I mean an energetic,
active sympathy; one that produces active and energetic effort, to glorify God, save
the souls of men, and promote universal good.
- 3. This kind of service implies a continual manifestation of this state of mind,
by most strenuous and self-denying efforts to promote the universal good of being.
- 4. It implies the same feelings in kind, towards whatever hinders or promotes
the work. For example--It implies supreme complacency in God. God, knowing Himself
to be infinitely benevolent, has a supreme complacency in Himself. Therefore every
benevolent mind in the universe will feel a supreme complacency in God, because He
is benevolent. We naturally and necessarily feel complacency in a being whose character
is in all respects just as we would wish it to be.
- 5. It implies complacency in the character of Christians, so far as benevolence
is discernible in them.
- 6. It implies grief and indignation at sin and sinners, and whatever is inconsistent
with the highest good of the universe.
V. How these two kinds of service cannot, and how they can be distinguished
from each other.
- 1. They are not always distinguishable from each other in their outward manifestations,
or in the visible conduct of men. The servant who labors merely for his wages, may
to most human eyes appear just as well as one who is truly disinterested in his labors.
A mere legal religion may be strictly punctilious in all the outward duties of life.
Such to a great extent were the Pharisees. And such have been great multitudes in
every age of the Church.
- 2. They cannot always be distinguished by the amount of zeal upon religious subjects.
The Pharisees were very zealous. They would compass sea and land to make one proselyte.
Paul testifies, that Jews had a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."
Paul seems to have been as zealous before his conversion as afterwards. His legal
and his gospel religion could not then be distinguished from each other, in the amount
of zeal which he manifested while under the dominion of each.
- 3. Not always in their visible results and effects. A legal zeal may be very
punctilious in the discharge of outward duty, may make many proselytes, may bring
multitudes under conviction, and to embrace a legal religion. It may bring multitudes
under the dominion of a religion of resolutions, and self-dependent efforts to serve
the Lord. The law has its converts as well as the gospel. Persons may be baptized
unto Moses as well as unto Christ. And thorough legal laborers may promote extensive
apparent revivals. And indeed, they may be real revivals, so far as they go; a revival
of conviction in the Church; a revival of confession; a revival of zeal; a revival
of resolutions; a revival of conviction among sinners; a general awakening to religious
subjects, and a revival of obtaining hopes, and engaging in the legal service of
God. But all this, without a solitary conversion to Christ and his gospel; and perhaps,
with scarce an instance of bringing an individual from a state of legal slavery into
the liberty of the blessed gospel. Now so far as the number of converts is concerned,
so far as the number of revivals is concerned, and so far as most visible appearances
go, these two kinds of service may so far resemble each other as not to be distinguished
the one from the other. But--
- 4. They may be distinguished by the kind of zeal. It was the kind, and not degree
of Paul's zeal, that distinguished his Christian from his legal character. His Christian
zeal was benevolent, mellow, kind, compassionate, heavenly. His legal zeal was boisterous,
denunciatory, censorious, hardhearted, fiery, earthly, sensual, devilish. Thus a
truly Christian zeal may always be distinguished from a legal zeal, in the manifestation
of deep benevolence and compassion, a mellow, chastened, heavenly sensibility to
the wants and woes of men.
- 5. Gospel service may be distinguished from legal service, by the fact, that
it affords to the mind the fulness of a present satisfaction and happiness. It is
the mind's present solace and joy. It is its own present reward and happiness. In
proof of this I observe--
- (1.) That from the very nature of the case it must be so. The acceptable service
of God is doing just that which the mind views in its own nature, as supremely desirable
and agreeable. It is that which the mind loves for its own sake, and therefore naturally
and necessarily makes the mind happy. The more intently the mind is engaged in this
employment, the more full and perfect is its joy, from the laws of its own being.
And here I must remark, that a very singular objection has been stated to this view
of the subject; which is, if the mind loves the service of God for its own sake,
there is no more virtue in that state, than there is in eating our food, because
we love it. To this I answer--our appetite for food is constitutional, and not something
in which we are voluntary; and therefore, partaking of our food because we love it
is not virtuous. If our love of the service of God were involuntary and constitutional,
as our appetite for food is, the service of God would not be virtuous. But it should
be ever remembered, that the appetite, or disposition to serve God, consists in benevolence,
or good-willing; and is therefore entirely voluntary. Indeed the very appetite is
itself a choice. It is therefore in the highest degree virtuous. If our appetite
for food were voluntary, and depended upon our own voluntary choice, both the exercise
and the gratification of our appetite, from correct motives, would be virtuous. The
virtue of serving God, then, lies in the exercise of benevolence, or in choosing
to do good for its own sake. The very exercising and carrying out of this benevolence
in the active service of God, necessarily brings with it a present and essential
happiness. God's happiness consists in his benevolence. God has always found his
happiness in the exercise of benevolence. He does not need to wait till he has done
his work, before he enjoys it. He is not waiting to complete his toils, and expecting
happiness only when He can sit down in supineness and inaction. The more glowing
and deep his benevolence, the greater is his happiness. Just so it is with a gospel
service. The mind engaged in this service feels that "an excellent oil is distilled"
upon it, in the very exercise itself. It feels itself fanned by the breezes and moistened
by the dews of heaven. It feels itself to be in an atmosphere of love. Its very labors
are essential sweetness, and it drinks from the river of life, while it pushes its
efforts to promote universal happiness.
- (2.) It is a course of life in which all the powers of the mind harmonize; which
harmony of soul is necessary and essential happiness. Why, it is love. It is the
love of God. It is the temper and spirit of God. It necessarily produces the very
happiness of God in kind; and but for outward trying circumstances, would be as perfect
as that which God experiences, amid his own labors of love.
- (3.) In proof of this position, I quote from the Bible. Job 27:10: "Will
he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?" Here it is
mentioned, as one of the marks of the hypocrite, that he does not delight himself
in the Almighty. It is truly wonderful to what an extent the Bible exhibits true
religion as affording present joy and delight. I will only quote a few, out of the
great multitude of passages upon this subject, that may serve as specimens of the
light in which the Holy Scriptures present this subject: Isa. 32:17: "The work
of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance
for ever." Isa. 54:13: "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and
great shall be the peace of thy children." Isa. 66:12: "Thus saith the
Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles
like a flowing stream." Isa. 26:3: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee." Ps. 37:4: "Delight
thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart." 40:8:
"I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart."
Heb. 10:5: "When He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering
thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me." Ps. 119:14, 16, 35, 47,
70, 92, 97, 111, 127: "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies as much
as in all riches. I will delight myself in thy statutes; I will not forget thy word.
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. I will delight
myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. Their heart is as fat as grease;
but I delight in thy law. Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have
perished in mine affliction. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
Thy testimonies have I taken as a heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of
my heart. I love thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold." Ps. 112:1:
"Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments."
Job 15:11: "Are the consolations of God small with thee? Is there any secret
thing with thee?" Ps. 19:8-11: "The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing
the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of
the Lord is clean, enduring for ever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous
altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter
also than honey and the honey-comb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned; and
in keeping of them there is great reward." Acts 13:52: "The disciples were
filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost." Rom. 14:17: "The kingdom of God
is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
Rom. 15: 13, 29: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." 2 Cor. 1:24:
"Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy:
for by faith ye stand." 2 Cor. 2:3: "I wrote this same unto you, lest when
I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence
in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all." 2 Cor. 8:2: "In a great
trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto
the riches of their liberality." Gal. 5:22: "The fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."
Phil. 1:3, 4: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every
prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy." Heb. 12:2: "Looking
unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before
Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of
the throne of God." 1 Pet. 1:8: "Whom having not seen ye love; in whom,
though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full
of glory." 1 John 1:4: "These things write we unto you, that our joy may
be full." 2 Cor. 7:4: "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful
in all our tribulation." Heb. 10:34: "Ye had compassion of me in my bonds,
and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have
in heaven a better and an enduring substance." Deut. 28:45-47: "All these
curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou
be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to
keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee; and they shall be
upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst
not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance
of all things," &c. In this last passage the terrible curses of the law
are represented as coming upon the children of Israel, because they had not rendered
that service to God which made them happy. They had not joyed and delighted in the
service of God. Phil 3:1: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord."
Phil 4:4, 10: "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. I rejoiced
in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again:
wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity." I Samuel 2:1: "Hannah
prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord: mine horn is exalted in the Lord;
my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation."
Ps. 16:9: "My heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest
in hope." Acts 5:41: "They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing
that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." From these and
multitudes of other passages, it is most manifest, as well as from the very nature
of the case, that the acceptable service of God must constitute the present happiness
of the soul.
- 6. These two kinds of service may be distinguished from each other in the fact
that a legal service affords to the mind very little present satisfaction, which
consists in a self-righteous peace, and the anticipation of future happiness. In
proof of this I observe that the very nature of the case shows that it must be so.
Inasmuch as it is not chosen for its own sake and that in which the mind supremely
delights on its own account, it is often a laborious and irksome business. It is
something submitted to which is not pleasant in itself, but on account of an anticipated
reward. Such a man is religious for the same reason that some people take bitter
medicine. The medicine is disagreeable in itself; but submitted to for the sake of
an anticipated good. It is taken as the less of two evils. So a man may toil hard
for the sake of his wages; but toil is not desired for its own sake, but only submitted
to for the sake of the end. Just so with a legal religion. It is an up-hill business.
It is regarded as the less of two evils. It is something that must not be omitted,
but attended to from the dire necessity of the case. But not consisting in benevolence,
not being disinterestedly loved for its own sake, it cannot, in the very nature of
the case, constitute the mind's present happiness. And the principal happiness which
the mind can feel in it, is just that kind of satisfaction which a man may take in
labor for the sake of the end he has in view. He would gladly forego the labor, could
the end be obtained without it; but since it cannot, he submits to the labor, just
in proportion as he regards the end. So when a man's convictions of the validity
of religion, of the danger of hell, and the desirableness of heaven, are vivid in
his own mind, he engages in the duties of religion, with a good degree of alacrity,
feeling, and sensible satisfaction. Just as a man would feel a kind of satisfaction
in his labor, who had a prospect of a great reward. But as soon as his convictions
of sin, of danger, &c., subside, just in this proportion his religion becomes
an irksome business. His prayers are short and far between, and the whole round of
what he calls his religious duties drags heavily, and are a sad weight upon his shoulders.
In short, his religion is slavery. It is more tolerable than hell; but it has not
in it the unction and sweetness of heaven.
VI. If any man would serve the Lord, he must begin by making his heart holy.
- 1. God says to the wicked, "Make to yourself a new heart and a new spirit."
This is the very beginning of all religion, to give up selfishness and become supremely,
- 2. As a holy heart consists in this, it is impossible that any other service
can be acceptable to God. Indeed it is in reality the only service that is really
offered to God. A legal service is self service. It is laboring for wages. It is
not doing good for the love of doing good, and for the sake of the good, but merely
for the sake of the wages, and is therefore not the service of God but of self. Those
therefore who have unholy hearts "cannot serve the Lord, because He is a holy
God." Until they are holy they cannot engage in a holy service. When Joshua
told the people they could not serve the Lord, because He is a holy God, he did not
intend to tell them that they could not become holy, but that remaining unholy, they
could not serve the Lord. You, therefore, who are unholy, must not think to set about
the acceptable service of God without first becoming holy. This is your first work.
- 3. It is the only service that can do you any good. God cannot honestly reward
a legal service by the gift of eternal life, because there is not a particle of real
virtue in it. Nor can He possibly reward a legal service with eternal life; for what
is eternal life but holiness and its necessary results. It is absurd, therefore,
to suppose that God can give you eternal life as the reward of legal service. Nor
can you receive eternal life as the gift of grace, while your heart is not holy and
you are not rendering to God a holy and acceptable service. It should be forever
understood that if a man does not find his happiness in benevolence and in that course
of life which God requires, he neither deserves to be happy, nor is it possible for
God to make him happy. If he does not love his work, he does not deserve any reward
for it, because his heart is not in it. Nor is it possible that he should be rewarded
for his labor, unless he finds a sweetness and an enjoyment in the labor itself.
Why heaven will not consist in supineness and inaction, in giving yourself up to
the exercise of sweet emotions and ecstacies without benevolence and effort, but
must consist in the service of God. If you are not engaged in that kind of service
here which makes you happy, the same kind of service will not make you happy in heaven.
- 4. If your legal service does good to others, it is no thanks to you. If through
your legal and selfish efforts others are blessed, really converted and saved, it
is not because you have had this end supremely in view, as one desired and chosen
for its own sake. Therefore whoever may be blessed, you are not blessed and do not
deserve to be. The conversion of souls does not fill you with joy and satisfaction,
because it is not the end which you have chosen for its own sake. You do not find
your reward in the very luxury of promoting the good of others. You are deceiving
yourself in the anticipation of a future reward for mere legal services. This is
a horrible delusion.
- 5. But in all probability you will do no good in this state of mind; for it seems
to be a universal law that "like shall beget like"--slaves shall beget
slaves--that being a legalist yourself, you will beget proselytes in your own likeness.
Christ said of the Pharisees, "ye do compass sea and land to make one proselyte,
and when he is made, ye make him two fold more the child of hell than yourselves."
If you have not in your own experience, gone any farther than a legal religion, your
spiritual children will be legalists. You may make converts, but they will not be
Christians. They may be zealous, a great change may occur in them; but they will
not be converts to Jesus Christ. They will not know what the true mind of God is,
because you have never really and fully exhibited it to them, either in your preaching,
or your temper and life. Your converts will as a general thing, fall even below you,
and be two fold more the children of legality and of hell than yourself.
1. If your religion does not afford you present happiness, if you do not feel that
there is real salvation in it, it is a legal and not a gospel religion. Beloved,
there is a sad mistake upon this subject among professing Christians. Instead of
finding their religion a peace-giving, soul-satisfying employment, they think themselves
to be engaged in what they call the Christian warfare, and expect to be made happy
when they get to heaven, and can cease from their irksome labors. They drag on against
their feelings, and elaborate a most distressing religion. The more they have of
it, the more miserable they are. They keep up a continual controversy between their
conscience and their hearts, supposing this inward struggle to constitute the Christian
warfare. They bless themselves with the idea that their painful service will soon
be over, and they shall have nothing to do but sit down in the midst of the joys
Now the Christian warfare consists in conflicts with those temptations, persecutions
and besetments, that endeavor to draw us aside from the labor in which we take so
much delight. The true Christian's religion is his life. When he is left to pursue
his course of doing good without opposition or temptation, he finds the service itself
to be the delight and satisfaction of his soul. He knows full well that the grand
difference between heaven and this state of existence lies in the fact that there
he will have less interruption, temptation and resistance, and can therefore give
himself up uninterruptedly and without fighting Satan, to that service in which he
has so long had supreme delight. Is this your religion?
2. There is reason to believe that many of what are called revivals of religion go
no farther than to make the converts mere legalists, and that the converts never
get fairly into the kingdom of God. They are awakened and more or less deeply convicted,
but never come to be possessed of the idea that religion is love, while their hearts
remain entirely selfish. They are deceived by the vividness of their emotions and
the excitement of their minds, into a belief that they are truly converted to God.
In proof of this position, observe--
(1.) The spirit with which what claim to be revivals are often conducted--the
class of motives presented are merely legal. The spirit in which they are preached
is merely legal, and the whole tendency of the preaching and of the manner, together
with illustrations used in endeavoring to impress the minds of inquirers with the
true nature of religion, of submission and true conversion, are altogether calculated
to induce only a selfish religion, to bring the converts under bondage to law and
to sin, instead of bringing them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
I could give multitudes of illustrations of this method of conducting revivals, that
would naturally lead a reflecting mind to the conclusion that such partial exhibitions
of truth, the exhibition of such a legal spirit and zeal, as are constantly presented
to the minds of inquirers would have a tendency only to a legal, selfish, self-righteous
(2.) Another fact to show this, is that the spirit of the converts of such revivals
is often manifestly a mere legal spirit. As a matter of fact they are not brought
into the glorious liberty of the children of God. But instead of Gospel liberty,
they are brought into legal bondage. By a little conversation with them, it appears,
almost at first blush, that their religion is not love, that it is not mellow, holy,
heavenly, meek, humble, broken-hearted, but is on the other hand hard-hearted, selfish,
constrained, severe, unkind, sectarian and censorious.
(3.) Sometimes the inquirers are told not to expect happiness in religion, but to
be willing to wait for happiness till they get to heaven; and when those who have
professed submission begin more than to suspect that their submission is not of the
right kind, and to complain that they don't feel right, that their hearts are hard,
that they have little or no enjoyment in the duties of religion, that they are very
little inclined to labor and to pray for the conversion of souls, and that as a matter
of fact they do not enjoy or find themselves blessed and happy in the service of
God, they are flatly told, when thus convicted by the Holy Ghost of being wrong,
that they are not to expect to be happy in this world--that labor is their great
business, whether they enjoy it or not--that they must not regard the feelings with
which they labor, but act up to their convictions of duty, whether they enjoy this
service or not. And sometimes they even go so far as to tell them that the less enjoyment
they have in religion, the more virtue there is in it, as in that case their religion
is not selfish, but disinterested. Now I do not hesitate to say, and I say it with
grief, that in this kind of instruction there is a radical and most ruinous error,
and such teaching, from its very nature, is calculated as fatally to mislead the
soul as Universalism or even more so, for while it is equally false, it is much more
specious than Universalism. It entirely overlooks the nature of true religion. It
sets aside entirely the idea that religion is love, and that nothing but love and
its necessary fruits are religion. It holds up the idea that religion consists in
a mere legal conformity to convictions of duty. It is true that persons are not to
wait for particular emotions of any kind, nor to be stumbled in the discharge of
their religions duties, because they do not at all times experience the same inward
emotions in the discharge of duty. But it is also true, that all religion is love
or benevolence, and that the exercise of benevolence naturally and necessarily produces
happiness, and that there is a divine sweetness, peace and soul-satisfying happiness
in the very exercise of benevolence itself. When therefore a professed convert finds
as a matter of fact his religion hangs heavily, and that his religious duties lay
as a weight upon his hands--to tell him this is just what he may expect--that this
is no evidence that he is wrong--that this laborious and irksome business may after
all be true religion, is to inculcate upon him an abominable delusion and as fatally
to deceive him, as if he were taught that he could go to heaven without a change
(4.) In all such cases it is of fundamental importance to discriminate clearly between
seeking happiness in religion and actually finding it. The Bible most clearly teaches
us and we may learn the same from common sense and from the nature of the case, that
if permanent happiness is the object of pursuit, and the grand motive which leads
the mind to engage in religion, this is working for wages. It is self-righteousness,
self-service, and not the true service of God. But it is also true that if the heart
is truly benevolent, if the service of God is chosen and loved for its own sake,
if to do good for the sake of the good and from a desire to promote the holiness
and happiness of being for its own sake, be that which the mind supremely desires
and chooses on its own account, it is impossible that the duties of religion should
not afford an exquisite relish in themselves, and that a course of life so highly
valued for its own sake, should not afford a relish of a permanent and blessed happiness.
If then the convert complain that he does not enjoy the service of the Lord, he should
be instantly and plainly told that he is not engaged in the service of the Lord,
that "wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace,"
that "the path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more
unto the perfect day," and that if these are not conscious realities in his
own experience, he is deceiving himself--that true religion is love or benevolence--that
there is a divine sweetness and relish in benevolence--and that if he does not find
in the service he renders to God, that "in the keeping of God's commandments
there is great reward," it is because he does not keep them. Nothing can be
of greater importance than to make the impression at once that he is a legalist and
has not been born again. But instead of this, professed converts are often encouraged
to rest in a legal religion as the true religion, and are only exhorted to persevere,
be faithful in the discharge of duty, binding and supporting themselves by oaths
and promises and resolutions, and not to expect happiness in religion till they get
to heaven. O, what a terrible delusion is this. And now let me ask if this is not,
as a matter of fact, the real history of many in revivals.
(5.) Another consideration that establishes the fact that multitudes of professed
converts have only a legal religion is, that they so suddenly backslide and as it
is commonly expressed "grow cold in religion" as soon as the effervescence
of excited emotion subsides. Now whether their religion is of the heart, or merely
of the emotions, can only be known as the greatness of the excitement subsides. Strong
feelings or very highly excited emotions, may induce volition or a series of volitions
at variance with the state or permanent preference of the will or heart. A miser
may be so affected in view of some spectacle or wretchedness as to exert such a temporary
influence over his will, as that by a single volition he will relieve the sufferings
before him, in view of which he is so greatly excited. But this volition has been
induced by an excitement of feeling in opposition to the permanent state of the will.
Now as soon as the excitement has subsided, he calls himself a fool for having been
thus induced to part with his money, and almost curses himself for his folly. Now
in revivals of religion, it often happens that strongly excited feeling will induce
for the time being a series of volitions, that will so shape the life as really to
lead us and to lead the subject of them to believe, that the heart is truly changed,
that the deep moral preferences of the soul are reversed, that selfishness is given
up, and that benevolence has taken its place. But let excitement fully subside, and
then you will be able to discern clearly and distinctly, whether the heart is changed,
or whether the volitions of the mind were only induced by temporary excitement. If
it is found that the deep currents of the soul are benevolent, that selfishness in
heart, life, business, and social intercourse is abandoned, and that love and disinterested
benevolence, a supreme disposition to do good to all around is the real state of
the heart, then you may be certain that there is true conversion, that that soul
has truly entered upon the service of God, and that he is not a mere legalist, and
serving for wages.
3. Converts should always be made to see, that the more disinterested they are
in religion the more happy they will be; of course the less they seek happiness the
more they will find it. And the less regard they have to their own happiness, the
more self-sacrificing and disinterested they are, the greater will be their joy,
and the fuller the tide of their blessedness. Suppose a man comes across, in the
street, an object of the deepest distress and compassion. Being touched to the very
quick with the spectacle before him, and from unmingled benevolence, he steps into
a provision store and purchases a basket of provisions, and sets at the feet of this
object of poverty and distress. The fainting starvling lifts up his streaming eyes
of gratitude, speaks not, but looks unutterable thanks. Now the happiness of this
benefactor would be precisely in proportion to the strength of his benevolence and
disposition to do him good. If his benevolence was strong and disinterested, and
he longed to do him good for its own sake, his happiness would be full and unmingled
and he would find his happiness to be in proportion to his disinterestedness, and
that in this thing he had found most exquisite happiness simply because he sought
it not. Upon the principle that he who would lose his life for the sake of doing
good, shall find it and keep it unto eternal life.
4. You can see the secret of the perseverance of the saints. They persevere in religion
because they love it for its own sake.
5. You see also the secret of the apostacy of legalists. When their excitement subsides,
their religion is too irksome a business for them. They abandon it because they have
no heart in it. "They went out from us," says John, "because they
were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would have remained with us."
Now the same Apostle affirms that "he that is born of God doth not commit sin,
because his seed remaineth in him, so that he cannot sin because he is born of God."
The seed which remains in him is the love of God, the same benevolence that is in
the heart of God.--This has taken the place of selfishness, has come to be the supreme
ruling disposition of his soul.--And because his seed remaineth in him he cannot
live in sin. And if it is found that he can live in sin, it is certain that he is
not born of God.
6. Whether your religion is of the right kind or a mere legal religion, will be attested
by your own consciousness. You cannot but know if you will be honest with yourselves,
whether your religion is liberty or slavery. Would enough of the same kind make heaven?
Or if you should multiply it a thousand fold would it not increase your wretchedness?
7. The legality of professors is a great stumbling block to sinners, seeing as they
do, that there is little, or nothing of enjoyment in the religion which they observe
in some persons, they conceive of God as a hard master, of religion as a hard and
cruel service, as destitute of every thing that is pleasant and sweet and soul satisfying,
infinitely less delightful than the pleasures of sin; and therefore to be postponed
as long as possible, and yielded to only when dire necessity forces it upon the soul.
It is manifest that they look upon religion as only the less of two evils. It is
better than to go to hell, but much less valuable in itself than the pleasures of
the world. Now where do they get this idea; how comes it to be so almost universally
prevalent among the impenitent? Why, the fact is, they receive their notions of what
religion is, from what they observe among professors of religion, what they behold
in their parents and relations and friends around them, who profess to be in the
service of God.
8. And you can see why sinners are so reluctant to give up the pleasures of sin,
and why young persons are apt to conclude that religion would set aside all their
happiness. Why, this is the very idea of some professors themselves. The mother of
a gay young lady, a professor of religion, a few years since was distressed that
her daughter became convicted and hopefully converted in a revival of religion. "O,"
she said, "what a pity that such a charming girl, should be so early cut off
from all the pleasures of the ball room, and secluded from the gaiety of her young
friends, and shut up to the sameness and solemn performance of religious duties."
I trust there are not many professedly religious mothers who would say as much as
this, or even think it. And yet, if they did not, it might be, that a mere natural
fear of the loss of the soul, rather than a rich experience of the joys of God's
salvation, would prevent their saying it. The fact is, that multitudes of professors
of religion know not what enjoyment in religion is. To them it is after all a naked
reality that God is a hard master, that they have short keeping and hard labor, that
they live on husks, and their father does not feed them. But this is not the religion
of the gospel.--It is not the religion of love. It is self righteousness and ruin.
9. You can see how few professors of religion have truly embraced the gospel; so
few indeed that when here and there a soul is found that truly enjoys the service
of God, and feels constrained to speak of the joys of God's salvation, he is looked
upon as a wonder, as having a great deal of animal feelings, and as being well nigh
deranged. He is not unfrequently rebuked and even despised for talking so much about
enjoyment in religion. He is suspected and publicly accused of selfishness, and as
serving God for the loaves and fishes, without considering at all, that it is his
disinterested love and labors of love that constitute his happiness.
10. There is a kind of happiness that is not religion. And wherever it appears, needs
and deserves rebuke. It is the opposite extreme of a legal religion. It is antinomianism,
the religion and happiness of emotions, ecstacies, and a false peace, amounting to
a kind of quietism, that does little or nothing to glorify God or benefit mankind.
Now between this state of feeling and the happiness of true religion there is a distinction
as broad and palpable as the noon day light. The one consists in the emotion, and
effervescence of excited feelings which does nothing, and the other consists in the
exercise of good willing, of benevolence, and in labors of love, together with those
states of the emotion that naturally and necessarily result from this state of the
will. The happiness of one consists in doing nothing for the glory of God and the
good of men, but simply giving up the mind to the influence of imagination and excited
emotion, while the other finds its happiness in giving up the whole being to active
exertions, for the promotion of the glory of God and the salvation of men.
11. You see the necessity of a class of ministers that know, and continually experience
the joys and the power of God's salvation. That such an experience is important to
the promotion of true religion is evident, from the very nature of the case. How
shall a man describe what true religion is, unless he has it in his own experience?
How shall a man preach Christ, who does not know Christ?--How shall a man preach
a religion of love, and make people understand it, who is not himself in the enjoyment
of it? Isaiah says: "Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come
with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall
obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." The Psalmist
says: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore
unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit: Then will I
teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
The grand reason why ministers promote a legal religion is, that they are themselves
legalists.--They preach as far as they know, and having only the baptism of John,
they have need that some one should expound unto them the way of God more perfectly.
They testify what they have seen and experienced, and this, they consider to be true
religion. They inculcate it upon others; being themselves in bondage, they beget
children in their own likeness. They are born and continue slaves.--Nothing is more
alarming to them than the idea of getting above their sins. They would even manifest
indignation at the profession of sanctification on the part of any soul. They would
think that surely he knows little or nothing of the evils of a wicked heart, and
would look upon him as in a most deluded and self-righteous state. Why, they have
never so much as conceived of gospel liberty. A religion of love, joy, peace, long-suffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, temperance, meekness, and all the graces of the Holy
Spirit, what do they know of these? "Being rooted and grounded in love, and
comprehending with all saints, what is the length, and breadth, and height, and depth,
of that love of God, that passeth knowledge." O, what do they know of this?
Alas, the poor slaves! No, reader, they regard the doctrine of entire sanctification
in this life as a most dangerous heresy; it is so infinitely at variance with their
own experience, and with all that they call and really suppose to be religion, that
they look upon such a sentiment, as ridiculous, and dangerous. I say then, we must
have a class of ministers, the state of the Church and of the world imperiously demand
it, that know what gospel liberty is. Look at Wesley and his coadjutors, at Luther
and his coadjutors. Read their writings; look into Luther's Commentary, on the Epistle
to the Galatians. Read the history of the life and times of those holy men.--Witness
the effect of their labors. And what is the secret of all their success. The fact
that they walked with God, that they were in the liberty of the gospel, that they
distinguished clearly between a legal and a gospel religion, that they distinguished
between the righteousness which is by faith and the righteousness of the law. In
short, they pressed upon their hearers, the great idea, that God is love, that religion
is love, not emotions or complacency, but benevolence, and this succeeded under God
in kindling up among mankind the very fire that lives in the heart of God.
12. The truly religious man need not, and does not want to get to heaven before he
is happy. He is happy here. He finds, that to be true in his own experience which
James declares: "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth
therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall
be blessed in his deed."
13. Unless self-denial, and the carrying out of your benevolence, work out in you
a soul-satisfying happiness, you are not truly converted.
14. Great multitudes make up their minds to serve God, without understanding definitely
what it is to serve God, and many ministers preach on such texts as this: "Choose
ye this day whom ye will serve," when they press sinners up to the point of
decision, in respect to whose service they will choose, but omit accurately to discriminate
between a gospel and a legal service. Now men are in the habit of seeing others serve
for reward, and of serving themselves for reward. And as all their notions of service
on every subject are selfish, and they have little or no idea of any other service
than a selfish service, it is of indispensable importance, and fundamental to their
salvation that a discrimination as clear as light be made, between a selfish and
a disinterested service. And as their notions are all selfish, no pains should be
spared to possess their minds fully of the true idea of a gospel service, as distinguished
from a legal service. They should be shown that one is holiness and the other is
sin, that one is serving God and the other is serving self, that the one is true
religion and the other arrant wickedness.
15. And now, dearly beloved, as I have spread out this subject before you, let me
ask you where you are. What is your true character? What is your religion? Are you
a real servant of God, or are you serving yourself? Are you a legalist, or are you
a Christian? Are you converted, or are you not converted? Are you free, or are you
a slave? Do you walk with God in the liberty of the gospel, or are you wearing the
galling yoke of the law, and in bondage to sin? O, beloved, walk up to an honest
answering of these questions.--Remember, that God has said, "sin shall not have
dominion over you, because you are not under the law but under grace." Does
your experience test the truth of this? Can you honestly say "the law of the
Spirit of life in Christ, hath made me free from the law of sin and death,"
or are you still crying out in the legal experience portrayed in the 7th of Romans:
"O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"--My
perishing and beloved souls, rest not a moment in such a state as this. This whole
matter of a legal experience is full of death. It is the rottenness of a legal religion,
which will lead you down to the gates of hell. O, remember that "there is now
no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh,
but after the Spirit."
If then your own heart condemns you, remember that God is greater than your heart,
and will condemn you. "Shall mortal man be more just than God?" "Escape
for your life," and rest not till you are rooted and grounded in love.
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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