What Saith the Scripture?


by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture V
September 28
, 1842

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--1 Tim. 4:16: "Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."

In remarking upon these words I shall,

I. Point out some of the respects in which a minister should take heed to himself.

II. Some of the respects in which he should take heed to the doctrine he preaches.

III. Show what is intended by continuing in them.

IV. What we are to understand by the last clause of the verse, in so doing he shall save both himself and them that hear.

I. Some respects in which a minister should take heed to himself.

If you ask how you are to obtain this evidence, I answer from the indwelling [S]pirit of God. If you ask again whether you are to give yourself up to be directed by impulses, I answer, No. You are in nothing to be directed by impulses, but by the sober dictates of your judgments in respect to the path of duty. If God really calls you to the ministry, you will hear his voice; for if He does not call loud enough so that you can hear Him, you have no right to go. If He designs you for a minister of the gospel, He will give you such views of Himself, of the worth of souls, of the great importance of your engaging in this work; in short He will give such an inclination to your mind as to fasten the conviction upon you that it is his voice, and that He calls you to preach the gospel. Men may call you to the ministry, but consent thou not except God call thee. Too many young men already have been called of men, and what are they doing in the Church but increasing its sectarianism, and grasping after power. We want God-made ministers. Take heed then to yourselves, I beseech you, brethren. See to it that God puts you into the ministry.

Ministers will often flatter each other in such a manner as to become exceedingly afraid of displeasing each other. It is becoming common for the ministers in a city, town, or region of country, so to unite themselves together, as that one dares not adopt any measure, preach any doctrine, or pursue any course, without the consent of his brethren. And sometimes they really seem to be slaves to each other, and not to have the moral courage, to act independently upon any question of moment. Let me beseech you by the mercies of God that you avoid all such things as these.

II. In what respects you are to take heed to the doctrine.

You ought to understand, brethren, that the doctrine of justification by faith, as it is now generally held by the orthodox churches, is a modern invention, and was unknown to the ancient church. It is this, that men are justified by faith in Christ, while they are not sanctified. In other words, that faith is so substituted for holiness, that they are accounted as righteous, while in fact they are not so, but are living in the daily and hourly practice of sin.

The doctrine of the primitive Church was, that men are made righteous by faith. In other words, that they are sanctified, or made holy, by faith, and that they were justified only so far as they were made just by the grace of God through faith. Now this must be the truth. And take heed to the doctrine, brethren, that you do not convey the idea, that men are justified while living in sin.

III. What is intended by continuing in them.

The Apostle says, "Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine; continue in them: for in so doing, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee."

By continuing in them is meant, the continuing to take heed to yourself and your doctrine. Do not take it for granted, that if for some time, or for any length of time, God shall be with and bless you, that He will therefore always do so, whether you continue to take heed to yourself and to the doctrine, or not. Remember that if at any time, or under any pretense, you neglect to take heed to yourself and to the doctrine, to continue in them, He will cast you off. "Therefore be not high-minded, but fear."

IV. Show what is intended by the phrase, "In so doing, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."


1. Remember that you are to exercise faith in this and kindred promises--to expect the salvation of your hearers as much as your own salvation--to plead the promise of God in respect to them, as well as in respect to yourselves.

2. Always remember the condition upon which this and other promises are given. You are to believe the promise, as a universal condition, and fulfill whatever other conditions may be expressed or implied. In this case you are not only to believe the promise, but remember that you are to take heed to yourself, and to your doctrine.

3. If you neglect either condition, you will fail. If you take heed to yourself, and do not take heed to your doctrine; or if you take heed to the doctrine, and do not take heed to yourself, or should you do both these, and still disbelieve the promise, in either case, the end will fail, and the blame will be your own.

4. How much it is to the interest of any people that a minister should comply with these conditions, and how unjust the minister is to the people, as well as rebellious against God, and injurious to his own soul, if he neglect to take heed to himself and to the doctrine.

5. What an infinite blessing a true and faithful minister is to a people. From what has been said, it is plain, that as a general truth, the minister has it within his power, not only to secure his own salvation, but also the salvation of those that hear him. What a blessing, then, to any people to have a faithful minister.

6. We see what to think of those ministers who are not instrumental in saving their people. I heard of one minister, whose preaching was so manifestly and uniformly unsuccessful in winning souls to Christ, that it is said he came to the conclusion that he was commissioned to prepare souls for hell, and not for heaven. To meet his case, this text should read, "Take heed to thyself, and to the doctrine; continue in them, for in so doing, thou shalt damn both thyself and those that hear thee."

It is not intended by what I have said, to make the impression that the most faithful ministers can save their hearers without their consent, or that God will or can convert them if they refuse to be converted. But God knows what can be accomplished by the use of moral means. And when He has promised to secure an end upon a certain condition, we may rest assured, that upon the fulfillment of that condition, He knows Himself to be able to accomplish it. Let it be then, your abiding consolation, that if you take heed to yourselves, and to your doctrine, and continue in them, you shall save both yourselves and them that hear you.


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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