What Saith the Scripture?

Wisdom Justified of Her Children

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture VI
October 12
, 1842

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Luke 7:35: "But wisdom is justified of all her children."

Before I enter directly upon the discussion of the text, I will remark,

1. That the dress, and manner of life of John the Baptist were manifestly typical of the state of repentance and humiliation to which he called the Jews at that particular time, and to which every soul is called before he received Christ, gospel liberty, and joy in the Holy Ghost. It had been common for the prophets of Israel, to adopt modes of life that were typical of the particular truths they were commissioned to announce.

2. Christ does not appear to have differed in his dress and dietetic habits from the mass of the people. It should be remembered, however, that among the eastern nations, modes of dress were not perpetually fluctuating as they are in the west. It is manifest that Christ was observant of the innocent civilities of life, attended marriages, and politely accepted the hospitality of all classes for the purpose of doing them good. He observed the rites of the ceremonial law, as they were typical, and that dispensation was not ended, but he paid no other regard to the superstitious traditions of the elders, than to rebuke them, and to reject their authority.

3. John's austere habits and manner of life--his severe rebukes and denunciations, were a stumbling-block to the self-righteous Jews. Being righteous in their own eyes, and not, in their own estimation, needing repentance and humiliation, they neither understood his preaching, nor the typical design of his dress, diet, and manner of living. From all these, they concluded that he was a railer and possessed an evil spirit.

4. Christ's preaching and manner of life were no less a stumbling block. Knowing nothing of gospel liberty, and not understanding that all things belong to God's children, and were to be wisely and temperately used by them with thanksgiving, they accused Christ of being a glutton and a wine-bibber. John's preaching and manner of life were designedly legal, in the sense that they were designed to make the Jews feel that they were in a state of condemnation, instead of being in a state of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Christ's manner of life was a perfect specimen of gospel liberty, in opposition to the legal and conscience bound state in which the Scribes and Pharisees were, which was typified by John's habits and manner of life.

5. In the context Christ illustrates the manner in which the Jews had first treated John and afterwards Himself. "And the Lord said, whereunto shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, we have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, behold a gluttonous man, and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children." By John, He says, you were called to mourning, but you would not mourn. You resisted his rebukes and appeals, and said he had a devil. By me you are called to liberty and rejoicing, and this you reject as antinomian, and latitidinarian--accusing me of gluttony and intemperance. So that whatever is done for you, you are displeased and stumbled.

6. While the great mass of the Jews were stumbled, and would have been stumbled whatever might have been done for them, it was, nevertheless, true that the truly wise were edified, and saved.

In proceeding to the discussion of this subject, I will endeavor to show,

I. What wisdom is, and who are wise.

II. That that which is wise and true will be justified and approved by the wise.

III. That selfish souls will stumble at what is wise and true, and why they will do so.

I. What wisdom is, and who are wise.

II. That which is wise and true will be justified and approved by the wise.

III. Selfish minds will stumble at what is wise and true; and why they will do so.

But to the wise, the doctrine of government, the infliction of penalties for the public good, of self-preservation and defense, where the law of benevolence plainly demands it, is only the true application of the law of love.


1. The truly wise may be known by the manner in which they are affected by the truth. Preach to them whatever doctrine you will, if it be true they will understand it, be edified by it, and be sure to make a wise improvement of it, self-denial, or Christian liberty, Christian forbearance, or whatever doctrine you will, it will find its counter-balance in their minds--will not carry them to extremes, but will be the instrument of their sanctification. They that are not truly wise or religious will be seen to be injuriously affected by almost every truth you preach. Either they will not be moved by it in any direction, or they will go to such extremes as to develop a monstrosity of character. Wisdom is justified of all her children. I understand this to be a universal truth. And that this is the real characteristic, not only of some of these, but of all of those who are truly wise.

2. The selfish will of course misunderstand the wise. When they pursue outwardly the same course of conduct, they will be supposed to do so from the same motives. If they eat, drink, marry, or are given in marriage, build houses, cultivate land, pursue business of any kind--if they labor or rest, journey or stay at home, walk or ride, sleep or wake, or whatever they do, which is done by those who are selfish, it will be understood by them to be done from the same motives by which they are actuated. But in this they are entirely mistaken. They give themselves credit for just as much piety, as any have or can have, who do outwardly the same things. Their mistake lies in this, that they suppose others to be actuated by the same motives with themselves.

3. None but spiritual minds understand what Christian liberty is. Paul understood what it was to be free from the restraints and constraints of the ceremonial law. And yet there was no tendency in his mind to a lax morality. A true Christian alone understands what it is to eat and drink, to dress, to walk and ride, to wake and sleep, and live, and be, and do, all for the glory of God. He alone knows how to use the things of this world as not abusing them, and understands the secret of owning all things, and yet selfishly indulging in the use of none of them.

4. Those who have been truly convicted of sin, and have seen the spirituality of the law of God, and are truly converted, if they fall back, generally fall into a state of legality, and find themselves in grievous and iron bondage, while others who have only been excited but not truly slain by the law and converted, will, when they fall from this excitement almost always fall into latitudinarian antinomianism. This last is much the largest class of professors of religion.

5. No doctrine of the gospel can be fully preached by an enlightened and benevolent mind, without frequent and painful apprehensions of the results on certain classes. He must watch with unspeakable solicitude, the developments that are made in different minds, as an almost certain indication of whether they are converted or not.

6. Whenever the mind has fallen into a misapprehension of any doctrine, and has consequently received a wrong bias, any attempt to correct that bias by the exhibition of the truth will shock prejudice, and give pain. For example: let one who has embraced the ultra doctrine of the non-resistants listen to a correct exhibition of the rights, necessity, and duties of government, the true principle of self-defense and self-preservation, and he will feel almost as much shocked as if he should witness the fighting of a duel. So let one who has embraced the idea of the doctrine of self-denial, which has been entertained in different ages of the Church by many persons, as requiring little less than a system of mendicancy--let such a one listen to a discourse on the doctrine of Christian liberty, and he will feel almost as much shocked as if you were granting indulgences to extravagance. So let one who has imbibed wrong notions on the subject of Christian retrenchment, that it requires Christians to give up every thing but the mere necessaries of life, with whom it is a violation of Christian principle to use elliptic springs upon his wagon, or a top, or boot--to build a cornice on a house--to have a button on your coat where you do not need to use it--who will not allow that any thing is due to the eye or the ear--with such an one, improvements in the arts, the cultivation of music, painting, poetry, improvements in the style of building, in orders of architecture, in short almost all improvement in the physical condition of mankind, are regarded with jealousy if not with pain. He would listen to a discourse in which a true application of the law of God should be made to all such things, with unutterable pain, principally because of the perverted state of his mind, by a false view of the subject.

7. The wise feel relieved and refreshed with truth, when mist has been thrown around any subject, by those who are in error. They may have been thrown into doubt and embarrassment for a time, but when the light comes, they will receive it, and be edified and sanctified by it.

8. Every prominent doctrine of the gospel seems to be set for the rise and falling again of many in Israel. The spirit of reform is abroad in the land. The wise are temperately but firmly pushing these reforms. The rash misunderstand them and go to extremes. The conservatives misunderstand them also, and go in an opposite direction. It is curious to see how things move forward under the government of God. The doctrines of the abolitionists, to some minds lead directly to and result in the most ultra views of non-resistance. The doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, in some minds, leads to antinomian perfectionism. But the wise understand. "Wisdom is justified of all her children." And multitudes see no tendency in abolition principles to ultra non-resistance, nor in the doctrine of sanctification to the doctrine of antinomian perfectionism. They hold on the even tenor of their way, in pushing these wholesome reforms upon the attention and to the hearts of men. May the Lord speed them. 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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