What Saith the Scripture?

What Attainments Christians May Reasonably Expect to Make in This Life

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture VIII
April 12
, 1843

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--1 Thess. 5:23-24: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it."

In this lecture I shall consider,

I. What sanctification is.

II. What is not implied in it.

III. What is implied in it.

IV. What is intended by the sanctification of body, soul, and spirit.

V. What is not implied in the sanctification of body, soul, and spirit.

VI. What is implied in it.

VII. What attainments Christians cannot expect in this life.

VIII. What attainments they may reasonably expect to make in this life.

I. What Sanctification is.

II. What is not implied in it.

III. What is implied in it.

Now if you drop either of these elements, it is no longer virtue.

IV. What is intended by the sanctification of body, soul, and spirit.

V. What is not implied in the sanctification of body, soul, and spirit.

VI. What is implied in it.

VII. What attainments Christians cannot expect in this life.

VIII. What attainments they may reasonably expect to make in this life.


1. This must be an important question, I have been astonished beyond all measure, that this doctrine has been called a hobby. What! Is the fundamental doctrine of the degree of holiness attainable in this life, to be called a hobby? If so, then it is the hobby of the universe, and God, and every angel is intensely interested in securing its success.

2. We must hold up some standard. If you tell a sinner to repent, you hold up before him the standard to which he ought to conform, and even if he should deny that any had actually repented, you would still insist upon it, that it is his duty, whether others had or not, and also, that if he did not repent, he could not be saved.

3. Christians must aim at some standard, but they cannot aim at any state which they deem impossible; as well might they aim to fly. How essential then, that we should ascertain what the true standard is, and hold it up before them.

We have seen that sin consists in choosing self-gratification as the supreme end, and that holiness, on the contrary, consists in supremely choosing the glory of God and the good of his universe. We have also seen that they cannot co-exist in the same mind--that while the will or heart is right, that nothing can, for the time being, be morally wrong: and on the other hand, while the heart is wrong, all is wrong; that is, it is totally depraved. The only question then, is, can we reasonably expect to remain in that state. I said this expectation was supposed to be unreasonable, unless others could be pointed out as examples. But if no one has ever availed himself of these promises, it by no means follows that no one ever will; on the contrary, the progressive state of the world, and the progressive nature of religion, warrant and demand the belief that future generations will make indefinitely higher attainments than the past. The golden age has not gone by; those who think so, have not well considered the matter. If any one will compare the time of the Apostles with the present time, and take in all the characteristics of both, he will see, that on the whole, the human family have made great progress. There is a radical error in the custom of looking back, instead of forward, for the golden age; and the common notion that the world is in its dotage, is exactly the reverse of truth. Every successive era is marked by a decided advance in science, art, philosophy and civilization; and this is in exact accordance with the whole tenor of prophecy, which warrants and demands the expectation of vastly higher attainments, in future, than have ever yet been made. The Temperance Reformation, shows that it is now common for drunkards to make attainments, which were once regarded as almost impossible. Who has not witnessed the Washingtonian, almost working miracles, in pulling the drunkard out of the gutter. And shall we extinguish hope respecting the Church, and make it an exception to the progress of the world?

4. One of the greatest obstacles in the way of both physical and moral improvement, is the existence of false opinions and expectations in regard to the degree of elevation, to which God desires to bring mankind in this world. I have examined Mr. Miller's theory, and am persuaded, that what he expects to come after the judgment, will come before it. Read the 65th chapter of Isaiah. The Prophet there speaks of the advancement to be made, as the creation of a new heavens and a new earth. The reason men have so little idea of the thing intended in such predictions, is that they have such meager views of the grace of God. If the world is to be converted to the present standard, it is true that such predictions cannot represent its state. What are the Church dreaming about, if they cannot see the necessity of a higher standard? The man who cannot see that, is as poor a philosopher as he is a Christian. Why, brethren, what would it avail, if the whole world were converted to the standard of the current religion?

5. Suppose this promise had been read to those to whom it was given, how could they have believed it, on the theory that they were not to expect higher attainments in the future than they then witnessed. Why they would have said, the world never will be converted, because it never has been; and what would you reply to that? Suppose the same objection were made now, and it were said, it was not done in the days of the Apostles, nor at any time since, and are we to expect to accomplish what never has been done? Suppose farther, ministers were engaged in pointing back, to prove that the world can never be converted. Why, they would say, the Church never has converted the world, and therefore, it never will. You must be getting proud, if you think we shall do more than good men before us have done. And then, suppose they should go back, and hunt up all the fanaticism, and enthusiasm, and extravagancies of the Crusades, and other attempts to propagate the Christian religion, and instead of pointing out these evils, to guard the Church against similar ones in time to come, as they ought to do, they were doing it to prevent any attempts to convert the world now. What would be thought of all this? It would justly be regarded as ridiculous; and yet this is exactly the course adopted respecting the doctrine of sanctification. The fact, that the promises have not been considered as meaning so much, sufficiently accounts for the fact, that they have not been more generally realized in the experience of Christians.

6. To deny the reasonableness of this expectation, is to lay a stumbling block before the Church. Suppose you should exhort sinners to repent, and then tell them they could not, neither in their own strength, nor by any grace received. What else would that be than a stumbling block, over which, if they believed you, they would stumble into hell. So to tell Christians, that they ought to be sanctified and that it is attainable, and yet, that no one can, in this life attain it, is the very way to prevent them from attaining it. If they believe such instruction, it will as certainly prevent their spiritual progress, as a general outcry against missions would prevent the conversion of the world.

7. But if this expectation is unreasonable, what is reasonable? What may we expect? How much higher can we rise? Who can tell? Who will point to some definite standard?

8. Doubts as to the truth of the view I have here maintained, arise,

(1) From a false philosophy of depravity and holiness. When men make holiness consist in emotions instead of benevolence, they overlook the very nature of virtue, and are deluded as a matter of course.

(2) From unbelief. Our opinions on such questions, must depend on our faith, and the state of our hearts.

(3) From radically defective Christian experience, or rather, having had none but a legal experience.

(4) From overlooking the fulness of the Gospel provision.

(5) From confounding it with Antinomian perfectionism.

(6) From false views with respect to what constitutes entire sanctification. Many say, the Bible represents the Christian warfare as continuing till death, and that this warfare consists in fighting with sin. Now where do they learn this, not in the Bible. The Bible does indeed represent the Christian warfare as continuing till death, but it never represents it as consisting in fighting with sin. What is sin? Why, sin is a heart, or will, or choice, contrary to the will of God. To fight with sin, then, would be to fight with our own present choice or voluntary state of mind--a choice warring on or against itself--this is absurd. The Christian warfare consists in warring with temptation, not with sin. They say that Christians are commanded to grow in grace, and if they once arrive at perfection, progress is at an end. They thus set up a man of straw, and then fight it.

9. This is a serious question to all Christians, and I cannot tell how I feel, when I hear professors of religion say they cannot give time for its examination. Said a professor of religion to me not long since, "I cannot take time to examine this subject," and yet he had the strangest misapprehensions respecting it. It is enough to make one weep tears of blood to see the darkness which prevails, and yet the apathy and unwillingness to inquire. Beloved, let us know the truth that it may make us free. Let us give ourselves up to the teachings of the Spirit, that we may be "sanctified wholly, and preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."


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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