What Saith the Scripture?

Christian Warfare

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture V
March 1
, 1843

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Gal. 5:16, 17: "This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things ye would."

This passage has been greatly misunderstood, or else the Apostle has contradicted himself. Leaving out of view the 16th verse, and that the design of the 17th is to assign the grounds of the assertion in the 16th, many of the expounders of the Scriptures have understood the 17th to declare, that in consequence of the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, persons who really wish to be holy cannot. So it has all along been generally understood. Now I repeat, that if this interpretation be true, the Apostle contradicts himself. The 16th positively asserts that those who walk in the Spirit shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. This interpretation of the 17th verse, makes him say, that in consequence of the opposition between the flesh and the Spirit, those who walk in the Spirit, after all, cannot but fulfill the lusts of the flesh. But this interpretation entirely overlooks the fact, that the 17th verse is designed to establish the assertion made in the 16th. In the 16th, the Apostle says, "walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." Why? "Because," says he, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other," that is, they are opposites. What then? Why the obvious inference, "that ye (that is, who walk in the Spirit,) cannot do the things that ye would," in case you were not walking in the Spirit. In other words, you who are walking in the Spirit cannot fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The simple principle is, that you cannot walk after the Spirit, and fulfill the lusts of the flesh at the same time, because it is impossible to perform two opposites at once.

In further remarking on this text, I design to show,

I. What the Christian warfare does not consist in.

II. What it does consist in.

III. The difference between careless and convicted sinners.

IV. The difference between saints and convicted, but unconverted professors.

V. That a warfare would have existed if man had never sinned.

VI. To point out the causes of the aggravation of this warfare since the fall.

VII. How it may be modified and abated.

VIII. That it will, under a more or less modified form, continue while we are in the body.

I. What the Christian warfare does not consist in.

II. In what the Christian warfare does consist.

III. The difference between careless and convicted sinners.

Such are the prominent differences between careless and convicted sinner. The 7th of Romans is an illustration of the warfare of a convicted sinner.

IV. The difference between saints, and convicted but unconverted professors and backsliders.

V. A warfare would have existed had man never sinned.

VI. Several causes that have aggravated this warfare.

VII. How this warfare may be modified and abated.

VIII. This warfare will, under a more or less modified form, continue while we are in the body.

Some have supposed that when persons are entirely sanctified, all the passions, desires and appetites of the sensibility will impel the will in the same direction that the reason does, invariably; but such persons do not know what they say, for all their propensities seek their objects for their own sake, and are blind to every thing else. They always and necessarily urge the will to seek their respective objects for the sake of the gratification. This is temptation, and creates a warfare. The appetite for food, for example, seeks food for its own sake, and so does the desire of knowledge. It is nonsense, then, to say that they will not solicit the will to gratify them under improper circumstances. But when the mind is entirely sanctified, instead of the various propensities creating such a fiery and turbulent warfare when excited, the will will have them under such control as to easily keep their places, so that all the actions will be bland and tranquilized. The most that will or can be done is to harmonize them, and it is by no means desirable that they should be annihilated. Suppose, for example, the desire for knowledge were annihilated. What a calamity would that be? Or the desire for food. The truth is, all the constitutional desires should remain. They were all given for useful purposes, and all call for their appropriate objects, for food, for knowledge, &c., and are thus constantly feeling after those things which are essential to our existence, and that of our race. Besides to regulate them is a good exercise for the will, and it is difficult to see how a mind could be virtuous at all, were all the susceptibilities of its sensibility destroyed; and were any of them removed, it would doubtless be a great evil, otherwise God was not benevolent in our creation, and did not make us in the best way.


1. The common notion of warring with inward sin is nonsensical and impossible. Those who use such language confound temptation with sin. They call their natural appetites and propensities sinful, and when resisting these, they say they are indwelling sin, and multitudes, doubtless, mistake the actions of the conscience, its warnings and reproofs, for the resistance of the heart to temptation. The truth is, the Christian warfare consists in a struggle between the will and temptations from without and within, and in nothing else.

2. The deceived professor's warfare is between his heart and his reason or conscience. His heart is devoted to self-gratification, and the reason constantly disapproves of and denounces the service as wrong, and thus a continual struggle is kept up within, between his heart and reason, and this he calls the Christian warfare. If so, every sinner has the Christian warfare, and doubtless the devil also.

3. The Christian overcomes in his warfare. This is an habitual fact. Rom. 6:14. "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law but under grace." Also 8:1-4. See also the text and context, besides numberless other passages directly asserting the same thing.

4. What a ruinous mistake it is to suppose the 7th of Romans to be Christian experience. I hesitate not to say that it has been the occasion of the destruction of more souls than almost any other mistake in the world. It is fundamentally to mistake the very nature of true religion.

5. The warfare of the true Christian greatly strengthens his virtue. When he is greatly tried and obligated to gather up all his energy to maintain his integrity, when he wrestles, until he is all in a perspiration, with some fiery trial, as it is sometimes necessary for him to do, it must be that when he comes out from such a scene as this, his virtue is greatly strengthened and improved.

6. We can see, from this subject, why sinners often doubt the reality of temptation, and when they hear Christians talk of their temptations, they think that Christians must be worse than they, for they do not experience such. But the reason why they are not conscious of temptations is because they have not attempted to regulate their propensities by the law of God. A man floating on a current is not conscious of its strength until he turns round and attempts to stem it. The same principle applies to those professors of religion who entertain the same doubts. Talk about temptation! Why, they say, I am not so tempted. Indeed! Perhaps you have never done any thing else but to yield to it.

7. See why the Apostle said so much about the opposition of the flesh and Spirit. He represents them as at hostility, throughout his epistles, especially in the 6th, 7th, and 8th chapters of Romans.

8. Many struggle for a while in their own strength, and, through continued failures, become discouraged, and give it up. The temptations of their appetites and propensities are too strong for them, while they have not leamed by faith to derive strength from Christ.

9. Many despair of ever becoming sanctified, because they suppose their constitutional propensities are, in themselves, sinful. They say it is in vain to talk of entire sanctification in this life, and well they may say so, if their constitutional appetites and propensities are sinful, for we know of no promise that our nature shall be revolutionized in this life or the next.

10. Others are brought into distress and despair because they cannot control their thoughts when their will is weary. The will is that power of the mind which originates all that control which it is possible for the mind to exert over itself. But it becomes weary, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, that the brain, through which it acts, grows weary and wants rest. In sleep, the will is suspended, and hence in dreams the thoughts run lawless and without direction. It is a matter of experience with students who study hard, and for a long time, that they find it extremely difficult, after long and severe application to keep their attention and thoughts on their studies. Why? Because their will is wearied out, and needs rest. So it is with Christians who undertake to pray when they are jaded out with weariness. Their thoughts fly every where. They try to restrain their wanderings; they struggle, and, for a moment seem to get the control, and then they lose it again. They try it over and over again, but with no better success, until they are well nigh in despair. Now, what is the matter? They need rest, and ought to take it rather than attempt to force their jaded will into action. Let your will rest. God will have mercy and not sacrifice. What's the use, when a man has walked sixty miles in a day, and his will can scarcely force his exhausted muscles into further action, of his attempting to use them further, and blaming himself because he cannot? Suppose a man should never go to sleep for fear he should dream and his thoughts ramble heedless of his will! Why call such things sin? Don't mistify forever and mix up sin and holiness, light and darkness, heaven and hell, so that people cannot tell which is which.

11. Some bring forward, the fact that this warfare is presented as continuing, as an argument against the doctrine of sanctification. Just as if a soul in order to be sanctified must get beyond a warfare! What! Then Adam was not sanctified before he sinned, nor Satan; nor was Jesus Christ while on earth, for it is a simple matter of fact that He had temptation. What would you think of the argument, if it should be said that Jesus Christ had a warfare and therefore he was not wholly sanctified? And yet it would be just as good as this.

12. However sharp the conflict, if the soul prevails there is no sin. What trials had Jesus Christ? But He prevailed. "He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin." So if temptation should rush like a tornado upon any of you, if you will only hold on, and fight it out, you have not sinned. Nay the sharper the conflict, the greater the virtue of resistance.

13. The saints are no doubt preparing in this world for some high stations of usefulness, and where they may be exposed to strong temptations. I infer this from the fact that they are placed here in such circumstances as are exactly calculated to ripen and fit them for such a destiny. God never acts without design, and He surely has some design in this.

14. The sanctified are sometimes in heaviness through manifold temptations if need be. Now don't infer, if you see them so, that they are not holy. Christ had His sorrows, and knew what it was to resist even unto blood, striving against temptation to sin; and the servant need not expect to fare better than his Lord. The truth is, these trials are useful--they are but for a moment, but they prepare for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Sorrows endure for the night but joy cometh in the moming. Under the pressure of the temptations the soul is in an agony, and cries out "Help, Oh Lord, help," and He comes forth and scatters the insulting foe, and the soul bounds up like a rocket, giving glory to God.

15. Many have supposed for a time their enemies were dead, but were mistaken. The fact is they are never dead in such a sense, that we do not need to watch lest we enter into temptation. But let us never overlook the distinction between temptation and sin, and ever keep in mind that the Christian warfare in not with sin, but temptation. Nor forget that Christ alone can give us the victory. O for the Spirit of Christ to baptize the Ministers and the Churches.


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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