What Saith the Scripture?
HOLINESS OF CHRISTIANS IN THE PRESENT LIFE --No. 10
Fulness There is in Christ
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
July 5, 1843
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Col. 2:9, 10:
"For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are
complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power."
The connection in which this text stands, shows that the Apostle is laboring to
establish the distinction between an outside legal religion, and religion by faith
in Christ. For this purpose, he warns them in verse eight to "beware lest any
man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after
the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." And in the twentieth verse,
by an earnest and solemn appeal, he strives to tear them away from "subjection
to ordinances after the commandments and doctrines of men." Indeed the main
design of the whole epistle was to shut up the Colossians to the religion of faith,
and cut them off from that of legality.
In the present discussion it is my design to show--
I. What is not intended by the declaration that Christians are complete in
II. What is intended.
III. To point out some things which are demanded by our nature, circumstances, and
character, in order to complete well-being.
IV. The conditions on which this completeness may be realized in our own experience.
I. What is not intended by the declaration that Christians are complete in Christ.
- 1. When it is said we are complete in Him it is not intended that we are complete
in the sense of an imputed righteousness. The other evening, you will recollect,
I labored to show that the doctrine of imputation is at once an absurd and pernicious
dogma. It is not necessary here to dwell on that point again. It is enough to say
that God could no more perform works of supererogation than any other moral being,
and that therefore there could be no righteousness to impute. Moreover, a transfer
of moral character is naturally impossible.
- 2. It is not intended that all Christians have, as a matter of fact, so received
Christ, as to realize this completeness in their own character and experience; nor
is it asserted in the text that any body ever did or ever will.
II. What is intended.
It is intended that in Him all the demands of our being are met--that a full provision
is made, and set forth by God to meet all our wants, and make us all that God desires
we should be.
III. Some things which are demanded by our nature, circumstances, and character,
in order to complete well being.
The question is, what do men really need--what must belong to a Savior in order to
his being a Savior to us such as we need?
- 1. Our nature and circumstances expose us to innumerable trials and temptations.
I have dwelt, in these lectures, to a great extent on the trials arising from our
peculiar nature in the circumstances in which we are placed. None are exempt from
them. Even in the garden of Eden, man's nature and circumstances occasioned trial.
Nor is this, on the whole, to be regretted. Such trials are to our advantage if we
use the help afforded us in meeting them. They "work out for us a far more exceeding
and eternal weight of glory." But as a matter of fact, the circumstances are
such, and men have so abused their nature, that the trials which they endure are
extremely great, and the help which they need must be both adapted and adequate to
meet all their wants in this respect.
- 2. Our frailties and infirmities are great, in consequence of our long abuse
of ourselves. All the appetites and passions are greatly aggravated in their demands;
the nervous system rasped up to the highest pitch; the habits inveterate; each successive
generation placed under some additional besetments: until like the reed, man is liable
to be swayed by every breeze, or carried adrift on the ocean of life, like a vessel
torn from its moorings, and driven by a tempest. Hence, we need strength for our
frailty, and grace sufficient for our infirmity.
- 3. Our ignorance is very great, and since men are influenced by motives, they
can be influenced towards God and holiness, only in proportion as they are enlightened.
The motives to sin are bold and obtrusive and seen by the ignorant, but the reverse
is true of motives to holiness. Hence men must have a Savior able to enlighten and
charm them away from the influence of things seen and temporal, and bring them under
the influence of things unseen and eternal. The longer I live, the more I am astonished
at the ignorance of men in reference of religious truths. Even Christians scarcely
know their A, B, C. Very few of them are able to give any good reason for the doctrines
of their faith. Hence, the great mass of them readily receive dogmas published by
the press, and promulgated from the pulpit, which, to thinking minds, are palpably
at war with human reason. Take, for example, the doctrine of imputed righteousness.
Is it not astonishing that it was not at once seen that there can be no work of supererogation
and of course no righteousness to be imputed? What more could God do than benevolence
demanded of Him? The Atonement and all his other works are virtuous, only because
they are carrying out the law of benevolence. Jesus Christ was bound to be benevolent
as much as any other being, and of course his righteousness could no more be imputed,
than that of any other holy moral agent--no more than Gabriel's. Now, how does it
happen, how can it be that men should believe such an absurd dogma as this, unless
from sheer ignorance? Why the whole gospel is another gospel if this doctrine be
true. It was Christ's object to save men from their sins, and not to throw over their
filthy, ulcerated backs, a robe of imputed righteousness. I call it ignorance to
hold such a dogma, because an intelligent being understanding it, and the objections
to it, can't believe it. And this is but a specimen of many other things equally
gross which are sanctified in the creeds and common faith of the mass of the Church.
It is full of superstition, errors, and ignorance on a thousand subjects. The reformation
cast off many, but many were left, some of which time has outgrown, and others yet
remain. Now, we only get right, by getting an insight into the gospel. It is truth
coming in that thrusts error out, and we therefore need somebody to deliver us, to
teach us the very A, B, C, of religion. We want some patient instructer [sic.] who
will be willing to teach us over and over even the same things. "What's that?"
"A." "What's that?" "B." Now go back to A again, and
ask, "What's that?" "I don't know," says the pupil. "Well,"
says the kind hearted teacher, "That's A," and thus, again and again, till
he remembers it. Thus Christians need to be instructed by some kind agent who will
not tear their souls, and sternly frown them away, but who will sooth them all down
into love, and then gently remove their errors, and ingraft the word of truth.
- 4. We have a subtle adversary of great power and malignity. It has become unpopular
to say much about the devil, people have become so incredulous respecting his existence.
This state of things is doubtless the result of his infernal agency, since, if men
doubt his existence, they will the more readily become his prey. But the Bible holds
other language. It requires men to pass the time of their sojourning here with fear--"to
be sober and vigilant; because our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh
about, seeking whom he may devour." It represents him as possessing great subtlety,
and being ready to take ten thousand advantages, even turning himself into an angel
of light, to delude and destroy souls. And what man is able to resist him?--to detect
all the villanies and sophistries of a mind as old and malevolent as his? I have
often felt that the devil would just as certainly have my soul, in spite of all my
endeavors against him, if Christ did not save me, as I existed. As well expect to
escape a devouring lion, whose strong power had already encompassed you about. Who
has not found that sometimes the devil has made a lie appear so much like truth,
that we would be ready to take an oath it was truth. No doubt ten thousand times,
persons have thought the Lord was leading them, when in fact, it was the devil who
had involved them in a web of lies and sophistries, and was hurrying them on to the
precipice of ruin. Now, a man who does not know these things, will never make much
effort to get away from him. From him? From thousands of them, all leagued to destroy.
Who can protect us? Our Christian journey lies all the way through an enemy's country,
and throngs of devils are prowling about on all sides, and if the Lord does not deliver
us the devil will have the whole of us.
- 5. Our education, habits, and prejudices all give him a decided advantage over
us. He has been weaving his web of villanies and lies for thousands of years, and
with all his profound experience, great mental capacity, and legions of compeers,
he is able to weave his devilish plots into everything. You cannot have a benevolent
society, but he must have a hand in it--even if you are getting up a Bible Society,
his counsel and agency must have a place. He has a corner at every Missionary meeting
and carefully watches its workings. Any one who will look narrowly into those which
are professedly the most benevolent projects of the day can scarcely fail to see
that the devil has a hand in them, and is exercising his infernal craft to pervert
them to evil.
If I had time to take up the habits, opinions, &c., of society generally,
I could show snares and pitfalls, and ambushes arranged with wonderful subtlety and
adaptation, and awfully effective for the ruin of mankind. These are not less manifest
in family and even individual relations, and at all peculiar crises of life, taking
advantage of habits and education and susceptibilities to work out the endless overthrow
Again, I ask how can we escape him? Who can deliver us? We need a wiser and a mightier
than he to defeat him and to effect our escape.
- 6. We need a propitiation for our sins who will render it consistent for God
to pardon us. What is the reason that the governor of this state felt a difficulty
in pardoning Colt? Because it feared the influence it would have to loosen the bands
of society. It was not an unwillingness to gratify him, nor a desire to gratify any
malevolent feelings, but lest it should thereby strengthen the bands of wickedness.
So in the government of God. Pardon must not be extended to sinners unless on such
grounds as will not impair, but uphold the influence of the government. Something
must be done to propitiate as the gospel calls it--there must be an atonement, or
sin could not be forgiven without the greatest danger to the public interests, and
God could not be just in exercising pardon. There must then be a Savior who could
make an atonement and thus meet this necessity.
- 7. We need an influence that can break our hearts and bring us to repentance--not
only to atone for, but to reclaim us. That is a very slim gospel, which merely pardons
men, and then leaves them to achieve their own victories over the world, the flesh,
and the devil. It would never save any man. We need a gospel which will come to us
where we are, break up the deep foundations of our selfishness, and transform us
- 8. Not only do we need thus to be initiated into the spirit of the gospel, but
kept all along the way to glory. We need a Savior who will watch over us till He
gets us within the sacred enclosure. Should He forsake us, even at Heaven's golden
gate, we should turn away and go back to hell. We must be placed safely within to
- 9. But, in order thus to keep us, He must possess such surpassing loveliness,
and radiate such charms, as to draw away the soul from all other fascinations and
lovers. He must be able, as it were, to make us sick of love, so that we would follow
Him through any trials, and all seductive influences, unattracted by any of them,
from our stedfast devotion to his love. We need somebody to draw us. If God should
flash his livid lightnings, and hurl his blazing thunderbolts upon us; if He should
roll up into our faces the lurid fires of perdition, it might amaze and horrify us,
but it would do no good--it would not draw us to Him--it would not call out our love.
When Elijah passed by Elisha, he cast his mantle upon him, and forth with, Elisha
left the oxen and all, and went after Elijah. I have often thought it seemed to charm
him. So Christ, as He passes by a soul, seems, shall I say, so to bewitch it, that
it would seem as if He could lead it even through hell. I do not know but He could.
If circumstances demand the sacrifice, it would kiss his cross, and say, drive your
nails and crucify me. I willingly endure it for Christ's sake, "who loved me
and gave Himself for me." Oh, we do not want a legal Savior, but one "in
whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," in whom we are complete,
whose beauties can ravish and enchain our hearts. What is a Unitarian Savior good
for? Pooh! Not such do we need, but one who can so captivate us, that if a thousand
racks and gibbets stood in the way, they would not deter us from following Him whithersoever
- 10. In short, we need a Savior able and willing to save us, and not only in eternity,
but here in this world. We need Him daily, and unless we have such a one, we must
constantly wallow in the gutters of iniquity, and its consequent misery. We need
our every want met, and our souls made complete in all the will of God--to be filled
with his fulness.
IV. The conditions on which this completeness may be received and realized
by us, in our own experience.
- 1. One condition is a realization of our necessities. The Lord Jesus Christ said
to one of the churches of Asia--"Because thou sayest--I am rich, and increased
with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and
miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried
in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed,
and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve,
that thou mayest see." Now observe, one grand defect in the way of people, is
that they are so full in themselves, and so increased in goods in their own estimation,
as to fail wholly to discover that they are in need of Christ in all things--that
their necessities are as vast as the wants of their whole being. This they must realize.
- 2. Another condition is, that we must realize, that in Him we have all we need.
Now people often admit this in words, but not in fact. They often think there is
something so peculiar in their case, in their habits, education, relations, or trials,
that Christ cannot save them. They seem to think Christ can save everybody else but
them. But they must understand that they are complete in Him whatever are their relations,
trials, habits and circumstances. This they must realize.
- 3. Another condition, is the renunciation of self-dependence in all respects.
A man must not depend on his learning, his own philosophical insight, or anything
else, or He will never depend on Christ. He must become a fool that he may be wise.
Just as far as he thinks he can get along without Christ, he will get along without
Him, but it will be away from God. When an individual has so much of self-dependence,
he really has no faith in the existence of God, nor in his attributes. Self-dependence
is allied to infidelity. "Every good, and every perfect gift, cometh down from
the Father of light." Should God withhold from us that which we are dependent
on Him for, nothing but certain destruction would ensue. This dependence runs through
all moral as well as natural life, and it must be felt and acknowledged.
- 4. You must despair of finding help anywhere else. While a man runs to any and
everybody, and puts more confidence in men than in God, he may go to the best man
on earth, to an apostle, or an angel, and it will avail him nothing. He might as
well go to a child, as far as any efficient help is concerned. I have told sinners
sometimes, I won't pray for you, nor have anything to do with you, if you are going
to depend on me, and put me in the place of the Savior. Away with you to Christ if
you want help. Some of the last years that I labored as an evangelist, the church
depended on me so much, that it cost me more effort to get them to look to God, than
to perform the requisite labor to convert sinners, and it is so now. I was afraid
to come here on this account, and feel now, brethren, that you have depended on me,
more than you have any right to. It is a species of trusting in an arm of flesh which
God abhors. Many will flee to books, to anything, and sometimes even to the Bible,
and put it in the place of God, and cleave to such vain help, until God compels them
to look to Himself alone.
- 5. You must cease to rest in means of any kind. I do not mean that we must cease
to use means as means, but they are not to be put in the place of God, or substituted
for a Savior. I wish I could impress it on you, how much professors of religion and
all men, trust to means more than God, and put them in the place of Christ. You must
cease from this entirely, if you wish for completeness in Him.
- 6. You must give up your cowardly unbelief, and dare to trust Christ wholly.
Do you know that unbelief is a form of cowardice? I try sometimes to make people
see that they dare not trust Him, and to show them that they must have more courage,
or they never can be complete in Christ. Venture on Him, if you would be filled with
- 7. You must give up your love of reputation with men. When you really come to
Christ indeed, you will see what Christ meant, when He said--"If they have called
the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household."
"They will cast out your names as evil." You must bear all this--be content
to hear them misrepresent you--impute evil motives--look contemptuously--slight your
company--stare at you, to see if the dilation of the pupil of your eye does not indicate
insanity--just as certainly as you give yourselves up to be led by Him in all things.
Care not for them. They need your pity more than your frown. They, poor souls, know
not what they do.
- 8. You must forsake all that you have. You must spare no lust, have no sinister
end, but give up all, be crucified unto the world. I know this is a great step to
take, but you must do it or die. You must thus reckon yourselves to be dead indeed
unto sin, in order to reckon yourself alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
- 9. You must confide in Him for all you want--believe that you are complete in
Him, not partly so. No matter what new want you discover, or what new circumstances
you come into, believe that in Christ, there is grace sufficient for every emergency,
however great, otherwise He is not a full Savior to you.
1. See why Christians are so imperfect. It is because they don't realize their wants,
and do not take Him as a complete Savior.
2. They are always like to be, while they know so little of Jesus. I was conversing
with one of the principal men in the state, on sanctification. He agreed with me
in theory as to its attainability, and then said, that as a matter of fact, no body
would realize it in this world. I replied, if you knew what you ought to know about
Jesus Christ, you would as soon cut off your right hand as say that. It is a want
of a knowledge of Jesus, which leaves men in sin, and makes them weak against it.
I have often thought of the sons of Sceva the Jew, who attempted to cast out devils
in the name of Jesus, "whom Paul preached," and when they had bidden an
evil spirit come out, he replied, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are
ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them, and overcame them, and
prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded."
They did not know Christ, and consequently experienced only defeat. Suppose they
had told their experience afterwards, to prove that no body ever did or could cast
out devils! Ah! It is one thing to hear and read about Christ, and quite another
to trust Him, know Him, and become complete in Him.
3. While they place so much reliance on human, and so little on divine teaching,
they are like to remain imperfect. Let them stand in that relation in which God has
placed them, and both profit the soul; but when men hear the minister or one another
and depend on what he says more than on what God says by his word and Spirit, it
is fatal to a growth in divine things. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they
are the sons of God.
4. While men rest in the letter and overlook the spirit of the gospel, they will
of course remain imperfect.
5. The same will be true as long as they put their works in the place of Christ,
or their watchings, their resolutions, and legal efforts.
6. Also, while their guides and leaders are blind, and while the shepherds frighten
away the sheep from their pastures.
7. Many professors don't know Christ, because, as it were, they have only been converted
and baptized unto Moses. Others have received John's baptism unto repentance; and
others still know Christ as an atoning Savior. They began in the Spirit, and are
now trying to become perfect by the flesh.
8. Wherever there is an imperfection in Christian character, there must be ignorance
or unbelief, for the text is a promise that covers the whole field of our necessities.
It is remarkable how the Bible abounds with promises both general and specific. Some
cover our whole necessity--others point to specific wants. The specific promises
seem to be given in accommodation to our ignorance and infirmities, lest our general
confidence should not suffice in hours of trial; and yet to some minds, a general
declaration implying a promise like that in the text affords greater strength than
any specific promise.
9. How few realize that if they are not complete in Him it is because of unbelief.
The truth is, it is because they have never known the exercise and power of faith.
10. Doubts respecting the doctrine of entire sanctification, are unbelief, for it
is impossible that any one should doubt this who has implicit faith in what Christ
says. If grace sufficient is promised, the doubts are unbelief.
11. Many deceive themselves by saying--"I believe the promise but I don't believe
I shall fulfill the condition." The truth is, believing the promise is fulfilling
the condition. How many nullify the promises in this way. They say they believe that
the promise would be fulfilled if they complied with the condition, but this they
know they do not do, and have no confidence that they shall. And instead of blaming
themselves for it, they really turn it into a virtue, by calling it self-distrust.
Its real name is unbelief.
12. If Christ is the depositary of all we need, we see why we are commanded to "come
boldly to a throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time
of need." But true faith is almost universally regarded as presumption, and
such boldness as Jacob, Moses, and others exercised exclaimed against as profane.
How shocking this is, when, as a matter fact, it is presumption not to come boldly.
It is disobedience to a divine requisition.
13. There is no real difficulty in the fact that the promises are conditioned on
faith. For faith in promise depends upon confidence in the general character of the
promisor, and not to give full credit to the promise is to impeach the character
of him who made it. Suppose a man of great wealth and veracity should make a promise
with this condition, as indeed every promise necessarily implies it. Would there
be any difficulty in the condition? Not the least. So long as we had confidence in
his character, we should regard it as absurd to make a difficulty of the condition
of faith. But if the man was known, or supposed to be unable or unwilling, or that
his general character was bad, then truly the condition would be a stumbling block.
Nay, to believe implicitly would be absurd and impossible.
14. It is impossible that unbelief should fail to make the soul wretched, or that
faith should not bring it deep repose.
15. What a foundation have we for universal repose in Christ. He is a Savior who
exactly and perfectly meets our case and necessities as they are. In Him dwells all
the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Oh, how important that we should know Him--that
our acquaintance with Him should be full. We need a more thorough acquaintance with
Christ than with any body else. There is such a thing as knowing more of Jesus, as
having a more intimate acquaintance with Him than that which exists between a husband
and his wife, or the dearest friends. Whoever is ignorant of that, is ignorant of
the very marrow and fatness of the gospel. A personal acquaintance with Christ strengthens
our confidence more and more in Him. Yes, and such an acquaintance removes our filth
and makes us clean. James Brainard Taylor exclaimed--"I am clean." Brethren
are you clean? Are you complete in Christ? Let us go to Him and receive of his fulness,
until we are "filled with all the fulness of God."
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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