What Saith the Scripture?

Gospel Liberty

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture XIII
August 16
, 1843

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Gal. 5:1:"Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

In this lecture I shall show,

I. What is intended by the yoke of bondage.

II. What it is to be entangled with it.

III. What is the liberty here spoken of.

IV. How Christ makes us free.

V. The danger of becoming entangled again.

VI. When Christians are in bondage.

VII. What is their remedy.

I. What is intended by the yoke of bondage.

The Apostle had immediately under his eye, the ceremonial law of the Jews. This is evident from the whole context. Judaizing teachers had come in, and were trying to ingraft the cumbersome observances of the Jewish ritual upon the gospel. This the Apostle was so grieved at, and felt to be such a departure from Christ, that he declared they were fallen from grace in complying with such instruction. But it was not simply because he rejected the ceremonial law, and regarded it as useless, that the Apostle thus resisted the observance of it, but because he had his eye on a principle of the last importance to the Church. Why was the ceremonial law a yoke of bondage? Because it had no tendency to reform the heart, and thus render its own observance a matter of choice. Any precept given us, contrary to the state of mind in which we are, is a yoke of bondage. And this is true, whether it be a precept of the Old or New Testament. The principle is universal. You may see it in the conduct of children. Impose some requirement upon them, contrary to the state of their hearts and you will never fail to see that their obedience is not cheerful, but constrained--a mere servitude. Every requirement, then, the spirit of which we have not, is to us a yoke of bondage.

II. What it is to be entangled with it.

III. What is the liberty here spoken of.

IV. How Christ makes us free.

V. The danger of becoming entangled again.

VI. When Christians are in bondage.

VII. What is their remedy.


1. You may see from this subject, the difference between a legal and a gospel religion. A legal religion is works without love, a gospel religion, works by love. A brother said the other day, he did not understand this distinction. Why it is obvious as the distinction between day and night. Both the true Christian and the legalist works, but the one works with, the other without love. They both do the same things outwardly, but the one is free and the other a slave in the performance.

2. See why the moral law is called the perfect law of liberty. It was ordained to life, and when obeyed in its spirit, gives life. But why do persons find it unto death? Because when the spirit is lost, the letter kills. It is when it is legally, that is, heartlessly obeyed, that it works our overthrow instead of our deliverance.

3. See what is intended by such passages as Gal. 5:18, "But if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law;" and Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." It is not intended that the law is abolished, but that its spirit has become their law. They are not under it in such a sense as to need its sanctions to press them up to duty.

4. Many feel that their religion is mere slavery--a hard, up-hill business. The language of their heart is, "it is hard to obey, and harder still to love." But they are ignorant of the true nature of religion. It is the easiest thing in the world to him that has it. Legalists complain about this world, that it is such a bad one, so hard to live in, and keep right. But it is not such a hard world as they think. Religion certainly does not make it any harder, but altogether easier. The difficulty with those who find it such a hard world, is, that their hearts are bad, and if they find it a severe task to obey God, it is because they have not the spirit of obedience. If they have any religion it is of the wrong kind, and they are entirely deceived if they think all others have the same kind that they have. Some persons, when they see others joyful, say they are deceived. They don't feel so themselves, and they wonder how any body can. And then they point to the seventh chapter of Romans, or to David Brainerd, who, although a good man, was so hypochondriacal that his experience would be gloomy as a matter of course. Such persons are always suspicious whenever they see any of the spirit of liberty manifested, and I don't wonder, for mankind are naturally suspicious of those beyond themselves. How strange it must appear to them, and how it must stumble them to see persons almost dance for joy when they emerge from bondage, and yet this in not wonderful. Why, see that slave, with his back all blistered in the sun, set free. Is it strange that he should leap and bound about with fulness of joy? It is thus that Christians feel, and the Bible commands them to rejoice; but legalists don't understand it, and think they are possessed of the devil. Why, I have sometimes heard persons say, "That's not solemn--its fanaticism." And then they turn to some gloomy slave with a dead body strapped on his back, and groaning under his burden, and say--"That's the humble one--he's none of your visionaries!"

5. Multitudes have no true idea of gospel liberty. They have made a credible profession of religion, and are toiling out its duties, but what liberty means they know not--and perhaps they are even ministers of the gospel! Of course, such persons don't expect liberty. I recently heard of a revival, in which the minister said to inquirers, "don't expect to be happy in this world; I never was, nor do I expect to be until I get to heaven. I don't know what it is to have enjoyment in religion." Now there is a fundamental error in such instruction. Not happy! Had I been present where such instruction was given, I would have told that minister that he was not a converted man if that was his experience. It is thus that a legal religion is inculcated on converts, by legal ministers and legal professors. But how many persons are just here--afraid to find any other way, for fear it will lead to delusion! O, that it might be seen that a religion which does not produce present peace and blessedness, is not, of course, a religion of love, and is therefore false.

6. Any course of instruction that presses duty without holding up Christ, is like requiring labor without food and brings into bondage. It is like requiring the Israelites to make brick without straw, and those who give such instruction are obliged to whip, and scourge, and abuse the dear Church of God to get the little service they do out of them. Hold up duty without Christ and legality is inevitable. They are starved for want of Christ. But let them see Christ and they will work, of course, as duty is appropriately enforced.

7. It is the other extreme to hold up Christ without calling to duty, and begets antinomianism. To feed the Church with Christ and leave them inactive, is the way to produce a religious dyspepsia. But give us the right food and work enough to do, and then we will thrive. Only let us have the bread that cometh down from heaven, and we shall have spiritual health, and even physical health, if we only have work enough to keep us busy.

8. If we may believe the confessions of the great mass of professors, they are in bondage. This fact has weighed on my mind for a long time. I labored to convert sinners for many years, but saw them fall, under the legal instruction of ministers, into bondage. I labored and prayed for them night and day, and do now, and yet they seem to know little of liberty. They often, by their looks, seem to ask, "Is this Christianity?" "Is this the boasted religion of Christ?" "Wherein does it differ from the Jew's religion?" A man said to me once with great honesty, although in vulgar language, "The gospel is not what it is cracked up to be." His idea was that the gospel promised liberty, but did not confer it. Now how many would say just so, if they would tell their hearts. They would say "the gospel is not what the Apostle said it was." Yes, poor soul, it is, but you have not got it. Taste and see. Come to the gospel feast. You have compassed that mountain long enough. Don't expect Christ to make you free while you turn your back on Him.

9. When the power of religion is gone, the form but hardens the heart, and makes men more pharisaical and hypocritical every day. What, you say, would you have a man do? Cast off his profession, and stop prayer, and go back to the world? No, but love and serve in the spirit. But if you will not do this, then give up your profession, that is my advice. Do you doubt whether God would rather have you give up your profession, than live in mere form, and heartless obedience? "I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." How loathsome to Him are the mockeries, and slavish obedience to his holy will! The text represents Christ as actually vomiting them up. Now I would not recommend apostacy but condemn hypocrisy, and bring you to Christ.

10. None really understand this liberty but those who have experienced it, and those who have experienced it cannot find language to express it.

11. Many exclaim against antinomianism who are mere legalists, while both these characters are an abomination to God.

12. When the shepherds attempt to drive instead of lead the flock, they lay a snare before them. We cannot make people love by whipping, scolding, and driving them. God has given his law with its sanctions, but He opens his blessed heart to beget love. Dearly beloved, are any of you in bondage? Have you left your first love? Did somebody tell you that you must go down into the valley of humiliation, and did you go? Alas! what a mistake! When you should have gone up to the mountain by faith. What is true humility? Will you return to your first love? And will you "commit the keeping of your souls to Him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator?" Let us all go to Christ to receive our liberty.


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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