What Saith the Scripture?

Necessity and Nature of Divine Teaching

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture IX
June 21
, 1843

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Phil. 2:12, 13: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Text.--Heb. 13:20, 21: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Text.--John 16:13, 14: "Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth, for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."

Text.--John 14:26: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

I. Necessity of a divine influence in regeneration and sanctification.

II. The kind of influence needed.

III. This kind of influence is actually employed.

IV. The consistency and co-operation of divine and human agency in the work.

I. Necessity of a divine influence in regeneration and sanctification.

II. Show the kind of influence needed.

III. This kind of influence is actually employed.

It is moral, as opposed to physical. He works in us to will and to do, by motives, by truth. See the texts. Also, James 1:18. "Of his own will begat He us, with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." 1 Pet. 1:23. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." Jn. 17:17. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." All these passages, not only assert that the Spirit exerts an influence, but plainly teach that it is moral in kind. The Atonement of Christ, furnishes the motives by which to effect the work, both of converting sinners, and sanctifying saints. If it should occur to you, that there were persons converted before the Atonement was made, I answer, that it was through that class of truths which the Atonement presents, and they were shadowed forth in the Jewish ritual, and revealed in prophecy. It certainly was not by merely legal influences. Law only drives a sinner to despair. What! a selfish sinner brought to love by the threatenings of the law? Impossible! Conscious of his selfishness and guilt, he looks up, and sees God clothed in terrors and frowns, with the red thunderbolt in his hand to dash him to hell. Has this a tendency to induce in him a disinterested submission to, and love for God? No, but directly the contrary. It condenses his selfishness into fiercer opposition. But how different the manifestation of love in the Atonement. It is, as Paul says--Romans 12:20. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." If you meet your enemy, you may scold and threaten to shoot him; and while you upbraid him, he may blush; while you threaten, he may tremble; but he will not love. We know the influence of such a course, by our own consciousness. But if we manifest benevolence towards him, we heap coals of fire on his head. We change him into a friend. So, when the sinner sees God all love instead of frowns, with what a magic power it wilts him all down! While he sees only the signs of wrath, he stands as unbending as a marble pillar, and if he weeps, his tears are the tears of a rock; but as the Spirit takes and shows him the things of Christ, he is instantly all unbraced--his stubborn knees bow, his heart breaks, and he lies all along, subdued at the foot of the cross. Such is the work of the Spirit.

IV. The consistency and co-operation of divine and human agency in the work.


1. In all this work, we are conscious only of the influence of truth, as the Spirit presents not Himself to our view, but the truth. We are conscious of perceiving, and acting, and feeling, in view of the truth, but of nothing else.

2. See the error of those who are expecting and waiting for a physical change, and a physical sanctification. A great multitude of impenitent persons are waiting to be passively converted, and professors of religion encourage them in it. They are also waiting to be sanctified in a similar way. Now, prevalent as this notion is, and extensive as has been its sway in the Church, I do not hesitate to say that there is nothing more absurd, and unsupported by the Bible. It is a superstitious notion. As though the divine influence were like an electric shock, or some such influence. It is to overlook the very nature of religion, and of the Spirit's influences, and has ruined thousands, and, I may say, millions of souls.

3. Whenever we find our attention drawn to the consideration of spiritual things, we may know that the Spirit is at work with us, and conduct ourselves accordingly. If a sinner would know whether the Spirit strives with him, the way is easy. Does truth seem to have a stronger influence than formerly? Do solemn influences come in upon the mind from abroad? It must be the work of the Spirit. Walk softly lest you grieve Him away.

4. The truths of the Bible never influence us inwardly, only as they are revealed to us individually, and set home upon us by the Spirit. I have feared a great many overlook this. They read the Bible as they would a catechism or lesson, and often wholly overlook its real import. They must have the Spirit to make it plain to them. They never seem to have a passage brought home to them by the Spirit. But to read the Bible so, does them no good, but infinite hurt--the mind hardens under it, and this is the reason so many read it without finding its spirit. The truth is, it is not enough that it has been revealed to Isaiah, and Paul--it was never meant to be a rule of life as a mere outward thing; you might as well have it on tables of stone; it is a mere savor of death unto death, unless it is so revealed to you as to be spirit and life. You must be taught what its meaning is by the Spirit of God. What Christian does not know this to be true in his own consciousness? You have sometimes read a hundred passages and they seemed to do you no good. Nay, it seemed as though you could find nothing to suit you in a whole volume of promises. But, by and by, God makes one come home to you like electric fire. It sets you all in a glow and becomes food for many days. It serves also as a key to many other of the deep things of God. We observe the same thing in the biographies of distinguished Christians. How often we hear them talk about the Spirit giving them the meaning of a passage. They had read it before a hundred times, and it seemed to possess no special meaning--they had only an outside view of it. But suddenly they saw in it a profoundness of meaning that they had never conceived of; it is as light from heaven.

5. We have power to resist the Spirit. The will has the command of the attention, and if, when the Spirit presents truth the will averts the attention, and continues to do so, the Spirit might present it forever, and it would do no good. Hence we are commanded not "to resist"--not "to grieve" the Holy Spirit, and to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

6. Objects of sense, habits, the world, the flesh and Satan, render divine influence constantly indispensable.

7. See the vast patience, pains-taking, compassion, perseverance and love of the Holy Spirit. I shall never forget the impression made on me by the thought that came into my mind once when reflecting on the work of the Spirit. I asked myself how long it had been since I was converted and what the Spirit had done for me during all that time; and I could testify that, during all that time, through all my provocations, He had continued to strive, to lead and guide me, faithful till that moment, in his work of love. Oh, how could I ever grieve him again!

8. How greatly our ingratitude must grieve Him. I have been afraid Christians did not think enough of their indebtedness to the Spirit. They often seem to regard the Savior with great complacency, the Father with less, and the Spirit with none at all, or but little; whereas all the persons of the Trinity, are equally interested and engaged for our salvation, and have equal claims to our gratitude. The Father gave the Son, the Son made the Atonement, and the Spirit secures our acceptance of it.

9. See what Rom. 5:6, means. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." But for the Atonement, the Holy Spirit could not sanctify us for want of motives adapted to slay our selfishness. But the Atonement gives Him that power over us.

10. God is often employed in influencing the decisions of our will, when we are not at all aware of it. How often men find themselves having arrived at thoughts and made up decisions, for which they cannot account to save their lives. This is often the case with even impenitent sinners. Perhaps some of you can remember instances of decisions which even saved your life. I can remember such instances in my own history. It would be extremely interesting to gather up facts on this point. We should, doubtless find many wonderful things coming to light, respecting the intervention of the Spirit.

11. The Spirit is always in his people, but often his inward, gentle teachings and whisperings, are drowned in the din of outward objects. He loves to lead the mind in his own strait way, by breathing, gently, his influences upon the soul, but often times the mind is in such great excitement and bustle that it cannot hear Him speaking in his own inward sanctuary.

12. The mind is often diverted from his teachings by the teachings of those who are not under his influence. I have often heard people say that they had a sweet time in their closet on the Sabbath morn, but they have gone to meeting and by the time it was through, have found it all dissipated. The teachings they heard there conflicted with those of the Spirit of God, and they grieved Him by giving it their attention.

13. Excitement, measures, and talk often quench his influences. When persons give themselves up to much talk, there is little inward communion; and when there is so much that is outward in means to promote religion, the mind grows poor and lean, and takes up with the flummery and show of outside religion.

14. See the importance of having the inward ear open, and of understanding that the senses are not to be confounded with the outward organs of sense. The ear is not a sense but the organ of the sense of hearing. It is no more to be confounded with the sense, than is the trumpet you hold to the ear. So the eye, the bodily organ of sense, is no more the sense itself, than are your spectacles. The glasses do not see, nor does the eye, but the sense of sight sees through them. Hence, you can keep your senses awake and active while you dispense with the outward organs. Why do you shut your eyes when you pray? To prevent your attention from being caught away from God. In like manner you can close your outward ear, so that you may hear God speak. Did it never seem to you as if you actually heard Him speak?--sometimes a Bible passage? I recollect a time, a number of years ago, when the Lord showed me his glory. So sensible was his presence that I never suspected, at the time, that I did not see his glory with bodily eyes. Soon after I was converted, I used to go about before, or at the break of day, to get brethren up to pray, (and I may say that was the first morning prayer meeting I had ever heard of.) One morning I could not get them up; I felt distressed, and in my agony was going away to pray, when all at once the glory of God blazed all around me, and it seemed as if all nature praised the Lord, and none but men looked down and were mute. I wondered they could not see. It seemed to have been some such view that Paul had, when he could not tell whether he was in the body or out of it. When persons experience this, it seems more than a figure of speech to talk of seeing God, but if you want to see Him, you must let the inward senses be awake to the influence of the Spirit.

15. See how the soul is sanctified by the Spirit, and belief of the truth. When the Spirit presents the truth you must believe it. Sanctification is, and must be by faith.

16. See the importance of understanding the ground of the necessity of the divine influence. The reason is that the mind has so shut itself up to selfish influences that the Spirit alone, can break the spell that binds it. Its greatness is manifest by the same reason.

17. The necessity for the Spirit's influence, is our sin, and hence never ought to be brought up as an excuse.

18. All the holiness on earth is induced by the Spirit.

19. If you grieve away the Spirit, you are lost. Nothing else in the universe can save you.

20. See what it is to be led by the Spirit. It is to yield to his influences.

21. How amazingly careless many persons are, in disregarding the influences of the Spirit. Until you are more careful how you talk and act, you will never know what it is to be taught of the Spirit. There is a man who would not grieve his wife for any consideration, but will daily grieve the blessed Spirit. The Spirit stands away back from such a man, knowing it will do no good to interpose. Poor man! If he continue to grieve Him, he will soon do it once too often, and never be forgiven.


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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What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Necessity and Nature of Divine Teaching Text by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"