What Saith the Scripture?

Prove All Things

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture I
January 4
, 1843

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--1 Thess. 5:21: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good."

In speaking from this text, I remark,

1. That it enjoins the duty of fundamental and thorough inquiry on religious subjects. It requires us to know the reason of our faith and practice, that our piety may not be superstition, but the result of intelligent conviction, arising from thorough investigation.

2. In order to fulfill this requirement, the mind must be free from prejudices on religious subjects. So long as prejudices exist in any mind, it is impossible that it should examine religious opinions with any such spirit as will admit of obedience to this precept. All its views will be perverted just in proportion as it is uncandid and prejudiced.

3. This precept assumes the fact of our ability to "prove all things." The ability to comply with any requirement is always implied in the requirement. Otherwise the command is unjust.

4. This precept implies the necessity of correct information on religious subjects. The sentiment that it is immaterial what our opinions are, seems to prevail extensively among men, but it is plainly a mistake. Men can never be expected to remain rooted and grounded in the truth any farther than their opinions are true. All observation and experience prove this, and such is the concurrent representation of the Bible.

5. This command is given to all; not merely to ministers, but to laymen and women. Each is required to examine for himself, and to call no man master, so as to receive his "ipse dixit" as authoritative. It requires each one to know for himself the reasons of his faith.

6. The great mass of mankind don't love to think closely. They would prefer to do almost any thing else. They are like school-boys who shun the labor of study, and go to be taught without having studied their lesson. What they are told they forget before the next recitation.

7. I shall address myself, in this lecture, to those, and those only, who will be at the trouble to think. To address others would but be a waste of time and strength. Those who will not think cannot be saved.

8. I will neither spend my time, nor endanger your souls, by random exhortation and appeal, but strive to follow the spirit of the text.

9. My object is not controversy; I hope wholly to avoid its spirit, and, as far as possible, even its form. On the contrary, it will be my object as far as possible, to present what I honestly believe to be the truth to the consideration of the honest and truth-loving.

10. There is but little obedience to the requirement in the text, and as a consequence great ignorance and error prevail on many questions of fundamental importance. There are very few who can give any rational account of what constitutes sin and holiness, moral obligation, or human responsibility.

11. The terms which represent the attributes of Christian character, or what are commonly called the Christian graces, are almost never rightly defined. The definitions which are given scarcely ever represent the right idea, for example, of love, faith, repentance, self-denial, and humility. It is manifest that but few know how to define them. Why? Because they have not complied with the requirement of the text. And because these attributes of holiness are not rightly defined, they are misunderstood, and the result is that they are not exhibited in the lives of Christians. We see one picture drawn in the Bible, and quite another in real life. The former is beautiful and glorious, the latter--how sadly deformed. Why? Because the mass are mistaken, and mistaken as the result of incorrect views respecting the nature of true piety.

12. The distinction between natural and revealed theology should be understood and appreciated. Indeed, it is fundamental to an understanding of the Bible, for the Bible both assumes the truths of natural theology, and that we understand them; for example, that we exist, the existence of God, our moral agency, natural ability, the distinction between right and wrong, &c. We do not, therefore, and can not rightly understand the Bible, unless we understand the fundamental truths of natural theology, which are taken for granted in the Bible.

13. Natural theology consists in those truths that we may learn from the book of nature. God has presented us with two books--that of nature, and that of revelation, and they are equally authentic, and mutually confirmatory of each other.

14. The Bible not only assumes, and in various ways confirms the truths of natural theology, but adds many truths not discoverable by unaided reason, but which are recognized as truths as soon as suggested.

15. Many err in supposing that because a truth is seen to be such in the light of its own evidence, when suggested, therefore it might have been discovered without inspiration. There are plainly multitudes of truths revealed in the Bible, which men could never otherwise have discovered, but which, now that they are discovered, are seen to be perfectly reasonable. It is one thing to apprehend and recognize truth, when made known, but quite another thing to discover it.

I bespeak your prayers and attention, while I proceed to show,

I. How we know any thing.

II. How we know every thing which we do know.

III. Some things which we know about ourselves, the truth, and our knowledge of which, are taken for granted by inspiration.

I. How we know any thing.

II. How we know every thing which we do know.

III. Some things that we know about ourselves, the truth of which, and our knowledge of which are taken for granted by inspiration.

Hence by directing the attention to any given subject upon which you wish to think, thought is the necessary result. So if you abstract the attention from an object upon which you do not wish to think you thus indirectly abstract the thoughts from it. Even children know this with absolute certainty. So with feeling of every kind. We are conscious that we cannot directly feel by willing to feel. Suppose, for example, we wish to call into being the feelings of love, hope, fear, joy, or sorrow. We are conscious that we cannot, by direct willing, create these feelings, or even modify them. But, nevertheless, we are conscious that we can indirectly regulate the feelings to a great degree. For example: If we wish to experience the emotions produced by the beautiful, we turn our attention to a beautiful object, and the emotions arise of course. On the contrary, by turning our attention to an offensive object, we can indirectly produce disagreeable emotions in our own minds. The same law operates respecting all religious feelings. They can to a very great degree be regulated indirectly by the will through the attention, but never directly.


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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