What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Hardness of Heart by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture I
Hardness of Heart

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
January 3, 1844

Lecture I.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Mark 6:52: "For they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened."

These words were spoken of the disciples. The occasion of their utterance was this--the evening of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Christ walked out upon the water and met His disciples, who were crossing the sea in a boat. They were much surprised and astonished to see Him walk on the water; they had already forgotten the wonderful miracle which was performed before their eyes, but a few hours before, and being "sore amazed in themselves, beyond measure," the evangelist properly says of them, that "they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened."

Again, Mark 8:17. "And when Jesus knew it, He saith unto them--Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened?"

These words were addressed to the disciples, who did not understand Christ when He warned them to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." They supposed that He alluded to the fact that they had come out without bread. He, perceiving their mistake, said unto them, "Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your hearts hardened?" In other words, "the fact that you can so greatly mistake as to the meaning of my instruction, is sufficient proof that your hearts are very hard."

Again, Mark 16:14. "Afterward, He appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen."

Without stopping to expound this text, I shall endeavor to show,

I. What hardness of heart is.

II. The influence of hardness of heart on the states of the intelligence and sensibility, or in more common terms, upon the opinions or judgments and feelings of men.

I. What is hardness of heart?

The above, and many other texts which might be advanced, show that hardness of heart is a voluntary state of mind. If it is a voluntary state, it must be the will in a state of choice--a will committed, for the time being, to some form of selfishness. The term hardness is appropriately used, because when the heart is in this state, it is stubborn, and will not yield to the truth, and prevents the intelligence and sensibility from perceiving, and being duly impressed by the truth. But I must pass rapidly on and show,

II. The influence of hardness of heart upon the sensibility and intelligence, or upon the opinions and feelings of men.

I wish now to illustrate this proposition--that hardness of heart affects the opinions and feelings of men--by several familiar examples; for it seems to me that the proposition is one which needs illustration rather than proof. I say then, that the truth of the proposition is illustrated,


1. Persons often attribute the blame of their wrong doing to other things and other persons besides themselves. For instance, you will hear them complaining that the Bible is a very mysterious book, written in a very mysterious manner, notwithstanding God has said of it, that it is so plainly written that "the wayfaring man though a fool need not err therein." It is strange, they will say, that I cannot understand it; why did not God make it so plain that it could be easily understood? And so they shove the fault of their sinning off their shoulders, and lay it on the Bible. Their hearts being hard, they cannot see how plainly the scriptures are revealed, especially in the doctrinal portions of them. The same is true of the manner in which the preached word is received. You will often hear people complaining of the preaching. The very preaching which at one time takes a strong hold upon them, and goes down to the very bottom of their souls, I say, this same preaching, you will hear them complaining of, at another time, "as being very dull, the same thing over and over, nothing new, out of place, &c." Now let the spirit of God come and soften their hearts, and the preaching sounds entirely new to them; it is, as it were, a divine unction to their souls every time they hear it. They will be hard to say of it, "Ah that is just what we needed--very instructive--just in the right place, and just in the right time."

2. A man may be very sincere in believing a lie, and he will be so much the more sincere as his heart is the more hard. If his heart is very hard, he will lay aside all candor and will settle down in the belief of a lie so firmly that no evidence of any truth, however palpable, will in the least, move him from his falsehood. It will not be impossible for him to believe any lie, however palpable; and he will not only believe it, but he will give himself entirely up to its control; and the harder his heart is, the more confidence will he have in it, and the fewer misgivings as to its truth.

3. When a person believes a lie, and gives himself up to its influence, however sincere may be his belief, yet he is without excuse; for he creates his delusion by his own voluntary wickedness--it is forced upon him by no one.

4. It is only when the judgments or opinions are formed in a right state of heart, that a person is justified in acting in conformity to them. Many people seem to suppose that a person is pursuing a virtuous course when he acts in conformity to his real opinions, whether they are right or wrong, provided he is only sincere. Now sincerity itself may often be an evidence of great wickedness. For a man could not be sincere in pursuing a wicked course of life, or in holding on to a wrong sentiment, if his heart was right. Therefore, a man is without excuse, who does wrong, however sincere he may be in the wrong he is doing.

5. Men are the more apt to settle down and be confident in their wrong opinions and actions, in proportion to the hardness of their hearts. Perhaps when error is first broached in their minds, they have some misgivings about receiving it, but as their hearts become more hard, they are more firmly convinced of its truth, until at last, they lay aside all doubt, and come to believe the lie most sincerely. We have a striking illustration of this truth in the case of the persecutors of Christ. Doubtless when Christ first began to preach, the Scribes and Pharisees had many more misgivings as to the truth of His doctrine, than they had at the time they put Him to death. At first they listened to Him with attention, but soon their hearts grew harder, and they waxed more bold, until at last they, with the whole Jewish nation, assumed an outrageous tone, set at naught the holy Jesus, and denied all His claims to the Messiahship.

6. We often find the greatest confidence where there is the most delusion. Of all the persons that I ever met with, or heard of, I think the "come outers," are the most self-confident. They seem to think that they "are the people, and that wisdom will die with them." New perhaps in the whole world there are not seven men to be found, who are so entirely wrong in all their principles of action, as these very "come outers." I have often been struck too with the assurance of many of the antinomian perfectionists. Why, you might as well call in question the fact of their existence as to deny any of their positions. If you attempt to reason with them, and lay the axe of truth to the root of the tree of their faith, they will laugh in your face, and all your arguments will fall to the ground--so blind has their delusion made them.

7. Persons often wax more confident in the belief of a lie, in proportion as the evidence of their error thickens around them. This was the case with the Jews. In proportion as Christ heaped miracle upon miracle, and appealed to His works, to scripture, and to reason, for proofs of His Messiahship, just to that degree did the Jews wax confident in the belief that He was an impostor. Yes, such was the hardness of their heart, that in spite of all the light that Christ brought to bear upon them, they became steeled, and, as it were, case hardened against the truth, until at last, they were wrapped up in a delusion as fatal as can be conceived.

8. Millions, no doubt, die with a hard heart, and a firm hope of everlasting salvation. I recollect being called in my early ministry to visit a woman who lay at the point of death. Though she had been a very abandoned woman, yet she had the idea that she was a Christian; she supposed that in her youthful days she had seen Christ in a dream, and that she gave herself to the Lord at that time. Her friends tried to convince her of her error, but all to no purpose. She insisted on declaring that she was accepted of God, and that she enjoyed religion very much. With a knowledge of this fact, I went to see her. I conversed with her sometime, endeavoring to tear her from her delusions, but all in vain; my efforts were entirely unsuccessful; at last I kneeled down and prayed, I will not say with the effectual prayer, but at any rate, the Spirit of the Lord descended, and tore the veil from the wretched woman's heart--and oh! what a wail of agony burst from her lips--so shrill and piercing was it, that it was heard even to the neighbors. And she continued shrieking and shrieking, and her last mortal breath was spent in shrieking a note of bitterest agony. But the most remarkable case of the kind that ever came under my observation, was one which occurred in the city of New York, while I was preaching there. A man by the name of S-----, came into the city, and married a lady who was one of my church members. She persuaded him to accompany her to Church. He appeared to be a serious man, and disposed to listen to the truth, and before long, he was hopefully converted, and from what little I saw of him in inquiry meetings, I thought he appeared very well. I soon lost sight of him, and would occasionally inquire of his wife how he was getting on in spiritual matters. "Well, I don't know," she would say, "he is a very mysterious man--he is so constantly engaged in writing, that I see but little of him, and therefore do not know what to think of his religion." Why, what is he writing? I asked. "Well, I hardly know," said she, "he keeps his papers so closely locked up, that I hardly ever see them, but he says that he is writing a church history." Things ran on in this way for two or three years. The man continued to profess religion, and for ought I knew, his outward walk was consistent with his profession. At last he was taken with consumption, but he did not appear to be at all alarmed, indeed he seemed to be happy at the near approach of death. Finally he inquired of his physician how long he thought he would live, and whether it was probable that he would hold out till a certain day. The physician observing his calm and happy state of mind, did not hesitate to tell him that it was not likely that he would live till the day which he named. The man seemed to be very joyful in view of the fact. He continued apparently to enjoy religion, and as the day of his death drew near, he seemed to grow more and more spiritual. His conversation soon came to savor so much of heaven, that many people visited him on purpose to enjoy it. He seemed to delight in prayer, and in singing praise to God. By the way, all this time, he was frequently asking whether it was probable that he would live to the day which he had mentioned to his physician. At last the morning of the day arrived, and it was evident that he was just on the eve of death. He called his friends around him, requested them to sing a hymn, bade them good-bye, telling them that he hoped to meet them in heaven, and then died. Now mark, while he was lying there, yet a warm and quivering corpse, the sheriff entered the house with a warrant for his arrest on the charge of forgery. The officer brought with him the most clear and convincing proof that the charge was well founded, indeed it was soon discovered that this very man who had just left earth to go as he hoped to heaven, had been engaged for years in a system of the most daring forgeries, which extended through this country, and even through Europe. As soon as the dreadful fact was announced, the horror stricken wife went to the bed side of her dead husband, and turning down the cloth from his cold and pallid face, she cried out in unutterable anguish of spirit--"You wretch, how could you deceive me in this manner?" Think of that, you who are wives--think of looking on the marble face of your dead husband, and calling him a wretch. This was the most wonderful case of self-delusion that I ever met with, and it taught me this good lesson--to inquire frequently whether my opinions were being formed under the influence of a hard heart.

9. We see why confession always accompanies a true revival. When persons have become really converted, and their hearts have become softened, they are ready to say that they feel that they have done wrong in past time. So too, when professors of religion get their hearts softened, and receive new views of duty, they do not hesitate to make ample confession of past transgressions.

10. No one can be truly revived or converted, without feeling the spirit of confession. The heart is not really softened if the person is not willing to confess frankly all his past sins.

11. The manner of confessing often indicates the state of the heart. How often in my ministry have I wanted to say to people, whom I have heard attempting to vindicate themselves, even while they were pretending to confess, --"Your hearts are not yet softened, they must be hard else you would not attempt in this manner to vindicate yourselves."

12. People are often mistaken as to the real sources of difficulty in religious matters. They lay the blame of it to every one but themselves--they look for the cause of it everywhere else besides just where they ought to look. If religion is at a stand, they are very apt to look through community and ask, "who is in the way of the work of the Lord?" They forget that this is the question which they should ask--"Is not my heart hard--am I not indulging in wicked practices and feelings, which the hardness of my heart does not permit me to regard as wrong?"

13. It becomes each one to inquire for himself--"Is not my heart hard?" This is the duty of the minister of the gospel. He may see that religion is in a decline in his church, but before he looks around for the cause of the coldness, let him ask himself, "is not my heart hard?" Let professors of religion do this, let each one ask himself, "is not my heart hard?" Now why is it that the precious truths of the gospel do not take a deep hold of you? Why is it that your souls are not all liquid and glowing with the love of Christ? Is it not because your hearts are hard?

Beloved, shall I not ask myself, "is not my heart hard?" and will each of you ask yourself, "is my heart hard?"


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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