What Saith the Scripture?
Receiving Honor from Men and Not from God
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
August 29, 1849
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not
the honor that cometh from God only?"
The discussion of the subject presented in these words will lead me,
I. To show what is implied in receiving honor from men rather than from God.
II. To adduce the evidences of this state of mind.
III. To show that while this state of mind continues, faith is impossible.
I. To show what is implied in receiving honor from men rather than from God.
- 1. "Receiving" implies an act of the will. It is not therefore merely
approbativeness. When a person constitutionally desires the approbation of his fellow-men,
and this constitutional desire remains a mere feeling--an involuntary state of the
sensibility, and does not lead to any acts of the will aimed towards the attainment
of the object sought, no blame can attach to it. This therefore can not be what our
Savior intended. He could not complain of this constitutional tendency, and therefore
it can not be that He designates this in this language.
- 2. It implies a will committed to this propensity. The will is devoted to the
gratification of this desire. Men seek applause from their fellow-beings, and make
it an object--usually a great object, to gain the high esteem of others of their
- 3. This state of mind implies great spiritual blindness. Men who can prefer the
honor of their fellow men to the honor that comes from God only, must be exceedingly
blind. Their minds must be in such a state that they really can see nothing relating
to God and spiritual things in its true light. If they saw spiritually they would
not make so unreasonable, so insane a preference. They must be stone blind to the
value of God's approbation--else they could never place the approbation of man above
- 4. It implies unbelief. No man in the exercise of faith could receive honor from
men rather than from God. If he believed what the Bible teaches of God and of spiritual
things, it would be impossible for him to make such a choice.
- 5. It also implies contempt for God. No one could prefer man's approbation to
God's if he did not really in heart contemn God. This state of mind practically says,
Give me the esteem of my fellow-men and I am satisfied; they are of some consequence;
their good opinion is worth something; but as for the honor that comes from God only--what
is that to me? Why should I care for His good opinion?
Now who does not see that this is really the spirit of contemning God?
II. Evidences of this state of mind.
- 1. Men are certainly in this state when they are more affected by loss of character
with man than with God. This would show of course that they are more solicitous for
reputation with man than with God; or which amounts to the same thing, that they
love the honor that comes from man more than that which comes from God only.
- 2. Persons are in this state of mind when they more naturally inquire what man
will think of them than what God will; when they are more solicitous to know the
former than the latter, and are more anxious about the result. This anxiety reveals
one's state of mind on the point in question beyond all doubt.
- 3. We may know ourselves to be in this state if we do or omit to do anything
from regard to what man will think rather than from regard to what God will think.
To be more influenced by man's opinion than by God's--by man's word than by God's
word, must be taken as decisive proof of this state of mind. For example, some go
to meeting more from regard to what man will think than to what God will think--more
to please man than to please God. This is sometimes the case with professed Christians,
and in their attendance upon the prayer meeting, as perhaps some of you can testify.
Some persons abstain from labor, or from idle gossip on the Sabbath, with their eye
more on man than on God. Some students get lessons more from regard to their teachers
and classmates than to God. With many, how rare a thing it is to inquire--what will
please my God and Father? Who does not see that such can have no faith? That remaining
in this state of mind, they can not exercise faith in God.
In the same state of mind, persons will regulate their dress, their habits and
manners more to please man than to please God. How much do we see of this?
- 4. Those are in this state of mind who need the impulse of approbativeness to
secure the performance of that which they are under obligation to do. Suppose it
be the case that regard to God is not enough to induce us to do known duty, but we
need also the inducement of human praise or human esteem, what does this prove, if
not that we seek the honor that comes from men and are not satisfied with that which
comes from God only? When our regard for God is thus impotent as a motive to duty,
it proves most conclusively that the heart is set upon the honor that comes from
- 5. On the same principle when we find that we need this stimulus to make us omit
anything that should be omitted, we have the same praise-loving state of heart revealed.
It is often the case that persons will neither do nor omit things which duty and
God demand, but which public sentiment forbids. Men need the spur of public sentiment
to induce action, or to dissuade from action as the case may be; which shows an exceedingly
corrupt state of mind--one over which God has no practical sway whatever.
- 6. Another proof of this state of mind is, that persons are deeply affected either
by the applause or the censure of men. Paul could say--"It is a small thing
for me to be judged by man's judgment;"--so all-controlling was his regard for
God's judgment, it left small scope for the influence of man's judgment. In fact
who does not see that in the nature of the case it is of comparatively small account
either way, whether man approves or disapproves; and a man who had proper faith in
God and in spiritual things can never be greatly affected one way or the other by
man's opinions. He will make this his main inquiry--Will this course please God?
Who of you that have known by experience what it is to be drawn into deep communion
with God, has not felt most impressively that the opinions of man are light as a
feather? You have been lifted entirely above being affected by the applause or the
frowns of men.
- 7. Decisive proof of the state condemned in our text is afforded when we suffer
either the private judgment or public sentiment of men to restrain us from obeying
God. In such case we may know that our regard for God is not supreme, and that it
is impossible we should have faith.
- 8. Equally so when we conform outwardly to those duties which are popular with
men, and neglect those which are not enforced by public sentiment. Often men will
be punctual in duties sustained by public sentiment, but negligent in duties not
thus sustained. For example, a man will violate the Sabbath in private, by reading
books which he knows are unsuitable for that day, or in conversation which disqualifies
the mind for the worship of God, when still he would by no means go abroad on the
Sabbath, or in any way be known publicly as disregarding its sacred claims. Many
will write such letters on the Sabbath as they would not have it known were written
on that day, and many letters written on the Sabbath are dated either Saturday or
on Monday. They are not ashamed to have God know their sins--only let it be hid from
- 9. We evince the same state of mind if we refuse to avow ourselves the friends
of God because such avowal would be unpopular with men. Persons may be in such circumstances
that to avoid odium they will conceal the fact of their being professors of religion,
or the fact of their holding some sentiments not generally popular; and this they
do because they are far more afraid of injuring their popularity with men than with
God. How wrong! How deeply corrupt before God must such a heart be!
- 10. We evince the same spirit whenever we seek to connect ourselves with those
families, churches, societies, or institutions which will increase our popularity
with men and not with God. For example, in cities, on this principle men will go
to the most popular churches. Students will go to the most popular institutions,
and in both cases the question is not--Which course will most please God?--but, which
will be the most popular with men? In the same way, men will seek to form connections
with families so as to augment their popularity with men, not their acceptance with
On the same principle men will avoid connections and associations which will only
raise them in God's esteem, and not in man's. Suppose God is building up a church
and men are afraid to join it because it is unpopular. If you understand the case
as it is, and choose to avoid unpopularity among men rather than incur odium and
reproach for Christ's sake, how clearly do you show what spirit you are of? I knew
the case of a man of a very aristocratic spirit, a member of the Presbyterian church,
who became ultimately converted, and his conversion was a real turning. He came square
round; would go to church among the poor, among the people of color, among the most
despised classes of society, and among those only. He said to me, "Going among
these classes I feel a great deal more in my place, and my worship of God is far
sweeter to me there. It is my very life to go and try to elevate those classes. I
love to help them--to encourage them and give them all the countenance and sympathy
I can. I love to go, said he, to that colored congregation; there is a blessed revival
among them, and there I find men looking in the simplicity of their hearts for the
approbation of God. There is none of that stiffness there which encumbers me among
the aristocrats of the city."
- 11. We show the same spirit when we have more regard to outward appearance than
to the state of our hearts before God. Take for example, any person in this house
who has more regard to outward appearance before men than to inward appearance before
God. You have taken more pains in your morning preparation to commend yourself outwardly
to men than inwardly to God; have spent more time before your mirror than on your
knees; have looked more carefully to your person and your dress than to your heart;
ah, you come into God's house as a mocker, to insult God! You profess to worship
Him, but in heart you worship the congregation, or perhaps, yourself! And must not
this be an abomination to God?
- 12. Again, when persons have more regard to their manner and behavior in the
sight of God, and the question with them is--not, what will God think of us, but
what will men think? then all is corrupt in heart.
- 13. Also when men allow themselves to practice any secret sin which they would
be ashamed to practice before men, they reveal their own hearts as loving the praise
and fearing the censure of man more than God.
- 14. Again, if we do not sooner blush and hang our heads to find our hearts impure
before God than we should to appear in the most disgusting exposure before men, we
show that we have more regard to man's esteem than to God's. If we can be ashamed
of anything which men disapprove, but can be backslidden before God and not be ashamed
of it, we are certainly in a state in which we can not be saved.
- 15. When we feel the necessity of human applause to prompt us to the performance
of any duty; as for example, if a wife needs the stimulus of a husband's applause
to prevent her from neglecting her duties; or the husband needs his wife's applause
to quicken him in his duties; or when a student needs the impulse of his teacher's
praise to make him study, or the stimulus of commencement and of college honors to
crowd him along so as to make even commendable progress; these cases and such as
these evince that man's esteem is held before God's. When such stimuli are needed
to induce proper application to study, all is wrong. When men need these or similar
appliances to induce right action, where are they? What state of mind are they in?
- 16. When it is natural for us to conceive of action produced by such motives
as right, we show ourselves to have entirely false views of the real nature of right
and wrong. In fact if we can look upon such a state of mind otherwise than with loathing,
we show that our hearts are far indeed from estimating things by the right standard.
Suppose a student should come to me and I should see that he must have my applause
or he would not study, could I regard him as a Christian? While I see that these
are the considerations and appliances needed to prompt him along, and that he is
influenced by applause only, can I have confidence in his piety? Can he afford me
any evidence that his heart is with God? Must I not disapprove, nay, even loathe
- 17. So if we are in a state of mind in which we can think of securing any real
good to others by such appliances; if we can suppose that by such a course we can
either promote their piety or their real usefulness, we are ourselves entirely out
of the way. Nothing could show more conclusively that we have missed the true idea
of supreme regard for God.
III. While this state of mind continues faith is impossible.
- 1. This is asserted in the text. The question of our Savior implies the strongest
form of negation. He could not more pointedly have said--It is impossible for you
who receive honor one of another to have faith.
- 2. The state of mind implied in our text is the very opposite of faith. Faith
commits the will to God and implies a supreme regard to God's views, opinions and
applause. Of course it is as widely contrasted with the state of receiving honor
from men rather than from God, as it can be.
- 3. The state of mind here described is a committal to gratify a propensity and
must therefore be a state of total depravity. What less can you say of the man who
prefers honor from men to honor from God?
- 4. It is therefore naturally impossible to believe, and yet indulge in this state
of mind. The state which prefers human applause and the state of the true believer
are fundamentally opposed to each other and can never co-exist in the same mind.
There is therefore ample ground in the very constitution and nature of things for
the strong negation implied in the question put by our Lord--"How can ye believe
who receive honor one of another and seek not the honor that comes from God only?"
1. This is one of the most common forms of total depravity. This giving up the mind
to be influenced more by man than by God--more by man's opinions than by God's, is
exceedingly common and the propensity to it seems to be amazingly strong. Therefore
this propensity, more than any other, takes the control of the will. Hence few things
will excite more pain or more pleasure than those which affect reputation. How many
a young woman--professed Christians too--would almost go deranged if she supposed
her reputation were suffering, and yet she cares not for God's disapprobation! How
many young men would almost die if they felt themselves disgraced; if they saw themselves
expelled from the Institution; while yet they are very little, if at all affected
by God's known displeasure! O what a state of mind is this!
2. Yet this state of mind is often regarded as scarcely one of depravity at all.
So far from being thought to be total depravity, it is by many scarcely deemed a
sin. Men will show by their language and conduct that they have more respect for
the esteem of men than of God, and yet they think this quite consistent with a profession
of religion. This is in their view altogether a venial fault if indeed it be a fault
at all. They would be astounded if you were to assure them that such a state of mind
disproves Christian character. They have never dreamed any such thing.
3. Multitudes who profess religion are totally blind in this matter. Some are given
up to one form of self-seeking and some to another; but almost none of them attribute
this to total depravity. Are they not totally blind in these things? How can men
be religious while their will is given up to selfishness? Surely this state is precisely
the opposite of religion.
4. How few know what it is to renounce the world in the sense of renouncing all undue
regard to its opinions and its honors, and giving themselves wholly to God. We sometimes
see a case of this sort in which a Christian does really break the yoke of sin and
selfishness--but how rare! Yet in no other cases have we the proof that persons are
5. Many of the most endearing and important relations of life are perverted by selfishness
and thus become a snare to souls. For example, the marriage relation. Many women
feel worse to lose the affections of their husband than to lose the love of God.
They will wander far, very far away from God, and incur His certain and sore displeasure;
yet it gives them scarcely the least possible anxiety or pain; but these same persons
at the same time may be tremblingly alive to the opinions of their husbands! Oh,
if they could only please their husbands? But you see no manifestations of strong
desire to please God.
The same thing is often true of husbands towards their wives. So in all the various
relations of life. They are abused and perverted by the selfishness of men. Designed
by our Creator for our social happiness, they are so perverted as to become a great
temptation to idolatrous affection and regard; then of course, God is disesteemed
and forgotten, and the most fatal effects of human depravity are the natural results.
I have often thought that we as a people in this place have greatly erred in the
way of too much regard to men's opinions. We began here a small and unknown people.
No sooner did we become in some measure known than our names began to cast out as
evil. There were many reasons why we should be opposed, some of which were to us
unavoidable. But into this subject I need not now enter. I cannot however forbear
to remark that there has been a manifest desire here for a long time past to conform
so far to the course of other institutions as to get back to popular favor. It cannot
be denied that there has been such a desire manifested here, nor that it has been
somewhat general. There has been a tendency to turn and tack, and haul up to the
wind of popular favor so as to avoid being reproached by those whom we cannot regard
as being God's people and in sympathy with God. Now so far as we would do this, we
are backsliders from God--real apostates from the God we have professed to love and
obey. We ought to know and consider that the world is no more friendly to God than
it used to be. In this world, said Christ to His real disciples, ye shall have tribulation.
If we will be His unswerving disciples and followers, we have no more right to expect
that we can escape public odium than that Christ could.
I am not now saying that we should excite public odium causelessly, or recklessly;
but we should seek God's approbation supremely, and then leave all results to His
6. In the light of our subject we see the great secret of the loss of piety among
students. It is a notorious fact that students, instead of rising are apt to degenerate
in their piety. I know there are exceptions, but they are only exceptions, and solitary
ones too. James B. Taylor was one, and for this reason he was the butt of ridicule
in his class. Just because he sustained and developed his piety, was he unpopular
with his class-mates--though far indeed from being unpopular with God.
How shall we account for this fact of general declension in the piety of students?
We cannot ascribe it to the nature of their studies. It cannot lie either in the
mental exercise and discipline itself, nor in the kind of studies pursued usually
in college. It must therefore lie in the motives under which study is pursued. The
fearful fact is--students become ambitious. They have their eye on college honors;
indeed not only their eye, but their earnest heart. To deny this were to deny one
of the plainest matters of fact. Who does not know that they often manifest this
to an odious extent? There may be more or less of the appearance of piety manifested
in various ways along with this strong manifestation of ambition, but what then?
How can ambition and pure religion come into sympathy and union with each other?
If those students were to study nothing but the Bible, and yet do this for the sake
of making a great commencement speech to show themselves off superbly, who does not
see that there would be no piety at all in this? Suppose they studied Hebrew or Theology
for such an end, could you say they had profited much by those studies, pursued for
7. This same form of ambition is the ruin of many ministers. They get this spirit
in college, carry it into the Theological Seminary, and out of the Seminary into
their pulpit, and so on perhaps through life. And who does not know that an ambitious
minister is the next-door neighbor to the devil? Who in all the earth does more of
Satan's work than he, or does it up to better advantage for his employer?
Now why should not an ambitious life be the result of such a course of training through
the college and through the seminary? Why should not such causes produce such results?
Is it strange?
I do not by any means say that college honors were intended for this end, but I do
say that these are the results naturally, usually, and most deplorably. No wonder
these results should distress the truly spiritual portion of the church, and grieve
the intelligent and pious patrons of literary institutions. I have good reason to
know that they do. I can see why they should.
8. Everybody feels that it is a dreadful sin for a minister to seek applause. Who
does not feel this? Who does not know that he should himself oppose a minister whom
he had reason to believe ambitious? You see a man evidently preaching from ambitious
motives, seeking honor from men more than from God; you mark him, and notice how
his ambition works itself out everywhere--in the shape of his sermon, in his manner
in the pulpit, and his manner out of the pulpit; in his remarks about himself and
his inquires after praise;--seeing this and such things as these, you would cry out
against him--Hypocrite! wretch! how can you desecrate God's sanctuary and altar by
such a heart as yours!
But thou that condemnest another, beware lest thou also condemn thyself. Seeking
honor from man more than from God is just as bad in other men as in gospel ministers:--is
just as wicked in other employments as in the gospel ministry. A man in any sphere
who allows himself to do the same things is just as odious to God as the minister
is, and so would be the woman also who should do the same, and possess the same spirit.
9. Many persons at great pains educate their children more for the sake of elevating
them in the world than for raising them in the esteem and favor of God. Many educate
themselves for the same end, on the same principles. How dreadful that persons should
educate either themselves or their children for sin and for moral ruin.
10. As long as young men study ambitiously, we need not expect a thoroughly consecrated,
self-denying, and God-honoring ministry. Education has too much power to admit of
results so unlike its own tendencies. Train your men ambitiously during their years
of study, and you can expect nothing better than an ambitious life.
11. Students so trained, come gradually to lose a sense of the wickedness of this
state of mind. They cease to realize how wicked it is to be more influenced by man
than by God. They come gradually under this influence; but when once it has gained
the ascendancy in their hearts, they carry it with them to the last moment of commencement
day; then they go right off with it to some theological seminary, and perhaps will
select their seminary with special reference to their own ambitious ends, preferring
that which will give them most _____. No wonder this spirit of ambition follows them
from the seminary into the ministry, and through their ministry to their very grave!
12. When a student is seen to be in such a state, instructors ought to have their
eye on him, and ought to bring influences to bear upon him to save him if possible
before the strength of habit becomes too strong to be overcome--too rigid to be cured.
Especially should councils and all bodies which exercise the function of granting
license to preach, be peculiarly watchful if called to examine for licensure a candidate
who is manifestly ambitious. No such candidate ought ever to be admitted into the
ministry--no, never! Their influence in it cannot fail of being fearfully pernicious.
13. A great many persons it is to be feared are keeping up the form of religion before
men, while they know themselves to have no communion with God. They may attend worship
in their families--but to be seen of men rather than to be accepted of God. They
go through the forms of Sabbath worship--their eye on man and not towards God. If
they are unblemished in their moral life, it is from regard to their own reputation,
lest they should incur the censure of the church and be seen to be really wicked
before men. Perhaps they will even pray in public for the sake of their reputation
among men, while they know that God regards it as an abomination. Ah, sometimes such
men go and pray when the very midnight of the pit is not blacker than their hearts!
You can easily see why so many complain of coldness and unbelief. No wonder there
is unbelief in your hearts. "How can ye believe who receive honor one of another,
and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" While you turn your back
upon God, how can you expect anything better than that He will turn His face away
from you? Could you even respect Him if He did not manifest self-respect enough to
O then, cease ye from man! Cease to regard man as one whose opinions should affect
you, and control your conduct or your heart. O how many are in bondage to public
sentiment--a bondage fatal to their peace with God--fatal to their exercising faith
in God--fatal--alas! in multitudes of cases to the final salvation of their souls!
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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