What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Jehovah's Appeal to Sinners and Backsliders by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture XI
Jehovah's Appeal to Sinners and Backsliders

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"
December 7, 1853

Lecture XI.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Micah 6:3: "O My people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me."

This is indeed a most striking passage. God Himself appeals to His backslidden people to say what He has done to them that can any way justify their course of conduct towards Him. The connection shows that this is addressed to sinners and backsliders -- to those who had been His professed people, but who had grievously departed from Him. "Hear, O ye mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth; for the Lord hath a controversy with His people, and He will plead with Israel." The Gentile nations having gone after other gods and all His own chosen people having grievously revolted, where could He get a candid hearing of His case among all the race of men? How affecting in this point of light is this summoning the case before the "mountains" and the "strong foundations of the earth?" Inanimate nature is not blinded by depravity; has not gone into apostasy from its Maker. Let the case come before the mountain, and let the hills hear the pleadings and render their verdict. "Hear what the Lord saith; arise (O sinner), contend thou before the mountains and let the hills hear thy voice."

The case then, comes on for hearing, and the Lord opens with summoning His people to testify against Him and show what He has done, or wherein He has wearied them. Upon you, sinners, does your Maker call, as subjects of His moral government. He has given you the existence you now enjoy, and has liberally provided for the supply of your physical and social wants. He calls on you to bear witness against Him if you can; if you have anything to say in bar of the judgment which His law has threatened against all who violate it. If you have any charge to bring against Him, it shall be duly considered. He lets you have the full benefit of a candid hearing. He even asks you to bear witness against Him if you can. Nothing can be farther from His heart than to do you any injustice. Indeed He is not happy to have even an erroneous impression left on your mind that you have been wronged in any way. If such an impression is there, come forward and reveal it; bring forward your strong reasons and let the case be examined and debated.

Now therefore let me speak in God's behalf to those who make no profession of love to God. Let us take up this matter as between your own souls and your Maker. Let us enter into all the important particulars. Has God injured you in any way? What have you to say against His administration? I want to put these questions specially to you. You refuse to acknowledge the Lord Jehovah as your God and Father. You ought not to do this without having some reasons in your mind for it. Probably you have something in your mind which you regard as a reason. What is it? Why do you grieve your Heavenly Father's heart? Have you a reason? If so, what is it? Has He done you wrong in any way? Has He required you to love Him without good cause? Has He required you to repent when He had no good reason for this requirement? Has He wronged you by the implication that you have sinned and therefore ought to repent? Or has He wronged you by implying that you can repent?

I. Issues between Jehovah and those who profess no allegiance to His law or gospel.

II. Similar questions upon the attention of those who have professed to know and love Him, but have left their first love and have backslidden from their God.

I. Issues between Jehovah and those who profess no allegiance to His law or gospel.

If now you were to meet God face to face, would you say so? Or would you enter this complaint against Him? Or would you insist that the penalties He affixes to the violation of His law are too severe? But are you a fit judge in your own case? Besides, have you any good reason for objecting to the penalty, or is it merely a feeling, an impression on your mind, that it will be hard to bear it?

But in what way has He been cruel? Wherein has He wearied you? Has He done you no good? Can you think of no way in which He has blessed you? Look all round about you and make up an inventory of your enjoyments; then say, is there no hand of God in these things?

Look now at this whole subject. Has God in no way tried to overcome your aversion? Has He not sought to melt your heart by kindness? Say now as in His very presence -- Has He refused to open before you the gate of Mercy? Has He locked its doors and thrown the key away? Or on the other hand, has He offered to save you on the very lowest possible terms? Is it the case that He has only required on your part your full consent to be saved? And will you look up into His face and tell Him that even this is asking too much?

Again, has He not given you time? Have you not had time enough; days and months and years enough to consider this subject fully as you need to do, and to decide it wisely and for your own eternal well-being? Have you not also had ample opportunity to get instruction? Has not the sanctuary opened its doors before you and made you welcome to come in and hear the words of life? Have you not had Sabbaths, many and precious, inviting you to serious thought upon your ways? What more could you have had done for you that you have not had? You cannot say you have not been urged to repent and accept of mercy. Yet you may be disposed to complain that you have been urged too much. You have often felt that you were urged unreasonably. Indeed this is precisely one of the points of this investigation. God asks you, "Wherein have I wearied thee?" What ground of complaint can you find against Me for being in earnest to secure your salvation? What better could I do, or what should I do, for your eternal well-being?

Thus stands the matter at issue as between Jehovah and those who profess no allegiance to His law or gospel.

II. We come now to press similar questions upon the attention of those who have professed to know and love Him, but have left their first love and have backslidden from their God.

It is a most remarkable fact that persons of this class are exceedingly slow to admit it and say -- I am the man! They would not justify backsliding; they know it cannot be justified. As for themselves, they are not guilty. We find this most serious difficulty, lying across our path in the onset as we attempt to apply this subject to the case of real backsliders. It is precisely for this reason that the appeal which God made to His backslidden people is likely to have so little useful application to you. How is it you get into such an attitude that you cannot be reached? The moment you hear any thing that would open your case to your own view, you repel it.

But this must not be! You must consent to see your case as it is, and on God's behalf I must plead with you.

Again, has He been hard-hearted when you have confessed your guilt before Him? When you have come into His presence deeply humbled, and your bleeding heart has poured out its confessions and sorrows, has He quite certainly turned His ear away? He has promised to hear, to forgive and to restore, and will you say He has not done so? Can you say that while He has promised always to hear and to forgive, He yet has not done so? Now weigh this matter well, and be very sure that your own heart has been truly humbled before your God for all your sins.

Let all these points be deeply pondered. Are you prepared to come before God and table your complaints against Him, and show that in all the points at issue between your soul and Him, the fault is wholly on His side?


Do you think anybody ever treats you as badly as you treat God? Was ever anyone so abusive to you as you have been to your Maker and to your Redeemer? If God were to summon all His creatures before Him, could He find one among them all, who has treated Him so badly as you have? Must you not say, "All the evil I have ever received from all creatures together is as nothing compared with the treatment I have shown to God?"

Considering His nature and His resources, how wonderful that He should permit us to live and treat Him so! He who abhors sin and meanness so intensely, and who has withal such power to punish, or even to annihilate us, how wonderful that He should still prolong our days and still pour out blessings upon us!

When men are once convinced of duty to God, to procrastinate is most abominable. It is not only violating conscience deliberately, but it is deliberately insulting God! What can be more provoking? What can more surely bring down on the soul the fearful wrath of the Most High?

God does not exact of us what He refuses to do Himself. When He asks us to do our duty, He always holds Himself responsible to do His. If He has done wrong He is willing to stand rebuked before the universe. We see this truth lying out upon the very face of our text.

By a law of necessity sinners know they have no excuse for sin. If anyone should really and honestly suppose that he had a good excuse for what might be called sin, it could not be sin in him under those circumstances; for real sin is never that which men do for good reasons and which they suppose they ought to do. Sin lies in the intention. It is not an intention to do right and to do what ought in the actor's view to be done, but an intention to do what is seen to be wrong.

To live in a backslidden state is most disgraceful. What should we say of a wife who should forsake her husband and go off into down right whoredom? Yet this is the very figure which God uses to express the guilt and shamefulness of His people's backslidings from Him. You may read a vivid delineation of this sin under this figure in Hosea 2, and often in the prophet Jeremiah. Who that reads these passages and considers for a moment what intense feelings of abhorrence and detestation are naturally excited by this sin can fail to get a strong impression of God's abhorrence of backsliding? Yet He invites you to return, and gives you many most precious assurances that on your return you shall again be welcomed to His confidence and love. So God does; but I suppose a wife to have proved a harlot while her husband had borne a blameless character and course towards her. Suppose a wife to have been utterly treacherous to her vows, giving herself up to most shameful conduct, going on from step to step in depravity and crime till she becomes a filthy prostitute -- on the street; suppose that while in this forlorn and wretched state, her husband should come to her and say, "I have come to do you good, to clothe and feed and bless you, and take you with your consent again to my house and home and heart;" would not this be a wonderful scene? Has human nature often manifested such tenderness and such forgiveness of wrongs?

But you will perhaps say, "I am not so degraded and debased as that. I can yet take care of myself and I can not admit that the case you have supposed presents my case fairly." Whereas, the fact is that you are almost infinitely worse than she is who has only played the harlot in her earthly relations and as towards a husband. The great God had consented to take you into a similar relation to Himself, and you have disowned Him!

The parable of the prodigal son may be applied both to the unconverted sinner and to the backslider. To either and to both, God is a father if they will return and seek His face. You may see in the parable how God feels towards everyone in whom He sees the spirit of true penitence and confession.

And now, how long ere you will turn your footsteps towards the house and home of your Father above? Hear what He says, "Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still; therefore My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." Will you yield the controversy now, or will you still persist in your course of sin and folly? Let the case be settled. Either come on and table your charges against your God, and make out your case if you can, or forever withdraw them, and turn once for all to seek the face of your injured God in penitence and prayer. Come back if you pretend to come at all, not to play the hypocrite again, but to devote yourself henceforth and forever to the love and service of your God. Come and say, "Here, Lord, are all my powers. I give to Thee all Thou hast ever given me, withholding nothing. Here am I, and here is all I am and have; take all my powers and use them up in most divine economy in Thy service forever. Nothing that I can do is too much for me to desire to do."

"Had I ten thousand hearts to give,

Lord, they should all be Thine."


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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