||delphia > The Indications and The Guilt of Backsliding by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
The Indications and The Guilt of Backsliding
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
October 11, 1854
THE INDICATIONS AND THE GUILT OF BACKSLIDING
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans
write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning
of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would
thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,
I will spue thee out of My mouth: Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with
goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable,
and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire,
that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that
the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eye with eye-salve, that
thou mayest see. As many as I love I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and
repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear My voice, and open
the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me."
This is one of the Asiatic churches to which Christ sent letters by His amanuensis
John. This church had not been long established, yet had even so soon begun to backslide;
hence this letter of rebuke and warning.
In discussing this subject I propose,
I. To show what lukewarmness is;
II. To present some unmistakable indications of this state of mind;
III. Show that it is a most guilty state;
IV. Explain the threatening--" I will spew thee out of my mouth;" and
V. Show that its folly is no less great than its sin.
I. What lukewarmness is.
The persons addressed were professors of religion. In this sense they were not cold;--as
men who make no professions of attachment to Christ. Yet though professing much,
they had none of that zealous love which belongs to the true Christian life. Indeed
they were neither the one thing, nor the other;--were not what Christians should
be, nor were they avowed enemies, as open transgressors are. Not as cold as they
might be, and not as warm as they should be--they held a position if possible more
loathsome than even the cold and the dead.
II. I am to present some indications of this state.
In doing this, I shall naturally give a more definite view of what the state is.
- 1. A profession of religion with a worldly conversation. Christ said no new thing
when He said--"But out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh,"
Everybody knew this before. Everybody must know it. The tongue was made to give utterance
to the heart's abundance. Hence that which abounds in a man's heart and fills it
will seek utterance in the natural channel. Let the heart be full of the things of
God, and the mouth will reveal it. When the heart is full of the world, does not
the mouth show it? No matter what the particular form of worldly interest may be,
whether stocks, or lands, or trade, or office, or honor, the tongue is not wont to
be slow in revealing the abundance of the heart. Why should not the same law obtain
in regard to a heart full of religious interest and love?
- 2. Neglect of the Bible. This is emphatically the Christian's Book. He will have
one if he can, and having it, will read and study it. Religion presupposes a supreme
interest in the Bible. Hence, when the Bible is neglected, you may be sure religion
is not much in the heart. To the Christian the Bible does not wear out as other books
do. It suffices to read most other books once. You get all they have at one reading,
and can then recall whatever you what to reflect upon and use further. Not so with
the Bible. No man ever exhausted that at one reading. To the Christian it is a well
of water. He does not drain it dry at one draught; in fact he never drinks it dry;
nor does it suffice for his wants to drink but once. His wants reoccur continually,
and therefore he comes, and still comes again to draw. It is his daily business to
draw water out of the wells of salvation.
Or still to vary the figure, the Bible is his compass, chart and guide: how then
can he think to make the voyage of life heaven-ward without keeping this roll in
his bosom? Hence, if he neglects his Bible, it must be regarded as an unmistakable
evidence of a heart not full of religion.
- 3. When he can read his Bible without interest--when he goes to it as a task,
and has no conscious sympathy with its spirit and no love for its principles, he
is surely lukewarm. See that professor doing up his Bible reading as the Catholic
tells his beads, in a hurry to get through and be off. Is his heart full of religion?
- 4. Neglect of secret prayer. What would you think of a wife who should shun,
or should even neglect to seek and improve all opportunities of the society of her
husband? Or of a husband who should neglect the society of his wife? In either case,
do you think such neglect could be consistent with pure and strong affection? Suppose
you were yourself the party neglected; what would you think of professions of love,
carried out by such manifestations?
Ask yourself--what is secret prayer? It is the earnest outpouring of the heart
to God. Alone with God you enter into deep and unobstructed communion with him. If
you love God, you will surely love and seek such communion. If you are debarred the
possibility of retirement, still your inward heart will pray. Its inner chamber will
become a closet and an altar from which the continual incense will ascend to God.
The professed Christian who can neglect such communion with God may know that he
is far from warm and earnest love to God.
Or if not altogether omitting the form, he yet does it as a mere duty and a task,
in which his heart takes no interest, he may equally know that his first love is
gone. If prayer has become a burden, surely his heart lacks warm and earnest love.
Do you remember the days of your first love? Where were you then? Not dreading and
trying to avoid prayer.
Again, if prayer meetings fail and die out, it is a startling evidence that the church
is in a lukewarm state. When Christians can live in the same neighborhood, under
the same responsibilities, and yet sustain no meetings for social prayer, you may
know they have but little of the light and power of godliness. Surely I need not
say that when prayer meetings have fallen into decay, religion has fallen fearfully
low. Hearts in which religion lives will make prayer meetings. If they take no interest
in seeking and getting up such meetings, they are fearfully lukewarm.
- 5. Christians are lukewarm when they do not naturally care for the salvation
of souls. When they feel and express more interest for anything else than for the
souls of their friends, you cannot but know they are lukewarm towards Christ. Suppose
these room-mates take less interest in each other's souls than in the health and
welfare of the body; or suppose a teacher feels less interest for the souls of his
class than for their progress in study, what must you think? Or of a parent who never
speaks of the souls of his children? In short, if it be natural to neglect the soul,
you know the cause, who does not know that the love of God and of souls forbids this
neglect and this unconcern? If religion lives in the heart it is impossible there
should be such neglect of souls.
Again, neglect to inquire into the state of religion, reveals the same state of
heart. He who never inquires whether there be any revivals, or conversions--who is
not interested to know how these matters progress--is certainly lukewarm. If his
heart is full of Christ, this will be his theme of chief interest. He will not inquire
half so quick whether they have had rain as whether they have God's Spirit. He naturally
wants to know whether the cause he loves is prosperous. You may know the man is lukewarm
if his heart does not burn to know how religion prospers, and whether souls are turning
to the Lord.
- 6. In like manner, persons are proved to be lukewarm if they neglect to pray
for a revival and for the salvation of souls. Or if when they pray, it is for themselves
only, you must make the same inference. If they do not pour out their hearts for
others, but confine their supplications to themselves alone, you may know them to
- 7. More still, if they pray for themselves in a manner that indicates present
impenitence. Sometimes even professors of religion plainly indicate this. If they
confess sin, their manner shows they do not repent of it, nor mean to forsake it.
Sometimes they merely pray for conviction, or for that which if genuine would be
mere conversion. Often after hearing persons pray for a season, I have had occasion
to say to them--"If your prayer is answered, you will be converted. That is
all you prayed for. Is that what you mean? Your prayer calls for just that, and no
more. Instead of praying as inspired men do pouring out the heart of praying for
the Zion they love, you are only praying that you become a Christian." Of course
I do not allude to the case in which a Christian is speaking in behalf of others,
using words in which they may join. In such a case, he will use language which calls
for convicting and converting grace. Excepting such cases, you will often notice
in prayer meetings that the very manner of their prayers and confessions shows that
they are far from God. The very tone and laziness of their prayer shows how lukewarm
- 8. You have another indication in the absence of a spiritual zeal. If you see
no zeal for spiritual religion, no deep interest for the progress of Christian experience,
no solicitude for that which constitutes the substance and essence of religion, none
of that wakeful spiritual sympathy which seems ready to devour truly spiritual conversation--a
state of feeling that naturally looks to the Bible for its spiritual food, which
loves to talk about prayer and communion with God;--if these things are wanting,
you may know that genuine piety runs low. Those professors are lukewarm.
Again, it is no less an indication when there is other zeal, but not a spiritual
zeal. Some professed Christians have much zeal for objects in common with infidels,
but none for objects in which infidels have no sympathy. It is a zeal of nature,
not of grace. Often you observe there is no lack of zeal, but all in other than a
right direction. It is the great peculiarity of our age that ungodly men are zealous
in certain social reforms. Many of our most zealous reformers are professedly impenitent.
Their zeal is such as one may have without any interest in the true spiritual life
of the soul. In fact, there is often no God at all in it. He has no proper recognition
of God and no sympathy with His pure benevolence.
- 9. It is remarkable that this zeal manifests itself only against certain forms
of sin. By how much the more these reformers zealous in their special reforms, do
they lose their interest in religion, their confidence in the Bible, their charity
for mankind and for Christian people, their interest in the conversion of souls and
in revivals of religion. They have the greatest zeal against certain forms of sin,
but against those forms only. They have no zeal against commercial speculation, none
against a worldly spirit, nothing to say against neglect of prayer or neglect to
save the souls of men. They have no zeal against those terrible forms of sin which
have done more mischief in the world than all things else combined. Nothing else
that can be named has done so much mischief in the world as lukewarmness. This single
sin has done more to curse the world than all the slavery and intemperance of the
world ever have. But I cannot pursue this subject just here, it being my present
purpose only to show you how to discriminate the lukewarm. I was saying, they may
have a zeal of nature originating in natural constitution, instead of a zeal of the
heart, originating in divine grace. It shows nature active, but grace dead.
- 10. Yet another indication of lukewarmness is, being blind to the true spiritual
state of themselves and others. A deep interest in spiritual life makes persons sharp,
eagle-eyed, wide awake to both a spiritual state and to those influences that bear
upon it. Such persons cannot be indifferent, and of course will not be blind to any
powerful agencies which bear on the great ends they love.
- 11. But this involves my next remarks, viz., that a most decisive indication
is a want of concern about the interests of spiritual religion. If they can be remiss
and can neglect to make efforts to promote religion and save souls, you may know
them to be lukewarm. If this is your own conscious experience, you may know that
you are yourself lukewarm.
I wish I had asked you at every point to question yourself and see how each test
applies to your own heart and life. You can do this now. Pause and review this entire
list of unmistakable indications and see how they apply to your own soul. This is
the chief use you can make of these texts -- not to search other people, but to search
yourself. I beseech you to do this in all fidelity to your own soul as you value
its spiritual health and even life.
- 12. Yet another indication is, reluctance to give money for Christ's cause. Men
give their money to the objects their hearts love. When you are called on to give
for Christ's cause freely, do you meet the call cheerfully?
Again, every one who has any true religion alive in his heart is in an earnest
state of mind. God is in earnest; the great depth and intenseness of His benevolence
forbid anything less than this. Angels are in earnest. See them wherever you will
in the sacred volume, they are full of the most intense activity and emotion. Saints
in heaven are intensely wakeful and active. What did Isaiah see when the upper temple
was opened to his astonished vision? Were those holy seraphs asleep? Mark their intense
excitement. They cried one to another, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory." The very nature of religion is love,
and love arouses and fires the sensibilities as nothing else can do. Its objects
are so vast, its scope so broad, its emotional excitement so pure and so intensely
delightful, it has in itself all the qualities requisite for becoming naturally more
intense than any other class of emotions can be. Hence the zeal of the Christian
must be an intense state of mind. But the zeal of lukewarm souls would freeze heaven.
Mark it--as cold as the north pole; one would suppose it could never have felt the
warmth of the sun of righteousness.
- 13. Now I do not imply that religion consists in excitement, yet such is its
blessed nature, and such is the hold it takes upon the soul, that it stirs up the
sensibility intensely, and this intense action of the sensibility impairs amazing
energy to all the powers of the mind. Hence religion makes everybody intensely active.
Mark one of those living Christians,--his very sleep is so full of religion, he seems
to sleep on the very borders of wakefulness; he can scarcely find time for needful
repose. His mind is supremely interested in this subject. When you hear him talk
or pray, you will see that his soul is full of intense feeling and tireless activity
in God's work. Can he be full of the Spirit and yet not be intensely alive to all
that concerns the kingdom of his Lord?
- 14. If you see one more easily interested on other subjects than on religion,
-- if you find it almost impossible to awaken any interest in spiritual things, you
may regard it as an unmistakable indication of lukewarmness.
- 15. Where persons do not care to learn about revivals, you must note it as indicating
a similar lack of religious life. If they are full of the Spirit of God, you might
see them take up a religious paper and run their eye over it for the word "Revival;"
omitting everything else, they would look first for the column of revival news, and
then for whatever else is most spiritual and tends to bring them nearest to Christ.
If you see the opposite of this, you will of course know that that man's interests
in religion is only subordinate--not supreme. Suppose you had a brother or a child
in California;--how would you watch the steamers, and how anxiously you would run
your eye over the list of deaths, and see if the loved name is there! But why this
anxious eagerness? You have an interest there. So, if you had an interest in God
and in Jesus Christ, you would watch for everything in respect to those objects of
your warmest love.
There are some papers, professedly religious, which, show on their very face,
either that the men who control their columns are sadly lukewarm themselves, or that
they judge the churches to be so, and therefore fill their sheet to suit a fallen,
backslidden state of Christian feeling among their readers. For months past I have
taken up a religious paper, and read at the head of its first column--"Swiss
Scenery"--"Scenes in Switzerland" --&c.,&c. The soul that
thirsts for the waters of life is turned off with "Swiss Scenery," and
travels, and things that come no nearer the gospel than the religion of nature. I
will send that paper back. Why should I try over and over again to feed my soul on
such food? And what a state of religion there must be in the country when editors
can expect to feed and satisfy Christian people thus! How utterly dry and barren!
If the religious readers of such papers depended on them for spiritual food, they
must be starved to death!
Again, if people do not kindle up with interest when efforts are to be made for a
revival, you must regard it as an unmistakable indication of lukewarmness. If you
are not ready for these efforts, you are certainly in a miserable state.
Now in view of all these indications, will you be so kind to yourself, each of you,
as to ask--Is this my state? Can you go on your knees before God and say--O, my God,
thou knowest I am not lukewarm. How is this?
- 16. I have still to name one more indication--a life which fails to make the
impression on all who see it that religion is your chief business--the one thing
needful. For if religion is your chief concern and the thing of deepest interest
with you, it is most certain and inevitable that your life will show it. Your life
will make the impression on all who know you, that your heart is full of God and
of love. The true Christian is a light which cannot be hid. His life will make its
impression. He will be known as a zealous man, a self-denying man, as a charitable
man, as a holy man--as one who lives in God and God in him.
But I must pass now to say,
III. That a lukewarm state is a most guilty one.
- 1. As a general thing, these professors of religion are enlightened. The fact
that they have publicly professed religion evinces this. By how much the greater
their light, by how much the greater their guilt.
- 2. It is also a most hypocritical state. Backsliders are hypocrites I do not
mean that they have never been converted, but I do mean that they profess towards
God what is not true. Their heart and their life believe their profession. They are
living, walking hypocrites!
- 3. It is, moreover, a perjured state. That Christian has taken his oath to love
and serve God, and has done it under most solemn circumstances--even at the communion
table with the symbols of Christ's body and blood in his very hands! What has he
sworn? to live for God; to observe all His statutes and all ordinances; often the
very terms of his covenant specify attending to all the general meetings of the church,
and performing each and all of his duties as a member of the body. Thus he solemnly
swears--but thus he never does. At each successive communion season he renews his
oath, only to break it again during all the next succeeding interval. He solemnly
swore that he would renounce all ungodliness and every worldly lust--that he would
walk soberly, righteously and godly in this evil world;--yet how constantly and universally
does he violate each point in the solemn affirmation! Do I speak too strongly when
I say that this man perjures himself? I am well aware of the technical distinction
made in courts of law whereby it is held that there may be much falsehood without
perjury--it being essential to perjury that the accused should deliberately swear
falsely on a point material to the issue. But let me ask you if the oath of the backslider
is not taken deliberately? What could be more so? Let me also ask if it is not to
a point most material to the main issue? Surely it is. The very thing he swore he
would do is the very thing he does not do. How horrible must such perjury be! Suppose
you go into court and you see there a witness taking the stand and swearing to a
lie--to what you know is a lie--and to what you know he knows is a lie! Would you
not cry out, How awful!--What have we come to! But what is this compared with that
we see at the communion table? See there;--the table is spread, God's holy presence
is solemnly invoked--the minister takes the holy Bible, and expounds the nature of
the oath to be taken;--then backsliders come forward and solemnly swear to perform
all their Christian duties;--solemnly avow their allegiance to Jesus, the crucified--profess
supreme love to him, solemnly testify that they believe in his blood as the ground
of their forgiveness and that they owe him the devotion a thousand hearts and lives;--they
solemnly covenant to walk with their brethren in labor and prayer--to attend the
prayer-meetings;--but when the hour comes, he is not there! Another season comes
round; he is not there! He almost never comes. It is a very rare thing that he even
pretends to do any one of the many overt tangible things embraced in his vow. He
does indeed come to meeting occasionally on the Sabbath. But this costs him no particular
self-denial. On the Sabbath there is nothing else he can do. He may not work his
farm, or drive his trade, or open his store. So on the Sabbath he will come to the
house of God. But really, and in the spirit of it, he breaks every material point
of his solemn covenant. At the next communion he is ready as ever to renew it; the
communion season once past, he is ready to trample it under his heedless foot again!
Is not this a most guilty state?
- 4. Still further, it is guilty because it is a most injurious state. It does
infinite mischief. Nothing so discourages a minister as to be shut up to the necessity
of reaching the impenitent over the heads of backsliders. He preaches that religion
is the chief concern; they deny it. He says, it is and should be the principal business;
they give him the lie. He says, religion gives its possessor peace; they reply--that
is all a lie. He holds forth that Jesus has died for sinners, and those who are bought
with his blood must devote their whole life and heart to his service; they reply--we
don't hold, in practice, to any such things. He preaches to sinners that the hearts
of Christians are bleeding with sympathy for them; they can very promptly say--that
is utterly false, for we know better. Let the minister say what he will to paint
the glories of heaven, or portray the woes of hell; to urge the need and the value
of gospel salvation, or to exhibit the power and the reality of religion;--the backslider
rises before him and gives the lie to all he can say. Alas, it is almost a hopeless
task to preach so! For to make the matter still worse--these professed Christians
are supposed to know from experience. They have tried it and have gone back to the
world again. The minister may have a good theory, but it don't work in practice,
and there is the proof. Or he may have some professional motive for such preaching;
but, say they, do we not know that the proof of these things must lie in experience!
Hence, when backsliders come upon the stand and swear that not one word of God's
can be believed--that all His promises are a humbug--that all the time prospects
and hopes of the young convert are blasted, and he must needs return to the world
again for life and joy; how fearfully injurious must this be!
- 5. It must be most injurious, because it hardens sinners in the worst way, and
begets in them a contempt for religion. They see those who profess it go to the communion
table and carefully maintain the forms of religion; but then they also see these
same persons perjure themselves on all these vital points of their profession. They
know that these professors have no deep interest in religion--no feeling about it;
they see enough to convince them that their profession is nothing better than a blasphemous
humbug. When they see masses of those who have made the solemn professions, absenting
themselves from prayer-meetings, and really doing nothing to promote the objects
they profess to love so deeply, is it any wonder that they are hardened? Is it strange
that they are made skeptics? I know, and everybody who examines the subject must
know, that the backsliding of professed Christians does more to beget skepticism
than all the writings of infidels. I have seen places--I have been called to preach
in places, where the conduct of professors has begotten an almost universal skepticism,
so that the very foundations of Bible truth had to be laid over again. Nothing could
be done in preaching the gospel till you had gone back to first principles; till
you had rolled baleful influence of so much backsliding and apostasy, and shown people
that they must examine the Bible for themselves and on their own responsibility--let
apostates believe it as they might.
- 6. Backsliding does more injury to souls than any thing else, because it leads
to false hopes. Men will form their notions on what religion is from the life of
his professors. If this life believes religion, giving a false view of it, multitudes
are deluded. Thus the backslider does much to confirm both himself and others in
a false hope. Suppose a pastor becomes lukewarm, and that then his deacons also become
lukewarm, their life and spirit still remain the general standard of piety. The masses,
thinking themselves as good as the deacons and the minister, feel very much at ease
in their state, and so go down in vast numbers to the depths of hell.
It is expected that young converts will be led by older and leading minds. The
latter virtually say--We are older and have more experience than you; it befits you
to follow rather than to lead us; modesty and humility are altogether becoming in
the young. Thus backsliders throw themselves directly in the way of young converts.
Twice within a few years have I heard ministers say--"O, if I could only take
these young converts away by themselves, how easily could I train them up for God
and form in them habits of earnest Christian activity. But now, what can I do? If
the older, backslidden members are not kept foremost, they will become chafed, restive,
and perhaps will wound the feelings of the young converts; while if the converts
are kept back and under their influence, they will be frozen to death. If we could
only take these young converts along as they now wish to go, what a noble church
they would make, and what living, working Christians?"
Again, backsliding is fraught with mischief because it bewilders and stumbles inquirers.
When they see professed Christians absent from church-meetings, and meetings for
prayer, full of worldly interest and conversation, how fearfully does it retard God's
work of grace in their souls!
- 7. Backsliding is fraught with guilt and unbelief because it naturally and greatly
disheartens laboring Christians. Nothing discourages them more. Often have I heard
such laborers mourn over the mischievous influence of backsliders, and say--How can
we bear up against it? We cannot live so! We shall die!
IV. Explain the threatening--" I will spew thee out of my mouth."
Backsliding grieves Christ. What could grieve Him more? You may judge of His feelings
by the language He uses towards them--"I would thou wert cold or hot; because
thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth."
Nauseated with a thing so loathsome, He will throw them off with unutterable loathing!
V. Show that its folly is no less great than its sin.
- 1. It gratifies the devil. What could they do to please him more! He would rather
have a few backsliders in a church than scores of infidels and Universalists! What
can infidelity do in the midst of a living Christianity? If his people lived religion,
the minister would never need to open his mouth to defend the divine authority of
the Bible. If there were a living, breathing, speaking Christianity abroad among
the people, they would not need one word of preaching to withstand infidelity. Yet
how common it is for a lukewarm professor to rebuke and deplore the prevalent infidelity
of the times; when it is a fact that all the infidels of his town do not work so
fearful an influence against religion as he and his associate backsliders!
- 2. The Bible describes this class of people in most affecting and forceful terms.
They are "clouds without water," clouds indeed--things that promise water
and raise high hopes; but they bring no rain. We have had striking illustrations
of this during the past weeks. Clouds have arisen upon the face of the sky--full
of promise they were, and every man looked hopefully, perhaps confidently, to see
them roll up their dark volume and pour out their crystal floods; but alas, the winds
are up and tear the clouds to pieces; and we get not one drop of rain! So of the
religion of these backsliders. At the communion table they renew their solemn oath;
they seem to do it in all solemnity, and people say--now we may surely expect a religious
life; now we shall have prayer and zeal and faith and labor;--but alas, the wind
gets into that hopeful cloud! The spirit of worldliness is still there, and it scatters
those hopeful clouds to the four quarters of the heavens! They are clouds without
rain, carried to and fro by tempests.
- 3. Still varying the figure, the Bible describes them as "wells without
water." We can begin to understand this. At every corner you hear the complaint,
"My well is dry; my cistern has failed me; can you give me a pitcher full of
water?" So in the backslidden church you might take your empty pitcher all around
for a few drops of the water of life, and alas you find none!
How impressive these Bible figures! The Bible was written in a country subject
to great and fearful droughts; and hence when we come to experience similar droughts
we are thrown at once into circumstances to feel the force of those figures. Suppose
yourself in an eastern desert; the whole caravan are famishing for want of water;
they come to the wells of the country--no water there; after long marches and many
raised hopes, they reach the spot--only to be once more disappointed. Alas, when
the troubled sinner goes round among backslidden Christians, holding forth his empty
pitcher for some precious drops of the water of life--and finds none, he understands
the force of this figure!
- 4. Backsliders betray Christ with a kiss. Following Judas, they come to his table
with fair promise,--they go away to blast those raised hopes in bitterest disappointment.
Look at Judas. He had been at the communion table; the solemn Passover had been
enacted; he rises hastily--slips away to the Jewish officers,--gets a band of soldiers,
and guides them stealthily to the place where he knew Jesus was wont to retire for
prayer. See him coming! His men fall back and he advances; as if glad to welcome
his Lord again, he rushes up to embrace him crying, "Hail Master," and
kisses him. Jesus rebukes the traitor--"Judas," said he, "betrayest
thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" So does each backslider. He comes to the communion
table to greet his Lord with a kiss; then turns away to betray him!
- 5. By another Scripture comparison, they are "wolves in sheep's clothing;"--clad
like a sheep, but really a wolf. They look so fair, no one fears them; the ewes will
almost invite them to lie down among their tender lambs--but how long before he has
those tender ones in his bloody jaws!
- 6. There is yet another illustration, not from scripture, yet too pertinent to
be omitted. Along the coast it is common for reefs of rocks to project into the sea.
To lessen the dangers to the navigator, especially in storms, lighthouses are erected
to indicate the harbors which vessels may safely make in a storm. Now there are human
beings so lost to humanity and so full of Satan, that they build fires on a stormy
night to allure vessels upon those dreadful rocks, that they may revel in the plunder!
The fog is dense, the spray thick, the night dark and the mariner cannot distinguish
these lure-fires from the genuine lighthouse; so on he comes, bearing down upon those
roaring breakers! The wreckers are on the look-out; they see the lights of the vessel
as she bounds over the billows; they hear the last fearful crash as she strikes,
and as the wails and shrieks rise above the roar of the storm--but they are ready
for their work. What is it to them that human beings are dashed upon the rocks of
ocean! They want plunder--at any cost!
- 7. Backsliders are spiritual wreckers. They set mountain fires for the mariner.
They say--We are spiritual guides; we will lead you in the way of life. See them
in all the solemnity of an oath, professing to live and labor as Christians, and
to lead the multitudes to God!--Whither do they in fact lead them! See the man come
up to the communion table in presence of the ungodly. Hear him; he says, "I
am a Christian; mark my Christianity and take it as your model. I am in the way to
heaven; follow me." They follow till he has lured them along and dashed them
on the rocks of damnation! Let him not say--"I ask no man to follow me; I can
take no responsibility for their being misguided;"--the fact is, his very profession
does the mischief; his very profession proclaims--"This is a Christian life,
and whoever will follow me shall reach heaven." So he need do nothing more than
be a Christian backslider, and he becomes a spiritual wrecker, luring souls upon
the rocks of spiritual death.
But again; backsliding is great folly as well as great guilt. The backslider gains
nothing. His life is utterly inconsistent, odious, loathsome; indeed the Bible describes
it as insupportably odious and disgusting. Christ says--"I will spew thee out
of my mouth." He cannot hear them, and will quick relieve himself of the dreadful
nausea! Some of you know what it is to drink tepid water to produce nausea and vomiting,
and you can appreciate the force of this figure of speech.
What is there more loathsome than fair professions and a false life? I have suffered
but too much from this very thing myself. Many a man begins with saying I am Mr.
Finney's friend; I esteem Mr. Finney highly;--but--but--I cannot approve his measures--I
cannot endorse his course." So having begun with gaining public confidence,
they end by using it all to injure me and my usefulness in the worst possible way.
They come up to salute with a kiss--and then give the fatal stab! This is the surest
way to do mischief. This is the backslider's course. He says--See how I love the
dear Savior! Then he goes his way and lives out the utmost dishonor against His name.
Some writer has said -- "Protect me from my friends; I can withstand my enemies
myself." No wonder Christ should feel so, as to His backslidden people.
1. This course is a most deceptive, because a most hardening process. You may take
any number of infidels or Universalists, people of most irreligious, prayerless character,
place them under the same preaching and the same influences for conversion with an
equal number of backsliders, and none of the former will be converted to one of the
latter. Where did infidels or Universalists ever resist faithful instruction and
warning, as backsliders have done in this congregation? The reason is, backsliders
deceive themselves to their fearful hardening and sudden destruction. Hear what Christ
said to the Laodiceans -- "I will spew thee out of my mouth." So he did.
He warned; they repented not; and now their candlestick is removed from its place.
For long ages past, the Mussulman has muttered his blasphemies on the very spot where
those churches stood. Yet who heeds the warning!
2. The absence of religious zeal is scarcely considered a sin. If you speak to people
about their great sin, they look up in surprise and say--what! whom have I cheated?
Whom have I overreached or slandered? They will tell you of David's great sin, of
the awful dishonor which he brought upon God. True, David's sin was a horrible affair;
doubtless his heart felt it most deeply; but he did not begin to dishonor God as
the backsliders of our day are doing it. He was in the main a good man, and a laborious
and useful Christian; and all the nation knew it. The closing scene of that sad transaction
shows it. A humble prophet could come to the lofty monarch of Israel and pierce him
through and through with the arrows of convicting truth, and even be received gratefully.
His repentance and future life told the story. From his smitten heart flowed strains
of sorrowing penitence and holy resolve all along down the history of the church
to this day! Reproach him for dishonoring Christianity? His case is not to be named
in comparison with modern backsliders.
3. It is most remarkable that churches now tolerate backsliders, while Christ spewed
them out of his mouth. Angels know them as outcasts, and pass them by; but the church
retains them, and allows them still to come to her holy table with mummeries and
lies. They go on, swearing falsely, full of levity and worldly mindedness. Do you
think this is saying too much against them? The very thought shows where you are.
4. "Whom I love, says Christ, I rebuke;" "Behold, he says, I stand
at the door and knock"--ready to enter and to bless. I come even to your house
and to your heart; if you will but hear my voice and open the door, I will come in,
and all the past shall be forgiven and forgotten. We shall be friends again as ever,
and you shall have all the precious tokens of my love.
Who of you stand here today convicted of backsliding and lukewarmness--having these
indications manifest in your spirit and life--saying, My peace of mind is gone; I
have lost my light, lost my way. And are you willing to acknowledge it? Will you
confess it to yourself--and confess it also before earth and heaven? Many know they
are in a lukewarm state, yet would as soon die as confess it. Are you convinced of
your sin in this matter? Then "be zealous and repent." Nothing short of
earnest zeal to repent will suffice. Shrink not back in cold unbelief. Hear the tender
appeal--"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."
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).
Next "Oberlin Evangelist"
RELATED STUDY AID:
Index for "The
Oberlin Evangelist": Finney:
Voices of Philadelphia