What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Living by Faith by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture VIII
Living by Faith

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"
June 7, 1854

Lecture VIII.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Hab. 2:4: "The just shall live by faith."

These words which occur fist in Habakkuk are quoted in Gal. 3:11 and again in Heb. 10:38. They express a great truth which has a specially rich and important development in the gospel.

I. I will first explain the sense in which all men live by faith; and

II. The sense in which the just live by faith.

I. Faith is not merely an intellectual state.

But I must pass from this subject and proceed to inquire,

II. What is religious faith?

Is it any wonder that a Christian's faith should in like manner inspire his affections and quicken his emotion?

Again, by faith, you will love a life of submission to all God's providences. Adverse providences will of course cross your path in this earthly state; but if you confide in your Heavenly Father, you will pass smoothly along, submissive and satisfied that he who rules all does all things well. Said a man to me, only the other day--"I hold to this--that whatever occurs to me and mine will work for my good. If any loss befalls me, do I not know it shall be in some way for my gain? I know it must be. If one of my horses dies, it is all best. God will make it up in some spiritual good." Another man said to me--"If I set my heart upon accomplishing any object, make efforts for it, and succeed, it is well; and if I do not succeed, than it is well. I know the failure must be better than the success, else God would have given me the success. Do I not know that He will give me the best thing? It does not follow that He was displeased with me for making the efforts which He saw it best to frustrate. He expects me to act according to my best light and judgment; then if He sees a still better way and frustrates my way, all is well." Now I ask you, how could these men feel this repose and this submission to God's providence without faith?

So the Christian lives exempt from care, bearing his burdens without distraction because he rolls them over upon the Lord. In the midst of business ever so complicated, his mind rests sweetly in the Lord--his faith causing his soul to have rest.

These results constitute real life. Hence we see how eminently and how universally it must be true that the just shall live by faith.


1. Natural faith--such as unconverted men have in men and things--is useful to society--to the ends of business--to the comfort, not to say, the subsistence, of families. It is always useful so far as it goes, yet it is not virtue, for it does not have respect to God, to his character, or his law. It may be good and useful, yet not be virtue, for it co-exists with selfishness and with enmity to God. Pirates may, nay must have it; yet are pirates, therefore, good citizens!

It is not saving faith, for it does not save men from sin, does not fit men for heaven.

2. Both in its ground and exercise, faith is perfect in heaven. Faith being perfect there, the state of society and the happiness of sentient beings there must be perfect. If faith were not perfect, society even in heaven could not be. All is right there because faith is perfect and universal.

3. All men who come to the knowledge of the gospel ought to live a life of faith. Strange that men do not see its value and its excellence. In my early life I took this view of faith and of the Christian life. In studying the great truths which they claim to believe, I said, I can account for the way Christians live by the nature of what they believe. Believing that Christ died for them, how can they do otherwise than love him and live to please and serve him? Believing thus, they must, rationally, act thus. This belief must be of the utmost value to them, so long as they live in this world, whether the things they believe are true or false. This reasoning of mine did not assume the truth of the Bible, but merely brought out the relations of the Christian life to those statements, whether true or false.

But after a little more reflection on the matter, it occurred to me that the very fact of the universal utility of this faith proves its divine origin and the divine truth of the things believed. Christian faith does in fact fit men for heaven; this proves its doctrine to be divine. It cannot be a lie; for no lie could have such results. It is impossible that a system can be false, which, believed, makes men so pure and holy. The fruits of Christian faith prove the Bible true, therefore, unless we accept the absurdity that to believe a lie will lift men above the world, will renovate their hearts and restore them to God's own image; and who can believe this?

4. That man is far from being a philosopher as from being a Christian who does not know that true Christian faith is the essential condition of perfect society either in this world or the world to come. It must be the necessary condition of the mind's being in a perfect state. It must be ever present in that society which constitutes heaven.

5. The life of faith in Christ is too peculiar to be mistaken. It is said of Christians that they are a "peculiar people." They have a peculiar faith. They believe things which elevate the soul, purify the heart, raise the mind above the influence of sordid things and place it aloof from the debasing influences of sensuality, and all things low and mean. Faith in Christ must produce a life which will be its own witness. Look over society any where, and your eye must recognize the man who lives by faith. Such faith as the true Christian has must create a life so peculiar as to be readily distinguished from every other life.

6. Saving faith is in its very nature saving. Many think of this saving as only future--as only rescuing the soul at death from final perdition. This is a great and a grievous mistake. This Christian faith is that by which men live, not that by which they die. They are saved here first, and saved hereafter, because they are first saved here. If faith ever saves the soul, it must be first here. It saves them into happiness in heaven because it has first saved them into holiness on earth.

7. All men, not grossly ignorant, can see the nature and value of gospel faith. A man must be exceedingly stupid who can live in a world where faith is exhibited before his eyes, talked of all around him; and yet not be interested in the inquiry--What is this? How are these results produced? If he looks into this matter, he cannot but see that the truths taught in the gospel need only be believed, and the results will be of the very greatest value to the soul. Let me ask that sinner whose aims hitherto have never risen above the mere enjoyments of time; suppose you were not to believe the gospel for yourself, understanding it in a good degree as it is; you give it full credence, embracing it with all its precious provisions and promises; do you think it would be strange if you should then say, "I have enjoyed more in one hour than in all my life before"? Ye who are in your sins can know but little yet of the great things of the gospel. You have never yet believed things which could give you more than a feverish pleasure, transient and deceptive. You have never yet believed any thing high, inspiring, ennobling. Now take your stand-point of vision above the great ocean of truth. Ascend the "Delectable Mountains," from whence you can take in a broad and clear view of the "Celestial City." Lo, there is a palace, built of God, for his saints from earth. Did you ever see a royal palace? Have you ever scanned the lofty walls, the glittering towers, the artificial lakes, the gardens, lawns and trees and flowers? Then if so, you said--how noble to be owner of this! To be able to survey it all and say--this is mine! But when you become a true Christian and open your heart to a Christian's faith, you can say--All this will not begin to compare with my Master's palace to which He will take me home after a few days. This, compared with that, is only as the merest dunghill! "In my Fathers' house are many mansions." Jesus said he was going to get them ready for us, and then would take us all home. They we shall indeed be "at home in the presence of Jesus." He can tell us ten thousand things that took place ages before we were born. If you believed that you were to be there, would it be strange if you were too happy to sleep tonight? How many times have I heard it said within a few months by one and another--I have been too happy in God to sleep! One of the most active business men of the city who had been skeptical was brought to see his sins and to be greatly concerned for himself. After attending meetings many evenings, he finally said to his wife--It does me no good to go to these meetings; I must stop. I am going out of town today. He went accordingly to meet the cars, but lo, they had gone! Upon his return his wife said--Now please go with me to the meeting once more. He consented; the truth took hold of his soul with power. She had been praying for him for many years; and now he is converted. What is the result? She is too happy to sleep and so is he! They have a thousand things to talk over, to recount the mercies of the Lord and to celebrate his love. There was no sleep in that house for at least one night. And here was another most beautiful result; their two children are also converted, and they "rejoice, believing in God, with all their house."

The reason why people live as they do is that they lack faith. They fail to trust in God. They do not realize the great things of God's promises and of his love.

Finally, none can be happy even in heaven, without faith. Unless they can confide in God, it were vain to suppose they can be quiet and blessed even there. For, in that world, perhaps even more than in this, there will be things brought before their minds which they cannot understand. Under the government of an infinite God there must always be things done or permitted by the Great Ruler of all which minds so small and short-sighted as ours can by no means fathom. There is no alternative then but either to trust, or to rebel. Faith or sin--this is the only alternative. How wise, therefore, that God should train his children to faith before he ventures to take them up to heaven? And let them all take care that they do not even ask to go there, until they have faith enough to trust God as revealed here! It must be a fearful thing to go to heaven unprepared to endure its discipline. God will take none there, till He sees they can bear it.


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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