What Saith the Scripture?
Adorning the Doctrine of God Our Savior
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
December 5, 1855
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"But showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God
our Savior in all things."
In our last Friday prayer meeting, one of the brethren quoted this passage in
prayer. It struck me with great force; indeed, I never had seen its beauty and power
so fully before. It turned my mind upon this passage with so much interest, that
I have concluded to present my views upon it in this morning's dicourse.
I. What is this doctrine of God our Savior?
II. What is it to adorn this doctrine?
III. What are the particular reasons for our thus adorning the gospel?
IV. What are the conditions of so adorning this gospel?
I. First, let us inquire, what is this doctrine of God our Savior?
The chapter in which the passage occurs, affords us all the answer we need. Paul
is instructing Timothy how to teach and preach the gospel to his converts. He specially
applies the gospel to "aged men," "aged women," "young women,"
"young men," to himself, as a "pattern of good words," and to
"servants;" and in this latter connection, comes in our text. This exhortation
is then enforced as well as explained in these remarkable words: "For the grace
of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying
ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in
this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of
the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might
redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of
Let this suffice to show what the doctrine is that Christians of every class in life
should strive to adorn. The essential idea of the doctrine is that God's infinite
grace towards our lost world had for its aim to redeem us from all iniquity, and
purify us unto Himself -- in short, to make us holy.
II. We must next inquire -- what is it to adorn this doctrine?
To adorn it is to honor it, and make it honorable before all. It implies that we
commend it by being ourselves an illustration of its meaning, and by evincing to
all its spirit and efficacy. We are to prove the excellence of the doctrine by showing,
in our own case, what it can do in the hands of the Holy Spirit to reform the world.
The doctrine is good or otherwise, according to its practical results. If it accomplishes
what it aims to, it is beyond expression valuable and glorious. That it can and does,
is just the thing which God leaves for His people to prove by their lives. Hence,
they must live so as to hold forth the excellence, beauty and power, of the gospel.
III. What are the particular reasons for our thus adorning the gospel?
- 1. Unless we adorn and honor the gospel, it will dishonor us. Paul said -- "I
magnify my office." He honored the office of an apostle and it honored him.
But if he had neglected and disparaged the office, it would have visited disgrace
on him. So if we do not magnify our office, all will despise us -- the devil and
all the universe will count us too mean to be cared for. To have such responsibilities
and then to heed them not; to be pressed with such motives, and yet have no sensibility
to their pressure and force - this would show that our character has no worthy elements
in it, and ought to subject us to dishonor. If you do not adorn the gospel, there
must be a reason; and what is it? This -- that you are playing the hypocrite!
Again, if we do not adorn the gospel, it will more deeply ruin us. The gospel,
instead of blessing us, will only work for us a deeper damnation. There is no avoiding
such a result from such a life.
- 2. It will greatly grieve the Savior. If we profess the gospel and yet do not
adorn it, we do the worst thing we can do to injure His cause and wound His feelings.
Accordingly, we find that He expresses the utmost displeasure and disgust towards
those who profess to love and honor Him, yet do not. To one of the seven churches
of Asia, He said - "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 spew thee out of my mouth!" No such language can be found elsewhere in
the Bible; from which we may infer that the Savior hates no other form of sin more
intensely and with more utter loathing.
Again, if we do not adorn the gospel, we shall greatly hinder and retard its success.
We shall stumble others who would enter the narrow way. Our life scandalizes the
gospel which it should, but does not, adorn. He who, professing the gospel, does
not adorn it, gives his highest influence against it. He throws against it the whole
weight of his example.
- 3. If you reply to this that it is better to profess religion and be a somewhat
decent backslider, than to come out in open opposition, this is not true. No argument
which an opposer can use against the gospel will have the weight that a protesting
life will have. He who professes love but lives hatred; whose lips honor Christ,
but whose life protests against Him, is Christ's worst enemy. The gospel does not
suffer from any other foes as from him.
- 4. On the other hand, if we do adorn the gospel, it will surely adorn us. Let
any one really adorn the gospel, it shall be to him a mantle of glory. If men witness
in him the spirit of Christ, they will admire that spirit and honor him who exhibits
it. Besides this, it will win others to love the Savior. If we illustrate it in our
lives, it will carry conviction and persuasion too. It is true that in many things,
the motives of Christians are liable to be misjudged. Sometimes, when they do right,
false motives are imputed to them. Yet, though this be true, there will be many things
which the world will be obliged to confess, and this reluctant testimony will be
the more to their real honor. Wicked men cannot gainsay their living testimony to
the power of the gospel on their own hearts, as manifest in their lives. A holy life
will command the attention of the world, and they will inquire what this doctrine
may be. They are forced to exclaim -- How beautiful their lives are! And how sweet
their temper! Who is this Savior whom they profess to follow, and to whose influence
they attribute their peculiar spirit and life? If this doctrine begets such a spirit
and such a life, we ought to know it and ought to have it!
So it will always be. If this doctrine is really adorned, it will be sure to create
inquiry. It must arrest attention. There are probably few men of the least observation
who have not known certain persons whose lives have arrested their attention. A man
can hardly live anywhere without coming in contact with someone of whom he is constrained
to ask -- What is it that enables him to live so? What spirit is this? When they
see its striking and beautiful manifestations, they are constrained to inquire thus
for its causes, and are anxious to learn what they may be.
Mere philanthropists commonly ascribe everything to phrenological development, and
make nothing of it but mere humanity. But let them come into contact with a living
and earnest Christianity, and they will see the difference. They will see that while
the Christian lays all due stress on the rights of man and of woman too, they lay
yet more stress upon the rights of God, and ought to. They will see that God has
a rightful claim to the homage of His creatures, and that no man deserves much praise
for justice who does not give God His rights as well as man his. Thus, the presence
of a living Christianity corrects the common mistake of the mere philanthropist.
In fact, this class are wont to make this mistake only where they see no living Christianity,
but only a doctrinal one -- only one which has its embodiment in creeds and pulpit
teachings -- not in the spirit and life of its professors. Let them see the doctrine
really adorned, and they will then know the difference.
It is remarkable that modern philanthropy goes out only to the animal part of our
nature, being, in this respect, on a level with the sympathy of brutes towards their
own species. It troubles not itself to save the soul -- all this is dropped out.
You may see these philanthropists exceedingly zealous in defence of mere earthly
interests, solicitous about visible and bodily joys and sorrows, boiling over with
excitement about the body; but call them to labor for the soul, they have no heart
in it -- no interst, no sympathy; those things lie beyond their sphere of care or
- 5. Now let the doctrine of God our Savior be really adorned by those who believe
it, and let no rights of man or woman be overlooked, and yet let all the rights of
God be seen to be uppermost in their regards; then philanthropists will see their
Again, let this doctrine be steadfastly honored, and men will surely see the beauty
and truth of the doctrine of sanctification. Let Christians persevere, and they will
certainly overcome. Overcoming sin and Satan, they will certainly prove to all that
there is a power in the gospel to save from sin. Here what they will say: "I
have seen this man or woman now these years, and I know there must be something in
them that I do not understand." Said one man of my acquaintance concerning a
young lady who had been several weeks in his family, and whose life eminently adorned
the gospel -- "Now, wife, I want you to tell me in what one thing that young
woman sinned while she was in our family! Did you see her do or hear her say any
single thing that was not in harmony with the gospel? I must confess, I say and heard
nothing out of the right way." Yet he watched her with an eagle eye. He was
not a Christian himself, and was by no means prejudiced in her favor as a Christian;
but he could not help observing so peculiar a life, and he soon found that it commended
itself most entirely to his moral feelings and judgements, so that he could say nothing
- 6. Now, to produce such results, professors of religion need not be disputatious;
they need only live out the spirit of the gospel in word and deed; so will it steadily
confound gainsayers. The ungodly will see their need of the gospel, and the religion
of the cross will work its way into the profound esteem of mankind.
- 7. One of the great reasons many give for not becoming religious is this -- "If
I should be converted, I could not stand; I should backslide and disgrace myself."
This objection is not so common here as elsewhere. Abroad I meet with it almost everywhere;
men saying, "I am afraid to profess religion, lest I should disgrace it and
myself too. I had rather not profess than profess, and not adorn it." But, let
me say, if the gospel be adorned by its professors, men will see that it can be honored
in the profession -- that men can live a holy, blameless life. When abroad among
strangers, I often ask individuals, "Do you not know of some one or more within
your personal acquaintance, who really honor the gospel?" Some, perhaps, will
answer, no; but if you converse with them much, you are likely to conclude that they
are either dishonest or untruthful. For , with most remarkable forethought, God,
in His providence, has scattered some salt all abroad over Christian lands, so that
every man shall have the moral trial of deciding whether he will or will not receive
the lessons which it teaches.
- 8. Adorning the doctrine of Christ will encourage the impenitent to believe that
there is something stable in religion. Beholding it in the real life, they will say,
"There is something that I want. I know that must be true religion." I
now recollect the case of a lawyer not a professed Christian, one of the leading
men in the State in his profession, who, though an entire stranger introduced himself
to me while I was preaching from time to time in the city, saying -- I have a friend
whom I should like to have you see, and should be happy to have you go with me to
her residence. Certainly, said I, and with pleasure. I found her an elderly lady,
but her heart running over with love to God and to all her fellow-creatures. As our
conversation drew out her deep knowledge and experience of the gospel, I saw him
dash the tear from his cheek, greatly moved at such a demonstration of the power
of the gospel. After we had left the house, he said to me -- "What do you think
of that? Is not that the true religion of the Bible? I know it is, and am determined
never to rest till I have it.
If we adorn this doctrine people who know our life and yet do not embrace religion
will feel severely self-condemned. Whether they are ungodly men out of the church
or backsliders in it, they will see that their own course is wrong and without excuse.
It will beget a sense of guilt and shame that they do not themselves live so as to
adorn the gospel. They will see that they must adorn this gospel in heart and life,
or they cannot be saved. For this world also they will see that they must be either
a blessing in society or an odious nuisance.
IV. What are the conditions of so adorning this gospel?
- 1. We must earnestly intend it. We must really set our hearts on being living
epistles for God, and upon developing in our lives all that the gospel requires.
- 2. We must not be satisfied with merely having evidence of our acceptance with
God. A hope that we are Christ's should not suffice, and certainly not, a hope which
is weakened by much doubt. We ought to know that we have no right to hope unless
we are truly in love with this gospel, and unless our heart is set upon adorning
it in our temper and life. It will not do for us to rest with being about as good
as most professors of religion. We are by no means to make any man our standard.
- 3. We should beware of legal motives lest we become unamiable in temper and come
under the sway of a legal spirit instead of the spirit of peace, love and joy in
the Holy Ghost. Such a temper as would represent the gospel as being unamiable in
spirit is especially to be guarded against and deplored.
- 4. Beware of mistaking license for liberty; for this doctrine is designed to
make us holy, and holiness surely can give no license to sin.
- 5. Guard against being in thought diverted from Christ. Let people do what they
will, resolve ever so much, they never will live holy if Christ be left out. With
Christ left out of one's thoughts, the gospel is left out, and there is no power
left. You must give yourselves much to communion with Him. Rely upon this, that unless
you look to Christ as the center and fountain of your life, you will not live, and
all your promises and covenants and resolutions, will not give you life. When you
have let Christ pass from your thoughts, He no longer influences you, and He will
not save you. Hence, He must be your theme -- the great center of your thoughts and
of your heart's power.
- 6. You will be wise to keep in mind one passage standing in our context -- "Who
gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself
a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Remember that this was His object
in dying for us -- to make us a holy people in His own praise. For this end He endured
all that mortal flesh could bear. Let us then strive to appreciate the value of this
great end, even as He did. Let it be with us an omnipresent consideration, that Christ
suffered for us to redeem us from all personal sin. Let no one fail to realize the
worth of this great object, for none can bring their souls under the full pressure
of gospel motives and gospel power unless they keep this great truth in the right
place in their mind. You must realize that this is His object and should be yours
also. Christ would have you take hold of Him for this result that He may take hold
of you. David Brainard made a remark which, in my early Christian life, was a great
stumbling block to me -- to the effect that "he did not expect to make much
progress in holiness in this life, sin was so strong." Can this be according
to the Bible? If so, then the provisions of grace for sanctification must be radically
defective, and that fitness and fulness which so strikingly characterizes everything
else in the gospel are strangely wanting here -- here, just where we might expect
them to be most abundant. This cannot possibly be true.
- 7. Do you believe that Christ wants you to be saved from sin as much as you desire
to be? Some of you have come to me to inquire how you may and can be delivered from
sin; and I now ask you if you suppose that you are more anxious to be rid of sin
than Christ is to have you? Will you not believe that Christ is at the bottom of
all those desires which you feel; that His own mind energizes within your soul; that
He is always intensely anxious to press this work along -- always more interested
by far in it than you ever are? What! Will you assume that Christ is so attracted
and engrossed by the thundering hallelujahs of heaven that He loses sight of your
struggles of a holy heart? Will you think that, when on a lovely Sabbath morning
you lift up your heart before Him for holiness, he does not hear you? Has He backslidden?
Has His love for His people below grown cold? Ah never, NEVER! On this subject His
interest never wanes. It has been burning many thousand years, and never can be quenched.
Every desire you feel for victory over sin is only reciprocated action, coming from
its fountain in His bosom.
- 8. Fully expect Him to do all He has promised. Do not adopt that blasphemous
assumption -- that if you expect Him to fulfill His promises to you, you will be
deceived. Away with that infidel absurdity! Do not insult God by such an assumption;
an assumption that God is a liar!
- 9. Be sure to make use of all appropriate instrumentalities for light and life.
The reason for this is that God uses them to accomplish His results in the soul of
man; therefore, you should use them, that you may co-operate with Him. Yet do not
rest in these means as having, in themselves, the power to save you. The power resides
only and wholly in God. "According as His divine power hath given us all things
that pertain unto life and godliness."
- 10. It is affecting to think what an interest Christ must have in our character.
Could He die for us to redeem us from all iniquity? Then His interest in our holiness
is measured by nothing less than His own blood! An interest so deep that He did not
even think His life too great a sacrifice for such an end! What a flood of light
does this fact throw on His heart-interest for our sanctification!
1. What an interest every member of the true church must have that we should adorn
the doctrine of God our Savior! Paul said -- "Who is offended and I burn not?"
If any were stumbled in their Christian course, it seemed to set his soul on fire!
2. What an interest the wicked world must have in the living piety of the church.
That ungodly man who has a pious wife might say -- I would not have her lose that
piety of hers for a thousand worlds! I need it always before me, a living example
and rebuke. So may all wicked men say of their Christain neighbors. If there is to
be any hope of their salvation, they must have these instrumentalities which God
Himself has ordained.
3. What an interest it gives us in defending the character of Christians. Those who
love Christ and His cause will not circulate slander against Christ's children. They
feel too keenly alive to the interests that cluster around the Savior's name! Sometimes
you find persons deeply distressed because they see Christ dishonored through His
friends. Sometimes even the fear that He will be, greatly agonizes them, so deeply
are their hearts set on His honor and praise. I could name to you facts that show
the greatest distress felt by Christians in the supposed dishonor done to Christ
through His children
4. To be careless about adorning this doctrine evinces hypocrisy. There can scarcely
be a stronger proof of it than this.
5. When we really love this doctrine of God our Savior, how watchful we become of
each other. Then how it strikes one to see Christ dishonored. But those who are not
in sympathy with Christ can see His name continually dishonored, yet manifest no
grief. They feel none.
6. But living Christians will be jealous and tender of each other's reputation. It
will offend and grieve them to see the character of Christian brethren assailed.
How can it be otherwise, so long as they see Christ thus wounded in the dishonor
cast on His doctrine through His professed people?
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).