What Saith the Scripture?

Losing First Love

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture XI
October 10
, 1855

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Rev. 2:4: "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love."

In speaking from these words, I shall:

I. Notice briefly what the first love of a Christian is;

II. How it manifests itself;

III. How it may be known that Christians have left their first love;

IV. Describe the state into which they fall;

V. The only remedy for this state of things.

I. What the first love of a Christian is.

The Christian's first love is best known by experience. Those who are really brought from great darkness into marvellous light-- from sensible condemnation into conscious and assured peace and joy in God, cannot but know what this first love of the convert is. Ardent, earnest, self-sacrificing,-- it makes religious duties supremely delightful, and fills the heart with joy in God all the day long.

II. How it manifests itself.

Again, nothing that God requires seems hard or grievous. No matter what it may be, "the yoke is easy and the burden light."

"'Tis love that makes his willing feet

In swift obedience move."

These states and experiences are, of course, unknown to the unconverted. Even some who think themselves converted, know them not, and are exceedingly jealous sometimes of those who do.

III. How it may be known that Christians have left their first love.

Again, this loss of first love is indicated by a sense of bondage. When the Christian performs his religious duties, not from any sense of love, but of bondage to conscience, you may know that "first love" is gone. Obedience is not spontaneous. Under one's first love, it always is.

IV. Describe the state into which they fall.

Ungodly men draw this inference: "If I must live such a life, let me put off its commencement as long as I can, for such a religion is not the thing to live by and enjoy." Who does not see that such an impression is most disastrous in all its influences?

They are fallen into impenitence, as our passage itself implies; for how else could the Savior call on them to "repent?" Can one who is impenitent go to heaven?

V. The only remedy for this state.

The only remedy for this condition is given in the text: "Repent and do your first works." Repent more deeply than ever before, for now there are new and more aggravated sins to be repented of. When one has waded through such a life, all his former sins, prior to his professed conversion, are as nothing compared with these. After being so far enlightened, and after having tasted the good word of God and his precious love - after having known God and Christ as revealed in the Gospel, and after having entered into covenant with God - then to violate this sacred covenant - to disown those solemn vows - to dishonor that ever-to-be-remembered name;- for all this, there can be no remedy short of coming down into the lowest dust before the Lord - lower than ever before - with confessions of greater guilt than ever before. Hence, it comes to pass that, where persons, once backslidden, do really return and repent, they are more thoroughly broken in spirit than they ever were before.


1. Many persons keep just enough of what they call religion to fasten their delusions on their own souls. By dint of resolution and self-impulses, they keep up the forms of family prayer and of public worship, and by these means, they sustain the delusion that they are true Christians. If they had dropped these forms and gone into open apostasy, they would have known themselves, and would not have once thought of maintaining a hope of personal religion. The delusion could not have existed. But those who maintain the forms of religion, and the forms only, cannot have the witness of God's Spirit - can have no evidence from their own daily experience, but content themselves to live on the most meagre allowance of testimony to their own piety. They dare not speak very confidently, yet they are hopeful. They love to bring up the case of persons who had a great many doubts, and yet, on the whole are esteemed good Christian people. Some of them live on the doctrine of election, or perseverance of saints. Some live on the case of those who were reclaimed just before death. They sing the backslider's hymns and pray the backslider's prayer. From every quarter they are picking up shreds of matter of every sort wherewith to feed their own delusion. Sometimes, to help themselves out of their trouble, they set themselves to pick flaws in better Christians than themselves. This avails to relieve their conscience a little.

2. This is a most common delusion. A minister related to me certain facts respecting a doctor of divinity whom I had myself known, and in whom, I must say, I had never seen much evidence of personal piety. When this doctor of divinity came to die, he was greatly concerned about himself. My informant said - He asked me to pray that he might be restored to his first love! What! one who had lived forty or fifty years in the church, and one of her honored ministers too, yet, on his death-bed, asks his friends to that he may be restored to his first love,- really, that he may be converted! If we have not even so much as first love - not so much as when we started, what are we? What state are we in, if we have not as much love as when first converted?

3. Many persons have occasionally strong exercises of mind - often a compound of anxiety about their final salvation, and conviction of sin - yet it falls short of true religion. They quite fail of coming into a state of true love to God or to Jesus Christ. There is feeling, action, energy; but love is wanting! That deep love which affectionately honors and recognizes God as supreme Lord and Father, and which then goes forth to embrace in its arms all his offspring; that love which "suffereth long and is kind"- which is never weary in well-doing - which finds its life in acts of kindness: - this is not there.

My beloved people, I have been your pastor now a long time. Going in and out before you as I have these many years, I have seen most of you pass through seasons that have been greatly interesting to me. In some of you I have seen grace developed and shining all the more clear and lovely for your trials; but of some of you I am constrained to ask - Have you not lost your first love? Is it not very difficult for you to live a Christian life? Some of you are in such a state that I have not seen you at a prayer-meeting for a year. You were not confined to your bed by sickness; you were not out of town; what was the matter? What is your spiritual state?

Of some of you who do come to the prayer meeting I must ask - What is your state? Is your experience daily becoming more rich, and more fresh, and more quickening? Do you live more closely on God? Are you daily walking more and more surely in newness of life?

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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