||delphia > Losing First Love by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
Losing First Love
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 10, 1855
LOSING FIRST LOVE
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
"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.
- 1. The modes of its manifestation are obvious, and have, indeed, been necessarily
indicated in what I have said of its nature. It should be remembered that it is as
natural to the Christian life to do what pleases God for the sinner's life to do
what pleases himself. For example, prayer is as natural to the true convert as living
without prayer is to the unconverted. The latter are conscious of being pushed forward
to perform these duties before they can be persuaded to do them. Other considerations
besides the pleasantness of the thing itself must be brought to bear on the mind,
or the man will not pray. But to the one who loves God, it is sweet to worship, and
pray and praise. These things have a sweet attraction to his heart, and come with
a rich relish to his soul.
- 2. The Christian, in his first love, is free from a sense of guilt and condemnation.
He has great peace of mind, and, living in such faith as pleases God, he cannot have
a sense of condemnation.
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."
- 3. Even the burdens that pertain to the Christian life do not at all abate his
interest in religious duties. He takes up these labors as part of his business in
life. He feels no sense of burden in doing these laborious things; a divine peace
fills his soul.
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.
- 1. It may be known that persons have left their first love when they begin to
talk of the burden of the Lord, and manifestly show that religion has become a weariness
to them. If other considerations besides love to God are requisite to sustain the
Christian life, and even to keep their outward observance of its forms, then you
may be sure that their first love is gone. It may be that still "they cannot
bear them that are evil;" Christ gives even the Ephesian church credit for so
much; but this may be more a thing of conscience than of 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.
- 2. The annexed exhortation to "remember from whence they have fallen,"
shows that they had fallen from grace in the sense of having lost a gracious state
of mind-- a state in which the gifts of the Spirit beget the Christian virtues, and
the resulting state of the heart is acceptable in God's sight. Such cannot be in
a justified state. Can it be possible that those are in a justified state whom God
commands to repent, on pain of being blotted from the roll of his recognized churches?
IV. Describe the state into which they fall.
- 1. The state into which they fall is (1) one of hypocrisy . This must be the
case unless they have become openly impenitent and irreligious. But the passage gives
no hint of this. Of course we must conclude that they retain the forms of godliness
without its power. This is real hypocrisy.
- 2. It is a state utterly odious to God. He who makes no pretensions to religion
is odious enough; but one who makes professions and yet dishonors God, is much more
so. But many sinners profess to love God. Ask them if they love God. O, yes, say
they. Ask them if they love to pray and praise; and they will tell you they do. They
make profession enough, but are only hypocrites.
- 3. It is, moreover, a state of delusion, for they keep up the notion that they
are still accepted of God. They are so hardened as not to see that they are the victims
of the most fearful delusion. Scarce any thing is more adapted to blind the mind
and scar the conscience than hypocritical forms of prayer. Let a man practice prayer
without any heart in it, and who does not know that this course benumbs the conscience
and kills the moral sensibility? Trace the history of such a man's praying. The first
time he prayed, prayer filled his soul with awe. Usually those who have not been
accustomed to prayer, experience this impression of awe and reverence. But a moderately
long period of observance of the mere forms of prayer, kills this solemn impression,
and he can pray as coldly unconcerned as if he had no heart. Prayer makes no impression
on him. Nothing seems to touch him. This keeping up the forms of religion in a heartless
way is playing a game with ourselves in which the interests of the the soul are fearfully
the loser. You win nothing.
- 4. Notice, also, that the influence of this on unbelievers is most ruinous. Nothing
leads them so naturally to contemn religion as the sight of so much heartless profession.
On the other hand, when they see a living manifestation of religion, it will either
drive them towards religion or make them uneasy without it, or drive them further
off. The latter effect is produced only when the heart's depravity rebels utterly
against God's claims, and therefore, it is more a testimony for than against the
agencies that excite it. But false professions are naturally fatal to the unconverted;
and it is no wonder they are so. On this subject I am often reminded of impressions
made on my mind in my early and unconverted life. I then had on my mind the strong
impression that the great mass of professed Christians seemed not to understand what
they professed. There were one or two men and some women who, I knew, had religion.
They exhibited what I could not account for on any other supposition. Their life
had more weight on my mind than the forms and professions of ten thousand of the
other and more common sort. Being a lawyer, I could understand that the few gave
a positive testimony, witnessing to what they knew, and revealing what their souls
had certainly felt; while the testimony of the other class was only negative. It
did not know anything in particular on the subject. I know one man who is not a Christian,
but his wife is a Christian. He has been struggling for years to work himself into
infidelity, but he cannot - never can so long as his wife lives to let the light
of her example and spirit shine before him, or so long as he remembers her. I have
already intimated the reason of this; he sees multitudes around him whose professed
piety he contemns; but there is one - his own wife - whose life refutes infidelity
- 5. Such religious declensions are most injurious to young converts. Said Dr.
Hawes, of Connecticut, and Dr. Campbell of London - O, if these young converts could
only be kept by themselves, and not be brought under the influence of dormant professors
who have left their first love, they might be made a living and working church. But
thrown back under this untoward influence, how surely will they fall under the same
example of unbelief!
- 6. This state of mind must be painfully trying to Jesus Christ. What can be more
so than to see his professed people lose their first love! When we see a wife who
has lost all affection for her husband, it makes us naturally suspicious of him.
Despite of all we can do to resist the feeling, it will arise. The wife is either
lost to all the common impulses to humanity, or the husband is radically a bad man.
Hence, when I see professed Christians lose their first love, I often say - Are you
disappointed in Christ? Does he not bear acquaintance well? What has he done that
you should lose your hearty interest in his character and in his cause? Is he in
fault? If he is not, then surely you are - greatly so. This interest is entirely
- 7. The implication in backsliding, is most dishonorable to Christ. The Jews called
God's service a great burden until he sent them a prophet to rebuke them. And who
does not see that they deserved to be rebuked?
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?
- 8. These men who lose their first love are uneasy and unhappy. None of them can
be satisfied with it. For the most part, they must be in great doubt as to their
acceptance with God. Often they query with themselves - "I wonder if Christians
ever do fall from grace. Methodists think they do; Presbyterians and Congregationalists
think they don't, for in this case I am safe. But if they ever do, then I am fallen."
Thus they trust in an old hope, with nothing to rely on except their old experiences.
They need some such reliance as men get by abusing the doctrine of saints' perseverance.
It is not the true doctrine, but only in its perversion that they find any of this
false peace; for the true doctrine holds that saints really persevere in love and
faith; and that, falling from this, they have no ground of hope whatever. And it,
instead of using God's promises of sustaining grace, they only pervert them to quiet
their souls in sin, they are surely cheating themselves out of salvation!
- 9. Such persons are not prepared to die. If there is no truth in the Bible, they
are sure to be lost, for the Bible pronounces their doom. If there were no truth
on the Bible, they would be none the less lost, for they are not prepared to dwell
in heaven - not in the heaven revealed in the Bible, nor in any other place of real
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
- 10. They are not prepared to live to any good purpose. So far as their influence
is concerned, it were better they should die than live. To live, as to them, is only
to curse others by their example, and to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath
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 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).
RELATED STUDY AID:
Index for "The
Oberlin Evangelist": Finney:
Voices of Philadelphia