||delphia > On Being Searched of God by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
On Being Searched of God
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"
July 4, 1855
ON BEING SEARCHED OF GOD
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
Text.--Psa. 139:23, 24:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and
know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way
These words occur at the close of that wonderful Psalm, written under a vivid
sense of God's omniscience and omnipresence, and which begins--"O Lord, thou
hast searched me and known me."
In treating my text, I propose,
I. To show when this prayer, always appropriate, is especially and peculiarly
II. Why do men need divine searching?
III. I must next speak of the manner in which God answers prayer to be searched.
I. To show when this prayer, always appropriate, is especially and peculiarly
- 1. When persons are in spiritual darkness, and have low and faint conceptions
of spiritual things. Then they have great reason to suspect that something is wrong,
and should be searched out that it may be set right. It must be that something separates
between your soul and God, and you should set yourself to urge this prayer unceasingly.
- 2. In a state of spiritual insensibility let men cry to God in like manner to
be searched. When you do not feel the power of truth, you may be assured something
is wrong, and you certainly should not rest till it be searched out. Those who suffer
themselves to remain in such a state, without enquiry for the cause, wrong their
- 3. When the mind is oppressed with a sense of guilt, but does not clearly see
where the guilt lies, no one should remain at ease at all till the whole matter is
searched to the bottom. Often persons carry a sense of guilt in their souls a long
time, yet do not see the particular cause. Probably they will not see it, unless
the Spirit of God search them thoroughly. Hence, they should cry mightily unto him
for his searching power.
- 4. When in attempting to approach God, you find access denied you. You try to
pray, but find no access to God. Your prayer seems to be shut off; it falls, but
never rises toward God. Then you should enquire why your Father's door is shut against
you, and why, when you try to come to a throne of grace you can get no access to
it. Then ask God to search you.
Again, when you have no spirit of prayer. When you have no inclination to go to
God; when you know you need blessings, but do not feel inclined to go to God and
seek them in earnest prayer; then cry to God for the searching grace of his Spirit.
- 5. When prayer, instead of being spontaneous, costs you effort, and it seems
a hard labor to bring your mind to prayer, then you should know that your heart does
not pray--it is only your lips that pray at best; and, alarmed at such a state of
things, you should fall back upon this preliminary prayer, and earnestly implore
grace from God to search you and bring to your own view all the fearful wrong of
your heart or life.
Some of you may be in this state; will you ask yourself how this is, and what
the reason of it can be?
- 6. Equally so, if your prayers do not prevail with God. Then you should by all
means enquire what can hinder your prayers before God. You may safely assume that
there is something wrong in yourself; nothing wrong in God, nor has he even forgotten
Again, when you are not successful in your efforts to do good; when God does not
animate your efforts and crown them with his blessing; then let not your soul rest,
but arise and cry mightily to God that you may know wherefore his grace is withheld
from your endeavors.
Again, when the Bible and religious truth in general, and gospel means, are not enjoyed;
when you can neglect the Bible and not find it precious to your soul; and your soul
is not deeply in earnest; then something is in the way; the Spirit of God is grieved,
and you should awake to a most earnest search for this cause. This is an unnatural
state of things for a Christian.
- 7. Indeed, whenever you are not filled with the Spirit, you should enquire why
not? There is surely some valid reason why you are not, and it behooves you to search
for that reason.
When the medium between our souls and God is not clear; when, instead of standing
in his sunlight, there is plainly some thick cloud between God and your soul, and
you cannot commune freely with him, then you need to be alive to your danger. If
you are weak in faith, and your heart does not take hold of the great things of God
and of salvation with earnest power, then something is wrong, and you should by no
means suffer it to remain unsearched and still undermining your spiritual life.
II. Why do men need divine searching?
Many have supposed that they need the Spirit, not because they are not well disposed,
but because there is some defect beyond and beneath their own activities and which
therefore they cannot reach, and none but God can. Their need of divine aid is of
such a nature that they can excuse themselves if they do not have it. Now in fact,
if Christians examine themselves they will see that the very reason they need it
lies wholly in themselves. This will appear, as I proceed to show what these reasons
- 1. The influence of prejudice. Men take up a one-sided view of the case, and
they do this even under the influence of a dishonest prejudice, for if they were
thoroughly honest, they would be careful about forming opinions, and would more often
avoid serious mistakes. We are prone, under temptations, to adopt opinions with only
a partial and one-sided view of the case, and yet may not be aware of the fact. The
mind acts under its present views, but the reason why these views and no others are
present, is due to prejudice. Those who form them do not know better, but they ought
to know better. In such cases men should pray earnestly that God would reveal to
them their prejudices, and they should cast themselves on God for his aid.
- 2. Again, men need the Spirit because they are prone to justify themselves on
a false standard. Not having before their minds the love required in both the law
and the gospel, they judge themselves, not by God's rule, but by some other rule.
Whereas, if they would bring themselves under the light of the golden rule and require
of themselves the same love every where in all relations, which they bear towards
wives and children, brothers and sisters, they would soon see their mistake.
But men are not wont to use this golden rule in honest application. When you see
a difficulty spring up between two men, each wrong, perhaps, yet each justifying
himself, you will find they have a false standard of judgment. If you bring their
conduct to the standard of gospel love, you will readily see that all is wrong.
I have been often shocked at my own mistakes in judging myself from a false point
of view, neglecting and forgetting Christ's spirit, in which he could even die for
an enemy. Instead of looking at it in that light, I found myself inclined to take
quite another view, and therein, I learned my great need of the Holy Spirit.
- 3. Again, we are often blinded by our feelings. These have a wonderful influence
on our opinions. Feelings control the intellect, and this acts towards the control
of the will. Hence, we fall into errors because we are blinded by excited feelings.
Persons sometimes say--We have been so tried and abused, we have good reason for
feeling excited. Yet, after all, they cannot be satisfied in a course which conscience
condemns. Yet they manage to keep themselves blind, while really their excuse is
no excuse at all. It avails nothing that men try to justify themselves in wrong-doing
because others have done wrong first, arguing that we may rightly injure those who
have injured us. Such a state of self-justification needs to be thoroughly searched
out by the Spirit of God.
- 4. One peculiarity is often overlooked. It often happens that persons, when themselves
the subject of abuse, bear it firmly, being on their guard; but when another is abused,
then they think it noble to resist and repel the wrong, and often go into this with
a spirit which they would at once condemn if it were aimed to repel a wrong done
themselves. The devil gets great advantage over them. They think they are standing
up in defense of truth and right; but do it with a spirit altogether wrong. Many
a man has pled for the slave in a spirit that shuts him off from God. Seeing despotism
lording it over his fellow-man, he lets his indignation loose, and steps into the
place of him who has said--"Vengeance is mine." God wants no such advocacy
of even the oppressed. Let no man assume that God neglects his duty of avenging the
wrongs of earth!
- 5. Often in this way men are led stealthily into a wrong spirit. They find themselves
shut out from God and begin to enquire for the reason. They say--In such a case,
I recollect I became greatly excited, but I had good reason, for that poor man was
shamefully abused. Take care; you must not become uncharitable and grieve the heart
- 6. We often need God's searching Spirit because we forget. We cultivate the habit
of forgetting what we do not wish to remember. Under some influence, leading in that
direction, we do not care to remember. God says, "They do not consider that
I remember all their sins." Hence, it behooves you to cry--"O Lord, what
is it?" We need some special providence, or some form of divine utterance, that
shall wake us up to the remembrance of our deeds.
- 7. Men often shield themselves under some false principle, or some supposed fact,
wither of which they admit to be true without sufficient care. Having once adopted
the principle or the fact, the mind becomes incapable of seeing things as they are.
This incapability is a great sin, because of the influence which the will has had
in producing it. Thus blinded, men pass on till they plunge into an ocean of errors,
all growing out of their self-will.
- 8. Often men are blinded by self-esteem. They have a much better opinion of themselves
than they ought to have. Hence, they under-estimate their wrong deeds and over-estimate
their right ones. By this means they must, of course, fall into darkness. Indeed,
the spirit of egotism amounts sometimes to a sort of insanity. There is a species
of egotistical insanity, in which the mind forever recurs to itself, and never sees
anything pertaining to self in a just light. Let me not be understood to imply that
this insanity is a misfortune and not a crime, for it certainly is a great crime,
growing out of a culpable and sinfully indulged self-esteem. This egotism is one
of the most difficult things to root out from the mind. There is little hope for
him unless God interposes to open his eyes and reveal his own heart to himself in
its just light.
- 9. Persons are often blinded by self-interest. You are aware that courts of law
will not allow a man to be either witness or juror, if he has any self-interest in
the case. A judge will not even allow himself to sit and hear a case as judge if
he has any personal interest in it. I knew the case of a man who had been consulted
as a lawyer upon a case, and gave his opinion upon it, and subsequently coming upon
the bench, the same case was brought before him in the court of appeals, and he refused
to hear it, on the ground that he might be biased by his previously formed and expressed
opinion. Persons often overlook this danger and get deeply involved in some sin and
allow themselves to justify their own course, under the obvious influence of self-interest.
In such a case, how earnestly should men cry out to God--"O my God, open my
heart, and let thy light in! Draw me out lest I die in my sin!"
Again, we often need God's light because we are blinded by the fear or the love
of man. The fear or the love of the creature more then the Creator leads us astray.
I think I could name ministers who have lost their power with God and with man, by
means of being led astray by the fear or the love of some of their congregation.
Their prayers are cold as death, and their position on great moral questions plainly
shows that they do not stand in God's counsels.
Again, men often fall into the habit of professing more in their prayers and otherwise,
than is strictly true. Sometimes they remain professors of religion, when they knew
they ought not to, for they have no heart in it. They may excuse themselves by pleading
that they are about as good as their neighbors are, yet they know this excuse can
avail nothing before God. Such persons must fall into great darkness. O how many
ministers have continued on in all the forms of religion with hearts hard as a stone,
their very professions altogether hypocrisy and deceit before God!
- 10. In this spirit men sometimes fill the office of deacon, holding it solemnly
before God and the church, yet with none of the spirit of a true deacon. Some men
hold on in this way year after year, and completely destroy their own souls. Sanctimonious
in their professions, selfish, fast asleep, they never find that when they open their
mouths there is a bursting out of feeling from the living fire in their souls. Cold,
formal, speculative, dead, the heart with no mellowness--how plainly such persons
ought to cry out to God, "O my Strength, cast me not off; there must be something
wrong in me; O tell me what it is! Search me till all is revealed."
Again, we need divine searching because we are so prone to attend to others' sins
more than out own. We are in great danger of this, especially if we feel annoyed
by others' sins, and get into a bad state of mind ourselves. Indeed, we are in the
more danger precisely as we get farther away from God. Often this becomes a habit,
insomuch that persons hear preaching in this way, neglecting entirely to take the
part which belongs to themselves, and never allowing the truth to come close home
to their hearts. Now unless God comes down to search such persons, they will never
return to life and love again.
- 11. Men are exceedingly apt to rest in the letter without the spirit, satisfied
with holding the truth without obeying it. The Jews of old stumbled on this rock.
Such people are not aware of their danger, for those truths which they hold may be
truly valuable, yet if this truth does not affect and even arouse them, it is all
- 12. Men need God's searching Spirit because they are so liable to sear [their]
conscience if it be abused. They see nothing on the field of consciousness, and therefore,
think all must be right. Surely they will go to destruction unless God arouse them
and search them thoroughly! By conscience, such persons understand a feeling of remorse;
and hence, not feeling this, they think all is well. It is not strange, therefore,
that they should live in a great sin a long time, and yet not see their real condition.
Yet, none the less for their blindness do they lose their communion with God. There
is little hope in their case unless they arouse themselves to cry mightily unto God
for his searching Spirit.
- 13. Men are apt to overlook the sin of unbelief, perhaps confounding it with
disbelief; and hence, not being conscious of denying the truth in disbelief, they
assume that they are not guilty of resisting its power in unbelief. Really, they
do not give God credit for veracity, and much less still do they earnestly trust
him according to all their wants and to his grace to supply them. Only by God's searching
Spirit are they likely to be recovered from this snare.
- 14. Often men mistake the will for the conscience. They think their conscience
is clear and right, when, in fact, in their case, conscience is seared and the will
is up in its strength, and has assumed more than all the functions of conscience.
If their conscience were in a healthy state, they would readily distinguish between
the two; but now, having only a will in action, they must have their eyes thoroughly
opened by the divine Spirit, or they will not discriminate between the will and the
- 15. Or, persons confound memory with imagination. Having passed through a course
of doubtful conduct, they conceive what would excuse them, and then bring themselves
to think it was so. The circumstances are suggested by the imagination, and are then
supposed to be held as by simply memory. Such persons are very probably not aware
of this deception, but go on, sinning and covering up their sin as they go. Unless
God convince them of their sins, they wax worse and worse; get fearfully far away
from God, even while assuming that all is right; while plainly, if they were to apply
honestly even the simplest tests of Christian experience, they would find the bottom
of their piety altogether fallen out.
- 16. Men are prone to take credit for what is of little or no real value. Often
they do things only in the letter, without a particle of the spirit which God requires,
and which only could make the outward doing, real obedience. Thus, men will attend
religious meetings--right in the letter,--but with no heart of worship, and no regard
to pleasing God--and hence, all is wanting in the spirit of the deed. Or, they give
their money for a benevolent object, yet give it most grudgingly or selfishly, and
therefore, in a spirit which God abhors. Now, if men take credit to themselves for
such services, they are under a most radical mistake, and need God's Spirit to open
their eyes to see it.
- 17. Often men overlook a multitude of dishonesties and hypocrisies. They go on
in a course of professions towards God which, being empty, are unutterably loathsome
to him. Who can save them from this delusion, but God himself!
- 18. Men are apt to resist and grieve away the Spirit without remembering when
and how they did it. They were walking with God, up to a certain point; then they
parted from him, but they did not at once notice the fact and do not subsequently
recall the circumstances so as to see the reason why God there left them. The truth,
doubtless, was that the Spirit urged some point of duty, but they resisted. So they
lost their life and peace, and passed on, so much interested in something else that
they failed to notice that God had departed from them. In such a state man's only
help is to cry to God for his searching Spirit.
- 19. We are apt to fail in fulfilling the conditions of prayer, and hence begin
to doubt and become greatly discouraged. Parents praying for children fail to fulfill
the conditions, and hence make no real use of the promises. Such persons greatly
need God's searching Spirit to show them their own case.
- 20. Some men are at issue with God by reason of making excuses for their sins.
How many have been in a terrible state of commotion, agonized, distressed, anxious
to know wherefore it is thus with them, when really the fact is they are excusing
- 21. Men sometimes suppose themselves fully consecrated to God when they are not
so. Some little idols are hid among the stuff, as in the case of Rachel. No matter
how small--a finger ring, or a pin, if reserved as our own, and not heartily laid
on God's altar, it mars your consecration to God. You are not a fruitful branch,
but only a dry stalk. You can have no hold on God in prayer. In real consecration,
the heart is full of God, and this full heart breaks forth in appropriate emotions
and reveals itself in a rich spiritual life. If your case lack these evidences, you
need to enquire, Lord, is this all? Is Christianity a powerless religion? You need
to cry out--Tell me, O my Father am I really consecrated to Thee, or am I deceived?
- 22.Men are in great danger in the line of covering up sin, or refusing when convicted,
to confess it. These causes involve them in great spiritual darkness.
- 23. Sometimes persons harbor resentment without being aware of it. They would
not exactly like to inflict evil on another, but are more than willing it should
befall him, no matter who does it. There is really an ill feeling. In this state
of mind, you find yourself shut out from God and need to cry out for light.
III. I must next speak of the manner in which God answers prayer to be searched.
- 1. By directly calling our attention to the thing we need to see. He may do this
by the direct agency of his Spirit, bringing up some truth of his word with amazing
power and applying it in a most searching manner to our hearts. It is not so much
the Bible, as the Spirit of God in the Bible, and by means of the Bible, that brings
A lady, having made a profession of religion and entered upon a Christian life,
subsequently found herself so greatly tried, that she at length said, "I must
give up all profession of piety and all attempt to live a Christian life unless I
can succeed better. At that time she had not been taught that she might find deliverance
through Christ. But at this juncture, the doctrine of sanctification was brought
before her mind, and she felt her need of its provisions. She embraced it in theory,
hoping, and for the time assuming, that this would bring her the desired relief.
But this failed, and she was about to abandon the theory, when it was suggested that
she had not faithfully put the doctrine in practice. One of her most besetting and
powerful sins was in her temper. She began to see that she must have grace for a
victory over this. Just at this crisis, her husband in family worship read the passage--"In
the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
(Jn. 16:38) It thrilled her very soul. She cried out --"My temper is dead; through
grace I have conquered, and my victory is complete." Many years afterwards,
she said of herself--"Never since that hour have I felt any risings of unhallowed
temper, and I no more expect to give way to that sin than I expect to cut my neighbor's
- 2. Often God brings about the same result by the aid of his providences, these
acting from without, and his Spirit, within. Together they reveal to the mind what
was not seen before. One man meets with losses of property, and the loss shows him
that this property was held as his, not as God's.
Only last winter, a lady told me she had fallen into a dreadful state of mind,
bordering on despair, so that her friends even feared that she would kill herself.
At length, providence showed her what the matter was. Her husband had refused to
perform the duty of family worship, and she got angry about it. She was so full of
zeal for God, as she thought, that she was not aware of her great sin. At length,
God brought help by converting her husband. Then, seeing that she was parted from
him, and that she had been sinfully angry, her heart was broken down into penitence,
and her soul restored to the joys of God's salvation.
In conclusion, let me say--
1. Having made this prayer, be careful not to resist the divine searching. Whatever
means God may use, let him go on, unresisted on your part. When we most need to be
searched, we are in greatest danger of resisting the process.
2. Having begun, be careful not to desist from praying and self-searching till the
work has gone to the bottom. Cease not, till you find your soul filled with peace
and power, such as will reveal itself everywhere.
3. As fast as God reveals light, we should use it. Many begin well and pray well,
but defer repentance and reform till they shall have seen the whole. They want everything
revealed before they begin to repent and reform. Or they look for the blessing before
they have fulfilled all the conditions. They say--"Give me the blessing, and
then I will repent." This is no way to deal with God. Let them rather deal honestly
and put away all iniquity as fast as they discover it.
4. When persons pray that God would search them, they should use all fit means to
search themselves. Not to do this shows that you are not really honest in desiring
Some of you have lived here many years, and passed through many scenes of refreshing,
and many agencies of both providence and grace, designed for your good, but now seem
to have thrown off a sense of responsibility and to have wandered far from God. How
greatly do you need to open your hearts before God and expose all to the light of
his face and truth. It would be wonderful if amid so many excitements, some should
not be very far out of the way. I am sure something must be wrong here. We need a
general awakening of mind, in which each one shall fix his mind on his own sins.
After such a sermon as this, some one will say--"That is the preaching we need;
do not you think the church needs such preaching?" And yet this very man who
cares so benevolently for the church, needs the sermon more than any other man in
town. The thing most of all needed is, that each man should apply it to himself--asking--In
what respect do I need this sermon? For what do I need to be searched, and to pray
that God would search me and try me, and see if there be any evil way in me? Some
of you, I am afraid, are in most perishing need of this personal treatment. Brethren,
when shall this church be as holy as it professes to be; as it is supposed to be;
and as its theory leads people to assume that it is? When shall all our theories
be reduced to practice?
5. It often happens that people most in the fog about their own state are most tried
with the bad state of others. This is sometimes a great and sore delusion! Beware
How many of you are in the habit of taking your spiritual reckoning every week, or
even every month, to see where you are, and whether you may not be coasting along
a lee shore, just on the rocks--heading towards them under wind and tide--the breakers
roaring under your bow! Pray that God may search you all out, and leave nothing undisclosed!
Pray that God may search all this people, each according to his need. This, more
than anything else, is what the impenitent here need to see in every house and in
ever Christian--each one an epistle of Jesus Christ, known and read of all. So would
the gospel be honored, and its truth be enforced with resistless power.
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