What Saith the Scripture?
Owing God- No. 2
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
July 8, 1857
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"How much owest thou unto my Lord?"
The rights of God in regard to His creatures imply corresponding obligations on
their part. It remains for us to consider what these obligations are.
The question -- How much owest thou unto my Lord, requires us to ask and consider
-- How much hast thou already paid? In the light of this question you may find how
much remains yet due.
These, be it remembered, are not merely abstract questions, however much they may
be so regarded. It is astonishing to see how much infidelity attaches itself to these
questions in the minds of men, and how little, consequently, they care for any claims
God may be shown to have on their hearts. It is because these things take hold so
feebly on human hearts that the Divine Spirit is needed and is sent to open our eyes
to see these things truly, and to quicken our sensibility to their bearing on ourselves.
It is because of this intense moral insensibility that, in regard to our moral relations,
fiction seems to us to be reality, and reality fiction.
Resuming our main question, I ask once more -- How much you have already paid? Have
you kept your account carefully? Can you tell from that how the case stands?
II. How much hast thou already paid?
It is a curious fact, developed often in business between man and man, that men who
keep no formal account, will have yet a sort of general idea of the way the matter
stands. The men who run to the store and get little things on credit, are apt to
suppose they know about how their account stands; but often they find, on comparing
their ideal of the matter with the merchant's books, that they were widely mistaken.
Some of you may be under an equal and far more dangerous mistake in the matter of
your accounts with your Maker.
- 1. Probably many of you have tacitly assumed that, at least in some things, you
have done all your duty. Thus you put it down that you have been to meeting today;
that you get good lessons in your class; that you do about what should be expected
of you in your circumstances of life. But you will need to go more deeply into the
matter than this. It is of the utmost consequence to know precisely when you have
a right to credit yourself with the performance of a duty to God; else you may commit
the very great mistake of giving yourself a credit where God charges you as in debt.
When you come to the great reckoning and lay down your books, perhaps God will not
accept them. Perhaps He will cast them out as viciously kept and as being all wrong
in principle and in fact.
- 2. Hence it is important for you to consider that nothing is done to purpose
unless it be done with a right state of mind towards God; for without this, there
can be no real obedience. The state of heart is just the thing God has always required
and always must require.
- 3. Now in the light of this great law will you renew your examination and ask
-- What have I done today? Did you come to church with a heart really full of love
to God? Unless you did, you have no right to put the external act to your own credit
as a duty done for God. God requires, just as you see He ought to, that this and
every other duty be done from a spirit of real, honest devotion -- in true love,
and with an eye that looks only at His glory. Which of your duties have been performed
in this spirit? Nothing less than this can be doing duty. It is God's right to claim
that you should always devote yourself to His service with a single and pure intent
to do all His will, and to promote His glory.
- 4. Now what have you in fact done with yourself -- with your time, your talents,
your education? How many pages of your account will really meet His demands when
weighed in His balances? Wherein and when have you done all your duty? Do you think
God ought to be satisfied with your spirit in coming to meeting this morning, and
ought to have given you credit for it? Have you spent the intermission in a way to
please God? Can you write it down, saying -- Lord, Thou knowest I came with a desire
to honor Thee and to do all the good I can? Thou knowest that my eye has been single
to Thy glory?
- 5. Go back as far as you can remember and put your finger on the points when
and the things wherein you have done your duty. Consider that you have never even
approximated towards your duty save as you have earnestly sought to glorify God.
Now wherein have you respected His authority? Wherein have you regarded His feelings,
so that you can reasonably suppose He will say -- That satisfies Me? I speak to those
of you who have not gone into bankruptcy -- pleading guilty before Him, and have
thus obtained a full pardon, having your accounts canceled. To all others I speak,
and I ask -- Have you met God's will in anything? Have you, in any hour of all your
life, been in the state of mind that God requires? Take your pen, and sit down; make
up the account. With what can you credit yourself? Did you obey your parents? You
think you did. Well; with what spirit? With what purpose towards God? If we could
sit down together -- you with your pen in hand, and search out these things to the
bottom, and consider the state of mind requisite in real duty, it might make some
revelations to your mind of points unnoticed before. We would ask -- What duties
have you really done towards your fellow-men? You may be saying -- "Although
I cannot set down any credits on my side towards God, yet I certainly can as towards
men. I know I have been honest with man."
- 6. Have you indeed? God has a right to demand of you towards men, even, unselfish
benevolence. Have you had it? Have you been as unwilling to believe evil of your
brother as to have him believe it of you? Have you treated his good name as you would
have him treat yours? Have you been as jealous for his honor as for your own? Has
the same been your habit and your life towards all men? Or has your justice towards
your fellow-men been mere selfishness? You have not cheated your neighbor, you say;
but if you lack the principle of honesty -- just that principle which will make you
honest and upright towards God, it is absurd to suppose you have real honesty towards
men. You have not done your duty towards your neighbor if you have neglected duty
towards your God. "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much,"
and on a similar principle, he that is unjust in the great things (towards God) will
not fail to be unjust in the least things -- those that look towards fellow-men.
- 7. What have you done that is all right? Say, what? Got my lessons, you say.
But with what motive and for what end? Was it done for the honor of it to yourself
or for the honor of God? Did you come here to college, for God, or for yourself?
Did you consult God's interests in that thing, or only your own? Did you ask Him
if you should come; or did you come without any such enquiry? What education you
get, do you faithfully use for Him? You have done thousands of things in the course
of your life; but which one of them all for God? What have you done for Him in the
family where you live?
III. The question to which we must continually return is this -- What has been
the foundation-motive for this act?
- 1. I have asked you repeatedly -- Have you done for God any service which you
think He ought to accept? Let me hold the Bible before you and you may lay your hand
on it and swear. Do you honestly believe that you can lay your hand on this Bible,
and swear that you think you have done your life-duty, so that God ought to accept
it? Sometimes men are called on to swear to their accounts. I call on you in the
same manner; I put you under oath. Is your account correct? Do you honestly believe
it to be true and honest? So you feel sure that God ought to accept it? Have you
done anything which you can really accept yourself? And if you cannot accept it,
sincerely approving both the act itself and it's motive, then you could not accept
it in God if He should approve it. How could He approve what you cannot, and yet
be respected by the angels, and respected too by Himself?
- 2. God is infinitely fair-minded. If you were the veriest child and had an honest
intention, God would approve it. He is not exacting, is not captious, is never fault-finding.
He can never try to bear down on you with His great power. But have you really been
simple-hearted and child-like? That is the real question. God forbid that I should
represent Him as over-bearing and exacting. No; He is fair-minded and even generous,
as far as He honestly can be.
- 3. But let me ask you, if in truth you are not in a state of hopeless bankruptcy
-- just in the case of one who has paid nothing and never can pay anything. Sometimes
men in business get into debt, and cannot get out with any amount of struggling.
It is even so with you. Deeply in debt; never able to do anything more than keep
up with current duty; when will you ever perform any one single work of supererogation?
When can you do the first thing to set off against a life-long course of sin? O my
dear child; have you run in debt so deeply and have you nothing to pay? Why did you
not think of this before? Can you find absolutely nothing in your past life that
God can accept? Is there no prospect that you can ever pay the first farthing? Then
what can you do?
IV. This brings us to our next great point: What does God propose to do in
the case? And what does He propose to have done?
- 1. Not that you should pay the debt; He knows this to be impossible. He might
require you to pay the debt; but in fact He does not, but simply proposes to you
to take advantage of the bankrupt law. He has made such a law and under it, He offers
to forgive freely all that debt on condition that you confess judgment, accept the
boon and commit yourself absolutely to His disposal. If you will restore all that
remains and truly consecrate it to His use as you should and as you ought to have
done from the very first moral act, then He will cross out the whole account. It
shall stand as if balanced and settled, and you shall be at peace with Him.
- 2. Now what more can you ask than this? Ought not this proposition to meet all
your demands? Can it be possible that you on your part can object, if God can make
up His mind to offer such favors on such conditions? How does it strike you? What
do you think about it? Can you persist in forgetting and disregarding God's rights,
and carry out this disregard in the gospel as well as under the law? Somehow it has
strangely come to pass that many men pervert the gospel scheme entirely to their
own selfish purposes, assuming that it was gotten up solely for their special benefit,
and is nothing more or less than a vast system of indulgences!! All they want to
get from it is permission to sin at will, and exemption from its penal consequences.
Hence, not content to forget all God's rights under law, they carry the same spirit
into the gospel and here too would fain rob God of all the homage, love, and obedience
which are due Him for His redeeming mercy.
Again, will you continue to contend for your own rights, while you refuse to respect
God's? Is not such conduct outrageous? What would you think of a man here among us
who should trample on everybody else's rights, but should none the less clamor violently
for his own? Would you like the man as a neighbor who should crowd and prosecute
other men to pay him and steadfastly refuse to pay his own debts? Will you do precisely
this sort of thing towards God? Will you stringently insist on your own demands both
upon God and your fellow-beings, while yet you are reckless of His rights? Will you
deny your guilt, or make light of it? Will you call in question your desert of eternal
damnation? Will you consent to receive neither mercy nor justice? Are you prepared
to reject mercy and yet with the same breath complain of God's administration of
justice? Indeed! And do you expect to carry out your scheme and withdraw from the
government of Jehovah? He offers mercy and you scorn it. He falls back of necessity
upon justice, and you complain of that. Thinkest thou, O man, that thou shalt evade
the sweep of Jehovah's justice? Can you escape from His power, or convict His administration
Again, when you think seriously of your case, is not this seriousness produced by
a sense of danger and not by a sense of guilt? Is it not much more the fear lest
you shall be cast off and lose your soul, than the conviction of great sin and guilt
and wrong, of which you ought to repent? You think little of restoring what you have
withheld. You are even enquiring how you are to be forgiven before you have taken
the first step towards forsaking your sins and breaking them off by righteousness!
And does this look like fair dealing towards God?
Again, will you treat God's claims as last and least of all? You talk as if you were
doing all your duty, and yet you utterly neglect God and set aside His claims on
you as if they were altogether false and fictitious.
- 3. You show this often by the way you plan for the future. Has it not often been
in your heart that you would come to God and get mercy when you have become too old
to enjoy sin any longer? Virtually you assume that it will be soon enough to do right
by God when you cannot otherwise keep out of hell another day. And does not this
show how little you care for God's rights?
- 4. You put it in a little more plausible shape perhaps, but the thing itself
is the very same and not a whit the better for its fairer seeming. You say it thus;
I must attend to other matters; my lessons -- my business, the cares of life or the
pleasure I love; and when I have done with them all, then I can afford for the sake
of heaven to give to God the dregs of my existence! You can, indeed! But can God
afford to accept you then? You propose to meet all other claims first; your own,
your neighbor's, everybody's; and let God's come at the very last end of your life!
Does this seem to you like fair dealing towards God? If anybody must be neglected,
you say let it be God! If any claims must be shuffled off contemptuously, let it
Do you flatter yourself that this treatment of God will conciliate His good will,
and put your relations in a shape favorable for your final blessedness?
Once more; can you for one moment doubt that you must utterly fail to meet your obligations?
Are you not certain of bankruptcy? Are you not shut up to it, past all escape? Then
why will you not now acknowledge your sins; restore all that remains; and cast yourself
at once on His clemency? He wants you to do this now! O come; give up the last thing
you have, and throw yourself on His great mercy!
- 5. This offer is only for a season. There is a limit to it; none can tell how
near! Do you say -- Then I will go on and yet increase my debt? Can you do that deliberately
and with your eyes open? Then you can regard your salvation as miserably cheap and
of little worth. Perhaps you incline to think so. The word of God has long since
said -- "He that scorneth, he alone must bear it."
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).
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