What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > On Following Christ by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture V
On Following Christ

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
June 9, 1858

Lecture V.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--John 21:22: "Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me."

These words Christ spake to Peter. He had previously given Peter to understand that in his advanced life his liberty would be restrained, and that he would have the honor of glorifying God by a martyr's death. A question arose in Peter's mind -- more curious than wise -- how it would fare with his fellow disciple, John. So he enquires -- "Lord, what shall this man do?" Gently rebuking this idle inquisitiveness, Jesus replied -- "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me."

1. This reply involves a principle, and hence it has a wide practical application. It is really addressed to us.

2. Assuming it to be thus addressed to all at the present day, what does it teach? What does Jesus say to us?

Suppose He stood where I do this moment and you knew it to be Jesus Himself, and saw that He was preparing to speak. You see the halo of glory around His head; you note the blending of meekness and majesty that identifies Him most fully as one like unto the Son of God, and your whole soul is moved within you to catch every word He may utter. Oh what an earnest expectation! If He were to speak in this house, you would hear the ticking of that clock more plainly than you now do. If you chanced not to catch every word distinctly, you would ask one and another -- What did He say! What was that!

I. What is this command?

II. What now should be the attitude of our minds?

III. What is this thing which He requires?

IV. What is implied in obeying this command?

V. Why shall we follow Him?

VI. Will you set yourself to find some excuse? What are your excuses?

I. He speaks, you observe, in the form of a positive command; what is this command?

Remember, if it be the Lord Jesus Christ, He has the right to command. Who else in earth or heaven has this right more absolutely than He? It must be of the utmost consequence to us to know what He does command us. Whatever it be, it must vitally affect our well-being both to know and to do it. Words from one so benevolent must be for our good. Certainly, He never did speak, but He said things for the good of those to whom He spake.

All these points must be assumed and admitted. How can we ever doubt a moment on any one of them? This then is the state of the case.

II. What now should be the attitude of our minds?

III. Now let us ask -- What is this thing which He requires?

He says -- "Follow thou Me." What does this mean? Must I leave my home? Must I abandon my business? Am I to change my residence? Am I to follow Him all over the land?

IV. But here let us enquire somewhat more fully, What is implied in obeying this command?

V. Let us next enquire -- WHY shall we follow Him?

Suppose Christ were here personally and from this desk announced this command -- Follow thou Me. Would you ask to know why? You could very soon assign some weighty reasons. Your own mind would suggest them. And do you know any reasons why you should not follow Him? I presume it is settled in every mind why you should obey this command now and here, without one moment's delay. Is there any of you that can assign any reason why you should not obey this command? Does any of you doubt at all whether this be your duty? Can you think of any reason why it is not?

Do you not owe this to Him? Can any one of you deny this? Have you any right to live to yourselves? If you could gain some good for the moment, could you think it right to have your own way, and disown Christ? What if you were to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?

VI. Jesus Christ says to you -- "Follow thou Me." Will you set yourself to find some excuse? What are your excuses?

Ah but you do know. It is only a pitiful pretense when you say you don't know your duty. Who of you does not know enough to be simple-hearted and to go on in duty and please God? No opinions of men need stumble you if you simply follow Christ. You talk about the various opinions among Christian sects; but differ much as they may in lesser matters, on the great things of salvation, they are all agreed. They all agree essentially, that to follow Christ in confidence and simple love is the whole of duty and will ensure His approbation. Follow this simple direction, and all will be well with you.

You do, indeed! Will they all become like Christ before they die? Do they all in fact become holy in this world? Christ is in heaven. Can you go there unless you become first like Him in heart and in life?

What is such a belief good for? Often has this question been forced on my mind in Boston -- what is this belief that all men will be saved, good for? People plead this belief as their excuse for not following Christ, "since we shall all come right at last any how." Can this belief make men holy and happy? Some of you will answer -- "It makes me happy for the present, and that is the most I care for." But does it make you holy? Does it beget true Christian self-denial and real benevolence? A faith and a practice which make you happy without being holy are but a poor thing. Indeed, it cannot fail of being utterly mischievous, because it lures and pleases without the least advance towards saving your soul. It only leaves you the more a slave of sin and Satan.

What then? What if it does make you feel unhappy? It may make you unhappy to see your guilty friend sent to the penitentiary or the gallows now; but such a doom may be none the less deserved -- none the less certain, because it hurts your feelings.

How can there be any other way of final happiness save through real holiness? The fountain of all happiness must lie in your own soul. If that is renewed to holiness and made unselfish, loving, forgiving, humble -- then you will be happy of course, but you cannot be happy without such a character.

Yes you do; you are altogether mistaken in regard to the matter if you suppose you don't believe in the necessity of a change of heart. There cannot be such a man in all Christendom -- a man who does not know that by nature his heart is not right with God; yet that it must become right with God before he can enjoy God's presence in heaven. Is there one whose conscience does not testify that, before conversion, his heart is alienated from God? Do you not know that you are unlike God in spirit and that you must be changed so as to become like God before you can enjoy Him? What! a sinner, knowing himself to be a sinner, believe he can be happy in God's presence without a radical moral change! Impossible! Every man knows that the sinner, out of sympathy with God, must be changed before he can enjoy God's presence and love. Every man, unchanged by God's grace, knows himself to be a sinner and not holy by nature.

A case in point to show the force of truth on even hardened hearts, came lately to my knowledge. A Christian lady being on a visit to one of the towns in Canada, was called on by a gentleman of high standing in society, but who had always lived a prayerless, ungodly life. A man of strong will and nerves, professedly a skeptic, he yet took the ground before this Christian lady that he was ready, as a means of becoming a Christian, to do any thing that she should say. Well, then, said she, kneel down here and cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." "What!" replied he, "do this when I don't believe myself a sinner?" You need not excuse yourself on that ground, said she, for you know you are a sinner. Having passed his word of honor to a lady, he could not draw back, and therefore kneeled and repeated the proposed words. Arising, he asked, what next? Do so again; and say the same words. He raised the old objection -- I don't believe myself a sinner. She made the same answer as before, and a second time he repeated the words of that prayer. The same things were said -- the same thing done, the third time, and then, hardened as he was, his heart felt the force of those words, and he began to cry in earnest -- "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" His heart broke, and he prayed till mercy came!

So often, when men say they don't believe this and that, they do believe it so far as conviction is concerned. They know the truth respecting their own guilt.

No, my friend; no other duties can come before this. This is the greatest duty and ought to be the first. Hear what the Savior said on this very point. He said to one man -- "Follow Me;" and he answered -- "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." This is a strong case, and is placed on record for our instruction because it is strong. It may seem to you very unnatural that Jesus would call any man away from a duty so obvious and so inborn in every human heart; yet what did He say? He gave no heed to this plea, but answered -- "Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Not even the last rites of burial to the dead, must be allowed to stand before obedience to Christ's call. No doubt Christ saw a disposition in this man to plead off, and therefore, He saw the necessity of meeting it promptly. Suppose the man had said at first, "Yes, Lord, I am ready; my father lies unburied; but I am ready if Thou callest me, to follow Thee even now;" it is at least supposable if not probable, that Jesus would have answered -- Yes; I will go with thee to that funeral. Let us lay the dead solemnly in their last bed, and then go to our preaching.

Another man replied to his call, saying, "Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at home in my house." To him, Jesus replied, "No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Thus Christ teaches that no duty can possibly come before this of giving up your heart to follow Him. You must make up your mind fully to this life-business, and really enter upon it -- else all things else are only an offence to God.

Do you say, I must study? You must first make up your mind to do all for Christ, else study can be no acceptable duty. When Jesus says to you -- "My son, give Me thy heart," He wants nothing else instead of your heart. He does not wish to be put off with some other duty, than the very one He calls for. When He says -- "Follow Me;" He demands an explicit answer, whether you will or not, and He cannot accept anything evasive.


1. You are now, each one of you, called to follow Christ, with the implied pledge on His part, that if you give yourself to Him, He will give Himself to you. Think of that. Would it not be a blessed thing to have Christ give Himself to you, to be your eternal Friend -- your Portion and Joy forever?

Suppose Jesus were passing along here, and were calling one and another by name to follow Him. When He came near you, would you not be saying in your heart -- "I hope He will certainly call me"? Or can it be you would say -- "I hope He will not call me!" Can it be you could say that? Would you not rather say -- Oh is it possible He will pass me by; how awful! Can it be? And if so, shall I never see Him passing by so near again?

O sinner, Jesus is now passing by you, so near; arise and speak to Him for He does call you; and you must decide now whether you will follow Him or not -- and decide for eternity!

2. Don't think about others. Say not as Peter said -- "Lord, what shall this man do?" This is an old and artful device of your adversary -- this turning your mind to think about others. If you are wise, you will think about yourself only.

3. It is a great comfort to reach the point where you say -- I will follow Him any how, let others do as they please. I will go after Christ. This is just what you should say; and when you come to this point with a full heart, you will find it is a most precious decision.

4. You are now called to decide your own future destiny. Some decision upon it you will certainly make. You take a step here today which may decide all your future being. Is it not well that you take this step right?

(1.) Suppose I should now say -- Come, separate yourselves according to the decision you make. All ye who will follow Christ, come into this aisle; what will you do?

(2.) Will you refuse and say -- I will not follow Christ yet; I have ends of my own to accomplish first; I will not be His servant now? Is this your decision? Shall we ask to have it put on record? It will go on record any how, whether you ask it or not.

(3.) Some of you will perhaps say -- I will not decide just now. I did not come here today expecting to decide so great a question at this time.

What, indeed! Did not you expect to hear a gospel sermon today? And did you not know that in every gospel sermon there is in fact a gospel call on you to repent and follow Jesus?

(4.) But will you now turn again and say -- "Lord, I can't understand, I cannot realize why I should follow Thee." Don't say that; for you can understand it. And you can decide this question today.

But says some young man -- If I should go after Him, I am afraid I should have to forego some of my favorite plans for life. I might have to give up my intended profession. Another might be debarred from some lucrative business that pays better than following Christ.

Then you can go and tell your Savior so. Tell Him how the case lies. Tell Him you cannot trust Him to provide for your worldly interests. You are afraid He would send you also to preach the kingdom of God, and might pay you but poorly for your services. Perhaps He will excuse you from His service here and from entering into the joy of your Lord hereafter besides!

(5.) There is a young man who says -- I can't follow Christ now, because I cannot leave my dear Christian mother. Then go upon your knees and spread out your excuse before the Lord. Say to Him -- My good mother gave me the best Christian instruction and her constant prayers; she did every thing to make me Thy servant; but now since Thou art calling me to follow Thee, I find I cannot go and preach Thy love to a dying world. She cannot spare me and I cannot leave her.

Indeed, you cannot afford to. And your pious mother thinks her claim is above that of the Savior! Well, you must both make your choice.


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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