What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > God's Wrath Against Those Who Withstand His Truth by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture XII
God's Wrath Against Those Who
Withstand His Truth

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"
November 10, 1858

Lecture XII.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Rom. 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."

Every word of this impressive passage demands attentive consideration. It would seem that there is no end to its pointed and pungent applications to the practical life of men.

I. What is meant here by "holding the truth"?

II. What is it to "hold the truth in unrighteousness"?

III. What shall we understand in our text by "the wrath of God"?

IV. How is this wrath of God against such unrighteousness revealed?

V. What is meant by "ungodliness"?

VI. Why is this terrible language used against this sin?

VII. Not only does this sinner care not for God; he cares nothing for the universal good.

I. Let us enquire what is meant here by "holding the truth"?

II. What is it to "hold the truth in unrighteousness"?

The meaning of this is often not well understood, and therefore should be carefully considered.

III. What shall we understand in our text by "the wrath of God"?

Not any selfish anger, for God has none, and never can have; but a benevolent displeasure, such as a holy and good being must feel towards a wrong so monstrous. Would not you be greatly displeased with such conduct towards yourself? If a man honestly owed you, and yet was reckless of his obligation, would not you think his conduct an outrage, and would you not be greatly displeased? And would you not feel deeply that you have reason for the displeasure you feel? Certainly, and by how much the more holy you are, by so much the more deeply and surely will you be displeased.

IV. How is this wrath of God against such unrighteousness revealed?

V. Our text says -- "God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness." What is meant by "ungodliness"?

VI. Let us also ask -- Why is this terrible language used against this sin?

To be sure, that dishonest man may pay his debts at the bank, lest else it might ruin his credit, and forbid his getting more money; but suppose you could not reach him with the sense of moral obligation; then would you not say -- he is the perfection of a villain!

Now what do you say? Is it wonderful that God should speak thus against this sin of all sins? Against him who says -- I do not care for God! Let Him say what He will and do what He will, I care not for my obligations to obey Him!

VII. There is still another point of view from which to contemplate this sin. Not only does this sinner care not for God; he cares nothing for the universal good.

Now ought not God to be displeased with you? Could you respect Him if He were not? Surely, you would say, He is not fit to govern the universe! Nay, He is worse than the sinner since He knows infinitely more.

Now I put this to your conscience, could you exonerate God from great blame if He were to be indifferent to such a sin as this of disowning moral obligation?

Remember, I am not speaking now of open vice, in itself intrinsically hateful and disgusting; but of declining to obey -- of falling short of duty. What would you think of your children if they were to do just that thing towards you -- uniformly fail and refuse to obey your commands, or respect their obligations to you?

Since God feels thus, it behoves Him to express it; why not? What less than this could He reasonably do? Of the wicked God says -- "Whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." You may hear it rolling like distant thunder. O how terrible when it shall break forth in one eternal storm!

Long time Mercy has been holding back the uplifted arm of Justice, while God's heart has been heaving with holy indignation -- so long that you are even thinking He will never arise to vengeance. "Thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee and set them in order before thine eyes."


1. This sin is the very essence of all wickedness, because it is the mind resisting the truth and refusing obedience to it when most pressed to obey. It involves therefore the utmost dishonesty. It is withholding your good will from the universe.

Sinner, did you ever think of this, when you refuse to work for God and to feel with Him for the good of the universe -- what if my refusal should really frustrate His benevolent plans? What then? Would not that be an infinite mischief, an untold calamity? But if you refuse to work with Him -- if you set yourself against His plans, no thanks to you that your course does not frustrate all God's benevolence towards the universe! So far as you can do it, it is done, and you have the responsibility of doing all you can to make the universe infinitely wretched, both God and all His creatures.

You think it would be very hard in God to shut you out of heaven -- to say to you as to the rich man, "Son, remember that thou in thy life time receivedst thy good things -- and there are no more for thee!" But why should not He do this? You do not love God's happiness, nor that of your fellow men. You flatly disown all your obligations to do either. You refuse to seek your neighbor's good; no thanks to you if he does not lie down in everlasting sorrow.

Of course in holding back the truth, you set the worst example possible, for more men lose their souls by neglect than by open vice. To set them this example therefore is to tempt them in their weakest, most susceptible point.

2. The more enlightened men are, the greater is their guilt. Sometimes I have had such views of the sins of many here in this matter, that I cannot think of preaching anything else. Some say -- No place like Oberlin -- such Sabbaths, such religious privileges! Yet for all this, it may be the wickedest place on earth, just because it is so highly favored of God with gospel light.

The Jews thought there was nothing like their beloved city -- "beautiful for its situation, the joy of the whole earth;" but yet how terribly did God pour out the vials of His wrath even on that once holy city! He punished them as He rarely ever punished any other nation. Men often bless themselves for their morality and for their gospel privileges; yet who can measure the guilt of those that know their duty so well, yet will not do it! They are like those who will not pay their debts, yet boast of being very moral and very civil. Hear them boast -- We do nothing very bad; to be sure we never mean to pay out debts, but we are not openly vicious. What would you say of such hypocrites? More than once, when I have attended meetings and have heard Christians confess their backslidings, I have asked -- Do you mean to defend that? Do you intend to go on living so? It is awful to hear men say -- "We know our duty, but we do not do it." Especially so, when they make great professions also, and insist that they hope in Christ. How shocking to hear one confess, as I once heard a man, "Lord, we have sinned against Thee all the day tomorrow; O Lord, forgive us!" What does this mean? Does he assume that he cannot help it? If this be true, why does God condemn men for holding the truth in unrighteousness? I know very well he would have said -- "O, I do as well as I can." If that is true, why does he confess that he is not doing as well as he can -- that is -- why does he confess his sin? Can God respect those who say they are sinning all the time when they do not believe it to be so?

On this point men stop their enquires just where they should not. Certainly they ought to pursue the enquiry till they ascertain what is not sin. For example your neighbor says -- "You owe me." You reply -- "Perhaps not; let us see." You go on and examine till you find how the case is. So you should. So men should do towards God. But suppose you find that you owe your neighbor, and then you stop there and refuse to pay. That is the most provoking place to stop -- the whole question of debt and consequently of duty, being settled, but nothing more done. This is the way many treat God -- the way they shamefully abuse Him!

O sinner; never more complain of your fellow men for not fulfilling their obligations to you while you deny yours to God! Say to yourself -- "It will be soon enough for me to complain of any creature in the universe when I have ceased to repudiate my obligations to God! How can I stand before this appalling fact! Certainly I know I ought to be treated as the universal enemy of God and all the good."

Indeed, if the sinner's eyes were open, he would see God's awful wrath kindling up ready to burst upon his guilty head.

Backslider, is it you? How old is your love? Ye who once plighted your faith and gave to God your right hand, where are you? Have you gone back to sin and shame? God calling after you and you fleeing -- what shall He say to you? Even now His voice rings in your ear -- "Return, O backsliding daughter, for I am married to you." And where are you? Gone after other lovers! Oh shame! What can be more dishonorable -- more shameful!

3. You can see why it is that many persons here seem to grow more and more hardened in sin. It is because they take no action under the pressure of truth upon their heart and conscience. Is it any wonder that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all such sinners? Think now, will you do the very same thing again today? Again, will you practically say -- "I know my duty, but I will not do it." You recollect that Pollock represents the sinner wailing in hell, as hearing continually an echoing response to his agonizing groans -- "Ye knew your duty, but ye did it not." This, O sinner must be the answer forever to all your wailings of sorrow in the world or woe. Sometimes the image of some one, once a dear friend on earth, will come up before my mind as he drinks of the cup of everlasting woe, and I see him fleeing to escape, but the waves of damnation follow hard after him and he is overwhelmed before them! Alas that he did not yield his soul to the claims of truth when he might! I have not often preached on the subject of God's eternal wrath against sinners. Perhaps I have not preached about it as much as I ought to have done. O sinner, when that dreadful wrath shall have fully come, whither can you flee for succor and where can you hide?

While I was in New York many years ago I had a dream which made a strong impression on my mind. I never give heed at all to dreams, save as they serve to impress great truths; then they are of real use. In this dream, I heard awful thunders in one direction. Going to look out upon the face of the sky in that quarter, I was startled to find that the awful cloud had wholly overspread the sky and the thunders rolled from every quarter -- the whole heavens seeming to be a burning mass of flame. Turning my eye downward to the earth, I saw the public square and all the streets, far as the eye could reach, crowded full of men and women, on their knees, wailing in utter agony and terror. I rushed out and pressed my way among them to offer Christ to their agonized souls. Look here, said I, how can you know but you may find mercy in Jesus, even now! Possibly it may yet be in time! But to my amazement and grief, not one would hear me! Alas! Despair was upon them! Her iron grasp had seized upon their souls and there was no escape. Then I saw as I never had before, why sinners cannot and will not repent in the world of despair.

4. I sometimes hear persons sneer at the idea of "the wrath of the Lamb." May God help them see their madness! If the Lamb of God who dies for sinners becomes the Lion of His wrath, so much the more awful must His vengeance be! Sinner, will you still go on, resisting all the claims of God and holding back His truth so that it shall never save your soul? Having done this all your life thus far, will you do it yet again? How awful! Before God, I charge you today with the great crime of all crimes -- holding back the truth of God from its legitimate influence on your soul. Do you ask what truth? This: Salvation possible today -- offered freely to your dying soul. God calling for the free consecration of your heart, and you refusing. God saying, Come; and your soul responding, No! No salvation, no yielding of my heart to Jesus! When Jesus lifts up His melting voice, saying, "Come unto Me for life," you answer No; Thou shalt not have my heart; Thou shalt not have my soul." This is your ground. All the day long, this is your position. "I will not give God my heart. I will not have salvation at such a price." O how unutterably horrible!


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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