||delphia > On Self-Denial by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
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"
April 27, 1859
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
"And He said to them all, 'If any man will come
after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
In order to understand this solemn declaration of our Lord, the first important
point to be ascertained is this --
I. What is the true idea of taking up the cross and denying one's self?
II. Why does Christ demand of us self-denial?
III. Our text says -- "Take up your cross daily."
I. What is the true idea of taking up the cross and denying one's self?
- 1. This question presupposes the existence of appetites and propensities which
call for indulgence, and then it means, obviously, that in some cases this indulgence
must be refused. This is the precise point of the text -- a man who will follow Christ
must deny himself in the sense of denying the gratification of all appetites and
propensities whenever and how far soever such gratifications are forbidden by the
law of benevolence. All impulses towards self indulgence, whether in the line of
avoiding things we fear, or seeking things we love, must be denied, and ruled down
by a determined will whenever indulgence is not demanded but is forbidden by the
law of love. Within the limits of God's law, these constitutional appetites may be
indulged; beyond those limits, they must be denied. At whatever point they run counter
to the law of love to God or love to man, they must be put down.
- 2. The thing demanded therefore by this law of Christ's kingdom is, that you
consult and obey the will of Christ in this whole matter of self-indulgence; that
you obey neither desire nor appetite -- that you never gratify your love of approbation
-- never seek any forms of personal enjoyment in disobedience to Christ. You must
never do this where duty is known, lest you displease God, for plainly He has rightful
control over all your powers.
- 3. Under this principle you must do all your duty to your fellow men -- whether
to their bodies or to their souls, denying all those worldly desires and propensities
which would conflict with this duty, making Jesus Christ Himself your model and His
expressed will your perpetual rule.
II. The question will arise in many minds -- Why does Christ demand of us self-denial?
- 1. Is it because God loves to see us self-mortified -- because He takes pleasure
in crucifying the sensibilities to enjoyment which He has given us? By no means.
But the true answer is to be found in the fact that He has made us rational and moral
beings -- our rational faculties being intended for the control of our entire voluntary
activities, and our moral nature rendering us properly responsible for the self-control
which God requires. In the lower orders of creation around us, we see animals void
of moral responsibility because they are constituted irrational and incapable of
responsible moral action. To them, propensity must be law, because they can know
no other. But we have a higher law to obey than they. Their highest good is promoted
by their obedience to mere physical law; but not so with us. Our sensibilities are
blind, and therefore were never intended to be our rule of life. To supply such a
rule, God has given us intelligence and conscience. Appetite therefore cannot be
our rule, while it can and must be the rule of all the lower, irrational animals.
- 2. Now it is a fact that our sensibilities are out of harmony with our conscience,
often clamoring for indulgence which both reason and conscience forbid.
If we give ourselves up to the sway of appetite and unguided sensibility, we are
surely misled. These appetites grow worse by indulgence, a fact which of itself shows
that God never intended them to be our rule. Often artificial appetites are formed,
of such a nature, moreover, as to be exceedingly pernicious in their effects.
Hence we are thrown into a state of warfare. Constant appeals are made to us to arouse
our propensities to indulgence; and over against these, constant appeals are made
by the law of God and the voice of our reason, urging us to deny ourselves and find
our highest good in obeying God. God and reason require us to withstand the claims
of appetite sternly and firmly. Note here that God does not require this withstanding,
without vouchsafing His aid in the conflict. It is remarkable how the resolute opposition
of any appetite, in the name of Christ and under the demands of conscience will readily
overcome it. Cases often occur in which the most clamorous and despotic of these
artificial appetites are ruled down by the will, under the demands of conscience
and with the help of God. At once they lie, all subdued, and the mind remains in
- 3. Here let us consider more attentively that we are conscious of having a spiritual
and moral nature as well as a physical. We have a conscience, and we have affections
correlated to God, as truly as we have affections correlated to earthly things. There
is a beauty in holiness, and there are things correlated to our spiritual tastes
as truly as to our physical. Under proper care and effort, our religious nature may
be developed towards God, even as our physical nature is towards earthly objects.
We are social beings in our earthly relations and not less so in our spiritual nature.
We are social spiritually as well as physically, though we may not be aware of it,
because our spiritual sociality may have been utterly uncultivated and undeveloped.
But we really need divine communion with God and social fellowship with our Infinite
Maker. Prior to regeneration this moral capacity of ours is a waste. All men have
a conscience and may be aware of it, but they have no spiritual affections towards
God, and hence they assume that religion must be a very dry thing. They cannot see
how they can enjoy God's presence and prayer. They are all awake to earthly fellowship
and friendship, but dead to fellowship and friendship with God. Their love in the
form of affection has been drawn out towards man but not towards God. They seem not
aware that they have a nature capable of being developed in loving affections towards
their divine Father. Hence they do not see how they can ever enjoy religion and religious
duties. The coldness of death comes over their souls when they think of it.
- 4. This spiritual side of our nature needs to be cultivated. It has been so long
kept back and crushed down, it greatly needs to be brought up. But in order to do
this and develop the spiritual side of our nature, it is indispensable that the worldly
side be crushed and brought under. For flesh is a dangerous foe to grace. There is
no harmony, but only repellency and antagonism between the earthly affections and
the heavenly. Unless we subdue the flesh we shall die. It is only when, through the
Spirit, we mortify the deeds of the body that we can live.
The Roman church has in past ages distinguished itself for its mortifications
of the flesh -- externally considered. These mortifications have thrown off the Protestant
world into the opposite extreme. Among all the Protestant sermons I have heard, I
do not recollect one on the subject of bearing the cross and denying one's self.
I must think that this subject is exceedingly neglected among our Protestant churches.
Papal Rome having run wild with this idea, Protestants have taken fright and run
off into the opposite extreme. Therefore we need a special effort to guard against
this tendency and to bring us back to reason, sense and scripture.
Until I was converted I never knew that I had any religious affections. I did not
even know that I had any capacity for spontaneous, deep, outgushing emotions towards
God. This was indeed a dark and fearful ignorance, and you may readily suppose I
knew little of real joy while my soul was so perfectly ignorant of the very idea
of real spiritual joy. But I take it this absence of all right ideas of God is by
no means uncommon. If you search, you will find this to be the common experience
of unconverted men.
- 5. We all know that the gratification of our animal nature is pleasure -- not
the highest sort indeed, yet is a kind of pleasure. How much more must the gratification
of our nobler moral affections be joyful! When the soul comes to feast on its spiritual
affections, it begins to taste real happiness -- a bliss like that of heaven! I fear
many have never comprehended what the Bible means by "blessedness."
- 6. Now let it be well considered that the spiritual side of our nature can be
developed and gratified only by a benevolent crossing of our appetites -- a crossing
of them, I mean, under the demands of real benevolence towards our fellow men and
towards God. This must be our aim, for if we make our personal happiness the end,
we can never attain to the exalted joy of true fellowship with God.
It is curious to see how the sensibility is related to self-denial, so that denying
ourselves from right motives becomes the natural and necessary means of developing
our spiritual affections. Beginning with taking up the cross, one goes on from step
to step, ruling down self-indulgences and self-gratification, and opening his heart
more and more to fellowship with God and to the riper experience of His love.
- 7. A further reason why men should deny themselves, is that it is intrinsically
right. The lower appetites ought not to govern us; the higher laws of our nature
ought to. The evidence of this is simply the evidence which proves it to be the duty
of beings created rational to use their reason and not degrade themselves down to
the level of beasts.
- 8. Another reason is that we can well afford it, for we are surely the gainers
by it. I admit that when we resist and deny the demands of self-indulgence, it goes
a short way and on a small scale, against happiness; but on the spiritual side we
gain immensely, and immensely more than we lose. The satisfaction which arises from
real self-denial is precious. It is rich in quality and deep and broad as the ocean
- 9. Many think that if they would find pleasure they must seek it directly and
make it their direct object, seeking it moreover in the gratification of their appetites.
They seem to know no other form of happiness but this. It would seem that they never
have conceived the idea that the only way to enjoy themselves really is to deny self,
fully up to the demands of right, reason, and of God's revealed will. Yet this is
the most essential law of real happiness. Where shunning the cross begins, true religion
ends. You may pray in your family; you may sternly rebuke sin wherever it is disagreeable
to yourself, and do all this without Christian self-denial; but while living in habits
of self-indulgence, you cannot stand up for Christ and do your duty everywhere manfully,
and especially you will be all weakness when the path of duty leads you where your
feelings will be wounded. And no man can expect to escape such emergencies always.
If then you would maintain the path of duty without swerving, and enjoy real life
and blessedness, you must determine to deny yourself wherever God and reason demand
it, and fully up to the extent of those demands. So will you gain more than you can
lose. If you are firm and determined, your path will be easy and joyous.
- 10. It often happens that the entire drift of a Christian's feelings is towards
self-indulgence, so that if he allowed himself to be guided by his feelings he would
surely make shipwreck of his soul. God, on His part, shuts him up to simple faith.
Then if he follows the Lord's guidance, he will triumph, and all suddenly his "soul
is like the chariots of Amminadab." A case in point is now before my mind of
a man who once lived here. After a period of Christian life, he went from our place,
backslid from God sorely, became almost an infidel, quite a Swedenborgian, became
wealthy, and just when you might suppose him to have gained the heights of earthly
happiness, and when he supposed so himself, he became, instead completely wretched.
He was forced to fall back upon himself and say -- I must return to God and do His
will -- the whole of it, whatever it may be, or I shall utterly perish. I will, said
he, put an extinguisher upon every worldly affection. Nothing that is hostile to
God's will shall be tolerated a moment. No sooner had he done this than all his religious
life and joys came back again. Then his wife and neighbors began to say of him, "He
is indeed a new man in Christ Jesus." From that day, the peace of God ruled
in his heart and his cup of joy was full to overflowing. Any man, therefore, can
afford to deny himself, since thereby he opens his heart to the joys of immortal
life and peace. This is the only way of real happiness.
- 11. This subject explains many of the otherwise strange facts of Christian experience.
Here is one man who cannot pray before his family. Enquire more deeply into his case
and you will probably find that he cannot enjoy anything in religious duty. Enquire
yet further into the cause and you will find that he does not deny himself, but lives
under the laws of self-indulgence. Poor man, he cannot please God so!
- 12. Another cannot come out and confess Christ before men. The truth probably
is that he has not made up his mind to deny himself at all. On the contrary, he really
denies Christ. He shuns the cross. Ah, that is not the way to heaven. In that path
you can have no communion with God. Try it a thousand times and you will still find
the same result, no peace, and no communion with God.
III. Our text says -- 'Take up your cross daily."
- 1. So you must. This is the only possible way of holy living. And it must be
done firmly, sternly and continually. It must be made your life-work, save as you
gain a respite by substantial victory over your propensities to self-indulgence.
Let a man attempt to rule down the appetite for alcoholic drinks, and do it at special
seasons only, say once a day, or once in a week, while all the rest of the time he
gives himself to full indulgence, he must utterly fail. He never can succeed unless
he takes up his cross daily and bears it all the time. Absolutely he must persevere,
or his efforts are all for nought. Precisely in proportion as we sternly take up
our cross, it grows light and we grow strong to bear it. When a man indulges himself
in tobacco, each day's indulgence makes him more a slave. On the contrary, each successive
day's abstinence makes him more a conqueror. If a man resolutely declares -- By the
help of God, no lust, no appetite, shall have dominion over me -- then holding on,
he comes off conqueror. The more firmly you adhere to this principle and the more
steadily you rule down the clamors for self-indulgence, so much the more speedily
and surely do you gain the victory. Although at first you take up this work tremblingly,
if you hold on, you will gain ground. These appetites will take less and less hold
upon you. Bearing your cross will itself make you strong for your toil in the Christian
- 2. Shunning the cross grieves the Spirit. If you neglect duty, if you fail to
pray in your family, omitting it perhaps because you have company present, you may
be very sure the Spirit of God is grieved. Satan throws these temptations in your
path, and you give him every advantage against you. You will perhaps try to pray
while in this state; but, oh! God is not with you! You have been placed where you
should have done some things unpleasant to flesh and blood; you evaded the claims
of present duty; you went to bed at night without doing your duty. How was it then
with your soul? Did not dark clouds shut off the light of God's face? Did you have
any comfort of His presence? Or any communion with your Savior? Pause and ask your
heart for the answer.
1. So long as the religious sensibilities are not developed, men will of course feel
a strong demand for worldly affections. What do they know about the religious affections
of the heart? What do they know of real love to God, or of the consciousness of the
Spirit's witness to their hearts that they are God's children? Really nothing. They
have never crossed their sensual propensities. Of course they have not taken the
first step towards developing the heavenly affections of the heart. Consequently
all their enjoyments are earthly. Their hearts are only below. But just in proportion
as they deny themselves do they fall into adjustment to their spiritual nature.
2. It is a great and blessed thing for the Christian to find his nature conformed
progressively more and more to God; to find it manifestly coming round right and
adjusting itself under divine grace, to the demands of benevolence.
3. Cross bearing, persisted in, brings out a ripe spiritual culture. The soul longs
intensely for spiritual manifestations and loves communion with God. Hear him say
-- How sweet the memory of those scenes when my soul lay low before God! How did
my heart enjoy His presence! Now I am always sensible of an aching void unless God
4. When men go about to seek enjoyment as an end, they surely miss it. All such seeking
must certainly be in vain. Benevolence leads the soul out of itself, and sets it
upon making others happy. So real blessedness comes.
5. Your usefulness as Christians will be as your cross bearing and as your firmness
in this course of life. For your knowledge in spiritual things, your spiritual vitality,
your communion with God and, all in one word, your aid from the Holy Ghost, must
turn upon the fidelity with which you deny yourself.
6. If you have once known the blessedness of spiritual life, and your heart has been
molded into the image of the heavenly, you can no longer return to the miserable
flesh-pots of Egypt. There is no longer any possibility of your enjoying earthly
things as the portion of your soul. Let that be considered settled. Abandon at once
and forever all further thought of finding your joys in worldly, selfish indulgences.
7. To the young, let me say, your sensibilities are quick and lean to worldly things.
Now is the time for you to be stern in dealing with your self-indulgent spirit before
you have gone too far ever to succeed. Are you strongly tempted to give way to self-indulgence?
Remember it is an unalterable law of your nature that you must seek your peace and
blessedness in God. You cannot find it elsewhere. You must have Jesus for your friend,
or be eternally friendless. Your very nature demands that you seek God as your God
-- the King of your life -- the Portion of your soul for happiness. You cannot find
Him such to you save as you deny yourself, take up your daily cross, and follow Jesus.
8. To those of you who being yet in your sins, cannot conceive how you can ever enjoy
God, and cannot even imagine how your heart can cleave to God, and call Him a thousand
endearing names, and pour out your heart in love to Jesus, let me beg of you to consider
that there is such communion with God -- there is such joy of His presence, and you
may have it at the price of self-denial and whole-hearted devotion to Jesus; not
otherwise. And why should you not make this choice? Already you are saying -- every
cup of worldly pleasure is blasted -- dried up and worthless. Then let them go. Bid
them away, and make the better choice of pleasures that are purer far and better
and which endure forever.
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