What Saith the Scripture?

On Leaving One's First Love- No. 2
(This 2-part sermon was listed in the Table of Contents of the "Oberlin Evangelist" as "Spiritual Declension")

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture IV
August 15
, 1860

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Rev. 2:4: "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."

In speaking from this text, I was to enquire --

I. What the first love of the Christian really is;

II. How this may be distinguished from spurious religion;

III. How the true love of any Christian may be infallibly known;

IV. When it may truly be said that persons have left their first love;

V. Let us next enquire how Christians come to lose their first love;

VI. Show the consequences of this sin.

Three of these points, first in order, have been already considered. We now come to the fourth.

IV. When may it truly be said that Christians have left their first love?

The state in which one has left his first love is far different, and almost the opposite of that which I have just described. If you were to recall each separate characteristic of a convert's first love, you would find the corresponding characteristics of one who has left his first love right over against them. Whereas the former did not need the constraint of law and precept to induce him to obey, but obedience was spontaneous, in the latter case obedience has ceased to be spontaneous, and the man needs to be coerced by the scourge of law and penalty to induce him to obey. When you detect this in yourself, you may know you have left your first love.

But after he has left his first love, he neglects God and his worship. He naturally neglects secret prayer. He can be absent from the communion of the supper and from the worship of God in the Sabbath Congregation. When you see this neglect, whether in yourself or in another, you may safely infer that "first love" has gone.

Now when professed Christians are inclined to neglect their Bibles, and their accustomed times and places of social worship, and when they need to be preached to earnestly, and almost sternly, to bring them to even a reluctant attendance, you may know their first love is gone. The Christian in his first love cannot be induced to neglect such meetings. Sometimes he will go though very much unwell. No trifling excuses will be made for non-attendance. He will not allow the demands of business to detain him. Serving God with them is always above and more than business. Nay, business is all made subordinate to serving God, so much so that he would do no business at all if he could not honestly serve and please God in and by it.

The former has a universal zeal for God and his cause. The reason is, his heart is there. In the case of the latter, all zeal seems to have died out. If you ever get him to speak about religion, you will readily see that he has no heart in it.

But when first love has languished, how irritable! How uncharitable! How many bickerings! How full of heart-burnings! Where these feelings exist, you may know the heart is far from God.

He will perhaps say in self-vindication -- The man greatly abused me! Indeed! Then hear the dying Savior cry -- "Forgive, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Or think of Stephen when the hurled stones smote him down -- "Lord lay not this sin to their charge!"

But he who has lost his first love has no such sympathies.

V. Let us next enquire how Christians come to lose their first love.

This point often seems full of wonder. They don't know how it comes to pass, and are in great confusion. They do not see the philosophy of this rapid decline and loss of first love.

Here is a case for illustration. In 1830, a Christian lady of N.-- was very full of prayer and of the Holy Ghost. In this frame she went on well for a time, till one evening in public service, during the closing prayer as she was asking -- What can I do for Christ and his cause? the suggestion came powerfully -- Buy a lottery ticket; you may be sure of getting the highest prize, because your only object is to please God and help forward his kingdom.

Her first thought was -- No; that will never do for me! But the response came -- It will certainly be a prize; somebody will get the prizes; better you than any one else because you mean to do good with it.

She yielded and went immediately out from the meeting. She is now prepared to justify her purpose to buy a ticket, insisting that the suggestion came to her immediately from the Spirit. She went and bought her lottery ticket. No sooner done than Satan changed his tone, and thundered in her ear -- Now you have committed the unpardonable sin! You are forever certain of damnation! Now go and take your life. Why should you live any longer? -- That was Satan -- the arch-deceiver of souls.

VI. But I must hasten to speak of the consequences of losing one's first love.

(I wonder if any of you are saying in your heart -- He is just reading off the history of my experience. Who has been telling him how I feel?)

Now all these experiences are just what a loveless wife would have as towards her husband. Take one who has once known true love, but has been seduced by some villain. What is left to her? Not her joy in wedded life -- not her peace of mind -- not one joy that a virtuous woman can prize. Where is she? Just where you are if you have left your first love towards Jesus Christ. You are the loveless wife or husband.


1. Where does this sermon find you? Have you ever had this first love? In delineating the convert's first love, I have only given its general type and not its higher and more advanced manifestations. Hence if you have not had this, you must say -- I have had nothing.

Now let me ask -- As I described this first love did you say -- I know all that; I have felt it; I have loved the precious Bible; I so loved meetings for prayer that I could have stayed in the hallowed place all night; yes I have known all that.

Have you the same spirit now? Can you say, Indeed I know by my own precious experience what all that is now?

2. But some of you are not there. On the contrary you know you have lost your first love. Yet let me ask -- Have you no heart to return? Do you say -- I would fain return, but I know God will not accept me. How can he accept so vile a being as I -- and one who has dishonored him so falsely? Ah but you may have confidence if you will return, for he says, -- "Return unto me, and I will return unto you."

3. Are you still making the profession of loving Christ while yet your first love is gone? How odious must that profession be to Jesus Christ? Suppose you are a wife and your husband should run off after other lovers and scatter his ways to the ends of the earth. Then when he should hear of your grief, suppose he should come back with flattering lips and a lying tongue, but no confessions, would you not say -- Away, away with such hypocrisy and such infidelity! And will you come to God in like manner with lying lips? And can you delude yourself with the thought that you can deceive the omniscient God?

4. It is your business at once to return, but not with a proud heart. It is not our business to ask how you shall be received, but whether you can be, upon any confessions you can make and any mercy God can show. As a wife who had played the harlot should lay herself at her husband's door and humble herself greatly for her sin, making no conditions as to her being received, but be humble enough to accept any conditions gladly; so your business is to return to your Father's house and repent deeply in sackcloth and ashes there. No backslider ever returned really to God until they had this spirit -- I will go back in all my guilt and lay my bones there.

"I can but perish if I go;

I am resolved to try;

For if I stay away, I know

I must forever die."

Sinners who have never come to Christ at all must come in this same spirit. Let no such sinners be ashamed to say -- I have wronged Jesus Christ and have abused his love exceedingly. I will surely go and confess it all, though all the world revile and disown me for it. And return now, for this is your accepted time; perhaps your last time.

Can any of you say -- I have no need to return? If so I am glad for it.

5. But some of you have left your first love. And what reason did you have for it? Are you like that poor unfortunate wife who was so mistaken in her husband, whose soul is full of sorrow, who is lost for life because she did not know the man before she married him? Is that your case? And did Jesus Christ deceive you? Did he prove unfaithful in his love to you? Has he treated you so ill and abused you and wounded your feelings?

How is this?

How? Hear what the Lord says: What have I done to you that you should lose your first love to me? Have I been a wilderness to you? Has my heart been cold towards you? Wherein have I wearied you? Testify against me. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord."

Yes, come, wanderer from God, and consider your ways.

Why are you afar from God to-day?

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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