What Saith the Scripture?
Wherefore Do The Wicked Live
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
February 13, 1861
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Job 21:7; first clause of the verse: "Wherefore do the wicked live?"
Job's three friends seem to have been of the opinion that this, the present state
of the existence, is a state of rewards and punishments; and that therefore a man's
character might infallibly be known by God's dealings with him. Hence they interpreted
the dealings of God with Job in his affliction as conclusive proof that he was not
what he professed to be. They accused him of hypocrisy and exhorted him to repentance.
They insisted that God does not afflict men except for their sins; and that their
afflictions, or the discipline under which they pass, are to be regarded as punishment,
and therefore Job must be a wicked man. Job denied this, and maintained that this
is a state of probation. He argued at length that nothing certain could be known
of a man's character by the providential dealings of God with him in this state of
existence. This chapter is a part of Job's vindication of this doctrine. In this
text he asks them to account for the fact that the wicked do live, and grow rich,
and are mighty in power. In his argument he insists that they are often prospered
in this world, and even pass through less trial and affliction than many of the godly
do. How then, he insists, can you maintain the doctrine, that God deals with men
according to their characters in this life?
In discoursing upon this subject I propose to enquire,
I. Who are wicked?
II. Why do the wicked live?
I. Who are wicked?
Answer: All who know, but do not do their duty, are wicked.
II. We come to answer the enquiry, Why do the wicked live?
God is benevolent, He is love, and always has and must have some good and sufficient reasons for all that He does or omits. He is never arbitrary or capricious in anything that He does or declines to do. Therefore there must be benevolent reasons for the existence of the wicked.
In answering this question it will not be expected that all the reasons that actuated the divine mind are known to us, or can be stated in a sermon. There are, however, revealed in various ways, many reasons why the wicked live.
I shall divide these, and remark upon them, under three heads.
1. Notice some reasons that respect God Himself.
2. Some reasons that respect His people.
3. Some reasons that respect the wicked themselves.
He is infinitely generous, and rises above the faults of His creatures, and is infinitely willing to forgive and bless them still; and if He can reclaim the wicked, is infinitely willing and ready to save them. They have become wicked, but He pities them. He knows very well that they cannot endure His displeasure. He is long-suffering, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." He has no pleasure in their death. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth." He cannot take pleasure in the misery and destruction of any of His creatures. If the wicked persist in wickedness, He will have pleasure in the execution of justice, in the vindication of authority and law; but in the misery of His creature He can have no pleasure.
But the fact that God does spare the wicked is evidence that thus far He sees that He can benevolently and wisely let them live; He therefore preserves their lives. But you who are wicked should know that whenever you come into a relation to God and society in which it is no longer benevolent in Him to let you live, in which to spare you longer would be upon the whole an injury to the innocent or virtuous; He will then spare you no longer; He will put you out of their way; He will wipe the nuisance from the face of the earth.
He wishes to set an example of good-will to enemies; of self-sacrifice for enemies; of pains taking for enemies; of forbearance; patience; long-suffering. He wishes to show His people for their good, and to show the wicked also for their good, what kind of a being He is, what spirit and temper are in Him, how unselfish He is, how slow to anger, how preserving He can be in bestowing favors on those that requite Him with disobedience and opposition.
He watches over the wicked when they sleep, and loves to see them calm and quiet in sleep. He wakes them in the morning and feeds them, and Himself enjoys their repast. All the day He fans their heaving lungs, and although they breathe out their breath in opposition to Him, still He follows them from place to place, watches over them to do them good, protects them from harm, and in ten thousand ways repeats His acts of kindness and care, while they regard Him only with contempt.
But all this He does, and will do, because He is love. He can have patience with them and can forbear; can do them good and not evil as long as is consistent with the highest good of His kingdom at large. The fact that in His wisdom He can over-rule your sins thus far, and in some way make good account of your lives, is the reason why you still live.
To the righteous He cannot in fact realize all the refinements of goodness. To treat the righteous and well-deserving with kindness, is good; but to treat the wicked with kindness, to render good for evil, blessing for cursing, is a still more refined form of goodness. In His treatment of the wicked in this world, He has an opportunity to exhibit all men some of the most delicate and exquisite forms of goodness of which we can form any conception. Justice is goodness, treating individuals as they deserve. But to treat them better than they deserve, nay, the opposite of their deserts, is a still more refined form of goodness. To love our friends is well; to love our enemies is better. To deny ourselves, to be at great pains-taking, to incur great expense, to do our enemies good; to hear and forbear, and sacrifice self, and be at great expense and suffering for the sake of doing good to enemies, is to exhibit forms of goodness almost too refined for our gross conceptions.
To execute wholesome law is always just, of course; but justice is all the more honored and glorified when the subject punished has not only violated law but has contemned the law giver, and contemned the offer of mercy. If the rebellious subject has been treated with the greatest kindness and forbearance; if much pains has been taken with him to reclaim and save him; if the government has exhausted all its available resources to do him good, to conciliate him, to humble and reclaim him, and has failed to do so, then justice is rendered all the more sacred in its execution. When the penalty of the law falls upon such a subject it makes a deep impression; the subjects of the government feel that that is done which was demanded. Justice is glorified, law is honored, authority established, iniquity rebuked, order preserved.
He has stationed the wicked providentially throughout the whole regions and domains of the church. They have in their midst persons unsaved, persons who will not obey God, who are in the way to hell. Now to save these is the very work which the church needs. To sympathize with Christ in taking hold of this work, is one of the ways in which God sanctifies His people, and fits them for heaven.
Thus He spares the wicked to make them and their wickedness useful to His people.
Wicked men often succeed in business, and accumulate a great deal of wealth, which will eventually be disposed of for the promotion of religion. Now wicked men mean no such thing. They do not accumulate property for the sake of promoting God's cause. They do not support God's children because they are God's children, but because of their particular relations to them. The unconverted husband does not support his pious wife because she is God's child but because she is his wife. Nevertheless God over-rules many things that the wicked do to support His own cause to benefit His own people. He makes them in many ways useful to the church; although they mean no such thing, yet so He uses them, and so He will use them.
His people therefore dread to see them die in their sins; and because He dislikes to pain His own people by cutting off these wicked persons, He spares them as long as He wisely can.
It sometimes happens, no doubt, that the wicked are cut off in answer to the prayer of God's people, but it is not because they pray for their destruction. But when they pray for things that cannot be granted without removing the wicked, God, no doubt, in answer to prayer, removes the wicked out of the way; not because His people prayed for their destruction, but because they prayed for the things that could not be granted without their destruction.
I conclude this discourse by a few questions and remarks addressed, first,
to Christians; and secondly, to the wicked themselves.
First -- To Christians.
My brethren and sisters, what influence, as a matter of fact, has the preservation of the wicked had upon you?
(1.) Have their lives been useful to you? Is it a fact that residing in their midst, and having them before your faces as objects of benevolent regard has made you better, more watchful, more humble, more holy, more self-denying? Has their living among you made you more prayerful, more self-sacrificing , more patient, more forbearing and long-suffering? Has it made you more pitiful, more charitable; has it led you to love your enemies? Here you live in the midst of those who have not been your true friends, if you are God's friends. But have you loved them notwithstanding? Have you returned blessing for cursing, kind words for railing and accusation? Have you persisted in doing them good with all lowliness of mind, however they have treated you?
(2.) Has their living in the midst of you made you more watchful over your tongue, over your life, over your spirit, and in all your ways?
(3.) Has their living in the midst of you made you more heavenly minded and Christ-like? Has it shown you more and more how little the world can do for men; and more and more the value of religion? Has it led you to hate sin? Has it made you firm and bold in kindly rebuking it?
Now that these effects should result from their living in the midst of you, is plainly the design of God in sparing the wicked; and if you are truly God's friends, these effects must have followed with you.
(4.) Has the presence of the wicked in your midst led you to stand up more thoroughly, and openly, and steadily, for Jesus, and take His part in the midst of a gain-saying world? Have you been faithful to Jesus in the presence of His enemies, and in your treatment of them?
(5.) Have you been faithful to the wicked themselves? and are you ready to die, and to have them die and to meet them in the judgment? Are you clear of their blood, so that when you meet them before God you shall be able to say, " O lord, I am clear of the blood of all these souls. I did what I could to save them, Thou knowest. I lived before them as much like Jesus as was possible. I prayed for them, I wept over them, I admonished them, I warned and entreated them, I besought them by all that was sacred in heaven and in earth to turn to Thee; but they would not. I give my testimony against them, and consent that they should give their testimony against me. I am clear of their blood."
(6.) Have any of them anything against you? Have you wronged any of them? Have you given them any occasion to think that you have? Have you stumbled any of them? Have you neglected their souls? Have you been selfish in your dealings with them? Have you manifested a bad spirit towards them? Have you spoken against them, unkindly, in an unchristian manner? Have you even published their faults unnecessarily, and in an unchristian spirit? How then can you meet them in the judgment?
Have you neglected to pray for them? Ah! have you gone with them in worldly ways and in a worldly spirit? How then are you prepared either to die yourself, or to have them die?
(7.) Have you set a good example before them, and rightly represented Christ and His religion? Has your life, your temper and spirit, been such as to lead them to understand the true nature of Christ's religion? Have they gotten from you the true idea of what Christianity is; that it is love; that it is love to enemies as well as friends; that it is love universally; that it involves all the beauties of holiness and all the forms of real goodness? In seeing your example, and spirit and temper, and life, do you think that they have been irresistibly, favorably impressed with your religion?
Have they, by your good works, been constrained to glorify Christ? Or, on the other hand, have they been stumbled by you? Have you misrepresented Christ and His religion? Have you led them to loathe and abhor your profession of Christianity? Have you filled their mouth with cavils and objections against Christianity by your inconsistent life? Has your spirit and temper, your daily life and dealings with men repelled them and led them to infer irresistibly either that you are no Christian, or that Christianity is a nuisance? Have you so misrepresented Christ as that the wicked have no good opinion of Him or His religion?
(8.) Have any of the wicked died in sin through your neglect and fault? Can you remember any that you have stumbled; any in respect to whom you have failed in duty; any for whom you have not prayed, that are dead, gone to their account in their sins? How then will you meet them?
(9.) Have you stumbled any, and are you stumbling any that are now living? In short, are you now guilty, or have you been guilty of anything unchristian, in respect either to the dead or the living? Has the living of the wicked in your midst confirmed you and all around you, in the settled conviction that you are a Christian; that you are a friend of God; that you are truly a representative of Christ on earth?
Has their living in your midst proved your sincerity to God, or has it proved you a hypocrite, a false professor, a worldly professor? Now one of these two things has been accomplished by their living in the midst of you.
Have you seen that their presence was an influence that was working for your sanctification? Have you overcome the world; or has the world overcome you?
Have you drawn them towards Christ; or have they drawn you to the world? Are you today more prayerful, more heavenly-minded, more like Christ, for having lived in the midst of these subjects of prayer, and these objects of Christian compassion and effort? Or have you lived in the midst of God's enemies, in the midst of these subjects of prayer, and never acted, and lived, and prayed like a Christian? Then you are no Christian! Then the lives of the wicked have been the occasion of proving you a self-deceived professor. What think you would be the honest testimony of all your unconverted acquaintances if today they should be summoned with you to the solemn judgment? Would their real testimony be that you are a friend of God; that they believe it; that they have seen that in you which has proved it? Or would it turn out that you had been a stumbling block, a nuisance in the midst of them?
Secondly -- I must ask some questions, and make some remarks to the wicked themselves.
(1.) What has your life done for you thus far? Your life is a fact. You are; you are here; you have passed thus far on in life. You must die. You are going to the solemn judgment. Your life has been a constant development in one direction or another. You have either been growing better or worse. You have been floating upon life's ocean; and which way have you been drifting? What is your reckoning? Where on this great stormy ocean are you? What is the bearing of this drifting of your soul?
How many years have you lived? and where are you now? and what has life done for you up to this point?
(2.) Is your life likely to be a blessing to you, or a curse? This is a question which you shall yourself decide. You will, you must make your own existence an eternal blessing or an eternal curse, as you take this course or that. But taking account of all that is passing, considering your present age, your surroundings, the drift you have made, taking into account your present position and the bearings of everything around you, what are your prospects? How great are the chances of your eternal salvation, or eternal damnation?
I asked you, How long have you lived? You are aware that the great majority of persons that are ever converted, are converted quite young; especially where persons live under the means of grace, they are converted early or become gospel-hardened. How has it been with you? Comparatively few persons are converted after they are forty years of age. By far the majority of converts are converted under twenty, in all ages of the world. Now how many years have you lived? Have you not already lived out half of your days, so far as all hope of your salvation is concerned? Have not many of you gone even already beyond the point where there is much likelihood that you will ever be converted?
(3.) How long do you expect to live? Some of you may live for years; and some of you may live but a few moments. But can you ask, with any honor or honesty, that you may live and be spared if you continue in your sins? Your sins are a great trial to God; they are a great nuisance in society. God may see cause to spare you notwithstanding your sins; but your sins are nevertheless a great abomination to Him, and a great abomination to His people. Now can you honestly pray to God, and ask Him to spare you that you may continue to mark your way all along with sins and rebellion against Him?
(4.) Will a longer life be a blessing or a curse to you? Judging from the past, have you not reason to fear that the longer you live the worse it will be for you? No doubt you hope to amend, and to break off from your wickedness; but is there really much prospect that you ever will? Is it not highly probable that you never will, but will wax worse and worse?
Now please reflect -- Have you more selfishness now than you had when you were young?
Are you more susceptible of religious impressions, or less susceptible? Have you more prejudice against Christian people than you used to have or have you less? Have you more attachment to the house and worship of God; or have you less? Have you fallen out from association with God's people, and fallen out from His worship, more and more, or less and less? Does the Spirit of God strive with you still, and even more than formerly; or has He almost, if not entirely, ceased to strive with you? Are the moral principles that you were taught in your childhood more potent to influence you now than formerly; or less so? In short, is life to you a hardening process, or is it a subduing and sanctifying process?
(5.) Why are you still neglecting the Savior? And have you not reason to believe that you shall always neglect Him, and that no length of days in this life will make you a Christian?
(6.) Where will you soon be? You cannot live long. Where shall you and I soon meet? We cannot meet here much longer. We must soon depart hence to be here no more; and the places that now know you and me will soon know us no more forever. Where then shall we be? Where will you be? What will be your employment when this life is ended? Can you not see that the answer to that question must turn upon the manner in which you spend this life? "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." If you sow to the wind, you must reap the whirlwind. If you live to minister to your appetites and propensities, when the body is torn down, when the flesh is gone and sensual enjoyments are no more -- what then must you reap? If you have sown to the Spirit of God; if you have lived to please Him; if you have lived in the Spirit, and prayed in the Spirit, and walked in the Spirit, and communed in the Spirit -- then tear the body down and you have life everlasting. But mark again, I pray you, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." When you understand what life is doing for you, you need not be a prophet to decide what your eternal destiny must be. If you are prepared for heaven, to heaven you will go; if not prepared for heaven, you must have your portion with hypocrites and unbelievers.
(7.) Shall God spare you and love you and try to save you in vain? Will you perversely turn away; will you continue to rebel and be wicked until His forbearance can no longer spare you, and He is obliged to wipe you from the earth as a nuisance? What shall be said of you when you are dead? Shall it truly be said of you that you have lived, and sinned, and died in your sins; and then shall a cloud settle over you; -- shall the darkness of eternal night rest upon you forever?
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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