What Saith the Scripture?

Hardness Of Heart- No. 1

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture V
March 13
, 1861

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Mark 8: 17: "Have ye your heart yet hardened?"

Christ had just wrought the miracle of feeding the four thousand men with seven loaves. In teaching His disciples shortly after, He warned them to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." They did not understand Him, and supposed that He gave them the warning, because they had forgotten to take bread with them. Perceiving their blindness, He said: -- "Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand ? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes see ye not? and having care hear ye not? and do ye not remember?"

In speaking from these verses I inquire,

I. What is hardness of heart?

II. The effects and manifestations of hardness of heart.

I. What is hardness of heart?

Answer: -- The language is often used to designate an unfeeling state of the sensibility. But this is not the meaning of hardness of heart when it is spoken of as a crime, as a sin against God. When hardness of heart is spoken of as sin, the terms designate the committal of the will to a false position; a stubbornness in regard to the claims of God; an attitude of disobedience and self-will. In this sense we often use such language. When a child is stubborn, stands out against parental authority, we speak of him as hard-hearted, and as hardening his heart against the claims and authority of the parent.

II. Let us notice some of the effects and manifestations of hardness of heart.

Whenever the heart is hard, there is unbelief; and this unbelief in regard to the love of Christ, this withholding confidence in this love, this refusing to yield the mind up to its influence, prevents this love from overcoming and subduing the mind.

Persons whose hearts are hard, will complain that they are not affected by the love of Christ. They are often not aware that it is their voluntary stubbornness that prevents their being duly affected by it. They seem not to know that they are closing the windows of the soul that the love of Christ may not shine in and melt them.

They seem not to realize that they are holding their emotions all back, not allowing them to flow, not allowing their feelings to be aroused and quickened.

They will even in this case complain of the hardness of their own hearts, meaning by this their unfeelingness in view of the love of Christ; and in this they overlook the fact that they are the voluntary authors of this very unfeelingness, of which they complain.

But souls may be asleep in their sins, and thousands of them may perish unwarned, unreproved, unprayed for, uncared for, and yet the guilt of all this neglect be scarcely realized or felt at all.

Now this is owing to the hardness of the heart, and the consequent unbelief and blindness of the soul. You talk to such people about their sins, and they say, "What have I done? Whom have I injured? I have wronged no man; I have paid all my debts; and I have done my duty to my neighbors and friends around me."

Now in all this the hardness of heart prevents the person from understanding really what his duty is. He satisfied himself with not having defrauded, or with not having otherwise positively injured his neighbor.

But the law of God is positive. His duty was to love his neighbor as himself; to make all possible effort to save the soul of his neighbor; to warn, reprove, persuade, and use all possible moral influence to arouse his neighbor to secure the salvation of his soul. All this he has neglected, and perhaps has neglected many around him that are already dead, and have gone down to hell; and yet he does not feel that he has totally neglected his duty. His duty was to love his neighbor positively; to do his neighbor all the good he could; and especially, if possible, to save his soul. All that he can truly say, is, that he has abstained from directly and positively injuring his neighbor by his every-day acts; but to say that he has done his duty to his neighbor is absurd. He has performed no duty to his neighbor. His duty was to love, and to express this love in every way. This he has totally neglected; hence he has performed no duty to his neighbor, and no duty to God. But his heart is so hard that all this he does not feel, this he does not realize; and thus he is acting under a gross delusion, ruinous and damning, because his heart is so hard.

In short, when the heart is hard, there will be a general unfeelingness toward God. The thought of God does not melt the sensibility. Talk to such a soul of the justice of God, His abhorrence of sin, His righteous indignation, and you will hardly excite its fears. It girds itself, and scorns to be made afraid. But, turn the subject over, and represent His loving-kindness, slowness to anger, and readiness to forgive, His vast compassion, and spread out before such a soul all the tenderness there is in God's heart, and you will not arouse the feelings. Such a soul will still complain, "I do not feel, I know it- it is all true; but I cannot feel it."

You will almost always observe when the heart is hard that there is a censorious spirit, a disposition to find fault, to judge God and man censoriously. Such a mind can see little that is good in God or anybody else; it naturally dwells upon the dark side; is keen to discern the faults, real or supposed, of men; and prone to censure in God whatever it cannot understand.

We sometimes see those whose hearts are so hard that they will tell you they always do right, they do their duty. They think they are getting along very well, and that God has but little cause to find fault with them. Nay, many of this class will profess to be Christians; and they really suppose they are, when it is as manifest to others as possible that they are blind, because of the hardness of their hearts. It is remarkable often to see how deep the delusion of such a mind is.

I have known some to profess to live even without sin, and think themselves in a state of sanctification, who after all were manifestly hardened, feelingless, exhibiting no real love to God or man, none of the tenderness and compassion of Christ, no spirit of concern for souls, nothing that was truly Christ-like or Christian. Their minds seemed to be as dark as the grave, and their hearts as hard as the nether mill-stone.

"Take care of number one;"
"Charity begins at home;"
"Let every man look out for himself;"
"My business is to make as good a bargain as I can."

These are the practical rules of trade.

Hence he can take little advantages of the poor; give them short measure, and short weight , and poor articles, and put them off as he may, making what he can out of them. He can see a poor man, or a poor woman, go from his counter or from his shop, with a sense of having been wronged and hardly dealt with, and not feel sorry for it. He can see the poor man go away with a few pennies less than was his due, and yet have no generous outburst of feeling that will call him back and deal generously, or even fairly with him. The fact is, his heart is like an adamant stone; his "tender mercies are cruel." He could even return a fugitive slave to his master for money.

It is curious to see how hard-hearted persons will get along in such cases. They will pay their minister, who labors for their souls, as little as possible; they will cut down the wages of the sexton, who makes the meeting-house comfortable and clean for their use, to the lowest point; if any extra meetings are proposed, they will object on account of the cost, the extra expense that it will make; if anything is to be done for the cause of God, they will get along without doing their full share, if possible.

When confessions are made, they are dry, heartless, superficial, and perhaps mixed up with recrimination and throwing blame upon others. The confessions of such a mind will not be ingenuous, fair, full, free, but the opposite of all these. Such persons will confess as far as they are obliged in all decency to confess; especially so far as their iniquities are known, and cannot be hid. But their confessions are not spontaneous, not generous, not satisfactory either to God or man.

Indeed their prayers are not prayers. They are not supplication; they are not intercession and pleading; they are not the language of want, felt and realized. They are theological, philosophical, didactic, polemic -- anything but supplication.

You will hear persons whose hearts are hard, often engage in what they call prayer -- and scarcely a petition in their prayer. It is all talk, preaching, exhortation, perhaps accusation, but little or no real supplication.

You feel agonized to hear it. It does not touch you; it does not help your own spirit to pray; it does not bring out the responsive amen. No; it is anything but the spirit of prayer. A hard heart cannot pray.

You can hear a hard-hearted man pray, but you cannot feel him. Or rather, I should have said, you can hear him preach, or exhort, or theologize; but you cannot feel him pray, for he has not the spirit of prayer.

His prayers are not loving and compassionate; if a preacher, his preaching is not loving and compassionate; if not a preacher, in conversation and social intercourse he is not loving and compassionate. He is not compassionate to the poor, to the ignorant, to the oppressed, to the afflicted, to the tried and tempted.

A hard heart will manifest a general want of the loving and compassionate in social and Christian intercourse.

They are so taken up with their self-seeking ways as to have little thought of Christ's dishonor, or the soul's ruin. They live on in an unfeeling, unconcerned manner, while hundreds around them are perishing in sin.


1. From what has been said, some of you can see why it is that you have so little feeling on religious subjects.

Some of you profess to be in a state of consecration to God, who manifest no feeling for the souls around you.

Now, do you not see that you are deceived, that your hearts are hard? Your will is after all committed to self-pleasing, and not to pleasing God.

2. You see the secret of alienation among brethren. Their hearts are hard. Now they cannot see alike. Being in this hardened state, every one sees everything in the light, or rather in the darkness, of his own selfishness and self-will. Each one has but a poor opinion of the other; each one justifies himself and condemns the other. They have no Christian confidence, for they have really no Christian character.

3. Hardness of heart is often the ruin of families. If members of the same family become stubborn and willful, of course everything is ajar in the family. If the father or mother, or both, become hard-hearted toward each other, it will scatter desolation throughout all the family. Everything will go wrong; tempers wrong, words wrong -- no loving government or influence, but all will be desolate.

4. Hardness of heart is often the curse and ruin of churches. Sometimes a deacon, or some prominent member of the church, has a hard heart. He is self-willed, opinionated; does not care for the church half as much as he cares for himself. Perhaps two of the deacons will become hardened; and then be striving with each other; create division in the church; stand in the way of the influence of the pastor; stir up a party spirit in the church; and all will be moral desolation. Until those deacons have their hearts softened, nothing can be done to counteract their influence. If in such cases the church could kindly and with unanimity set them aside, the difficulty in some measure could be obviated. But if the deacons or leading members become hardened, it is very likely that they will be instrumental in hardening others; and then woe to the minister, woe to the parish, woe to the church! Hardness of heart will be the ruin of all.

5. Many seem really given over to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. This is an awful state to be in. It is awful to the subject of it.

A hard-hearted person is in a most deplorable state; in a most unhappy state; in a most guilty state; in a state fatal to his salvation, if he abides in it.

Again, it is an awful state in respect to all those connected with a hard-hearted person.

What an awful thing it is for a church to have a hard-hearted minister!

He will be blind to the wants of the people, and unloving and unfeeling in his treatment of them. He will inevitably do them infinitely more harm than good.

And it is an evil thing for a minister to have a hard-hearted church, and a hard-hearted congregation. They will probably starve him, neglect him, abuse him, tie his hands and prevent his usefulness, break him down and destroy his influence -- or drive him away to seek a people that will receive the gospel.

6. From this subject we see how to account for the astonishing blindness of some persons. It is very striking, sometimes, to see what strange delusions people are laboring under.

They seem to be totally blind to their moral state. You cannot persuade them to look into the matter so thoroughly as to understand themselves. If you examine the matter to the bottom, you will find them committed to some false position; consequently, hardened and blinded. Or rather, their hardness consists in their committal to this false position; and their blindness is its natural result. While the heart is hard, everything, almost, is seen in a false light. The full impression of no truth is received; and much that is admitted is by no means felt or realized. Delusion is the inevitable consequence. In this state persons will justify that which will shock others immeasurably.

7. Fanatics are always hard-hearted. Fanaticism is not to be confounded with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is over-heated zeal; a zeal amounting sometimes almost to insanity. Yet it may be kind and beautiful, were it not exaggerated. Fanaticism is a state of mind in which the malignant element predominates; in which the malign emotions are fanned into a flame and take the control of the will.

A fanatic is always hard-hearted, severe, censorious, cruel. Paul was in a state of fanaticism when he persecuted the church of God. They were fanatics of whom Christ said, "The days will come when he that killeth you will think that he doeth God-service." Fanatics are often as sincere as enthusiasts; but their very sincerity is culpable, is wicked.

Persecutors are always fanatics, and they are always hard-hearted. Paul, in his fanaticism and hard-heartedness, "verily thought that he ought to do many things, contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth."

The malign emotions having control of the will, the soul is in a false position, and can think itself doing God service in hunting and betraying the innocent.

Fanatics feel, but not charitably, not kindly. Even in prayer, or conversation, or preaching, or exhortation, the very tones of the voice, the gestures, the looks, manifest the hardness of the heart.

They do not speak tenderly or compassionately. If they have occasion to probe the conscience, to reprove or rebuke, they do not do it benevolently, but malevolently. They seem to take a pleasure in rebuke. They mistake their fanatical unkindness for Christian faithfulness.

8. A hard heart will so manifest itself in speaking, and praying, and doing everything, as to force upon tender minds a spirit of protest. Tender hearts cannot receive it, cannot fellowship it. You will always observe, if in a congregation there are a number of hard hearts, that they will sympathize with anything that is hard-hearted, either in speaking or praying; while, on the contrary, with the tender spirits these remarks and prayers will force a protest and a recoil.

They cannot fellowship them; cannot be interested in them; cannot receive the fanatical and hard-hearted remarks that have been made, or spirit that has been manifested.

9. We see why it is that some persons are always so full of fault-finding. They never seem to be kind, loving, forbearing. They do not yearn over those that are out of the way, and love them back to obedience; but they scold; they find fault; the very language of their speaking and praying but repels those whom they would try to win.

Ministers sometimes become hard-hearted, and by their fault-finding and scolding manner drive the church away rather than win them back to Christ. They do not, like a good shepherd, go before their sheep and lead them, but undertake to drive them. In this they greatly err; and it is generally owing to the hardness of their hearts. If they get melted down, they will take a different course, and a different result will almost certainly follow.

I knew a minister who had been regarded as a very faithful man, but he had no revival for a long time. He preached from sternness to his church, and as they said, scolded them; but the more fault he found with them the more occasion he had to find fault, for the worse they became. But he came to where there was a revival, became convicted, saw his mistake, went home to his people at the close of the week, and on Sabbath morning went into the pulpit to preach to them. Before he began to preach, he commenced to make confession of his hardness of heart and blindness of mind. He melted down -- they melted down. He saw things in a different light, presented in the compassion and melting of his spirit.

The heart of the church broke down, and that day commenced a glorious revival which gathered in most of the impenitent of the congregation.

Now, please remember that hardness of heart is a voluntary state of mind. It is a state of mind that continually resists the Holy Spirit; it is a self-justifying, cruel state of mind; it grieves, it dishonors God; it ruins the souls of men.

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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