What Saith the Scripture?

Looking To Jesus

by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College

from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
Lecture IX
June 5
, 1861

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

Text.--Heb. 12:1-2: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

In this text, an allusion is plainly made to the foot races that were run as an exercise to develop strength. At the time of the writing of this epistle, and for a long time previous, it had been the custom of the Government of the East to celebrate certain athletic games; of which the foot race was one.

In those days, armies fought hand to hand; and therefore the prowess and power of an army depended not merely upon its courage, but also upon its real physical strength. Hence, it was the policy of Government in every way to develop to the utmost the physical strength of their subjects.

They established at certain periods, the celebration of games, with great pomp, ceremony, and expense; and these games brought out the exhibition of muscular strength. The apostle, in his writings, makes frequent allusions to these games, for the purpose of illustrating certain great truths of the Christian religion; and it is with reference to these games that he so frequently speaks of the Christian life as a race, and as a battle. In these races, the race-grounds were often prepared with great expense. Seats were built along the course from the beginning to the end; and these seats rose one above another in such a manner that those that sat upon the back seats could see the runners as well as those that sat in front. Upon these seats were piled vast multitudes -- often scores of thousands of people; the seats rising one above another till they appeared like a great cloud, such masses of human beings were present as spectators.

Between these rows of seats lay the race grounds. As they proceeded in the race, they were cheered on by the shouts and enthusiasm of the crowds on either side that were seated to witness the race.

At the end of the race course sat the judge; whose business it was to observe accurately how they came out, and to award the prize to the one that first reached the end of the course.

In the eleventh chapter, the apostle had been giving us a great number of examples of the nature and power of faith. Beginning with Abel, he quotes numerous examples all through the patriarchal age, and many instances of eminent faith among the prophets and holy men of the Jewish nation.

Of these he speaks as witnesses of the Christian race of those to whom he is addressing his epistle. He here assumes that the saints who have passed from this world are greatly interested in the Christian career and the progress of those left behind. Hence he addresses as he does those to whom he is writing, in the first verse of this twelfth chapter: "Wherefore," says he, "seeing we also are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." And then in the second verse: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The race here spoken of is plainly the Christian race; the cloud of witnesses are the saints of God; the judge who awards the crown is the Lord Jesus Christ.

In speaking further from these words, I inquire,

I. What it is to look to Jesus in the sense that is here intended.

II. Things that are implied in this looking to Jesus.

III. What we are to look to Jesus for.

IV. Several mistakes into which many fall upon this subject.

I. What it is to look to Jesus in the sense that is here intended.

Every Christian is aware that he often renews his strength by means of divine contemplation; giving his mind up to consider the character, the sufferings, the works, the perfections, the fullness of Christ. He finds himself strengthened in His patience, in His power of endurance, and in all the graces of a Christian by divine contemplation.

The original word implies, to see clearly, to apprehend distinctly, or so to consider as clearly to understand a thing.

This, then, implies looking in the sense of depending on Him as the author and finisher of our faith. That is, He is the author of the system of truth which faith embraces; He is the great object of faith.

But in the sense also of begetting or inducing faith in us, we are exhorted to look to Him. By revealing Himself to us by the Holy Ghost, He induces faith in us.

The exercise is one of our own mind; but it is induced or brought into exercise by the inward revelation of Christ to the soul.

But in order to have this divine revelation to us, we are not to act as machines, but voluntarily to consider, to dwell upon, to think upon, to give ourselves up to contemplate all that the Bible says of Christ; and in this act of contemplation we find Him revealing Himself to us so as to beget and sustain our faith.

It should be understood that it is always the mind that really looks. The mind looks through the eye; but it is the mind, and not the fleshly organ, the eye, that sees or looks. The mind sees physical objects by means of the eye; and the state of the mind often reveals itself in the use that it makes of the bodily organ, the eye.

See that sick child. It is unable to speak; but its mother passes through the room, and it wants something. It cannot speak, or perhaps so much as raise its hand; but it turns its eye -- the mother sees its look -- she understands it at once. It wants something; the imploring state of the mind instantly reveals itself in the look of the eye. Its eye is directed first to the mother, and then to the object -- perhaps some water, or something that the child needs. The mother understands it. The child cannot speak, but it can look unutterable things.

So the soul can give Jesus an imploring look. It looks to Him for the supply of its wants.

But not only can the soul look to Him in the sense of giving Him an imploring look, but also in the sense of giving Him a confiding look, or in the sense of relying on Him.

A father sends a son to college; the son says, "father, I look to you to pay my bills." That is, he expects it of him; he has no other dependence, no other reliance. He confidently expects his father, who has sent him to college, to meet his wants.

Whenever his term bills or board bills become due, he looks to his father to pay them; that is, he depends on his father in the sense of expecting it from him.

II. I must consider some things that are implied in this looking to Jesus.

The connection in which this text stands is very suggestive. The games, to which allusion is here made, were anything but a state of apathy or inaction. On the contrary, they were a state of the utmost exertion.

Now it is very plain that we are thus exhorted to look to Jesus, while we earnestly endeavor to do all our duty. But looking in the sense of this text, that is, a right looking to Jesus, implies also,

III. I will inquire a little more particularly what we are to look to Jesus for.

IV. Lastly, I must consider several mistakes into which many fall upon this subject.

Again, they do not contemplate His ability, that it is absolutely infinite; and that whatever He has promised to do He has well considered, and knows Himself to be able to do.

Many persons seem intent on limiting the ability of Jesus. They think, how can He do this? and how can He do that? and He cannot do so and so, unless I do so and so; and after all they seem to suppose that unless they originate some goodness in themselves, and thus recommend themselves to Him by some self-originated goodness, they cannot expect favors of Him. It is very common to hear people talk about the ability of God: that He cannot do this and cannot do that, instead of assuming at once that nothing is too hard for Him. We hear a great deal about natural laws; that if a person sins He must bear the penalty of course; that the natural consequences come, and cannot be averted; hence, that God cannot heal our diseases, either of body or mind; that He cannot sanctify us unless we consent, as if our consent were not the very thing that He has engaged to secure.

Many people seem intent upon reasoning themselves out of their faith by queries about what Jesus is able to do. But many who admit His ability, after all do not contemplate and thoroughly recognize His willingness to do exceeding abundantly for us above all that we ask or think. We need to consider the history of Christ, the promises of Jesus, the whole character of Jesus, in order to be fully satisfied of His willingness to give us grace equal to our day.

Again, many do not consider His readiness. They in some sense admit His ability, and they think, upon the whole, that He is willing, that is, that He will be willing at some time; but they do not consider that He is now willing, that He is ready, and that now is the accepted time with Him and now the day of salvation.

We cannot over-estimate the importance of making Jesus the object of intense study. We need to take the Bible and search it, and see what we may expect of Him; consider His promises, their nature, and their extent; consider His veracity and all His attributes, and thus arm ourselves against the suggestions of the tempter. It is a great mistake to contemplate other things so much, and to look at other things so much, and so little at Jesus.

I have found even my theological studies a snare to me, sometimes, when I have kept my mind too much occupied with the philosophy of doctrine, and the philosophy of religion, and have not made the personal Christ the object of contemplation and study.

The great thing we need is to understand Him, to know Him, to know Him personally, to know all we can about Him. We get peace of mind only as we acquaint ourselves with Him; we get divine strength only as we acquaint ourselves with Jesus. I wish I were able sufficiently to impress this thought, the indispensable necessity of studying Jesus.

Suppose a son did not expect his father to provide for him. Suppose he knew that his father was abundantly able; but he had not such confidence in his willingness as actually to expect that his father would fulfill to him his promises. Now I fear that a great many persons do not really expect Jesus to fulfill to them His promises.

We often use the term "look" in this sense. A son, in speaking to his father of his dependence on him, and of his expectation that he would meet his wants and pay his college bills, would naturally say, "Father, I look to you for support." That is, I depend on you; my mind is directed to you as the source whence these things come.

Now we should always remember that we are to look to Jesus in the sense of expecting from Him the fulfillment of all His promises.

We are to expect forgiveness or justification by and through Him. In short, we are to expect Him to be to us all that is implied in the relation which He sustains to us. We are to expect this with confidence; we should rest in the assurance that thus He will do, and thus He will be to us; and just so far as we fall short of this confidence, this rest and expectation, we fall short of looking to Him for these things.

If a child should ask his father for a farm, not expecting his father to grant it, he could not properly be said to look to his father for it.

He may look to his father with a sense of want -- he may know that he can get the farm nowhere else -- he may realize his dependence on his father -- he may entreat his father to give him the thing that he needs; but he cannot be properly said to look to him for it, unless he has the expectation of receiving the thing from his father. So it is with Jesus. The soul may feel its wants, and may know that these wants might be supplied by Jesus, and cannot be supplied by any one else; and yet it may lack the faith, the expectation upon which its receiving those blessings is conditioned.

Business men assume the reality and integrity of all the laws of nature; mechanics assume the reality, integrity, and stability of all the laws of mechanics; the farmer assumes the reality, integrity, and stability of all the laws of the vegetable kingdom.

Now in these cases men assume the reality, integrity, validity, and stability of the laws, without being aware of the assumption. Yet their confidence in them is implicit, and they act accordingly.

Again, a child assumes the reality and strength of a parent's love. It also assumes the ability, the willingness, and the truthfulness of the parent. Hence the little child is not uneasy whether it shall be provided for. It goes and comes with the parent, hither and thither without questioning, feeling secure because it assumes the love, the integrity, the ability, the faithfulness of the parent.

This assumption underlies the individual acts of looking for this favor and that favor. The child making this assumption, and continuing thus to assume the love of the parent, the sincerity, the ability and willingness of the parent, is enabled by reason of this assumption to look for the individual things it wants from day to day. This assumption is the condition of its trusting in the individual promises of the parent, and of its trusting the parent for all the details of blessings that it needs.

But for this assumption, the child would be in a continual worry lest it should be neglected, forgotten, and should suffer. Without this assumption it could not confidently expect of the parent the daily blessings that it knows itself to need.

Now here is a great fault of many professed Christians. They do not assume that Jesus loves them; they do not take it for granted, as a settled fact, never to be questioned. They seem somehow or other to think, that after all, His love for them depends on their first loving Him; and do not seem to understand as a practical fact that He has loved them with an everlasting love; and that He loved them before they loved Him; and if they ever have loved Him, it is because He first loved them, and drew them with loving-kindness.

Unless we really assume, and take for granted as a settled fact, the love of Christ -- the sincerity of all His professions -- that the things professed are realities, and that all His professions are true, that all His promises were made in good faith, and designed to be fulfilled, and made for our use -- unless they are settled in the sense of being fixed assumptions in which the mind rests, we shall find ourselves unable to trust His individual promises.

One reason why some people neglect the promises, is because they have no confidence in them; and the reason that they have no confidence in them, is because they have no confidence in the love, the veracity, the sincerity, the faithfulness of Jesus in making and keeping them. Thus they fail to look to Jesus for the things He has promised them, because they have no expectation of receiving them if they do.

They trust that Christ will not suffer them greatly to dishonor Him, by any grievous departure from a Christian life; that He will not suffer them to fall into those forms of sin that will expose them to excommunication, and to universal contempt; but they do not look to Him for redemption from all and every sin, from evil tempers, from idle words, from pride, and all the workings of iniquity in their minds; they do not expect Him to deliver them from them all.

I have recently been reading the life of Miss Adelaide Newton, a young English lady, whose memoir has been published in this country. I have been struck in reading it with the fact that it seems never to have occurred to her to look to Jesus for present redemption from all sin. Like many other memoirs, her diary and her published letters abound with complaints about her sins and with expressions of joy that ultimately she should be delivered from sin.

But after all, her history was rather a history of bondage than of Christian liberty, of hope and expectation of escape from sin after death. Such had been her teaching, that she regarded her whole nature as a mass of sin, everywhere confounding temptation with sin; and although she lived an earnest life, yet so far as deliverance from sin was concerned, it was a desponding life.

The dear child suffered a great deal from her false instruction in regard to the present power and willingness of Christ to save her from sin.

Some passages in her published letters indicate that she had at times almost got hold of Christ as her sanctification, in the sense of being her present Savior from sin; but then she immediately gets the idea of Christ as her sanctification, in the sense of an imputed sanctification.

She seems not to have known Christ as a power in her soul, or present redemption from iniquity.

This book is in many respects a good one; but poor Adelaide's experience stops right where so many experiences do -- they go no farther than to a hope for the future, without realizing any present rest of soul in redemption from sin.

Peace and pardon are things of course, that always come whenever the indispensable conditions are fulfilled. We cannot too fully understand this; the thing that we need to consider is, Christ our righteousness, Christ our life, Christ our wisdom; that all these we have in Christ; that He is our peace; that He is our pardon, our justification; that in Him we have it all; and that to acquaint ourselves with Him in these relations, is to obtain the peace and the pardon that we seek.

As I said in the beginning of this discourse, the word look in the original, implies the looking to Him solely; or looking away from other things and other objects, and looking to Him in the sense of expecting from Him alone the things that we need. It is a curious fact that there seems to be a constant tendency in the mind of man to look to self. For instance, you will find men trying to make out their own innocence; and even Christian men will often try to make out their innocence, either in a general way or in some particular matter. If they can make out that they are innocent, and do not transgress willfully they feel encouraged; and a great many seem to rely more upon the fact that they do not deserve to be punished, do not deserve to be sent to hell, than they do upon Christ. They seem bent upon establishing, in some way, either their entire innocence, or their comparative innocence. How many persons we find, who, though they think they trust in Christ, yet are most manifestly building their hope upon the fact that they have not been very ill-deserving. Indeed, many professors of religion seem to be looking in this direction for rest and repose. They dwell upon their general honesty, integrity, and sincerity, their general faithfulness in duty, perhaps their usefulness; and then again, they look at their sins, and think of them in cases where they cannot but know that they have greatly sinned; and thus dwelling on their duties or their sins, they are either greatly encouraged or discouraged. If they cannot excuse themselves, you find them dejected or cast down; but if they can satisfy themselves that their intentions were right, then they are encouraged; and after all, it would seem as if they were considering their own righteousness, at least their own innocence, rather than Jesus as their wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

It is often curious to see professors of religion, and even professors of years' standing, making the sad mistake of looking to their duties, their faithfulness, or their unfaithfulness, their usefulness or their uselessness, their sins or their innocence -- contemplating these things, and encouraging or discouraging themselves accordingly. The human heart seems exceedingly slow to abandon every form of self-dependence.

There is a great difference between feeling our dependence, and really depending. A child may feel his dependence upon his father for support; but he could only really depend on him in the sense of expecting him to support him.

He may refuse to depend on him. He may be so wicked, and have such a sense of unworthiness in regard to his treatment of his father, as to despair of help from him. He may know that he needs the help, and that his father is able and willing to help him, and that he can get help nowhere else, but his pride or his unbelief may prevent his really depending on his father, for the things he is able to give, and perhaps has promised.

They seem to lose sight of the fact that the fullness of Jesus is, in the gospel, set face to face, over against our infirmities, and sins, and weakness, and emptiness; that wherever there is a want in us, there is a supply and a sufficiency in Him. His fullness is set face to face to our emptiness; and we are expected to look to this fullness to fill our emptiness. Many persons seem to forget this. They keep their thoughts upon themselves, and their own wants; and although this fullness of Christ stands right over against their wants, waiting to be appropriated, urging its fullness upon our consideration, many are so taken up with the consideration of their own emptiness that they never look to this infinite fullness.

They think about Him; they read about Him; they hear about Him; they talk about Him, but remain inactive. They do not look in the sense of appropriating whatever they see in Him that they need. They do not take hold of the truths as fast as they see them, and make them their own. They are like a man who sees provisions before him, yet does not put forth his hand to partake of them. He may see and contemplate this fullness of provision, and yet never partake of it.

But it should be understood, that the looking to which we are exhorted in the text, is an active looking; and a looking in the sense of an earnest expectation and endeavor.

As an illustration, let me state a fact. A Christian brother told me he had had a very bad temper, and that he was often angry. He was told to look to Jesus to subdue this temper. He was greatly grieved with it at times, and often stumbled others; and accordingly he set himself to look to Jesus to subdue it. He expected that Jesus would subdue it by some operation on him. He did not resolutely make up his mind to set the whole force of his will against it. He did not make up his mind, in the strength of the Lord that he would not be angry again. He left it to Jesus to subdue his temper, expecting Him to come and subdue it by some operation upon him, and still he grew worse and no better. Finally, he asked himself, "Why should I wait in this way? I will not wait for anything -- I will not be angry again." He came thus at last to make up his mind not to wait for Jesus to perform a miracle, but to make an honest and an earnest endeavor to resist, depending on Jesus as the occasions might arise; and then he found that he had the victory. Jesus no doubt enabled him thus to make up his mind; but mark, he never prevailed over his temper till his mind was fully settled to set the whole force of his will against it, and not to yield to the temptation to be angry.

Indeed, Christians need to contemplate the official relations of Christ intensely; to apprehend and appreciate them thoroughly as realities, and the fullness there is in these relations; and to settle these things as matters of conviction and persuasion of mind, till the mind rests and settles down in them, and has the fullest assurance that they are all indeed true, and that in Christ they are complete. But too many fail to appreciate their completeness in Christ; and are constantly endeavoring to be complete in themselves -- to mix up something of their own with what they have in Christ -- to patch up His righteousness; and are constantly endeavoring to save themselves by their own goodness. All these are great mistakes.

The fact is, we do not expect enough of Christ. The more we expect from Him the better, if we can but enlarge our faith, we shall be sure to obtain of Him all that we need. Believe as much as we will, consider as much as we will, anticipate as much as we will -- when we have done all, we may be assured that He is able to do, and willing to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.

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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