Sermons from the Penny Pulpit
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|Great Cities - What Hinders Their Conversion?|
|Christ the Mediator.|
|Total Abstinence A Christian Duty.|
|Making God A Liar.|
|The Conditions of Prevailing Prayer.|
|How to Prevail with God.|
In behalf of the Christian Instruction Society
Delivered on Wednesday Evening, June 12, 1850
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
I don't know that it is necessary to take a new text; I have been requested, on this occasion, to dwell upon "the obstacles presented by great cities to the spread of the Gospel." In so doing, I shall consider--
II. I SHALL CALL ATTENTION TO SOME OBSTACLES WHICH ARE PECULIAR TO GREAT CITIES.
III. I SHALL STATE THE CONDITIONS OF OVERCOMING THESE OBSTACLES.
If we were going about any particular business, the first thing is, of course, to understand what it is we are going about. What, therefore, is the evil we aim at correcting? What is moral depravity? This is necessary to be understood, for it is everywhere to be found; it is common to all humanity, to all times, and to all places. Human nature is substantially the same in every age and nation, in this respect. Although existing, in its outward development, in a great variety of forms, nevertheless, in all cases, it resolves itself into a simple unit. Unless people understand this, they will go about matters in such a way as to fail. I should like to enlarge on this single thought, but we must now proceed to inquire, " What is the difficulty to be overcome?"
Let me say, then, that all sin may be said to resolve itself into this--a spirit of devotion to self. It is generally believed, I suppose, that our first parents, when they sinned, fell into a state of total alienation from God. What was the particular thing they did? They withdrew their devotion from God, in order to gratify themselves, in spite of His authority. He told them they might eat of every tree in the garden, save one. He designed to throw a restraint upon them, for the sake of subduing their wills--developing and strengthening their virtue; but then they withdrew their allegiance from God, and set up to be gods themselves! The tempter said, "Ah! though God said, Of every tree of the garden mayest thou eat, except of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; thou mayest eat even of that, and in the day in which thou dost eat thereof thou shalt NOT surely die, but ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil!" Of this, when Eve saw it, she partook. What constituted the great evil of this? It was not only disobedience to God's expressed commands, but it was sinning simply for the sake of their own personal gratification. Instead of seeking the honor, and obeying the commands of the Almighty, they withdrew themselves from God, and devoted themselves to the promotion of their own interests, in despite of God. Now, this is the sin of all mankind, for they withhold their allegiance from God, and devote themselves to themselves. "Selfishness" is a word which may express the will of sin, if properly understood. It matters not at all which of the propensities overrules the rest, and leads the mind into bondage. Sin consists in man's giving himself up to himself--to his own gratification, and seeking his own pleasure and profit. This develops itself in a great variety of ways. In one man, one propensity entices the will to seek its particular gratification; in another, another. This gratification of the various propensities--this devotion of the will and of the being to pleasing self in some way or other-is the great evil of the world. Now, whatever makes strong and powerful appeals to these propensities, are obstacles to be overcome. The thing to be done, is to withdraw man from himself, and to bring him to God. Our first parents set up to be gods for themselves. Now, if they had come back, and consecrated themselves to God, yielding up their whole being to obey Him, and seeking His interest and His glory--to have done this, would have been to have returned to God. There must be begun in us that devotion to God which constitutes piety. We must forsake ourselves; for virtue, or holiness, resolves itself into a unit as much as sin does, and the mind devoted to self, is a mind totally depraved; while the mind devoted to God--seeking his glory, and yielding itself up to be influenced by Him--this is a pious mind. Now, to induce men to cease altogether to live to and for themselves, and to live to God, is to restore them to a position in which they can be happy. A great many persons seem to talk, as if in this, and in all great cities, the people were very peculiar. Now, the peculiarity is not with the people, but it is with the circumstances which make the selfishness, which takes one development in one place, and another in another. The fact is, great cities are the very hot--beds of those influences which make such strong appeals to these propensities, yielding the mind up to which, constitute sin. The appetite for food or drink, when inordinate, is not a constitutional appetite, but the will seeking gratification; whereas the Almighty forbids us to give ourselves up to obey and seek the gratification of these propensities, instead of subordinating every one of them to the will and glory of God.
I pass on, then, in the next place, to inquire into some of the difficulties in the way of securing the end I have just named, namely, the subjugation of selfishness. Scarcely any of these difficulties are peculiar to great cities, in the sense that they do not exist at all in other places--for almost all of them exist in most places;--but the peculiarity is, that they exist in a multiplied form in great cities. Things in the way in great cities, may be expressed thus:--Great cities expose men to most aggravated forms of temptation. Don't let me be supposed to assert, that these things don't exist in other places: but that they do really exist in a most intense degree in great cities.
This subject might be divided, for the sake of being condensed into a single sermon--for
a month would scarcely suffice to go right into the detail, and to make it take hold
of the mind of the people--I shall, therefore, just name the things, and show what
the difficulties are, and who are guilty of these things. I said, for the sake of
classification and condensation, I may regard these aggravated forms of temptation
under different heads.
1. The temptations which are peculiar to the Church.
2. Those which are peculiar to the world, as distinct from the Church.
3. Those which are common to both. I don't mean to say, that this classification is so distinct as not to run these divisions into one another; but I have taken them simply for the sake of condensation.
Now, what is the influence of this upon him? Why, of course, he is come into such relations to these men, that he will, without being aware of the extent to which he does it, he will temporize--he will denounce sin in the abstract from the pulpit, but no one's sin in particular. In great cities, ministers are tempted to be vehement in denouncing sin, but no particular sin. They do not say what sin of character they are reproving. It is nobody, and no sin in particular. They take care, however, to imply that they don't mean their own congregation--they don't mean that. I know that ofttimes there are influences of this kind so powerfully exerted upon them, that it should lead Christians to pray for their ministers a thousand times more than they do. If they knew the policy of the devil, who wishes to bribe to silence the minister, and make him afraid to do his duty--afraid to rebuke the wickedness in high places--the Church would lie on her face, if she has any piety.
Ministers in great cities are tempted to avoid giving offence to worldly men, even to worldly professors of religion. In fact, some ministers lose caste with their brethren, because they do not keep "good" congregations. Worldly professors of religion are generally found to be rich, luxurious, great, intelligent; they not only endanger his loss of character, but of usefulness. Such temptations are very great. Again, ministers in great cities are tempted to aim at pleasing, rather than disturbing their worldly hearers. The thing they ought to do, is to aim at disturbing all classes of their hearers who are living in sin, and at rendering them as unhappy as possible in their sin, and thus hunting it out of them. Instead of aiming to please them, they should endeavor to make them anything but pleased with themselves. They shape things to please, when they ought to aim at creating agony in their minds, too great to be endured without submission to God. Another great evil is, the want of union among ministers in these respects. One feels he must not stir in this matter, because others do not. He says, If I offend so and so, he will go to yon other Church, where he will be received immediately.
Now, if all would unite to hunt such men, it would be different. Many say, If I could only have the co-operation of my brethren--if all would agree to spare no pains to arouse to a sense of their danger every class of mankind, especially the worldly great and luxurious, then I could stand; but I cannot do it alone. Another temptation of ministers in great cities is, that even professors of religion are often extremely fastidious. They want peculiar ministers. They have itching ears--even professors of religion want such teachers as will not probe them too deeply, or hunt them out of their sins. They want ministers to please them, and the ungodly who belong to their rank in society. I have often known professors regretting that their ministers said anything to offend such and such a wealthy individual. They might possibly expostulate with him for this, but more probably they will go and speak against him behind his back, and thus cripple his influence; thus his own Church will not say, God speed to him--will not say, We will stand by you. No! They throw out hints about being "so personal," and all this, which cripples his hands, and completely discourages his heart. There are multitudes of such things as these in great cities.
But let me say again, ministers in great cities are tempted to neglect the wants of the masses of the people, both in and out of the pulpit. I have observed in our country, that there is a great deficiency in this respect. The sermons are framed, not so much to meet the wants of the masses, as those of certain individuals in the higher walks of society, and of advanced education. They aim at pleasing such persons, instead of coming down to the masses of the people, and suiting their pulpit instructions to them. It is, no doubt, true, that sermons directed to the masses, are, for efficiency, even more acceptable to the educated and higher classes of society then any other. The fact is, that the senators, and other great men, would be more affected by sermons addressed to the commonest people in the congregation, or even to children, than by some efforts to amuse and please themselves. Yet in great cities ministers are tempted, and to a great extent yield to the temptation, to neglect, both in and out of the pulpit, to sympathize with, adapt themselves to, and aim at the salvation of the masses. They rather aim at a few individuals, and aim, moreover, in such a manner as rarely to hit even them. Flattery causes them very often to temporize; they are often flattered by their hearers, and then they don't like to deal faithfully with them. Ministers are often drawn in by dining with such persons, and in various other ways come into such relations with persons in high places--they suffer themselves to be drawn into such relations with them--that they neither can, nor dare, after that, be faithful with them. It is easy to see that these things have a direct influence on the minister, and are a serious evil--a worm at the root--at the very vitals--which must be overcome.
One word more on this head. A great difficulty, every one knows, who has thoroughly investigated the subject, is, that ministers are tempted to indefiniteness in their statements. They temporize in this way--they don't fail to denounce sin, but they do fail to denounce the particular sin of their particular hearers. There is a great temptation to neglect to make people feel that they mean them. The temptation is to temporize so as to denounce sin in the aggregate; but while they do this, they may preach about other people's sins, and the congregation may go with them. They may thunder from the pulpit against such and such people's sins, and the congregation may join with them. The wickedest man on earth will denounce lying, and every kind of injustice and wickedness, and everybody's practice and sin, except his own. But if a minister denounces sin in the abstract, and does not make you feel that "I mean you," he fails. What is done, after all? Why, you might fill this city and the world with such ministers, and do but little, almost no good. I must not enlarge upon this. There are materials enough, painful as they are, to fill a volume, instead of occupying the few moments I am able to devote to them in this sermon.
Now, whatever causes a cloud to get between the Christian's heart and God--whatever shuts out from his soul the direct light of God's countenance--is fatal to the interests of the Church and of religion; and these influences, which thus becloud the soul, and get between God and it, are so manifested in great cities, that the Church is crippled, the salt loses its savour, the light of the world becomes darkness--and how gross that darkness is!
I would enlarge upon this point--the things that grieve the Spirit of God--were it not that, on Friday evening, I shall preach on quenching and grieving the Spirit. But let me say again, another difficulty in the way is, that Christians are tempted to unbelief in the possibility of the conversion of great cities. I have scarcely entered a great city since I have been in the ministry, where it was not thought, by both ministers and Christians, that great cities, and especially their great city, could not be converted. I have been told, that I did not understand the peculiar difficulties of great cities. I do not say, that there is no such thing. They are great; but they can be overcome. They should not discourage the Church, but lead it to perceive what great efforts must be made, and how much they are dependent upon God. Is anything too hard for God? Why, yes; they say so; they say, "If God should make the windows of heaven to open, it could not be." This is the language of their hearts. This has been said in London again and again, by one and another. But one of the great difficulties is, your unbelief, which limits God, that he cannot do His many mighty works, because of your unbelief. All other matters are but difficulties, in so far as they produce this result--in so far as they crush faith in God--they don't believe God's arm will be made bare, or that Christ is able to take captive the masses around them, and subject them to His dominion. The extent of this unbelief is frightful. The ministry say it cannot be done. They don't say it right out in preaching, but multitudes talk just as if such things were impossibilities. Now, is this always to be so? Is the Church always to believe that great cities, on account of the aggravated and intense forms in which temptations exist there, will not be converted? Cannot we remove this unbelief of the Church, and beget a confidence in the Church that it can be done? If we can do this, then the great difficulty is overcome. But there are a multitude of other things, almost numberless, which serve constantly to grieve the Spirit, and, consequently, to suppress and to kill the faith of the people of God.
Let me say again, when this spirit has once taken possession of, and comes to be indulged, it aggravates itself by a natural law. For example, suppose ministers and Churches have an impression that great cities cannot be expected to be moved, they will not work in such a manner as can be expected to make them move. On the contrary, year after year will tend to establish and strengthen them in their unbelief; for, beginning to say, "It cannot be done," their energies are crippled--it is not done; and its not being done, makes them say still further, "It cannot be done;" and thus the evil, instead of correcting, but aggravates and perpetuates itself. This is true to such an alarming extent in many of our great cities, that I can see clearly that great masses of professing Christians despair of the conversion of these great cities, and, therefore, they must naturally despair of the conversion of the world. The worldly influences which have been brought to bear upon them have produced these disastrous results.
The next thing I have to say, is, what are the stumbling-blocks in the way of conversion of the ungodly? 1. The business habits of the Church--( it is a curious retributive law of God's kingdom)--the business habits of the ungodly draw the Church astray to a great extent. They fall into these ungodly habits. Their selfishness has taken effect to some extent, and what is the result? The Church is now a snare to them. They snared the Church, and now the worldly business habits of the Church snare them. So far as experience has gone, there is no such great stumbling-block so powerful as this. Many persons are engaged in kinds of business which the ungodly know are purely selfish. If professors act in this way, what will their clerks say? Who does not know that the ungodly in the employment of such men are stumbled by their conduct? Again, the self-indulgent habits of the Church, into which they are drawn by the worldly influences to which they are subjected, have a reactionary tendency on the people generally. Again, the manifested unbelief and cowardice of the Church, are great evils in the great cities. Professors of religion are shorn of their strength in great cities, they are afraid to be faithful, they cower down before the ungodly, and their influence. This is the great stumbling block; it is thus, then, as I said before, that, by a natural retributive law of the government of God, that if the world lays a snare for the Church, just so far as they succeed in ensnaring the Church, will they ensnare themselves. They bring down their violent dealings on their own head; it is easy to see that this is the natural action of things. But I must notice only a few things which are common to all classes.
First, for example, the temptations to intemperance and licentiousness. The appeals which are made, on every hand, to the weaknesses of human nature, all the ingenuity of science--earth and hell would seem to have been ransacked in order to develop to the utmost these propensities, to draw them out, and to compel the will to yield itself up thereto. As you walk the streets everywhere these things meet the eye, and strike the ear. The whole thing seems to have been molded, as it were, by some infernal agency. Temptations are presented alike to old and young, both sexes, and all classes of society. As you go round the city you perceive there are bands with trumpets before the tippling houses, getting the people to stop and hear the music--getting them to do this, and then, of course, they want something to drink. All sorts of things are contrived to entice people to these tippling houses--to get people to this place, and that place, to this lecture and that lecture, to this banquet of music and that banquet of wine. In short, who does not know that in our great cities it seems as if these things were set together as close as type. They thrust something into every nook. To arrest attention, the streets are placarded with all sorts of huge notices. But this is not enough; they send men to carry on their shoulders notices of the same baneful description. And, again, men drive about the city with these notices posted on great vans. Now, only think! the whole place is swarmed with them. Wherever you go you see them, and feel their influences. These are all so many stimuli tending to develop the love of sin--selfishness, to tempt the will to indulge the appetite. These things are seen on every hand, and as the Christian walks the streets, he must either hold constant communication with God, or yield himself up to temptation.
III. I must notice some of the conditions of overcoming these great evils.
Truth is mightier than error, God is stronger then Satan, but Satan is allowed to take the field almost alone. He wields the press, and makes it groan in exciting and drawing men in the wrong direction. Now, if God's children were really awake, they would come forth and devote their money, their talents, and all their influence, to searching out ways and means of putting them on the right track, and opposing the ways and means of wicked men; they would lift up their hearts in prayer, and soon would they see the mighty truths of Jehovah prevailing over the masses round about them.
But, let me say again, there must be a great deal more done to interest the masses. The masses must be sympathized with, there must be references to them in sermons and everything that is done. The world is carrying the masses away, we must reclaim them. While the world is running away with the masses, the Church is satisfying herself with securing the support and attendance of the great, while the masses fail to be converted, or even interested. There must be much more prayer and self-denial. Now, who does not know, from the nature of the case, and from the history of the Church, and from the world, that intemperance is going on to ruin our great cities; till Christians deny themselves, touch not, taste not, handle not, there can be no hope of saving the masses from going down to destruction. As you walk along the streets and see the men and women, and even the little children, sitting before the tippling houses, you should say, and resolve that, as God lives, and you live, anything you can do in this respect--any self-denial you can make, you are willing to submit to, in order that you may lead the way. I have been pained to see the slowness of British Christians in this respect. I have heard them say, that teetotallers make it their religion. Now, I think there is some danger of making "drinking a little" a religion, too. I know some who, when they have drunk "just a little," can pray, or sing, or do anything else well. When I was a young man I taught a school and boarded in a family, where the man came home three times a-week half intoxicated. Now, I noticed that on these occasions he used to pray very earnestly, and at no other time did he pray at all. I have thought of this many times, when I have seen ministers take "just a little to assist them." The Lord deliver me from such a snare as this!
But I cannot enlarge. Do you not believe that if the entire membership of the Churches were to lift up their voices against the drinking customs of this country, and if the ministers were to head them, that they would not exert a mighty influence in counteracting them? You must believe it! shall it be that any branch of reform which is indispensable, shall not be embraced by Christians? It is indispensable that you must be reformers throughout, you must reform yourselves; and if you cannot reform men without total abstinence, you must be ready to imitate the apostolic example--neither to eat meat, or do anything whereby thy brother is stumbled, offended, or made weak. Now, this man well nigh shook the world. Well might he say, that he would do it; the secret of his success was, that he would deny himself anything under heaven which he considered would stand in the way of his saving souls of men; he went so far as to say, that he could wish himself accursed for his kinsmen after the flesh. By this, he meant to say, that he would almost be separated from his own salvation. He did not mean to say he would be damned, but that he could submit to anything to save his dear brethren.
I can only say, that every reform must be carried out in this way. You persuade men to desist from drinking, but do not do it yourselves. How inconsistent! Why do you not say, I abstain for your sake, I give up these things which I can lawfully use; but as you abuse them, I take off my hand. Christ did many things for the sake of his disciples which would not otherwise have been incumbent upon him. One great thing he did--he died for their sakes. Are you ready to act in this spirit? Are you ready to take the lead in every branch of reform, and to go up having washed your hands of every unclean thing? Set your business transactions right! If you are engaged in a wicked business, put it away! If you have cheated any man, make restitution and come forth; wash your hands, and strengthen your hearts in God; go up to the work, and IT SHALL BE DONE!
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CHRIST THE MEDIATOR
Delivered on Sunday Evening, May 19, 1850
BY THE REV. C. G.FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, AMERICA,
At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." --I Tim. 2:5
In speaking from these words I propose to show:--
II. What is implied in the office of a mediator.
III. What are some of the indispensable qualifications for a mediator.
IV. The conditions of success in the execution of the office of mediator.
V. Apply these things to Christ as the mediator between God and man.
I. What is a Mediator?
II. What is implied in the office of a Mediator?
III. What are some of the indispensable qualifications for a Mediator?
IV. Some of the conditions of success in the execution of the office of Mediator. I observe, that of course the above qualifications are necessary; and, further, I observe, that success must depend upon the consent of the parties.
V. Apply these things to Christ as the Mediator between God and man. It is said in the Bible that Jesus Christ is a Mediator between God and man; this is plainly expressed, and we understand what it must mean. God addresses men in human language, he always uses that language which we can understand. I once heard a remark of this kind gravely made by a man who had been hearing a sermon on the atonement, in which the governmental view of it had been exhibited and enforced,--"Ah," said he, "you cannot explain spiritual things by natural things; you cannot explain the government of God by any human government or human transactions." Now, when I heard this remark, I could not forbear saying, "What a pity that God did not know that when he wrote the Bible." Cannot explain spiritual things by natural things! What a pity God did not take that into account when he wrote the Bible, where such illustrations are so abundantly introduced. But surely if God has seen fit to use such means to illustrate and explain his meaning to us, it is also permitted to us to do the same.
In the remarks that I have made this evening, I have shown you what a Mediator is, what is implied in the office of a Mediator, what are some of the indispensable qualifications for a Mediator, and what are the conditions of his success; and now we are farther to apply these remarks to the case before us.
Now, here, I suppose, was the great difficulty which stood in the way of God's showing mercy to sinners, even if his own disposition disposed him to be merciful. The law had been violated and dishonored, and God must insist upon its being honored, and public justice being satisfied. Here I must notice a distinction between public and retributive justice. Retributive justice respects the intrinsic deserts of an individual; for example, a moral agent may deserve punishment, who is not governmentally liable to it; or the government may be placed in such circumstances as to think it inexpedient to award that punishment which he deserves, and which the law sanctioned. Now, public justice respects public interests; the laws of a country are public property, and when they are violated, all the subjects of the government are interested in having the law executed, that its authority might not in any way be weakened; for when the laws are violated with impunity, they are of no weight, and the government which cannot enforce them is despised. Let me observe, also, that in establishing a government of law, the lawgiver, either expressly or impliedly, pledges himself to punish the guilty, and protect and reward the innocent; and the public interests of the whole community demand this; the criminal must be made a public example, or the authority and intention of law cannot be maintained. No lawgiver, in heaven or on earth, has any right to compromise the claims of public justice. Now, observe, God has expressly, or impliedly, pledged himself to sustain his government, and maintain the authority of his law; man has dishonored and violated it, and public rights will be compromised unless something be done to assert and sustain the authority of the law. Here is the difficulty; what shall be done? Shall the execution of the law be dispensed with, and thus be rendered void? Now, what public justice required was, that this law should be vindicated by its penalties being executed upon the offending parties, or something be done to secure reverence for the law and the lawgiver. Now, observe, God himself says that Christ is sent to be a propitiation for our sins, that he may be just, and yet the justifier of them who believe in Jesus. God cannot set aside the execution of the penalty. Here, I say, is the great difficulty. God's relations and character are such, and such the relations and character of man, that something must be done that men could not do as the condition of their being forgiven--the requirement is, that they make satisfaction to public justice. Why, to be sure, public justice required every offender to be punished. What, then, shall be done to meet the demands of public justice, and yet the offender be spared the infliction of the penalty! God's government is perfect; no compromise must be made which shall set aside the true spirit of the law. This leads me to say again, God could not dispense with the spirit of the law. All that the spirit of the law required, was simply this--not that the letter of the law should in every instance be fulfilled, that every individual who violated the law should be punished without any reserve; but that means should be adopted which would effectually secure obedience to the law. The offender must receive the punishment unless something else should be done that would as truly and effectually honour the insulted law, and make a deep public impression of God's regard for it, and his determination to sustain it, and as thoroughly serve to promote holiness and rebuke sin. This would be the fulfilling of the spirit of the law: here would be no compromise of its claims, neither a literal execution of its penalty; but it would be a full satisfaction made to the spirit of its claims. What would be the object of God in executing the law upon sinners, but to make a public impression of his abhorrence of sin, and his determination to maintain the law inviolate, and to honour it at all hazards. The execution of it would teach the universe certain great lessons in respect to God's character and government. Now, suppose that the lawgiver himself should teach these lessons in some other way that shall be as effectual, as impressive, and as influential as would be the execution of the penalty of the law upon sinners, why, then, the spirit of the law would be as effectually honored and sustained. But suppose, to show his great regard for it, he should yield implicit obedience to it himself, and become the representative of man, as it is said he did,--"He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Now, in order to do this, in order to make an offer of pardon to the poor guilty sinner, there must be a public demonstration made to the whole universe--the law must be honored as widely as it had been broken.
How was this demonstration to be made? How was the law to be honored? Who was to do it? See, God's own Son, closely associated with him, one with him in the formation and government of the universe, takes upon himself human nature, and represents the race; he undertakes to be the impersonation and representative of sin. God is about to show how he regards sin, by inflicting the penalty due to man, upon one who has come forth to be a Mediator between the sinner and the insulted majesty of the law. God is about to make a terrible demonstration, and show to the whole universe his deep and eternal abhorrence of iniquity. Now, this will fulfill the law even more thoroughly than if the consequences of sin had been visited upon the heads of the guilty themselves. "He laid upon him the iniquity of us all!" What a wonderful demonstration was this! Again: It is plain that this condition was indispensably necessary. God, as the governor of the universe, must insist upon something being done to meet the claims of public justice; the dishonored law must be restored, public justice must be appeased; the spirit of the law must be maintained in all its integrity. Now, there was only one being in the universe qualified to sustain the office. The Lord Jesus Christ was both God and man; he sustained such a relation to both the parties as to be in a position to "magnify the law," and make it even more honourable than it would have been made by its execution upon mankind. Christ satisfied the claims of public justice, and hence it is said, "he gave himself a ransom for all." Christ, by his atonement, testified to the manner in which God regarded the sins of man. Again: Our Lord Jesus Christ knew well what it would cost him. I said just now, that one of the conditions of a Mediator's success must be this: that if the office should call for any sacrifice on his part, he must be fully willing to make it--he must be willing to make any sacrifice, or undergo any degree of self-denial, which may be requisite in the nature of the case. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ knew well what it would cost him. It was no part of his business to compromise the claims of public justice; no part of his business to justify iniquity, or let down the authority of the law. He new better what he had to do, than to act thus; and he was willing to do what the office required of him. Again: the circumstances of Christ's death were such as could never be accounted for except upon the supposition, that he suffered not as a mere mortal, but as the representative of a race of sinners. The circumstances of his death were of a very peculiar nature. He died not as martyrs generally die; when they have been tied to the stake the words of gladness and triumph have burst from their lips, and they have passed from earth shouting and singing glory to God. Christ did not die so. How was this? Is it true that Christ was more afraid to die than martyrs are? What was it extorted from him that cry--"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" How was that? Is God wont to forsake even the meanest of his saints in their hour of trial? Let me ask those who have been in the habit of visiting the deathbeds of the saints, how many, when the last enemy was approaching, and when the clammy sweat was upon their brow, have you heard speak in the language and with the accents of despair? Did they cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" No, indeed! Their language is that of peace, serenity, triumph, and when their voice has been gone, they would give you a quivering grasp of the hand, to indicate that the light of God's countenance was upon them. The fact, then, is plain; he died not as a martyr but as the representative of a sinful race. Although God loved him infinitely, still, as the representatives of a sinful race, in his displeasure he poured down upon him the vials of his indignation. The death of Christ was intended to make an impression upon the universe, and all the circumstances attending it show what a wonderful effect it had. When he was nailed to the cross the sun refused to look on, and the heavens were clothed with sackcloth; the whole universe seemed to be shaking to its foundations. Heathen philosophers observed it, and said, Either nature is being dissolved, or the god of nature is dying. The dead could not sleep in their graves, the earth trembled, and the tombs opened, and those who had been dead issued forth, and walked into the city. The veil of the temple was rent in twain. God made a mighty impression upon the entire universe, when, in order that sinners might be pardoned, he thus made a fearful demonstration of his hatred against sin.
I shall conclude with a few remarks.
Let it be understood then, what it is to be a Christian. It is not mere intellectual
assent to the truth of the Gospel, or that you outwardly appear to be religious;
but it is with the heart that you must believe unto righteousness. You must yield
up your whole being to Christ, and rely not upon your own goodness as a ground of
acceptance, but upon Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, who has "magnified
the law, and made it honourable." God requires us to approach him in Christ's
name, or he cannot treat with us or make us any offer of pardon. Suppose that the
inhabitants of London, or any other city, should rise up in rebellion against the
Government. It might be quite impossible to make a general offer of pardon without
endangering the safety of that Government. It would be very impolitic and unwise
to do so. It would be the way to encourage other cities to rebel--taking refuge under
the precedent which the Government had established. The way to make a Government
strong is by asserting a principle and adhering to it, giving the people to understand
the inviolability of the law, and that it is not to be broken with impunity, and
that rebellion could not be connived at. Now, it may be safe sometimes for a Government
to exercise pardon, but not unless the exercise of mercy will tend more than the
infliction of the penalty to claim reverence for the law and Government. Rebels against
the law and government of God could never have been forgiven without an atonement
had been made; because God's law is inviolable, and therefore cannot be transgressed
without the penalty being inflicted somewhere; and God, by accepting the sacrifice
of Christ as an atonement for sin, at once showed his love for man and testified
to the goodness of his law. Christ magnified the broken law, and rendered to it a
governmental equivalent. But before a rebel can treat with God for mercy, he must
lay down his weapons of rebellion; he cannot make terms with God with arms in his
hands; he must repent before he can hope for mercy. Every human Government demands
this, and so does the government of God; no Government can stand on any other principle.
Those entirely misunderstand this subject who think and say that it is an easy thing
for God to show mercy. It cost him more than the creation of the world. But the work
is done--Christ has thrown the doors of mercy wide open: "Behold," he says,
"I have set before you an open door." It was love to mankind which caused
him to make such sacrifices for their salvation. The atonement was not demanded in
a malignant spirit, but as a necessary condition of salvation. It was God himself
who proposed the plan. He saw no eye to pity and no arm to save; and his own eye
pitied, and his own arm brought salvation. His heart yearned over them. Over them,
did I say? Over you and over me. "He loved me," says the
apostle, "and gave himself for me." Can you, my dear hearers, apply this
language to yourselves? Have you committed yourselves to him? Is Christ your Mediator
in this great controversy?
Now, I come to-night as the servant of Christ, to ask you whether you will receive this Mediator-whether you will repent and renounce your sin, and commit yourself to the hands of Christ as the great Mediator between God and man? Do you reply that you do not want a Mediator? The minds of many men are so dark that they are foolish and absurd enough to think that they can approach God and get salvation from him without a Mediator. The following fact was communicated to me some time ago: the sister of a minister's wife who had imbibed Unitarian principles always used to resist the idea of a necessity of a Mediator. She would say, If God is disposed to be merciful, he can exercise mercy without reference to the death of his Son. I want no Mediator; I am not conscious of wanting one. Is not God my Father--my heavenly Father; cannot I pray to him except through a Mediator? What do I want of a Mediator between me and my Father? I love my Father, and I love to pray to my Father; I love communion with my Father. I know no necessity for a Mediator." In this way she used to talk, with that kind of sentimentalism that is common to Unitarians. A great revival took place in the congregation, and one evening this lady returned home and went direct to her chamber. The family, who were below, presently heard her shriek out in great agony, and at the top of her voice: they rushed to her room and saw her standing there in a great fright, with her arms extended, and her eyes startling from their sockets: with much alarm they cried out, "What is the matter? what is the matter?" "Oh!" said she, "God is looking right at me, and there is no Mediator--there, can't you see, right opposite there?" and she shrieked out again in fearful agony, "God is looking right at me, and there is no Mediator." In this state of mind she continued for some time, but eventually Christ was revealed to her, and she was led to embrace the truth. She never realized before what it was to stand before the Judge of all the earth without a Mediator; but when she felt the eye of God blazing upon her, and searching into her heart, she felt then the necessity of "a Mediator between God and man." O sinner, let me tell you, that without a Mediator you are undone; but there is one provided, and he is now offered for you to embrace; it will not take you long, if you are disposed to do it; you can do it now-even now. If you accept him not into your hearts, his blood for you has been shed in vain. There is no middle course; you must be either the friends of Christ, or his enemies. God offers mercy now, but he has not promised that he will ever offer it again! Remember that! There is no angel in heaven, or minister upon earth, who is authorized to say that salvation will ever be offered to you again. Suppose that Christ himself should now come and take his stand in this pulpit with the book of life in his hand, and should say to you all, "Whose name shall I write in this book? Whoso will accept of me as a Mediator? Who will give me his heart?" Should we have voices responding on all sides, "I will! I will! I will! O Lord Jesus, take my unworthy name, take my heart; I renounce my sin, and gladly give all my being to thee." Would you reply thus to the personal invitation of the Saviour? Why not do it now? God invites you! Jesus invites you! the Bible invites you! the Spirit invites you! The Preacher invites you! Will to come to Jesus, and come now? Why not? Are you not prepared? What preparation do you want? Cannot you get your own consent? This is the difficulty--the great and the only difficulty! If you can get your own consent, there is no being in the universe that can stand in the way of your salvation. But may you not obtain your own consent if you so will it? What say you? Will you consent? Will you allow Christ to have your name? Will you give him your heart? This is a momentous question, will you decide to-night? We are going to pray. Now, let those who are willing to accept Christ as their Mediator, bend their hearts at a throne of grace; and, Christians, let us seek to get the arms of our prayer round every impenitent sinner in this house, and bring them to Jesus. Let us pray.
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In behalf of the Christian Instruction Society,
Delivered on Wednesday Evening, June 19, 1850,
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES,
At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." --Malachi iii. 10.
In speaking from these words, I propose, first, to notice the fact that it is our duty to prove God; secondly, how we may do this; thirdly, what is implied in the injunction, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house;" fourthly what is implied in obeying the spirit of this injunction; fifth, the meaning of the language, see "if I will not open the windows of heaven."
I. It is our duty to prove God.
God establishes and manifests his own truth, to make man know and see that he is the God of truth, by coming out and demonstrating it by his conduct. He has limited his operations; they are controlled by certain laws both of nature and of grace. He has wisely limited himself to a certain order and way of doing things. Now, let me say, in the next place, that he likes to rebuke infidelity. His heart is greatly set upon the results which he has promised--those things which must result from his coming forth and demonstrating his truth. He holds us responsible for placing ourselves in such a position as to come within the conditions, the fulfillment of which are indispensable to his coming forth, in the established and revealed order of things, to establish his truth before the world.
II. How are we to prove God?
That is, how are we to put God's truthfulness to the test, so as to show to ourselves, and to demonstrate to everybody else, that his promises are true?
But let me says again, we must depend upon God. For example; the Bible plainly presents the subject in this way:--everything is to be done with the same heartiness, and perseverance, and with the same spirit that we would do it if we were expecting to accomplish it ourselves, without God having anything to do with it. The same language is used in precept and requirement throughout the Bible, as is used in this text. God comes out just as human lawgivers, commanding men to do certain things, in a certain manner, and with a certain spirit. Now, observe; he everywhere insists upon their doing them; they must, therefore, go about the work as if they were expecting to accomplish it, by the efforts they were making, by their own strength; yet, unless we do it in faith--throwing ourselves upon God--we shall not succeed. These two truths stand out together all through the Bible. Just as the farmer goes and sows the seed, as if God had nothing to do with it, and understands that, without the blessing of God, he cannot raise anything. We must be in this state of mind--willing to throw it upon his own blessing--knowing assuredly that unless he succeeds our efforts, no good will result. In this respect the Bible abundantly places things temporal and things spiritual precisely upon the same footing. "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman but in vain." Now, the watchman goes about the city, as if God had nothing to do with it. The watchman would tempt God, if he laid down to sleep, and left it literally to God; he, therefore, is to keep the city as thoroughly, honestly, and earnestly, as if God paid no attention to it; and yet to know that unless God watched too, all that he does is in vain. Everything in respect to life, health, and property--everything worldly and spiritual--is placed by God on the same footing, declaring that without his blessing we can do nothing; yet telling us to do the thing precisely as if we could do it ourselves. Now, persons generally do not understand this; they tempt God in these things, for they apply this interposition only to temporal things, and instead of complying with the conditions upon which God offers to bless them, they are laying a stumbling block before their own feet.
But let me say again (I wish I had time here to take up the parallel, to show what the Bible really does teach--to show that the obstacle with regard to God's sovereignty is a stumbling block which men create for themselves; and that they might just as well lay the same stumbling block, and pursue the same course, with reference to things of the world,) in order to prove God, we must abstain from whatever tends to hinder and prevent success. Everybody knows this is true in respect to temporal things--they know that if they take poison they may expect sickness; with regard to temporal matters, they understand very well, that if they throw obstacles in their own way they may blame themselves for want of success: yet, in spiritual things, it is strange, multitudes throw obstacles in their own way; and yet how do they account for the want of success? They are bound to account for it just as the slothful man in business--they ought to blame themselves just as the man who makes careless calculations in temporal matters; the fact is, that when persons do not abstain from those things which tend to hinder their success, the blame is their own; and if they do not want to tempt God they must ascribe it to themselves just as much as if they had failed in any earthly scheme by using means to prevent their own efforts. Suppose parents seek for the conversion of their children, and yet place them in such situations in life as almost invariably to ruin them. I knew a gentleman in the city of New York, who had a son going down to destruction. He had prayed much for him himself, and entreated me to pray for him; for he was getting into such bad company and such dissolute habits that he was afraid he would be ruined. I inquired where the young man was engaged, and was told he was in ____ 's store. In _____ 's store! Now, I knew the character of that store well; the young man was employed in selling liquor in small quantities! I accordingly gave the father distinctly to understand, that unless he removed his son from such temptations, I could not think of praying for him under such circumstances. "Get him out of temptation's way, as much as you can," said I, "and then I will pray for him, but while he is in such a hotbed of temptation I will not tempt God by praying for him." Now, how many of you are doing this? How many of you are thus sleeping over the conversion of your children, and will probably go on to do so until they are plunged into the depths of hell? How many of you are complaining that your children are not converted, while you yourselves are placing stumblingblocks in their way? What does this mean?
I have often questioned persons--wives, for instance, who have wanted their husbands converted. They say their husbands ridicule their religion, and so forth. "Well, sister," I said to one of these, "how do you live before your husband--do you manifest a temper calculated to make him see the true character of religion? What are you doing? Do you, in your life, give evidences of the truth and value of religion as you hold it before his eyes? Or, do you contradict it every day? Are you a living epistle--a living illustration of religion before his eyes? Or, are you a living and perpetual denial and contradiction of it?" Now, in multitudes of cases I have found the obstacle to be in the wife; she has been more in the way of the conversion of her husband, perhaps, than the devil himself; for, were she out of the way, or living as she ought, the devil would not find it so easy to persuade the husband that there was no truth in religion. You cannot seeing that these very persons are often themselves the means of preventing the object they seek after. I have often had occasion to tell fathers and mothers that they themselves were the obstacles--the spirit they manifest, their manner of life, their selfish and worldly motives of action--while they continue as they are, they need never expect the conversion of their children. They are living denials of the Gospel before them. No! they take the strongest means to prevent their salvation! I have often thought what wonders we see in society; look where we will, how many persons seem determined to prove that Christ lied when he told them the solemn truth, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon!" They profess to serve God; yet, on the face of their lives they serve Mammon. Again: Christ has informed us that it is next to impossible that a rich man should enter the kingdom of God; but many seem to read it thus--" How surely shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God," as if salvation depended on their being rich." Christ represents the salvation of rich persons as next to impossible; and were it not for the wonderful power of God, it would be impossible. He compares it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle, which is certainly marvelously difficult. Persons who are thus labouring and toiling for riches for their heirs, seem as if they were labouring to send their children to hell, or to prove the Bible untrue--to prove that there was no difficulty in the way of their being rich and saved too. These are but illustrations; had I time I could go into ample details of individual instances, in which things are done which stand right in the way; but what I have said will abundantly suffice to show that the difficulty is not with God--that he is doing just as he promised, under such circumstances, to do; and the result will be just what he says it will--they will lie down in sorrow.
I once knew a father who wished to influence his four sons to give up the use of tobacco. He told me that he had always warned them, spoken to them seriously, again and again on the subject, but it did not seem to do them any good; his expostulations were all in vain. When speaking to them on one occasion, one of them said, "Father, you have always used it yourself! Example is said to be more forcible than precept." Now, what do you suppose the father said? Why, nothing, of course; he stood terribly rebuked. The same thing, in principle, I have seen a multitude of cases, where the persons were actually inculcating by their example what they blamed in others, and thus placing a formidable obstacle in the way of conversion of their friends and families, and who were nevertheless, still expecting that they would be converted.
But I remark again, We must not stickle at little things. For example, "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off." It is not promised that we shall be saved with it on. We cannot say, "God must save us with our right hand." The idea is this, that the most useful thing, --things which are important to you--if, after all, they become to you such a stumblingblock that you cannot stand, put them away. The right hand is certainly most useful; but even if it were "the right eye," we are told "to pluck it out." What, then, is the principle involved here? We are never to expect God to grant us blessings promised on condition of any sacrifice or self-denial, if we neglect the conditions imposed upon us. "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter into life halt and maimed, rather than, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire." Now, what does this teach? Why, "if even your right hand offend you, cut it off, or I shall let you go to hell; for you need not think that if you refuse to make the self-denial I shall save you notwithstanding." While you hesitate, and will not walk up to the mark, and undertake this self denial, which God makes the sole condition of blessing you--while you will not do this, you labour in vain; he will not bless you, he will not prosper you. Now, this may be applied to a thousand things; the fact is, that if a Christian, or any person, would have God's blessing, he must absolutely stickle at no act of self-denial required as a condition--he must strenuously avoid anything prohibited, or aught that would stand in the way of his obtaining the thing promised; and if we do not regard these conditions, the fault is our own if we do not obtain the blessing. But I remark again, Another condition indispensable to proving God, is, that we really enter into God's motives, and do what we do for the motives from which God acts. We must be benevolent, not selfish. If, for example, we pray for sinners, we must regard sinners as he does; and desire their conversions for the same reason that he desires it. If we seek blessings for ourselves, we must ask them for the same reason for which he would be able to grant them. "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss," that is, your motive is not right--you do not sympathise with God's motives--you do not ask the blessing, for a reason for which it would be honourable for God to grant it.
But this leads me to pass from this part of the subject and to proceed to inquire.
III. What is implied in the injunction of the text. "Bring ye," &c. The prophet asks in the ninth verse, "Will men rob God?" What is the spirit of all this? The Jews had neglected their duty--they had been selfish--they had refused to bring unto God the offerings as he required them to do, --they had gone astray, turning away from sympathizing with him--they had gone in their own ways, and had not brought the offerings to God's house, and paid their tithes--in short they had turned away from his commandments; this is what they had done. Now, what did he require of them? That they should return to him, and he would return to them. Now, a spiritually minded Jew would have understood these requirements to mean not merely the outward bringing of certain tithes and offerings; but, a returning of their hearts to God in the true spirit of obedience, and then they would prove him, and see if he would not be as good as his word, and give them the blessings they sought.
The true spirit of obedience begins here--make first an offering of yourself to God. Whatever else you offer, keeping back yourself, is an abomination. Yourself is the first great offering; offer yourself a living sacrifice; by a perpetual offering, offer yourself up to God. What is true devotion? I have often thought that many persons entirely mistake the Gospel idea of devotion, seeking to be, and believing themselves to be, devout, without being or pretending to be, pious. They work themselves up into an excited frame of mind, till they have produced certain feelings, and this they deem devotion. To be devoted to a thing--what is it? What is it for a man to be devoted to his business? To be diligent, to have his heart in the undertaking, and to give all his energies to the work--this is devotion to business. What is a man's devotion to his wife, a wife's to her husband, a mother's to her children? Now, what would you think of a mother who sat down and neglected her children--who sat down and worked herself up into a state of devotion to her offspring, and allowed them meanwhile, to go without their dinner? What would you think of a business man who let his business go to ruin while he was engaged in these devotional feelings? What would you think of the farmer who indulges in these devotional frames of mind, and neither sympathizing his ground, sowed his seed, nor took care of his hedges? Now, I have known persons so infinitely mistaken on this whole question, that they have tried to be devotional without possessing a particle of piety. To be devoted, is to give the mind up by a voluntary act, and to expend all your energies on any particular thing. To be devoted to God, is to give ourselves up to him, to be devoted to his glory, to give up body and mind and all our energies to the great work to which he calls us. Remember, the first offering is to be yourself; for this is an offering which many have withheld. They have given tithes and all other offerings, but have withheld the offering themselves.
How many individuals have I known whose characters, for instance, were not on the altar of God! They would not do anything which would damage them in the eyes of the world. They are unwilling to place themselves in the gap, let men say what they will. They do not come nobly forth, and say, "Lord, here is my character; it is no use to me if it can be of no service to thee. If thou tellest me to do anything for which men will despise me, thou knowest, O my God, I will do it, and leave my character to take care of itself, or leave it to thee." This is the spirit! If God should tell them to do anything which would bring the reproach of mankind upon them, they would do it; if this be not so, it shows the character is not given up to God. Suppose a minister would not preach anything which he knew was so unpopular that it would bring reproach upon him. I have seen sins--I have known individuals who would, if they were about to rebuke any sin which they knew was rife in the community, and to which they knew a great many influential men were addicted--they would either bear silent testimony against them, or give notice that they were going to preach about it, and then, such persons as felt condemned, of course would stay away. Now, who does not see, that where individuals, for fear they should lose their character with men refuse to come out and rebuke sin, they can never expect to get rid of it. Suppose a minister for example, is afraid to rebuke the sin of intemperance; suppose in America we should not expose the sin of slavery--should we ever get rid of it? Never. God commands us to come out and rebuke sin. Suppose a minister has seen things which call for remark, but upon which "the public mind is sensitive," and which he is consequently afraid to rebuke, how could a man, who thus withholds his testimony, ever expect to get rid of that iniquity? Such evils are always likely to exist until their opponents lay their character, on the altar, and do what God tells them to do, irrespective of the opinions of men--until they hunt it out, expose, and rebuke it. Do they expect God will get rid of it, without their using the revealed and appointed means? He has commanded them everywhere to expose sin, both public and private. Now, suppose there is any sin of so delicate a nature, that the ministers and the Church bear no public and pointed testimony against it, can they expect ever to get of it? Never. They must march up, and lay their character on the altar, and Say to God, "If thou requirest me, O Lord, to do that for which all men will curse me, I will do it. If thou requirest me, O Lord, to do that for which men will crucify me, I will do it. If thou sayest, 'Speak; reprove iniquity, ' I will do so, if I die for it." Now, unless the Church do this--the individual membership, as well as the pulpit--how can they expect to reform the world? The church is the society which God has appointed to reform the world--to take the lead in every reform, and by precept and example to show unto men what they should be. Now, if the Church is afraid to oppose iniquity, can it be wondered that evils great and manifold, roll their desolation over generation after generation? Is it not true that the want of this testimony, both by precept and example, on the part of the church, accounts for the fact that the world is not converted? The Church tempts God by pretending to find a reason for all this in the sovereignty of God. Why, they might as well neglect every temporal affair, and become paupers, and then trace that to the sovereignty of God. God allows evil to exist, and will do so until generation after generation shall have gone to hell, because the appointed means are neglected. There cannot be too much stress laid upon these truths. It is time the Church should understand that unless they devote themselves to the reformation of the world--first reform--and giving themselves up to every good word and work--things will go on as they have done; but upon whose skirts will the blood be? Jehovah has shaken his skirts, and has said, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me--prove me herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
This leads me to say, in the next place, --but I cannot enlarge here, because my time is so nearly exhausted, and I must, therefore, pass rapidly to glance to the last head of the discourse--viz.,
V. To inquire the meaning of the passage. See "If I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." This language was designed to convey a revealed principle to us which is worthy of all acceptation. In many of the promises, God has revealed the great and fundamental principles of his government. What is true of God under one state of circumstances, is always, under similar circumstances, true of him. What he will do under one state of circumstances, may always be expected of him under similar circumstances. The principle here revealed, is often revealed, expressly or impliedly. It is this--that where his requirements, and the conditions of which he is pledged, are fulfilled, he invariably comes out and fulfil his promises. "Prove me," &c. Now, this is equivalent to saying, "If you prove me, I will surely pour out," &c.
A few remarks must close what I have to say. I have already intimated that the common talk in reference to God's sovereignty, as applied to the existing evils in the world, and the want of reformation therein--the manner in which this is talked of, if tempting God as manifestly as if the same course were applied to temporal things. God's purposes do not extend more absolutely to spiritual than temporal things; Divine purposes, foreknowledge, agency, and so forth, extend equally to both. Even the grass will not grow without his blessing. On the subject of religion people are for ever applying this talk about Divine sovereignty, election, and such things, as if God had foreordained certain things in respect to religion in such a manner as to interfere with the freedom of man, and set aside his voluntary action in a manner totally different from his conduct in temporal matters. Now, this is quite a mistake; the Bible denies it. God does not ordain anything, in any such sense; there is not one word in the entire Bible which really favours the idea that any election of God's at all interferes with the liberty and free agency of the creature. I have as strong and as high views of God's sovereignty as any man. I know this, as far as the Divine mind is concerned, there is nothing new or old to him; the judgment day is as present to God as it ever will be. If a man should ask me, "Do you believe in the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God?" I would reply, "Yes." "Do you believe God knows the very hour I shall die?" "Yes." "Can I alter God's purpose so as to change his foreknowledge?" "Certainly not." "Then I might just as well not take any food, or swallow two ounces of arsenic, as I cannot die before my time." They never will die before their time comes; nor will they go one moment over it. What, then, has this to do with their own agency? Who does not know that, notwithstanding God has appointed bounds to their habitation, yet all the circumstances must concur to keep them alive, or they would die before their time They will not die before their time, because they will not reason in this way; but they will use the means, and do just as common sense would have them to do--just as God foresaw that they would do. They will not leap off a precipice, or cast themselves from London Bridge; or anything else of the kind, and then say, "I shall not die before my time!" Oh! that men would use their sense in religion, as well as in other matters! Men know the human mind is left free, responsible, active; and that, therefore, men are to go on, taking care of their property, their health, and their lives, labouring for the results they wish to bring about. But on religious subjects men talk as if they were insane. "If God knows how it will be, what's the use of my doing anything?" Do! Why, act just as you are acting in everything else, or you will go to hell, that's what you will do: just as a man will die who does not take care of his health; and no sovereignty of God in the universe will prevent a man from going to hell who does not repent.
Now, let me ask, What are you doing to secure the salvation of your souls? Are you using any of the prescribed means? How are you living before your families? Are you doing those things which ought to be done, and must be done, to promote religion around you? Do you live, act, and talk--using the means, and in the manner you ought? If not, how do you expect the conversion of the people? Are you endeavoring to remove the evils you see around you? Do you mean to do this? Or are you satisfying yourselves with a merely negative testimony? I have known some ministers who would not preach upon slavery except with previous notice, so that those who held erroneous views might remain away; and others who only preach on it once ayear, or only once in their life. Now, suppose all the ministers in the United States should simply once come out and preach against slavery, and think that then they had virtually discharged their duty so far, but to say that as to laying themselves on the altar to put it away, why, they are not going to do any such thing. Iniquity must be rebuked through the press, in the pulpit, in the railway carriages, and wherever it may be supported; and unless men will do this, the evils will not be removed.
I ask you, before God, have the Christian people of London taken hold for the removal of the iniquity of this city? Have they borne steady, energetic, yet benevolent testimony against all these evils in every way? Or have they kept silent, and cowered down before the world? Rely upon it, beloved, that if you seek the conversion of this great city, every minister must lay his character upon the altar--every Christian must put his shoulder to the work, and bid this great iniquity depart in the name of the Lord.
What are you really doing, as individuals? Are there ministers here? Brethren what are you doing? Are you satisfying yourselves with an occasional testimony against such an such an evil without continually pursuing it? If you mean to put them away, you must pursue these evils, or they will pursue you. You must hunt them out, or they will hunt the piety out of you. The natural tendency of things is to get worse, instead of better.
And what are you private members doing in this great work? Are you on the altar? Are you personally talking, labouring, and setting a good example--laying your all upon the altar? If you are doing this, we shall soon hear of it; for Jehovah has pledged himself before the universe, that if you do your duty--lay your character, time, talents, property, your all, upon the altar--he will pour out his blessings in such manner that there shall not be room enough, even in this great city, to contain them. Yes! the righteousness of London shall be like the waves of the sea. Do you believe this? He tells you to prove him; will you do it?
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TOTAL ABSTINENCE A CHRISTIAN DUTY.
Delivered on Thursday Evening, June 27, 1850
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES,
At the Surry Chapel (Rev. j. Sherman's)
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." --Romans xiv.21.
This is equivalent to saying it is expedient. To say that a certain course, in this sense, "is good," is the same as saying it is best--it is for the general good--it is expedient, and therefore right, that we should neither "eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby our brethren stumble, are offended, or are made weak."
In the early ages of Christianity, there were several topics much agitated in the Church, some of which had been referred to Paul for decision. One of the questions from the Church of Rome was, whether it was lawful to eat flesh, inasmuch as it was customary, after animals presented for sacrifice to the idols had been before them for a certain time, to expose them for sale in the public shambles. Many, therefore, supposed that in purchasing meat they might thus, indirectly, favor idolatry, by purchasing some of that which had been offered to the idols. Many, for this reason, abstained from the use of meat altogether, lest, as I have said, they should seem to patronize idolatry. In the eighth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, you will find further reference to this subject; the Apostle concludes by saying, "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." He told them, in reply to their inquiries, that it was lawful to eat meat under ordinary circumstances; yet, if so doing was an occasion of stumbling to any weak brother, and did more mischief than would counter-balance the good to be derived from it, he would deny himself for that reason. He said, if his eating flesh caused his weak brother to offend, he would "eat no flesh while the world standeth." It was not, in itself, unlawful to eat flesh; yet, he taught, it was necessary to take care lest the eating of it should stumble the brethren.
Having been requested to preach on the subject of Temperance, I will begin:--
The question may be viewed in a great many aspects; it may be argued in a vast variety of ways. It may be discussed, for example, as a scientific question; and, in America, it has been extensively regarded in this light. I do not intend to take up this point to-night; I shall examine simply the religious bearings of the question. I am well aware that the scientific view is extremely important; it is easy enough, however, to proceed to the discussion of it as a religious question, without entering very fully into the scientific department of it. My position, then, is not that the use of intoxicating drinks in any quantity, and under all circumstances, is necessarily sinful; nor do I take the ground that any use of it is wrong, independently of the circumstances under which it is used, and the reasons which have prompted such use. I do not take the ground that any use of it is wrong, irrespective of the circumstances under which, and the reasons for which it is used; for I can conceive of circumstances under which it may be supposed to be the duty of an individual to drink--even in quantities sufficiently copious to produce intoxication--in order to meet some constitutional emergency. Physicians maintain this ground, and patients may think it necessary; under such circumstances, therefore, it is taken innocently; the thing is right or wrong according to the reasons and circumstances which demand its use. Strictly speaking, nothing is right in itself, but that love which the law of God commands; nothing is wrong, in itself, but the opposite state of mind. But it is not my purpose to discuss this question, but only to say that when we would inquire into the lawfulness of any particular act, such as the use of alcohol, we must understand the circumstances under which, and the reasons for which it is used, in order to understand whether it is right or wrong in an individual case. Again, the question is not whether it may or may not be used as a medicine when recommended by a competent physician. I do not deny that it may be used as a medicine under certain circumstances; nor do I say that it is wrong to use wine at the table of the Lord. The Temperance Question has suffered much from the controversy on this point; for if Christ has ordered the use of wine on that occasion, and as matters are left so that it cannot be positively ascertained whether his wine was alcoholic or not, the question need not be discussed; inasmuch as the quantity used at such times is so very small. Again, Paul enjoined Timothy to "Drink no longer water but take a little wine for his stomach's sake, and his often infirmities." It was lawful, therefore, for him to take a little. The Apostle did not require him to take much; nor is it necessary or usual to take much at the Communion Table, so that this part of the question does not strictly belong to the Temperance Reformation. Again, the question is not whether or not it is necessary in any case, or whether it is or is not an indispensable article of diet in any case; I would take the negative view, but, at present, I cannot make this issue, as it would carry me too far from my main design; nor do I mean just now to affirm, even, that it is in no case useful to persons in robust health, as is commonly supposed. Neither, since I cannot now enter into the scientific bearings of the question, do I mean to determine whether its use is or is not necessary or beneficial to persons in feeble health. I must make the question one of self-denial for the sake of others. I should like to discuss the question of their real necessity or utility under any circumstances; but I must content myself on this occasion with the assumption that, under some circumstances the moderate use of these drinks is useful. I will take up the matter, then, in this way, Is it your duty to forego the use of these drinks as an act of self-denial for the sake of others? I love to discuss the question in this light; because, if these drinks are useful, it affords the Church an opportunity of manifesting her love for the Savior by the sacrifice.
I. I shall state my proposition, which is simply this:--the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicating drinks, as a beverage, or as an article of luxury or of diet--or to provide them, as such, for others--is neither benevolent, nor expedient, and is, therefore, WRONG.
In other words, that "Total abstinence from the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, or as an article of luxury or of diet, and from offering or providing them for others, as such, under the present circumstances of the Church, is expedient, and therefore a duty."
Such being my position, I shall now proceed--
II. To defend this proposition.
In doing this, I shall
But this leads me to remark--
The following facts are admitted by all:
But again, the spirit of the Gospel plainly requires this. I have already said, it is easy to show that the whole plan of salvation turns upon this great principles of Christian benevolence, of one man denying himself of a good for the sake of obtaining a greater good to others--one individual taking to himself certain sufferings, and enduring certain evils, in order to avoid the infliction of greater, though deserved, evils on others. Now, the apostle acted upon the principle of the gospel when he said, that if eating flesh should cause his brother to stumble, he would eat no more flesh while the world stood. He could do without eating flesh--although useful, he could eat other things--although a good, it was not a necessary of life. It was not necessary in such a sense that he could not do without it; consequently, the great abuse of it was a good reason for his abstaining from using it altogether. The same, he said, was true with regard to wine, "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, is offended, or is made weak." Now, by "anything," he did not mean to say he must necessarily forego those things which are indispensable to life or salvation; but those things which could be spared--which were not indispensable--we should abstain from the use of all such things rather than stumble our brethren. By refusing to do this, we walk uncharitably--contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.
I remark, again, the intelligence and conscience of the Christian world demands that the Church should proceed to take up this question. It seems now to be called up by the providence of God, and most pressingly urged upon the Church. The public conscience is beginning to awake on this subject in this country, and, to a still greater extent, in America, because more has been said there than has been said here; but I have never been anywhere, since this subject has been so thoroughly discussed, where the consciences of all classes of men--infidels as well as Christians--did not demand at once that the Church should take action. The law of benevolence requires that, not only Christians, but all men, should take up this reform, and deny themselves, for the sake of the good which may result. The Church of God is manifestly under rebuke on this point. I might mention many instances in which the Spirit has been manifestly grieved by this holding back--cases in which ministers of the Gospel have not been successful where they did not preach with that unction and power which give the Gospel effect--where the Christians have dwindled away in number, while those who remained had decreased in spirituality. I could bring a great many evidences of this, in different denominations of Christians, wherever this subject is neglected, since it has come up in the providence of God. It is remarkable to see the extent to which this has been manifested in America, where the displeasure of the Almighty has been visible towards those who have withstood this reformation.
It does strike me, therefore, that as a matter of self-denial, and as a Christian duty, on the ground of expediency and charity, the question is perfectly plain; still, however, there are many objections, some of which I shall now proceed to answer.
Admitting then, for the sake of the argument, that intoxicating drink is a good; it must also be admitted that it is not indispensable, while it were easy to show that the evils resulting from its abuse are vastly greater than the good derivable from its use; and, therefore, the law of benevolence plainly demands abstinence, because, upon the whole, the use is an evil rather than a good.
III. I shall answer objections.
But let me say again--
Another objection is--
There are some who object--
But this leads me to remark again. Another objection,--
Again, it is objected--
But I must pass rapidly over this ground. It is objected--
Again, some object--
I shall now,
IV. Examine the ground of those who object.
I might assail their position from many points, and examine it in a great many ways; but I prefer, on the present occasion, to present it in the form of what logicians call the argumentum ad hominem. Sometimes we have an argument pressed upon an individual in this way; he admits certain truths, and, admitting these truths, we can present an argument, upon his own grounds, that will have a bearing directly upon him in view of his own premises. This is what logicians call argumentum ad hominem, and this shall be the form in which I will present this part of the argument to-night.
In England, you have settled the unlawfulness of slave-holding. Between yourselves and me, there is no difference of opinion on this subject. You believe, that making, vending, and holding men as slaves, is sinful, and a great abomination in the sight of God, and that it ought to be immediately abandoned. Now, in view of this admission, of yours, I remark, 1. That the liquor-trade is as injurious to society as the slave-trade. I can only go rapidly over this part of the subject. For example, who would not rather that his son or daughter, husband or wife, should be torn away, and sent into slavery,--for there he or she might have the use of reason, and, at least be moral and religious,--than become the victim of drunkenness? I need not say, that I do not, in any degree, sympathize with slavery. My tongue has not been silent against it, nor has my pen been useless. I have used both tongue and pen to rebuke this great iniquity.
One of the features of slavery which has perhaps, been most complained of, is its sundering of family ties, tearing children from their parents, and sending its various members to different parts of the country--thus severing them for ever. Now, look at alcohol. Does not that do worse than separating them one from another? Yes, indeed! I had rather have my wife torn away and made a slave, and my family broken up, than that we should become a family of drunkards! Who does not know that there are more ways than one to lacerate the heart, tearing the family to pieces, and effecting domestic ruin? Slavery is bad, but the sale of alcoholic drinks, which ruins thousands of families, is worse than selling them into slavery. The one is bad enough, but the other is still worse. Would you not rather that your own family were sold into slavery, than that they should become a family of drunkards? Slaves are made so by force, drunkards, by their own consent. A man, in being made a slave, commits no sin--a man becoming a drunkard, ruins both soul and body. Both of them appear wrong under the light which the Gospel pours upon them, when they are presented and developed in their proper aspect.
But I remark again, inasmuch as the slavery question is settled in this country, and connection therewith accounted a great wickedness, I address the question to you in this shape, because you English people admit that slavery is not to be tolerated, and that, however convenient or necessary some may assert it to be, they may not have slaves to be their servants, even if it were impossible to get servants without slaves, as the slaveholders maintain--you will hear no such arguments. I honor you for the ground you take on this question; but I should like to see you take equally consistent ground on the liquor question.
In both cases, the demand sustains the trade. If nobody bought slaves, nobody would raise them: and if nobody used alcohol, it would not be manufactured and sold. More than this; if nobody abused alcohol, though it were a useful article of diet, yet there would not enough be demanded to render it a profitable article of manufacture or sale; it is the enormous abuse of it which makes it so profitable. The sale and manufacture is undertaken upon the assumption of its abuse. I doubt whether there is a single manufacturer or vendor, in Great Britain, who will deny that it is this abuse which renders it so profitable an article of traffic, or that it is made and sold on this assumption.
But, let me say again. In both cases, also, the enormous quantity advertised for sale increases the demand. When once the thing began, its exhibition everywhere increased the amount of temptation, and the demand increased.
Again, it is remarkable to what an extent both these evils are sustained, and defended by the same arguments. They appeal to the Bible, in the same way. Some say the Bible sanctions and sustains it; others are content that the Bible recognizes its existence, and does not condemn it. The same course is taken on the liquor question. They say, the evil existed when the inspired men lived, and that men were allowed to use it. The Bible is quoted as conniving at it. But I have not time fully to trace the parallel, or you would be struck with the extent to which these questions are sustained by the same arguments. Intoxicating drink, then, is a greater social, political, domestic, individual, and moral evil, than slavery. It introduces more immorality. It does more injury to the cause of religion, it does more to ruin the bodies and souls of men, than slavery. No well-informed person can consistently deny this.
They are both persevered for the same reason. Their usefulness and necessity, are pleaded for in the same manner. The spirit of selfishness acts the same part in both cases. In America, we find the same difficulty, in both cases, in the way of getting rid of these evils. Both are so firmly fixed in the habits of the people--so many interests are at stake, so much property is invested, both in ardent spirits and in slaves--there are so many difficulties in the way of getting rid of both--it is astonishing to see to what an extent these difficulties are the same. We find the same reluctance to examine the question on the part of those who are connected with either of these trades. Many pulpits were formerly shut to both these questions. Preachers have refused to give notice from the pulpits of meetings on these subjects. There is the same sensibility of rebuke both from the pulpit, and through the press. Some said, they were not proper questions for the pulpit, especially on the Sabbath.
With reference to intoxicating drink in this country, it is the same as slavery is in ours. In the North of our country, ministers preach, in season and out of season, against both those evils, on the Sabbath as well as on other days; but at first they were sneered at. A great amount of sensitiveness existed, in all classes, against bringing up discussions on these subjects. It was said, it would produce divisions in the Churches. So it did. Nevertheless, it must be done. The same sympathy for those, who are committed to both, has been manifested, under the name of charity. We have been often called upon to be charitable, with regard to those engaged in the manufacture, sale, and use of these drinks, as well as towards the slave-dealer and the slaveholder. The same arguments, in this respect, too, are used in both cases. There has been the same sacrifice of ministerial character--they have, at length, some of them, been banished from their pulpits, for want of sympathizing with these reforms. In America, this has been the case, to a lamentable extent. Ministers now begin to take high grounds on both questions.
I wish I had the entire ministry of Great Britain here before me this evening! I would ask them, if they continue to stand aloof, in what light the public will come to regard them? For I have understood that one body of them have actually refused to receive a memorial on the subject, which was presented to them for consideration! Now, who does not know that such persons must suffer in the estimation of those who inquire? When it comes to be considered that 60,000 of your fellow-countrymen annually go down to a drunkard's grave, every year some 40,000 or 50,000 are excommunicated from your Churches for this sin--when the people become fully alive to these and multitudes of similar facts, which might be stated, they will consider it a shame for the ministers to withhold their influence on this question. Yes! The ministers are deceived if they think the people are satisfied with their present position on this question.
I am glad to find that so many of them have already given the weight of their example to this reform, and among them the excellent minister of this place (Rev. James Sherman). I congratulate you, brethren, on this point. Since I have been in this country I have been thrown into the company of ministers, and have been shocked! For years, till I came here, I have not seen a minister drink a drop except at the communion table. I have seen enough in America to demonstrate that there no minister can be sustained by public confidence who withholds the influence of his precept and example from the Temperance Reformation. And if you will continue to use it, and refuse to rebuke it both by precept and example, you must expect to lose the public confidence; and, as certain as God rules the world, you ought to lose it!
I speak this all in charity. I know very well that the time has been, in my own country, when the question was not thoroughly understood. It was used, because it was considered necessary; many, however, though still supposing it to be useful, denied themselves on account of its abuse, and the great evils which arose therefrom.
But let me say again. There is the same tendency to infidelity, resulting from the conduct of the Church, in reference to both these questions. IN the United States, it has been common for persons to say there can be no truth in religion, because the Church, and especially the ministry, do not come out and take decided ground on these questions. The same is going on in this country, in respect to the Temperance Reformation; multitudes are losing their confidence in ministers and Churches, in the Bible, and even in religion itself.
I have thus pursued a rapid parallel between the slave traffic and the traffic alcoholic drinks. I have only suggested points for your consideration. Perhaps I should do well to say that a tract has been written and published in the United States, by one of our best men, pursuing this parallel. I have never myself read this tract, but it made a deep impression, as it well might; for who cannot see that, in every part of society, intemperance is an evil as injurious as slavery? And that, when light is cast upon it, the crime of both is great, if not quite equally so?
It costs the Church more than she can afford, to use alcoholic drinks. The providence of God plainly calls upon the Church now to act. There is a minister in this country whom I have heard openly oppose the total abstinence question, and declare that he has no sympathy with it. Now, I have been informed that this very man's wife is a drunkard; his eldest son, too, is such a beast of a drunkard that he requires someone constantly to take care of him. The rest of his family will probably go in the same direction. Yet he "has no sympathy with the Temperance Reformation!" I myself have seen him drink glass after glass, and that more than once. What infatuation is this! Yet what else could he expect? Let me state that thousands of cases, involving the same principle, might be adduced where persons have opposed teetotalism, until the result has been the ruin of their families, or, at least, of some members of their families.
I once urged a man in become a teetotaler, because I feared he would be a drunkard. He "consented if his wife would go with him." I reasoned for an hour with her; but all in vain. I said, "You will rue this, mark me." She replied, "I'll risk it." "Now, in less than five years her husband became a drunkard! He is now, perhaps, in a drunkard's grave.
But let me say again, I was astonished the other day, while conversing with a brother minister, to hear him say, he was struck with the use I made of. Lev. x.9, which expressly states that priests were not, on pain of death, to take wine or strong drink when going to the services of the sanctuary. "Is there such a passage as this?" "Yes, there is," I said. He could not believe it, so I got up from the table, took the Bible, and pointed out to him. The passage as thus:--"Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations."
But again, some say, "I take a little, but don't care about it." You take just enough to prevent your rebuking it in those who take much; for they will turn round and ask if you entirely abstain, and your influence in the matter comes to nothing, or rather it confirms them in their evil habit. If you care so little as you say, what a pity it is you range yourself on the opposite side for such a trifle!
I have been informed by one who was a city missionary, and have been repeatedly assured by those who profess to know, that the managers of the City Mission discourage the advocacy of the total abstinence principle by their missionaries. Now, I cannot vouch for the truth of this; but if it is true, such conduct is worthy of unmeasured rebuke, and may well account for their comparatively small success. What! city missionaries, one of whose principal duties it ought to be, to secure total abstinence among the poor, discouraged from such efforts! If this is so, it is both shocking and abominable. It may be untrue; I would fain hope it is.
Again, do the Churches in England expect a general revival of religion, whilst they resist this reform, and refuse to come up and lay themselves upon the altar? If they do, I am sure they are mistaken. It is perfectly plain that the ministers of this kingdom have not given themselves in earnest to rebuke this sin, and carry forward the temperance reform. I have occasion to know that some ministers and others, who are themselves abstainers, nevertheless provide it for their guests--who do not hesitate to put upon their tables for the use of others. Some of them seldom preach against it, and when they do, they are in the habit of giving notice that they are going to do so, that those who do not like to be rebuked may about themselves. Thus they try to satisfy their consciences, either with bearing the silent testimony of their example against it, or, at most, by preaching perhaps once a-year a sermon on the subject. Now, is it not plain, that this is rather an apology for a temperature effort, than anything like laying themselves upon the altar, with a determination to push this reformation? What does it mean? Why do they not, on all occasions, rebuke this as one of the reigning sins and evils of the day, of the land? Why do they not speak against it, pray against it, write against it, rebuke it everywhere and on all occasions, like men who have resolutely undertaken to put away one of the greatest abominations of the world?
The fact is, the great mass of ministers, by their use of wine and other intoxicating drinks, directly countenance this evil as it exists in society. Comparatively few are abstainers, and those, either because they fear they shall offend their brethren in the ministry, or their churches or congregations, or all these together, do very little, I fear, to promote this great reform, and put away this wide-spread and overwhelming evil. And is this the way for ministers of God to treat one of the greatest, most wide-spread, and most desolating of evils, that ever cursed any country? Why, really it is lamentable to see to what an extent the leaders of the sacramental hosts of God's elect compromise with this evil! If they hold their peace much longer the stones will cry out against them, and society will universally rebuke them. For if this is not so, than those laws of mind that have so strongly developed themselves in every other country, will fail to do so in this. But there is no mistake. The public conscience is beginning to arouse itself, and there is a murmuring, deep and increasing, that will, by and by, speak forth in accents that must be understood. The time is come for the Church of God and her ministers to speak out, and rebuke this evil everywhere and on all occasions. Will not the brethren come up to the work?
When I was first settled in the city of New York, in 1832, I found that one of the elders of the church was a spirit-dealer. The Temperance Reformation was but, as it were, beginning to excite public attention. I reasoned with him in private, but without effect; I then exposed his business in my public preaching, and when he objected to my doing so, I told him that as often as I went into that pulpit, he might expect that I should rebuke both him and his business, till he either forsook the congregation or abandoned the abominable traffic. I did so, and did not let him rest till he left his seat, and went to another congregation; and his place was filled by a better man.
But I see I have trespassed too long on your time. The subject is so extensive, as to need a course of lectures. I have condensed as much as possible, and endeavored to present the subject as fully as I could in one lecture; however, I must now leave the subject with a word of appeal to the ladies of England. The female sex are deeply interested in this question. You are wives, mothers, sisters; do you not see the multitudes of husbands, fathers, brothers, going to destruction, through the use of these drinks? and will you not give the benefit of the whole weight of your precept and example against this crying evil? Shall women withhold their influence from a cause that appeals so strongly to the sympathies and the hearts of all classes of men? If the female sex were to unite their efforts, and wholly discountenance the use of alcoholic drinks, and refuse to associate with those who do use them, in one year they might effect a change which would be the admiration of the world. Will they not come up to the work.
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MAKING GOD A LIAR.
Delivered on Sunday Morning, May 26, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, AMERICA,
At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,554.
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believed not the record which God gave of his Son." --1 John V. 10.
I SHALL remark at this time upon the second clause of this verse--"He that believeth not God hath made him a liar." I will endeavour to show--
II. What it is.
III. In what sense unbelief makes God a liar.
IV. Notice some of the manifestations of unbelief.
V. Briefly advert to the results of unbelief.
I. What unbelief is not. Multitudes of persons speak against unbelief without exactly understanding what it is. It becomes necessary to spend a few moments in showing what unbelief is not, and then what it is. Unbelief is not the mere absence of faith. It is not a mere negative state of mind at all. Neither is unbelief a mere intellectual attitude, or state, caused by a want of sufficient evidence. Neither is unbelief a state of blank ignorance of God and, of his truth. Neither does unbelief consist in a state of entire ignorance of the existence and attributes of God. Unbelief is not mere disbelief or belief in the opposite of what the Bible says is true. Unbelief is not an intellectual state at all. The Bible represents unbelief as a sin; therefore it is not a necessary state of mind.
II. What unbelief is. Of course, if it is sin, it must be a voluntary state of mind; the Bible complains of it as a spirit which we have no right to indulge, represents it as a great crime in us for which we are accountable. Now, if this be the fact, it must be a voluntary state of mind; because if we could not help it, the Bible could not denounce it as one of the greatest of sins, and call upon us to cease from it. Again, it is really the opposite of faith. What is faith? Faith is not a mere intellectual conviction. We know it cannot be, for the devil has that faith, and so have many wicked man; their intellects assent to the truth, and that is what often troubles them so much. Faith consists, then, in giving God our confidence, in voluntarily yielding ourselves up to him, confiding in him, trusting in him, casting ourselves upon him, voluntarily receiving his truth, and committing ourselves to him. It is thus that the term faith is used in the Bible; the very term that is rendered commit, is also rendered faith. Let them commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator." And again, "But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men;" in these, and divers other instances, the word here rendered faith, is rendered commit. Now, unbelief is the direct opposite of this; it is the withholding of confidence where there is sufficient evidence, and where there is sufficient light in the intellect; and this withholding of confidence is represented as unbelief of the heart--not merely of the intellect, but of the heart. Unbelief implies that the intellect perceives the truth. That which constitutes saving faith is the heart trusting in God, committing itself to the truth, yielding itself up to receive the truth; while unbelief is the opposite of all this--that the heart does not commit itself to God, and does not yield itself up to receive the truth. Now, we often see this state of mind manifested in relation to this world. You see persons withholding their confidence where there is the strongest evidence of the truth of that which they are called upon to believe. Look at that jury box; the prisoner has been tried, and the judge has summed up the evidence, and put the plain truth before the jury, but some of them will not yield to it, will not give their confidence. Now, this state of mind in religion is unbelief. Now, we multitudes of men on every side whose minds are made up concerning the truth of the Bible; they believe it is true; assent to it intellectually, and they call this faith: they say they believe--their opinions are settled. They can argue in defence of their principles, and they say they have faith in them. You call upon them to believe, and they say they do believe; while the fact is, when men will not commit themselves to the truth, they do not believe to the saving of their souls. Intellectual belief is nothing without confidence. The Bible says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith." Having explained the nature of unbelief, I pass, in the next place, to consider--
III. In what sense unbelief makes God a liar. It is said in the text, "he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar." Withholding of confidence, is a practical denial that God is worthy of confidence. Now, there is nothing more unreasonable in the universe, than unbelief. God has so constituted men, that, by a necessary law of their minds, they affirm that he will not lie. Nobody ever believed that God would lie; everybody knows better, every intelligent being in earth, hell, or heaven, knows that God will not lie; and yet, wherever an individual withholds confidence in God, it in a practical denial of his trustworthiness, a practical denial of what reason and conscience affirm must be true. This is one of the most provoking forms of sin of which Moral agents can be guilty. There is nothing more provoking, even to the greatest liars themselves, than to have their veracity called in question. What an infinitely awful sin it must be to make God a liar!! But it is also injurious to yourselves, and ruinous to society. Why, who does not know that if a wife should withhold confidence from her husband, she would ruin herself and her husband too? And so, if a husband withholds confidence in his wife, he ruins his own happiness and that of his wife too. Suppose that confidence is withheld, without good reason, by a husband from his wife, how it ruins her happiness, what a trial it is for her to endure! Suppose that the husband reproaches the wife with having committed some wrong, and withholds his confidence; and, suppose the children lose confidence in her, how can she manage to govern them? What wrong is done to the family! Probably the family would be ruined. Destroy confidence in a government, and, unless it be very strong, and thus enabled to keep the people in awe, that government will very soon be ruined. So with business transactions. The world has to live by confidence. In each other, There is no community whatever that is not ruined, if unbelief, want of confidence, comes to be the law of action. Withholding confidence when there is no reason, is the greatest crime a man can commit against society, or the family. Everybody must admit this. You often find persons tremblingly, quiveringly, alive to their own reputation for veracity, who withhold confidence from God. Some people, who call themselves Christians, too, fail to realise the truth of God so as to confide fully in him. God has said " all things shall work together for good to them that love God," but a great many persons have no belief in this! They don't rest in God's words, and they are always in trouble, distress, and tribulation, because of their unbelief. Now, if you should see a man standing on a mountain of granite in the greatest trouble and anguish, lest the rock should not be strong enough to hold him. Why you would say the man is deranged, his conduct would be, in a high degree, ridiculous. Now, the people of God are infinitely more ridiculous, when they withhold confidence in God, than the man on a mountain of granite, fearing it might fall. God's promises are infinitely more able to support them than mountains of granite! The strongest rocks in creation are but mere air when compared with the stupendous strength and stability of the promises of Jehovah ! Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord shall stand fast for ever. Again: it is the most blasphemous of all forms of sin. Let any man publicly accuse God of lying, and the law of the land would lay hands on him. He would be indicted for blasphemy. Suppose a man should go through the streets of London, proclaiming aloud that God was a liar, you would very soon find him in Newgate, and he would deserve to be there. If any man should go through the streets, proclaiming that God was a liar, everybody would say it was the most revolting species of blasphemy; they would stop their ears and run, in order to get away from him. Nobody would dare to walk in the same street with him, lest a thunderbolt should descend and destroy him, or the earth open, and swallow him up. Now, many a man, if his conduct were put into words, and he should speak them, would be indicted for blasphemy. Again: let me say unbelief accuses God of perjury. God has sworn the greatest oath that he could think of, in confirmation of his truth. " Because he could sware by no greater, he aware by himself." He confirmed his promise "by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie." Now, mark! Unbelief accuses God of lying under an oath! --of lying under the greatest oath that God could take! Suppose a man should, in words, accuse God of perjury--that he had not only lied, but sworn to a lie! We have now to advert, in the next place, to--
IV. Some of its manifestations and results. First, a want of rest to the soul. Now, when the soul does not rest on the promises of God--does not believe that " all things shall work together for good to them that love God"--the soul has no rest in Christ, does not embrace Christ, does not rest in his faithfulness and in his promises. Now, my hearers, let me put one question to you--Are you guilty of unbelief? If so, you are the very persons that are charged with making God a liar! Again: another manifestation of unbelief is want of peace. There is always peace and joy in believing. Now, the want of peace is an evidence of unbelief. The fact is, that where there is real faith, although there may be much to disturb and distress the mind, there is deep peace and joy in God, in the midst of it all; but where persons have not peace, real joy, and great satisfaction in God, in his truth, and in his promises, you may know that there is unbelief there. From the very nature of the case, there must be. The mind cannot be reposing in the promises of God, if it has not peace and joy. Again: when persons have not power in prayer--when they have no faith in prayer, to prevail with God. In the Bible, we are told that those who have faith, have power with God, and can prevail with God, and receive the spirit of their petitions. Now, let me ask you, my hearers, if you have this confidence, this faith which makes you mighty in prayer; or, do you want this power in prayer? If the latter, then you are guilty of unbelief. Now, one of two things must be true, if these things are wanting in your soul,--if you have no confidence in the promises, no peace of mind, and no power in prayer,--either the Bible is not true, or you do not believe the Bible; because the Bible affirms that these things are true of them that believe.
But I remark again; those who live in bondage to any form of sin are in a state of unbelief. "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." Now, when men live under any form of worldliness, they are under the condemnation of the law. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith." Now, if you are living in bondage to sin because of unbelief, you are living in a state of condemnation; your own conscience condemns you because of your unbelief. Again: another evidence of unbelief is, the manifestation of a servile spirit in reference to religion--the spirit of a servant, as distinguished from the spirit of a son. By servant, I mean slave; one who serves his master from fear, not love. Now, a great many persons profess to serve God, but they do not serve him with the spirit of sons, although they profess to be the children of God; they look upon religion as something which must not be neglected; they perform their religious duties, not from any love to religion, but as the least of two evils; and thus they drag out a painful existence. Christianity, to them, is not a peace-giving religion; it is not their life in which they have supreme delight, loving it for its own sake. It is to them something which they must attend to, something which they must not neglect, but which they would be very glad to neglect if they dared. They go to meeting, and read their Bibles, and pray, not because their heart & are filled with love to God, love to the Bible, love to their closets--not because they love to have communion with God. No! Their religious duties are regarded as a task, which they must not omit to perform. Now; remember, that in every instance where persons take this view of religion and religious dudes, there is unbelief in the heart. Such persons go through a form of prayer, not from love to God, but because they think it is their duty to pray. Who does not see that to approach God from such motives is not prayer, but only an indication of a mare servile spirit, an evident manifestation of unbelief. They don't come to God to get anything. They don't expect to receive anything from God. The Bible has promised them great things in answer to prayer, but they don't expect them. They pray, because it is their duty. They never run to God to make a request, as a child runs to its father for something which it wants, holding up its little hands with a smile on its face, expecting to get the favour for which it asks. They do nothing of this sort. They say their prayers, or perhaps read them; go through a form, and do what they call praying, and what for? Many persons pray, not because God has given them promises, not because they have something in their hearts that they want God to give, and because they expect to get it, but because it is their duty to make a prayer. Now, who does not see that this is a manifestation of unbelief; the evidence of a spirit directly opposite to the spirit of prayer, and everything that belongs to true religion. Now, if any of you, my hearers, have been religious because it was your duty,--have served God from a servile spirit, and not from spontaneous love; let me urge you, for once, to approach his throne to-night, and pray, expecting to receive that for which you seek. I say that now you are an unbeliever; you may call yourself what you please, but as certain as God is true--as certain as God is true, you have no faith!
I remark again: a spirit of worldly-mindedness is an evidence of unbelief. I mean that state in which the mind is given up to worldly pursuits and amusements, that minding earthly things of which the apostle speaks--living the mind up to them, giving the chief attention to them, and being chiefly influenced by worldly considerations. Now, mark! This is the very opposite of a state of faith, which, from its very nature, precludes this state of mind. If you find that your mind is worldly, that you are engrossed with worldly things, you may be sure that you have no faith. Can you pray with the world in your mind? Can you go to the sanctuary with business engrossing your thoughts? Can you receive God's truth into your mind, if it is given up to other influences? It is naturally impossible for you to serve God and the world! If you are worldly-minded, I say, it is an evidence of unbelief! And unbelief, remember, virtually charges God with being a liar; and the man who is an unbeliever has the hardihood to say, in conduct, though not in words, that God is a perjured being, that he lies under an oath! But let me say again: the spirit of cowardice is an evidence of unbelief. Those people who believe God are not afraid of anybody. Spiritual cowardice is always the result of unbelief. Confidence in God makes the righteous strong as lions. Now, if you are spiritual cowards; if you are afraid to talk to sinners about their souls; if you are afraid to hold up the light, it is because you do not believe. Again: neglect of the Bible is also a manifestation of unbelief. Nobody neglects the Bible who believes it. Again: neglect to use the promises of the Bible--not pleading them in order to receive their fulfillment--is a sure indication of unbelief. Again: a spirit of indifference in regard to the state of religion, blindness in regard to the state of sinners, no compassion for them, a want of interest in their conversion, are certain indications of unbelief; and I might point out hundreds of others. But let me ask, who of us are guilty of unbelief? If I am guilty of unbelief, I am the very wretch that stands before you, and makes God a liar! If you are guilty of unbelief, you are the wretches who stand before God, and accuse him of being a liar! Horrible! Horrible! But is it not true? Does not everybody know, that if a man withholds confidence from God, it is because he regards God as unworthy of confidence; and if unworthy of confidence, it must be that he is not a true being, but a liar! I will now make a very few remarks, in the next place, onV.
V. The results of unbelief. First, unbelief always produces a heartless religion. Therefore, whenever you find a man whose religion is not soul-satisfying--not a living principle in his soul; whenever you find, in your own experience, that religion is not peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; whenever you find, that your religion is not a spontaneous principle of love to God, you may conclude that the reason is because the heart is filled with unbelief. Again: if you lose your faith, your religion will be legal. When persons lose their faith, they do a great many things without regard to God at all. They cease to have an eye to God's will, pleasure, and glory; you cannot distinguish between them and the professedly unGodly. Oftentimes, what they call their religious duties, they perform not out of love to God, supreme regard to him, but to promote their own selfishness. Again: another consequence of unbelief is that it renders salvation naturally impossible. Now, it should always be remembered that the conditions of salvation are not arbitrary; they are natural and necessary conditions. If anybody would go to heaven, be must be prepared for heaven. If an individual has not love to God in his heart, it is naturally impossible that he should be happy in heaven. What would there be in heaven to interest him? What would he do in heaven? To enjoy heaven, and be happy there, he must be a holy man, and this he can only be as he is made so by faith. Again: of course, disobedience of heart to God is always a result of unbelief; there is no heart-obedience to any government, any further than individuals have confidence in that government; the heart of man must confide in any system of government, in order to a hearty and true obedience to it. In respect to the governmental consequences: all unbelief entirely rejects the Mediator between God and man--it rejects the office, the authority, and atonement of Christ altogether. The penalty of the law is dead against those that are unbelievers--those who believe not are condemned already, because they have not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.
A few remarks must close what I have to say this morning. I remark, first, that the first sin in our world, when we resolve it into its true elements as a particular form of sin, was unbelief. Let us look at it. God had told man that he must not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or by so doing he should die. The tempter told our first parents that they should not die, if they did eat of it; and tried to make them believe that God was selfish in the prohibition--that God gave them that injunction from a fear that by their eating of the fruit they should become like himself. Now, what did they do? Why, they dared to withdraw confidence in God. So completely did the insinuation of the tempter take hold of them, that it is said--"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and be did eat." Now, what was the particular form of sin? Why, it was first withdrawing, and, then withholding, faith from God; they refused to confide in what God had said--they did not believe that he studied their good in the prohibition. They listened to the words of the tempter, and believed what he told them, that God was jealous of them; that he forbade them to eat of the tree lest they should become Gods: and then they withdrew confidence in God, and suffered the consequences. Again: this is the root of sin in man--his withholding confidence in God. All the forms of iniquity in this world took their rise here, and we might, did time permit, trace them, by a philosophical method, to this source. Withholding confidence in God is one of the worst of evils--having no confidence in God's wisdom, benevolence, goodness, leaves the mind a blank. Why persons are drawn aside into vice is, because they have lost confidence in God and goodness. If a man yielded his heart to God, could he be carried away with every breath of temptation? No, indeed, he could not; but when he withdraws confidence, the mind is darkened, and error exercises its fall power in his soul. How remarkable was the effect of unbelief in Adam and Eve! As soon as they withdrew confidence in God, they thought they could hide themselves from him; so grossly, did they fall into darkness by withholding confidence, that they thought they could hide themselves among the trees when the Lord God walked in the garden. Again: perfect faith would secure entire holiness. Suppose any man has perfect confidence in all that God says, could he sin? What! Have perfect confidence in God's love, God's goodness, God's universal presence, and consent to sin? No more than they do in heaven; for what is the reason they do not sin in heaven, but because they have such universal confidence in God? If a man had perfect confidence in God, could he sin? Never, never. Where there is any overt act of sin, there is unbelief. Again: there are a vast number of professors of religion, who are grossly guilty of unbelief. They have no peace and joy in God, no power in prayer, are worldly-minded, are "careful and troubled about many things," giving as full evidence of being in a state of unbelief as the world around them; their lives, words, and actions are just the same as those who make no profession at all. You can hardly distinguish them, unless you see them at the Communion Table. You ask if they are believers, and they say, yes; and persuade themselves that they are Christians. But as certain as God is true they are unbelievers, and will be lost with all their profession! Again, the unbelief manifested by professors of religion, is one of the greatest stumbling-blocks in the way of the conversion of the world, and tends to drive their children into infidelity and sin. But I will not enlarge upon this, as I have done so in a previous discourse.
Lastly, let me urge upon you to reflect upon the awful wickedness of unbelief. Suppose you have withdrawn confidence from God, what is the state of your hearts? Why, you are playing the hypocrite and concealing the real state of your hearts, and are thus kept from being indicted for blasphemy. Unbelievers, in the sense in which I have explained, whether in the Church or out of the Church, if you were to speak out the real state of your hearts, you would be disgraced before the community and chased from society, if you should venture to persist in this unbelief.
Now, in a few days you and I shall stand before God. What will be our state then? We shall stand before him whom we have accused of lying, withdrew confidence from, and would not believe! I But I must not continue this strain of remark. May God have mercy on us; and let us ponder these things, and turn unto the Lord with full purpose of heart, and thus avert his wrath from us!
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Delivered on Friday Evening, May 31, 1850
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, AMERICA,
At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong; for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth." --Isaiah xxviii.22.
In speaking from these words, I propose to consider
II. Some of the ways in which persons mock God.
III. Call attention to some of the consequences of mocking God.
I. What we are to understand by mocking. The term to mock, in its scriptural sense, means to act hypocritically; to make false pretenses or professions. We sometimes speak of having our hopes mocked, that is, they are disappointed. To be a mocker is to be hypocritical, to make false presence's, representations that are not true. To mock God is to pretend to love and serve him when we do not; to act in a false manner, to be insincere and hypocritical in our professions, pretending to obey him, love, serve, and worship him, when we do not. Anything that amounts to insincerity is mockery, anything that is only pretense, and does not represent the state of the heart. The term to mock, in ordinary language, means to dishonor. In this sense it is that God is mocked by not being honored. He is not dishonored really, but only so far as man is concerned. When it is said in the Bible, "God is not mocked," it means God is not dishonored really, although individuals do that which would dishonor him, if he could be dishonored. I am now to call your attention to--
II. Some of the ways in which persons mock God. And here let me say, in the outset, that if there be anything of vital importance to us, it is that we really understand what is our true position in respect to God; whether we are or are not accepted of him in the service which we profess to render unto him. I must pass rapidly over these thoughts; and, therefore, I cannot do more than make suggestions, which I beg you will think over and enlarge upon for yourselves.
"Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord they should all be thine."
"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince the Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."
III. Some of the consequences of mocking God. The Bible says, in the words of our text--"Be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong." What is meant by this?
A few remarks must close what I have to say. Stereotyped forms tend to divert the mind from a true idea of religion. I have found that all forms of worship must, from the very nature of the case, tend to make men formalists, and blind their minds to a true idea of the spirituality of religion. For example, what true idea of prayer has the man who reads his prayer from a book? What is prayer? Why, it is the language of the heart, coming to God for the supply of its wants; like a little child coming to its parents for something that it wishes for. The child comes to its parent and asks, because it feels that it wants, and knows where it can get what it wants. Now, suppose a child, when it wanted a piece of bread, should read a prayer to its parent, without the word bread being mentioned in it; or if it was mentioned at the end, he must go right through the whole of the prayer before he got to it, and thus get his petition before his parent. Prayer is the language of the heart addressed to God. The language of those who feel that they are in need of something which God can bestow. Now, suppose prayer should be regarded in any other light; the man begin to use a form of words which he calls prayer, because he thinks it is his duty, why he loses the true idea of prayer altogether. This is how persons often lose all true idea of religion and spiritual worship. Thus it was with the Jewish nation--they lost the true idea of religion in the multitude of their forms and ceremonies. Again, I remark, that without great care we are all liable to fall into the sin of insincerity. Be perfectly upright with God in your closet. I have been long satisfied that much of the backsliding we are called to witness, is caused by insincerity in private devotion. If any man is not honest with God in private, neither will he be honest in public, and thus his mind and soul will become ruined and alienated from God. It is but right and proper that every time we meet together for public worship, the minister should offer public prayer to God, but it never need be insincere prayer, for if the minister lives near to God, as he ought, he will always find enough to say. Yes, more than he could utter if he were to talk from morning till night. And if he does not walk with God, it were much better to say nothing at all, and not insult and grieve the Spirit of God by using language that is not dictated by the heart. Once more, from what has been said, you see how it is that some leaders in religious services become so excessively hardened. I have known some of this class in the midst of a revival so cold and callous that the truth never served to touch them at all. Now, there is nothing that will so soon blast and destroy the spirituality and prosperity of a Church, as men of this sort being leaders and chief men in the Church. The Lord deliver us from such. Again, persons should beware of anything like formality in their family worship. I know that some people think forms are better than nothing in a family, but I don't believe it. I am confident that nothing tends so much to ruin a family. It will make the children despise religion, and become hardened to its influence.
My beloved brethren, how is it with you, you that profess to be Christians? Are you honest with God; does he know that you are? Do you confess that sometimes you are not, and do you ask what you shall do when you do not feel in the spirit of prayer? Why, begin right there, and tell God that you have not the spirit of prayer. There is something true; some place where you can begin. Is it that you don't feel right? Then tell God that. Are you not in the spirit of prayer? Tell him that! If you want the Holy Spirit, tell him that! If you have sinned, confess that! Be honest, and make no pretense whatever. Let sincerity be the habit of your life, and you will always have something to say to God; your love, faith, and devotion will be strengthened, and your soul blessed. If you are honest with God, you will always find him honest with you! Some years ago I was acquainted with a young man who had been studying for the ministry; this young man, soon after he had completed his college course, became the subject of a very strong conviction that much of his religious profession had been nothing but a mockery. One night he retired to rest, and after having put out the light and laid down in the bed, he was very much surprised to see the room re-lighted; he sat up in the bed and looked to see whence the light came; he perceived a person in the room looking very earnestly at him, standing at the foot of the bed; in a few moments the whole light of the room concentrated itself into a single eye, and that eye was fixed intensely upon him. He trembled violently, and was in a state of dreadful agony: the eye continued to glare upon him, looking him through and through, searching his very thoughts. He never forgot this searching; it so completely subdued him, that he came to be one of the most holy men and devoted ministers I ever knew. One of the deacons wrote to me a short time ago, and said, "Mr. Hopkins is gone to heaven; we want some one to supply his place, but we cannot expect another Mr. Hopkins." Now, he became what he was, because the Spirit searched him and revealed his heart to himself. Oh, for the Spirit to search every one of us! Let him begin with me! Brethren, pray that my heart may be searched; that the hearts of all your ministers may be searched; that your own hearts may be searched. Pray that God may search us all, that we may be mercifully kept from mocking God, lest our bands be made strong.
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THE CONDITIONS OF PREVAILING PRAYER
Delivered on Tuesday, May 21, 1850,
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,559.
[First in a series of three "Lectures on the Conditions of Prevailing Prayer."]
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek,
and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh
receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
--Matt. vii. 7, 8.
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." --James iv. 3.
These two passages of Scripture may seem to contradict each other, yet they do not. Matthew affirms that all prayer is heard and answered -- "Every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." James says that some ask, and do not receive; and inquires the reason why. Yet, I repeat, these Scriptures do not contradict each other by any means. When it is said, that "every one that asketh receiveth," we are to understand, of course, that there is a right asking, and a wrong asking; for what James says will compel us to do this, were we not otherwise disposed to do it. James says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss;" which informs us that there are certain conditions for a right asking, and that there is such a thing as asking amiss. There are few persons who have not, some time or other, felt stumbled on reading these passages. So much is said in the Scriptures about God's answering, while so much is prayed for that is not answered, that it is a sore trial to many minds. It was to myself a stumbling-block; for some time, I could not understand at first how it could be that such unqualified assertions, as those which are made by Matthew, were consistent with the fact that so much prayer remained unanswered. My mistake was twofold -
But there is a kind of prayer to which God stands Pledged to give an answer, and it is of that kind of prayer that I propose to treat this evening; and especially, I desire to enter to-night upon some of the conditions that God has himself revealed to us. Let me read a passage to illustrate what I mean," Beloved, if our heart condemn us not then we have confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John iii. 21, 22). Now, what have we here? By the term "heart," we understand conscience; for it is our conscience that condemns us. If our conscience condemns us not, God is greater than our conscience, and must condemn us all the more. If God much more condemn us, his dominion is greater and much more searching even than that of our conscience. But "if the heart condemn us not," this plainly implies, if we do not keep a conscience void of offense towards God and man, we cannot expect answers to our prayers. If we have violations of conscience, sins of omission, and sins of commission anything conscience condemns, conscience admonishes us God is not pleased with us, and, therefore, we cannot expect an answer to our supplications. This is not directly affirmed, but it is plainly implied, in our text. "If the heart condemns us," God much more condemns us. This means, that if our hearts condemn us not, then we may expect an answer to prayer; but if our hearts do condemn us, we cannot, and we ought not, to expect an answer to our petitions. It is clear, therefore,
Now, except we be thus united to Christ by faith, so that God regards us as being in Christ, and as receiving things for Christ's sake, and through Christ, we cannot expect to prevail with him.
This is abundantly taught in the Bible. We must be so united to him by faith, as really to walk in the spirit of Christ. He says, if we are in this state, whatsoever we ask, he will give us. How is this? He must mean a good deal by being in him, if, when we are in him, and his word abides in us, we shall have whatsoever we ask; for this is certainly a very extensive promise. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
Now, again: "Ye shall ask what ye will." This plainly implies, that persons who are in Christ, in the sense here meant, are in such a state of mind as never to ask anything of Christ, the true spirit of which it is not proper for him to grant. He would not dare to make such a promise, unless he knew that if a person really abode in him, in this sense, he would only ask what could be consistently granted. It is of great importance that we should understand what is really implied in this. What striking passages are these He says, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Does he mean, that the person being and abiding in him, should ask anything whatever, and it should be granted? Or does he mean, that you would always ask according to his will that you would, in that state of mind, never ask anything contrary to the revealed will of God that the true spirit of your petitions would always be in precise accordance with his will.
If he did not mean this, he could not make such a promise. He leaves the promise without any limitation "Ask what ye will;" this must imply, they will not have the will to ask anything contrary to the revealed will of Christ, and that those who are really in Christ, abiding in Christ, are taught by the Spirit of God to pray in a much higher sense than people generally suppose. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, became he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans viii. 26, 27). Here, then we have it revealed that the saints are led to pray.
Those that abide in Christ, walk and live in his spirit, we are informed are led to pray for things according to the will of God in other words, they are led to pray for those things which God would grant.
Now, if we really are in Christ, and abide in him, and his words abide in us, in the sense he must mean here, the spirit of our prayers will always be in accordance with his will. He may, therefore, with the utmost safety, promise to grant all that such persons would ask. Christ did not mean to say, that every such petition would be granted to the letter, but that their hearts would be in such a state living in the spirit of prayer they would be so led, that the spirit of their petitions would always be granted. But this implies plainly, that then are some persons who are not in such a state that they can expect an answer to their petitions.
If a man does not abide in Christ, and Christ's words do not abide in him, his prayer is not in the spirit that Christ himself would pray in, and it, therefore, cannot be expected to prevail. The first Sabbath I preached here, I preached upon two petitions of the Lord's prayer, and then I clearly I set forth the state of mind in which we could sincerely offer the Lord's prayer. Now, this state of mind is undoubtedly a condition of prevailing prayer; but as I explained then at large, I now will only say, to be in a state of mind in which you can sincerely offer the Lord's prayer, is a condition of prevailing prayer.
Suppose a person pray to be made holy, for example, he must be willing to be made holy; and if there shall be any stumbling-block in the way any besetting sin any unmortified appetite, any passion, any propensity, he must be willing to give it up. If he is unwilling, and insists that the blessing must be granted in his own way, why then he cannot be said to pray acceptably. Again, the man who would pray God acceptably to be made holy, must love his enemies. The man who would pray to be holy, and yet continue in the practice of certain forms of sin, is tempting him, because he is to unwilling to yield up his idols, to be crucified to the world. Persons must be willing to be, to do, to suffer, whatever is implied in having their prayers answered, or indispensable to having them answered, or they do not pray acceptably. Were they to examine the matter, they would often find the difficulty in themselves; they are praying for things which they know themselves to need, but are really making such conditions and reservations that their prayer cannot be accepted.
I could relate, if I had time, and it were worth while, a great many particular cases which have, come under my own observation, of persons who have begun to question whether God was really willing to hear prayer, and whether prayer had any such prevalence as it is represented to have in the Bible; but by and by they come to understand that the difficulty was not in God, but that they were really unwilling that God should give them what they sought, on those terms on which alone he could do so. Many persons pray that they maybe Christians, but all the time are unwilling to be Christians, and when they come to conceive rightly of what it is to be a Christian, they perceive that they are entirely unwilling to have their prayers answered.
I recollect the case of a young lady, who professed to have an intense willingness to become a Christian. She had prayed a great deal, and had done all that she supposed that she possibly could; and finally, after making these pretenses, after a long time, during which her mind was strongly exercised about her soul, one day she retired to her chamber to pray. She knelt down, but before she opened her mouth it was shown her what was implied in becoming a Christian living a holy life. Certain things came on strongly before her, as to what it was necessary to be, to do, and to suffer, in order to be a Christian, that she said it seemed to be put to her, as if God himself had put it to her before her face, "Are you willing that every obstacle shall be removed? Furthermore, it seemed clear, that if she would ask sincerely, her prayer would be granted. But as soon as she saw what was really implied, she rose up and went away, and would not ask. She saw she had not heart to attempt it. So it often is, where persons continue praying, until they doubt whether God be willing to answer prayer, and are ready to accuse him of being unfaithful. At length they see that, within themselves, they are not really willing to receive the true spirit of the thing which they seek.
When God gives great blessing, he does not intend that they should be hid under a bushel. When he gives persons great grace, he always places them in a position to try them. If they do not pass through seasons to try them, how should anybody know that God had given them great grace? Now, are you willing to be sanctified, cost what it may? willing to give up all iniquity in every form, let the consequence be what it may, so that God may be glorified?
Faith, also, is an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer. As you all very well know, this is affirmed expressly in the Bible" Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and have been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandmen waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receiveth the early and latter rain." In other words, it is often affirmed and everywhere it is always implied.
On his way, he was informed that Esau was coming with large hosts and he had every reason to believe that he would take vengeance upon him for his past misconduct. This, of course, greatly distressed him. He made every arrangement which a prudent man would naturally make, in order, if possible, to propitiate Esau. He sent on persons before him, and then he retired alone to pray. Doubtless, Jacob had a great weight on his mind. He remembered, most likely, how he had injured Esau how he became possessed of his birth-right, and, therefore, he feared that Esau would take vengeance. He had God's promise, and he went aside to plead with God. For a time, the Almighty seemed to resist him. He struggled, but he could not overcome. He continued to struggle and to pray throughout the night. God seemed to take every way to try him. He had many confessions to make, and a great deal of breaking down to undergo, just as in those struggles which some of you can instance in your own experience, when you have set your heart upon obtaining a blessing, and believe some point is not exactly clear between you and God.
In such times you have felt yourselves in such agony, that the perspiration has poured down you, and even if you have not obtained, yet you have not given up the struggle, until you have finally humbled yourselves. Then you have prevailed. This was the case with Jacob. He needed to be humbled and broken down. Probably, till then, he never saw his conduct towards Esau exactly in the proper light. He struggled; God resisted. Yet he continued to struggle. God touched his thigh, and made him a cripple to the end of his life. Nevertheless, when he could wrestle no longer, still he held on, exclaiming, "I will not let thee go," though God told him to do so. "I will not let thee go," he says, "except thou bless me." Had he a right to say this? Yes, he had. He had God's express promise; therefore he would do it. God seemed as if he was not going to fulfil his promise. Doubtless, this delay, however, was of great importance. Jacob's mind was preparing to receive the blessing in such a manner as would do good. Jacob was determined not to be denied as if he had said, "Thou hast promised, and I will not be denied!" This is not impudence. He did not mean that Jacob should be disheartened, although severely tried, as was necessary.
He had not only much to confess but much to promise. There was a great and a wonderful struggle within. Now mark, suppose he had not held on what then? The fact is, he did hold on till the very last. What a remarkable answer, when he said, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." God said, "What is thy name?" I suppose Jacob blushed when he answered that his name was Jacob, which means a supplanter. He confessed his name was a supplanter, and he was a supplanter, because he had supplanted his brother Esau. I am a suplanter! That's my name. What a significant circumstance was this. Jacob was so bold and so vehement, that he said, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." "What is thy name," said the Almighty, "that thou shouldest presume thus?" "My name," said he, "is Jacob." God said, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed" (Genesis xxxii. 28). "No more shalt thou be called Jacob" the matter was settled. He was a supplanter all along. You will recollect from the circumstance of his birth, how he came to be named Jacob how he cried out, and illustrated his name by taking the birthright of his brother. Jacob all along had proved himself to be rightly named, but after this mighty exercise of faith, this taking hold and keeping hold of God's promises, under all those discouraging circumstances for these things, God did well to alter his name, that it might remind him no more of his having been a supplanter, and to give him one which should remind him of his having had power with God and prevailed.
Again- take the case of Moses. He stepped foreword, as it were, and took hold of the uplifted hand of the Almighty. God promised Moses that a certain thing should be done for the people; but the people had sinned, and gone into idolatry. Then he said, "Let me alone, that I may consume them in a moment" (Numbers xvi. 21). What a peculiar position did he place himself in! It might have been a temptation to a man of less grace to have given up. God had promised to make of him a great nation. Some men might have said, "Well, if God will make of me a great nation let them be consumed; they are rebels, and have destroyed themselves." But Moses said, "What will the Egyptians say?" See his regard for God's honour, and his persevering spirit. God seemed to have anticipated his prayer and forbade it. He did not mean this (it might have been, however, so to a man without Moses' confidence and grace). He said, "Let me alone that I may consume them, for they are a rebellious people." But no, Moses must step right forward to reason with God. "What will the Egyptians say ? What wilt thou do with thy great name ? Will not they say that thou hast taken them up into the wilderness on purpose to slay them? "Having asked, "What will the Egyptians say ?" he says, "Forgive them, or blot out my name from the book that thou hast written. "How beautiful was Moses' simple heartedness and confidence his determination to stand in the gap between God and the people! I shall not detain you any longer now, but I shall pursue the subject tomorrow evening. Amen.
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HOW TO PREVAIL WITH GOD
Delivered on Wednesday, May 22, 1850,
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES,
This lecture was typed in by Tony Alan Mangum.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek,
and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh
receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh It shall be opened."
--Matt. vii. 7, 8.
"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." --James iv. 3.
THE subject to which I spoke last evening I shall continue this evening--The Conditions of Prevailing Prayer. I noticed last evening several of these conditions, and announced that this evening I should pursue the subject. I was speaking of Perseverance being made a condition of prevailing with God. Sometimes. however, the circumstances are of such a character that there is no time for perseverance, in any such sense as to protract; if the prayers must necessarily be repeated, the object cannot be attained at all. But often there are very good reasons why the supplicant should be left to wrestle and persevere. God is anxious, by this means, to develops a certain state of mind, sometimes for the petitioner's benefit, sometimes for the benefit of others, or both of these together. Some came of this kind are recorded in Scripture, where God declined to answer at once, in order that he might develop a certain state of mind in the petitioner for the benefit of others. I shall instance some came of this kind. I noticed last evening that of Jacob as an example of perseverance in struggling--persisting in supplication, until he prevailed. I noticed, also the case of Moses, and was about to mention that of Elijah.
Elijah had the express promise of God that he would send rain upon the earth. When he had built an altar, slain the prophets of Baal, if you recollect, he gave himself to prayer, and sent his servant to see if there were any clouds arising. Elijah commenced praying. The servant went, but saw nothing. Elijah said, "Go again." I suppose he meant to say, "Keep on going until you see the approach of rain, for I must not leave this place till the blessing come." He had a strong desire for rain for the benefit of the people, but there were other reasons. God expressly promised it should come; he was determined its delay in coming should be no stumbling-block. He continued to press his suit, until at length a little cloud about the size of a man's hand was discovered. He did not go and ask God, and then get up and go away, as is customary with many, who think that if God has promised anything, to be once reminded of his promise is sufficient. No, it was not so. The prophet had an urgent spirit--a spirit which would not let him leave the throne of grace. The servant went and came seven times, and the last time he said, "There is a little cloud rising, about the size of a man's hand." Observe the perseverance. Elijah refused to leave his position until rain came.
Again, take the case of Daniel. We have in Daniel (10th chapter) a very affecting instance of perseverance. I will read:-- "In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled" (Daniel x. 2, 3). Then came the answer--I will not read the intervening verses, but pass on to the 12th,-- "Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words." Here it appears that a messenger had been sent to answer Daniel, but that he had been withstood by some agency; indeed, an infernal spirit, here called the Prince of Persia--for I think, if we read the connection, it is manifest that it was an infernal agent withstood the messenger sent to answer Daniel, until Michael, one of the chief princes, who was, some have supposed, the Messiah himself, came to help him. Daniel pressed his suit for the space of twenty-one days. There was no staying him till he had the answer.
The case of the Syrophoenician woman is another striking and affecting instance. This is recorded in the 15th chapter of Matthew. You will recollect the circumstances. The woman was not a Jewess, but her daughter was tormented by an infernal spirit, and she came to Christ to have it cast out. She fell down and worshipped him, and said, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Now, the disciples were with the Saviour, who was crowded; she followed and made supplication, and wept along the road after them. They seeing that he took no notice, concluded that he was not going to answer her, and said, "Send her away, for she crieth after us." He replied, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Now, as I have said, she was not a Jewess, but a Syrophoenician; however she was not discouraged, but continued crying. He at length addressed her-- "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs." "Truth, Lord," says she; "I ask no such thing. I am willing to be compared to a dog. I do not resent this, nor do I ask the children's bread; but may not dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table?" What a spirit was this! Christ turned and said, "0 woman, great is thy faith; be it unto, thee even as thou wilt!" He had developed her faith. The disciples saw the spirit of perseverance and faith, and what confidence she had. With less confidence she might have been at first confounded or discouraged, when he said he was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But she was not to be discouraged by that. Notwithstanding this apparent discouragement, she would believe that she could get the blessing, therefore she pressed it still, only increasing in importunity, and would not be discouraged. Then he said, as if to try the temper of the woman--as every one can see what he said was calculated to do, he said, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs", almost treating her contemptuously; but she never resented it. "If you are going to treat me in this way," she might have said, "I won't speak to you any more. I did not come to seek the children's bread, but might I not have the crumbs which fall from the master's table?" Now, this is a beautiful instance, not only of perseverance, but of the power and prevalence of this perseverance.
In the 11th chapter of Luke, we have the case of the unjust judge, who neither feared God nor regarded man. There are two parables in Luke which are specially designed by the Saviour to teach the necessity and the power of perseverance, and the prayer is very striking in both these parables. Take the case of the unjust judge. "There was in a certain city a judge, who feared not God, neither regarded man; and there was a widow in that city, and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while, but afterwards said within himself, though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her of her adversary." Now Christ did not intend here to compare God to the unjust judge, but he had to take a strong case, and therefore to give a strong illustration of the truth enforced. He says, perseverance in supplication overcame even the unjust judge. She so persevered that, to avoid her importunity to avoid being continually troubled by the woman, he would avenge her of her adversary. Christ tells us here what the unjust judge says, who neither feared God nor regarded man; and shall not God, who is not unjust--for this is the idea-- "shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him?" Here was a judge who took no interest in the case, who cared not for the woman or her adversary,--who "neither feared God nor regarded man", but who, to avoid her importunity, avenged her of her adversary. Now, if importunity could do this with such an individual, what shall it do with God? whose elect are dear to his heart, who cares for them and their cause, and when they importunately cry day and night unto him, shall he not avenge them? When the unjust judge was overcome by importunity, and with neither interest in the person or the cause, was moved by importunity, shall not God avenge his own elect? Yes, "he shall avenge them, and that speedily."
A curious circumstance occurred since I came to England; a party, whose name I have forgotten, but the circumstance was related to me while I was at Birmingham. A Christian man called to see me to relate a fact about himself. He had heard, from time to time, different things about prevailing prayer. He felt, he said, that it was his duty to state the fact to me, to show me how great was the faithfulness of God. It was of so extraordinary a character, involving such a principle, that I have thought of it almost ever since. "Some time back," said the gentleman, "a neighbour of mine lost his wife. When she was ill and nigh unto death, my wife went to nurse her, and staid with her till she breathed her last. After she returned home, I was satisfied that all was not right. Things kept showing themselves continually. Circumstances occurred to show me that all was not right between that man and my wife. I told her what I feared. She confessed her guilt, and not only so, but avowed her determination to quit me, and to live with him, whatever might come of it. 'What do you say? ' exclaimed I? I could not say anything more to her; but I went to God, and cried day and night unto him--'O God, wilt thou not avenge me of this mine adversary? 'For two weeks, I scarcely slept at all, but prayed and wept, sometimes in one position and sometimes in another. But for two weeks I gave God no rest, but prayed continually, 'O God, wilt thou not avenge me of this mine adversary? 'At the same time, I let my wife understand, that my arms and heart were open to receive her if she would return, and I would forgive her all the past. I kept myself in that position. I wept before God. I prayed, and I cried unto him to avenge me. At the end of the two weeks, she came back heart-broken, confessing her sin, humbling herself, and doing all that I could wish her to do; and she has since been all that I could wish her to be." What a striking case is this! Instead of at once turning her away, he went to God, and said, "O Lord, thou seest that this man hath torn away my very wife from my bosom! O God, avenge me of this mine adversary." If in any one case more than another, a man would feel a disinclination to make a matter the subject of prayer, it would be in such a case as this; yet he did, and prevailed in the extraordinary manner I have described.
Let me now present an instance of importunity for others, which is recorded in the 11th chapter of Luke. The Syrophoenician prayed for a blessing for herself. Christ given a parable illustrative of the power of importunity in praying for others. It was a case where an individual went to the house of a friend in the night, and said, "Friend, lend me three loaves;" but he would not do it. He and his children were in bed, and could not rise to give him what he wanted. The man, however, continued knocking and knocking, resolved to keep knocking all night; so he might as well get up first as last, or make up his mind to be awake all night. So much was he set on providing for the necessities of his friend who called upon him, that he would stand knocking like this; and though the individual would not get up because of his friend, yet because of the constant knocking, in that way, with such importunity, he got up and gave him as many as he pleased. Here, then, is an illustration of the great value of importunity when seeking blessings for our friends--those upon whose salvation we set our hearts. Here was an individual who wanted a blessing for his friend, and who would not suffer his other friend, from whom he could not get this blessing, to rest till be obtained it. The fact is, that cases oftentimes occur in which it appears as if God kept silence, and suffered individuals to importune with the greatest perseverance and solicitude, until a state of mind was developed, which is so striking as to be very edifying to all who see it, and particularly so to the petitioner himself.
Oftentimes, also, a condition of prevailing seems to be a great degree of solicitude, amounting almost to unutterable agony of mind. Blessings very great, which are sought, do not come, until we are so strongly excited in mind, as to be thrown into great agony--to travail in soul before God. Many professors of religion do not understand what this "travail of soul" is. It is spoken of repeatedly in the Bible as a state of mind to which great blessings are promised. The Apostle speaks of "travailing in birth" for those to whom he preached at Galatia. He says, "My little children have backslidden. To reclaim them gave him such agony of mind. When the Prophet speaks of seeing a man in a vision, he says, "Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child, wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned in to paleness?" Have you examined your Bible with marginal references, or a concordance, to see what that book really says on the subject? What is promised to that state of mind which amounts to agony and travail of soul? This is a delicate subject, yet it is so often dwelt upon in the Bible that persons should search not only what the Scriptures say, but be willing just to sympathize with God so deeply, that their souls travail in birth until other souls are born to God, I do not say now, or suppose that in all instances, this spirit is indispensable to prevail. But it often is. On the first establishment of Christianity, it was so common, that the Apostle speaks of it as a thing well known to Christians. He says, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself also maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans viii. 26).
My hearers, do you know what this is? In the great revivals that prevailed in America some years since, some striking instances of the prevalence of prayer occurred, as also in the days of President Edwards, as well as in Scotland. In various parts of Great Britain, too, where revivals prevailed, there was a remarkable spirit of prayer. I have witnessed much of this myself. An aged minister, well known by name to many of you, mentioned this fact to me. He had not at that time been in those revivals much, but two of his daughters had grown up in impenitence. He told me the great exercise of mind he had had previous to their conversion, and when I told him that it was a thing perfectly common to revivals, be felt surprised that he should have so long overlooked what the Bible says on this subject. The man was so exercised that he could not sleep. So great was the weight upon him that he struggled until he said he told the Lord that "he must die or his daughters must be converted." He felt that his soul was loaded with such an unutterable agony, that he really must die unless that petition was granted. He was literally in travail of soul for them. Often when I have seen Christians in this state--in expressing the state of their minds to me, they have used the very language of Scripture. They have said again and again, "My soul travaileth day and night, I cannot live unless I see the salvation of God." Such persons, when in such a state of mind, are generally not disposed to see company, or to go anywhere, more than they can help. They want to be with God as much as possible. They have deep seasons of sighing unawares--seeking to be alone with God; and could you but hear and see how they wrestle with God, you might, perhaps, feel astonished at the holy boldness and confidence such a soul would manifest in its intercourse with God. You would hear such expressions, and see such a mighty wrestling as you would probably never forget. I have known such things, that where I am a stranger I have been afraid to tell them, lest, the people should think them untrue. I have often witnessed things in revivals of religion, of a character so extraordinary--I have often seen answers to prayer bordering so closely upon the miraculous, that I feel afraid to tell them where I am unknown. The fact is, that the answers to prayer which have come under my notice, have been most wonderful, both in America and in this country, to the great astonishment of those who have not understood them.
But, let me say again: that all the hindrances of prevailing prayer, may be summed up in one, which is one of the greatest, if not the greatest of the difficulties--I refer to a want of sympathy with God. How can people hope to prevail with God, unless they sympathize with him? When men really sympathize with him in such a manner as not to stickle at self-denial--when they are imbued with the spirit that led Christ to make the atonement--that led Christ to deny himself, and to do all that he did--to have such a state of mind is a great difficulty. Christ needs his Church to sympathize with him, and while they do not sympathize with him, and are not in a state of mind to deny themselves of even trifling gratifications, for the sake of doing good to the worldly-minded, how can they expect to prevail with God?
This leads me to say again, a state of mind which will not grieve the Spirit of God, but will watch against everything which does grieve the Spirit of God, is indispensable to the true spirit of prayer. No man can prevail with God who does not bridle his tongue. In these days, people talk a great deal too much to pray well. They grieve the Holy Ghost by their much talking, and their bad talking. People speak harshly of their brethren. Now, such a state of mind is not congenial to prayer, and if you wish to, prevail with God, you must take care and keep yourselves in the love of God, by praying in the Holy Ghost. In order to prevail with God, Christians must have the spirit of love, and walk therein; they must have a spirit tender for the reputation of Christ, and live in such a state towards sinners, as to be willing to make any sacrifices for them. My dear friends, I should last night have done what I now intend to do,--ask, as I go along, do you fulfill these conditions? Are you living in such a sympathy with God and Christ that you are willing to deny yourselves, and to walk before God in such a manner as to give yourselves up to the great work of saving souls? I don't mean by this, that you should forsake your necessary employments, and go about to do nothing else but talk and pray; but are you in such a state of mind, as not to stickle at self-denial? Are you willing to live, and be used up, body, property, and everything, for the promotion of the glory of God, and the salvation of the world? Or would you stickle at some trifling gratification? Can a man offer prevailing prayer, who is unwilling to make sacrifices for the sake of doing more good? Who that had looked at this subject as it is, has not been agonized often, to see the want of sympathy with God? What was the secret of Paul's usefulness? He says, "I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ--for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." He meant to say, he could forego anything personally--he could make any personal sacrifice, if by so doing he could save his kindred according to the flesh. I know that there has been much speculation upon this passage. I have wondered at this. Paul's language is strong, but I have mentioned the purport of his intentions. He would make any sacrifice so far as his own happiness was concerned, he could give up anything they could name. No doubt he did not intend to say that he was willing to go to hell, but that there was no personal sacrifice he would not make. He was willing to hang on the cross, or to suffer anything, so that the world might be saved. Now, I myself know a man who said this, and finally went so far in his sympathy with Christ, as to say, "O Lord Jesus, not only am I willing to hang upon the cross, but till the end of time, if necessary." Now, this is saying much, but it is only expressing the vehement, the agonizing feeling of a man ready to suffer any conceivable thing, if, by so doing, Christ could be honored, and souls could be saved. Such is the spirit to prevail with God--a spirit willing to enter into his sympathies, a spirit which will not hesitate to make any necessary and personal sacrifice, in order to save the souls of men.
But, let me say again: Prevailing prayer is, after all, rather a state of mind than a particular exercise. By this I mean, that a man to prevail, must live in a prescribed state of mind. Prayer is not the mere going aside and praying, but a perpetual yearning of the mind, a habitual preventing of the mind in a spirit of importunity. This is the true idea of prevailing prayer. You see sometimes in this world's matters, that men have a great burden on their minds about their business. Men get into such a state of mind as this,--they are intensely anxious--they fear bankruptcy The changes which they expect to come over them, cause such anxiety, that it becomes the burden of their life. They are quite borne down by the continuance of this struggle in their minds. Sometimes men get into such a state of mind as this about religion. They see the Churches are not prospering--that the hand of the Lord is not revealed--that the Church does not understand its whereabouts--that the professors are worldly minded, and not aware of it--that professors of religion are getting into a spirit rather of justifying themselves, than of confessing their sins. They see the difficulty, and betake themselves to God, literally besieging his throne, as Daniel did; even in their dreams they pray; all their waking hours they pray, until they are really borne down. Such is the state of mind in which Christians begin to mourn over the condition of Sion, to take pleasure in her stones, and to favour the dust thereof. You bear them confessing their sins and those of the people, with much weeping then may you understand that the spirit of grace and supplication is poured out--that this spirit of grace and supplication will prevail, and is always indispensable to prevailing prayer.
Again, clean hands is another necessary condition. The Psalmist. says, "I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, O Lord!" Now, if this is not the case, you cannot prevail with God; and if a man has wronged his neighbour, whether in character, property, or person, if he has spoken against him in a manner injurious to his character, if he has wronged him in any way, he can expect no good to arise till this be set right. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come offer thy gift" (Matthew v. 23, 24). Don't offer it, and then say, "Lord, remember I have spoken against such a one. Pray give me a heart to repent of it." No--repent first; before you can prevail, your hands must be clean. You must be reconciled to your brother. Have you in any way unnecessarily, in any unjustifiable manner injured the feelings, or injured in any respect any of your brothers or neighbours? Go and be reconciled to the brother. Make peace with him, and then come and offer the gifts. When this in not the case, you can never expect to prevail.
But this leads me to say again: the spirit of forgiveness is another condition of prevailing prayer--the spirit of forgiveness, where you have been wronged. Christ says in Matthew vi.,--Except "ye forgive not men their trespass, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." My dear friends, are you sure your hands are so clean, that when you come to God, you can say, "Lord, thou knowest that I have taken no man's money, goods, or property, without an equivalent. Lord, thou knowest that I have wronged no man--that I have injured no man in character, in property, or in anything whatever." Or if you have done so, can you say, "Thou knowest, O Lord, that I have made restitution--I have not suffered this iniquity to cleave to my hands, and that, O Lord, thou knowest." How is this? Many of you, perhaps, have offered many prayers, but you are not conscious of having prevailed. Perhaps you have prayed a multitude of times without ever really calling up the question whether you are answered or not!
I was conversing in one of the great cities of America, some years since, with a brother, in the presence of a lady richly dressed, with many artificial and other ornaments common to ladies of her class. I sat talking with the brother on the subject of prayer. I talked for some considerable time. At length, the lady began to pay attention to my conversation. I said I believed the Christians of that day did not really expect to be answered when they prayed. I observed she was running it over and over. At length she became so uneasy, that she finally broke out, "She did not believe persons were so bad." "I do, then," said I. I tried to reply to her as mildly as I could. I asked her, "Do you obtain the things you ask for?" "Yes, she did; if she did not, she would not pray." I went on-- "Are you a married woman?" "Yes." "Is your husband a Christian?" "No, sir." "Are you the mother of children?" "I am." " Are they converted?" "No, sir." "Is there a revival in the church where you belong?" "No, sir." "Have you had any since your connection with it?" "We have not." "Then what can you have been praying for? You say you have received what you prayed for. Now, as you have a husband unconverted, children unconverted, no revival in your church, and have not had any since your connection with it, what can you have been praying for that you have received? Have you prayed for these golden chains and other ornaments? These are among the things that you really have, and perhaps they are what you have been praying for;" and so on. Before we left the room, she burst into deep grief, confessing that she didn't think in reality she ever had prayed! She said she had often gone over certain forms of prayer, but now she felt confident that she had never been heard. In fact, she had prayed without ever asking if she had been heard. She had prayed rather as a task, or a duty. No man ever does his duty by praying in such a manner. It should be done in faith, with a full expectation of receiving what is prayed for, and not as a mere duty. Are you, and am I,--have we, in this sense, clean hands, that we can compass God's altar, and that he can receive us honourably to himself? Have we actually forgiven our enemies? Why, I have known individuals to keep up the forms of religion in the same church, while in such a state of mind, that they would not speak to each other. Abomination! Abomination! Why, such persons deserve to be excommunicated, I had almost said, for ever praying, under such circumstances! They pray that God would forgive their trespasses, as they forgive those that trespass against them, and in so doing they tempt God. Persons in such a state of mind, that they can really rise above the injuries they have received, and pray to God, heartily, to forgive them, and exercise a forgiving spirit, are in a proper state of mind to pray; if they are not in such a state of mind; how can they expect to prevail? With feelings of ill-will, and a spirit that cannot speak peacefully of certain individuals--if you feel so towards any one, even wicked men, you are not in a proper state of mind to offer prayer. Angels-- the great Archangel Michael,--would not bring a railing accusation even against the devil,--and angels have no right to exercise any other than benevolent feelings, even towards the wickedest of beings. It is impossible to restore individuals to our confidence while they remain wicked. We are not expected to do this, but we are expected to be in such a state of mind, as to have no disposition to retaliate. We are expected to be in such a state of mind as not to wish them evil, but to wish them all good, and pray for them honestly and earnestly--to pray God that he would bless them. We are to do this with all our hearts, as opposed to the spirit that would pray God to curse them. Unless we have this spirit, we have no sympathy with Christ, who, when we were his enemies, so great was his compassion that he hesitated not to die for us. Some of you are harboring an improper state of mind towards your brethren. Can you go home to-night, and pray God literally to forgive you your trespasses as you have forgiven those that trespassed against you? You have no right to expect God to hear you or to answer you, unless you can honestly say this-- "O Lord, forgive me, as I have forgiven them." No matter how much they have injured you. That is not the question. Persons have not done much who have only treated well those who have treated them well; but no man can prevail with God in such a spirit as that. He must be willing to pour out his heart in honest, earnest supplications for his very enemies. Without this, he does not sympathize with Christ. "Love your enemies," says Christ. "Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?" To prevail with God, you must "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." Unless you are in this state of mind, you need not expect to prevail with God. Oh! that we could see this spirit prevail--that Christians would really do this-- bless them that curse them, and pray for them that persecute them, and humble themselves before God! The prayer of the man who prays for his enemy, has a mighty power with God. Job's friends greatly abused him, misunderstood, and reviled him--accused him of being a hypocrite. Job prayed for them. God turned his captivity and blessed him with a double portion. While Job prayed that they might be forgiven, God was pleased, and smiled upon them and upon him too.
FOR MORE SERMONS BY C. G. FINNEY:
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"These sermons were preached by Pres. Finney at Oberlin during the years 1845-1861... Few preachers in any age have surpassed Pres. Finney in clear and well-defined views of conscience, and of man's moral convictions; few have been more fully at home in the domain of law and government; few have learned more of the spiritual life from experience and from observation; not many have discriminated the true from the false more closely, or have been more skillful in putting their points clearly and pungently. Hence, these sermons under God were full of spiritual power. They are given to the public in this form, in the hope that at least a measure of the same wholesome saving power may never fail to bless the reader." -HENRY COWLES.
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