Sermons from the Penny Pulpit
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|The Use and Prevalence of Christ's Name.|
|The Great Business of Life.|
|Holiness Essential to Salvation.|
|The Sabbath School-Cooperation with God.|
|The Sabbath School-Conditions of Success.|
|The Christian's Rule of Life.|
|Seeking Honour from Men.|
|Hardening the Heart.|
|The Conversion of Children.|
Delivered on Friday, May 24, 1850,
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES,
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS, LONDON.
This lecture was typed in by John and Terri Clark.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." --John xvi. 24.
IN passing over the Conditions of Prevailing Prayer, I noticed one--that prayer should be made in the name of Christ. In speaking further on this subject from these words--
II. THE STATE OF MIND THAT CAN ACCEPTABLY USE CHRIST'S NAME IN PRAYER IS INDISPENSABLE TO PREVAILING WITH GOD.
III. THE REASONS FOR WHICH WE ARE REQUIRED TO PRAY IN CHRIST'S NAME.
There is some good reason, doubtless, for our being required to pray in Christ's name. In this case, our Lord was addressing his disciples. While he lived, it was natural that they should not clearly understand their exact position with regard to God, in such a sense as to fully comprehend the reason for using Christ's name in prayer. We must endeavour to ascertain our real relations to the government of God. We are outlaws, criminals, under condemnation. True Christians are not outlaws and criminals in such a sense as to be under condemnation; still, they never come into such a relation with God as to be accepted in their own name. In order to their acceptance with God, they must remember always their relation to God, and their position to his government. When persons are under sentence for any capital offence, they are regarded as outlaws; the government, as such, does not even recognise their existence while they occupy such a position in relation to it. Being outlawed, they are, civilly, dead,--that is, the government, as such, regards them as dead; and, so far as it is concerned, to all intents and purposes, they are not legally in existence. The government has no intercourse with them, knows nothing of them; they are, to it, just as if they were not.
This is the true governmental position, and precisely, under God's government, the position in which the sinner stands, when viewed as a sinner and separate from Christ. They are criminals, and he, as head of the universe, knows nothing of them, only as being cast out, condemned to die, outlawed.
But, even when men come to be Christians, they do not come into such a relation to God, as to have no more need of coming to him through Christ. An unconverted man stands condemned; he is under sentence of eternal death. Suppose such an one is convinced of sin--convicted by his own conscience as well as by the law of God--the sentence is gone out against him; how is such an individual to appear in God's presence? Why, he cannot have even access to God! How can an individual, who has been remanded to prison under sentence for a capital crime, have any connexion with the government of his country? He is governmentally dead; and it behoves the government to treat him as such; while in such a position, he can have no relation to government but as a dead man. Yet the head of the government may have no ill-will or wrong feeling towards him; he might even be disposed, if he could be in a position, to treat with him; as in individual, the head of the government might regard him as a living man, and as one for whom he had great affection. This he might do in his individual capacity; but, as the head of a government, he has necessarily a public as well as a private character to sustain, and this he must not overlook. He must not act as a mere private individual, public reasons forbid him to do so; and whatever his private relations and feelings may be, he must remember his public relations and character for the sake of the public good.
Now, let us look at such in individual as he stands before God, and is subject to his laws and government. Such is the sacredness of the governmental character and relations of the sovereign, that when the law has pronounced sentence against him, there are laws which place the ruler and the ruled in certain relations to each other. The ruler cannot justly overlook these relations. Now, when the law has once pronounced sentence against an individual, it has committed the public character of the lawgiver against him; and for the government by any public act to go against this, is to depart from its principles, and to take up arms against the law.
This is so in human governments; and if so in human governments, are not the reasons infinitely stronger in God's government for maintaining his public character, and being careful that he gives no opportunity for any individual to draw a false inference as to his position? Once convicted, the sinner comes before God. What can he do? He is governmentally dead; and the whole human race stands in that position to God--condemned criminals, outlawed, under the sentence of death. God's public character and relations are such that he cannot so much as have the least intercourse, nor suffer them so much as to take his name on their lips without offence--he can regard them only as criminals. If he acts contrary to this, he forfeits the confidence of the universe. It is his public character and relation that render it necessary, that if sinners are to approach him, there must be a Mediator; they must come not in their own names; for if they do he will not know, hear, or look at them; but if they can be so united to Christ that Christ may be virtually the petitioner--that, in a governmental point of view, it is Christ, not the sinner, that approaches God--the way is perfectly open. There is not--there cannot be--any approach to God, but by Christ. Unless you come to him through Christ; and, virtually, as Christ, in Christ's very spirit,--unless you can do this, God will not so much as look at you, or suffer you to approach his presence.
The sinner, therefore, when he comes to God, must approach him in this way. He must put on Christ appropriating to himself all that Christ has done--taking to himself, as it were, the very work of Christ, and come in the person and name of Christ, with Christ's spirit; then the request he makes will virtually be Christ's own spirit making intercession. The sinner is in him; and, governmentally, united with him. The greatest sinner in the world, as well as the least, may come in this way; only let them do this, and they are accepted as really as Christ is accepted, because Christ is accepted. He lives in Christ, and is governmentally regarded as being found in Christ. If he comes repenting, believing, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, he is as really, freely, and fully accepted as Christ himself; for now he is come into a state of mind in which he really comes in Christ's name. He now comes to be found in Christ, and, governmentally, he is known only as a part of Christ, one of Christ's family, a member of Christ's own body, a part of Christ himself. In this capacity he is known in the government of God.
May Christ now be laid aside? By no means. Unless you abide in the same state of mind, in the possession of the same proportion of Christ, you are cast out. The Bible everywhere teaches us this; nor will it ever be otherwise, to all eternity, since he will be found in Christ, and accepted only on his account. This governmental relation will always exist; and the relation of his saints to Christ will be the sole and only reason they are received into heaven. What Christ has done will not save any one out of him. There is no dropping Christ's name, his interposition, and our relation to him, when we approach God.
This leads me, in the next place, to remark that the use of Christ's name implies that we recognise our relationship to God as sinners, truly abhorring ourselves and repenting. We must truly and fully concede to God the entire justice and propriety of his treating us as rebels, and refusing so much as to look at us, unless we come to him through Christ.
The use of his name acceptably, also implies a state of mind which can and does receive these truths into the inmost hearts; for unless we really renounce and abhor our own righteousness, and wholly give up all expectations of approaching God and prevailing in our own name, and come to God in Christ's name alone, we can never prevail with him. Some say, "Why come in Christ's name, more than in the name of Paul, or of Moses?" What idea can a Unitarian have of Christ's name, when he denies his divinity and sacrifice? The Unitarian cannot understand this; he professes great love to God, and to worship "his heavenly Father," and so forth. I have heard much of this--what shall I call such slang, but slang? I have heard them say they are "fond of God, and God is fond of them;" but they have nothing beyond a species of sentimentalism, very far from this recognition of their relationship to the Creator. This governmental relation must be ever kept in view--it must be an ever-present consideration, and in such a degree as always to influence us in our approach to God.
There are thoughts which take possession of the mind, and are always there, and have their influence, though we may not at all times be conscious of it. For example, persons who have children: this fact always acts upon them; hours may glide away and their children remain unthought of; yet the fact that they have children is an influence always acting upon them. When persons approach God they must have not only an idea that they sustain certain relations to Christ; but, in order to approach him acceptably, there should be a vivid recollection of this. When the name of Christ is used, they should know well why they use it. The idea of their governmental relations and character without Christ, must have its due weight with them. Do not, for a moment, once think of coming without Christ.
But again: To use this name acceptably implies a realizing sense of our character and relations, and of his character and relations; God's character and governmental position--our character and governmental position. Now, unless the mind has a realizing sense, so as really to mean it ought to mean in using Christ's name, it does not do so acceptably. We are to use it understanding why we use it. It implies, also, the most implicit confidence in Christ's influence at his Father's court; an entire confidence that coming to God in his name we shall really obtain what we ask in his name.
When persons really and truly use the name of Christ, there is a very important sense in which they pray for Christ. I do not mean by praying for him, that Christ needs to be prayed for as a sinner--as one who needs forgiveness, or any favour of God for himself; but that the Church is Christ's, God having given the world to him, in such a sense that every favour bestowed on them is regarded, governmentally, as bestowed on him. The saints are Christ's servants. This is Christ's world in such a sense, that when the government of God grants anything to the inhabitants thereof, it yields it to Christ. Prayer has been made for him, it is said, continually.
II. THE STATE OF MIND THAT CAN ACCEPTABLY USE CHRIST'S NAME IN PRAYER IS INDISPENSABLE TO PREVAILING WITH GOD.
To pray in his name, we must ask the thing not for ourselves, because we are not our own; we do not own ourselves, and of course, therefore, we can own nothing else. The fact is, we are Christ's, and when we seek anything in Christ's name, we seek it for him. We are Christ's servants; and as children we belong to Christ. If we want anything for ourselves, separate from Christ; to glorify ourselves, we cannot have it; but if we want it for his sake, because we belong to him, and ask it as something to be given to us only because we belong to him; then we can have it. Suppose, for example, we pray for anything whatever, and ask it merely for ourselves alone, we ask it selfishly, "that we may consume it upon our lusts." We have no right to come and plead Christ's name to obtain things for ourselves, as not belonging to him. We are not authorised to use his name in any such sense as that. We are not authorised to make use of his name to get things merely to please ourselves, as distinct from pleasing him. Many regard the Gospel and Christ's name in such a light, as if they might use Christ's name as a mere speculation for their own selfish purposes. But Christ has never given permission for any such use of it; the fact is, that unless we ask for these things, recognising the fact that we are his, and that whatever we ask for--even our daily bread--is to be used for him; the very air we breath is to be inhaled for him; the clothing we wear is to be worn for him; and unless we recognise this practically--unless we really come to regard ourselves as asking for things for Christ's sake, we cannot expect an answer to prayer.
What is meant by the phrase "for Christ's sake?" Do you mean for your sake, in Christ's name? Do you not know that, as I have said, you belong to Christ, and have no right to approach God, only as you approach him in Christ's name? If, however, you overlook this fact, or think it only a speculation, no wonder you don't prevail. You have no right, as I have said, to pray at all, unless you pray as for Christ, recognising the fact that all you are and have are his. If you want the Spirit of God that you may use the grace received for him, you may have it; but you must have a single eye to his glory. If you do not so regard it--if you ask it for yourselves, as distinct from him, you cannot have it.
We must remember, too, that for God to give anything to the inhabitants of this world, as such, without Christ, would be inconsistent with his position. God promises things to Christ, who distributes them to his children; all the promises are in Christ to the glory of God, and we must recognise this if we would use Christ's name aright, and expect the fulfilment of the promises made through him. These promises are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. God is infinitely sincere in giving them to Christ, who receives them and gives them to men. They are given in the utmost good faith, so that coming in his name it is, "Yes, yes; as often as you please, if you really come in Christ's name, you may approach me with the utmost confidence and boldness--not impudence, but boldness." We are infinitely welcome. There need be no hesitation. You are thoroughly welcome to as much as you want, only be sure you come meaning what you ought to mean in the use of Christ's name.
We should recognise the fact, also, in the use of Christ's name, that there is so good a reason for this use of it, that, for God to promise us anything in any other way, or encourage us to approach him in any other way, were to forfeit his governmental position. The true idea of faith in Christ is a heart-recognition of the fact that God is, out of Christ, to us necessarily "a consuming fire;" but that in Christ we are as safe and as welcome as Christ himself. We may come to his house, to the mercy-seat--yea, to his very feet, with every possible freedom. It is impossible that the angels themselves should be more welcome. We may rise, as it were, above the angels, and approach even nearer, perhaps, than they are allowed to do. If we only clothe ourselves with Christ as with a garment, renouncing and abhorring self, there is no language that can express the fulness and the freedom with which we can approach him, and receive as largely as we can ask or think--nay, exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
To use Christ's name acceptably, implies, also, that you do it in faith. By faith you must rely implicitly on Christ, trusting in him as your wisdom, sanctification, and redemption, expecting that he will accept you as freely and as fully as he has promised. The truth is, that really to accept Christ, implies a great deal more than is often supposed. I have been struck with the extent to which Christ is lost sight of, in many of his relations, and has come to be viewed simply as a Saviour, for whose sake our sins are forgiven--losing sight of sanctification and justification. "What," says a doctor of divinity to me, a few years since--"what! Christ, the second person in the Trinity, our sanctification! Never heard of such a thing!" Well, now, I cannot tell you how shocked I felt. Never heard the Apostle say, "Who, of God, is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?" It was as much one as the other. No man understands what it is to put on Christ thoroughly, properly, until he has learned something more than that he sustains to him merely one relation.
Lastly, It implies really and universally depending upon him. Men are dependent upon him; but there is a difference between being really dependent, and depending. Every sinner in the world is really dependent upon him; but every sinner does not really depend upon him, in the sense of depending upon his name. We must come to depend, not upon our prayers, states of mind, feelings--not upon anything we have done, or ever expect to do at all--but we must depend on him really understanding that such are our relations to God, that we can never expect to be accepted only as we are found in him--that we must put on Christ even to approach God.
III. THE REASONS FOR WHICH WE ARE REQUIRED TO PRAY IN CHRIST'S NAME.
Our relations to God's government, when viewed out of Christ, are really those of sinners under sentence for a capital crime--"condemned already," governmentally regarded as dead. There are two senses in which sinners are represented in the Bible: "dead in trespasses and sins"--that is unconverted persons; secondly, they are civilly dead--viewed governmentally, they are outlaws under sentence of death. These are facts which no one can dispute. If a man is a sinner the law of God has condemned him, and the sentence is already out against him; and a man can no more deny this than he can deny his own existence. There is not a moral agent in the world that does not know that, as far as God's law is concerned, he is regarded as an outlaw and a rebel; he can no more doubt or deny it than he can doubt or deny his own existence. These facts are not only revealed in the Bible, but are most clearly manifest to our own consciousness; our very conscience testifies to their truthfulness.
Now, if we don't believe what God says on this subject, we make him a liar; and if we don't believe our own nature, we make him a liar again; for we must not overlook the fact, that God is as really the author of our own nature, as of the Bible itself. Does your conscience accuse you of sin? It is as truly a revelation from God as anything can be. It is God's own testimony, in this sense,--God has given us a power by which we irresistibly condemn ourselves; he has implanted within us a law which, when we sin, irresistibly compels us to do so. This is God's own voice and revelation; and he who disbelieves, is guilty of making God a liar. If, then, we approach him in our own name, we virtually deny the truth of these things, and pour contempt upon his governmental relations and the sacredness of his character. The truth is, that his character and governmental relations are such that no one can be accepted of God who violates or overlooks these relations.
Again--It is a downright insult to the majesty of God, as Governor of the universe, to overlook these solemn facts, so plainly revealed to us, both in his word and in our hearts. And he who would approach God in this manner is a deluded wretch, rushing rudely into the face of his Maker.
Again--It is pouring contempt upon God's authority, and virtually denying the wisdom and necessity of his method of accepting us. Bear in mind, that a merciful disposition, on the part of God, is no reason why he should accept persons holding certain relations. Suppose the Queen felt compassion for a certain rebel--so much so, indeed, that in her own private apartments she really wept; and suppose he, hearing of this, should attempt to force himself upon her, regardless of the sacredness of the place: because she has compassion on him, may he force himself into her presence? No, indeed. The fact is the same with God; these relations must not be lost sight of. The good of society, as well as individual interest, demand they should not be overlooked, but well pondered; and every act of both parties should have reference to these relations. Just so it is under God's government; and if, as I have said, if it is necessary in human governments to recognise these relations, is it not infinitely more so under God's government?
These truths everywhere appear within, without, upon the page of inspiration, and in our minds. It is clear that out of Christ, God can have no intercourse with sinners, who are under sentence, condemned outlaws, rebels whom God is pledged to destroy unless they can find a Mediator. To come without Christ is a virtual denial of the necessity this. To come without Christ is to appear at the feast in our own filthy garments instead of throwing over us his righteousness. Under the Old Testament dispensation, many truths were taught in an impressive manner. There were the holy vestments in which the high priests were obliged to appear before God, and without which they were not allowed to approach God; so must we, as it were, throw Christ over us as a robe. This is the lesson the ceremony was designed to teach.
But let me say, again: Not to use Christ's name thus is to contemn the advocacy of Christ. In other words, God has made him our advocate, and to act thus is to thrust him aside and become our own advocates--it is to have low and blasphemous conceptions of God's relation to us as Creator. The real saints under the Old Testament dispensation understood this method of approach to God. Daniel prayed for the Lord's sake. He and all the real saints doubtless understood the way of approach as shadowed forth in the typical dispensation. We can well enough account for the fact, that there is now so little prevailing in prayer, because comparatively so few use Christ's name aright. They have no definite idea of the reasons for using it. In their hearts they are really in a state in which they do not so put on Christ as to make a proper use of his name. I have often feared that multitudes of persons pray for themselves, and in such a sense as really to be selfish. In their supplications they do not recognise themselves as belonging to Christ, and as deserving answers to their prayers for Christ's sake.
When men do this, they make use of Christ's, just as a man would make use of his master's name to get money to speculate with himself. A clerk or agent takes a check, goes to the Bank and draws money, but it is for his employer. He is certainly going to use it himself; but, mark, he does it in the name and for the sake of his employer--not to further his own private interests, but the interests of his master. Now, if we would come to Christ in a proper manner, we must regard ourselves as his servants in this sense--wanting what we want, and obtaining what we obtain for the purpose of serving him and glorifying his name. While we separate ourselves from him and seek things for ourselves, no wonder that our religion profits us so little--no wonder that Christ's name, on our lips, is of no avail! To refuse to come in Christ's name, is as effectual a hindrance to our prayers being answered, as if there were no Christ at all. Who does not believe, that if a man neglects or refuses to use Christ's name, in the sense in which he requires us to use it, it is just as effectual a bar to his acceptance as if there had been no Christ? The same reason requiring Christ's interposition for us, requires that we should recognise these reasons, and always, on our approach to God, have respect to them.
I have often feared, that many use this name without hardly knowing why they do so; it is done by them as a mere matter of form. Perhaps they have never so much as inquired what state of mind was requisite to the proper use of Christ's name. I fear some persons simply suppose, that uniformly to append the phrase, "for Christ's sake," is enough. But this is a grievous error. If we come in Christ's name, we may claim as our due whatever God has promised to Christ. Now, Christ has rendered great service to the government of God, and of this, we, as his children, are to have the full benefit. We are not to suppose, that what Christ has done has merely rendered it possible that God may forgive us. He has rendered the most important service to the government of God that can be conceived. He has placed God's character, government, and relations, and the entire question of revelation in such an aspect, as to give the whole universe a great deal of new light on the subject. He has arrested the progress of rebellion, and established the authority of God over all being. Angels sinned, and God exercised the law upon them. Man sinned, and who knows where it might have ended, had it not been for Christ's intervention. He has done that which amply entitles him to receive gifts for men--to bestow them upon those for whom he died. The government of God can well afford to let him do so, seeing how wonderfully he rebuked sin, and revealed the Divine character. So great a thing has he done in his death, that the government of God can well afford to dispense favours to all who belong to him; and they are bestowed as freely as they can flow forth from a heart of infinite love.
In himself, God is disposed to do all he can in behalf of his creatures; and our greatest governmental obstacle Christ has completely removed. He has, moreover, so wonderfully magnified the law and made it honourable, that, instead of there being an obstacle in the way, there is a direct invitation from God to come to him, that he may come out and show the infinite largeness of his heart by giving Christ's people all the riches of his glorious kingdom. So that, as I have said, the head of the very government which stood in the way, now invites us to come to him, that the deep tides of his love and salvation may burst forth--that his grace may infinitely abound, like a sea with neither shore nor bottom, whose waves flow on with boundless universality. The door is open wide to every sinner.
We are never straitened in God, but in our own hearts, on account of our stinted faith and limited confidence. Christ, as our representative, became poor that we might become rich. The Divine government can now well afford to come forth, because, as I have said, of Christ's unspeakable services, and the glorious head of that government can let his compassions flow to sinners. He may use language toward us which it would ill become him to use, but for what Christ has done. Christ now offers you his righteousness and mediation, that--guilty and condemned as you are--deserving as you are to be thrust out--notwithstanding all this, he has set the door wide open, that now, instead of standing in the Court of the Gentiles, in the Court of the Hebrews, or even in the Court of the Priests, the veil is rent, and access is free to the mercy-seat itself, where the cherubim stand with the Shechinah amid a flood of glory.
Put on Christ, then, and come, confessing your sins, renouncing your own righteousness, recognising God's governmental relations. Oh, come! Come quite up to the mercy-seat! God invites you to come, if you will do so in the way I have described. No one is a Christian until he believes--until, in fact, he does the very thing I am now exhorting you to do. Believe in Christ, that is being a Christian. Do you say, Has Christ died for me? Yes, he died for you as really as if there were no other sinner in the universe. Do you say, May I have access to him in my own behalf, clad in the filthy rags with which I have been trying to cover myself? Yes! Do as blind Bartimeus did. The poor blind man sat by the wayside; great multitudes were thronging along, some before, some behind, crowding around the person of the Saviour. Bartimeus naturally inquired the cause of this unusual gathering, and was told it was Jesus passing. He had heard of him, and exclaimed aloud, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!" They told him to be still; as if there were something improper in his act. But he would not be silenced. He believed Jesus would restore his sight; and he lifted up his voice above all the noise--"Jesus," he cried out, "thou Son of David, have mercy on me!" Christ stopped--"What is that?" Why, a blind man. "Bring him here." "What wilt thou have me to do?" "Lord, that I might receive my sight." He would not be kept away. He threw himself upon Christ in faith, and instantly received the object of his wishes.
Now, sinner! why don't you follow the example here set? I wish I had more time to the subject. Oh, that Christians would but understand what they may have by prayer, if they really use Christ's name aright! You are either infidels, or you believe that you will receive what you pray for in Christ's name. Now, do you get what you ask? Ask yourselves the question--Do you get what you ask? Do you prevail with God? Do you use Christ's name effectually? Do your families know that God hears and answers your prayers? Can you honestly say, "I believe God hears me?" If you can, I am glad of it. But if you can't, remember you are not using Christ's name aright. He will not hear you till you do so.
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THE GREAT BUSINESS OF LIFE.
Delivered on Tuesday Evening, May 28, 1850
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." --Matthew 6.33.
II. What is meant by the injunction to seek this first.
III. Point out some of the reasons why this should be done.
IV. Notice the meaning of the annexed promise-" all these things shall be added unto you."
I. What we are to understand by the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
I remark first, this kingdom is not an outward and visible kingdom. The true kingdom of God "cometh not with observation," as Christ said, but it is a spiritual kingdom set up in the hearts of his people; it consists in the establishment of his own dominion in their hearts. "The kingdom of God is within you," but this kingdom is expressed on earth by an outward and visible Church; yet the kingdom here intended is not a visible Church, but an internal and spiritual kingdom. By the righteousness of God we are doubtless to understand these two things-first, the method by which he pardons and justifies men, and second, the way in which he makes them personally holy. Faith in Jesus Christ is God's method of justifying men and bringing them into a state of acceptance with himself and faith which works by love; for this faith, from its very nature, purifies the heart. Not to enlarge upon this, we pass to inquire.
II. What is meant by the injunction to seek this first?
Let me say here, we are doubtless to understand the injunction as meaning, first, that we are to make this the first business on hand in point of time, and we are to suffer nothing else to take precedence. Second, as pre-eminently first in importance. Nothing is to be regarded by us as of greater importance, or of importance equal with it. Third, I understand it to imply also that religion is to be the great business of our future lives; that it is always to be considered as of the first importance to be attended to, and to be the first concern of life. But this leads me to consider, and point out
III. Some of the reasons why it is to be so.
First, let me say this, that nothing else can be acceptable to God until we do this. So long as we neglect this great salvation, so long as we have not secured our justification by faith in Christ; so long, indeed, as we are not interested in this kingdom of God by actually embracing it, and receiving its laws into our hearts, nothing can be acceptable to God that we do. We can fulfill no requirement of God till we have done this, and he can accept nothing of us till we have done this-for "whatever is not of faith is sin." Whatever does not imply faith in us is sin, and therefore, so long as we neglect this as of primary importance, nothing that we do can be acceptable to God. Persons may have all the outward forms of morality and goodness, but if
they have neglected this, whatever else they do, God will not accept them. He will not and cannot accept us if we are putting that last which he has put first, and that first which he has put last.
God requires us to put this first, and if we do not put things in the order which he has commanded, if we do not make this the great business, the first business of our lives, why, nothing is acceptable to God that we do. Again, let me say, not only is nothing acceptable to God, but it is the most important business to us, and should, therefore, claim our first attention. I say it is the most important business to us! What can compare with its importance to us as individuals? Why, if we secure an interest in this kingdom of God, if we do but become subjects to this government, whatever else we fail to secure is of little importance. Whatever else we fail to secure we shall hardly regret in future; but if we do not secure this, whatever else we do secure will only increase our responsibility and our guilt.
Again, persons ought to understand this, that nothing is of any real importance to us except as it is connected with this as an end, and shall enable us more effectually to obey this command. Now, if we do regard anything as important to us which has no relation to this end and object, we entirely pervert things. But, let me say again, that it is most important, not only to ourselves, but is also most important to our families, most important to all who stand in any relation to us, and have any claims upon us. Who does not understand and believe this? Now, suppose a man neglects God and religion for the sake of his family, does he thereby really benefit his family? No, indeed! The real and best interests of his family require that he should pay his first attention, and his chief attention to this great requirement of God. Who can doubt this? No man really and truly benefited his family by neglecting to obey God. Such a thing never was, and never can be; and by neglecting to make religion the first duty, who can tell how much the family may have to suffer? Again; it is more important to a man's creditors.
If a man disobeys God, his curse is upon him, and upon all that he does and has; but if he obeys God, he may expect a blessing upon his business; and if a man endeavors to please God, he is sure to be an honest man. If a man owes me money, and that man endeavors to obey and please God, I have reason to believe that he will be enabled to pay me sooner than if he did not regard the commands of God at all. Therefore, even as a selfish man, I should say to my debtor, "Whatever else you do, don't neglect to obey God-don't neglect your duty to him." It is of the most importance to our neighbors, our friends, and connections, all with whom we are surrounded, and the world at large, and to the Church of God, that we should not neglect to regard religion as the first, great, and principal business of our life. Who can doubt this? No person can doubt it, who believes in the reality of religion! No person can doubt it, who believes that God governs the world! But let me say again: another reason is, that it is most dangerous to neglect this business, and to attend to this concern. It is more dangerous to neglect this than anything else.
Why, suppose we did neglect everything else, what then? Why, it would be an evil in some sense, but, in comparison, it would be no evil at all. Who does not believe, that it is infinitely dangerous for a man to neglect his eternal salvation? And if he does not assign this the first place, he may never attend to it at all, and is in danger every moment of dying, or being given up by the Spirit of God! Why, there is nothing so dangerous in the universe, as for a man to put religion off, or not to put it first. Suppose he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul, of what value would the whole world be to him? All other dangers are as nothing in comparison with this!
Again: it is not only most dangerous to ourselves, but so far as we sustain relations to anybody else, it is most dangerous to them; for the fact is, if we neglect this great business, if we neglect to make religion our great principal business, just so far do we jeopardise their souls, as well as our own, and often bring down upon them the curse of God as the result of our neglect.
Who does not know that this is true? Again: another reason is, that if we will neglect this, we must inevitably lose our souls. "How shall we escape," says the apostle, "if we neglect so great salvation?" Men need not take great pains to ruin themselves; their ruin is inevitable, if they neglect to lay hold on the salvation which God has provided for them. Let them be good wives, good husbands, good parents, good children, good citizens, say prayers, go to meeting, and give money to send the Gospel to the heathen; let them do anything else in the world, if they neglect this in such a sense as not to make it the great business of life, they are sure to lose their souls. There is a great mistake on this subject, or else the Bible is not true. There is a great mistake on this subject, or else our own natures belie us. Our own natures affirm, that sin is an evil from which we ought to escape, that we should make it the most earnest and solemn business of our lives; and the Bible tells us to run for our lives, to "so run that you may obtain," "so fight that ye may obtain," "gird up your loins," address yourselves to it as if you were about to make it the great present, and perpetual business of life.
Now, do not believe me censorious if I tell you that the great mass of professors are not making this the great business of their lives! It seems as if they attended to it just enough to entertain a hope that they shall be saved, but they never attend to it in such a sense as to manifest much solemn earnestness about it. The fact is, such people know nothing at all of religion, and the natural result will be that they will lose their souls! They never get rid of their sins, they never become sanctified, and therefore, not fit for heaven. Really a great many persons seem to suppose that they can live in sin till death, and then all at once they will become sanctified and prepared for heaven.
Now, we never read in the Bible that death will sanctify men, or that they will go to heaven if they are not sanctified in this world, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost in virtue of their belief in the Gospel. With many professors, "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" is but little understood. They regard the righteousness of God as imputed, not imparted, righteousness. They imagine, that somehow or other, the righteousness of Christ can be imputed to them without their being personally holy. They come not into sympathy with God; they neglect to have this kingdom of God set up within them; God's government has no dominion over them. How, then, do they expect to get to heaven? What can they understand by the kingdom of God and his righteousness, which they are required to make it the business of their lives to seek? Again: it is better to leave everything else undone than to leave this undone. How memorable and decisive are Christ's teachings in this respect. He will not allow us to give ourselves any anxiety on other subjects. Nothing is to take precedence of this. When one said to him, "Let me first go and bury my father," he said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead." Your own father, and the duties you owe to him in that relation, must not stand in the way of your seeking eternal life. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," nothing is to be allowed to have precedence of this!
I remark once more: the present is the only sure time that we have, therefore we ought now to make this our immediate and first concern. The Bible always says NOW. "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." You may die, or if you do not die you may be given up of the Holy Spirit! Again: every moment's delay makes the matter worse! Every moment's delay increases your sins, increases the hardness of your heart, and the probability that you will be lost. If you continue to reject the great salvation that is offered, you may soon come into such a state that the truth will cease to affect your minds and hearts at all; your conscience will become "seared as with a hot iron," and your words will constantly be, whenever the truth is spoken, "When I have a more convenient season I will call for thee;" and it is almost certain that that season will never come, because the longer you delay, the more hardened you must of necessity become. If you are not ready now to make this the business of your life, the probabilities are that you will lose your soul!
Again: let me say, procrastination is another great evil; perhaps more souls have been lost by this form of iniquity than by any other. The devil is constantly suggesting reasons for delay-reasons why you should not obey God, and give up your whole mind to him. The ordinary policy of Satan is not to try to make infidels of you, but he suggests that the present is not the time to attend to your souls; remember that if you listen to his suggestions, procrastinate, put off concern for your soul, you may be lost, and are almost sure to be. Again: impenitent persons, and even religious persons, are constantly in danger, from the fact that there are so few persons in solemn earnest on this subject: they are in great danger of not feeling the unspeakable necessity of present and solemn earnestness on this great subject. With respect to professors of religion, unless you make it the great business of your lives, you are the great cause of stumbling to those around you; you are misleading them in the most effectual manner; you are saying by your works there is no need to make this the great and solemn business of your life, there is no necessity to be particularly anxious about your soul.
Then let me say again, another reason why persons should attend to this first, in the sense I have here explained, is, that they will never effectually attend to it at all, till they come to that distinct position. When you consent to postpone anything till to-morrow, it will never be attended to effectually, and will be continually misleading those around you. I suppose that all of you do intend at some time to make this the most serious business of your lives; let it, then, be your first business from this time, or you may lose your souls. I have known many cases where persons have come to see clearly that this was the fact, that they were likely to lose their souls because they did not come to a point, and obey God by seeking his kingdom first. In revivals of religion, I have seen many instances, where person have come to feel, that if they procrastinated any further, they must lose their souls, and have resolved that nothing should hinder them, that nothing should engross their attention or stand in the way of giving their whole mind up to attend to it.
I could tell multitudes of facts where persons came to be conscious of this, when the providence of God aroused them from their sleepy state, and arrested their attention. In such cases they have made up their minds that nothing should, by any means, stand in their way nothing should by any means be allowed to hinder them making religion the great business of life. I shall mention one fact. A lawyer, a man of large business in his profession-this man had been awakened in a revival; he went to his office with a resolution to attend to his soul at the risk of neglecting everything else. As soon as he had reached his office, some individuals called upon important business, to whom he had promised his assistance. "Gentlemen," said he, "I cannot attend to your business now, I must first attend to my soul; I have neglected this business so long already, that if I allow myself to neglect it any longer, I shall lose my soul to all eternity.
Will you excuse me for the present, or get some one else to attend to your business?" They left the office, and took the papers with them. He stayed alone in the office, resolving that he would not leave till he had given his heart to God; and the fact is, that he did give his heart to God, and found peace. My dear hearers, what an awful game you have been playing with yourselves, if your have been neglecting the business which God sent you into this world to attend to. He made it your great, solemn, and only business, and yet you have neglected it. I say that the care of your soul is your only business, to which all other things are only helps and are you attending to this great business, or are you neglecting it, and thus going on the road to ruin? God is speaking to you by his word, by his Spirit, and by his ministers, saying, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." This is the errand upon which God has sent you into the world, and have you suffered yourselves to neglect it! Have you been wandering about and forgetting the errand on which you were sent? Did your Father commit a soul to you, and tell you to take care of it; and are you running about thinking of everything but taking care of it, and by so doing disobeying your Father, and ruining yourselves?
Now, is it not true that you have been acting thus foolishly and wickedly? Oh, think of your guilt in neglecting your soul and disobeying God, and resolve now to procrastinate no longer! Again: for a man to act thus on any other subject, he would be pronounced insane. And it is moral insanity which makes people neglect the business of their eternal salvation; it is madness in the heart. Suppose a man should neglect the most important part of his worldly business, the neglect of which would ruin all his worldly prospects, why everybody would say he was insane. Who can doubt this? Now, what higher evidence can a man give of insanity, who admits his guilt and danger in words, and yet systematically neglects to save himself from ruin. If a man should deny the whole matter, and say there was no truth in the statement, that he is in danger by his neglect, why, what higher evidence could he give of being insane? Let any one tell if he can! We will now proceed to notice, in a few words,
IV. The meaning of the annexed promise "And all these things shall be added unto you."
You observe in the connection of our text, Christ is speaking of worldly things; and he tells us not give any anxiety about these things at all, but to let our anxieties be respecting the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and, in that case, all these worldly things, of which he is speaking; shall be added unto us. The word "added," here means thrown in, something super-added. Now, what Christ means to say is this, that it is perfectly unnecessary that we should be anxious about worldly things, because, if we seek first "the kingdom of God and his righteousness," he will see that we are fully supplied with what we need in relation to our bodies. Let the great business of our lives be spiritual concerns, and he will take care that we shall not want in relation to temporal matters. The promise is, that if we give our supreme attention to spiritual matters, our temporal wants will be supplied.
A few remarks must conclude what I have to say. First, from what has been said, it is plain that we can all very well afford to obey God in this respect, for he will take care of our temporal wants, if we will only pay supreme attention to our souls. We can very well afford, therefore, thoroughly to obey God. You see, he has not placed us in such a position that we must starve to death if we seek the salvation of our souls, that our families must starve, or our fellow-creatures must suffer, or that the ruin of our temporal concerns must necessarily be the result of our determination to attend to religion.
Again: how infinitely kind in God to give us the assurance that he will take this stumbling-block out of our way, if we will but attend first to the salvation of our souls, and make religion and the glory of God the objects of our supreme regard. He very kindly says, "If you will take care of your souls, I will take care of your bodies. You have an immortal soul to be saved, let my kingdom be set up in your hearts, seek your own salvation, work it out with fear and trembling, and don't be anxious about your body, for I will take care of that."
Again: I have become acquainted with many interesting facts illustrating the care of God for the temporal interests of his devoted servants-those who came right up to the obeying of this requirement. I have known, too, a great many instances in which persons have said that they could not attend to religion without ruining their worldly prospects. A barber, who had been in the habit of shaving on the Sabbath-day, became awakened, and began to reflect upon his sins, and felt the importance of attending to religion. He was in a difficultly. A great many of his customers were ungodly men, who always came to be shaved on a Sunday; he did not see, therefore, how he could shut up his shop on that day. Yet, how could he be a Christian, and not shut up on the Sabbath? He spoke to his customers, and the great mass of them said, "If you shut up your shop on the Sabbath, we must employ somebody else." He made up his mind, however, rather to starve to death than disobey God. He resolved to tell his customers that his shop would in future be closed on Sunday. When he had fully resolved upon this, some of them asked if he would shave them on Saturday night? "Oh, yes, till midnight," he replied; and this he did; he shaved till midnight on Saturday, but resolutely closed on the Sabbath. I saw him some years after, and I asked him, "How do you get along?" "Why, sir," he replied, "my business has been better than ever; a great deal better." This is only one of many similar instances that I could mention, where individuals have supposed that they were about to sacrifice everything by becoming religious, but, on the contrary, have received much benefit, receiving a hundred fold more in this present life, and the promise of the life everlasting.
Again: let me say, proper attention to business is really attention to religion.
If you make your business God's business, transact it on right principles, and get your heart into a right state, so that you do everything from religious motives, why, your business is then as much a part of religion, as praying and going to church is. Again: the promise which God has here given, is designed to leave men entirely without excuse for neglecting to attend to their eternal salvation. I remark again: many men reverse God's order in point of time, and instead of putting religion first, put it last; the first place is given to the world, the attention is wholly given up to the pursuit of wealth. Those persons want to place themselves in a position to be independent of God; they must get a fortune first, and then attend to religion. And then there are a great many persons who not only reverse God's order in point of time, but there are multitudes who reverse God's order in point of the importance of it.
How remarkable that many persons should think themselves religious people, while they really place more practical stress upon the most trifling things around them, than upon the great questions of salvation, and disobeying God. Instead of making religion the greatest and most important practical business, they make it the least important. The persons I am speaking of do not utterly neglect it, but they so attend to it that everybody knows that they care very little about it, and do not rest upon it. Again: those who do not make religion their great business, tempt God. Multitudes of souls are lost by tempting God in this way; they are living worldly, selfish, and ungodly lives, and yet they try to make themselves believe, and the world believe, that they are going to heaven in despite of what God has said to the contrary. They live in disobedience to God, but professedly Christians, and it is proclaimed that they died in the faith, and people charitably hope that they are gone to heaven. It was Dr. Doddridge, I think, who so extensively investigated the results of death-bed impressions. Out of two thousand persons, who, when they supposed themselves dying, expressed their faith in Christ, only two afterwards gave evidence of true conversion. Death-bed repentances are not to be relied on. "Seek first the kingdom of God," if you do not this, you may never be saved at all.
Once more: a great many persons seem to say, "I don't care how much sin I commit, if I can but get to heaven." They go as far as they think they can go in the service of the devil, and dishonouring God; but let me tell you, if you put God's arrangements out of order, the probability is that your souls will be lost. God says, "Put religion first." You say, "Not so, Lord, let it be put last; I must attend to everything else first." God says, "Seek this first;" and do let me ask, Is it not your interest to seek it first? If for that reason then, alone, why do you not seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first?
In conclusion, let me ask you one question, Will all of you who are in this house to-night, make up your minds now to seek this kingdom first, that it may be set up in your hearts? Will you pray for this? will you make it your business to pray? will you begin to-night? Now that the Lord says, "Seek ye my face," does your heart reply, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek?" If you delay, your soul may be ruined!-lost for ever!
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HOLINESS ESSENTIAL TO SALVATION
preached on Friday, June 7, 1850
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins." --Matthew 1:21.
In speaking from these words, I design to show.
II. That Jesus has undertaken this work.
III. Inquire why it is that so many persons fail of this salvation.
I. That salvation from sin is the great necessity of man.
This is a fact of universal observation. It is also a fact of universal consciousness. Every man is conscious of the fact that he is a sinner, and while he is a sinner he cannot be satisfied with himself, he cannot truly respect himself, he cannot have peace of mind, he cannot have the favour of God; and he ought not to have all or any of these things. In short, it is a fact of universal experience that men are sinners, and that they must be saved from sin as a condition of their being made happy, either in this world or in the future world.
Men are so constituted that they cannot doubt that ultimate happiness is impossible unless they can be delivered from that which they know to be a great curse in this world, and which they also know will be their ultimate ruin, if persisted in. While men are violating their own consciences, they know that happiness is impossible. These facts are always assumed in the Bible, and their truth is declared by the universal sentiment of mankind. But I must not dwell on this thought; the text announces the fact that Jesus Christ has come into the world, and that his great business is to save men from sin. This leads me to the second thought-
II. That Jesus has undertaken this work.
"He shall save his people from their sins," therefore is his name called Jesus--the name Jesus signifying a Saviour. Now, salvation from sin is of the highest importance to mankind. The term strictly, as here used, means merely deliverance, or safety from some tremendous evil; it is often found in the Bible, and includes in it very generally, in addition to mere deliverance, the result of it-eternal happiness and enjoyment in heaven with the people of God.
Thus, properly and scripturally speaking, the term salvation means deliverance, both from guilt and it's consequences. In this text, the reason assigned for the name that was to be given to the child of Mary was, that he should save his people from their sins-that he should bear the particular relation of a Saviour-that he should save both from the guilt and the punishment of sin. The Bible represents him as having given himself to be the Saviour of the world, as having consecrated himself to this end, as having died and opened a way by which sinners could be saved; and that previous to this, as being in a waiting attitude to accomplish this work; as endeavoring to gain the consent of God and man to comply with the natural and necessary conditions of sinners being saved; and that now he possesses in himself all the fullness of power of necessary to the accomplishment of the work-he is able to save unto the uttermost all that will come to God by him. The Bible represents Jesus as coming on this great mission, and as occupying himself exclusively with this work, and as having fully secured this end. Now, whenever persons come into sympathy with him, and seek what it is his business to give, knock at the door which it is his business to open, the Bible represents him as ready and willing to do these things for them. We now come to the inquiry.
III. Why it is that so many persons fail of this salvation.
That many do fail of it, is a simple matter of fact. Now, the question is, Why do they fail? We remark, first, that many persons fail of this salvation because they have not abandoned reliance upon themselves. It is the most obvious thing in the whole world, that many persons are living not to God, but to themselves.
Now, wherever this principle is manifested, it is certain that persons are not saved from sin, for what is sin but living to self and not to God; self-seeking is the very essence of sin. Now, multitudes of persons manifest that this spirit is not set aside in them, but that, on the contrary, the whole end and aim of their life is self-seeking, instead of the first and great end being the glory and honour of God. Now, a man cannot be saved unless he is justified, and he cannot be justified unless his sins are pardoned,-- this must be a condition of a sinner's salvation.
Salvation consists in being saved from sin; and the reason why a great many persons are not saved is, that they are unwilling to accept of salvation on such a condition, they are unwilling to give up their sins; but if they will not be persuaded to be saved from the their sins, and become sanctified,-- if they will not relinquish and renounce their sin, they never can be saved. Many persons will even pray to God that he will save them, but they really do not desire that for which they ask-they do not mean what they say; to get men to consent to relinquish their sins, is the great difficulty.
Now observe, if a man is saved at all he must consent to it; his will must acquiesce in the arrangement; and the will is not moved by physical force. A man must voluntarily consent to be saved, or Jesus himself cannot possibly save him. Man is a moral agent, and he is addressed by God as such, and therefore, in order to his salvation, he must voluntarily consent to relinquish sin, and have his mind brought into obedience with the law of God.
Again: Multitudes are not saved because they seek forgiveness while they do not forsake their sins. Some individuals will spend much time in praying for pardon, while they indulge themselves in sin. Again: multitudes are seeking for salvation while they neglect the natural condition of their being pardoned. While they continue in sin, indulge in a self-seeking spirit, it is naturally impossible, that they can be saved.
If a man should act in this way in relation to his body, every one would plainly perceive the folly of his conduct; if he should partake of things which rendered good health impossible, and yet should wonder that he did not possess the robustness of health which he desired, people would not pity, but blame him. Now, the fact is, that many persons are seeking for that which must result alone from holiness, while they are not themselves sanctified. They are seeking comfort while they refuse to be holy; thus they neglect to fulfill the natural conditions on which either comfort or salvation can be obtained. Again, many persons fail of this salvation because they are waiting for God to fulfill conditions which it is naturally impossible for him to fulfill, and which they themselves must fulfill, and which God is endeavoring to persuade and influence them to fulfill.
For example: God cannot repent for them; he cannot believe for them; no, but these are the natural conditions of their salvation, and these very things Christ is persuading them to do. Now, they are waiting for God to do that which he will never do, that in fact, which he cannot do, but which he is requiring us to do for ourselves. Let me be understood. God never requires of us to perform an impossibility, nor does he accomplish that for us which we can do ourselves. Don't be shocked at this, for it is truth. Now, observe, God requires us to repent; this is an act of our own minds, and therefore he cannot do it for us. It is true that these things are spoken of sometimes as being done by God; it is said that he gives repentance, faith, and love, but he only does this in the sense of persuading and inciting our minds to the performance of these duties.
Now, if anybody is seeking for God to do that which they must do themselves, they will fail of eternal life. How many are making mistakes in this matter! they are waiting for God to put repentance and faith into them, and entirely overlooking the fact of its being an exercise of their own minds. Again: Another difficulty, and another reason, why persons are not saved is this-they profess to be waiting for the Holy Spirit, while in fact they are resisting the Holy Spirit. They pretend that they are waiting for the Holy Spirit to save them and convert them: now, mark, every moment they wait they are grieving and resisting the Holy Spirit. Now, what do they mean by waiting, when they ought to be acting? From the beginning and end He is the teacher. "No man can come unto me, except the Father which sent me draw him." "They shall all be taught of the Lord." "He shall take of the things of mine and show them unto you." Now, the Bible represents the Holy Spirit in this way as a teacher, and those who do not yield when the truth is presented to them, are resisting and grieving the Spirit. You remember the words of our Saviour to the Jews, "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye."
Now, multitudes in the present day are resisting the Holy Spirit under the pretence of waiting for it. The divine influence is always waiting to save you, if you will comply with the necessary conditions; but if under any pretence you neglect your duty, you never will be saved. But I pass next to consider another great difficulty in the way of a sinner's conversion. Many are really seeking to be justified in sin. They ask God to pardon them, but they refuse to be sanctified; they seek Christ as their justification only. They cleave to their sins, they are living in their sins, and they seek to be justified rather than sanctified-indeed, they refuse to be sanctified at all. Now, this is a very common case.
Again, let me say that this class of persons really regard the gospel as a mighty system of indulgence, on a large scale. They really suppose that men are subjects of this salvation while they are living in selfish indulgence. In the very early ages of Christianity, the Antinomian spirit had crept into the Church: the doctrine of justification by faith, as opposed to justification by works, was sadly abused by many. While some of the Apostles were still living, many persons came to regard the gospel as a system of indulgence, that men were to be justified in sin rather than be saved from sin; thus they took an entirely false view of the gospel of Christ. You will remember that the Apostle James wrote his epistle to denounce this wrong view, and to guard the Christians against abusing the doctrine of justification by faith. Some persons imagine that the Apostle rejected this doctrine altogether, yet this is not true; but his epistle being written for the purpose we have mentioned, he does not give this doctrine the prominence that Paul did.
Now, no man who lives in sin can be justified, because no man can be pardoned who lives in any form of iniquity. The Apostle tells you plainly that those who commit sin are the children of the devil, and while they are living in sin they cannot enjoy the privileges of the gospel. He does not mean that an individual cannot be a Christian who falls under the power of temptation and into occasional sin. The Apostle John also says, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not"--"whosoever is born of God does not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin because he is born of God"--"he that committeth sin is of the devil." This is strong language, and if I should affirm so strongly the necessity of holiness, you would think I spoke harshly; but it ought to be insisted upon more than it is, that men cannot be Christians unless they are holy.
The moral law is as much binding upon Christians as it was upon those to whom it was first given. Faith without love will never save man; but let me say, that true faith is always true love. Every man who breaks the law systematically and designedly, living in violation of its precepts, is a child of the devil, and not of God. Let this be thundered in the ears of the Church and the world.
Now, it is very common for men to overlook this great truth, and fall into the worldly mindedness and sinful practices of the those around them. Again: multitudes are not saved because they regard the gospel as an abrogation of the moral law-a virtual repeal of it. Now, the gospel does not repeal the moral law. What saith the Apostle? "Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law." Now, it is true that the gospel was designed to set aside the penalty of the law, upon all who should be persuaded to come back to its precepts, and yield that love and confidence which the law requires. Now, it is frequently the case, if ministers begin to say anything about obedience to the law, the people call out against it as legal preaching! If they are roused up and urged to do that which the law of God requires of them, they tell you they want the gospel. Now, such people know nothing at all of the gospel! They make Christ the minister of sin! They seem to think that Christ came to justify them in their sin, instead of saving them from it.
Let me say, once more, that another reason why men are not saved from sin is, that they have really come to regard justification in sin, as a means to save them from it! In support of this monstrous idea, they will even appeal to the Scriptures. They found justification on the atonement; now, this work of Christ can never be imputed to any man in such a sense as to justify him while he remains in sin! Justification in sin is a thing impossible! Now, how can a man be pardoned and justified, before he repents and believes! It is impossible! He must be in a state of obedience to the law of God before he can be justified! The fact is, there is a very great mistake among many people on this subject. They think that they must persuade themselves that they are justified, but they are not, and never can be, till they forsake sin, and do their duty.
In the next place, multitudes make this mistake-they seek hope, rather than holiness; instead of working out their own salvation, they seek to cherish a hope that they shall be saved. Again, they seek to persuade themselves that they are safe, while they are in a state of condemnation. Those who seek salvation oftimes fail because they seek it selfishly; not so much because they abhor sin, and want holiness, as because they desire personal happiness, or personal honour, by being held up as very pure and good men, and because they seek sanctification for some selfish reason they do not get rid of their sins. Again, some individuals content themselves in sin so long as they can indulge a hope, or get others to indulge a hope for them. If they have certain feelings, which lead them to hope that all will be well with them at last, they are perfectly satisfied, and have no desire to be saved from sin.
But I cannot continue this train of observation, and will therefore conclude with some remarks. First, no person has any right to hope for eternal life, unless he is conscious of possessing the spirit of Christ within him-unless he is free from those sinful tempers which are indulged in by wicked men-unless he is free from a self-seeking spirit of doing business which characterizes the men of the world. How can a man in such a condition expect or hope for eternal life? How can any man suppose that he is justified before he is sanctified? I do not mean to say, that a man is not in any sense justified before he is sanctified; but, as a matter of fact, a man is not safe for eternity unless he is saved from sin. He has no right to expect to get to heaven unless the work of sanctification is going on in his soul. Again, it is easy to see from what has been said, that many persons regard the doctrine of justification by faith, as the whole gospel. It is the gospel, in their conception of it!
Now, why is this the gospel to them? Why is it good news? Why is it not good news that Christ will save them from sin? How is it that the good news of the gospel as it strikes them is the good news that will justify rather than sanctify?-that Christ is precious to them, not so much because he came to save from sin, as because he came to forgive, to die for their sins, and to justify them! Is there not something wrong in all this? Does it not show, when persons lay more stress upon justification than upon sanctification, that they are more afraid of punishment than of sin?-more afraid of the consequences of sin than of the sin itself? If they can but get rid of the penalty, the governmental consequence of sin, they are satisfied. Again, it is certain, that where this principle takes possession of the mind, that the individual seeks much more to be pardoned than to be made holy. It is better news to him that Christ will justify him, than that Christ will save him from his sins. Talk to him about his sins; preach to him about his sins; require him to become holy; present Christ as his sanctification, and that is not the gospel! Let me say, that there are multitudes of persons who have contracted their views into that one point-that Christ has died to save men from punishment. All idea about Christ being the believer's sanctification, or that sanctification is a condition of salvation, is wholly lost sight of. There is no stress laid upon the doctrine of sanctification.
Christ is chiefly precious because he saves from wrath, much more than because he saves from sin; more because he justifies, than because he sanctifies. Now, rely upon it, that, whenever this is the case, there is a sad defect of character. What is the true spirit of the children of God? Why, it is this,-- they feel as if they must get rid of sin, at any rate. They don't want to be saved in their sins; they feel that to live in their sins is hell enough. They abhor themselves on account of their sins. They must get away from their sins. They would not wish to be saved at all, if they could not be saved from sin. They are ready to say, If the gospel cannot save me from sin, it is a failure, for this is my necessity.
Now, who does not know that the true Christian is more afraid of sin than of punishment? Yes, a great deal more! They abhor sin; and when they ever fall into sin, they are ready to curse themselves; and all the more because Christ is so willing to forgive them. The man in this condition of mind will never look upon the gospel as mere justification. Again: whenever the doctrine of justification comes to be more prominent in the church than sanctification, there is something wrong, there is a radical error crept into the church; there is a danger of that church losing all true idea of what the gospel is. I don't know how it is in this country, but I greatly fear that the doctrine of sanctification is kept very much in the background. Now, why is this? While there is so much said about justification, there is very little said about personal holiness. So much is said about a Saviour, as if the gospel was meant simply to save men from punishment.
Now, while I know that the gospel presents salvation from punishment, and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, I know that its chief relation to men, is to save them from their sins-to become their sanctification. Again: the true state of men is always known by the great absorbing idea which is in their minds. A man's character is as is the end for which he lives. Now, a man who lives in any sin, any form of self-pleasing, and self-seeking, cannot be a Christian; for the true idea of the gospel is, that, for a man to be a Christian he must be devoted to God, and thoroughly withdrawn from all forms of sin and iniquity. He must be devoted to God, living for God, living for the same end that God lives; sympathizing with Christ, and with everything that is good. This is the character of every true Christian. This is the true conception of Christianity, and just in proportion as individuals approach to this standard have they a good hope of salvation, and just in proportion as they recede from this standard they fail of salvation. Again: there are a great many persons whose aim is to get peace of mind, and who are constantly crying "peace" to others, when there is no peace.
Now, let me say that there can be no real, true peace, unless all the conditions of the gospel have been complied with. You cannot have that peace of God which passeth all understanding, while you are in an unsanctified state; and, if you think so, you are deceiving yourself. Now, let me ask of you, Are you not conscious that this "peace of God" does not "rule in your hearts?" If I am not greatly mistaken, there are many persons in this house who have been trying for years to make themselves happy, but who, after all, are in such a state of mind as not to know that they are pardoned, have no real confidence in their own piety; now, how is it possible that they should have peace of mind? Peace of mind results from sanctification, and this they have never obtained. Let an individual who has been making justification the great idea, be at the point of death, and does he feel happy and resigned, having a full confidence that he shall go to heaven? How often do we hear such persons exclaim under such circumstances, "I am undone, I am not prepared." Why are you not prepared? A short time ago you were indulging a comfortable hope that you were a Christian, and now you cry out in fear, lest you should lose your soul. How is this?
There is a great delusion in the minds of men on this subject. They suppose that they have a very comfortable hope, but it is in the absence of piety; and when death stares them in the face they discover that they have no confidence in religion, or any ground of hope. Again: persons who do not like to have their hopes tried, and themselves searched, do great wrong to their souls. The more hope is tried, if it be good hope, the more consoling and satisfactory will it become. The man who is seeking to be sanctified, desires to be searched that he may not be resting in any degree upon an uncertain and unsafe foundation, because he is more afraid of sin than of anything else; he is more ready to forsake sin, than anything else in the world; he would rather forego any earthly good than have anything to do with sin. Now, don't say that this is extreme, because it is a universal truth, if religion implies supreme love to God: if we supremely love any being, we shall supremely delight to please him: this is a universal characteristic of the children of God.
Now, if this be so, what shall we say of the great mass of professors, who give the highest possible evidence that self-indulgence is the chief end of their lives? They wait to be saved, not from sin, but in it. But while they live in sin they never can be saved! Before hope can be cherished, the conditions of salvation must be fulfilled: you will never be saved at all unless you are saved from sin--mind that! You must become holy in order to become happy. Fulfill the conditions; become holy, and then your peace shall flow like a river. Give up your sins, give your heart to God, and rely upon it that the peace which passeth all understanding shall rule in your hearts.
Believer in Christ, the Lord hath set you apart for himself, separated you from the rest of the world; but you are only set apart as " holiness to the Lord:" this must be written plainly upon you; and if the Lord has written his name upon you, you are safe, not else. And let me say to every one in this house, Don't you expect to be forgiven, don't you expect to be pardoned, unless you will consent to be separated from your sins, and have the name of the Lord Jesus Christ written upon your hearts; unless your prayer is, "O Lord, write thy law upon my heart and make me holy." Receive his name in your forehead and his law in your heart, give yourself up to him, body and soul, and rely upon it, as the Lord liveth, as Jesus liveth, you shall understand what is the salvation of God. Will you do it tonight?
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THE SABBATH SCHOOL - COOPERATION WITH GOD
delivered on Wednesday, August 28, 1850,
by the Rev. Professor Finney,
of Oberlin College, U. S.,
To the members of the Sunday School Union,
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"We are laborers together with God." --I Cor. III. 9.
MAN is sometimes a mere instrument in bringing about certain events; and in bringing about certain other events, he acts as a responsible agent. When he does anything without rendering an intelligent cooperation, he is more properly an instrument; but when he is a sympathizing, intelligent, designing, co-operating agent he is a co-laborer with God in producing results by such combined agency. There are multitudes of cases in which men may be said to combine with God. For instance, in raising the productions necessary for his subsistence, man is a co-worker with God; for he makes use not only of man instrumentally, but as a designing, active agency--aiming to secure a result as, really as God is--sympathizing with him in the great end at which he aims--without the loss of his own responsibility, liberty, cooperating with him designedly and understandingly. It is enough to say, that when men have the same end in view--when they sympathize with him, and take the same means to secure the end in view, they may be said to be "laborers together with God."
In speaking to the subject before us, I shall notice---
II. WHO ARE PECULIARLY CO-LABORERS WITH GOD IN ACCOMPLISHING THIS
III. WHY GOD MAKES USE OF THIS COMBINATION
IV. THE ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
V. VARIOUS HINDRANCES WHICH RETARD THE WORK
I. The particular work here referred to.
The particular work to which the apostle here alludes, is the conversion and sanctification of sinners. In bringing about their salvation, God has, of course, done much without man's co-operation--Christ has made atonement without him; still, however, there was the applying of this atonement, and this was the particular work in which the apostle was engaged.
II. Who are co-workers with God?
The apostle in this case is speaking of himself and his fellow-laborers in the gospel; his eye was particularly upon them; but from the very nature of the case, and what is said in other places, we understand that all persons engaged in religious teaching--every one designing to accomplish the great end, and engaged in giving instruction for the purpose of accomplishing it--sympathizing with God in the grand end in view-- endeavoring to accomplish it by the means he has appointed--all such persons are "laborers together with God." Now, not only all teachers, but all those who are employed in any department of labor necessary to the accomplishment of this result, may be said to be "laborers together with God." Such, for example, are editors and others, laboring, directly or indirectly, to attain the desired object; but I shall notice more particularly this evening, one class--Sabbath-school Teachers, who are co-workers with God in the highest sense. The next inquiry is,
III. Why has God employed this combined agency?
We should never forget that God always acts wisely. Whatever he does, we are bound to assume that no other course than the one he pursues, would be so wise and good, if wise and good at all. Now, God cannot depart from the path of wisdom. First, then, God has chosen to associate man with him in this matter; we are, therefore, bound to infer that he has acted wisely in so doing; and that another course would not have been wise. To doubt this, is to call in question his goodness; and we are to infer, therefore, from the fact that he has chosen this method of doing this work, that he could not wisely attempt to do it alone. I will not speak of the possibility or impossibility of it; but the fact that such is the way God takes, shows that, in his judgment, this is the wisest way. It follows, therefore, that as this is God's way, he will not do it any other way; and that if there is not this cooperation on the part of man, we have no right to look for the promised result.
But let me say again: Another reason why this is so, is, because we need this labor. It is just the very exercise we want in order to prepare us for heaven. We need to cultivate our benevolent feeling and affections; this is just the kind of culture that is necessary for our spiritual well-being, these are just the channels in which our thoughts should be directed.
Again, it is honorable to God and man. If he requests any such feeble instrumentality as man's, why the excellency will be seen to be entirely of God, and not be ascribed, even in part, to the instrument, as might be the case even were angels employed in man's place. Furthermore, man can sympathize with man. God will get glory by bringing about so great a work by such means. Man will be benefited; and surely he is greatly honored by such an association with God, in so great a work.
But I must not enlarge here; I shall now proceed to point out, The Conditions of Success, and then the Hindrances which stand in the way.
IV. The conditions of success.
The conditions of success are, first, sympathy on the part of those who labor to this end with God. You must enter into his designs and views, having confidence in his wisdom and judgment, deeply sympathizing with the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ. There must be deep sympathy with him in regard to his passion for souls universally. Deep sympathy on the part of those who are co-workers with him, is indispensable to success. Who doubts but that one of the greatest secrets of the success of the early Christian ministry was this deep sympathy with Christ in his work. Their self-denying labors--their self-sacrificing spirit, showed that they entered deeply into sympathy with their Divine Master in this work. Now, until men really enter into sympathy with Christ in this matter, as the apostle and primitive Christians did, do not let them pretend that there is some Divine Sovereignty, or anything else, preventing similar success.
Again: Man must understand what is to be done. If he conceives that to save a soul is entirely an act of Divine creation, what has he to do with it? What cooperation has he? But it is not so, and man must, therefore, understand what is the nature of the work which has to be done. Again: He must understand the laws under which it takes place, and how it ought, therefore, to be done. If he has to take any part in it, he needs to understand clearly what part he has to take, and how it is to be performed, whether men are converted by persuasion accompanied by a presentation of the truth, or by a physical act of creation. If he makes a mistake here, he is not of much service in carrying forward the work; he must not go blindly forward without caring to ascertain the part devolving upon him.
But, again: He must possess the requisite skill. He must himself be divinely taught. He must know God's truth himself. He must understand what it is to be converted himself, or how can he labor for the conversion of others? What infinite folly for such a one to attempt to undertake the conversion of others! As well might a man with a beam in his own eye, attempt to pluck out the mote from his brother's eye; let him first cast out the beam from his own eye, and then he will see clearly to pluck the mote out of his brother's eye. He should have some knowledge by experience of what it is to be converted. If he is going to teach the sinner to obtain a new heart, let him understand what it is himself; for if he undertakes the work without knowing anything about it in his heart, he will prevent the work. So does a minister who pretends to point out the way of salvation, without himself having walked therein.
But let me remark again: He must understand the means necessary to this end. Having the end in view, knowing the means appointed by God to secure it, let him apply the means to the end, in an intelligent manner. Would you expect a man to be converted by talking to him about the Bey of Algiers? Yet this is as nearly connected with the subject in hand, as are the methods some take to effect the conversion of sinners. If you are to be co-workers with God, you must know what God is aiming to do--what particular mistakes you have fallen into--as wisely adapting the means to the end as a physician, who inquires into the habits of his patient, what caused the disease, what prolongs it, and the difficulties in the way of its removal. Now, suppose a physician, pretending to be a co-worker with God, should give up the use of means, sending one and the same prescription to all his patients, getting up a common panacea for all their ailments--what would you think of such quackery? But is not spiritual quackery even worse than this? Has not God ordained that man shall be converted by the truth? What then, is most calculated to impress the sinner with a consciousness of his necessity and with faith in his remedy?--what to teach him to get present hold of it?
Therefore, if men would be co-laborers with God, let them be sure to adapt their means to their end. They have no more right to expect to secure their end without the use of suitable means, than has the physician who does not adapt his means to his end, or any other man, attempting any other thing. God is perfectly wise in the selection of the instrumentality by which he does things. He has told us that he converts men by the truth; he has made us understand this. From the Bible and the universal conscience of all who ever were convinced by the truth, everybody can see that there is a Divine philosophy in every step--proper means to every end--all things conspire so that there is a divine, a philosophic beauty throughout the whole. The man who does not comply with the prescribed conditions is just as absurd as one who should undertake, in his business, to neglect the means from which certain results are always expected, and by which they are naturally accomplished, and yet expect to succeed.
Again: I do not mean to say that this result comes to pass by natural causes without the direct interposition of the Almighty; but that it is effected by laws with which he never interferes. His natural laws are everywhere present, and he will no more violate them in the spiritual, than in the material world. Do not let me be misunderstood; I do not think the means accomplish the end without Divine interposition, but the means are adapted to the end. Who would expect God would convert a man by the preaching of some truth which has no manner of connection with him? Nobody. Suppose I go to an impenitent sinner, and attempt to convince him of sin by discoursing on some purely abstract truth, without any particular bearing on his conduct and responsibility. How could I expect him to be converted by such means? Would any of you expect it? No indeed! But why not just as well convert him when talking about some irrelevant, as well as some relevant matter? Or, suppose you talk of things partly relevant and partly irrelevant. But you must necessarily come to the conclusion that the more you adapt the means to the end, the more certain you
are of securing it. You would not expect Divine interference unless you acted wisely. Suppose a minister should preach from week to week about Cicero, or Demosthenes, and other such matters? You would never expect him to be instrumental in conversion. You say God will not make use of such means as these in the conversion of men. Now, carry this out in all your teaching, Sabbath-school instruction, and preaching; and never forget that when you do not apply the proper means to the accomplishment of your object, you not only do not act wisely, but you are not likely to secure your end.
Again: Another condition is diligence. God himself is diligent, and he loves to see you so. If I take my own individual case, I may say that, since I have been in the ministry, I have been pressed, I cannot say how many times, to spare myself and take more rest, and take more care of myself. But Jesus Christ laid down his life, and I can afford, if necessary, to lay down mine. It is not the point how long any one lives, but what he does. If a man is endeavoring to spare his own health, and to make that a primary object, setting it before his duty,--he is not doing very much.
It is necessary for persons under some circumstances, to lay themselves fully out, or to do nothing at all. Suppose, for instance, you see a man out upon the Niagara in a little boat, some two or three miles above the Falls, drifting gradually onwards to that mighty cataract. He has oars, but the day is warm, and he does not like to exert himself too much, as it would injure his health. The longer he delays, the greater his speed, and therefore, the greater his danger; at length, it increases visibly at every step, till he comes to the Falls, when the whole river seems to roll back in mighty volume, and to struggle lest it precipitate him into the profound abyss beneath. Now suppose, under such circumstances, that he should only take moderate strokes with his oars, lest he injure himself by over-exertion! Why, he might just as well not move at all.
He is placed in circumstances where he must work arduously and continuously, or it is of little use his working at all. He must lay himself fully out. To preserve one's life is a duty, when it can be done consistently with other and more important duties. But it is often our duty to sacrifice life, or at least, to risk it; and the man who cannot do this will never accomplish very great things. The work must be done, come life or come death.
Another condition is, faith in the Divine presence and co-operation. Christ has told his Church to accomplish this work, and he has promised to be with them--not sometimes, but always, even unto the end. They were to go forth, and to make disciples of all nations; and "lo," he says, very emphatically, "lo I am with you always," and everywhere to the end of the world. Now, it is of great moment that those who attempt this work should understand that God is always with them, and that they may rely on his co-operation with as much certainty as that he will not lie, if they will only lay themselves out upon the alter as they ought to do, I do not believe that a solitary instance could be adduced in which the proper means have been perseveringly used in a true spirit, where success has not crowned the efforts. The promise here given may be depended upon, just as much as a natural or physical law. It is the Divine promise of an omnipresent Jehovah to be always with those who engage in his work--always, to the end of the world. It is just as if he had said--Whatever there may be for me to do, I shall not be wanting; I shall be always with you. We are to assume then, I say, that God will interpose, as confidently as an engineer in the construction of his mechanism expect it to obey natural laws, which will cause it to act when it is constructed in accordance with those natural laws. Mark me! I do not confound this Divine interposition with natural laws. But look at the facts in all history. When there has been a deep sympathy with God--means wisely adjusted to the end--in short, when God's commandments and requirements have been complied with in the proper spirit--when has it been found that God did not fulfill his promise? But let me say again: It is very easy for men to put it upon Divine sovereignty when they have gone to work absurdly, and then say, "I have done my duty, and I must leave the rest in the hands of the Almighty!" But even if you have complied with God's requirements, who does not see that you must follow it up! It never will do to faint with a single effort!
Another condition of success in this work is--we must leave nothing to miracles--we must not assume that God is going to convert men by miracles--we must not leave men to be convinced by miracles. Miracles never did convert men; they were only used to confirm their faith in the message that was sent from God. This having been once accomplished, they had the same gospel that we have. We do not need direct revelation as they did. I have said we must not leave anything to miracles; this is done wherever God is left to work without instrumentality. "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?" Now, the apostle reasoned that no such thing was to be expected unless means were used. If, therefore, we expect God to work miracles, and leave things to be done by him miraculously, we as really tempt God as farmers would if they waited for him to raise their crops by miracles.
Again: We are to expect nothing without Divine interposition. We are to remember that sinners so obstinate and stubborn will not turn to God except as he interposes to persuade them. Our persuasion will not suffice without his enlightenment. Again: We are also to understand that we are not to expect God to do this alone; he has chosen to do it by means of cooperation with us; we are to be co-laborers with him in it; and while we are not to expect that we can do it without his aid, we are not to expect him to do it without ours.
But this leads me, in the next place, to remark, that we must not stop short in seeking our end. We must not confine ourselves to sowing the seed, and neglect the watering of it. We must press our suit till we obtain our object, and not leave it for God to go on with it alone.
Another important condition is, we must take care not to hinder the work, by throwing obstacles in the way; but as this subject will come up for notice under the head of "hindrances," I will not further enlarge here.
In the next place, if we would secure this end, we must pray to be instructed, study the laws by which it is accomplished, and the means best adapted to secure it. We must adjust the means to the end as nicely as a chemist would do the various substances on which he is to experiment, and as confidently expect the results. We must study the state of mind in a man or child. What is the child taught at home? What does it know? What does it fail to know? We must thus endeavor to remove every obstacle, as a chemist in his laboratory would prepare all the component parts in a mixture, to secure the result of his experiments. Unless he adjusts these things in their exact proportions, his experiments will not succeed. To be sure it is a natural law, but if he does not comply with it, he will not secure his end. Now, who does not see in the gospel this nice adjustment of the truth to the end which it is designed to accomplish? Now, suppose you are going to endeavor to do your part towards the conversion of a certain child to God. What are you going to do? Are you going to tell him some story with no manner of connection with the subject? How can you wake him up to a sense of sin--set his mind fermenting on the subject? How can you best explain to him the atonement? Who does not see that there must be the nicest adjustment of the means to the end? If this is done in a proper spirit, you may expect the result, and you will not be disappointed either.
The first great hindrance to this work which I shall notice, is the many false assumptions which are made; and consequently, the amount of false instruction which is given,--a course which is extremely mischievous. For example: How often is it presumed that God does his work alone? Now, I do not say he cannot possibly do it alone, but I do say he cannot wisely do it alone; but to say that the Almighty cannot wisely do a thing is, virtually to say he cannot do it at all, for he cannot act unwisely. This hindrance is extremely powerful; for of course, where men think God does it alone, they do not care to co-operate.
Another assumption is, that his sovereignty is of such a character as to render it extremely doubtful whether he will co-operate with us. Where this is the case, men have but little expectation of success--they care but little to adapt the means in the end--and the result is naturally a failure. Show me a man who, though doing the best he can, as he thinks, does not feel certain of success, and you will show me an unsuccessful man; for he, instead of being duly impressed with a sense of the presence and cooperation of God--of the fact that God is most minutely watching his efforts, and ever ready to apply his seal to the result--instead, in short, of addressing himself right to the work with the expectation of seeing it accomplished,--he will do no such thing. This is one of the greatest errors in the Christian Church. Why did not the apostles assume God's sovereignty in this sense? Everybody can see that the primitive Christians went right to the work, as if they expected God's agency might be depended upon, taking it for granted that the Divine cooperation would by no means be wanting. Is there anything in the prophecies, in the gospels, in the epistles--is there anything in the entire Word of God to warrant our saying that the time for such things is gone past? No indeed; judging from the Bible, we have a right to expect more and more of the Divine cooperation and power. Such a supposition as the mistake I have noted, dampens the energies of the saints; and prevents their securing the end.
Another mistake is: It is assumed that the want of success is to be ascribed to God's sovereignty. Now, this is tempting God. There are men not half awake to the subject, ascribing the want of success to God's sovereignty!--men who have actually not employed the proper means! Indeed, the entire affair is nothing more or less than overlooking the fact, that God's government is a moral government. They confound physical with moral government, and physical with Divine influence, confusing and bewildering their minds; no wonder, then that their efforts are not crowned with success.
Another hindrance may be found in the assumption that if the work is God's work, there is no such thing as HINDERING it! "No such thing as hindering it!" Indeed! In what part of the Bible have you made that discovery? Was there "no such thing as hindering" conversion in the days of the apostles? The fact is, that if the means are not suitable to the object which is sought to be attained, it never will be attained; and to say that the means "will be sure to be adjusted to the end," is just as reasonable as would be the parent who forsook his child, on the plea that "if God designed him to get well, he would be sure to get well; he need not, therefore send for a physician--it was no use his doing anything!" To be sure I know," he says, "that God has settled in his own mind whether he shall or shall not get well, and the means will not be neglected if the end is to be secured." But it is just as easy to devote one's self to the conversion of the soul, as to the healing of the sick. Why then do men apply rules to the salvation of the soul, which would not entitle them to be considered sane if they applied them to anything else?
Again: Children are told to pray for the Spirit, when all the time they are resisting it. Instead of throwing all the blame on the sinner, and making him see that he is always resisting the Holy Ghost, they make it appear to him as if he were in reality more willing to receive the Holy Ghost than God was to bestow it! Whereas, if he would but yield to the convictions of the Holy Ghost, he is a converted child, or man, that moment. Yielding to the truth presented to the spirit, is conversion.
Again: He is set to pray for a new heart, instead of being told at once to give his heart to God--thus completely confusing the whole question, by assuming that he has nothing to do except to wait for God to make him a new heart, which they expect to come, like an electric shock, or something of that kind. Now, what is this assuming? Why, that he is really willing to be a Christian, and waiting for it! Now, does the Bible teach this? If so, where? It is in fact, telling the child that he is willing enough to be converted, and that he must pray to God and get him to be equally willing! Now, this is as gross an error as it is possible to propagate. Conversion is an act of the will in turning from sin unto God. The truth is, the sinner is not willing; the moment he is willing--that is conversion. The very act of being willing is the act which constitutes conversion. Now, to set a sinner to do what pre-supposes willingness on his part, is to throw the responsibility upon God. Now, my dear hearts, what can be a more deadly error than that?
Said a lawyer to me in one of the great cities of Pennsylvania, "Mr. Finney, is there any hope for me? When at college, I and two or three of my fellow students waited on the president, and asked him what we should do to be converted. He told us to keep out of bad company, to read the Scriptures, pray for a good heart, and in God's good time, we should either be converted or go back again into the world." As he said, they did "go back into the world." Bursting into tears, he continued, "My two companions are now in a drunkard's grave, and I have but just escaped! Now, is there any hope for me?" I told him, your president was probably a good man, but he taught you just what the devil wished you to be taught. Instead of at once accepting Christ, believing the truth, breaking down before him, he set you to read the Bible and to pray, thus throwing all the responsibility upon God. You were waiting for God to convert you without your cooperation. That was just what the devil wanted! "Oh! I see it," said he, "I see it!" Now, how many souls have been ruined in this way? Is that the way to trifle with immortal souls?--to assume that they are willing, when Christ says they will not come unto him. I know not, brethren, to what extent you are guilty of this; but this I know, that these are errors which are now doing incalculable mischief among children and others.
Again: ofttimes the instruction given to children places them in a false position with regard to the Spirit of God, the use of means, and their own duty. It places them in a position of being willing to do their duty; although impenitent and unbelieving, it gives them to understand that they are willing, and that it is God who is causing the delay--it gives them to understand that they are using means, and doing all they can to procure their own conversion; but it is false!--unutterably false, and pernicious! It is as false as to teach universal salvation. Why, I would just as soon teach infidelity right out, or any other error that can be taught, as to delude people with the idea that they are willing to come to Christ--that if the Spirit of God will only help them, all would be right now, when every single breath they breathe, they are resisting the Holy Ghost, and nothing else. What man was ever converted that did not learn that he had been all along wrong in thinking he was using means with God, instead of God's using means with him? Now, if a man has not learned this, I do not believe he is converted at all. When persons are truly converted, they see that the difficulty is not in God, but in their own blind resistance--perseveringly holding on to their sins, trying to make themselves better--trying to do something else than coming at once to Christ.
Another great hindrance is this,--the immediate conversion of children is not so much as expected. Why, how strange it is! So far from its being expected, such expectations have been discouraged. I doubt now whether there are many Sabbath-school teachers in this house that would dare to tell of it if his children were converted. No; if he should have the highest confidence possible without direct revelation from God, he would be himself astonished, and would not expect his fellow teachers to believe it. His fellow teachers would say, "Don't say that. Don't get up any animal excitement here! We don't believe in it." Why, now, who does not see that it is not wonderful they do not succeed; their failure is just what might reasonably be expected under such circumstances.
But let me say again: The idea whether young children can or cannot be converted, is still a matter of doubt to many. How infinitely strange this is! In the first place, children are exceedingly susceptible of conviction of sin, their little consciences are exceedingly tender. Their sins, if pressed upon them, will sometimes throw them into utter agony. I have seen the times when my own dear little ones could not commit sin without its causing them to perspire and tremble! I have seen this also in others. You can recollect, doubtless, many of you, some sin which your parents almost overlooked, but which, it may be, stung your little heart to a high degree. Again: Children are more inclined to believe than persons who have put it off and gone on hardening themselves. They can see they are sinners, that they need a Savior, and that Christ is that Savior. I do not mean to say that children when they become moral agents are not unholy; I believe they are, but they have not become so inveterately hardened as many older persons; consequently, everything would teach us to expect the conversion of little children. They are the most hopeful objects; they are the most likely to be converted; the work of conversion, as far as man's agency is concerned, is most easy in them, because it takes less instruction to work their conversion than those who are settled down. Again: some of them think that when they get older, they will be better--that their conversion will then be easier. Some ministers have actually refused children solely on the ground of their age.
There was a case of this in New York. One of the principal physicians in the place was himself an infidel, but his wife was a Christian. They had a little girl between seven and ten years of age. There was a great revival in the church to which the lady belonged; and this little Hannah, one of the most beautiful little children I ever beheld--became seriously anxious about her soul. The father found this out and was bitterly opposed to the mother for cherishing it, and reprimanded her for it. He said he "could not understand it, and he did not believe the child could." He would not, therefore, have the mother encourage such a delusion. However, one day, some time after this, as he was on his way to a patient's house, he began to think seriously on the subject, and saw at a single glance his relation to the Savior; he altered his mind, went home and confessed to his wife that he saw his error--that his pride of intellect had led him to overlook what the child in her simplicity at once had seen. Now, who does not see that this is the true teaching of the Bible? There are truths in religion, which the more lofty men's minds are, the more will they be impressed by them; but the simple truth of the way of salvation is so simple, that they are less likely, as we have seen, to understand and receive them.
Another hindrance is, that teachers have sometimes been flattered, puffed up, made proud when they needed reproof. What would you think of a minister who should always be flattered? Why, he must be a man of great grace, or he would speedily be a ruined man. Would you not expect such a man to be ruined, to lose his unction and power? Sabbath-school teachers are often spoken to in such a manner as to puff them up, when they were doing more harm than good. I shall produce some terrible facts before I am done, which will show that they are often doing almost unmingled mischief, whereas they flatter themselves they are doing an incalculable amount of good! The children are becoming hardened, while all the time, the teachers think they are doing great good. I always love to comfort those who need, deserve, and can legitimately be comforted; but far be it from me to plaster where probing is needed. If you would be flattered, you must go somewhere else; for I cannot flatter those who are not bringing about the great end to which Christ has told them to direct their efforts!
Another hindrance is, the best talents are not engaged in the work. Let matrons that know how to deal with children--men of mind and talent--parents acquainted with the management of the young--let such come forward, and take hold of the work. They ought to be leaders in it. Again: ofttimes Sabbath-school teachers have not the sympathy, cooperation, and prayers of the Church, but are left to themselves, all but uncared for by the body of Christians with which they are more immediately connected. Again: they have not by precept and by example warned the young of the sin and danger of their course.
I said I must present some facts. Now, I have some documents before me, containing statistics compiled by one who has long been engaged in Sabbath-school operations, which go to show that a vast proportion of the inmates of our prisons, have at one time or other, for various lengths of time, been under instruction in our Sabbath-schools! Nay, some of them have actually been teachers in them! In one prison it was found that thirteen out of sixteen had been in a Sunday-school. The total number of inmates of the goals from which these returns have been collected is 9,960; of these, 6,261 have been under Sabbath-school instruction! This is almost two-thirds! From the matrons of a number of penitentiaries, similar facts have been elicited:--number of inmates, 431; of these, 311 had been under Sabbath-school instruction; and thirteen had been teachers! Thus, more than two-thirds of these degraded males had been in Sabbath-schools; and more than three-fourths of the females! In the Wakefield House of Correction, for instance, 310 of the inmates had been in Sabbath-schools, 93 of whom had attended them over five years! 68 between 3 and 5, 59 between 2 and 3, 47 between 1 and 2, and 43 under 1 year. Now, what have we here? Just the very opposite of what we might naturally expect from Sabbath-school instruction. If it secured what it is expected to secure, the figures would just be reversed.
Making all allowance then for the diversity of agencies and other matters, when the inquiry came to be made, it was found that a large proportion of these fell through strong drink. One of the chaplains says: "Put away strong drink, and these institutions may speedily be shut up." All of them bear similar testimony. I have here a copious arrangement of judicial testimony to the same effect. Pains were taken to inquire of these poor children, Did your teacher teach you temperance? Did he by precept and example endeavor to guard you against a custom so dangerous? "No!" Thus, their greatest danger they were never warned against. This mighty maelstrom swallowing up all--never so much as warned! Is this the way?
Now let me say, brethren, in America, precisely an opposite state of things has been the result of Sabbath-school instruction. At least such has been my experience; and I consulted my friend, Brother Beecher, the son of the Rev. Dr. Beecher, and his testimony coincides with mine; and the uniform testimony of our country is that, seldom is a Sabbath-scholar found to be a criminal. The facts of the cases in our country, are actually quoted to defend and support Sabbath-schools. In every instance that I am aware of, total abstinence is pressed upon Sunday school children, and indeed also upon a very large proportion of the pupils of our common schools. Mr. Beecher agrees with me that, as far as our united experience goes, we are not aware of a single Sabbath-school where this is not so.
In seeking to promote revivals of religion among children, we must take care to make use of the great law of sympathy, and the laws of mind to work our end. It has been absurdly assumed that, what is effected through the law of sympathy, is not from God. But this is untrue; for the law of sympathy has a great deal to do with actuating the mind of man. One man's conversion is frequently instrumental in effecting the conversion of another. This is just what might be expected; and to bring a whole mass of children to act together and on one another is the true philosophy of converting children; and in the conversion of the world, it is God's method to bring men to act upon one another. Scores of thousands of American children have been converted in revivals of religion. If children are instructed without securing this result, they are hardened, and wax worse and worse. See how awfully this is the case in this country!
Now, I do not know how you have tried to secure revivals among the children of this country, or whether you have done so at all; and since I read the facts I have stated, I cannot tell you how my mind has been burdened that such should be the results of the Sabbath-schools in this land. I never heard anything of the kind before. Now, what is the matter? Can these facts be denied?
I have right before me the name of the man who informed me--what shall I say?--why, that the Sunday-school Union does not favor the Temperance movement! That some of its most influential members are engaged in the traffic, and set their faces against inculcating such principles. Now, I speak with kindness; but if this is so, it is too bad. It is awful; and although the voice is here coming from the prison and from the tomb--although the earth is loaded with wailing and lamentation and consequence of this traffic--yet they will not give it up. Oh! tell it not in Gath! Can such people expect the blessing of God? No indeed! It would be tempting God to expect it!--it would be tempting God to expect it!--IT WOULD BE TEMPTING GOD TO EXPECT IT!
Now, beloved, will you suffer such facts to go forth, and yet make no efforts to guard the children against this danger? Will the teachers now in this house let this state of things go on and on! Will you not say it shall be put a stop to forever.
In many parts of the United States, it is as much expected that young children should be converted, as their parents and the elder children. Sabbath-school teachers labor for it, expect to secure it, and do secure it. Everything favors the idea of the conversion of little children. We find them reputable members of our churches. They are the most hopeful subjects in the world; and the Church should expressly lay themselves out to secure their conversion to God.
But I have already trespassed too long on your time. I will conclude the subject next Wednesday evening.
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THE SABBATH SCHOOL CONDITIONS OF SUCCESS
delivered on Wednesday, September 4, 1850
by the Rev. Professor Finney
of Oberlin College, U. S.
To the Members of the Sunday-School Union
At the Tabernacle, Moorefield, London.
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; to continue in them; for in doing this thou shall save both thyself and them that hear thee." --I Timothy IV: 16
Such were the instructions given to Timothy. But what was true of Timothy in these respects is true of all ministers and persons who give themselves to Sabbath-school teaching and religious instruction generally. If the conditions above set forth be complied with, in a proper spirit and from proper motives, success is certainly to be relied on.
In speaking to the words before me, I shall notice what is implied--
II. By "taking heed to the doctrine"
III. By "continuing in them"
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THE INJUNCTION, "TAKE HEED TO THYSELF"
I am addressing myself more particularly this evening to teachers of religion, who sustain a most important relation to all classes of the community. What, then, is implied in a religious teacher's, "taking heed to himself?"
First, let him see to it that his motive is right in undertaking the great work--that the state of his heart is such that he is really in sympathy with Christ. If he embarks in this business without, "taking heed to himself" in these respects, he involves himself in deep condemnation, and must inevitably fail in saving either himself or those that hear him.
But let me say again: Not only must religious teachers take care that their motive of action, but that their spirit and temper, is of a proper character, lest by either of these being bad, they counteract their own efforts, and the efforts of their fellow-workers. They must take heed lest, by their frivolous and worldly lives, they counteract their own teaching. This is the case, in comparative proportions, both with the teachers of the churches, and the teachers of the Sunday-schools--with the latter, of course, the injury is smaller, his influence being confined to a more limited circle. If the teacher, however, manifests a worldly spirit before the children of his class, he is equally culpable with the pastor whose example is so deleterious to his flock, and for the same reason.
But again: You must take heed to your qualifications. See that you are really qualified--spiritually and intellectually suited to the work, at least in such a measure as to warrant a rational hope of your giving correct instruction to the children.
Again: Take heed that you yourself believe what you attempt to teach. If you don't believe it yourself, it is of no use to attempt to persuade them. They will find you out. You will betray your unbelief in your very manner, and the discovery of it will be their principal stumbling-block. Show them that you personally realize the importance of what you are teaching--that you believe it with all your soul. If you do not attend to this, you do not "take heed to yourself" in any such sense as will warrant expectation of success in your mission.
Take heed, also, that you personally know Christ, so as not to be obliged to teach by hearsay, like the sons of Sceva, who attempted to cast out devils through Christ whom Paul taught, not through anything with which they themselves were connected. Satan, of course, has little difficulty in overcoming those who are preaching a hearsay gospel. They are but poorly prepared to urge it upon others, and they are themselves without any firm expectation of its being accepted. Without any personal communion with Christ on their part, how can they expect to persuade others? Be careful, then, that you know yourself the true way of salvation--how to come at the gospel--how to avail yourself of it--and how to teach others the manner in which they may avail themselves of it. There is a vast mistake among teachers on this subject; instead of teaching others how to avail themselves of the way of life, they teach them the exact opposite of what they ought to teach them.
Take heed that you are taught of God. You must have the spirit of the gospel to explain it to you. You need to be ministers of the spirit as well as ministers of the letter,--instructed by the Holy Spirit himself. Take heed to this, for you certainly may be thus instructed, seeing that God never sets men to make bricks without straw, and if, therefore, he has really called you to instruct others, he will instruct you, if you will allow him to do so. But he will only instruct you on certain conditions--(1) that you believe, and (2) that you renounce your selfishness and have a single eye to his glory in seeking your instruction, and not any selfish motive. In the prayer, you will recollect I mentioned two passages in Scripture. "If a man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not;" and again, that "except a man forsake all that he hath, and follow me, he cannot be my disciple." To be a disciple is to be a pupil. You cannot have him for a teacher unless you forsake all that you have. This means that you must renounce selfishness, not seeking to be taught from any selfish motive, but for the same reason that he would impart instruction. Do this and you may be sure you will be taught of God. Only seek to be instructed for God's glory; pray in faith, and you will certainly receive instruction according to your need.
Take heed not to be skeptical with regard to your work. Do not allow yourself to get into a skeptical state of mind in teaching religious truth. This very skepticism will defeat the end in view, and actually tend to confirm itself. For example, suppose you go and teach children without expecting their conversion, and they are not converted,--why, they are only confirming you in your skepticism. "Then," you say, "I did not expect it; I had no reason to expect it." Indeed, you had no reason, as we shall presently see.
Take heed that you are not indolent careless--in your preparation for the labors of the class--take care you are not wanting in diligence, because this, too, will defeat the work. God loves to see you diligent, and unless you really are so, you need not expect to succeed.
Take heed, also, that you are not discouraged, and by that means defeat the work. Nothing is more important than that you should confidently expect to secure the object which he has set you to secure.
Take heed that your life and manner do not contradict your teaching, so as to make a bad impression rather than a good one. But I must pass very rapidly over this department of the subject, and come to the second consideration.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN "TAKING HEED TO THE DOCTRINE"?
There are a vast number of points about which persons will dispute and disagrees; setting all these aside, however, there are many so plainly revealed as to be wholly beyond the dispute of any reasonable man. Yet, without being at all aware of it, multitudes of persons teach things entirely inconsistent with them, while, if you should put the proposition plainly and ask them if they believed it, they could not deny it. They would assent to the doctrine in the form of a proposition, while,--unconsciously perhaps,--they are continually making an impression diametrically opposed to it. I will give a few examples of doctrines which are thus treated, and to which it is important, therefore, that teachers should take heed.
First; that the blame of sin belongs to the sinner. Now, you Sunday-school teachers, and other religious instructors, must not only understand this, and believe it yourselves, but you must be sure to lodge it in the mind of the sinner. Impress on the little minds of the Sabbath-school children that they have no excuse for their antagonistic position towards God and that they must, therefore, take at once the full blame of their sins--that they stand before God as rebels against his government, without the least excuse to plead in mitigation of their offence. If you do not believe this, you deny one of the first and fundamental principles of the gospel; you are wholly unfit to be teachers, but need yourselves to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God. Take heed then, that, although not actually denying it with your lips, the impression made is not opposed to it.
Take heed, again, that you don't convey the impression that the awful position of the sinner is not a crime, but a misfortune. It is a situation calling for pity it is true, but it is not pity, for his misfortune, but because he has been so infinitely to blame. There is no way in which he can make excuse for himself and his sinful courses.
These things are unqualifiedly and universally true, of every sinner, under heaven, and you must not fail to lodge them in the minds of those whom you instruct. Be sure that nothing drops from your lips which a child could construe into any sort of apology for his antagonism to the Almighty. I have known scholars to say such things, even to their teachers themselves, as would make you all feel the great importance of this point, had I but time to relate them. Some have declared that the influence of the tuition in those places had well nigh made them infidels. A child when once allowed to think he is not to blame, will draw an inference at once natural and irresistible--a logical little mind will never fail to do this, and entrench itself in the results of such a conclusion.
Again: Be sure to know and feel that the carnal mind is at enmity against God; that, therefore, children as well as adults, as soon as they are moral agents, are enemies of God; and that this is, moreover, a voluntary state of mind. It is a minding of the flesh and fleshly appetites. They should understand this, and not be left under a mistake. Their carnal minds are at enmity against God,--a voluntary state of enmity--the committal of themselves to a search after their own particular gratifications instead of serving God. Take heed also to teach them that the will of every impenitent sinner is entirely opposed to God's will, and that in this lies his moral depravity. None of you will deny this. You should tell the sinner that the voluntary opposition of his will to God's is his sin.
You will not deny, also, that no impenitent sinner is willing to obey God. In short, the very words are a contradiction--the proposition that an impenitent sinner is willing to obey God involves a direct contradiction in terms. What is impenitence but resistance? How, then, can an impenitent mind be willing, in any sense, to obey God? Every man, woman, and child who is impenitent, is unwilling to obey God, and this is their only difficulty. Let there be no mistake about this. Let it be so amplified, enlarged, and dwelt upon, in every direction, that every sinner shall understand that he is stubborn, and will not obey God.
Now, I suppose as I have said, that these are truths you will all admit; but are you sure that
you teach nothing inconsistent with them?
Again: Be sure to teach that sin can never be forgiven without repentance. You will admit that no sinner has a right to be forgiven while he remains impenitent. I suppose--you will admit, that while impenitent, God has no right to forgive them, and that he has informed them that he will not do so. I suppose you also admit that they have no right to expect any such thing under such circumstances. But do not people sometimes teach things inconsistent with this admission?
Again: Take heed to the doctrine in this respect--that repentance consists in the heart's forsaking sin, and turning to God. It is not a mere involuntary state of turning, while the heart cleaves to sin in opposition to God, but consists in the heart and will rejecting sin and turning to God.
Now, in the next place, take heed to this--without faith it is impossible to please God; and that whatever is not of faith is sin. No one, I should think, would pretend to dispute this. It is a plain proposition--without faith it is impossible to please God, and what is not faith is sin. But take heed that you do not teach something inconsistent with this; after all, for if individuals pray in unbelief and impenitence, they not only mock God, but commit sin, and that as really as they have done at any other period of their lives,--they only pray hypocritically--it is but sin. This cannot be denied, unless the Bible and all common sense be denied.
Take heed and teach that all men should pray--that they are bound to pray, and to pray invariably,--to pray in penitence and in faith. Even children are bound to pray; and they must be taught to pray--taught always, that unless they do pray, and pray with a penitent heart, that they mock God; and that they never are sincere when they pray, unless they do so in faith,--without this, they cannot possibly be sincere. Every will that is opposed to God, does not want to be converted, does not want the things it asks for, if it knew what they really were. Take heed to press their present obligation to repent and believe, and the disastrous consequences of refusing or neglecting to attend to these matters. Be sure to make them clearly comprehend that there is no escape from this responsibility. God requires all men, everywhere to repent, and regards every moment's delay wickedness--it's neglect is wickedness so great as to be considered by him as deserving a complete damnation. These things you teachers must believe yourselves--if you don't, you are wholly unfit to teach, for in so doing, you tell lies in the name of the Lord. Press upon them, then, as I have said, their present obligation. Now is the accepted time it is God's accepted time; now is the day of salvation, God himself being judge--therefore none need wait either for God to be ready or for anything else to be done. God calls upon all men everywhere to repent, and to repent now. He tells them that now is the "accepted time," in the sense that it is the "day of salvation."
Again: Teach sinners that they are impenitent--that they do invariably and universally resist the Holy Ghost whenever he approaches them, or has anything to do with them. As long as they reject the truth, and do not unqualifiedly receive it as the truth of God, they resist the Holy Ghost.
Again: It is remarkable to what an extent teachers fail to make themselves understood. When you explain anything to a person so that he fully comprehends you, how often does he exclaim, "Why, how strange! Shouldn't have thought it. Never heard such a thing before." Never heard such a thing before, do you say? Why, there is little doubt but that you have heard the very same thing announced, in other words hundreds and even thousands of times. Pains have not been taken to amplify the subject for the public, and, consequently, they are in great ignorance. Persons brought up in the gospel, are used to hearing the phrases of Scripture repeated, but not expounded as they ought to be, and turned over and over, analyzed, and displayed in their various aspects, so that even children may understand them. This should be the great object of religious teaching. The religious teacher falls far short of his duty by merely talking to the sinner in orthodox phrase without clearly expounding it's meaning. A man may be perfectly orthodox in his teaching as far as words are concerned, but the people may, nevertheless, be as ignorant of his real meaning as if he had spoken in Greek, or in Hebrew, or any other language; for they fail to understand the one he uses.
Some of the most common words for instance which are used by religious men, have no sort of meaning attached to them by worldly men. Some time ago, the question of sanctification came up for discussion in the United States, and not one out of forty of the ministers could give any clear definition of what it really was. Some of the strangest and most absurd things were said about it by the press. We had consequently, as many definitions of it almost as there were men to write upon it. The same may be said of numerous other words, such as regeneration, repentance, faith, and many of the words most commonly used. Many persons have failed to form a definite idea of the state of mind expressed by these words; few, comparatively speaking, have an accurate idea of what that state of mind really is. A child has a mind and consciousness, and is just as really able to understand these words as any person in the world.
If you were going to tell a child anything requiring great logic and penetration, you might find some difficulty to show him what you mean; but matters involving consciousness--such as the terms, love and faith,--these you can explain to a child just as well as you can to an adult. You can teach a child what it is to believe. If his father, yielding to his worrying, should promise to purchase him a knife--such promise would satisfy the child--he would rest on it, believing that his father really would get him one. Well, what is this but faith? Now, if you ask a child, "do you know what faith is," he would most probably say "no, I cannot say." Well then, just tell him--"suppose you wanted a knife that you were much distressed for one that your little playfellow had one that you tease your father to get you one till he promises he will, you leap for joy. What ails you--you have not got it? No, but your father has promised you, and you believe him." I mention this simply as an illustration of what may be done in this way. Be sure to take pains that you yourself really analyze these questions, and sift them to the bottom, making yourself so familiar with them, that you can illustrate them in such a manner as invariably to secure the attention of the children, and enable them to comprehend your meaning.
Again: Beware of leaving a false impression. For instance, do not let them think that they are not expected to believe just yet. By no means let them think they need not do it now. Do not let them think this--do not leave this impression, either directly or indirectly, by anything in your teaching, either in matter or manner. If you do so, as we shall see presently, you have done them the greatest evil it was in your power to inflict upon them. Beware of this, as you would beware of ruining their souls. Be sure; lodge the impression in their minds, and keep it before them, that they are expected to do it now. By all means encourage the idea, should they manifest a disposition to obey now.
Again: Be careful not to let them run away with the idea that they are unable to obey the truth; for, if you do, by a law natural and irresistible, they will come to the very natural conclusion that they are under no obligation to do it. If they are impressed with their inability, it is impossible they can feel any sense of moral obligation. There never was, nor can there ever be such a thing as a human mind believing or affirming it's moral obligation to perform an impossibility. If, therefore, you leave an impression on a child's mind that he is unable to do what he is required to do, you have done him the greatest possible injury. Why? Because, by an irresistible law in his heart, he will throw off the responsibility, and you cannot help it. He will not only do that, but he will charge God with being a tyrant. He will do this in his heart, if he dare not with his lips. If you tell him God will send him to hell because he did not perform that which he is naturally unable to perform why,--a child cannot believe this! They have minds, and their minds have laws; they will make such inferences, and you cannot prevent it.
Again: Do not leave the impression on their minds that they are willing to be Christians. In conversing with parents with regard to young persons, I have often found them saying, "Oh, he wants to be a Christian, he is friendly towards religion, he is trying to be a Christian"--not one word of which is true! I have had to tell such persons, in hundreds of instances, "what! Do you teach your children that? Do they want to be Christians? Does God say so? No indeed. You say they are friendly to God--he says they are at enmity against him; you teach their willingness--he their unwillingness." Now, what can parents do worse than this?--what can they do worse than this? Nothing! They teach the direct opposite of the truth, and what every orthodox Christian knows and allows to be truth. It is not uncommon for Sabbath-school teachers to teach this, and to leave such impressions.
Again: Do not teach them that they can do their duty in any case, or under any circumstances, before they have given their hearts unqualifiedly to God; therefore, instead of setting them to do something to get a new heart, teach them at once to give their hearts to God. A new heart--what is it? A mind devoted to God by a voluntary act, repenting, believing--in short, submitting its whole being to God. I would just as soon tell a man to go right straight along a road when I knew that, in fifteen minutes, he would precipitate himself from the top of a cliff into the abyss beneath. What! Does God require the sinner to do something by way of persuading God to make in him a new heart? No indeed; he is all the time entreating the sinner to yield himself up to him. Now, this is just what he is unwilling to do. Why do you not yield, when God is entreating you, "My son, give me thy heart?" "Why will you die?" This is what God says; and do you throw it upon God? Instead of teaching him to do his duty, accepting Christ and giving himself up to God, you send him away with the idea that he already does his duty. Now, he will never be converted till he finds such teaching is false. It must be, not because of the teaching, but in spite of it. Until he loses sight of the idea that he is going, in some way, to persuade God to do something for him in the way he thinks, he will never be converted.
Take the history of such a soul: He has been praying and praying, struggling and struggling, pretending to wait for God, and all this; by and by, he suddenly sees that he ought at once to believe; he does believe--that he ought at once to submit; he does submit--and now the thing is done. Thus, in multitudes of cases, I have known individuals struggling for a long time under false teaching, and finally, in a moment, the Spirit has turned their thoughts away from their false teaching, and they beheld what they ought to do. Now, you can easily see that if you teach anything inconsistent with these certain and universally admitted truths, you are going right against the Spirit of God--you are putting weapons into the little sinner's hand to fight against his God, to stand and cavil with him!
But again: Be sure to make children understand the nature of their dependence on God. Now, if you talk to them much, as you naturally will, and as the Bible does, about the Spirit of God converting them, and about his agency, and do not explain to them the nature and necessity of this agency, you will commit two mistakes which, if not fatal, no thanks to you. The Bible does not overlook this question; it is stated clearly and repeatedly as much so as anything else that is in the Bible. If you teach them that the Spirit of God has something to do with them, and that there is a necessity for his agency, and do not teach them what it is, they think it is some electric shock, or something of that kind, which they have to wait for. But teach them that while they thus wait for this electric shock, they are resisting the Spirit of God--it is very obstinate wickedness--this is the very reason why they do not at once turn to God. Ask them" Don't you know you ought to turn to God?" "Yes." "That it is wicked for you to live in sin?" "Yes."
Now, then, why do you grieve the Spirit of God by refusing? Why, just for the same reason as if you had made up your mind to resist your father. He tells you not to go down to the river; never to play near the water. You are determined to go off with the boys and do so. It happened that you have made up your mind so strongly, that, unless some person comes in and presses the matter home till he prevails with you, you will certainly go. Now, in what sense do you need such a person's agency? You will certainly go, and he knows it, unless he can influence you. You can easily show this to the child--that his dependence on this agency is his crime. It is only owing to his obstinate wickedness; and in proportion to the certainty of his not being without this influence is the greatness of his wickedness. The thing needed is to make him willing. It is, therefore, quite clear that he cannot justify himself because of his dependence, which, on the contrary, is an evidence of his guilt. The influence of the Spirit must be acknowledged as a matter of course; if any of you should think of denying it--mark the consequences; if you deny the necessity of the Spirit's agency, because of the sinner's obstinacy, and that his dependence upon the Spirit suits his wickedness, you deny that the Spirit's agency is a gracious one. If you think the sinner is, unfortunately, rather unable than unwilling, then the Spirit's agency is not grace but justice.
Furthermore: Another error, is, failing to let the sinner understand the nature of this agency. If you fail to do this, he will resist the Spirit, and all the while think he is doing no such thing. He says, "How can I who am a man, resist Omnipotence?" He does not know that resisting truth, when clearly presented to the mind, is resisting the Spirit. He will not admit that he is resisting it. If you do not teach him the nature of the agency, he will not see that, while he is praying for this agency, all the while he is resisting it. Seeing these points are so momentous, warn the little sinners against delay, and against throwing the blame on God, because they have not the Spirit--do this in a proper spirit and suitable manner, and you will make their little consciences quiver. You will feel sorry for them. So does Christ, and that is the reason he wants you to press them to come up. Take the little fellow up, appeal to his little conscience, draw him kindly to you, cut him off from his refuges of lies, shut him up to Jesus alone--that is the way to do with him to save him.
Be sure to make him feel the justice of his condemnation; for in proportion as you fail in this, you throw a veil over the gospel--it must be understood by the sinner that his "condemnation is just." Just in proportion as this is understood, the necessity and glory of the gospel is understood fail in this, and you may talk to the sinner to the day of his death. How can he understand God's love without understanding his own guilt? How can he understand the necessity for Jesus dying unless he knows that he deserved to die himself--and that Jesus died for him. Pinch the little sinner's conscience on this point, for upon it hangs the whole question. It will not be denied that the child deserves to be condemned, for if it were not so, what need was there for a Savior or an atonement? If he did not deserve to die himself, Jesus would not have died for him. This should be always taught and insisted upon; in fact, it should never be kept out of sight.
Once more: Be sure to expect to secure the early conversion of children. Aim at it and be wise in the selection of means. And again, let me say, take head to yourself and the doctrine, and persevere in presenting it.
IV. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE PROMISE?
What is meant by the promise? Simply this,--that if you do what is commanded in the right spirit, the promised results shall follow, from which it may be plainly inferred that the connection between conversion and the use of means, on the part of the church, and of those who instruct the people, is invariable. What else can it mean? Now, whatever people may say about God's sovereignty, one thing is certain--that if religious teachers take heed to themselves and to the doctrine, and continue in them in so doing, they shall both save themselves and those who hear them. This is the law of God's government; it is God's absolute truth, and is as true as God is true.
A few remarks must conclude what I have to say. What a tremendous responsibility devolves upon the religious teacher! But there is something better than this--there is a glorious encouragement held out to him. When I preach to parents about their responsibility in relation to the conversion of their children, I endeavor to impress them with the fact, that God has made them responsible for the conversion of their children. On one occasion, after a sermon on this subject, in which I had been showing the responsibility of parents, a man came to me in the vestry, and told me he did not like my view of the matter. But he was soon reminded of the fact, that God had laid this responsibility upon them, and that it was a most glorious encouragement, for God had connected their salvation with the persevering use of means within their reach. If this subject were regarded in its proper aspect, instead of mourning, parents would leap for joy and say, "Well, in the name of the Lord, my children shall not be lost!" "By the grace of God," the teacher might say, "my class shall not be lost!" Here is your privilege--will you shrink from your responsibility? No indeed!
Suppose a mother with a sick child shall be told, "Your child is sick unto death, unless you comply with certain conditions." Would she say, "Oh, that's such a responsibility!" Oh! no; you know what she would say. You tell her the conditions, how she would catch at them, exclaiming, "if there is anything I can do, how gladly will I do it!" All the mother is awake in her to secure the end.
I remark again: Unbelief in teachers of religion is the greatest of all their stumbling-blocks. Sinners would be very much better off without any teachers at all than an unbelieving one. I would rather trust them with the Bible alone, a thousand times. Suppose, for example, a minister should always leave the impression that he did not expect the conversion of his hearers-that it would be unreasonable to expect it. Suppose he were to preach and pray as if he did not expect it--that he had no rational reason to do so. Why, such a man is the greatest curse a congregation can have! Just as it is with the Sunday-school teacher, who does not believe that his children will be converted. I would never send my children to such a school as that. No! I would as soon send them to no place whatever to be taught.
I remark again: It is common for people to teach children that they ought to be converted now, while it is very evident from their way of proceeding, that they do not expect them to be converted now. They expect it "by and by." Is this right? If the child is old enough to be taught, why is it not old enough to be converted? If he is old enough to sin, why is he not old enough to repent? It is more natural to expect persons to be converted early, when they first get the doctrines of the gospel into their minds, because then they are naturally more impressed with the subject. They afterwards lose their hold of it. If I believed my child could not be converted young, I would not teach him religion while young. If they must be men or women first, I won't teach them a word of religion till then. Why? Why, I should state these truths merely to harden their hearts and increase their guilt!--Why should I do this before I expect them to obey the truth? How absurd!
What a great evil it is that little children should die if they are old enough to sin, and not old enough to repent--if they can be taught now, and yet not be converted till by and by! Bring up a child from its very infancy to the use of alcohol. Be sure that the mother, while nursing it, takes enough to keep the child drunk. Give it a little after awhile--let it sip a little out of it's cup and thus bring it up to the use of it. Do not teach it temperance till it becomes older, when fairly hardened in its course, bewildered, and stupefied by drink. Then try to reform it! Is this the way? Yet, this is just as true of other forms of sin, as of this. When first a sense of sin afflicts their little consciences, teach them to come to Christ at once for forgiveness.--then, if ever, is the time you may expect it. Every moment's delay only makes sin a habit, hardening the heart, and stupefying the conscience. Oh! what a mistake it is to let children grow up in sin, expecting them to be converted when they become more hardened.
I had intended to have enlarged here on the method of promoting revivals of religion among children--how it may be done, how it has been done, and what the results have been. I wish I had time to state my views of the importance of getting masses of them to think and act together--to move in one direction. There is nothing on which the great law of sympathy has so powerful, direct, and glorious a bearing as in bringing masses of men to inquire with regard to religious truth--in bringing them to rise up and act together. Especially is this true with regard to children; it is the most elevating, fascinating, and glorious thing conceivable to see masses of children turning to God.
Another great difficulty in the way, is the unbelief of the Church with regard to the willingness of God and the certainty there is that he will immediately put his hand in the work. One day, in conversing with a brother minister, he said, "I bless God for the idea of the truth of which I have now no doubt, that when I do just what he has told me to do, I can depend upon his immediately seconding my efforts and cooperating with me." While thinking thus, it occurred to me that to doubt this, or to leave the question open to debate were to doubt God's own word, and to throw a stumbling-block before my own feet. Now, the truth is, that Christ has said he will be with us in all places, at all times--and for what? Why, to secure the very end he has sent us to accomplish--the salvation of men.
Now, dearly beloved, we ought to expect this cooperation as really as we believe in the natural laws which govern the universe. It is as certain as the operation of the law of gravitation--as certain, and may be depended upon just as much as any natural law may be depended upon, when all the conditions of it's fulfillment are strictly and fully complied with. Whenever this is tried and tested--whenever we can truly say we have in all respects done our duty--God has never failed. If he has, let cases be brought forward! It cannot be done. How long, then, shall this unbelief stand in the way of the work?
I had much more to say on this and kindred branches of my subject, but time will not permit; but let me remark that if you take heed unto yourself, and to the doctrine, and continue in them, your classes must be saved.! Does not God distinctly tell you so? I ask for no more than this one thing--in regard to my ministry, I want no higher assurance than this. To be sure I know very well that I am dependent upon Divine grace, but I know that I am dependent upon it in such a sense as that I shall be sure to have it. God has not sent me to preach the gospel as the Israelites in Egypt had to make bricks without straw. God said to Paul--and it is true of every preacher--"My grace is sufficient for thee;" he has said again, "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be." Beloved, then, hold on-- hold on--oh! hold on to this! Amen.
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THE CHRISTIAN'S RULE OF LIFE
A Farewell Sermon
Preached on Wednesday, September 11, 1850
by the Rev. C. G. Finney
(of the Oberlin Collegiate Institution, America)
at the Tabernacle Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." --I Corinthians X: 31
In speaking from these words, I propose briefly to show:--
II. WHAT IT IS TO LIVE TO DO ALL FOR HIS GLORY
III. NOTICE SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS RULE
IV. EXAMINE SOME THINGS IN THE LIFE OF JESUS IN THE LIGHT OF THIS RULE
I. I HAVE TO SHOW, IN THE FIRST PLACE, THAT THE CHARACTER OF GOD IS OF INFINITE VALUE
God, as a moral agent, must have a conscience, and it is of infinite importance to Him that He should meet the demands of His conscience that His character and conduct should be in all respects what His conscience tells Him it ought to be. Of course, it is of infinite importance that He should meet the demands of His conscience, because His own happiness depends upon His approval of His own conduct and character. Just think. Suppose God did not wholly respect and approve of His own conduct and character! Suppose he should violate His own conscience--not that it ever will be so, but suppose that it were--of course the happiness of God would be destroyed, He would not glorify Himself, nor honor Himself in His own estimation; His character, therefore, is of infinite importance. Now, we all know the importance of self-respect. When we forfeit our own self-respect, we render ourselves wretched; when we have our own consciences against us we must of necessity become miserable. Persons are well aware that their own character is to themselves of very great importance in this respect. They find it impossible to be at peace when they sin; when they are living in such a manner as to be unable to approve themselves in their own consciences. Now, it is not too much to say, that for God to honor Himself in His own estimation, to meet the demands of His judgment in respect to what is best and right, and to satisfy the demands of His own infinite reason and conscience, is a matter of infinite moment to Himself. Then again, it is of the utmost importance in relation to the government of the universe. Suppose God's character were to suffer in the estimation of the universe? The stability of his government depends upon the confidence of His subjects as subjects, of a moral government. The well-being and safety of the universe depend, I say, on the confidence reposed by the subjects of God in his sovereignty. Let their confidence in his character be forfeited, and what would be the result? Of course, it would unhinge his government and ruin the universe. Indeed, confidence in God is the great hinge upon which all obedience turns. Destroy confidence in God, and you destroy the happiness of the entire universe. Confidence in God, therefore, is just as important as the happiness of the universe. But I will not enlarge on this.
II. I AM TO SHOW, IN THE SECOND PLACE, WHAT IS INTENDED BY LIVING TO THE GLORY OF GOD
The term "glory," as it is here used, means renown, reputation. To do everything to the glory of God, is to have this end in view in all that we do; whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, 'this to be done for the glory of God: to secure the universal respect and confidence of his subjects; to do those things that shall set his character in the strongest and most attractive light, and that shall lead men thoroughly to understand and appreciate His character; and thus endeavor to win for God the confidence and the hearts of all of his subjects. It is the same thing as to win souls; to endeavor in all our ways to win souls to God, to win souls to Christ, by showing forth the character of Christ in our example, in our tempers, in our spirit, and in all that we do. It is to be our chief aim to set forth His will, His law, and His whole government as perfect, and to make it so lovely and desirable as to draw the hearts of men to Himself, to confide in Him, to love Him, and to obey Him. I repeat, that to do whatever we do to glorify God is to have this great end in view in all our ways, to make ourselves living mirrors reflecting the image of God. Suppose a man should come from America to England, and profess to be a devoted friend of the American Government, but should totally misrepresent it in all that he did. If instead of representing the true spirit of the government--the true Republican spirit,--he should himself be a despot in his spirit and character, and in every respect quite contrary to the real spirit of the American Government, and did not that, in any of his actions, which would truly represent it, what should we say of him? Now, suppose an individual should profess to be a disciple of Christ, should profess to love and obey his government, and to respect and revere his character, and yet he himself in all his ways misrepresented the character of God; that in his spirit and temper, and in his general deportment, he should hold forth a false light, and create a false impression of what the character and government of God really are, what should we say of such professors? Now, suppose a citizen of this country should go forth among the savage tribes of Africa, or any other part of the world, with the avowed object of recommending to them a species of government which, in his estimation, would secure their well-being, if adopted by them. Now, suppose he should profess great admiration of the British Government, but in all his ways and actions should misrepresent it; what would be the effect? Would not the savages think that any governmental constitution was better than such a hideous monster? But, suppose this individual was really sincere and benevolent, suppose that he really felt and believed that the British Constitution would greatly conduce to their well-being, of course he would by all his conduct endeavor to recommend the government; he would seek to show in his own person what kind of a man such a government was calculated to make; his aim would be in all things that he did to recommend the government to the people; he would always have this in view in everything that he either did or said; in all his ways, and by all his actions, he would seek to recommend the government of his country so as to induce those among whom he sojourned to adopt it. Apply this to the government of God. Suppose that those who profess to be the subjects of God's government manifest anything else than the true spirit of that government? For example, suppose, that--instead of showing that they are universally benevolent, and thus exhibit the law of God in it's true spirit, they should manifest a selfish spirit--who does not see that such persons would greatly and grievously misrepresent the true spirit and nature of the character of God's government? But suppose in all things an individual makes his whole life a mirror that shall reflect the pure character of God--the self-denial of Christ, the love of the Father, the purity and excellency of His law, and the perfection of His Government, and thus secure the glory of God, by living a life of universal peace and holiness. I pass now, in the next place, briefly to notice,--and as I am so exceedingly hoarse, I must be very brief; perhaps I shall not make myself understood; I will try, and you may expect nothing more of me--
III. SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS RULE
Observe, we have here a simple and plain rule of life, by which we are enabled to judge correctly of what is, and what is not our duty. The Bible always lays down great and broad principles. Instead of condescending to specify every form of duty, it lays down great principles to be followed out in practice. These principles are sometimes expressed in one form and sometimes in another; but they always amount to the same result in whatever way they are expressed. For example, the same principle is involved in the command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength," that we have in the text, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." My object, beloved, is to set before those who profess to be converts, in as simple and as clear a manner as I can, a rule that they will do well always to remember, and by a reference to which they will, almost in all cases, be able to judge easily and correctly of all forms of duty, and whether any course of action is inconsistent, or not, with the Christian religion. If you are a Christian, you desire in all your ways to honor God. Of course you wish to awaken souls and bring them to him, to magnify His law, and to secure for Him the universal confidence of all moral agents everywhere. Now, the life and conduct of Christ was a simple illustration of this rule; whatever He did, He had this one great end in view. His aim, He said, was not to seek his own glory, but the honor and glory of God--that is, considered as the governor of the universe. The aim of Christ was to honor the Father considered in the relation of law-giver and governor; so to make men know Him, and rightly to understand and appreciate his government--in all His ways he manifested a deep desire to show forth, in His spirit and temper, and in His whole life, the true character of God. I speak of Christ thus not only as a man, but a man endowed with a divine nature.
Now, mark! his object was most thoroughly, and correctly, in all things to honor God, by making a fair, full, and thorough representation and reflection of God, in His own life and preaching, that He might show forth the character of God before the world, in order that he might prevail upon men to admire and imitate, and give themselves up to love and serve God. And let me say, the same was manifestly true of the Apostles. They caught the same spirit, and they labored for the same great end. Their object everywhere was not to glorify themselves, but to honor God, to glorify Him, and to publish abroad His glory and His praise, and get for Him renown, and to obtain for Him the confidence of all men.
But let me say again: The same rule we see shines most beautifully in the primitive saints and martyrs. And the same rule is applicable to all ministers, lay men and women, and every person in every rank of life now; the disposition of all Christian persons should be to commend God's government and character to the world--in all things to set forth the religion of Jesus Christ, the religion of the Bible, and so to exhibit it before the world, that men seeing their good works shall be constrained to glorify God. Christ has said, "Ye are the light of the world:" "Ye are the salt of the earth." "So let your light shine before men that they seeing your good works shall glorify your Father which is in heaven." You profess to be the subjects of God's government, the disciples of Jesus; then in all your conduct, manifest his spirit, let your light shine so as to cause God to be glorified; and do not misrepresent religion, do not falsify the character of God and the benevolence of His government. The apostle said, "For me to live is Christ." Do you live so as to be able to say this? Let your object be in living among men to seek to image forth Christ in all your conduct; to represent Christ among men as if there were a new edition of Jesus living in you; as if Christ was again appearing among men; showing himself through your temper, and spirit, and your whole life. But let me say again: Let it be understood, then, that this rule is one of universal application. It is binding on all Christian men in all places and at all times. You are to glorify God in the week as well as on the Sabbath; in your business as well as in your prayers. If you fail to glorify God in your business transactions, you will dishonor Him in your prayers; if you appear at the communion table, at the prayer meeting, at the service of the sanctuary,--everything you do at any or all of these places is dishonorable to Christ, if in your daily life, in your dealings with worldly men, you are doing nothing to honor Christ! I say that on all the days of the week as well as on the Sabbath, you are to honor God--in your business as much as in your prayers; and in your ordinary meals, you ought as truly to honor God as at the Lord's table. To be sure, the Lord's Supper is to commemorate the Lord's death, but whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you are to do all to the glory of God. You are to show that you are not "a man given to appetite," in such sense that you live to eat instead of eat to live, in order that you may do the work of God. But I cannot enlarge upon this principle which you see so clearly brought out in the text. The meaning of all this is, that all our lives should be devotional, that we should ever, by our lives, and in all our ways, be devoted to God--everything that we do is to be service rendered to God. Now, suppose, that you are living by this rule, that you really intend to live to God, of course you will seek to glorify Him in your eating and drinking, you will not eat food merely to gratify your own appetite, but that you may have strength to glorify God. Of course it will be so as to the things you eat, and the quantity you eat. Of course, you will not make "provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof;" but your appetite will be subservient to God--you will have His glory in view, and not merely your own personal gratification, in eating and drinking. So in everything else, you will show to the world that you have a higher end in view than merely your own personal gratification, and that you are living to honor and glorify God.
IV. BUT I AM, FOURTHLY, TO EXAMINE SOME THINGS IN THE LIFE OF JESUS IN THE LIGHT OF THIS RULE
And first, under this head, I would say, it is not enough that a thing may be done for the glory of God, but the question is, is it in fact done to glorify God? Now, you may do many things, beloved, that might very reasonably be done for the glory of God that are not. An illustration of this fact occurs to me at this moment. Several years since, I was laboring in one of the towns of America, during a revival of religion, where there lived a very singular woman, who contended that it was very proper for Christians to have balls and to dance; and this position she defended most strongly. She adduced the fact of David's "dancing before the ark with all his might." Now, David did it as a religious service, and I asked her, "Do you actually perform dancing as a religious service? Do you do it to glorify God? Do you mean it as an act of worship? Do you mean it, as David meant it, to honor God and show his holy joy and holy zeal when the ark of God was coming into the city? Now, do you do it for that reason? Do you recommend it as a part of religious service? If you do, why then say so; but, if you don't mean to recommend it as a religious service, what do you mean by it's being lawful?" Now, the fact is, things may be done to glorify God, that in fact are not done for that object. I can conceive of a man being so full of holy joy as to dance to glorify God as David did; but, this would not prove that all dancing is performed for the same end, nor will it prove that dancing is right, except for this reason. I mention dancing rather than anything else, simply because the fact that I have just related occurred to me at the moment. It is not enough, I say again, that a thing may possibly be done to glorify God, but it really must be done for that reason. Men must glorify God in all that they do, or they do not obey him.
But I remark, secondly, under this head: We cannot aim to glorify God by any means that are manifestly discreditable to God. For example, suppose a pirate ship should be fitted out for the avowed object of getting money for the Bible Society? Suppose this vessel went out into the open seas with the black flag and cross-bones, making war upon all the ships that passed where it was, destroying their crews and stealing their freights, and all this for the purpose of getting money for the Bible Society. Who does not see that this would shock the common sense of mankind, who by a necessary law of their own natures would know that such a thing could not be done for the glory of God. Such a thing would be repugnant to the feelings and hearts of all men, and everybody would see that the very pretense was a gross absurdity. Suppose a slave ship should be fitted out to go down to the coast of Africa for slaves, that they might be taken to the West Indies or to the southern part of the United States, under the pretense of getting money for the Missionary Society. The convictions of all moral agents would be that this was sheer blasphemy! There are things, then, that cannot be done to glorify God--that the universal mind of all moral agents agree to declare cannot be done to glorify Him. It is a remarkable fact that there are certain fundamental affirmations that belong to moral agents, as such, that they will agree in affirming to be true. I have just mentioned two,--the slave ship and the pirate ship, pretending to be engaged in religious pursuits. On such matters, reason is out of place--it is a necessary conviction of the mind of men universally, that murder and robbery cannot be perpetrated to glorify God.
There are a great many other things in the same category. Suppose, for example, that anything which is injurious to society should be got up, with a professedly religious purpose, that right on the face of it shows itself calculated to ruin the bodies and souls of men, but it is got up for the sake of doing good, and bringing glory to God. Now, who does not see that it is hypocrisy to pretend anything of this sort? Could any person bring himself to believe that he was glorifying God, for example, by engaging in any branch of business that is right in the face of society, calculated to injure both the bodies and souls of men? Suppose an individual should keep a house of ill-fame, under pretense that the avail was to be given to the Church! Who would not say that such a pretense was most blasphemous? But let me say, there are multitudes of things that, on the very face of them, misrepresent the benevolence of God, that are done on the pretense of honoring God! Now, this is a downright shame! Now, let me ask, can anybody pretend to represent the benevolence of God by any of the things that I have named? No indeed! But again; take many of the ways of making money in the present day, by speculating, and by over-reaching. Money is made by this means, and sometimes under the pretense that part of it is to be given to the glory of God! Away with such money! Away with such pretensions! Who does not know that it is an abomination in the sight of God? Is it not revolting to every feeling of humanity to reflect that men should beat their slaves to make them earn that which they pretend they are about to devote to pious purposes; that, that which is got by the sweat and blood of men is to be paid into the treasury of the Lord? Away with it; it is an abomination unto the Lord! But let me say again; you ought never to do anything that Christ plainly would not have done. Now, there are certain things, for example, that by a law of our own being we affirm Christ would not do. There is a sure guiding principle that lies deep in the mind of man, that affirms things in which men will agree. For instance, every moral agent will affirm that Christ would not give Himself up to be a pirate. Who believes that He would? He would not give Himself up to pursue any kind of business that would ruin the bodies or souls of men! Who believes that He would? Do you suppose that for the sake of getting money to spread the gospel, He would resort to some of the means that are resorted to in these days? Now, let me say--the Lord does not want people to get money for Him by grinding the faces of the poor. That a man for the sake of selling his goods cheap, and to get money for the cause of God, should screw-down the people in his employ, and give them such a pittance as will hardly keep body and soul together! Do you think Christ would do that? Would He shave and cut down the honest earnings of a poor woman for the sake of getting money to diffuse the gospel? No indeed! God is not so poor that He cannot get money without your serving the devil in that way!
I am so very hoarse tonight, or I intended to take up this question of trade fully, and put the knife of truth into it, but I must forbear. But let me say again: Very often persons get up fairs, or parties, and even balls, for the sake of getting money for God, as they say. Some years ago, while laboring in a certain place in America, the Unitarians got up a ball of this kind, that was to last for two days. Each gentleman paid two pounds for attending the ball, the proceeds of which were to be given to the poor--in fact, to supply them with fuel, for it was very cold weather. Now, many people who professed to dislike such things in a general way, went to the ball, because it was "a charity ball!" Now, why, if they were benevolent, could they not at once give the two pounds to the poor? Why go to feast and ball, serving the devil for two days, and then give only the residue to the poor? Was not this merely an apology for charity? Yes, and nothing else! Some of the Orthodox people, who did not like balls, and would not go so far as that, got up some parties--"charity parties" as they called them,--and there they got together and had a fine time of it--had everything that was rich and nice--and concluded with prayer! Why conclude with prayers? Because they got the ministers in to sanction and share in their proceedings. And, then, the residue of the proceeds of these parties was given to the poor! Do you think Christ would have acted thus? Young convert, how does it strike you? Was that benevolence? What think you of having a night of merriment, and calling it "a charity party," laughing and talking and going on, and then sanctifying the whole with prayer? Well now, I might mention a great multitude of things that are done under the pretense of benevolence. Some of you perhaps, may have been drawn into some of these things. I have known theaters to give "benefits" for the poor, and have thus drawn in professors of religion who did not object to go because it was "a benefit for the poor." Why not give your money at once? Why run to the theater? Oh, what a miserable subterfuge is all this! I trust you will in future have your eyes open. Ask yourselves, when you are requested, or tempted, to do anything--would Jesus Christ do that?
But again: Speculation cannot be engaged in for the glory of God. By speculation, I mean this--there are multitudes of individuals who will give themselves to get money by making great bargains out of their fellow-men, under the pretense that they are going to get rich in order that they may give money to the cause of God. Now, it is manifestly wrong for a man thus to overreach his fellow-men, that he may make a great bargain, and thus be able to give something to God. Such a man says to God, "O God, I have made this speculation out of that man, and now I will give part of it to thee." Now, is this one of the ways in which a man can honestly attempt to glorify God? No indeed! God does not require that a man should be unjust to his fellow-men, in order to give money for the advancement of his cause on the earth. I am not speaking of those persons who are engaged in what may be termed lawful speculations; but of those who drive hard bargains, professedly for the glory of God. Now, there is altogether a mistake in this; they don't do it, for this reason. The very nature of man cannot assent to this. To wrong a neighbor to give to God cannot possibly please God. God loves all men; there is an important sense in which all men are his children, and God will not see injustice done even to the wickedest of men. You have no right to act unjustly to a wicked man. No indeed! God will not consent to it.
But, again: let me relate a fact I believe I mentioned it in this place once before; it may be well to mention it again; however, as it will illustrate what I mean. About the year 1831, an individual possessing large property professed to be converted, and he said that he had resolved to give up all his property to God, for His glory and the advancement of His religion; he had no family, and therefore did not want it. He spent several years in looking about him to see what object he should give it to, but he could see no object worthy of it--he always saw something in every society which, he said, conscientiously prevented his parting with his money to it. His property in the meantime, went on accumulating. By and by, he began to speculate in provisions, and he went through to the great thoroughfare of the West and bought up everything that he could in the shape of provisions in order that he might sell them out again at an extravagant price. But it so happened that he did not get hold of enough to carry his speculation; he did not become possessed of sufficient to control the market, and therefore, lost all he had. He came to my house soon after, and seeing he looked very said, I asked the cause. "Why," said he, "all my store is gone." "I am glad of it," said I, "for you never intended to give it to God." I felt sure of this, although he had told me what he intended to do with the money if the speculation succeeded. "You wanted," said I, "to make the poor man sweat and toil to pay an extravagant price for his food, and you tell me that the object you had in doing this was, that you might serve God with the money! You gave yourself to speculate for God, did you? I don't believe you thought so. You were selfish in it." You may judge how the conversation affected him. "Now," said I to him, "I can't believe this; it is not in human nature to believe it, it is contrary to the laws of moral agents. Neither will God have money so gotten."
Let this illustrate what I mean, beloved; never think, then, that you can glorify God in engaging in anything that Christ would not have engaged in. Ask yourselves, would Christ do that? Should I be shocked to see him do it? If you would be shocked to see Him do it, if you would be stunned and confounded to see Him do it, then don't do it yourselves. But, let me say once more, I might advert here, if I have time and strength, to a great many things which pass currently among men, which they profess to be doing religiously, but which cannot be done religiously; but I cannot now enlarge upon them.
I must now conclude with a few remarks. First, nothing short of living in conformity with this rule is true religion. That is, when you do not live with this in your view, you have not a single eye; even if you have been converted, you are not now a child of God unless you are living according to this rule. If you do not glorify God in everything, you are fallen into sin.
Again: This is always a good rule for young converts, especially when any question comes before the mind, and you are unable to decide what you ought to do, just ask yourself this question; would Christ do this? Might I expect to find Christ at that party? Would an apostle suffer himself to be there? Can I do anything for Christ there? Can I speak a word for Christ, or will it be considered entirely out of place to talk about religion; or if I should manifest a Christian spirit there, would it not be considered out of place? Would it shock the company that I should pretend to have any religion? If so, it is manifestly not the place for religious people a place--where Christ is not, and religion is an intrusion.
But again: Many persons will sometimes go to such places, but to save their characters, they will introduce religion in some way or other, perhaps to give offense; just to save their characters, they will introduce Christ, but only to be rejected and despised.
Again: Never go into any company without seeking to glorify Christ, and where you do not go for that object. Jesus, you know, went to dine with the Pharisees, but it was with a view to rebuke, and instruct, or to correct their religious errors. Again: Do not fall into this mistake,--do not go for some other reason, and finally cover your retreat by sanctifying it with prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. Now, persons will sometimes go to places where they don't expect to do any good; they don't go for that object, but after they have had their pleasures and feastings, they will cover their retreat by prayer. Now, beloved, always remember to do whatever you do to honor God.
But let me say again: This is one of the most simple and natural rules of life for men whose hearts are right with God. When the heart is in a right state, it is as natural as to breathe, to have reference to Christ in everything that you do. Again: If men would regard this rule, their business transactions would not be a snare to them. Business was not designed to be a snare to any man; and if men will but transact business for God, they will be as religious in their business as they are on the Sabbath. Observe, you may be as truly spiritual-minded behind your counters as in your closets. Spiritual-mindedness is devoting everything to God, making everything over to Him, and living for His honor and glory. Now men ought to be just as spiritual-minded in their business as in their prayers; and if they are not in their business, they are not in their prayers. Mind that! If you are not devoted to God during the week, you are not on the Sabbath, and you deceive yourself if you think you are. You cannot serve yourself in the week and God on the Sabbath. Not you! The fact is, you will have the same end in view on the Sabbath as in the week. If you are selfish in the week, you will be selfish on the Sabbath. If you are not religious in your business, you will not be religious in anything. This is the fact. For what end are you doing business? What object have you in view? What do you live for? This is the great question. It should always be understood, then, that men are in reality no more religious on the Sabbath than they are in the week. They are not more truly religious, in their prayers than they are in their workshops. If they are religious in the one, they are in the other. Let no man think that he honors God on the Sabbath if he does not serve God on the other days of the week. It is well to be in the sanctuary on the Sabbath, and on all proper occasions; this duty should not be left undone, and let your devotion to God's house be seen and acknowledged; but be sure to let the world see in your business that you are a servant of God; let this be known in all your ways, in all your expenditure, in all your dress, in all your equipage; you must be the servant of God in every little thing, or be the servant of God in nothing.
Now, let me say, it will not be considered extravagant if I state that there is a very great mistake among the mass of professors of religion in this particular. There is a great affection of sanctity on the Sabbath, with many who have no piety at home, and in their business transactions. See a man in the house of God on the Sabbath who appears very devout, and you wish to know whether he is really so, go and do business with him on the Monday, and you will soon find out what he really is. Ah, you can say, I have done business with that man; I could not tell what he was when he was in the chapel, but I have seen him in his own house, in his shop, and I see that he is a man of God there; I saw him dealing with the hired men and women in his employ, and I have learned it all. Now mark, he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. That is the Bible doctrine. He that would cheat you of a penny would cheat you of a thousand pounds, if he could do it without injury to his business character. A man that does not regard God's glory in everything, does not regard it in anything! But I must not continue this strain of remark. Beloved, I designed simply in my remarks tonight to lay down a great principle of religion, the great rule of life. I have done so. Now, let me ask, will you consent to live by this rule? Young convert, do you now see how you can honor or dishonor religion? Do you see how much good or how much evil you can do? Do you know how much the character of revivals of religion depends upon you living in everything to glorify God? Live therefore, close to God; "whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God." Whatever you think will really honor God, that do. Whatever, in your solemn judgment and by the light of the Scriptures, and the example of Jesus Christ, you think will be honorable to God, that do; do it for that reason, and the blessing and peace of God shall be with you.
I am not now preaching on the Atonement--my text did not lead me. I am not now preaching on Baptism--my text did not lead me. I am not now preaching about Election--my text did not lead me. I have been preaching about living to the glory of God! And have been urging you, beloved, to live to the glory of God. Will you do it? Perhaps I ought to say I shall, in all probability, see the faces of many of you no more until we meet in judgment. I shall make no appeal to your feelings in respect of meeting me there; but I would remind you that both you and I will soon have to meet God! Let us study to approve ourselves to Him, let men say what they will. Amen.
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SEEKING HONOR FROM MEN
Delivered on Sunday morning, December 1, 1850
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY
(of Oberlin College, United States)
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Bob Wynn.
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" --John V: 44
The question of the text is equivalent to a strong assertion, that while individuals receive honor from men rather than from God, they cannot believe. This is a very common way of speaking. When we wish to express a very strong negative, we throw our remarks into the form of a question, as in the text--"How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor which cometh from God only?" which is equivalent to saying, you can by no means believe while you do this.
In speaking from these words, I propose to show--
II.WHAT IT IS
III.WHAT IS IMPLIED IN IT
IV.WHAT IS INTENDED BY RECEIVING HONOR FROM MEN
V.THAT THIS STATE OF MIND, THAT SEEKS HONOR FROM MEN, RENDERS FAITH IMPOSSIBLE
I. WHAT FAITH IS NOT.
There is scarcely any word in the Bible more common than the word Faith, few things are said more about in the Bible as important to be considered; the greatest stress is laid upon it everywhere; it is always put forth as of the greatest importance; and yet, strange to tell, there is scarcely any word in the Bible, perhaps, about which such loose and vague ideas have existed among mankind. A great many individuals have used the word without really understanding what they themselves meant by it; much less have they understood, in many cases, what the Spirit of God means by the word. If there be anything of importance in the Scriptures for us to understand, it is that we should conceive rightly of the full import of this term. To be sure, there are other terms which, perhaps, are just as important, such as Love and Repentance. Now, it is of the greatest importance that we should have the most distinct ideas of what these terms mean, for, observe, they are all designed to express a state of mind. What is this state of mind? Now, the Holy Scriptures treatment of the states of mind indicated by these terms. The Scriptures, from beginning to end, are always using language which is designed to represent certain states of mind; sometimes it refers to the mind of God, sometimes to the minds of saints, and sometimes to the state of mind in which sinners are. Sin is nothing else but a state of mind; and holiness is nothing else but a state of mind; so that, unless you understand what these terms mean and what particular states of mind they are designed to represent, you will never understand anything about religion. Hence, when I speak on the subject of faith, I am in the habit of trying to make myself understood and, if possible, to develop in my hearers what I suppose to be the true idea represented by the term, and also what is not the meaning of the word.
Before I proceed to define the meaning of the term Faith, I would just remark that every man, by his own consciousness, knows that there are three distinct operations of his mind--his intellect which thinks, his sensibility which feels, and his will which acts. Now, these three faculties every man is conscious of possessing, and is conscious of exercising those three classes of action. He is conscious of thinking and reasoning; he is conscious of willing to put forth action--to do certain things in preference to others; he is also conscious of feeling; he knows that he has sensibility which can feel, and have desires and emotions of various classes and kinds. Every man knows, moreover, that ofttimes his thoughts and intellectual affirmations are unavoidable--that he is not voluntary in them.
For instance, every man knows this; and he affirms, without any hesitation, that a thing cannot be and yet be at the same time. Every man, also, is perfectly conscious that the whole of a thing is equal to all its parts, and that he cannot possibly affirm the opposite of this, or go beyond this. Every man knows that he is irresistibly compelled, under certain circumstances, to make such and such affirmations. The same is true of the feelings. Every man knows that he must feel in a certain manner, and cannot possibly feel otherwise; for example, if he puts his hand into the fire and burns himself, he will feel the smart--it is irresistible. So you may suppose that, under certain other circumstances, he will have various feelings and emotions which he cannot possibly avoid because they are wholly involuntary. But every man knows just as well, and comes by his knowledge in precisely the same way--by his own consciousness--that it is not so with his will, but that, on the contrary, his will is perfectly free. A man wills a thing in one direction or another, and acts as he wills; he may will to go to meeting or to sit at home, to go about his business, or to refrain from going about his business; every man knows with the same certainty, and in the same way, that his will is free as that he exists. Now, suppose that any one in this house were really practically to call in question whether his will is free, whether he is able to will to go in one direction or another. Suppose we should say to him, Do you calculate to go home when the meeting is concluded? "I don't know," he would say, "whether any such motives will be presented before me as will make me willing to go: I am not free, I cannot will to go myself, and whether anything will take place to make me willing, I can't tell." Now, we say that every man assumes his own liberty; and if he was not free to act as he might, will, should there be a post in the street, he would be just as likely to run up against it, and be thrown down, as he would be to pass on either side of it. The truth is, no man practically does call in question the freedom of his will, and if a man ever does this in words, he does not know what he says. Every man knows that he is free as certainly as that he exists, and he bases almost everything that he does upon this assumption; if men were not free, they would do nothing of themselves any more than a machine can. These remarks being made, I proceed to show, 'what faith is not.' It is not thought, nor is it an affirmation, nor an intellectual perception, nor an intellectual conviction; the devil may have a faith of that sort,--indeed, he has it; the Bible declares that; the devil believes, and his belief makes him tremble. It is only an intellectual conviction; we often find sinners deeply convinced, so that they tremble, but that is not faith. Faith, then, does not consist in believing simply with the intellect anything that God says--a man may believe it with his intellect, and yet have no faith. Let me say again, that faith is not mere feeling. Thoughts and feelings, as anyone knows, are in a sense involuntary; moral character does not attach directly to them; being involuntary, they are unconnected with actions of the will. We do not deny that persons are in a sense responsible for their thoughts and their feelings, but mark--it is because their thoughts and their feelings are placed in such a relation to the will, that the will can in a certain sense modify or control them: man is responsible only for the actions of his will. This leads me to say that faith is also in the Bible represented as virtue--it is called a holy faith; it is represented as obedience to God. Again, faith must not only be voluntary, but it also implies, as a condition of its existence, that the intellect perceives something to be believed; faith always implies that there is something to be believed, and that which is to be believed must be recognized by the intellect. It is the intellect which sees, and the mind, when it puts forth an act of the will, chooses or rejects that which the mind sees. Faith, therefore, must imply the perception by the intellect of some truth, but merely this perception of truth however clear it stands out before the mind, with all the vividness and brightness of a living reality,--if it goes no further, it is not faith; and the clearer the conviction of an unbelieving man, the greater will be his agony of mind--that is the reason why an unbelieving conviction disturbs the guilty and makes them tremble. The clearer, I say, the intellect sees when the mind does not believe, and when the heart does not yield to the truth, the more intense is the agony of that mind, when these truths relate to God, and His relations to eternal things.
II. LET US CONSIDER, THEN, WHAT FAITH IS
First, that which constitutes the faith of the gospel is the heart or the will committing itself to the truth which the intellect perceives--yielding the whole will up to it, so as to be influenced by it. Observe, then, there are properly in faith the following things:--First, there is an intellectual perception, a realizing that the thing is true; then there is the mind committing itself to the truth, or embracing it, or yielding itself up to the truth, to be molded and governed by it. It is in fact, the mind's coming into sympathy with, and partly yielding itself up to, and embracing the truth so perceived. Let me illustrate this if I can. Sometimes you see persons convinced of a thing they do not will to be convinced of for some reason or other. It is often found that when certain truths are pressed upon an individual, he is unwilling to believe. For example, there is a man who has a sick wife; he sees that she is pale and haggard, he perceives her sunken cheek, and hears her hollow cough, and he fears that she may be in a consumption; he is unwilling, however, to believe it, and tries to flatter himself that her lungs are not affected, and perhaps the doctor tells him that it is a nervous complaint and not a consumption. But day after day he sees the hectic flush of the face and the clear and burning eye, and all the other symptoms of consumption. By-and-bye the physician says, "I must give her up, she is in a consumption; I am satisfied that she can live but a little while." Now, mark! Suppose the man does not recognize the hand of God in this event; he now sees the naked reality, it stands out plainly before him; in a few days or weeks he will be without a wife, and his children without a mother--ah, what an agony that is; he has not such confidence in God as to be able to see the hand of God in the affliction; he has no such confidence that he can yield up his little ones without any misgiving to his heavenly Father. The reality has at length come upon him; his intellect must yield; his wife must die; his children must be left without a mother; and he himself must go about alone. But to all this his will does not consent; he is dissatisfied with the order of providence; he is disposed to murmur, and is in agony when he realizes the fact that his wife must die. If you tell him that in all this, God is acting wisely, his intellect will admit that all the actions of God are both wise and good, but his heart does not admit it, his will does not receive it. See the difference between faith and a mere intellectual conviction. Take the Bible and show him the promises of God, bring before him evidences of the goodness of God, of the universal care that God exercises over all his creation; "I know it!" he says, "I know it!" but how he agonizes and smarts under it. But he becomes a converted man. You left him last night in the greatest distress; but you see him this morning, and he meets you with a smile. You ask after his welfare?--Oh, he never was better. You inquire how his wife is?--Oh, the Lord is going to take her home. There is a great change. He says now, "I have no wish nor desire but that God's perfect will should be done." He can now embrace the fact with his heart; he sees in it the hand of his Father and Savior; he can yield up his mind to the dispensation without a murmur. Now, this is faith in the particular providence of God.
Now, let us see what faith in Christ is! Faith in Christ is the mind yielding itself up to Him and implies, first a conviction of sin. That is, the mind apprehends itself to be a sinner. It implies also that the mind is convinced that Jesus Christ died for sinners; it also implies that the mind assents and consents to the understood relation of Christ to man as a Savior, in that He died to save him. But look at that man, what ails him? Why, he has a clear conviction that he is a sinner, but his will does not yield, and he is wretched; and the clearer his conviction is of the truth, the more miserable does he become. The Bible tells him to believe--he says, "I do believe," yet he finds no comfort in it. He is told to pray; he says he does pray, and pray in faith; but does he receive answers to his prayers? No! The fact is, he knows intellectually about these things, but his heart does not yield and come into sympathy with them so as to embrace these truths, and he is often in agony when he thinks about them. All at once, some thought passes in his mind about Christ and salvation, when he instantly yields his will and heart to the truth, and his soul becomes like to the chariot of Aminadab! He finds himself in sympathy with the truth; and he wholly gives up his heart to embrace it. The truth does not distress him now as it did before. He has set his heart on the truths of the Gospel now; he sees a glorious reality in them, and they set upon the soul with such sweetness, that he feels it to be the element in which it was designed to "live, move, and have it's being;"--all is joy and peace.
III. I AM, IN THE NEXT PLACE, TO NOTICE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT ARE IMPLIED IN BELIEVING IN JESUS
First, of course, it implies a supreme regard to His will, a committing of the mind to Him, and a yielding up of the whole life to live in sympathy with these truths that respect Him. Furthermore, it implies a forsaking of everything that is inconsistent with the will of Christ. We cannot love Him and yet, at the same time, sympathize with His enemies. Again, it implies a supreme regard to what He does or wills respecting us. For example, an individual who really believes in Christ, has a supreme regard to his good opinion, and is desirous to please Him; and is infinitely more desirous to have the approbation of Christ than the approbation of the world--infinitely more. Believing in Christ, then, implies a supreme desire to please Him; a state of mind that will say whatever will please Him; that will do, and that will aim to please Him, regarding any token whatever of his approbation as being infinitely more valuable than the approbation of all the creatures in the universe. Of course, it implies that there must be no such regard for the opinions or admiration of men, as at all to interfere with the mind's supreme love to, and confidence in God, and the opinion and approbation of Jesus Christ. Of course, if this is so, it implies a change of life--a change in respect to the great end for which men live. Instead of living to themselves, they live to Christ; instead of living to please men, they live to please God; instead of regarding men, they regard Christ; and it is but a small thing with them what men may think of them.
IV. THIS LEADS ME TO SHOW, IN THE NEXT PLACE, WHAT IT IS TO RECEIVE HONOR OF MEN
"How can ye believe which receive honor of men, and seek not that honor which cometh from God only?" First, it implies a disposition to be honored by them. To "receive" honor from men, implies that the mind embraces it, and comes into sympathy with it. Now, a man may be honored by his fellow-men, without being said to receive that honor in the sense here meant, or any sense that implies anything wrong. He may not seek it; and he may regard it as of no such importance as to sacrifice any principle of right and truth to it. To "receive" it, then, in the sense of the text, implies that the mind has such a regard to the public sentiment, or the opinion, good will, and favor of men in some particular thing, more than the opinion and favor of God. It implies a state of mind, in fact, that has no sympathy with God--a selfish state of mind that regards the approbation of men as a great thing, and that seeks to secure the favor and applause of men. That state of mind, I say, is selfish; it has the spirit of self-seeking in that particular form. For instance, some men seek money--that is the form in which their selfishness manifests itself; others seek power; others still, seek their own reputation among men--they aim to secure popularity, in order that they may control and rule; and such a regard have they for the praise of men, that they will not sacrifice it for the honor and approbation of Christ.
V. THIS LEADS ME, IN THE NEXT PLACE, TO REMARK, THAT THIS STATE OF MIND RENDERS FAITH IMPOSSIBLE
This is plainly stated in the text. Christ does not mean to say that we have no power to put away that selfish spirit and feeling, but that while we have that form of selfishness, we cannot believe. Do you say, Why is faith impossible? "Why? Just because there is no fellowship between Christ and the world. "He that will be a friend of the world, is an enemy of God," says the apostle. Again: Christ and the world have a spirit in complete opposition to each other. Again: There cannot be any sympathy both with the world and with Christ. Again: If persons seek to please the world and to have it's sympathy, favor, approbation, and good will, they are in a state of mind which is directly over against the state of mind that will please God, and secure the good will, approbation and favor of Christ. These two states of mind are exactly opposite. But mark! they are both voluntary states of mind. We can determine whether to love the world or to love God, whether to have the favor of the world or the favor of God; but we cannot have both at once; we cannot walk in two exactly opposite directions at the same time; we cannot will supremely to love God, and yet supremely will to seek the applause and honor of man, at the same time. It is an absurdity to suppose such a thing possible. I have known individuals to have such a supreme regard to the opinions and approbation of an individual, as to be in perfect bondage to him; the approbation and favor of that individual was more regarded than the favor of all the world beside, or perhaps than Christ himself. Now, a man who is in that state of mind cannot be in Christ: if he is in bondage to man, he cannot have a supreme regard to the will of Christ.
It is easy to see the strength of the application of these words of Christ, as uttered to the Jews. It was extremely unpopular, you know, to believe in Christ when he was upon the earth--the whole current of public feeling and prejudice set strongly against Him; the religious teachers of that day being the foremost to oppose and denounce Him, and in seeking to prevent the people exercising faith in Him. "Now," said Christ, "how can you believe in me while you are inquiring all the time, 'Have any of the rulers believed on him? ' and are so anxious to know how it will affect your reputation with men if you become my disciples? I know very well if you become my disciples what it will cost you, and I tell you plainly that if you have so much regard for those around you so as to seek their approbation and honors, you cannot believe in me; if you come into sympathy with me, you must turn your back on them. You cannot love me and the world too."
A few remarks must close what I have to say this morning. First, there are many persons in the state of mind indicated in the text. When the Gospel is presented to them, they are held back from accepting it and connecting themselves to it, by the opinion of some individual, public sentiment, or something else. There are men who sustain a certain relation to them, and they don't like to displease them. I have repeatedly known men sustain political relations, and commercial and business relations, with men to whom they were in complete bondage; they could not believe and accept the Gospel, but they would sacrifice the good opinion, or the friendship or favor, of this particular individual. Now, they could not believe the Gospel, because belief implies a tearing away from this unholy relation, and a giving up of everything that would hinder the individual obeying Christ. One man perhaps sustains a political relation to another who has interest and influence, and expects to get him elected into a certain office; you call upon him to believe, and he does not accept the invitation; his mind is closed against it, because his so doing would offend his patron. Another man sustains certain business relations to an individual who has the power of injuring his worldly interests, if his views are thwarted; the question about believing in Christ comes up, but he cannot commit himself to Christ, till that man's opinion, views, and good will shall have been consulted. Perhaps some of you, who now hear me, are in this very predicament. Perhaps there is some garment of self-seeking in which the devil has bound your soul fast; that you are in bondage; that you have given yourself up to be influenced by some man or set of men. Now, let me ask, will you come right out and shake off this unholy garment? will you break this degrading yoke? and now that the Gospel is presented to you, say with all your hearts, "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth;" it is a small thing for me to be judged of man's judgment; my God, let me have thine approbation, if all the world condemn me! It is God that justifieth, then who is he that condemneth?"
Let me remark again: My observation has led me to acknowledge of this fact--that political aspirants very seldom become truly pious. It is the most natural thing in the world that it should be so. Political ambition is among the greatest snares in the world, and the greatest hindrance to the reception of the Gospel. In popular governments, such as the United States, this is especially the case; you are there entirely surrounded by political ambition. I have watched it now for thirty years, and have marked the influence of political ambition on the minds of men. A man becomes politically ambitious, he tries to stand well with his party, and in a very little while he becomes a perfect slave to his party--as really as a negro in the Southern States is a slave; and I should ten thousand times sooner expect to be able to emancipate the negro, than the man who is politically ambitious! He has sold himself to his party. This is the case in the United States, and I suppose the same thing is true in England, that men who are politically ambitious have sold themselves to their party. But what will become of them. May we not ask, in reference to them, "How can ye believe which receive honor one of another, and seek not that honor which cometh from God only?" Let me tell you, my hearers, that if you are conscious of any influence which is keeping you from God, you must remove it, you must break it off; you must pluck out a right eye, if need be, and cut off a right hand! Some individuals who are in business, do not become religious lest they should offend their customers. In short, how many of these snares the devil has set, like gins and traps, at every corner of the street, and you find men falling into them on every hand, and when God's truth comes home to them, "How can they believe?"
Let me ask you, my dear hearers, if you don't know something of these facts in your own experience? How many of you can say, today, that there is no human influence, no fear of man, no regard to the good will or opinion of any living being, that holds you back from a whole-hearted consecration to God? How is it? Again: You can see from this subject why so many professors of religion have little or no faith. How can they believe if they regard the opinions of the world, instead of committing themselves to God, let men say what they will. A great many people fail to be saved because they regard public sentiment; they ask, "How will it affect my reputation?" How will it strike such and such an one?" Instead of asking, Lord, how will it please thee? If this is the character of any of you, my hearers, it is impossible for you to be saved. Let me say, once more; one of the greatest and most important steps that men can take, is to break away from this snare, and at once commit themselves to God, without regard to what any man, or set of men, may say; break right away from the fear of man, and regard only what God will think, what God wishes, and what will please Him, and at once commit their whole being to Him; this is a great and most important step for a man to take. Is this the step that you will take? Are you prepared to do it this morning? Doubtless, many of you know that you ought to do it, and therefore I need not occupy the time in telling you of your duty; but I ask, have you manhood enough to do it? Have you strength of character enough to do it, or are you so perfectly enfeebled, so perfectly weak that you cannot? Have you been so long gone, so far in the other direction, that you cannot make up your minds to do your duty, and commit yourselves to God? It is remarkable how such things enfeeble the mind in a certain sense. Look at that drunkard! watch him as he goes shuffling along the streets! He has been a "temperate drinker," as he called himself; then after a little, he became intemperate and eventually, he became so degraded and debased as to abhor himself, and everybody abhors him, and his is shunned even by his own family and friends; he has become a mere wretch! See how weak he is! Sometimes after he has have been intoxicated, and has come to his senses, he is ready to spit in his own face, if such a thing were possible--he abhors and despises himself; but set a cup of strong drink before him and you see his weakness; he is a perfect slave, he has sold himself, and he will drink it even if it be his eternal ruin! Many a man has, in a similar way, sold himself to ambition, and become a complete slave to the influence of certain men, or to the opinions of certain individuals. They dare not do anything without consulting them! They dare not take such a great and important step as to break off their sympathy with them, in order to enter into sympathy with God! They are so weak as to have lost all self-reliance. You ask them to believe in Christ, and you give their consciences a twinge, but they slink away, as the drunkard quails before the cup; while he takes it up to drink its contents, he trembles and almost curses himself. And it may be the case with some of you, my hearers, that you are seeking honor from men and despising yourselves all the time. Let me ask, "Are you prepared to look God in the face?" Oh! if I knew your name, perhaps I might tell a tale--and nothing but the truth--that would make you blush, so that you dare not hold up your head, of something which has kept you from entering into sympathy with God, and committing yourself to Him; perhaps your wife could tell this tale, or others who may be intimately acquainted with you. I will tell you who can tell the tale--that conscience of yours can tell it! Or, perhaps it cannot speak just now! Perhaps you have abused it's claims time after time, so that now it takes a dignified and indignant position of silence, and says not a word. But it will speak by and by! It will tell the story presently! You may only hear the rumblings of conscience now, having smothered it so long, but it will speak by and by--a death bed is coming. Ah, but perhaps before that, conscience will assert its claim and reproach you with your folly. But let me ask, Will you turn now, and enter into sympathy with Christ, and believe in Him? When do you expect to be converted? Dear soul, do you ever expect to be converted? Do you ever expect to be, until you break with the world--until you come to cast off the regard of men, and regard God supremely? How is it? You must do it sometime, if you will be saved; when will you do it? Do you think a future time will be better? As reasonable and dying men, reflect! You will break off the world and sin at some future time!!! Do you believe that there will ever be a better time to break off the favor of man and escape destruction than the present? None! none! Then will to come to Jesus now? Are you saying--"Hitherto I have played a foolish game, but I will now turn my back upon the world and sin, and commit myself to Christ, let men say what they will." Will you do this? Then do it now, right here, in this house! Let the question be settled right here! Oh, do not postpone it! For the sake of your own immortal soul, decide now!
Shall we ask the Lord to interpose and break off your chain? Will you stretch forth your fettered hand and let it be struck off? Hold it out! hold it out! Stretch forth the fettered hand, and we will ask the Lord to break off the chain, to bring you out of your present state of thraldom, and assist you to commit yourself to Christ!
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HARDENING THE HEART
Delivered on Sunday evening, December 1, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
(of Oberlin College, United States.)
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Lewis Peregory
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day, after so long a time; as it is said, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." --Heb. iv. 7.
This reference to David relates to the ninety-fifth Psalm, from which these words
were quoted. The apostle was addressing the Israelites, and, in this connexion, was
speaking to them of the manner in which their forefathers tempted God in the wilderness,
the result of which was that they were not suffered to enter into the promised land.
In warning the Israelites against unbelief, he says to them, "To-day, if ye
will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
I. I shall inquire into the meaning of the word "heart," as here used.
This term, like many others in the Bible, and in common language, is employed in a variety of senses. Here, however, it manifestly means the "will." To harden the heart, in the sense in which the phrase is here understood, is doubtless to gather up the energies of the will, and to resist, to become stubborn, and obstinate. When the Bible commands or exhorts people not to harden their hearts, it is equivalent to saying, "Do not resist and strengthen yourselves against the voice of God. Do not become stubborn and rebellious, and set yourselves against the voice of mercy; but, to-day, after so long a time; if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." That is, if you are inclined to listen to what he says, you are not to harden your hearts and become stubborn.
Parents sometimes have the mortification of seeing their own children become stubborn against parental authority, and of seeing their requirements resisted, and their counsels set at nought. Parents often see children, when they undertake to press them to do anything, instead of obeying, wax stubborn and rebellious. They stand and resist, and manifest a cool determination to persevere in their disobedience; to persist in resisting the claims of their parents; and, so far as the philosophy of the act is concerned, resistance to God is just the same. The mental process is precisely similar. The mind resisting truth "is hardening the heart," in the sense of the text. I shall next inquire
II. How is it that sinners do harden their hearts?
How do they do this? And here let me say, that when individuals resist the truth -- when they resist its authority when it is presented to them -- they have to make some apology for their conduct. The natural tendency of the truth, when it is presented to the mind, is to convince it -- to beget a choice -- to lead the individual to yield himself up to its influence. The mind and truth sustain such relations to each other, that the former is naturally and necessarily influenced by the latter; and unless the individual resists the truth, its natural tendency is, as I have said, to lead the will into a state of obedience to it.
When persons harden their hearts, there must be some reason for their doing so.
Take the case of the Jews, -- the apostle called on them not to harden their hearts.
He knew they were in danger in doing so. He knew their prejudices of education, their
Jewish notions, and peculiar views of things. He knew the course they had taken with
Christ previous to his crucifixion, and now he had been crucified, had risen from
the dead, and was proclaimed to the world as a risen Saviour -- he was writing this
epistle to the Jews, and therefore reverts to a passage of their former national
history. He calls their particular attention to it; and when he had strongly fixed
their minds upon the course their fathers pursued, and its results -- knowing well
to whom he was addressing himself, being well versed, as I have said, in the prejudices
against Christ -- knowing their self-righteous spirit, and that they were prepared
to resist Christ -- knowing all these things, he warns them solemnly not to harden
their hearts. It is easy to see that they could assign themselves multitudes of reasons
for resistance. He knew that they were in error -- and in great error -- on the subject
of religion, and therefore he called on them not to harden themselves -- not to betake
themselves to their prejudices -- not to fly to their Jewish errors and peculiar
notions, and to strengthen themselves in opposition to the truth.
This leads me to say that persons are very much in danger of hardening themselves, by holding fast to some erroneous opinion or improper practice to which they are committed. All their prejudices are in favor of it, and they are very jealous lest anything should disturb it. They hold on to some particular error, and whenever they are pressed to yield to the claims of God, unless it is done in a peculiar way, so as to be consistent with their prejudices, they are apt to rise up and strengthen themselves against it. What danger such persons are in of assigning to themselves, as a reason for resisting the truth, that it clashes with some of their favorite notions! When they see its practical results contradict some pet theory of theirs, they will strengthen themselves against it.
I recollect an instance of this kind. One evening, in the city of New York, I found among the inquirers a very anxious lady, who was exceedingly convicted of her sins, and pressed her strongly to submit to God. "Ah!" she said, "if I were sure I am in the right church, I would." "The right church!" said I, "I care not what church you are in, if you will only submit yourself to Christ." "But," she replied, "I am not in the Catholic Church, I am not in the right church; if I were, I would yield." So that her anxiety about the "right church" prevented her yielding at all, and she continued to harden her heart against Christ. This is often the case whether persons are Catholics, or whatever they are; when pressed strongly to submit, they flee to some prejudice, and immediately hide themselves behind it; and although they cannot deny the truth of what they resist, still there is some error or prejudice to which they betake themselves by way of present resistance to the truth that is pressing their consciences.
Others harden themselves by indulging in a spirit of procrastination. "I will follow thee," is their language, "but not now." They say, "I intend to be religious," but when God presses them to yield, they are not quite ready. They say, "This is not exactly the time," assigning to themselves some reason for present delay in order to harden themselves. They have something, perhaps, in hand, which must be attended to first. Do let me ask you, now, how many times some of you, when thus pressed to yield at once to Christ, have urged some such reason as this for your delay?
Why are you not Christians? Is it because your attention has never been called to the subject? Is it because you never intend to be Christians? No! Well, what is the matter with you? How is it that you have always succeeded in assigning to yourself a reason for a present delay? One time, you have one reason; at another, another; and you have, in fact, as many reasons as occasions, and they come up whenever you have been pressed immediately to surrender your heart to God. Now, I ask you if this is not true? I ask you if you do not know that it is true, as well as you know that you exist?
I remark again, that many persons strengthen themselves and harden their hearts by refusing, wherever they can refuse, to be convicted of their sins. They have a multitude of ways of avoiding the point, and force away the truth, and hardening themselves against it. Take care, for instance, of the practice of excusing sin. The veriest sinner in the world will make some excuse for what he is doing; and at least it suffices to satisfy himself. It is exceedingly difficult to convince a man against his will; it is remarkable to see how a man will evade conviction. Go to the slaveholder, for instance, and how many excuses he will make! How many things he will conjure up! Sometimes he will even flee to the Bible to defend himself; at other times, he will excuse himself by saying that he knows not what to do with his slaves -- that the laws of his State forbid him to emancipate them. You may press him on every point -- you may reason with him again and again, but all to no purpose. Men often excuse and defend their sins in this way; and sometimes they actually deny that they are sins at all, when they come to be pressed to give them up; but the apologies they make are such as God will never receive, although they suffice, at present, to delude themselves.
But again: Another way in which men harden themselves is, that they are unwilling to come and do what is implied in becoming Christians. They reason thus within themselves: -- "I must give up such and such things, if I become a Christian I must do thus and thus." They consider that they must make a profession of religion, and that, therefore, the eyes of the world will be thenceforth upon them; they see that they must consequently be careful how they conduct themselves. They cannot go to such and such places of amusement; they must discontinue such and such things they have been in the habit of doing, and which are now so dear to them. This is how they reason; they begin to count the cost. But a short time since, I was pressing an individual to yield up certain forms of sin of which I knew him to be guilty. "Ah," said he, "if I begin to yield this and that, where will it all end? I must be consistent," said he, "and where shall I stop?" Where should he "stop?" It was clear that the cost was too great, and that he was therefore disposed to harden himself and resist God's claims, because he considered God required too much. If he were going to become a Christian, he knew that, to do his duty, he must give up sin as sin, and that it would cost him the sacrifice of his many idols. This is a very common practice. If you ask persons, in a general way, they are willing to be Christians; but "what will be expected of them?" Ah! that is quite a different thing! If you tell them what it really is to be a Christian, that is quite another thing. Now you have set them to count the cost, and they find it will involve too great a sacrifice. They are wholly unwilling to renounce themselves and their idols; and accordingly they betake themselves to hardening their hearts, and strengthening themselves in unbelief.
I will cite the case just referred to for a moment. The conversation respected, at that time, a particular form of sin. Now, why did he not yield at once? Why did he not instantly say, "I will give it up. I know it is wrong and inconsistent with love to God, and I will therefore renounce it." But instead of this, he saw that the principle on which he yielded this point would compel him to give up others; and therefore, he said, "if I begin this, where shall I stop?" He gathered up all the reasons he could, and strengthened himself in his position. Thus he was hardening his heart; this was just what the Jews did when Christ preached.
Thus it is men perceive that it will call upon them to humble themselves before God, and make restitution where they have been fraudulent in their dealings; they see that to become Christians, implies that they undo, as far as it lies in their power, the wrong they may have committed, and become honest men. They see that multitudes of things are implied in listening to the voice of God, and becoming followers of Jesus Christ, and this causes them to surround themselves with considerations to sustain them in their unbelief and resistance to the authority of God. I might mention a great many other particulars under this head; I shall not, however, at present, do so, but in a few words show,
III. Why men should not harden their hearts in this way.
Perhaps the first thing that I shall notice will startle some of you. It is this; you should not harden your hearts, "because, if you do not do so, you will be converted."
I have already said, that truth is so related to the mind, and the mind to truth, that when the mind perceives truth, with its practical bearing, this relation acts as a powerful impulse to the mind, tending strongly to induce it to yield and conform; it is a natural stimulus to the mind, prompting it to act in a given direction. To be sure, it can be resisted; and it is this resistance that God exhorts you to avoid, you are to let the truth take effect.
You recollect, perhaps, some of you, that the apostle says -- I believe it is in the Epistle to the Romans -- however, in the particular passage to which I was going to refer, God denounces those who restrain the truth, and go on in unrighteousness; that is, those who hold it back, and prevent it from influencing their mind. This is the way the heart is hardened, by refusing to yield to the truth, withholding the mind from going out in obedience to it.
Now, observe, beloved, that if the truth is but yielded to, this is conversion itself. Conversion is the act of the mind in turning from error, selfishness, and sin, and yielding to the claims, and obeying the commands of the Almighty. This is conversion.
Now, as I said, the natural tendency of the truth is to stimulate the mind to embrace and obey it. God has so constituted the mind, that, as everybody knows, truth is a most powerful stimulant, which invites and draws the mind in a given direction: Truth induces it to act in conformity with its dictates. Now, to do this, to obey the truth, that is conversion. If you do not obey it, it is because you harden yourself against it, and resist its influences; for it is an utter impossibility to be indifferent to the presentation of truth, and especially is it utterly impossible to maintain a blank indifference to the presentation of the great practical truths of Christianity. They are not mere abstractions, in which the mind sees no practical bearing, but they are realities of such a nature that the mind must either resist them or suffer them to guide it.
The apostle knew that if they did not harden themselves, they must surely be converted.
Another reason why you should not harden your hearts, is, that you will not be converted if you do. In other words, if you resist the Spirit, God never forces you against your will. If he cannot persuade you to embrace the truth, he cannot save you by a physical act of omnipotence, as, for instance, he could create a world. You are a free moral agent, and he can save you only in his own way. In other words, if he cannot gain your own consent to be saved in his own way, he cannot possibly save you at all. If you wish him to save you by moving your will, as I would move this lamp --[ Mr. Finney here moved the branch of one of the pulpit lamps to and fro]-- I say, if he is to save you as I move this lamp, he will not do it. It is not a physical operation that can make you willing; that is not the way in which the will is controlled. He must have your consent; and when he sends his ministers to reason with you, -- when his Spirit strives with you, -- he strives to gain your free consent; hence he says, "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." If conversion were a mere act of the physical omnipotence of God, he would not exhort you not to harden your hearts; for how could you harden your hearts against, and resist a physical almightiness?
Men who have this conception scoff at the idea of the sinner's hardening himself against God. Persons who talk thus, of course, assume that conversion does consist in an act of omnipotence; they seem unable to comprehend that conversion consists in God's securing your own consent, and that is all. Did you ever consider this, dying sinner? Did you ever reflect on the fact, that all that is necessary, is, to give your consent to be saved? You fancy you are willing; but the fact is, that your obstinacy is the only real difficulty to be overcome -- to get you to yield yourself up to God's claims. It is easy for you to see, that if you harden your heart, and surround yourself with prejudices, gather all your energies up to resist, -- if you do this, it is easy for you to see that you can only expect to remain unconverted -- to live, and die, and perish in your sins! While you harden yourself, it is impossible that you should be converted, for conversion is the very opposite of this resistance -- it is the yielding yourself up; the claims of God.
Another reason why you should not harden your hearts, is, that you may be given up! God may give you up to the hardness of your hearts. The Bible shows that this is not uncommon. Whole generations of the Jews were thus given up. You may be, and there is considerable danger; the same God of mercy that now governs the world gave up whole generations in that comparatively dark generation; and if so, what reason have we to suppose that he will not do so with you? God, under the Gospel, is not more merciful than he was under the law -- he is the same God. Some think there is not so much danger of this now; but the fact is, there is more, because there is more light. He gives them up because they resist the light of the truth with regard to his claims. I beg of you to consider this.
IV. We Shall Inquire, Whose "voice" is here referred to?
Is it the voice of a tyrant, who comes out with his omnipotent arm to crush you? "If you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Whose voice is it? In the first place, it is the voice of God; but, more than this, it is the voice of your Father! But is it the voice of your Father, with the rod of correction pursuing you, to subdue you by force? Oh, no! it is the voice of his mercy -- of his deepest compassion. Hear what he says: "Ephraim, my dear son; Ephraim, my pleasant child;" for although he spake against him, yet did he "earnestly remember him still." Like a father who has almost made up his mind to abandon a disobedient and cruel child, whose misconduct he could not endure, and whom he found it impossible to reform. All the father works up in him at the remembrance of that child; the parental heart yearned over him. "I have spoken against him, yet do I earnestly remember him still."
Just so God addresses you. He "earnestly remembers" you. He offers to forgive you. He says, "after so long a time." How long a time? How old are you? How many long years has God waited for you? Just number them up -- some of you, perhaps, eighteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty. How many years have you refused to hear the voice of your Father, your Saviour; the voice of mercy, the voice of invitation, the voice of promise, the voice of expostulation, and even of entreaty? By his providence, the work of the Spirit, the words of the inspired volume, the ministrations of his servants -- in how many ways has this voice reached you? And now he says, "after so long a time!"
A few further remarks must close what I have to say; and the first remark is this: persons often mistake the true nature of hardness of heart. Supposing it to be involuntary, they lament it as a misfortune, rather than regret it as a crime. They suppose that the state of apathy which results from the resistance of their will, is hardness of heart. It is true that the mind apologies to itself for resistance to the claims of God, and, as a natural consequence, there is very little feeling in the mind, because it is under the necessity of making such a use of its powers as to cause great destitution of feeling. This is hardening the heart -- that act of the mind in resisting the claims of God. For persons to excuse themselves by complaining that their hearts are hard, is only to add insult to injury. They resist God's claims, and then complain of the hardness this resistance induces; they harden themselves in the ways we have stated, rendering themselves obstinate against God, and then they complain of the results of their own actions. Now, is this the way?
I remark, once more, it is worthy of notice that the claims, commands, promises, and invitations of God are all in the present tense. Turn to the Bible, and from end to end you will find it is, "To-day" if ye will hear his voice. "Now" is the accepted time. God says nothing of to-morrow; he does not even guarantee that we shall live till then. It is "to-day," after so long a time, harden not your hearts."
Again: The plea of inability is one of the most paltry, abusive, and blasphemous of all. What! Are men not able to refrain from hardening themselves? I have already said, and you all know, that it is the nature of truth to influence the mind when it receives it; and, when the Spirit does convert a man, it is by so presenting the truth as to gain his consent. Now, if there was not something in the truth itself adapted to influence the mind, he might continue to present the truth forever, without your ever being converted. It is because there is an adaptedness in truth -- something in the very nature of it, which tends to influence the mind of man. Now, when persons complain of their inability to embrace the truth, what an infinite mistake! God approaches with offers of mercy, and with the cup of salvation in his hand, saying, "Sinner! I am coming! Beware not to harden yourself. Do not cavil. Do not hide behind professors of religion. Do not procrastinate! for I am coming to win you."
Now, what does the sinner do? Why, he falls to hardening his heart, procrastinating, making all manner of excuses, and pleading his inability. Inability! What! Is not a man able to refrain from surrounding himself with considerations which make him stubborn? Is he not able to come from this soul-destroying business of hardening himself? Oh! sinner, you are able; that is not the difficulty.
Once more: I said this is a most abusive way of treating God. Why, just think. Here is God endeavoring to gain the sinner's consent -- to what? Not be sent to hell. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you so to harden yourself as to consent to lie down in everlasting sorrow. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you to do anything, or to consent to anything, that will injure you. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you to give up anything that is really good -- the relinquishment of which will make you wretched or unhappy -- to give up all joy, and everything that is pleasant -- to give up things that tend to peace -- he is not endeavoring to persuade you to do any such thing as this. With regard to all such things, he is not only willing that you should have them, but would bring you into a state in which you could really enjoy them. He cries out, "Sinner! do thyself no harm!" He is trying to prevent you from injuring yourself, and not endeavoring to play off any game upon you which will interfere with your well-being or happiness; he is trying to prevent your ruining yourselves, and trying to consent to be blessed. Will it hurt you to give up your sins? God sent Christ to turn you away from those courses which, by a natural law, must prove your ruin. What is it, then, that God wishes you to do?
What is that sweet voice which falls so sweetly from heaven? It should melt all stubbornness down. It is the voice of his infinite compassion and love. Oh, sinner, destroy not thine own soul! Flee not from the Saviour who has come to save you! Harden not yourself against the offered mercy; and, now that the cross of salvation is passed around from lip to lip, do not push it away! What are you doing? Is God come to injure you? If he had come in wrath, he would not care whether you hardened your heart or not. O sinner! if you place him in such a relation that his infinite heart is obliged to make the sacrifice, when he enters into judgment he will not tell you not to harden yourself. Then you may harden yourself if you can. He says, "Can thy heart be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee?" Oh, no! But now it is different. Now he comes and sweetly tries to win you -- he comes as a friend, as a father, as a Saviour! spreading out his broad arms of love to embosom you every one, drawing you so near to his great, gushing heart as to thrill its tides of eternal love through all your being. Oh! will you resist? What! "after so long a time!" Oh! sinner, is it not infinitely inexcusable? Shall he fail to get your consent? Then, when you sit before him in solemn judgment, and the universe shall all be gathered together, he will publish the fact of how, after he tried to spread out his broad, beneficent arms of love over you -- how, after he tried to gather you under the wings of his protection -- but ye would not! He could not gain your consent! What! shall it be told of any of you in the solemn judgment that God could not possibly gain your consent to the only terms on which he could possibly save you? Ah! when he shakes his skirts, as it were, and exclaims, "I am clear of thy blood." what will you say?
Again, he will have the eternal consolation of knowing that he has taken all the pains to get you to consent that he wisely could take. You will be obliged to say, "The fault was my own, and I have been an infinite fool! I have resisted the claims of Christ, hardened myself against his dying love, and cast away my soul!" Sinners! how many times have you been invited? Can you remember? How many times have you seen the Lord's Table spread? Are you prepared to partake of the elements now about to be spread -- the solemn avowal of your attachment to Christ? How many times, I ask again, have you been invited? Have you not had enough of sin? How much more do you want? Let me ask you another question -- how much longer would you like to live in your sins? How many years have you already devoted to them? Do you think God ought to allow you to enjoy a little more sin? Suppose he, personally, put the questions, "Do you think I ought to allow you to live any longer in your sins? Do you think I ought to let you live to remain in rebellion any longer?" Suppose he should say, "Unless I fan your heaving lungs in sleep to-night you will be lost. Unless I keep you, you will lie down in hell before the morning. Now, do you think I ought to keep you alive to sin against me another day? Do you think that when you lie down in your sins, I ought to watch over you, and see that you do not die; and that Satan does not steal away your soul, and drag you down to the depths of hell?" Dare you look the Eternal in the face and say, "Yes, Lord." Dare you say, "I think I ought to be indulged a little longer, and not be hurried in this way?" No, indeed! You know you are without excuse. You could only say that you are "infinitely to blame," and you are in infinite danger if you do not to-night cease to sin, and yield yourself up.
[Mr. Finney, after a short prayer, dismissed the congregation, while the church remained to celebrate the Lord's Supper; however, seeing that between three and four hundred persons kept their seats, as "spectators," in the spacious galleries, Mr Finney, after the administration of the ordinance by the pastor (the Rev. Dr. Campbell), again addressed the assembly.]
Christ has invited you to "do this in remembrance" of him. Whose business is this? Is it yours only, or mine only; or is it equally incumbent on both? Did Christ die for you, and not for me? or for me, and not for you? or did he give himself up for us all? Surely it is the duty of all to "do this" for whom Christ died. Did he tell you to "do this," and you have really never done it? How is this? I want to know why you have never done it? Is it because you are not a Christian? Why are you not? When Dr. Campbell (the pastor of the church) announced that the communicants would seat themselves below, while the spectators would retire to the gallery -- "Spectators! non-communicants!" said I to myself; "who are these non-communicants? Are there, then, those of Adam's race for whom Christ has not died? Are there those who will thus openly acknowledge that they have "no part or lot in the matter?" Suppose, now, that Christ actually had died only for a part of mankind, and you knew that it had no more reference to you non-communicants in the gallery than to the fallen angels! If you knew this, why, of course, I should expect to see you non-communicants; for why should you celebrate his death if his blood was not shed for you? You might then absent yourselves with some reason.
But, if this were the case, how could you sit round that gallery and look on? Now, do take this view of the matter, and consider it for a moment.
But Christ says, "Ho everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters of life -- come, buy wine and milk without money and without price," -- "Come unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth." Suppose, then, that the cup were handed round to you -- would you say, "Oh! I am not prepared: I am not a Christian?" Why are you not? You shut yourself out by your own consent.
"Not prepared!" You are neglecting Christ, and hardening your hearts against him -- that is the reason you are "not prepared."
"Not prepared!" Just think of it! Who is it that requests you to "do this?" It is a friend -- a dying friend -- a friend dying in your stead. What does he say? He says, "I am just going to offer up my life for you; break this bread, pour out this wine, and partake of them in remembrance of me -- partake ye all of it, and when you do so, remember my struggle, my groans, my agony, and death." Will you obey this dying injunction? Why, then, do you thus turn you backs upon it?
Suppose that a mortal should do you a similar favor? Suppose a fellow-creature should bleed and die in your stead, and in the agony of death should take a ring from his finger and say -- "Here, dear friend, take this, wear it, look at it, and as often as you do so, remember me!" How would you regard this love-token presented in the hour of nature's final struggle? Would you throw the ring lightly away? Suppose any one should say -- "Give me that ring;" or, "How much will you take for it?" How much would you take for it? Why you would sooner part with your heart's blood than lose it; and if they inquired why you so prized it, you would tell them your simple story, and assure them that nothing could induce you to part with it.
Now, think of this! Yet when Christ made an effort to save you from endless death, by suffering himself, how indifferent you are! Was it a mere ring? No! He took bread and brake it, saying, "This is my body which was broken for you;" he took wine and poured out, saying, "This is my blood which was shed for you, do this in remembrance of me." Who is to "do this?" Why, all of you; seeing that for all of you his blood was shed.
But practically you say, "I will not do this," and turn your back on the ordinance. What must angels think, when they see a number of persons for whom Christ died, and to whom he said, "Do this in remembrance of me," but who will not do it? If there can be amazement in heaven, surely this would cause it.
Now, will you ever neglect it again? I recollect an instance of an individual present at a season like this, when the question came up about his long neglect, when he was so impressed by the consideration of the sin and danger of his position, that he resolved on the spot, that he would never voluntarily neglect it again. At the next communion he was there, and could rejoice in the resolution he had taken, to drawn near that great heart of love. After that he was always one of the first at the table.
What do you say to-night? Now think of this when you lay your head on your pillow to night. Can you say, "Lord, this night have I rejected thee publicly before the whole congregation." Try to go to sleep, but say first, "Lord, do not let me die to night, I have just come away from thy table and refused to acknowledge thee, and do not let me go to hell to-night."
Would you not blush to talk thus? would you not rather say, "O my God! I have to-night rejected Jesus, and how dare I sleep in my sins? This night, Lord, I in my heart give thee a solemn pledge, that, by thy grace, I will never turn my back on that ordinance again. It shall never be said of me (by thy grace), that I am not prepared. I will remember thee; and in the presence of heaven and earth, I will manifest my gratitude to thee from this time." Oh! let it be written in heaven!
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THE CONVERSION OF CHILDREN.
The first of two Addresses to Christian Parents
on their duties and responsibilities in relation
to the early conversion of their children.
delivered on Monday, Dec. 16, 1850.
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY.
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
This lecture was typed in by Lewis Peregory
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
I have so many things to say to parents, that I hardly know where to begin. It
is one of those subjects upon which so much needs to be said. The greatest influence
in the whole government of God, exercised over the destinies of the world, is exercised
in the family. The mother begins the work. The parents influence is no doubt the
supreme influence. God designed it should be so. This was one object in establishing
the family relation. It was not only to secure among human beings temporal blessings,
the care and nurture of the young, but that they should have a spiritual influence,
and exert it over their offspring; the great end God had in view was their spiritual
well-being. This was one of his great designs, no doubt; but it is not kept in view
by parents; and therefore the great object of the Almighty in establishing the family
relation -- so far, at least as children are concerned, is defeated.
It should always be remembered, that this influence, whatever it may be, takes place in very early life, and is generally decisive, one way or the other; the after life is in most cases, little more than the development of what has been thus commenced. The mother as I have said begins the work; she heads the undertaking; and exerts more influence over the child at first than everything else; and if she understands what she is about -- if she is a pious woman -- if she avails herself of the facilities God has put into her hands she will be, under God, the greatest possible blessing to that child. Parents stand in such peculiar relations that their children naturally have more confidence in their father and mother than in anyone else. Their position gives them an influence over the youthful mind, for good or for evil, with which no other influence in the world can compare. Whatever is done, in this direction is done and will be done in very early life, and the results are only developing themselves ever after.
But to explain what I mean: -- parents have a mighty influence over little children, -- they lead them to their earliest thoughts, and give them most of their first ideas. The spirit of the parent teaches the child a great deal, even before his words can teach him. The example and influence of the parent is not confined to mere verbal teaching; everything he does has an influence over the child; every word the parent says before it can fully tell the meaning of words, has an influence over it; and when it comes to understand language, the little mind weighs all that it hears and thus the child is educated. Now if the parents' influence is of a worldly character -- if there is not that in the parent which early leads the child to think about its soul and God -- if it does not see in the parent a concern for his own soul, its education has begun in the wrong direction. If the parent neglects to let his child see in very early life, that he is concerned for its salvation -- if the idea of religion is not a prominent idea -- if the child does not see that the subject is working in the parents mind, if he does not see that the will of God is the parents' life, and that to glorify God is the parents' end -- if he does not see these things in the parents, but the contrary, the child will understand it, think of it, and it will have its influence over him much earlier than parents are in the habit of believing. I have known children, for instance, whose temperament was such, that when very young, they talked much about religion, and were constantly asking questions about it; so thoroughly indeed, were their little minds engrossed with the subject, that they scarcely seemed to know that there were any other places than those to which their parents were accustomed to resort for religious worship. Even when strangers have come in, they have been accustomed to ask, "is that person a Christian?"
The early conversion of children materially depends on the parents securing a lodgment for religious truth among the earliest thoughts which are developed in the mind. It is curious to see how children observe when parents pray and recognise God in all their ways. It is remarkable to see the effect of this on their infant minds; they get their little chairs, kneel down and try to pray. They see their parents pray. Their mother is in the habit of taking them and praying with them, from their very birth; and as soon as they can understand her, she leads them into her closet, reads the Bible to them, talks about the Saviour, and prays with them daily, -- sometimes several times a day and in consequence of this, you will see them get their little chairs, and have their little meetings, and go down on their knees and pray for themselves. One mother recently writing to me says: -- "Little Willy gets his chair, kneels down, and clasping his little hands, says, 'O Lor' (he could not articulate Lord)." Every little thing would begin to pray if he had such a mother. Now the tendency of all this is to keep the little one's thoughts awake; from the spirit and temper of the parent, he perceives that religion is something of supreme importance. God comes to be in all his little thoughts. He sees that religion is the great concern of the parents' life, and where this is the case, I do not believe that there is one case in a thousand, in which children are not very early converted -- that is of course, unless there be some error in the teaching or conception of the parent that gets in the way, and keeps this influence from producing its natural results. I have known pious parents who have said much to their children on the subject of religion, but who, from holding certain erroneous views, have laid stumbling blocks in their way; the parents taught them some things which were false, and which consequently proved hindrances to them.
It is important that parents should understand, that there is only one of two courses open to them with regard to their children, they must either exert a worldly influence which would give their little minds an entirely wrong direction, -- or a spiritual one, which will set them after religion; the child's mind will be caused to ferment on the subject of religion; its earliest thoughts will be about religion; the earliest influences they can remember, will be convictions of sin; Heaven and Hell, Christ and Eternity, will put their little minds into a state of effervescence. These influences commence ere the child has left the lap of its loving mother.
For the few moments I can spend in addressing you, I shall turn your attention to a few things which parents must avoid, if they would secure the salvation of their children.
First. Be sure you don't stumble yourself by the idea that "you can't expect" the early conversion of your children. A worthy deacon from Birmingham called on me a few hours ago at Dr. Campbell's. His family were all converted and united to the church; his youngest child was only about ten years of age. He told me that he had been introduced to the deacon of one of the City churches, who had a large family, not one of whom were converted, and who on being apprized of the happy condition of the Birmingham family, said "Well you know we cannot give grace to our children." "O no" said the Birmingham brother, "but we can use the means in our possession to make them Christians." When the fact came out that the youngest child was only ten years' old, the City deacon shook his head. "Ah!" said he "I don't believe in forcing people into the church." "Nor do I" was the response, "I did all I dare do, and said all I dare say, but what could anyone do or say, but let her profess her faith in Christ as other people do?"
I know that one of the greatest stumbling blocks is cast in the way of families by the idea, that to expect the early conversion of children, is to say the least, rather enthusiastic "the idea of a child of ten years of age being converted! why we cannot believe it!" But suppose I were to preach the funeral sermon of such a child and to say, "it is gone to hell no doubt." "What makes you say so?" you would say. Why, you do not pretend that the child is not a sinner at ten years of age? This is the greatest error that can be entertained. If a child has intelligence enough to sin, has it not intelligence enough to be converted? If not, what becomes of children old enough to sin, but not old enough to be converted? The fact is that it is easier, so to speak, for the Holy Spirit to convert a child, than it is for him to convert a man. Now do let me ask, what is in the way of the child's conversion? When its little conscience first wakes up, sin takes such a twinging hold of it, that it goes into the greatest agony at the thought of it. This is natural; for the little conscience has not yet been trifled and tampered with. Now cannot the Spirit of God teach such children? What? Cannot those who understand the nature of faith in the parent, understand the nature of faith in God? Cannot those who understand parently protection and love, understand the protection and love of their heavenly father? Cannot those who know so well how to depend on a parent, depend on God? They can surely do it more easily then, than if they wait until they have learned, from contact with the world, to mistrust everybody and everything. Cannot they, whose tender hearts are so ready to trust, be taught to exercise faith in Christ? Why, this is the most likely time in their lives. It is much more likely then, that they will be converted than it is that if you allow them to grow up and form bad habits, those habits will be more easily corrected, than if you had used the best and earliest means to prevent their formation. The fact is the Spirit of God is always ready to cooperate with the judicious use of means -- just as ready to cooperate with children as with adults. But parents allow children to grow up and escape from under their influence, with the false impression, that such is not the case. I have observed that, just so far as parents have intelligently used the best means in their power to secure the early conversion of their children, just so far have they been successful in their endeavors. But when the contrary has been the case, I have not been surprised to find that the children have grown up to manhood and womanhood unconverted.
I have sometimes asked parents, if they ever made it a great pressing business to secure the early conversion of their children "O no; we never set ourselves to make it a pressing business to secure them for God." You don't eh? Then is it any wonder that they are not converted? There are multitudes of persons who are obliged to admit, that they never in good earnest, set about promoting the conversion of their children and securing it under God. I wish I had time, I could tell you of numbers of cases, where such sons and daughters have turned out badly. Oh! What stories have I listened to, of the awful results of the neglect of parents with regard to this matter!
Secondly. Many persons entertain ideas of God's sovereignty which are a great stumbling block in the way of the early conversion of their children.
The man who said, "We cannot give grace to our children" had doubtless an idea that God's sovereignty was, in some way, peculiarly connected with the act. Such persons associate God's sovereignty with conversion in a way that they associate it with nothing else. In every other matter they exert themselves, as though there were some connexion between means and ends in the government of God but with respect to conversion. They seem to take it for granted that there is no connexion between means and ends in the act of conversion, -- that God sets aside, in the conversion of men, all the laws by which he invariably operates at other times -- and that he exercises a peculiar kind of sovereignty in that particular instance. I have been not a little surprised to find that multitudes of persons have such ideas of God's sovereignty and agency, that they can recognize his hand in nothing short of an absolute miracle. For example; a person goes and talks to a child in such a manner as to make a deep impression on its infant mind, and the impression is made accordingly; the child awakes to a deep sense of sin and importance of religion. But what does the parent say? "Let it alone now, and we will see whether you have been merely playing upon the child's feelings, or whether the spirit has been cooperating." The fact is the child is talked to in the very way to produce the effect predicted. If a preacher so discourses as to affect the minds of his audience in a certain way, and accordingly they are so affected. Ah? then God has nothing to do with it? So I suppose, in your idea, it must be something in which there can be no perceivable relation between the means and the ends, in order to have God recognized? But, if there really is any natural and necessary connection between the means and the end, why then is not God recognized, unless in an act in which he is supposed to set aside this connection, and act in a manner entirely inconsistent with it? But when persons talk in this way, why are they not consistent in carrying the matter right out? Now if you sit down and converse with a child about playing marbles, who could expect that such conversation would be followed by any religious result? And if a minister got into a pulpit and preached about politics, would you expect anybody to be converted? It seems therefore to be necessary that the subject of the discourse should have a religious leaning in order to expect a religious effect. It must not be some historical facts in no way connected with what the sinner has to do -- you could not expect that to have the desired results; he must press the matter home, till the sinner fully feels that he is virtually saying, "Thou art the man." Ah! and now what is this? "Oh!" you say, "you have been playing upon his sympathies." But if you reason so where are we to stop? The fact is you do not -- you cannot expect God to convert any one when there is no sort of relevancy, in the means used; and if some relevancy, even according to your own ideas of divine sovereignty, is necessary in the means employed, pray how much relevancy is absolutely indispensable? When God works, he can never be expected to commit any infraction of the laws which he himself has ordained for the government of the universe; and if he does operate according to his own laws, why should it be doubted that he is operating at all? For my part, I am always expecting to see God work in accordance with his own established laws, and I recognise him all the more, when I see how nicely he adapts the means to the end.
He created mind and established its relations to truth, and when he presents truth to the mind, and it is received in accordance with principles he has ordained, am I not to recognise the hand of God in them?
Parents do not seem to feel the necessity of their applying themselves to secure the early conversion of their children, with as much earnestness as they seek their recovery when sick. A little error in nursing will often have a most dangerous influence on the health of the patient, and a little error in instruction may induce a serious turn in the thoughts, and perhaps, present a fatal stumbling block. If God allows things to take this course in the physical world, he will permit it in the moral world. Why not? If certain laws are violated in the physical world, God allows the thing to take its natural course, why should he adopt a different policy towards the moral world? This is the very way in which God's sovereignty really manifests itself. If you look round on the natural world, you will see that God permits immense results to turn on the most trifling violation of natural laws. A ship would sink though filled with devoted missionaries, if the natural law is neglected. In fact -- if they have neglected to take compass or chart, or some such necessary precaution on the pretence of trusting to the sovereignty of God, they have in reality been tempting God, by not taking care to adjust themselves to his physical laws; and that ship, although, as I have said, it is filled with missionaries, must go to the bottom! And in such a case, perhaps, the salvation of thousands of souls might be suspended on that ship's reaching its destination in safety. It is the same in the moral world, let mother or father make a mistake, either moral or physical; in one instance it is death to the body -- in the other to the soul. This is the teaching of the Bible, and it is borne out by experience. Men should know that they can as certainly ruin the soul, as they can kill the body.
Thirdly. Care should be taken not to cause the child to stumble through bad government, or no government at all.
Some govern their families too much -- others not at all. Now I should like to write a book on such a question as this, instead of talking to you for half an hour. It is really dreadful to see; ofttimes the spirit of the whole family government is such as to make a false impression; it is not a Christian government -- a government of love; it is not the firm spirit of God's government; it is either despotism on the one hand, or on the other hand, no government at all. In other cases, there is one half the time too much rigour, and the other half too much laxity.
Let me say again. All the impressions thus made affect the children in connection with religion. If the general impression of your deportment should give them to understand that you are "in God's stead" to them, you cannot conceive the importance of thus early seizing their little minds and will, and bringing them under proper control. Oh! that little will! If unsubdued, what will it cost that child to be converted, if it ever is converted! When parents permit the will to pass unsubdued, their little ones get into such a habit of self-will, as to render it extremely doubtful whether they will ever bow either to God or man -- to say the least, it will render it far more difficult for them to do so, than it would have been had a contrary course been pursued. When I see children affected to an agony at their position, and still unable fully to yield and come into the kingdom, I always suspect they have never been properly taught to yield to parental authority in their childhood. It is of the utmost importance to take hold of this will, as soon as it develops itself, and hold it as the representative of the Almighty, to exert the first moral influence under God's moral government. Take hold of that little will kindly, and hold it as a sacred trust under God. Hold it by parental authority and love -- so kindly and firmly, that it is, as it were, lost in your will, and controlled by it. Even a look, or a motion of the hand, when understood, should be immediately and willingly obeyed; and by and bye, when it can understand about God, give the whole weight of your will to lead the child's will to submit to God. Did you ever think what a powerful influence you poss? Where the little will from the first has been held under control, and the child is old enough to be talked to about God, bring all your powers to bear upon it, to induce it to yield itself up to God, and you will find yourself, as it were, almost handing it over to God. I could tell you some extraordinary things of the amazing power of parents in this position, and how God uses this influence to accomplish his purposes. You are not to suppose that because your influence is used as a means, that God has nothing to do with it; he has placed you where you are in order to use you. He has stationed you there to watch over the development of that little will, and kindly to control it, so that in due season you may be prepared to hand it over to God through the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
This is the great work which you are sent to do, Fathers! Let your parental heart draw the little one close to it, and let your mind draw the little mind into close connection with it, and let the little will be as far as possible subject to, and guided by your will. Do it with prayer before God, and you need not fear a failure. As soon as the little will can be influenced by religious truth, pour it in with all the weight of your parental authority, and carry that will to God.
A Christian lady once informed me, that she had found her daughter under conviction of sin. "I have so trained her," she said, "from her infancy, that she regards my will as her law; a look from me is enough. I did not at first understand properly my relations to her with reference to her conversion; but as soon as the thought came before my mind, that I could exert a direct and powerful influence in the matter, and that the Spirit of God would use that influence, I took the child with me to my closet, and prayed with her. I there showed her what it was her duty to do with regard to yielding up herself to Christ; I talked and prayed with her, and urged the matter in this light -- 'Now, my child, you never hesitate to obey your mother in other things, and I want you now at once to renounce yourself, and give yourself fully up to Christ." Before they left the closet, she said she had reason to believe that her child had really given herself up to God. Said she, "Never before had I any idea that the Spirit of God would so use this influence." Now mark; this was not any such authority as would threaten to whip the child! but that proper parental influence which can carry the little mind with an amazing power; and when the whole weight of this parental influence is concentrated upon the single question of "my child give your heart this moment to Christ," what human influence can be more powerful? And this, of course, is backed up by the word of God, and seconded by the Spirit of God -- all this in addition to that will to which the child has always been accustomed to yield. I have seen the infinite importance of this not only in my own, but in many other families.
Fourthly. Parents are very apt to stumble their children by their temper.
It destroys the confidence of the child in their piety, and causes him to doubt their sincerity; and thus the parent loses all hold on him. Few things more surely and speedily destroy the influence of a parent than to scold them peevishly, or even to speak to them snappishly, and call them hard names. Anything that savours of ill temper has a dreadfully powerful influence in leading the child away from Christ, and counteracting well-meant endeavors.
Fifthly. Parents must be careful to feel and manifest concern for their spiritual welfare; for if they do not, a child at that age cannot be expected to feel a concern for himself.
Suppose a parent felt truly concerned to keep a child out of bad company, he would keep this before the mind of the child -- if concerned for his health he would keep that before the little one, and teach him how to take care of it. It is just the same with anything else of this kind. Now the parent ought to feel and manifest a supreme interest in the child's salvation. Let all your conversation plainly indicate that it is so. Let your children see that health, worldly prospects and everything else must be subordinate to religion. Do these things, and you are beginning right; and by a natural law you can hardly fail to see their early conversion.
Sixthly. Parents often manifest great error, in not seeing to it that their children are punctual and regular at public worship.
I have been in a great many churches, and have known the history of a great many families. Sometimes I have found households, the children of which were both punctual and regular. At chapel you would see, in the pews where some families sat, all the children able to come out always there. Where their parents were there were they. They felt that they were no more expected to absent themselves from chapel when their parents went, than from the dinner table. It was a thing of course; they were not suffered to wander about and absent themselves, their parents not knowing where they went; for where this is suffered parents have little or no religious influence over them. Parents must also guard against laxity with reference to the due observance of the Lord's Day. It is not right to throw up everything into the hands of the sovereignty of God, assuming that that alone will convert them, whatever influence may be brought to bear upon them, than which there is not a greater falsehood; a more damning error never entered the world. It is true other influences may possibly convert the child, and as other influences may save the child in sickness, but no thanks to the parents in either case.
There is another fault of parents which I must notice. They do not take sufficient pains to render home happy; and the children not finding friendship and sympathy at home, run about elsewhere in search of it. Their home is not a happy one, and they consequently rove about, and come under bad influences. Now a happy home is one of the principal things at which a parent should aim. The home should be rendered so pleasant that the child would rather remain there than go about. Dear parents! are you aware how often a child's life is embittered by the neglect of this? They must be made happy, and have something to love at home, or they will naturally seek company and happiness somewhere else. Oh! that parents would see the necessity of using this and every other means they can devise to secure and retain their proper influence over the little minds! They ought to feel towards you so that they would sooner tell you than anybody else their little thoughts. Fathers are more apt to neglect this than mothers; children often seem afraid of their fathers, so that they cannot tell him the workings of their little minds. He treats them with a kind of despotism, manifests no interest in their little concerns; and as he does not sympathize with them, they turn to someone else. Thus those whose hearts ought always to run in sympathy with them have shut them out; and what do they do? They turn away and fall under some other influence, and they are gone! How many parents who have had to lament the evil conduct of their children, who, if they could look back might attribute it largely to this! The father has been sharp, has not kept his influence over their little hearts. Oh! how often religious people, and even ministers, have been so busy with other matters, that they have neglected their children in this respect, and have so shut them out, as it were from their hearts, that they have fallen into other hands, and under evil influences.
Now, dear parents, one of the first things God wishes you to do, is to secure and retain the affections and confidence of your children, and to use your influence over them for him. In order to keep their hearts open to you, let yours be open to them. Let them know that if there is any burden on their minds, you will be the very first to sympathize with them. You will surely secure your end if you do so. But, on the contrary, if they are afraid to approach you because you keep them at such a distance, then, if they are not ruined, no thanks to you; and instead of telling you all the temptations and trials they fall into, all their plans, the books they read, -- instead of feeling that in you they have advisers who can and will sympathize with them -- they will manifest the same reserve to you on these matters that you have displayed to them, and you have, therefore, failed in a vital point. I would that time did not so press, for I have ten times more than this to say, but I must pass rapidly on.
Another point I wish to notice is, the evil practice of allowing children to wander about where they will in the evening. Now, if, as I have said, you would make the home what it should be, they would never want to do this; they would rather be with you than anywhere; but if you suffer them to go out and keep late hours, they are sure to go in the way of temptation. I have often seen too, the injurious influence of holidays being so numerous and protracted, and of the difference parents make at such times with regard to their controul over the children. They are allowed to do things then, because it is a holiday, which you would not permit at other times, and this leads them astray. But I cannot enlarge upon this point just now, time forbids; but the holidays are near, and what will be your influence over them during that period? Parents! think of this.
Once more. Parents should always be wide awake to secure the conversion of their children during revivals of religion. If I had time, I could tell you many remarkable things, which have come under my own observation, connected with families, who have allowed revivals to take place and pass away without endeavoring to turn them to account in this direction. Sometimes the parents themselves will not enter into these revivals, although they are professors of religion; on the contrary, many speak against them, or cast a slight on something connected with the movement; and thus, as far as their influence is concerned, they shut the children out from blessings they might otherwise probably have received. Other persons, although they do not actually speak against it, yet refrain from entering into the work. They come and go again and again, and while multitudes are blessed they seem never to have taken up the subject, as if they had any personal concern in it. They have never endeavoured to secure a blessing for themselves and their households. They never seem to say, "Oh, is not Christ to visit our family?" They pass it by, and let it go. It is, in fact, just tantamount to this: Christ comes into the neighbourhood, and passes along, but they never invite him into their house, and they, with their households, are passed by and remain unblessed. I have inquired into some of these cases, and it has become a matter of remark, that the children often turn out badly; this is true, I believe in eight cases out of ten. I have now before my mind a case in point. Some years back, I spent a short time in Philadelphia, and knew a family that did this. The husband and wife were both professors, but she was a worldly-minded woman. He felt considerably for his children, and I talked with him on the subject several times. He very delicately hinted to me that his wife did not sympathise with the movement, and that the daughters were under her influence, and like-minded with herself, and regarded her opinion in preference to his. Now, mark: I inquired about this family some years after, and what had become of them? One of the daughters had married, and after a year or two eloped from her husband with another man. Some time after the others went in the same direction -- all turned out in a wretched manner. And this is only a specimen of a multitude of cases, which have actually come under my own observation.
It is therefore of the utmost moment that children should be immediately brought to Christ. The parents should say, "Now, Lord Jesus, thou art passing by; do thou have mercy on my children!" If you have hitherto exerted an improper influence, try at once to repair the evil done as well as you can. Do all that lies in your power; set your heart fully on securing the conversion of your children, and do it now! Begin at once with all your children, and especially those that have reached an intelligent age; and oh! I beseech you, do not let the Spirit manifest itself in this church and congregation, and you remain at a distance from the work! what do you think the Almighty will say about your family? What do you think he will say if you have not taken precautions to preserve yourselves in the visit of the destroying angel, by sprinkling the blood on the lintels and posts of your doors? Do every thing according to the rule which God has laid down; if you do not, when the destroying angel passes by, what will become of you and your family?
But I cannot continue these remarks to-night. There are thousands of things I might say, but I must reserve them for a future opportunity.
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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