What Saith the Scripture?
by Charles Grandison Finney
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
-- Amos iii. 3.--
"Can two walk together except they be agreed?"
This lecture was typed in by Michael and Pam Burns.
In the holy scriptures, we often find a negative thrown into the form of an interrogation. The text is an instance of this kind: so that we are to understand the prophet as affirming that two cannot walk together except they be agreed.
For two to be agreed, implies something more than to be agreed in theory, or in understanding: for we often see persons who agree in theory, but who differ vastly in feeling and practice. Their understandings may embrace the same truth, while their hearts and practice will be very differently affected by them. Saints and sinners often embrace in theory the same religious creed, while it is plain that they differ widely in feeling and practice.
We have reason to believe that holy angels and devils apprehend and embrace intellectually the same truths, and yet how very differently are they affected by them!
These different effects, produced in different minds by the same truths, are owing to the different state of the heart or affections of the different individuals. Or, in other words, the difference in the effect consists in the different manner in which the person receives these truths, or feels and acts in view of them. It is to be observed also, that the same things and truths will affect the same mind very differently at different times. This too is owing to the different state of the affections at these times. Or rather this difference consists in the different manner in which the mind acts at these times. All pleasure and pain---all happiness and misery---all sin and holiness---have their seat in, and belong to, the heart or affections. All the satisfaction or dissatisfaction, pain or pleasure, depends entirely upon the state of our affections at the time, and consists in these affections. If it fall in with, and excite, and feed pleasurable affections, we are pleased of course; for in these pleasurable affections our pleasure or happiness consists. The higher, therefore, these affections are elevated by the presentation of any thing or any truth to our minds, the greater our pleasure is. But if the thing or truth do not fall in with our affections it cannot please us; if it be aside from our present state of feeling, and we refuse to change the course of our feelings, we shall either view it with indifference, our affections being otherwise engaged, or if it press upon us we shall turn from and resist it. If it be not only aside from the subject that now engages our affections, but opposed to it, we shall and must (our affections remaining the same) resist and oppose it.
We not only feel uninterested or displeased and disgusted when a subject different from that which at present engages our affections is introduced and crowded upon us, but if any thing even upon the same subject that is far above or below our tone of feeling is presented, and if our affections remain the same, and we refuse to be enlisted and brought to that point, we must feel uninterested, and perhaps grieved and offended. If the subject be exhibited in a light that is below our present tone of feeling, we cannot be interested until it come up to our feelings; and if the subject in this cooling and to us degraded point of view is held up before our mind, and we struggle to maintain these high affections, we feel displeased because our affections are not fed but opposed. If the subject be presented in a manner that strikes far above our tone of feeling, and our affections grovel and refuse to arise, it does not fall in with and feed our affections, therefore we cannot be interested; it is enthusiasm to us; we are displeased with the warmth in which we do not choose to participate, and the farther it is above our temperature the more we are disgusted.
These are truths to which the experience of every man will testify, as they hold good upon every subject, and under all circumstances; and are founded upon principles incorporated with the very nature of man. Present to the ardent politician his favorite subject in his favorite light, and when it has engaged his affections touch it with the fire of eloquence, cause it to burn and blaze before his mind, and you delight him greatly. But change your style and tone---let down your fire and feeling---turn the subject over---present it in a drier light---he at once loses nearly all his interest, and becomes uneasy at the descent. Now change the subject---introduce death and solemn judgment---he is shocked and stunned; press him with them, he is disgusted and offended.
Now, this loss of interest in his favorite subject is the natural consequence of taking away from before the mind that burning view of it that poured fire through his affections; this disgust that he feels at the change of the subject, is the natural consequence of presenting something that was at the time directly opposed to the state of his feelings. Unless he chooses to turn his mind as you change the subject he cannot but be displeased.
A refined musician is listening almost in rapture to the skilful execution of a fine piece of harmony---throw in discords upon him; he is in pain in a moment. Increase and prolong the dissonance, and he leaves the room in disgust. You are fond of music; but you are at present melancholy---you are in great affliction---you are inclined to weep---the plaintive tones of an Eolian harp softly upon your ear, and melt around the heart---your tears flow fast---but now the din of trumpets, drums, and cymbals, and the piercing fife in mirthful quicksteps breaks upon your ear, and drowns the soft breathings of the harp---you feel distressed---you turn away and stop your ears. The plaintive harp touched you in a tender point, it fell in with your feelings; therefore you were gratified. The martial music opposed your state of feeling, you were too melancholy to have your affections elevated and enlivened by it; it therefore necessarily distressed you.
Your heart is glowing with religious feelings---you are not only averse to the introduction of any other subject at this time, but are uninterested with any thing upon the same subject that is far below the tone of your affections. Suppose you hear a cold man preach or pray; while he remains cold and you are warm with feeling you are not interested, for your affections are not fed and cherished unless he comes up to your tone; if this foes not happen you are distressed and perhaps disgusted with his coldness. This is a thing of course. Suppose, like Paul, "you have great heaviness and continual sorrow in your heart" for dying sinners; that "the Spirit helpeth your infirmities, making intercessions for you, according to the will of God, with groanings that cannot be uttered; "in this state of mind you hear a person pray who does not mention sinners---you hear a minister preach who says but little to them, and that in a heartless, unmeaning manner; you are not interested, you cannot be, feeling as you do, but you are grieved and distressed. Suppose you are lukewarm, and carnal, and earthly in your affections; you hear one exhort, or pray, or preach, who is highly spiritual, and fervent, and affectionate; if you cling to your sins, and your affections will not rise; if through prejudice, or pride, or the earthly and sensual state of your affections, you refuse to kindle and to grasp the subject, although you admit every word he says, yet you are not pleased. He is above your temperature, you are annoyed with the manner, and fire, and spirit of the man. The higher he rises, if your affections grovel, the farther apart you are, and the more you are displeased. While your heart is wrong the nearer right he is, the more he burns upon you; if your heart will not enkindle, the more you are disgusted.
Now, in both these cases, they, whose affections stand at or near the same point with him who speaks or prays, will not feel disturbed but pleased. Those that are lukewarm will listen to the dull man, and say, "'Tis pretty well." Their pleasure will be small, because their affections are low; but upon the whole they are pleased. Those who have no affections at the time will of course not feel at all. All who have much feeling will listen with grief and pain. These would listen to the ardent man with great interest. Let him glow and blaze and they are in a repture. But the carnal and cold-hearted, while they refuse to rise, are necessarily disturbed and offended with his fire.
From these remarks we may learn,
Another case may occur, where the church and people may awake while the shepherd sleeps and will not awake. This will inevitably alienate their affections from him, and destroy their confidence in him. In either of these cases, they may find themselves unable to walk together, because they are not agreed. In the former case, let the minister obey the command of Christ, and "shake off the dust of his feet, for a testimony against them." In the latter, let the church shake off their sleepy minister; they are better without him than with him. "Wo to the shepherds that do not feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye feed not the flock. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock, neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them." Ezek. 34:2,3,9,10.
President Edwards says---
"Though ministers preach never so good doctrine, and be never so painful and laborious in their work, yet if they show to their people that they are not well affected to this work, but are doubtful and suspicious of it, they will be very likely to do their people a great deal more hurt than good. For the very frame of such a great and extraordinary work of God, if their people were suffered to believe it to be his work, and the example of other towns, together with what preaching they might hear occasionally, would be likely to have a much greater influence upon the minds of their people to awaken and animate them in religion, than all other labors with them. Besides, their minister's opinion will not only beget in them a suspicion of the work they hear of abroad, whereby the mighty hand of God that appears in it, loses its influence upon their minds; but it will also tend to create a suspicion of every thing of the like that shall appear among themselves, as being something of the same distemper that is become so epidemical in the land. And what is this, in effect, but to create a suspicion of all vital religion, and to put the people upon talking against and discouraging it, wherever it appears, and knocking it on the head as fast as it rises. We, who are ministers, by looking on this work from year to year with a displeased countenance, shall effectually keep the sheep from their pasture, instead of doing the part of the shepherds by feeding them; and our people had a great deal better be without any settled minister at all, at such a day as this.
"We who are in this sacred office had need to take heed what we do, and how we behave ourselves at this time; a less thing in a minister will hinder the work of God, than in others. If we are very silent, or say but little about the work, in our public prayers and preaching, or seem carefully to avoid speaking of it in our conservation, it will be interpreted by our people, that we who are their guides, to whom they are to have their eye for spiritual instruction, are suspicious of it; and this will tend to raise the same suspicions in them; and so the aforementioned consequences will follow. And if we really hinder and stand in the way of the work of God, whose business above all others it is to promote it, how can we expect to partake of the glorious benefits of it? And, by keeping others from the benefit, we shall keep them out of heaven; therefore those awful words of Christ to the Jewish teachers, should be considered by us, Matthew 23:13. "Wo unto you, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." If we keep the sheep from their pasture, how shall we answer it to the great Shepherd, who has bought the flock with his precious blood, and has committed the care of them to us? I would humbly desire of every minister that has thus long remained disaffected to this work, and has had contemptible thoughts of it, to consider whether he has not hitherto been like Michael, without any child, or at least in a great measure barren and unsuccessful in his work: I pray God it may not be a perpetual barrenness, as hers was."
Hence we see, that the more pure and holy the means are that are used to promote a revival of religion, the more they are stripped of human infirmity and sympathy, and the more like God they are, so much the more, of necessity, will they excite the opposition of all wrong hearts. For, while a man's heart is wrong upon any subject, it is self-evident that he cannot heartily approve of what is right upon that subject; for this would involve a contradiction. It would be the same as to say that he could feel both right and wrong upon the same subject at the same time.
Hence it appears, that other things being equal, those means, and that preaching, both as to matter and manner, which call forth most of the native enmity of the heart, and that are most directly over against wrong hearts, are nearest right (Let it not be thought that we advocate or recommend preaching, or using other means, with design to give offense. Nor that we suppose that the gospel cannot be preached, and that means cannot be used in a wrong spirit, and in a manner that is highly objectionable, and may justly give offence. All such things are to be condemned. But still we do insist that holy things are offensive to unholy hearts, and while hearts remain unholy, they cannot be pleased but with that which is unholy like themselves. The understanding my approve, the conscience may approve, but the heart will not, and, remaining unholy, cannot approve of that which is holy. If, therefore, a sinner who is under the dominion of a "carnal mind," which is "enmity against God," is pleased with preaching, it must be either because the character of God is not faithfully exhibited, or the sinner is prevented from apprehending it, in its true light, by inattention, or by being so taken up with the style and manner as to overlook the offensiveness of the matter. If, therefore, the matter of preaching is right, and the sinner is pleased, there is something defective in the manner; either a want of earnestness, or holy unction, or something else, prevents the sinner from seeing, what preaching ought to show him, that he hates God and his truth).
Hence, we see the folly of those who are laboring to please persons whose affections are in a wrong state upon religious subjects. They cannot be pleased with any thing right and holy while their hearts are in this wrong state, for this we have just seen would involve a contradiction.
This shows why so much wrong feeling stirred up in revivals of religion.
It is the natural effect of pure revivals to stir up wrong feeling in wrong hearts. Revivals of religion on earth, stir up wrong feeling in hell; they will disturb the same spirit, and stir up the same feelings, whenever they come in contact with rebellious hearts, whether in the church or out of it. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes, or is seen to operate, the opposite spirit is disturbed of course. A great degree of right and holy feeling among saints, will naturally stir up a great degree of unholy and wicked feeling in all those hearts that are determinately wrong. The more right and holy feeling there is, the more wrong and unholy feeling there will be, of course, unless sinners and carnal professors bow and submit. They cannot walk together, because they are not agreed: and the more holy and heavenly the saints become in their affections and conduct, the farther apart they will be, until the light of eternity will set them, in feeling and affections, as far asunder as heaven and hell.
This shows that the difference between heaven and hell, as it regards moral character, and happiness and misery, consists in the different state of the hearts or affections of their respective inhabitants.
This demonstrates, beyond all contradiction, that sinners cannot be saved unless they are born again. In other words, it is plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that sinners should walk and be happy with saints and holy angels, without an entire change in their affections. Sinners cannot walk with the saint here. As soon as the saints cease to walk "after the course of this world," sinners think it strange that they run not with them to the same excess of riot, "speaking evil of them." As soon as Christians awake and become spiritual and active, holy and heavenly, and break off from their vain and wicked associations with the world, sinners are uniformly distressed and offended. They try to imagine that it is something wrong in the saints, and in revivals, that offends them. But the truth is, it is the little that is right in the saints, and that in which there is the most of God in revivals, that offends them most. And were the saints as holy as angels are, or as holy as they will be in heaven, sinners must of course be so much the farther from having any community of feeling with them: and as saints rise in holiness, and sinners sink in sin, they will go farther and farther apart for ever and ever.
It is not to be denied, that the saints in those days "had trials of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy;) they wandered in deserts, in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
It is not and cannot be denied, that the preaching of the prophets, of Christ and his apostles, and of primitive ministers, was opposed with great bitterness by many professed saints, and by multitudes of ungodly sinners, more than that of any preachers of the present day. Nor is it to be concealed, that professors of religion were often leaders in this opposition; that they stirred up the Romans to crucify Jesus, and afterwards to persecute and destroy his saints, and crucify his apostles. That even the religious leaders, and learned doctors of the law, endeavored to prejudice the multitude against the Savior, and to prevent their listening to his discourses: "He hath a devil and is mad," said they, "why hear ye him?" They led the way in opposing the apostles in the revivals in which they were engaged. We must admit too, that those revivals made a great deal of noise in the world, insomuch that the apostles were accused of "turning the world upside down:" and that sinners were often greatly hardened by the preaching of Christ and his apostles; "were filled with great wrath," and opposed with such bitterness, that Christ told his apostles to "let them alone." In some places where the apostles preached, "divers were" so "hardened," that they "contradicted and blasphemed, and spake evil of this way," insomuch that the apostles were forced to leave, and go to other places, and sometimes to leave under very humiliating circumstances, but just escaping with their lives. Now these are facts that we need not blush to meet; as they are easily accounted for, upon the principle contained in the text, and illustrated in this discourse. All these things afford no evidence that the prophets, and Christ and his apostles, were imprudent and unholy men; that their preaching was too overbearing and severe; or that there was something wrong in the management of revivals in those day. The fact is, that the prophets were so much more holy in their lives, and so much bolder, and more faithful in delivering their messages; that Christ was so much more searching, and plain, and pungent, and personal in his preaching, and so entirely "separate from sinners" in his life; the apostles were so pungent and plain in their dealing with sinners and professed saints, and so self-denying and holy in their lives, that carnal professors and ungodly sinners could not walk with them. The means that were then used to promote revivals were more holy and free from alloy than they now are. There was less of mere sympathy, and of that hypocritical suavity of manner, and of those embellishments of language, that are calculated and designed to court the applause of the ungodly. "Renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully," they preached, "not with the enticing words of man's wisdom," but "with great plainness of speech," so that the ungodly, in the church and out of it, were filled with wrath.
Stephen was so holy and searching in his address, that the elders of Israel "gnashed upon him with their teeth." But this is no evidence that he was imprudent. The fact, that the revivals of the present day so much more silent and gradual in their progress, than they were on the day of Pentecost, and at many other times and places, and create much less noise and opposition among cold professors and ungodly sinners, does not prove that the theory of revivals is better understood now than it was then, nor that those ministers and Christians who are engaged in these revivals are more prudent than the apostles and primitive Christians; and to support this, would evince great spiritual pride in us. Nor are we to say that the human heart is changed, or that the character of God is become less offensive "to the carnal mind." No! the fact is, the prophets, and Christ, and his apostles, and the primitive saints, were more holy, more bold and active, more plain and pungent in their preaching, less conformed to this crazy world; in one word, they were more prudent and more like heaven than we are; these are the reasons why they were more hated than we are, why their preaching and praying gave so much more offence than ours. Revivals, in their days, were more free from carnal policy, and that management that tends to keep out of the sinner's views the naked hand of God: these are the reasons why they made so much noise than the revivals that we witness in these days, and stirred up so much of earth and hell to oppose them, that they convulsed and turned the world upside down. It was known then, that "men could not serve God and mammon." It was seen to be true, that "if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution." It was understood then, that if "ministers pleased men, they were not the servants of Christ." The church and world could not walk together, for then they were not agreed. Let us not be puffed up, and imagine that we are prudent and wise, and have learned how to manage carnal professors and sinners, whose "carnal mind is enmity against God," so as not to call forth their opposition to truth and holiness, as Christ and his apostles did. But let us know that if they have less difficulty with us, and with our lives, and preaching, than they had with theirs, it is because we are less holy, less heavenly, less like God than they were. If we walk with the lukewarm and ungodly, or they with us, it is because we are agreed. For two cannot walk together except they be agreed.
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