THE INFINITE WORTH OF THE SOUL
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY EVENING, DEC. 22, 1850
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY
(OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, U. S.)
At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London
"For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" MARK VIII. 36
I HEARD of this text being proposed once to a great man who was celebrated as an accountant, but who was neglecting his soul. A friend of his stepped into his counting house with this important question for him to solve, as a question of loss or gain. "Is it not a question in which you yourself are vitally concerned? If it were not," said the friend, "I would not thrust it upon you." It was said to be instrumental in the conversion of that important personage's soul. In further remarking upon this subject I propose,
I. To notice the worth of the soul.
II. That nothing can be really good to a man who loses his soul.
III. That whatever he may gain, if he lose his soul, everything else will be but a curse to him.
Instead of gaining anything, if he lose his soul, even were it "the whole world," it would be of no great value, on the contrary, it would be a great curse. But how shall I speak of the worth of the soul? There is no question on which I ever attempt to speak, which makes me feel so much at a loss, and that not because there is nothing to say, but because there is so much to say; not because the subject is void of interest, but because it is in itself so surpassingly great, so infinite, that I always approach it with the fear of belittling it, rather than at all giving or having anything like an adequate conception of it. Indeed the text which I have read tonight is one that I always feel that I dare not preach upon. I never did preach upon it in all my life; because, as I have said, it always seemed to me that all I could say would only belittle the subject, so far does the value of the soul surpass all human conception. There are nevertheless certain things which, if a man will take the trouble to amplify, will enable him to form a much clearer conception of the subject than he otherwise would.
But let me say, to begin with, that it is admitted by all men that happiness is a good in itself--a thing desirable for its own sake. All moral agents everywhere regard it as a thing desirable for its own sake. This is a primary truth which everybody assumes, and consequently everybody at all times and in all places are seeking for it in one way or another. Enjoyment is what they are seeking; the desire after this, and the reckoning upon it as an ultimate good, is the main spring of human activity. Again, misery is regarded, by all men as an ultimate evil--a thing to be avoided for its own sake. These two things stand in direct contrast in men's minds by a natural law. About these things there is--there can be no dispute. Everybody assumes them to be true, and therefore, everybody seeks to secure the one and avoid the other.
In the next place of course, everyone knows, who has a human soul, that it is susceptible of both these--that it is capable of both happiness and misery. By most men, the immortality of the soul is admitted. It seems indeed to be a truth known to men to the necessity of their own nature; they never doubt it, unless they begin to speculate as to the truth of that which they know by their own nature. When they do this, they call into question things, which they are so created as naturally to affirm and believe; the immortality of the human soul seems to be one of these things. So strongly do they assume this, that very few cases are recorded in which men on their death beds have believed themselves to be about to pass into a state of annihilation; there have, however, been some few cases of this; but, mark me, this is not the unsophisticated language of nature itself. Those who have not sophisticated themselves by doing violence to their own intelligence, have, by one of its natural laws, the belief that the soul is immortal. Go to the savage child of the forest! He believes that after death, he will go into a region of boundless hunting grounds comprising, to him, every element necessary to constitute a state of felicity; he has thus an idea of his own immortality and of the immortality of the souls of all men. More than this, the Bible abundantly and clearly teaches it, but I have not time to go into this department of the subject. As a Christian congregation, I shall assume that you believe it, and shall therefore content myself with taking up a few points to induce you to contemplate, as well as the shortness of the time permits, the infinite and incomprehensible value of the human soul.
The soul's capacity for enjoying happiness or enduring misery, must be an ever increasing one; thus it is able to enjoy or suffer more as it progresses in existence; this also, is a thing which we very well understand and know to be true. Now there is no doubt that men are capable of enjoying or suffering much more than mere animals, or that adult persons are more capable of enjoying or suffering than little children. We know from our own consciousness and observation that it is a law of intelligent mind that their capacity for happiness or misery is a continually increasing capacity. The infant has very limited sources of enjoyment; all seems physical; its evil is bodily pain, and at first, it knows nothing whatever of pain connected with thought of remorse on the one hand, or of pleasure on the other arising out of remembrances. It is like a little animal--the gratification of its appetites produces pleasure, while physical pain of course produces misery; but as its mind develops, sources of pain and pleasure multiply continually. As soon as it comes to have thoughts, from its very nature these thoughts are the cause of pain or pleasure. Just as the intellect develops itself in all its departments, sources of happiness are thrown open; the capacity for enjoyment is enlarged on the one hand and for misery on the other. The little one comes by and bye to know his parents and those around him, and the smile of his mother is the source of happiness, while her frowns are productive of misery. Everything with which it becomes acquainted opens up new sources of pleasurable or of miserable emotions; just in proportion as it progresses in knowledge, these sources are multiplied. If virtuous, his increase of knowledge enlarges his happiness; the very laws of his own mind--the lecture as it were, which God has inscribed within him increase his enjoyments; and just in proportion as he avails himself of these means, his capacity for enjoyment becomes greater and greater. Perhaps he is converted while yet a mere child, and grows up knowing more and more of God and his government as he proceeds, till at length he launches into the eternal world; onward and onward he goes, learning more and more of everything which can increase his enjoyment, and increases in his capacity for enjoyment forever and forever.
But mark; the Bible informs us that men's happiness or misery shall be unmixed in a future world; that is, if persons are happy at all in a future world, they will be perfectly so. It will not be a mixed condition as it is here; there, happiness will be unmixed, complete, ever growing, and just so will it be with the misery of those who abuse God here--their misery will be unmixed and eternally increasing. To the one there remains no more misery--to the other no more enjoyment.
But again, this enjoyment or misery must, from the nature of the case, be ever increasing in all respects. First, it increases in quantity by reason of its continuance. Supposing the degree to remain stationary--that the individual got no more misery or happiness to all eternity--yet the amount would be constantly increasing from the very fact of its continuance by the law of mind, to which I have adverted, and from the nature of the case. Secondly, the degree of either happiness or misery becomes the means of producing happiness on the one hand, and misery on the other. Constantly accumulating knowledge will constantly increase happiness. Happiness or misery must constantly increase as the capacity of enjoyment or suffering is perpetually increasing. This is the inevitable result of a natural law. The mind must have new thoughts continually--it must know more of holiness and the nature of sin, and of all the reasons which forbid the one and promote the other, and thus, of course, the misery will increase with an increasing consciousness of guilt. But I need not dwell on this part of my subject.
Reflect a little, and endeavour to form some kind of conception of what endless duration is. Look right at it, for a moment, and try to attain to some comprehension of the infinite value of the immortal soul. It is to live to all eternity; it is to increase in happiness or misery forever and forever, there is to be no termination to this increase; it must be so by a law of nature. It is therefore easy to see that a period must arrive when every one of all the moral agents in God's universe will have either suffered or enjoyed more than all the universe have done together up to this present moment! Suppose tonight it could be computed how much happiness has been enjoyed by all God's creatures from the first moment of their existence to the present; the amount of course, would be great--utterly inconceivable to us; it is beyond our conception and we cannot conceive a bound to it; but yet, as the happiness of each soul is, as we have seen, incessantly increasing, a period therefore, must naturally arrive when the aggregate of its single enjoyment shall be equal to all that has yet been enjoyed in God's whole universe. But even this is but the beginning.
In fact, this is not all; the period will also arrive when each individual shall have enjoyed a hundred, and a hundred thousand times more than all the universe has enjoyed up to the present moment. Go right on from here; the time must come when every individual who is happy, will have enjoyed myriads and myriads of times more than the highest arithmetic in the universe can calculate; for, observe, it is ever increasing, and if it increases ever so slowly, what then?
Suppose a being is to be employed in removing the entire universe of matter by a single grain of sand at a time. Let him take only a single grain in a thousand years, occupy another thousand in his journey, another thousand there, another in the journey back, and after the expiration of a fifth thousand set off with another grain, till he has thus removed the whole of the globe on which we live. Let him take a million instead of a thousand years, and add to this globe the whole of the material universe, still an immortal being could do it, there is plenty of time to do it. Every one of you, remember, must live long enough to do this again and again, and yet be no nearer the end of your existence--you will even then not have a moment the less to live! All this time you will be either perfectly happy or perfectly miserable.
It is easy to see, moreover, that the time must arrive, when each one of God's creatures now existing shall know more, have more experience than all the universe of creatures yet have had. Every moral agent in the universe, at some moment of his existence, will be capable of more enjoyment, or of suffering greater misery, than all the universe of creatures are now capable of enjoying or suffering. Think of that! Just think of a mind whose capacity for enjoyment knows no bounds, and the law of which is everlasting development! Look at such a soul as that! What? Fixed under an unalterable law of everlasting development, running on and on as long as the Almighty Creator exists! Just think of the infinite and utterly incomprehensible value of a soul so constituted--capable of an amount of joy or sorrow so utterly outstripping all finite conception!
Suppose we take any child that is here tonight; when that child has gone forward so far in existence, that he has absolutely enjoyed or suffered more than all the creation of God has done up to this time, why he has not got one particle the less to enjoy or suffer than when he began; he is not the slightest possible particle nearer the close of it than at the earliest moment. Suppose he is happy, the time will come when he will know more of God, and have more experience of his government--when he will have lived longer than the entire created universe now has--and when he can look round and say, "my age is now greater than the aggregate age of all God's creatures previous to my birth; I am older, have more experience, have enjoyed more than all had before I was buried." What then? Why he will live on and on, and on and on till he has enjoyed myriads and myriads of times more and more and more until all finite conception is overwhelmed and swallowed up. But has he any the less to live or enjoy after all this? Oh, no! Why he has only begun, and he is no nearer the end of his existence than at the very first moment, for it has no end; he rolls onward and onward and onward on the tops of the waves of eternal life.
But reverse the picture. Shall we dare to look upon it? The period will arrive when, if unhappy, you will be able to say, "I have known more sorrow, remorse, bitterness, and agony than all the creatures in God's universe had when I came here." What then? Let him go on and multiply this to any possible extent till he can say, "Why no creature, that existed when I began to suffer, could then have conceived of the amount of misery that I have now suffered, and yet, I am no nearer the termination than when I first came here." Indeed the mind is wholly swallowed up in the contemplation of so incomprehensible a subject. Who can understand or conceive anything of eternal existence?--of what it is, to roll on and on, through an endless cycle of years, in happiness or misery, with a mind capable of the keenest enjoyment and of the most intense anguish forever and forever. Individual capacities in this world are extremely diversified; take for example that little child; it weeps, but while the tears stand on its little cheeks, its mother smiles, wipes them away, and it drops quietly to sleep. By and bye, it grows up and becomes a philosopher, it has read, studied, thought, and violated the law of God. Now remorse begins, but he wanders on in error and crime, and ascends the heights of science, as Byron did, looking down from those heights with a kind of disdain upon the ignorant multitudes beneath him. But the more he knows and the more he has abused his knowledge, the greater is his capacity for misery, till by and bye, although he sits on a high elevation of knowledge, he is racked with the keenest agony--an agony which an ignorant mind knows nothing about. There are opened in his bosom springs of the most intense misery, with which, in his earliest years he was perfectly unacquainted. Every step in the scale of intellectual development has only opened up the floodgates of wretchedness upon his soul. See him grow pale and wretched, till at length he curses the hour which brought him into existence. But if he could only escape from his own recollection--if he could only escape from the gaze of his murdered hours, opportunities neglected--what a blessing it would be to him! But mark, there they all stare at him--all his sins, his talents and acquirements troop around him to be his tormentors forever and forever.
But I pass in the next place to say, that nothing can be a real good to a man who loses his own soul. Happiness is the ultimate good, as everybody knows and admits, and all things are valuable to us in proportion as they contribute to this result. If we are deprived of happiness, nothing can be a real good to us. Anything which cannot be made subservient to our happiness is of no value to us. That, which men at present look upon as a good, they will ultimately see, from their present abuse, has become a curse; for the misery of a state of future punishment must be unmixed; their existence will therefore be an unmingled curse.
This leads me to say again, that everything man may gain, if they lose their souls, must be a curse. Their very existence will be a curse,--their knowledge will be a curse. The less knowledge the better; even should they be deprived of consciousness altogether, it would be an infinitely less evil than the retention of it. Every gift they abuse will be an ultimate evil. When they remember their comforts in the midst of their misery, will it not tend to increase their unhappiness? Every enjoyment they have had will be an ultimate source of increasing anguish. Sinners, for example, who abuse the gifts of Providence, will have to suffer for it in this sense--God will call them into account for every one of them. God ought to do this. If they have had temporal enjoyments here, the very recollection of them will be a source of additional suffering there. It is therefore madness to neglect the soul for anything else. If the soul is saved it matters not what else is lost; for after all, the soul and its enjoyments is the only thing of real value. If the soul is saved, what matters it what is lost in securing it?
Let me speak to the poorest man in this assembly--you look perhaps on the riches and luxury of those above you in society. You, perhaps, envy their enjoyments; but have you reason to do so? Look at this; suppose that your soul is saved, what will it matter to you a thousand years hence, whether the few days you live here, you were rich or poor? You can look back, perhaps saying, "When I lived in London I was very poor, and had to work very hard, and sometimes did not know how to provide for the wants of my family." But would you then regard those sufferings as an evil? No, indeed; you would see they had all been for your benefit; your soul was saved, which secured you all conceivable and all possible good: but if, on the contrary, your soul had been lost, what would it matter if you had literally gained the entire world? If your soul is lost, of what use can anything else be to you? Banished from the presence of the Almighty and the glory of his power, how could you enjoy anything? The moment you die, you have received all your good, if you have lost your soul, and all the rest is unmitigated and unmingled evil.
But let me say once more, the salvation of his soul is the great business of a man's life; his great errand in this world is to secure his own salvation and that of as many as he can. Why, who does not know this--than as eternity is longer than time, in just so much is the soul more valuable than all that relates to this world. In short, nothing is valuable except insofar as it contributes to this end; and everything ought to be made subservient to this, but what is perverted is worse to us a great deal than if we never possessed it. To seek present enjoyment then, even if it were perfect, at the expense of our soul, were infinite madness. But perfect enjoyment in this life is an utter impossibility. Oh! sinner, suppose you live two hundred years; and suppose, moreover, that your enjoyment actually is perfect, if you lose your soul, what an infinite loss it would be; for this enjoyment, if abused in sin, must be more than compensated for by a proportionate addition to your future misery. The very breath you breathe, if you breathe it out in opposition to God, and die in your sins, will be charged against you in God's account. If you are abusing the blessings you possess, you had better far have been without them.
Again, suppose you should submit to the greatest possible earthly trials and privations, so as to deny yourself every earthly good for 200 years, what then? Suppose you spent the whole of the time in the most entire and universal self-denial--nay, suppose you had hung upon the cross in all the agonies of crucifixion--suppose you should remain there till the end of time, what then? How much more than compensated would you be by the retrospect in a state of everlasting felicity? For the joy which is set before you, can you not afford to endure the cross and despise the shame? When quite a young convert, I remember being very much struck by a resolution of President Edwards, which was to the effect, that all his conduct should have respect to the whole of his existence taken together, and that he would decide the propriety of any course by regarding it in view of his endless being. It struck me at the time as a resolution worthy of a child of God. How shall I regard my conduct ten thousand years hence, when I have grown so old that the universe has passed away with a great noise rolling up like a scroll--when the sun has gone out, and the material universe is scarcely remembered--how shall I regard it then? Suppose that the virtuous were completely miserable, and that the sinful were completely happy in this world; and that this life were to continue not only while it will, but to be extended for as many myriads of ages as it is possible to conceive of, still men would be infinitely mad to choose present happiness and future misery. But it is not so--it cannot be so--the man who fears God enjoys indefinitely more, even here, than the sinner; for "the way of transgressors is hard." How much there is to embitter every day and hour of his existence. Ah! how little real enjoyment has a wicked man, even in this life! Poor creature! And is this the best he is ever to have? Oh yes, this is the best, poor as it is, and mingled as it is with bitterness! What infinite madness! There is no profit at all; it is only an appearance of profit for a few moments--a feverish excitement which will react and render the misery the greater.
A few remarks must conclude what I have to say, and the first remark is this--how little men think of the infinite value of the human soul and what eternal life and death is! How little is this realized, even by those who profess to believe the Bible! Now is it not one of the greatest of all wonders, that men so generally admit that this life is short, and that it may close at any moment, they know not when; and yet, with this admission on their lips, that if they die in their sins they must lose their souls, and that they are liable to die in their sins at any moment--that they must exist to all eternity--and yet, infinitely strange to say! where can there be any such thing found in the universe? what so infinitely wonderful, as the little thought men give to the value of their souls? I have sometimes been obliged to turn my mind away from a thought so horrible, or it might have absolutely thrown my intellect off its balance. I have set my children before me, and reflected on their destiny, till I have said to myself, that if I should see one of them die in their sins, I should die myself immediately. What! The thought of one of my children losing his soul! It seems to swallow up everything else, and nothing seems to be of any importance in comparison with it. If their souls are saved, what else need they care for? I have often thought of how little consequence it was to lay up money for them. I have always let my children understand that, from the nature of my occupation, I have no money to leave them. I have told them that I have no desire to do so. I have given them as good an education as I could, and all I desire for them, is, that they may save their own souls, and the souls of others. To give them worldly goods, except with a view to extend their spiritual usefulness, always seemed to me to be the extreme of madness.
In looking at the anxiety of Christian parents to lay up money for their children, we see how much influence their conduct has in making their little ones worldly-minded--they come to think a great deal of wealth, station in society, the things of time, and almost nothing of eternity. When I have thought of that, I have asked myself thousands of times, "Can these parents believe that their children are immortal?" Is it possible that if they do believe it, that they love them? Is it possible they believe the affirmations of Scripture, and yet pay so much attention to their temporal, so little to their spiritual welfare?
For example: the Bible represents this world's good as a most ensnaring thing and that it is an extremely difficult matter for a rich man to be saved; it everywhere warns men against efforts to enrich themselves and their offspring; but I have remarked that very many persons act as if the exact opposite of this had been declared in the Bible--as if it had said that prosperity in this world was essential to eternal life. The good things of this world are not, however, to be despised; but when they are allowed to stand in the way of securing the salvation of the soul, the madness is absolutely infinite.
Let me now address myself to such of my hearers as sustain the parental relation;--my dear friends, how have you regarded this subject in relation to your own children? How important it is that you should estimate rightly the value of your children's souls--that you should appreciate the dangers of their position, and the duties of yours;--if these things were rightly considered, they would set your hearts on fire with zeal to secure their salvation. Once more. Let me remark how infinitely different God's judgment is from ours. We call those happy who are wise to get money, and who are successful in the acquisition of it, and you envy those who rise in rank and station. Ah! the penetration of such is not very deep. How infinitely different will you think of it a few years hence! when the curtain drops and you depart, less than a single hours experience in eternity will convince you which would have been the best for you.
Suppose the spirits of those who have gone before you could appear to you in the flesh and communicate with you, what a tale would they unfold! But the veil between time and eternity has been drawn down closely. All that we absolutely need to know has been revealed to us; and if he receive not Moses and the prophets, neither should we one risen from the dead; for if you reject God's testimony, you will have infinitely more reason to reject the testimony of one from the dead. Sinner! how long do you mean to neglect your soul? You don't always mean to neglect it. Ah! there is the stumbling block. I greatly fear for you. Suppose we should go tonight to one of the wretched inhabitants of hell and enquire, how came you here? "Procrastination was my ruin. I intended to repent; I never meant to die in my sins; but ah! in the midst of this I was cut off." Oh sinner, will you not attend to your soul now? Do you say you "Can't do it tonight?"
But you can do it tonight; for God would not command you to do it now if it were not in your power to obey him. But you do not in your heart believe your own objection. Suppose an individual were just now to have a direct revelation that he was about to die, and suppose that he should stand up and appeal to me as to what he should do--suppose also that I should reply, "Oh! it is too late now; you have not time!," would you not all rise up and exclaim, "He can! He can! He can!" And will you tempt God by making an excuse which you don't believe yourself? Suppose anybody should attempt to hire you on oath not to attend to your soul till after a certain period? How much would you ask, sinner? Why you would think it was the devil himself, if a man should come and propose such a thing to you.
I recollect a case of this kind, in which a sinner absolutely did hire another in this way. The sum was three dollars, and the man engaged not to attend to his soul for a given period. He took the money. The donor of it was a stranger, and he bethought himself, after he was gone, that it must have been the Devil in human shape. "Have I not sold my soul?" at length he cried out; and he cast the money away in the bitterest agony. Well might he feel shocked. You would be shocked if anyone were to make you such an offer. But Satan will not shock you; he will let you slide and slide along and along, while the unseen hand of death is preparing to toll your knell! Perhaps he is watching to see whether he cannot persuade you not to attend to it just now, and eagerly looking to see whether you go home tonight neglecting it, and what else you will attend to first. What is there of which you can say, "Oh God, I must do this first?" Sinner! have you gone thus far along the path of life and neglected your soul till now? And shall this warning also pass unheeded?
But let me conclude by addressing a few practical remarks to the unconverted. Now, sinner, are you not afraid to go on in your sins? If you put it off tonight, tomorrow evening you will not be at the prayer meeting, but somewhere else; and next Sunday perhaps, you will not go to a place of worship at all. A father once, in writing to his son about a certain habit which he had contracted, after expostulating with him at some length, broke suddenly off," But enough, enough, I know I shall not ask you in vain; and I will therefore urge the matter no further, lest my doing so should appear a want of confidence in your love." And shall God appeal to you in vain? Where is your sense of right? of honor? or of duty?
Oh, sinner! I am ashamed to be obliged to present so many considerations! Am I surrounded by reasonable beings who know the relations to God? Am I standing here for an hour and a half to persuade you by an array of motives which would sweep away every thing but a rock, to lead you to repentance? Might I not blush that I am a man, if I have thus to plead with you, or in fact, to suggest any other motive for your repentance beyond the fact that your not doing so is an infinite wrong to the Almighty?
Come to Christ, and say, "Oh, Jesus! thou hast bought me, I will be thine. Thou hast died for me, and purchased my life; and shall the life which thou has redeemed be given to Satan? No! no! as I am a man. No! as I have an immortal soul. No! as I belong to the government of God. No! as I hope for salvation. No! I dread to displease God, and desire to please my Saviour. Heaven beareth witness that I renounce my sins; and let God write it in heaven." Are you not ready? Why not? Make up your minds now and forever, right here on the spot, in the house of God where the angels wait to tell the story, where the Holy Spirit breathes upon the people. What say you sinner, are you willing to convert over from Satan to God?
You must decide now, one way or the other; and if we could see what infinite consequences, in respect to persons here, are turning on that decision, methinks the congregation would wail out with agony to see what destinies are trembling on this momentous point! See that needle, trembling on its pivot! It must, when it settles, point either one way or the other to heaven or to hell. Sinner! such is your destiny. What do you say?