QUENCHING THE SPIRIT
A sermon delivered on Friday evening, July 14, 1850 by the REV. C. G. FINNEY (of the Collegiate Institute, America) at the Tabernacle, Moorfields
"Quench not the Spirit." I Thess. v. 19
"And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." Ephesians iv. 30
The Holy Spirit is the author of spiritual life itself - of all its heat and warmth in man - of all those states of mind that result from his influences. He is the author of all spiritual joy and peace in the soul; that is, his influences are exerted in creating that life and heat which belong to spiritual religion. He also employs himself in producing that joy and peace of mind which are peculiar to Christians. To "quench" him is to extinguish his light and heat - that peculiar light which he brings to the mind, and the heat which naturally results from it. The language is here figurative, of course; he is said to be like a refiner's fire; to "quench" him, therefore, would be to put out that fire.
To "grieve" him is to destroy that spiritual peace of mind of which he is the author, in the human soul. When this is destroyed by anything we do, the Spirit of God is spoken of as being himself grieved - his agency is resisted and he is represented as being, therefore, grieved. There is a sense, undoubtedly, in which the Spirit of God himself is grieved: he is a moral agent. He can and does feel. There is a sense in which he is himself grieved. I have, however, another object mainly in view now. In speaking to the words of my text, I shall consider -
I. What is implied in the injunctions contained in these verses.
II. How the spirit may be grieved or quenched.
III. The fearful consequences of doing this.
I. Things implied.
The injunction not to quench the Spirit clearly implies that it may be done, and that there is a probability of its being done; if it were an act impossible or improbable, we should not find such an injunction in Holy Writ. It implies not only a danger of its being done, but also that it is wicked to do so.
The Holy Spirit is represented in the Bible as being a moral agent. Feelings peculiar to a moral agent are ascribed to him. He is represented, too, as being infinitely interested in giving himself up to the great work of saving us from sin and death. Again: he is infinitely holy, and therefore opposed to iniquity in every form or degree. His influences are represented as teaching and enlightening, but not by a physical, irresistible agency, in the sense that he over-rules the freedom of the human mind; he enlightens, warns, and sanctifies through the truth; he operates by the presentation of such considerations as will most prevail with a moral agent. This must be the way in which he operates, for holiness to be the result of his operations. Holiness in substance, therefore, cannot be created by any creative power. Holiness is love; his influence, therefore, must be truth, and prevails not by setting aside liberty, but by teaching how to use it aright, and by presenting such considerations as will induce men to do so. This is done, not by a physical, but a persuasive and enlightening agency.
II. How may the spirit be quenched or grieved?
The Spirit of God is grieved and quenched in all cases where the mind is unwilling to see the truth on any subject. Oftentimes individuals are unwilling to be convinced on certain points, and will not come up to the light. They avoid coming under the pressure of the truth on certain given points, and wherever this is done the Spirit of God is resisted, quenched, and grieved.
Again: the Spirit of God is grieved wherever the mind is so satisfied as to admit the truth, and yet unbelief prevails. There are multitudes of persons who confound conviction of the truth with faith, and do not know any better than to suppose that when convinced of the truth they have faith. Now there is not a greater error in existence. Being convinced of the truth of a statement is infinitely far from faith, which is the minds voluntary act in view of what the Spirit of God convinces us of.
Unbelief is the rejection of what the Spirit presents to our minds, refusing to commit ourselves to it, take it home, and obey it. Now faith is that committal of the mind to the truth, when received, which God urges; it is this committal of the mind, in fact, that God does urge, in distinction from that which convicted sinners name. Convicted sinners are convinced of God's claims and character - of the necessity and sufficiency of the atonement of Christ, and many other things; yet he withholds because he is unwilling to yield up his sin, and to become a Christian implies the doing of this. But he will not do it, hence he will not receive Christ, take home the truth to his own mind, repose his all in and upon it. Where the truth is thus presented and yet resisted, there is unbelief, and wherever that prevails there the Spirit of God is grieved, resisted, and quenched.
The Spirit is grieved, resisted, and quenched by all evasions of the truth on questions of reform involving self-denial. There are a great many truths, the reception of which calls for great denial - a breaking off of certain things in which we have been in the habit of indulging ourselves. Suppose now a slaveholder, when the question of the moral character of his class comes up, and suppose that although he is wholly unacquainted with the arguments of his opponents and will not so much as read or even talk or listen to anyone upon the subject suppose also that when he does eventually read or hear a discussion of the question, still, after all, he will not yield to the truth which is presented - he resists the Spirit.
It is remarkable to see to what an extent this has been manifested in the United States. Then there is the trade in ardent spirits. Traders in these things deal with the question just as the slaveholders do - they selfishly maintain their position and will not give up the traffic. Well now, on any question of reform calling for self-denial, wherever the mind resists, is not candid in receiving and obeying the truth, the Spirit of God is quenched. There are a great many customs prevalent in society which the gospel utterly condemns and whenever these questions come up, and the mind will not receive the truth and make the necessary sacrifices, who does not see that this is quenching and grieving the Spirit who is trying to lead them away from all such practices?
Again: indulging in resentful or otherwise hostile feelings towards anyone is sure to quench and grieve the Spirit, especially wherein such feelings are persevered. Many have known what it was to indulge in such feelings 'till at length, they have ceased to commune with their God.
Again: to indulge in a censorious spirit - finding fault, and putting a bad construction on everything, is another mode of transgressing the law laid down in our text. Sometimes you will see an individual who puts a bad construction on things which admit of a good construction, making out that certain individuals have wrong motives, bad dispositions; they do this where the motives may be good for what they know. Now all such conduct as this no doubt grieves and quenches the Spirit of God.
But I remark again: any unnecessary, unbenevolent unbrotherly publication of the real failings of individuals is another way in which this sin may be committed. Persons may commit this crime by telling the truth unnecessarily, and thus finally injuring the person. You have no right to speak even of the faults of others unnecessarily; nor will you do so if you are as careful of his, as you wish him to be of yours - " Love your neighbours as yourselves." If this were the case, how careful would you be of your neighbours. Wherever this is not the case - wherever the tale-bearer is listened to - wherever you treat your brother or neighbour in a manner different from that in which you desire to be treated yourself - there, undoubtedly, the Spirit of God is grieved. Never do or withhold that which you would not like done to or withheld from yourself.
Again: This sin is committed where persons make self-justifying, God-condemning excuses for their sins. Thus some grope on in darkness, error, and distress of mind from year to year, because, instead of taking the blame of sin to themselves, they make excuses which virtually throw it upon God. This is grieving the Spirit. Every selfish person -everyone who is set upon the promotion of his own interests instead of the promotion of God's glory grieves the Spirit of God. Such an act is a virtual apostasy from God. They have professedly committed themselves to God, and have no right to do anything but for him. A man can never enjoy communion with God while in pursuit of any selfish ends -while he seeks things merely for his own pleasure, and not for God. If you do this you virtually take back your consecration to God, and devote yourself to your own interests. It matters not at all in what manner you may excuse yourselves for so doing; you have no excuse; and especially is this the case where light has been poured upon the subject. Now, who can suppose that in those days, such a man as John Newton could, even for a time, continue in the slave-trade without some compunctions of conscience? But suppose he should have no recourse to the Bible, and ask, "Were there not slaves in the days of the New Testament?" Why did not Christ denounce it? Slavery was known to the Apostles, Why did not they denounce it, if it were so wicked?
This is easily enough answered. But suppose men justify the slave-trade in this way? And in the Southern States of America this very common. They forget that Christ had a previous question to settle before he could make any direct attack on the several sorts of sin. When Christ came into the world, instead of his mission being acknowledged, he had to debate every inch of ground. His divinity and divine mission demanded primary attention; it was necessary that the world should first recognize his authority to lay down regulations, and prohibit practices. It would have been utterly out of place for him to have attempted to set right social questions before he had established his authority to interfere with such matters. Again: it is said the Apostles did not denounce slavery. They too had a great question which demanded their first attention. They had to establish the fact of Christ's resurrection, divinity, and messiahship, as well as the divine authority of their own commission. This being done, they would naturally commend to the world the Scriptures of truth, and let them tell what things are right and what is wrong. Now, who does not see that it is a selfish evasion for a slaveholder to talk thus? It would have been absurd for him to have denounced any particular sins without establishing his authority to denounce sin at all.
Suppose a man in this country should attempt thus to justify slavery; you would not go with him. When light is poured upon this question, it becomes a heinous offense, and no man can pursue it without forfeiting his right to be called or treated as a Christian. I can recollect the time when we all thought the use of ardent spirits was necessary - we all thought no one could do without them; but by and by, the question was taken up. Many resisted. It was the rising or falling of many in Israel. Many rose up in resistance, and sin quenched the Holy Ghost - and where are they? A desolation has come over some of their churches through taking wrong grounds on this question.
But let me say again: if any person allows himself to pursue any branch of business which is a great evil to society, he is guilty of the sin here spoken of. Suppose he prides himself on his intention to make a good use of his money; suppose a pirate were to plead that he was going to give his money to the Bible Society, would that mitigate his crime? No indeed. There was a rich man in my country, who professed to be converted, made up his mind as he said at the time, to give up all that he had to the Lord. I saw nothing of him for a time, but after some years he called at our house, and we had some conversation. I found he had left his former place of residence, and was removing to another part of the country. I asked him where he was going to, and he replied that he "was going West, in fact, he was going to St. Louis. He had failed in business." "Failed in business?" I exclaimed, "How is that?" It turned out that he had been speculating in the provision line in order, as he said, to get money to send out evangelists. In order to do this, he bought up all the provisions along a certain road, put a high price upon them, and thus raised money from the poor along this great thoroughfare. He had, according to his notions, been speculating for God. I asked him what business he had doing such a thing as that; and informed him that I was not the least surprised that he had failed. Did God want him to punish the poor in order that he might spread the gospel? No, indeed.
Again, there is the liquor trade. There are may persons who will resist light on this subject, and talk just as men who are determined not to forsake a business which they know is an abomination to the world and a curse to society. Yes! If all the tears could be collected together which this business has caused to be shed, they would make enough, perhaps, for them to swim in. It has broken hearts, ruined families, dethroned reason, desolated firesides - everything is laid waste. All this, and more than this, has resulted from the sale of these deadly drinks. some say it is necessary. For the sake of argument I will admit this, in certain instances; but mark, is it not a fact assumed and believed that it will be abused? - that vastly more will be abused than is really needed? - and is not the traffic, therefore, undesirable at all? Suppose no more were used than the comparatively small quantity which is actually necessary - suppose it were not abused, and that there was no probability that it would be abused, how many liquor dealers, think you, would there be in London? How many of them would think of living by the business if they presumed no more than is necessary would be used? Now it is the assumption that it will be abused that renders it so desirable an object of traffic. Every man engaged in it presumes this, or he would not do so. Who, then, can pursue such a trade as this, and enjoy communion with the Holy Ghost at the same time.?
Time was when good men used it because they thought they needed it; but now the frightful extent of its awful ruin has been shown. Drinking, and slavery, and everything of the kind might go on, without its wickedness being dreamt of; but when light is poured upon the subject, and men still refuse to see, it is utterly inexcusable.
It is a remarkable fact, that those who have resisted this reformation - ministers who have refused to yield after they have been shown the sinfulness of their position - it is astonishing to see how they have withered; this has been particularly manifest in my country amongst those who have continued to truckle to the slave power, after seeing the sinfulness of the traffic. The frown of God has been upon them as manifestly as it could be; they have quenched the Spirit. It would be impossible to calculate the good which has been effected where holy men of God in the ministry have taken the lead in these reforms.
There are multitudes of things in business - modes of doing business - by which the Spirit of God is grieved for instance, when the error is seen, and yet the will is allowed to struggle with the Spirit of God. Many men are uneasy and restless from resistance to the Spirit of God in such matters; there is some want of candour, and consequently there is a fetter upon their spirit - there is a strife, an agonizing in their soul - they know there is something wrong - they have not the joy and peace belonging to a Christian; - the fact is, they are engaged in a struggle with their Maker - quenching and grieving his Spirit in the presentation of the truth on some question which has come before them. Liquor dealers, and all who use those drinks, are in danger of falling into this state.
I would not apply my remarks so generally in this country as in America, because public opinion is not so far advanced here as it is there; I would not, therefore, assert that none of you who use these drinks enjoy communion with God. Even Newton, Whitfield, and the Countess of Huntingdon were slaveholders; but were they now alive would they be slaveholders? No, indeed! God is on the way to reform mankind on these points; that state of the world is coming right square up to them. God is turning the attention both of the church and the world to these great evils. Light is blazing forth on every hand and now will anyone pretend to say that Whitfield, or Lady Huntingdon, would be slaveholders if they were alive now?
Now, who does not see that it is the duty of every Christian in the world to take up whatever self-denial these reforms may involve? I have known multitudes of men who have turned their liquors into the street; and who, when urged to dispose of it for chemical purposes, have replied - "No, we will touch not, taste not, handle not the unclean thing."
When the evils resulting are so great, and there is no mode of counteracting them but by taking off their hands - let me say that all jealousy, envyings, and party feeling, are so many ways of quenching and grieving the Spirit of God. I have seen the piety of churches decline rapidly and fearfully from this cause in great cities, and yet they could not make it out; whereas if you question them individually, you will find numbers of them in such an attitude towards one another, that the Holy Spirit, who loves them both, must, in some measure, withdraw his influence.
Who, in this age of the world, thinks to preach against gluttony? Yet it is one of the commonest forms of sin. An individual once confessed to me that he had for years been unable to attend properly to his business in consequence of indulging in too hearty a dinner; but that during the whole of that time he had never once heard gluttony preached against, or condemned from the pulpit as sinful. Now I suppose it may perhaps be different in this country; but I think that a great deal needs everywhere to be done, whatever may already have been said, even to Christian people, in the subject of excessive eating.
The same may be said of drinking and other evil indulgences, such as the use of tobacco in its various forms. How few like to look at this in the proper light. They surely cannot plead that they smoke, snuff, or chew to the glory of God. In some few diseases, somewhere about one in five thousand, tobacco may be used with benefit. If professors of religion allow themselves in such self-indulgent habits, how can they expect to enjoy communion with God? Is it not unreasonable to persons to use such articles, wasting God's money for them, and rendering themselves even odious? I was astonished the other day to fall in with a minister, whose hands, and the entrances to whose pockets, were considerably besmeared with snuff. He talked of religion as if he never thought of this; but most men know that all such habits are contrary to the duty of the Christian. I have known some who when told that such were wrong, would get up and leave the house - they were unwilling to be shown the real nature and tendency of these things, but if they are unwilling at least to ascertain by honest investigation, whether such things are right or wrong, they must assuredly quench the Spirit. There is no way in which we can keep a clear medium open between our hearts and God without weighing all our habits in the balances of the Bible. If we would have the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, and so on, we must ever be wide awake to listen to reproof, and honestly apply every principle of the gospel to all our life, and to everything we do.
I used tobacco once myself, even for sometime after I was converted. A brother conversed with me on the subject. I had supposed it beneficial to me for certain reason. "Brother," he said to me, "do you think now that it is right?" I reflected for a moment. He made a suggestion or two on the subject. At length, I put my hand into my pocket, and got out my box, which I had just filled. "There," said I, "take that." I saw him some years after, but I had not resumed the use of it, and have never felt inclined to do so since. I do not speak boastingly, but I have become quite afraid of doing anything which would tend to quench the Spirit. I have always tried to do this; if aught gets between my soul and God, I have been in the habit of saying, "O Lord, tell me what is the matter! What am I doing? What stands in the way?" We should act in such a way as if Jesus saw and was with us, just as he saw and was with the disciples. Let that be the rule. Let no man do or say anything of what Jesus might say. "I am sorry to see you doing or omitting to do so and so - engaged in such and such a business." Let your proceedings be of such a nature that you can say, "O Lord, art thou sorry to see me do this? Does it grieve thee? Does thine heart approve of my doing it?"
Now, do you for one moment suppose that a slaveholder, for instance, could do this, and go away supposing that God would have him continue his atrocious traffic? And do you believe that men engaged in business of other kinds, which are injurious to society - the liquor trade, for instance - can go and say, "Lord, is this for thy glory? Wilt thou approve, and add thy blessing?" Can they say, "Help me, O Lord, to sell as much liquor today as I can - to throw out as much alcohol in all the forms in which I can get people to buy it?" Can they pray so? No man has any right to engage in any business on which he cannot ask the blessing of God. Who would think, in these days, of going to pray in that way? Who would think of going to pray that multitudes of evils which now exist may be put away, while they themselves are among the very persons who do these things.
Now, brethren and sisters, you who are, so many of you, strangers to me, that I do not know if there be anyone in this house who is actually guilty of this, but if there be, I wish to warn such a one in love. I ask you, are you doing these things with the idea that you are honouring God? Can you say when you go to your liquor shops, "O God, bless me in this business, help me to do a deal of business, and thereby glorify thee?"
But let me say again: Refusing to receive a brother who calls for self-denial is grieving and quenching the Holy Ghost, refusing to sympathize with Christ in his self-denying exertions to do good to the world. He has led the way by showing what he is willing to do to save mankind. Now those who hold back, unwilling to unite with him upon the same principles on which he acted, resist and grieve the Spirit.
Not long since an individual was talking to his pastor about the propriety of setting an example to his flock by abstaining himself if only for the sake of others. But he said, "Their abuse of it was no reason for his abstinence. They abused many other things as well as that." Now, was this the principle on which Paul acted? No indeed, he was ready to give up meat "as long as the world lasted." On the same principle Christ might have said he did not see why he should suffer because mankind had abused the government of the Almighty in making a bad use of their moral agency. Christ acted upon the principle of saving those who had no excuse for their sins - not the unfortunate, but the wicked. Thus it is that missionaries and other Christians deny themselves so that when the good to them is less than the evil to others, they instantly come out and forego their own good because it is so much less than the evil which might result to others. But when we take such astounding ground as in the case of the said minister, what can we expect but darkness of mind and fruitlessness of life? In order to have the Spirit of God, we must yield to him, and if we do not do this - if we do not go from one degree of self-denial to another - we resist the Spirit who is trying to lead us up to a higher ground than we have hitherto occupied. The church has never been on a ground so high as to give herself entirely up to reform the world; but he is pressing her up and up. Her business, therefore, is to prepare herself to go the whole length of reforming herself, and those around her, and prepare for any degree of self-denial that may be required in order to accomplish this. But if anyone shall insist upon not giving up this and that, although he knows that the good to be obtained, and the evil to be shunned will far outweigh all that can be gained from indulgence - what would become of the church and the world should they imitate him?
Suppose, for instance, we admit that alcoholic drinks are, in some cases, useful? Who believes that the use of them is so great a good as the evil of their abuse? The same cannot be said of meat and drink seeing that they are necessaries of life, and cannot be done without. Things indispensable to life cannot be done without - we are not called upon, therefore, under any circumstances, to give them up. But there are drinks and other things which are working a great injury to society, and which it has been demonstrated again and again, may safely be dispensed with - all will admit that the injury which results to mankind bears no comparison to the doubtful benefit which is said to be derived by us individually - it is clear, therefore, that we ought to give them up. What was the principle on which Christ acted? Why, he said, because of my relation and character, it is better that there should be this suffering on my part, than that the human family should suffer eternal death!
If the suffering he endured had been greater than that which he prevented, the course he adopted would have been neither wise nor benevolent. He gained for the universe an unspeakable benefit, and prevented an inconceivable injury. His rule should be our guide. Self-denial does us good. Shall we offer the Lord only that which costs us nothing? Shall we say that while a thing is a good to us we cannot give it up? Why not? If your so doing will avoid a greater evil, and procure a greater good, you are bound to give it up, if you are bound to be benevolent at all. If you will not sacrifice a small good to yourself for the sake of a great good to others, what kind of a Christian must you be? You go in direct opposition to the Spirit of Christ and of the Apostles. Now if a man speculates about his indulgences - if he "does not see why he should give up" this or that, and the other thing - who can expect him to have a face so clear as to look up to God and say, "Thou knowest, O Lord, that I would rather die than scatter evils thus around me by anything I should do!" The fact is, beloved, there is a world to be said on this subject. Now who does not see that shuffling and conniving like this is grieving the Spirit?
Some of you are aware of the great and powerful revivals which swept through America, and that when the slavery question came up, the ministers of the North and South were united in one great ecclesiastical connection; they cried out in many quarters, that we should not disturb this connection. The North poured down the truth upon the South, and even the Northern ministers sometimes would not allow notices of anti-slavery meetings to be announced from their pulpits - not even anti-slavery prayer-meetings - but treated the matter just as many ministers in this country do the temperance question. Neither would they speak out and denounce the sin of slavery. The result was, the blight of the Almighty came upon the churches, revivals disappeared, the churches were grieved, the Spirit was grieved! The very same course was pursued over there with regard to temperance; and here let me say, if I am not mistaken, you have got some solemn lessons to learn on this subject in England. I would that all the ministers of England were here tonight! But some of them will not hear us on the subject; they are unwilling to broach it, or to name it broached by the churches! What will become of them and their churches? We shall see! If their churches must be shut to these subjects - if this question is to be resisted - mark me! if you do not experience a similar suffering to that which afflicted the American churches. There are many doleful tales to tell on that subject. But these things must be put away; the chains of the slaves must be snapped asunder; intemperance must be swept away; God will have it so. The cars are coming! The train approaches! Off the track! Off the track!
Let no man trifle with God on these subjects. These great evils must be rolled off from the face of society. The poor must no longer be countenanced in running to the tippling houses; they must be reasoned with, and retreated. Consider! You do not need it. You are better without it. Do not go!
I wish I had time to tell you some affecting instances of Christians going to the ditch, taking the drunken men out, treating them kindly, - giving the whole force of the influence and example against these drinks. How many tears have thus been wiped away! How many hearths have thus been surrounded with joyous smiles where desolation once prevailed? There is much to be done; do not resist these movements. Do not stand in the way lest you grieve the Spirit of God. I would not, however, deal in indiscriminate condemnation. Time was when there was as much darkness in America on this subject as there is here. I would say to all, "Be willing to practice what you know, and remain open to further conviction." Go for the whole. Say, "I will wash my hands in innocency, then will I compass thine altars, O Lord." I had much more to say on this head, did time permit; but I must now just notice some of the consequences.
First, Great blindness of mind. You are probably aware that such has been the blindness of some men, that they have undertaken from the Bible to prove that slavery is a Divine institution, so benighted have they become! You do not need, in England, to be told that this is gross darkness; and it began in their shutting their eyes to the truth, which begat a coldness of mind and hardness of heart; their whole being was brought under dominion of their lusts; they were chained and bound fast in the fetters of their sin; they are waxing worse and worse - becoming more and more confirmed in sins which I have not time to particularize.
You can all, from the rapid outline I have presented, that instead of at once getting a universal reformation - all classes denying themselves, setting an example, and the church taking the lead, what are they doing? They are falling back - shrinking from their work. There is great wreck of ministerial character, oftentimes, where there is not a thorough walk right up to the work. There cannot be much prevailing prayer where there is so much quenching the Spirit, so few of the fruits of the Spirit, these self-indulgent habits and God- dishonouring practices.
You can see from the remarks I have made that many of you are tempting God by praying for the Spirit while, at the same time, you are quenching. There is great danger of the Spirit leaving you. Some years back a minister about forty years of age came to me after service and said, "Brother Finney, I am in a terrible state of mind. I must abandon the ministry. When at the Theological Seminary, I took the wrong side in a discussion; but having committed myself, I here defended my position contrary to my convictions. I then soon lost the spirit of prayer, and was almost afraid to enter the ministry. The curse of God has been on me ever since. I have been many years in the ministry, yet I do not know that I have been instrumental in the conversion of a single soul. What shall I do? My fruitless vine is dry and withered!"
He told me many more things of a similar character; but the case was not new to me. I have seen instances of individuals having taken the wrong side, and of God holding them up as a warning to others, lest they fall under the same condemnation.
And now, let me ask you, Are you prepared to go the full length of doing what you think Christ, should you meet him, would ask you to do? If you are not prepared to do this, you are resisting the Spirit - you are quenching the Holy Ghost. Are you holding back? What are you doing? Will you live at this "poor, dying rate," or be filled with the Spirit? If so, do not quench the Spirit; resist and grieve him no longer; but give up all your life, heart, and soul, relying upon him; the fruits of the Spirit will abound in you, and if you do this, those around you will take knowledge of you, if indeed you exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of Christ.