Can Change the World Again.
Knowing and Loving God.
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REPUBLISHED BY THE EDITOR.
RICHARD FRIEDRICH OF ALETHEA IN HEART MINISTRIES,
1350 PARKWAY DR. NE 303
GRAND RAPIDS, MI 49525 USA.
Finney, Charles, 1792-1875.
Knowing and Loving God.
Republication of selections of
The oberlin Evangelist,
First Alethea In Heart edition published in 2001.
Reproduced from The Oberlin Evangelist without altering anything.
Copyright c 2001
Richard Max Friedrich
All Rights Reserved
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
KNOWING AND LOVING GOD.
The Rev. Charles G. Finney
Author of "Lectures on Revivals."
1. ON BECOMING ACQUAINTED WITH GOD.
2. THE CHRISTIAN'S RULE OF LIFE.
3. OWING GOD.
4. PLEASING GOD.
6. THE TREASURE AND THE PEARL.
7. THE ONE THING NEEDFUL.
8. ON LOVING GOD.
9. LIVING TO PLEASE GOD.
10. JOY IN GOD.
ON LEAVING ONE'S FIRST LOVE.
On Becoming Acquainted With God.
July 22, 1846
"Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee." Job 22:21.
The speaker here addresses Job and exhorts him to become acquainted with God. The text therefore naturally leads us to enquire,
I. What is implied in being acquainted with God.
II. What are the conditions on which we may become thus acquainted.
III. What are its consequences.
I. The term acquaintance means something more than the common degree of knowledge of an individual's character. You often hear it remarked, "I cannot say that I am acquainted with him; I barely know him." Acquaintance, therefore, implies a more extensive and thorough knowledge.
The degree of our acquaintance with any individual will depend much upon our means of knowledge. Our means of knowing him may be only hearsay. This can never give us a real acquaintance with him. We might have a certain knowledge of some persons from reading their history. One might know much of Washington by reading all the published histories of him; but this would not be the kind of knowledge usually called acquaintance. It is plain that there is a much higher and more perfect kind of knowledge than this. A man who should only read a history of the battle of Waterloo would not get such a knowledge of it as one might by being in the scene itself. The latter might be in circumstances to know all about it.
We may also have some knowledge of others by their works. We may examine what they have done or have written. Thus we may know much of God from His works. His works of creation reveal Him; the course of His providence also; and the pages of His word. All these conspire to reveal to us God. But after all, none of these amount to as much as the text seems to imply in being acquainted with God.
We may also have knowledge of another's character arising from familiar, protracted, personal intercourse. If this comprise also a deep sympathy with his plans and purposes, it gives us the best possible opportunities for becoming thoroughly acquainted. And this is what is usually meant by acquaintance. When you ask me if I am acquainted with a particular individual, you want to know if I understand his character thoroughly. This is always understood to be the meaning of the language.
Thus it is often said"I am too well acquainted with such a man to believe that he has done a mean action, or that he can do one." We can, any of us doubtless, say of some persons, "I am so well acquainted with him that I cannot easily believe anything bad of him;" and of others we could say"I cannot believe anything good of themcertainly except on very strong evidence." Such is the result of real acquaintance.
So in the case alluded to in our text. The speaker assumes that Job knows something about God; but urges him to know morevery much more. He does not I think assume that Job is now a good man. He probably regarded him as self-deceived, and hence urges him to acquaint himself really with God.
II. What are the conditions of being thus acquainted with God?
The two first conditions that I shall name are always presupposed, and need no comment. They are
1. The requisite powers of intelligent, moral agency.
2. Light; that is the means of knowledge or instruction. But,
3. It is also an essential condition that we lay aside prejudice. Prejudice is pre-judgment, and such a pre-judgment as shuts out conflicting evidence. Now we shall never know God till we lay this aside. Indeed we never can depend on having a correct knowledge of any subject, or of any person's character unless we lay aside all prejudice respecting that person or character, and hold our minds entirely open to all the truth which it may be possible for us to attain. Nothing can be more certain, nothing need be more obvious than this.
Many persons seem to overlook the fact that men are ever prejudiced against God. They could not possibly make a grater mistake than this. In fact, there is more prejudice against God than against all other beings in the universe. Men are so prejudiced against God that they will not form any right views of His character. I do not mean by this that their feelings are violently hostile against God, so that they are conscious of active hatred at all times; this is not necessary to the existence of prejudice, nor is this as some suppose implied in prejudice. It is rather a fruit of strong prejudice than a part of it, or a cause of it.
Prejudice, as already shown, is a shutting of the mind against evidence. It supposes the mind to be made up, or at least to be strongly inclined to a chosen opinionthat it does not lie open to conflicting light and evidence.
Now it is remarkable to see how strong this prejudice against God often becomes. Of course it demands a great knowledge of human nature and much sound philosophy to know how to subvert and remove this prejudice against God. I do not mean to imply that it can ever be removed without the Spirit of God; but since human means must be employed, it is essential that they be wisely chosen and applied.
The grand secret of ministerial usefulness lies in understanding these prejudices and in knowing how to subvert them. No man can hope to be useful in converting sinners without this skill. He can do nothing to purpose unless he assumes that this prejudice exists and sets himself to resist and subdue it.
All sinners have this prejudice against God; else they would at once learn His character and love it. There is no intrinsic difficulty in knowing God. He has manifested himself abundantly, and now it only remains that we open our eyes candidly, and throw open our hearts to embrace all that is good, and every sinner might become acquainted with God at onceto the everlasting peace and blessedness of his soul.
4. Another indispensable condition is that we give up all self-will on every subject.
Until one is prepared to give up all self-will on every subject, he certainly cannot become acquainted with God. How can he know God unless his heart comes into sympathy with God, and enters thoroughly and heartily into His character and plans? Now this sympathy of the soul with God can never exist till we give up our self-will on all points. For self-will is always hostile to God's will. God says to every one of His creatures"Give me you heart," or which is the same thing, "Yield up your will to Mine." Self-will resists and rebels, and hence can have no sympathy with God; and consequently cannot really become acquainted with Him. Nothing can be real acquaintance with God which falls short of entering into His experience, and of tasting the deep joys of His benevolent heart. Plainly, for this purpose, self-will must be brought under.
5. We must be willing to know God as he is. Men generally overlook that fact that they are unwilling to know God as He isa fact, too important surely to be overlooked! They are ready enough to form some conceptions of God; but in this they seek to form such as will please themselvesnot such as are just and according to truth.
Just look at the idol gods which men have framed for themselves; some in the state of eternal inaction; some are monsters and patrons of vice; some are mean and all are wicked. Now are these the legitimate conceptions of God, framed by the enlightened human mind? Infinitely far from it. No man can read the records of idolatry without seeing that men have made themselves believe in just such gods as please themselves.
Or as another example of this truth, look at the god of the Universalists; have they come to the Bible to learn God as He is there revealed? So far is this from being true that they find many things in the Bible which they must construe and wrest from their obvious meaning to suit themselves, or they will say"God is worse than the devil?" They come to the Bible, not to find its meaning, but to make it.
6. Another condition of becoming acquainted with God is a really honest desire to become acquainted with Him thoroughly.
Did you never see persons reluctant to become acquainted with each other? I opened a book a few days since and I was struck with the first remark I saw. I thought it remarkably just"Never introduce persons to each other till you see that it will be agreeable to both parties to be introduced."
I have sometimes been introduced to persons who were any thing but pleased to be introduced to me. In various situationsperhaps when traveling, I have been introduced to wicked men who looked and seemed as if an electric stream was coursing up and down their bodiesthey were so evidently troubled and uneasy in their condition.
Somewhat so of wicked men in relation to God. They do not like to be introduced to Him. They know too well that they have reason to be afraid of Him. If you knew you had injured a man, you would not wish to know any more about him than you could well help. You would not choose to come any nearer to him. Thus sinners know they do not wish to meet God and have near personal interviews with Him. They do not want to become personally acquainted with God.
Right over against this, we sometimes feel exceedingly anxious to become acquainted with particular individuals. I have heard of persons whom I would go to Europe to see, and should not shrink from the cost and toil of a voyage across the Atlantic for this purpose. I recollect especially that soon after my conversion there was one man whom I exceedingly desired to see and know. I wanted to lay open my whole heart to him and seek his counsel and aid in my religious course. My heart burned with desire to make his acquaintance.
Thus we must have an ardent, burning thirst for the knowledge of God, as a condition of attaining it. We must not be satisfied with an outward, distant knowledge of God; but must long to know Him as thoroughly as is possible for mortals in the flesh. When we come into this state we shall begin to know God indeed, and not before.
Another condition is the giving up of all selfishness and of the self-seeking spirit. This is most essential to success. All selfish ends must be abandoned. If we are bent on sustaining our own interests, we certainly cannot know God.
I have recently been very much struck with hearing an individual relate his own Christian experience. His case showed how truth seemed crowding its way into his mind, and how time after time its entrance was resisted and prevented by his selfishness. It seemed for a long time impossible for him to know God, and the reason was nothing else than thisselfishness was deeply rooted in his heart, and while there, the truth concerning God could get no admission. Sometimes, he came almost up to the very gate which, once opened, would introduce him to God; then his bounding heart would say, "Now I shall know God, and I shall be a great mana distinguished Christian"and lo, down he goes againfarther from God than ever. So time after time he was thrown all aback by such developments of selfishness and self-seeking.
Now it is a matter of the greatest importance especially for ministers, to philosophize justly on this subject, and to trace all events of this sort to their legitimate causes. The subject is deep and requires profound and searching investigation.
Selfishness takes on so many forms and is so subtle that many persons entirely fail to detect its workings. Hence, impeded by this fatal hindrancethey are never able to come to the knowledge of God.
Again, self-knowledge is indispensable. There is such a thing as self-penetration. This thing must exist in some good degree, or no man can know God thoroughly. Without possessing self-knowledge, one may set about to find God, but with all his searching he will fail because he does not know himself. He will be likely to suppose that his own heart is in a state acceptable to God and adapted to search out God, and yet in this be utterly mistaken. Hence he can get, at the utmost, only little fragments of divine knowledge.
I said that the mind must have a disposition to know God. This must be an intense dispositionelse it will not overcome the obstacles. The Bible requires men to agonize for spiritual blessingsto search, as for hid treasures. The mind must set itself to seek God with a most intense and agonizing earnestness.
It would be easy to show that this is not an arbitrary fact, but is thoroughly philosophical.
It is also fully scriptural. God has said"Then shall ye seek and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart." This is a state of mind well expressed by Paul when he said, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ."
Now everyone who would become acquainted with God must do thus. He must press on most earnestly after a full and perfect knowledge of God. The text enjoins upon us to get this knowledge of God. for nothing less then this intimate and special knowledge of God is meant by acquaintance. It is such a knowledge as will give peace of mind and that blessedness which is the birthright of God's children.
Another thing implied is confidence in God. Many suppose that if they have this confidence, they have already that acquaintance with God of which the text speaks. But this does not follow of course. Persons may have some degree of confidence in God for a long time without arriving at a thorough personal acquaintance with God. Confidence is an indispensable condition of this acquaintance, for many reasons. Unless men have confidence, they will not try God so as to become acquainted with Him. Having such confidence they get hold of some promise and try Him. Did you never do this? When oppressed with some want have you remembered that God has said"Bring ye all the tithes into my store-house and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing." Now this is the way to know God.
Another condition of becoming thoroughly acquainted with God is attaining that experience which results from thorough confidence in God. The Lord had given us certain promises and the condition of their fulfilment is that we really believe them. If we do this, we shall experience their fulfilment. Let a man in circumstances of extreme trial throw himself upon the promise of God; he will find God faithful. Then he will learn something new and precious about God.
Very much of our trials and temptations here are designed to work out for us this experience of God's power, presence and willingness to bless. Thus we come to learn many things in God's character. For example, God has promised that on certain conditions He will reveal Himself to our souls. If we fulfill the conditions He will fulfill the promise, and we shall learn by our experience that God hears prayer. Such knowledge is of immense value in bringing us to become acquainted with God.
Another condition is that we have confidence to pass through trials. Without this we shall surely fail under trial; we shall let go our confidence in God and learn nothing by our trials but our own weakness. Trials often work out the speedy ruin of men because they learn by them only to distrust God; they stagger through unbelief and fall sadly from their steadfastness; they shrink from meeting the conditions and then throw the blame on God for not fulfilling them. Perhaps they say"I did trust in God, and I am overcome after all." But that is a lie. There can be no greater lie than that. The Bible shows that there never was and never can be such a case as a man's really trusting God and yet failing because God does not fulfill His word. With real faith, you might walk through the fiery furnace and not be singed in its fires. Those three holy men believed. "Our God," say they, "whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king." So if Daniel had lost his faith, the lions would have eaten him up before he had fallen to the bottom of their den. Daniel knew where he was, and in whom he had believed. He knew his danger well, and his refuge too. Hence when thrown into this den, he was calm as if he had been safely sitting in the royal palace.
But could his accusers stand where he stood and pass unscathed through such trials as his? No! They had no faithno God for their refuge.
Another condition is that God should make special manifestations of Himself to the soul. God has promised thus to manifest Himself on certain conditions. By performing these conditions, we may obtain those manifestations; God will reveal Himself personally, and will show us great and wondrous thing of Himself. This is a most precious, blessed truth, and in view of it, we may well be exhorted to acquaint ourselves with God. Even Job in that dark dispensation without a letter of written revelation might be exhorted thus to acquaint himself with his Maker.
Still another condition is intimacy of communion with God. I may live for a long time in the same neighborhood or house with a man and yet never become acquainted with him. I may know his name and many things about him, and yet never become thoroughly acquainted with him. For real acquaintance, it is essential that we have intimate communion. Some men may repel us from such communion however much we desire it; so that we cannot become really acquainted with them.
But God is always ready to hold communion with us. No fault, or reserve on His part can ever prevent our gaining acquaintance with Him. Men may shut us out of their company, or at least from their sympathies; but God has no such repulsiveness about Him. He is so meek and lowly that He is not above communing with a child even in the humblest condition possible on earth. Though He be the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, He yet condescends with infinite grace to dwell with the humble and contrite spirit. He knows nothing about the mere earthly distinction of the noble and the low; all are alike infinitely below Him. The only distinction recognized before Him is that between the proud and the humble. To the latter, He is ever open and most easy of access.
The thing now which we all need in order to become acquainted with God is an intimate personal communion. In order to know any person thoroughly we need to get into his heart. So you often express yourself. You say of a man, now I have got into his heartnow I really know him and feel myself acquainted with him. I see him through.
So with God. You need such an intimate communion with Him that you really enter into His deepest sympathies and know His real heart. Most blessed knowledge!
Having shown what is meant and what is implied in being acquainted with God, I come now to speak,
III. Of the consequences of our acquainting ourselves with God.
Under this head I can only give an outline of the principal points. I can do no more than to mention several blessings that will certainly accrue to those who acquaint themselves with God.
1. Peace of mind. Job was at this time in great trouble of mind. His three friends were anxious that God should pass before him in such a manner that he could not fail of apprehending God's true character. They justly supposed that peace of mind would be the natural result of his becoming truly acquainted with God.
Peace of mind always does and always must result from the harmonious and right action of all the powers of the mind. When we feel as God feelslive as He lives; and when our whole souls harmonize with His soul in the spirit and developments of benevolence, then we cannot possibly fail of having perfect peace of mind.
Peace of mind stands opposed to all anxiety, and must result from the mind's finding in God all that itself needs. Let all the demands of its being be entirely met, and it can ask no more. Let it be distinctly seen and realized that these demands of our being are met in God, and peace of mind must follow.
Now it is a most blessed truth that when the restless mind of man comes to be acquainted with God, it finds in Him everything it can need. Every want is fully and infinitely well supplied. When the mind realizes this, as it will when it comes to know God, it settles down into a state of calm repose in God which no restless anxieties can ever disturb.
One of the demands of our being is that others shall have the demands of their being met; in other words, that we shall have not our own wants only supplied, but shall know that the whole universe also have their wants supplied in God. In order to our perfect peace, we need to see that all other beings have in God all they can ask or wish; that no want can possibly exist which does not find its adequate supply in the great Father of all. Now as the soul comes to know God more and more, it sees with increasing clearness and certainty that God's goodness, wisdom, justice and power are just what they should be to secure the highest possible degree of happiness and blessedness to the whole sentient universe, so that if misery exists it must always be the creature's own fault.
When we come to understand this thoroughly and to see that God's providence is perfect and reaches to all eventsmarks the falling of the sparrow and counts the hairs on our head; when we see that God cannot fail of being infinitely faithful, kind and wisethat He cannot possibly mistake in anything whatever; when these truths become fully settled in our mind and we rest on them as upon changeless, eternal realities, then all is peace. It cannot be otherwise.
But this state of mind toward God never can exist until we get more knowledge of Him than mere hearsay. We must have personal experience and personal acquaintance in respect to God.
Paul's words were full of meaning when he said"I know in whom I have believed." Did you ever consider how much he meant in these words? Surely much more than many others would mean by the same language. It should be considered that Paul had been caught up to the third heavenshad heard unutterable thingshad seen the Lord Jesus Christ Himselfhad passed through many scenes of sore and various trialsand in all had enjoyed varied and manifold experience of God and of Christ.
Hence this language from him must have been full of meaning. "I know Him"says he"I know Him;" I have seen HimI have had a long and precious experience of His lovingkindness and faithfulness; I know Him; and if all the devils in hell should tell me that Christ would not keep me, I know He would.
So we often see Christians who seem to know Christ so well that temptations seem to have lost their power upon their hearts. Let the temptation be ever so subtle, or so fierce, they do not slide or quake. They mildly say, I know Him whom I have believed and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.
Another good accruing to those who acquaint themselves with God is that their faith becomes confirmed. As they become acquainted with God they find He bears acquaintance. The more they see of Him, the more their confidence in His character rises.
Now in order to be at peace and to stand evermore in the evil day, Christians need to have their faith confirmed. They need to be assured that Jehovah is their friend, and to have such an acquaintance with Him as shall make this truth a substantial reality.
So we sometimes come to have confidence in each other, when we become intimately acquainted, and this acquaintance reveals only substantial excellencies of character. When really worthy individuals are introduced to us, the more we become acquainted with them, the more we trust them. Of such we saythey bear acquaintance well. Of others we say the oppositethey do not bear acquaintance well. The more we know of them, the less we trust them. The former class are fast friends. We can confide in them under all possible circumstances.
Now God is a being who bears acquaintance perfectly. The more we shall know of Him, the more clearly we shall see that in Him there is no frailtyno infirmityno defect.
Now I am well aware that in all Christian communities this is admitted in theory, but I also know that it is not held in fact. It is one thing to admit it in theory, and quite another thing for the heart to rest in it as a living, abiding reality. It is quite another thing for the mind to become so acquainted with God so as to triumph in Him under all possible circumstances.
Another result is confirmed love. The Bible speaks of our "being root and grounded in love." There is a great deal of meaning in this expression. It develops most clearly the great truth that love is the basis of the Christian's character. In love it rests as its foundation, or to change the figurein love it takes root and grows.
But of how few can this be said! The more I become acquainted with Christians, the more I am struck with their weakness in love. Their religion is not rooted and grounded in love. Many professed Christians are, to say the least, much of their time away from the spirit of love. There is a want of that universal love to God and man which gives to religion an unction, and makes it grateful both to God and man. If they had this unction of love at their first conversion, they seem to lose it and become legal. Then some of the forms of religious duty remain and some of the forms of humanity and human sympathy; but the spirit of genuine love is lacking. It is infinitely important to be rooted and grounded in love. The more you become acquainted with God, the more you will see that love is the only principle worthy of being regarded as the rule of life. This only is living like God, and this only is the spirit and life of real excellence.
Another result of becoming acquainted with God is a disposition to obey God in all our life; a disposition to conform the whole life to God's will. It is a great thing to obey God under all circumstances, and a great thing to have one's mind thoroughly settled in this supreme law of action.
This will result from becoming really acquainted with God. It will become more and more easy and natural as the mind becomes more and more acquainted with God; for the mind becomes thus more and more confiding, and if it cannot see, it will still assume that God is and must be wise.
Another result of becoming acquainted with God is fruitfulness. The Bible represents that our Father is glorified when we bear much fruit. But multitudes of professed Christians are remarkable for nothing so much as for their barrenness in the fruits of piety. With them, it seems to be a perpetual drought. They seem like Mount Gilboa on which no dew or rain descend. Of course, no fruits are borne to the praise of God. Of earthly seasons some are fruitful and some are barren; but with these professed Christians, all seasons and months are alike barren. This must be ascribed to their want of personal acquaintance with God. It would not be possible for them to be acquainted with God, and yet be so barren.
Another result would be moral courage. Unbelief is always the secret of moral cowardice. Persons who have not much faith are forever stumbling on the point of obeying God. They dare not trust God to take care of them in the path of straight forward obedience. They dare not face public sentimentas if they feared it would ruin them, despite of the promises of God in their behalf. They are afraid of the censures of the church or of the world, their faith in God being so weak, and their apprehensions of God being so dim that they practically fear man more than God. Hence they cringe, shuffle, dodge, evade, shrink away from self-denying duty, afraid to take a simple-minded honest course, and trust God to bear them safely, nay triumphantly through.
Faith always cures this state of mind. It strikes at once at its very root.
See what a remarkable illustration of this we have in the case of the apostles. Before the Spirit of God was shed down upon them, they were timid. Peter was afraid of a servant girl, and they all forsook their Master and fled before a small band of armed men. They had nothing more at best than the courage of children. They needed a mighty change, and God provided means to produce it.
Christ had told them it was necessary that He should go away and that He should send the Comforter to teach them the (divine) things of Christ. He did so. He went up Himself to heaven, and thence sent down the Comforter upon them. Then, O how changed! How full of moral courage! At once they become moral heroes. No dangers can daunt them. The same men who quailed before power and authority but a few days before are now fearless. The awful Sanhedrim no longer inspires terror. "We ought," say they, "to obey God rather than men." "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye."
Now this is always the result of becoming acquainted with God. Where you see a professor of religion who is a moral coward, you see one who does not know much about God.
I have been struck with this in seeing the moral cowardice of many ministers. I think I have seen not a few ministers more afraid of the Presbytery than a Roman Catholic would be of the Pope. Such men I have seen whose first and last question pending a case of duty, iswhat will my Presbytery think of me? O, how disgracefulhow dishonoring to the Christian namethat a minister of the gospel should think so! O, were they only once filled with the Spirit of God, it would put another soul within them. Before the apostles were filled with the Spirit they might have quailed before the Sanhedrim; but afterwards, the Sanhedrimnot theywere confounded. The Sanhedrim were confounded with the boldness of those unlearned menfishermen and publicans of Galilee. O to be afraid of menthey are the last things in the universe to be afraid of! As if God were not infinitely greater and mightier than men! Surely those who quail before men rather than before God must be very far from any just acquaintance with Him.
Another result of knowing God will be great searching of heart.
I have often been struck to see how it happens that many persons under the influence of a false philosophy, have taken a false view of this subject. This is a point which it seems to me of great importance that we should understand correctly.
Take the case of Isaiah as given in chap. 6, when God made fresh and most vivid manifestations of His glory before him. He then came to know God more fully by far then ever before; and it searched him through and through. Suddenly he cries out, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips." Job also, when the Almighty came down to talk with him, cried out"I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes."
Now all this class of passages have an important meaning. It is very important that we understand what they do teach and that we avoid ascribing to them a sense which does not belong to them.
In the case of Isaiah, we are not to suppose that he was sinning at the moment when God thus revealed Himself. He did not cry out"Woe is meI am a man of unclean lips"because he was then in rebellion against God. It is by no means either natural or necessary to suppose this. The same may be said of the case of Job, and of all other cases of the same sort. This subject might be understood if persons would take pains to do so. Experience would teach us much, very much about it. How common a thing it is for Christians to stand perfectly confounded when some new views of God's law and character flash upon the soul. They then cry out"I have seen an end of all perfection, for Thy commandment is exceeding broad."
What in such cases is the nature and what the results of this new revelation? Is it this, "I am now sinning; I see as I never did before that my present state is utterly wrong before God?" No; but the mind sees a vastnessa breadth in the law and in God's claims which it had not seen before and sees that more is implied than had been before supposed, in being obedient. And so it will be to all eternity. More and still more will be seen of the breadth and glory of the divine law and character.
Now in order to understand such a case as is that of Isaiah or of Job, we need to consider that we are always inclined to judge our past state and conduct by our present light. I have often in my own experience found that when drawn very near to God, I had such new and enlarged views of scripture passages that I felt sure I had never understood them before, It has really seemed sometimes as if I had never known God before. It was then perfectly natural if I judged all the past by my present views of God and of His law that I should cry outall is rottenness. In such situations I have felt almost irresistibly impelled to do so.
In reference to this state of mind I often think of Mrs. Pres. Edwards. She represents herself as sometimes feeling such an attraction towards the divine character that it really seemed as if she should go right up, body and soul together. On such occasions she was wont to cry out"All my past life is rottenness." Yet this was not because she then saw that her present state of mind was entirely sinful, but she saw a higher standard than she had ever seen before, and comparing her past life with this new and enlarged standard she saw its utter deficiency. If in these states of holy attraction towards God she deemed herself to be actually sinning, the explanation of her mistake is doubtless this, that she estimated her past obligation by her present light.
On this point it should be well considered that our former life is not to be judged by our present light. To do so would be to subvert one of the great principles of God's moral government: viz: that guilt is always to be estimated by existing lightnot by light attained afterwards but not possessed then; not by light enjoyed by other beings yet not by ourselves. Suppose we should go back to the times when all men and all ministers with the rest drank alcohol; and should judge the men of those times by our present light, we should inevitably condemn the whole church and all the good men of that day. On the same principle future generations may look back upon us and condemn us and all other good men who have lived since the times of the apostles; for their standard we hope and presume will be in some respects more elevated than ours, and their light greater on some moral questions. Consequently, if they may judge other men of other ages by their own light they will pass a most sweeping sentence of condemnation upon all past ages of the race. A principle which leads to such results must be radically false.
The nearer a man gets to God, the more clearly he sees that his past life is objectively wrong, although it may have been subjectively right. It seems important to make this distinction which I have now stated. An act may be said to be objectively wrong when it is wrong in itself considered, or in its relations to law; but the same act may be subjectively right, in reference to the state of mind of the subject or agent who puts forth the actbecause with his light he did the best he could do, and his motives are acceptable in the sight of God. Acting according to the best light he has, his acts are subjectively right, and yet in view of the real spirit of the law, they are objectively wrong. Let this distinction be carefully made.
Now when a man becomes more enlightened by revelations from God than he has been, he will look back upon his past life and cry out"What an infinite wretch I have beenhow far my whole life falls short of meeting the spirit of God's pure and perfect law"while perhaps with even all this increased light he does not see that his former intentions were wrong. Subjectively considered, therefore, his heart was right before, but objectively considered, his conduct seems egregiously wrong.
Another result of knowing God will be great humiliation. As men become thoroughly acquainted with God, they will see more and more of His excellence, and of course will realize more and more deeply the infinite wrong of sin against such a God. Hence they will feel an irrepressible inclination to humble themselves before Him, and pour out their souls with great and bitter weeping at His feet. You are aware that such is the result among earthly friends. If you have wronged a good friend of yours, and if your growing acquaintance with him reveals more and more of his excellent qualities, you will see more and more of the cruel wrong of your conduct and will seek opportunities to humble yourself before him and pour out your full confessions as if you never could confess enough.
So with the soul before God. As you remember more and more your past sins, and see yet more of God's goodness, you will love to humble yourself more and more deeply at His feet.
In reading the life of Pres. Edwards, I have been struck with the recurrence of these scenes in his experience. Whenever he was drawn very near to God, his very soul seemed to burst forth in loud weeping and convulsive sobbing, pouring out his soul before God in the deepest humiliation. This was only the natural result of becoming more acquainted with God. In my own experience, I have found that when I have had new views of God I have felt that I must get down infinitely low before Him. Nothing less could satisfy the demands of my own mind.
This must be the natural result of seeing Christ in heaven. Did you never think how, when you get to heaven you will want to spend months in confessing, pouring out your soul in the deepest humiliationas if you never could get low enough, or say enough to magnify His infinite grace, and strip yourself of all glory to give it all to Him? How can our eyes look on the pure and lovely Jesus without being filled with these self-abasing thoughts of ourselves and thoughts of honor and glory to Him?
Another result will be great wrestling with God. As we become acquainted with God, we shall become emboldened to ask of Him great things. We shall then understand what it is to "come with boldness" to a mercy seat. We shall learn that God has a great heart, and is not displeased if we come and wrestle with Him with great and overpowering importunity.
When we have become thoroughly acquainted with God, the mind will fasten upon some great things for His kingdomnot for ourselvesand we shall feel that we are authorized, and invited to come with boldness and with wrestling importunity and say with Jacob"I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me." We know it is Christ with whom we plead, and we feel that we may venture on the most urgent importunity It is to us as if we were pleading before some long tried and proved earthly friend.
Again, there will result a great use of the promises of God.
To one who has no faith, the promises lie in the Bible as unused as if they were never made for use. They are in fact of no more avail to such a person than if they were made for angels and not at all applicable to sinning mortals. But as you become acquainted with God, you see that these promises are given to be used, and you feel that they are indeed your own.
Father Carpenter used often to cry out"Lord, what are the promises good for, unless they are to be kept?" It was with him a living reality that God had given us these exceeding great and precious promises for our use, and that we should keep them bright as it were by constant use, and never let them get rusty. They were given us to live upon and to work upon, and if we mean to live or to work we must use them.
Another result will be great and constant sympathy with God in all His purposes and doings. As we know God more, we shall be charmed more and more with His plans and ways and shall feel ourselves more and more identified with all His interests. This will operate powerfully to transform us into His glorious image.
As another result, we may name, great transparency of character. There will be an openness of soul before Goda continual holding of the heart out for constant inspection, a longing to have God's own eye search us continually. "Let Thine eye search me"we shall say"show me all in me that is displeasing to Thee."
Finally, there will result a full assurance of faith and hope. This cannot but result from becoming thoroughly and personally acquainted with God. Faith will become assurance; for as we come to know more of God, we shall see that He is infinitely worthy of being trusted and believed most perfectly. The assurance therefore is a natural result of our acquaintance with God.
So with hope. The expectation of promised good, like faith, must become strong and assured just in proportion as we thoroughly acquaint ourselves with God. There is no other valid foundation for assured faith and hope.
Whatever men may call these states of mind, and whatever relations they may suppose them to bear to sanctification or to consecration, it is quite certain that they can result only from becoming deeply and personally acquainted with God and from devoting the whole powers of the soul to Him. They naturally result from knowing God in the full and deep sense of personal acquaintance and they can have no other foundation.
1. There is and can be no real comfort without acquaintance with God. The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. They know not what it is to be free from cares and troubles, and how should they? Why should they not be restless, and tossed forever without solid peace for they have not found anything which can satisfy them, and what is to them more distressing still, they never can with all their searching unless they will seek it in God. Traverse the world up and down as they will, they never can find, away from God, the happiness and peace they need.
2. With this subject before you, you may see why the Holy Spirit is called "The Comforter." The name is pertinent because it is His office to reveal God to the mind, and thus comfort the hearts of His people. Who has not been struck to see how, when Jesus had ascended to heaven, the Spirit came and revealed a divine Jesus, taking of the things of Christ and showing to them His higher glories. Then they knew Christ as they had never known Him before.
So with all Christians who live in the Spirit. The Comforter brings real comfort to their soulsjust what their souls need. Beloved, you know this by an experience which the world cannot give.
3. All other knowledge of God except this which the Holy Ghost reveals, only agonizes the mind. It serves only to fill the mind with fear and dread; but never leads the soul to trust God as its own precious Father. It is most obvious that nothing but that which promotes faith and trust in God can ever afford real comfort.
4. The mass of Christians seem to know only just enough of God to keep them always worried and always in trouble. They know enough of God to understand His holiness and hatred of sin; enough to add pungency and power to the rebukes of their own consciences; but not enough to find through grace victory over their sins and abiding peace with God through Jesus Christ their Lord. Hence they seem in many respects to be even worse off than careless sinners who have almost no knowledge of God at all. For the latter, if they find no peace with God, do not find much disturbance of their dreams from that quarter, at least for a season.
5. A selfish mind cannot be properly acquainted with God. Experience seems to show that where selfishness takes on certain peculiar forms, it effectually precludes all right knowledge of God. Ambition and avarice seem to be its worst and most fatal forms. AmbitionO what a curse to the soul! If the ambitious man sets about seeking his own salvation, his aim is to make himself great or to enhance his reputation. Seeking it with such a motive, God will of course repel his proud heart away from His own mercy-seat. If the ambitious man seeks more pietysupposing him to be a Christianstill he is prone to let his ambition work in even here, and his object will be to gain distinction. Oh, how such a soul will be blighted by its own selfishness!
No better is the case of the avaricious man. His selfishness is wont to assume such power as utterly to exclude all right knowledge of God. See the case of Judas. He could attend the personal preaching of Christ for three years, and yet never have so much as the crust of his selfishness broken through. Alas, Judas was a thief and carried the bag. His heart was wholly in that bag, and the thought of making something for himself was ever present, and no matter how sacred his employment, nothing could be so sacred as to save it from being perverted by his sordid heart. If he had been building a meeting house, he would contrive if he could to make some speculation out of it. Ask such a man now to do something for the Institution here and he would try to make it turn in some way to his own personal advantage. Self, you may be sure, will somehow be cared forelse what good will his life do him? His reigning disposition is"I might as well not live as live and get no good to myself."
Now where these and similar forms of selfishness exist, it seems utterly impossible that men should become acquainted with God. The mighty currents of their heart drift them forever away from God and they cannot serve God and Mammon if they try ever so earnestly. If they would give up their selfishnessforsake their idol Mammon, they might then seek God and find Him when they should seek Him with all their heart.
6. Sinners are often ashamed to become acquainted with God. Men who would deem it their highest honor to be introduced to a President, are actually ashamed to be introduced to God. They would be ashamed to have it understood that they are His friends and value His acquaintance and friendship. O how they would fain cast contempt on the Infinite God! They know that no mortal man would bear such insults as they heap on Him. Is it strange that Christ should disown them in the awful day when He comes in all the glory of His Father and with His holy angels?
7. It really seems as if the great mass of professed Christians had no expectation of becoming acquainted with God. They seem not to consider that even in this world they may form as absolute an acquaintance with God as they can in heaven. They seem not to appreciate the value of those exceeding great and precious promises which assure us that the Spirit will reveal to us both Christ and the Father. All these rich provisions of the gospel for revealing the knowledge of God to man are to them as if they were not. Alas that they should know so little of their own mercies!
8. This is an infinitely dangerous state, and no professed Christian ought to rest in it one moment. Even if you are a real Christian your course is full of peril if you do not acquaint yourself with God. You will not trust Him; you cannot have the security which His presence and His friendship afford.
9. A sensual state of mind is infinitely perilous. It is so especially because it is utterly repugnant to your becoming acquainted with God. You cannot grow in anything good or great if you indulge in a sensual state of mind.
10. All who are really acquainted with God will have an earnest longing to see others made acquainted with Him. They know how blessed the knowledge is, and hence they cannot fail to desire that others too should know and enjoy this blessedness.
Beloved, have you this proof that you know God? Does your soul long to see all others enlightened into all the riches of this divine knowledge?
11. Finally the text exhorts us to become acquainted with God now. How reasonable and cogent is this exhortation! It does seem to me that persons must be infatuated who can pursue other knowledge eagerly, and yet be remiss in seeking the knowledge of God. I cannot but wonder that the persons now before me who are conscious of being strangers to God, or at least destitute of an intimate acquaintance with God, do not at once resolve"I will know God. I must search for this knowledge more than for hid treasures. I am ready to forego all other knowledge rather than fail of this. All other acquisitions of any sort whatever shall be held as of no account compared with this. O let my soul know God!"
Christian, have you this burning thirst for divine knowledge? Does your very soul cry out within you as if indeed nothing else could by any means satisfy you? Then you need not fear. God will reveal Himself to you in His richest glories.
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
"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:
I. THAT THE CHARACTER OF GOD IS OF INFINITE VALUE
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 consciencenot that it ever will be so, but suppose that it wereof 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 governmentthe 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, thatinstead of showing that they are universally benevolent, and thus exhibit the law of God in it's true spirit, they should manifest a selfish spiritwho 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 Godthe 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 Godthat 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 governmentin 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 worldin 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 Godin 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 Godeverything 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 Godyou 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.
V. 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 Godthat 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 placeit 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 saythe 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 poorin 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 ithad everything that was rich and niceand 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 anythingwould Jesus Christ do that?
But again: Speculation cannot be engaged in for the glory of God. By speculation, I mean thisthere 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 ithe 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 placewhere 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 Atonementmy text did not lead me. I am not now preaching on Baptismmy text did not lead me. I am not now preaching about Electionmy 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.
June 24, 1857
[Concludes July 8, 1857Ed.]
"How much owest thou unto my Lord?" Luke 16:5
These words are part of the parable of the unjust steward. In this parable Christ teaches the importance of using wealth so as to fulfill the conditions of being received into heaven.
It is not my purpose to comment on the parable itself. I select this verse as my text, not for its doctrine, but for its suggestions. In this way texts are sometimes selected, not as teaching any special doctrine, but because they forcibly suggest truths elsewhere taught.
This question"How much owest thou unto my Lord?" leads us to consider,
I. The rights of God. These should be considered in several different relations.
Our age is remarkable for a great deal of talk about rights; inalienable rights; rights of the North and of the South; State rights; Federal rights and Woman's rights;every other sort of rights but God's rights. On the latter, little is said, little seems to be thought. I propose to speak to you this morning in behalf of God's rights; and,
1. His rights as Creator of the universe. That He is the sole Creator of the universe is a fact assumed on all hands, and therefore there is no occasion to prove it.
This fact must invest Him with an absolute right of property in everything made, and pre-eminently in the intelligent beings on whom He has conferred His richest blessings.
Let it be noted that the rights of property resting in all other beings but God are relative; God's only are absolute. A right that a man has to his coat or his wages may be good as against the claim of his fellow-man, but is no right as against the claims of God. God's rights, on the contrary, are absolute, in the sense of being everywhere and always goodgood against all other claims possible or conceivable.
2. Let us also consider His rights as conditioned on His susceptibilities. Being a moral agent, with infinite sensibilities to happiness, He must have an infinite claim on all the moral subjects of His government to promote His happiness. Deeply susceptible to the happiness of having affectionate children to love and trust Him, this very susceptibility creates an obligation on their part to render Him the love and homage which will conduce to His happiness. This consideration seems to be strangely overlooked by most of His creatures in this world.
3. Next, let us study His rights as conditioned on His natural and moral attributes. The natural attributes of God; omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc., are all in their nature infinite. Whatever claim on us and right on His part can result from such attributes, must therefore be unlimited, because there can be no limit to His knowledge, power or presence.
His moral attributes; benevolence, justice, mercy, etc., are all perfect in kind and in degree, and hence God's right on the score of possessing these attributes must be unlimited.
The mutual relations existing between these two classes of attributes serve to perfect their claim on us. For if God were perfectly good, yet without omniscience and wisdom, He might make mistakes. If He were ever so well disposed, yet lacked the requisite power to carry out His purposes, such a failure must make an important deduction from the respect due Him and from the trust we might repose in His government. But now, being not only good but all-wise and all-powerful, He never can mistake and never can fail in any of His endeavors. Hence no subject of His can ever doubt that His claims are infinite; none, that He deserves our implicit and perfect confidence. This will not be denied, yet it may not have been well considered.
I have said that on the mere ground of His susceptibility to happiness, He has a claim on our benevolence. I now add, that on the mere ground of His goodness, He has an infinite claim on our complacency.
On grounds already presented He has a claim on our cordial affection. Perfect goodness constitutes an eternal foundation for this claim.
Being both wise and good, He has the highest possible claims on our sympathy. Himself engaged in the noblest object possiblethat of blessing His great family to the utmost extent of His resources, He rightly claims the cordial co-operation of all intelligent beings. Every one of them is bound to promote this same object with all his powers. The same reasons that move God to labor for this end should also move His creatures. Of course this implies that God has a right to our universal and perfect obedience. Being wise and good, He is bound to rule; the interest of His moral universe bind Him; and consequently, they equally bind us to obey.
This obligation includes the universal submission of all His creatures to everything He does or omits to do. It is their business to acquiesce in all His ways and with unqualified confidence and resignation. And we should not make a virtue of a forced submission, yielding to His will because we cannot help it; but should submit to His doings because we know He is worthy to be trusted. Even when we cannot fathom the reasons of His course, we yet know He must have good reasons, and are bound to honor Him by the most implicit confidence.
God has a claim also on our universal adoration and praise. He rightfully claims that we should acknowledge His attributes and duly appreciate His character, and that we should also commend His character and His infinite worthiness to others. No one can honestly deny this.
Let us also consider those rights of God which are conditioned on our dependence and on His fatherly care. We live and move and have our being in Him. He feeds and clothes us; sustains us in life and crowns this life with His love. Our dependence on Him is absolute and perfect, since we have no power to make our own blood to flow, or lungs to heave or our digestive organs to work. Not one of these life-processes is under our own control, so that we can dispense with God's upholding hand.
He sent these young people here to school; supported them before they came here; gives them life and health and all things. How much do you think it has cost Him already? Sometimes persons seem quite thoughtless of what God does for them and how much it costs Him to supply their wants. One winter during my absence from home, my eldest son thought he would keep account with his mother of work done and of benefits received. He kept it faithfully one week. When he came to settlement, he was greatly surprised to find himself so deeply in debt. Notwithstanding he had done some little things, he found he had by no means paid for his board, room, tuition and clothing. He looked very thoughtful. It was a new idea that he was always to be in debt, and, so deeply in debt too. What could he do?
So it would be in your account with God. Perhaps you have never thought of it; but if you ever were to think of it, you would see that it costs far more to supply your wants than you have been wont to think. How much owest thou unto my Lord for all His care in supplying your wants?
I once met an old man who used tobacco, and asked him how much it had cost, and how much he supposed God had charged against him for his waste of God's money on this filthy indulgence. I said to himEstimate also how much time it has wasted and how much of your strength; how much mental power; and how much you have lost of the spirit of prayer. He paused a few moments, and said "I never thought of it in this light before. I do not know what I can say for myself."
God has been every way your benefactor. Now, what has He a right to expect from you? Certainly, that you should abstain from everything injurious to yourself or to others. If parents may demand so much as this from their children, how much more may God, of His! You cannot hear the conduct of ungrateful children spoken of without tears. What, you exclaim, can that son so abuse his own father, and the mother that bare him! Can he forget how they watched around his bed in his sickness, and bore with him in his waywardness and folly?
These obligations you say are not mere abstractions by any means, but are the most solemn realities. Yet they are as nothing, compared with the rights of God and the claims He has on His creatures, and the wrongs done Him when He is treated with ingratitude of heart or life.
4. Let us next consider His rights as conditioned upon redemption. O might we only see what an amount of obligation He has rolled upon us by redeeming us from the curse of the law and at such a cost!
Think how He took us out of the hands of public justicea thing He had no right to do and could not honorably do until He had first honored public justice and satisfied its claims. Do not start at this and sayHas not God the right to do anything He pleases? Let it be considered that although God has rights, so also have the universe of beings whom He had made. For their sakes, God could not pardon one sinner, until He had duly regarded the claims of public justice. This He might accomplish in either of two ways. He might execute the penalty on every sinner, or He might devise some equivalent which should answer governmentally the same purpose, inasmuch as it would equally manifest the heart of the King towards His law and the welfare of His subjects. The latter course was chosen, and a substitute was found in His own beloved Son on whom He "laid the iniquities of us all."
How much did He pay? Suppose there is a similar exigency upon you. You are a public officer. It devolves on you to sustain law by administering the penalty, or its equivalent. The law is broken; will you smite, or will you spare?
You have an only son, dear to your heart. Can you give him up to shame and to an agonizing death for the sake of safely pardoning those transgressors? Can you estimate how much a sacrifice of this sort would cost you?
God has bought you with a price. Bought? Did He not own you altogether before? Yes, but you had brought yourself into such relations to public justice that He must needs buy you again, or you are lost. Now, what are His rights as conditioned on His having paid the price of your soulpaid it too by the blood of His own and only Son! Does not this purchase intensify His claims and augment them exceedingly?
Suppose you had violated the laws of this State, and the Governor had sacrificed his own son to deliver you. Would you not feel that he had fresh claims on you, immensely greater than ever before? You had no claims on him but those of your own wretchedness, and yet he gave heed to those claims. And yet all this, if true, would give us but a faint illustration of what God has done for you through the sacrifice of His Son. Have you ever considered how vast, how deep, how infinite your obligations to Him must be? Surely He has a right to your deep, unselfish, and infinite devotion. Christ died for all, that they who live by His death should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who hath loved them and given Himself for them. Ought you not to devote to Him a life thus saveda soul thus redeemed? What! Has He redeemed you from death that you might oppose Him and live to yourself? Do you not see that He has a claim on you for all your possible love and service? Surely there is no service possible on your part which is not most emphatically due to Him who hath loved and redeemed us.
God's rights are peculiar and infinitely great. They are peculiar, because none are altogether like them in kind; none can ever approach them in degree. In the broad field of human relations, there are some rights which are analogous, so much so that they aid us in understanding the nature of God's claims on us; yet none can be found in all respect like His. Thus for example no rights of property can be absolute save those of God. All other property-rights are only relative. My rights to my property are good against the claims of fellow-beings; but they are nothing against the claims of God. He owns me and mine. But my fellow-beings do not own either.
God's rights are peculiar in degree. The rights of no other being are infinite; His are. No being has infinite susceptibilities but God; consequently none but God has a claim on His creatures for infinite benevolence.
There is no other being whose rightful authority is universal and infinite. The rights of every other being to authority are so far below His that we must regard them as infinitely less. All the rights of parents to authority over their childrenof kings to rule over their subjects,all vanish to nothing compared with His. Yet parents and kings have rights of authority. But they are only the shadow, of which God's infinite authority is the substance.
What would any of you who are students think of yourself if you had trampled on the reasonable authority of one of your teachers? If you had a just sense of your own meanness, you would be ashamed to be seen in the streetsashamed to hold up your head. How much more if you had contemned the whole Faculty! You would feel within you the deep mutterings of self-reproach, just indignation and shame, because you had set at nought an authority which you are bound to respect.
Alas how little men think of their obligation to love and honor God!
There is no other being whose rights and claims are sustained by every possible consideration. Let any one of you look at the considerations that bear of whom it is true that obligation comes from every possible sourcegrows out of every relation, presses you from every side, springs up from every spot beneath your feet and looks down with authority from every point above you? Truly there is no limit and no measure to this obligation.
God has a right to claim that every man should treat himself and everybody else as belonging of right to Him. He has a right therefore to keep an account with you and to charge you with every meal He puts on your table and gives you health to partake; with every breath you draw; with all the strength you have to use; with all that property which should be used for Him. Why not? Is not this true? You know and must admit it. And you also know that if these gifts of God are not so used for Him, He is really wronged; and more wronged than we can ever be by any robbery of what we call ours. The wrong is higher in kind, by so much as His rights and claims are greater and higher in their nature than ours can be.
Moreover, it is not only true that a wrong inflicted on God is higher and more aggravated than any wrong against man can be, but it is also true that He will realize and feel it more keenly that we ever can. The more holy a man is the more keenly will he feel any injustice. No matter whether the injustice be done against himself, or against someone else. He may have a forgiving spirit and yet may feel the wrong only the more keenly. He will feel it the more by how much the greater his holiness may be.
So God must have a keener sense of the injustice done to Him than any creature can have of the injustice done against a creature. Yet farther; God's sense of this wrong and injustice is greater than the aggregate of all the wrong and of all the sense of wrong and injustice ever felt in the universe. You talk about the sense of wrong felt by the slave. No doubt it is often keen. You speak of the wrong done to parents by their ungrateful children; but what is all this compared with that which God experiences and which He suffers?
What will you think of the forbearance of Godsay, ye who have suffered injustice so long and have felt the pang so keenly? You have been a slave perhaps and you have felt the iron of oppression enter into your very soul. You have felt a sense of wrong enkindled in your bosom, which is seemed to you could never be extinguishedand you cried outHow long, O Lord; O Lord, how long wilt Thou not avenge our blood! If you were to be reproved for this intense feeling, you would replyyou need to be a slave yourself and to feel these wrongs in your own bosom; then you could better judge! It is only a mockery of others' unknown woes, for you to talk about meekness and patience, when you know nothing about this sense of wrong!
How much more keenly God must feel! Who can measure the depth of the keenness of His sense of the wrongs done to Him?
We sometimes see women feel deeply indignant underneath the wrongs they suffer. This may be not without some reason. But let us look into the reason God has for feeling this sense of injustice. Come, count up all the wrongs heaped on Him; measure all the accumulated sense of wrong ever felt in the universe; what is all this, compared to the sense of wrong felt by God, coming upon Him from the abuse He receives from His creatures?
Yet God's forbearance holds out still. His infinite heart waits yet. His patience and forbearance are not yet exhausted. O how would you feel! You think it an insult if anyone whispers in your ear a hint about longer forbearance. You cannot bear it. Then what will you think of God's unutterable forbearance and long-suffering?
The rights of God in regard to His creatures imply corresponding obligations on their part. It remains for us to consider what these obligations are.
The questionHow much owest thou unto my Lord, requires us to ask and considerHow much hast thou already paid? In the light of this question you may find how much remains yet due.
These, be it remembered, are not merely abstract questions, however much they may be so regarded. It is astonishing to see how much infidelity attaches itself to these questions in the minds of men, and how little, consequently, they care for any claims God may be shown to have on their hearts. It is because these things take hold so feebly on human hearts that the Divine Spirit is needed and is sent to open our eyes to see these things truly, and to quicken our sensibility to their bearing on ourselves. It is because of this intense moral insensibility that, in regard to our moral relations, fiction seems to us to be reality, and reality fiction.
Resuming our main question, I ask once moreHow much you have already paid? Have you kept your account carefully? Can you tell from that how the case stands?
It is a curious fact, developed often in business between man and man, that men who keep no formal account, will have yet a sort of general idea of the way the matter stands. The men who run to the store and get little things on credit, are apt to suppose they know about how their account stands; but often they find, on comparing their ideal of the matter with the merchant's books, that they were widely mistaken. Some of you may be under an equal and far more dangerous mistake in the matter of your accounts with your Maker.
Probably many of you have tacitly assumed that, at least in some things, you have done all your duty. Thus you put it down that you have been to meeting today; that you get good lessons in your class; that you do about what should be expected of you in your circumstances of life. But you will need to go more deeply into the matter than this. It is of the utmost consequence to know precisely when you have a right to credit yourself with the performance of a duty to God; else you may commit the very great mistake of giving yourself a credit where God charges you as in debt. When you come to the great reckoning and lay down your books, perhaps God will not accept them. Perhaps He will cast them out as viciously kept and as being all wrong in principle and in fact.
Hence it is important for you to consider that nothing is done to purpose unless it be done with a right state of mind towards God; for without this, there can be no real obedience. The state of heart is just the thing God has always required and always must require.
Now in the light of this great law will you renew your examination and askWhat have I done today? Did you come to church with a heart really full of love to God? Unless you did, you have no right to put the external act to your own credit as a duty done for God. God requires, just as you see He ought to, that this and every other duty be done from a spirit of real, honest devotionin true love, and with an eye that looks only at His glory. Which of your duties have been performed in this spirit? Nothing less than this can be doing duty. It is God's right to claim that you should always devote yourself to His service with a single and pure intent to do all His will, and to promote His glory.
Now what have you in fact done with yourselfwith your time, your talents, your education? How many pages of your account will really meet His demands when weighed in His balances? Wherein and when have you done all your duty? Do you think God ought to be satisfied with your spirit in coming to meeting this morning, and ought to have given you credit for it? Have you spent the intermission in a way to please God? Can you write it down, sayingLord, Thou knowest I came with a desire to honor Thee and to do all the good I can? Thou knowest that my eye has been single to Thy glory?
Go back as far as you can remember and put your finger on the points when and the things wherein you have done your duty. Consider that you have never even approximated towards your duty save as you have earnestly sought to glorify God. Now wherein have you respected His authority? Wherein have you regarded His feelings, so that you can reasonably suppose He will sayThat satisfies Me? I speak to those of you who have not gone into bankruptcypleading guilty before Him, and have thus obtained a full pardon, having your accounts canceled. To all others I speak, and I askHave you met God's will in anything? Have you, in any hour of all your life, been in the state of mind that God requires? Take your pen, and sit down; make up the account. With what can you credit yourself? Did you obey your parents? You think you did. Well; with what spirit? With what purpose towards God? If we could sit down togetheryou with your pen in hand, and search out these things to the bottom, and consider the state of mind requisite in real duty, it might make some revelations to your mind of points unnoticed before. We would askWhat duties have you really done towards your fellow-men? You may be saying"Although I cannot set down any credits on my side towards God, yet I certainly can as towards men. I know I have been honest with man."
Have you indeed? God has a right to demand of you towards men, even, unselfish benevolence. Have you had it? Have you been as unwilling to believe evil of your brother as to have him believe it of you? Have you treated his good name as you would have him treat yours? Have you been as jealous for his honor as for your own? Has the same been your habit and your life towards all men? Or has your justice towards your fellow-men been mere selfishness? You have not cheated your neighbor, you say; but if you lack the principle of honestyjust that principle which will make you honest and upright towards God, it is absurd to suppose you have real honesty towards men. You have not done your duty towards your neighbor if you have neglected duty towards your God. "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much," and on a similar principle, he that is unjust in the great things (towards God) will not fail to be unjust in the least thingsthose that look towards fellow-men.
What have you done that is all right? Say, what? Got my lessons, you say. But with what motive and for what end? Was it done for the honor of it to yourself or for the honor of God? Did you come here to college, for God, or for yourself? Did you consult God's interests in that thing, or only your own? Did you ask Him if you should come; or did you come without any such enquiry? What education you get, do you faithfully use for Him? You have done thousands of things in the course of your life; but which one of them all for God? What have you done for Him in the family where you live?
The question to which we must continually return is thisWhat has been the foundation-motive for this act?
I have asked you repeatedlyHave you done for God any service which you think He ought to accept? Let me hold the Bible before you and you may lay your hand on it and swear. Do you honestly believe that you can lay your hand on this Bible, and swear that you think you have done your life-duty, so that God ought to accept it? Sometimes men are called on to swear to their accounts. I call on you in the same manner; I put you under oath. Is your account correct? Do you honestly believe it to be true and honest? So you feel sure that God ought to accept it? Have you done anything which you can really accept yourself? And if you cannot accept it, sincerely approving both the act itself and it's motive, then you could not accept it in God if He should approve it. How could He approve what you cannot, and yet be respected by the angels, and respected too by Himself?
God is infinitely fair-minded. If you were the veriest child and had an honest intention, God would approve it. He is not exacting, is not captious, is never fault-finding. He can never try to bear down on you with His great power. But have you really been simple-hearted and child-like? That is the real question. God forbid that I should represent Him as over-bearing and exacting. No; He is fair-minded and even generous, as far as He honestly can be.
But let me ask you, if in truth you are not in a state of hopeless bankruptcyjust in the case of one who has paid nothing and never can pay anything. Sometimes men in business get into debt, and cannot get out with any amount of struggling. It is even so with you. Deeply in debt; never able to do anything more than keep up with current duty; when will you ever perform any one single work of supererogation? When can you do the first thing to set off against a life-long course of sin? O my dear child; have you run in debt so deeply and have you nothing to pay? Why did you not think of this before? Can you find absolutely nothing in your past life that God can accept? Is there no prospect that you can ever pay the first farthing? Then what can you do?
This brings us to our next great point: What does God propose to do in the case? And what does He propose to have done?
Not that you should pay the debt; He knows this to be impossible. He might require you to pay the debt; but in fact He does not, but simply proposes to you to take advantage of the bankrupt law. He has made such a law and under it, He offers to forgive freely all that debt on condition that you confess judgment, accept the boon and commit yourself absolutely to His disposal. If you will restore all that remains and truly consecrate it to His use as you should and as you ought to have done from the very first moral act, then He will cross out the whole account. It shall stand as if balanced and settled, and you shall be at peace with Him.
Now what more can you ask than this? Ought not this proposition to meet all your demands? Can it be possible that you on your part can object, if God can make up His mind to offer such favors on such conditions? How does it strike you? What do you think about it? Can you persist in forgetting and disregarding God's rights, and carry out this disregard in the gospel as well as under the law? Somehow it has strangely come to pass that many men pervert the gospel scheme entirely to their own selfish purposes, assuming that it was gotten up solely for their special benefit, and is nothing more or less than a vast system of indulgences!! All they want to get from it is permission to sin at will, and exemption from its penal consequences. Hence, not content to forget all God's rights under law, they carry the same spirit into the gospel and here too would fain rob God of all the homage, love, and obedience which are due Him for His redeeming mercy.
Again, will you continue to contend for your own rights, while you refuse to respect God's? Is not such conduct outrageous? What would you think of a man here among us who should trample on everybody else's rights, but should none the less clamor violently for his own? Would you like the man as a neighbor who should crowd and prosecute other men to pay him and steadfastly refuse to pay his own debts? Will you do precisely this sort of thing towards God? Will you stringently insist on your own demands both upon God and your fellow-beings, while yet you are reckless of His rights? Will you deny your guilt, or make light of it? Will you call in question your desert of eternal damnation? Will you consent to receive neither mercy nor justice? Are you prepared to reject mercy and yet with the same breath complain of God's administration of justice? Indeed! And do you expect to carry out your scheme and withdraw from the government of Jehovah? He offers mercy and you scorn it. He falls back of necessity upon justice, and you complain of that. Thinkest thou, O man, that thou shalt evade the sweep of Jehovah's justice? Can you escape from His power, or convict His administration of wrong?
Again, when you think seriously of your case, is not this seriousness produced by a sense of danger and not by a sense of guilt? Is it not much more the fear lest you shall be cast off and lose your soul, than the conviction of great sin and guilt and wrong, of which you ought to repent? You think little of restoring what you have withheld. You are even enquiring how you are to be forgiven before you have taken the first step towards forsaking your sins and breaking them off by righteousness! And does this look like fair dealing towards God?
Again, will you treat God's claims as last and least of all? You talk as if you were doing all your duty, and yet you utterly neglect God and set aside His claims on you as if they were altogether false and fictitious.
You show this often by the way you plan for the future. Has it not often been in your heart that you would come to God and get mercy when you have become too old to enjoy sin any longer? Virtually you assume that it will be soon enough to do right by God when you cannot otherwise keep out of hell another day. And does not this show how little you care for God's rights?
You put it in a little more plausible shape perhaps, but the thing itself is the very same and not a whit the better for its fairer seeming. You say it thus; I must attend to other matters; my lessonsmy business, the cares of life or the pleasure I love; and when I have done with them all, then I can afford for the sake of heaven to give to God the dregs of my existence! You can, indeed! But can God afford to accept you then? You propose to meet all other claims first; your own, your neighbor's, everybody's; and let God's come at the very last end of your life! Does this seem to you like fair dealing towards God? If anybody must be neglected, you say let it be God! If any claims must be shuffled off contemptuously, let it be His!
Do you flatter yourself that this treatment of God will conciliate His good will, and put your relations in a shape favorable for your final blessedness?
Once more; can you for one moment doubt that you must utterly fail to meet your obligations? Are you not certain of bankruptcy? Are you not shut up to it, past all escape? Then why will you not now acknowledge your sins; restore all that remains; and cast yourself at once on His clemency? He wants you to do this now! O come; give up the last thing you have, and throw yourself on His great mercy!
This offer is only for a season. There is a limit to it; none can tell how near! Do you sayThen I will go on and yet increase my debt? Can you do that deliberately and with your eyes open? Then you can regard your salvation as miserably cheap and of little worth. Perhaps you incline to think so. The word of God has long since said"He that scorneth, he alone must bear it."
Preached on Thursday Evening, November 22, 1849.
at the Borough Road Chapel, Southwark.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1473.
"Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God."Hebrews xi.5
In speaking from these words I shall inquire
I. Who gave this testimony to Enoch?
II. Notice the nature of the testimony!
III. Consider how this testimony was given!
IV. The conditions upon which he must have received it, and upon which we may obtain such testimony?
V. The importance of having this testimony!
VI. Consider some of the reason why so few seem to have the testimony that they please God?
This is the outline of thought to which I would call your attention, and I suppose that these several points will include subjects on which every thoughtful mind will naturally desire to be informed.
I. Or first inquiry iswhose testimony was it that Enoch had that he pleased God? Surely it must have been God's testimony, for who could give this testimony, but God? If God was pleased with Enoch, and he knew it, how otherwise could he have become possessed of this knowledge but by a revelation from God? And this was doubtless the apostle's meaning, and it was the fact, that Enoch had God's testimony that he pleased him.
II. In inquire secondlyThe nature of this testimony.
(1.) And I remark first, that it was not simply a negative testimony, a mere absence of sin and guilt, and that God was not displeased with him. It was not a mere absence of anything. A hardened sinner will sometimes have this negative kind of testimony: he may not feel the frown of God, nor have any sense at all of God's displeasure.
(2.) The testimony then, that Enoch had, was a positive testimony. God in some way, doubtless, convinced Enoch, and let him understand that he was pleased with him. He indicated the fact that he was pleased with him. Enoch himself had God's testimony that he pleased him.
III. The next inquiry isHow are we to suppose that this testimony was given to him.
(1.) I observe first that it was not given merely in a providential mannerGod did not manifest to Enoch by the course of his providence that he was pleased with him; this has never been the course of God with man. Every one knows that oftimes it is quite impossible to know the moral character of a man by the way in which God deals with him in this world. And this fact completely shows that this world is not the state of retribution, of rewards and punishments. I fear that there are many mistakes made on this subject. The friends of Job manifestly reasoned wrong on this subject; they supposed, and argued, that God's dealings with Job proved him to be a wicked man; but Job resisted this mode of reasoning, and insisted that they had a false view of the subject. Almost the entire scope of the book of Job goes to establish this pointthat God does not by his providence in this world indicate his view of the moral character of man. The Bible in many places affirms this. "He makes his sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good, and his rain to descend upon the just and upon the unjust." The wicked are often exalted whilst the righteous are trodden down and afflicted. Neither in their life nor in their death does God often manifest his views of their character. The Psalmist observed this, and he says, "the wicked flourish like a green bay-tree, they are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men, verily I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocency." But he said this before he was well instructed. When he thought to know this it was too painful for him, he stumbled at it, until he went into the house of God, and there he understood the matter. There he saw how God dealt with men according to their characters, that God set the wicked in slippery places, and cast them down at last into destruction. These remarks are designed to illustrate what I have just saidthat we are not to suppose that God providentially gave this testimony to Enoch. And it is according to the universal observation and testimony of mankind, that God does not show his special pleasure in men by this means.
(2.) I remark again: that God must, doubtless, have in some way indicated the fact to the mind of Enoch through his word, by his Spirit. How else could he have made the communication? It must have been either by providence that God revealed to Enoch that he was pleased with him, or it must have been indicated to his mind directly by the Spirit, as I suppose, through his word. It should be borne in mind that at that time the scriptures were not filled up as they are now, and, therefore, the Spirit of God could not, without a direct revelation from heaven, have made any application to his mind of much that is written in the Bible. Yet, doubtless, God did manifest himself to Enoch through his word by his Spirit. And here, let me say, that in all cases where men have this testimony, it must be of this character. It must be that God gives this testimony through his word by his Spirit.
(3.) But let me say again: it is done by speaking peace to the soul, giving the soul to understand that God is at peace with it, shedding peace and diffusing it over his soul, giving him the Spirit of adoption, leading him to understand by God's smile on his soul, drawing him into union with himself, and shedding abroad his love in his heart, and thus creating such a state of mind that the individual can clearly understand that he is accepted of God, and that God has pleasure in him. If I had time to dwell upon this part of the subject, I think it would be very easy to show that it is in exact accordance with the experience of every Christian that has ever known anything of experimental religion. Anyone that has ever had real communion with God, that has ever known what it is to be drawn into union with God in such a manner as to sympathize so deeply with him as to partake of his holiness, and drink of the river of his pleasures, and so to understand what the mind of God is, as to partake in part of its nature, and understand the nature of the peace which God enjoys. And let me say that there is such a thing as God giving to the mind a sense of justification, in other words, a sense of his approval, so that the mind can have no doubt of it at the time. It perfectly understands its acceptance with God. God so smiles upon the soul, and so sheds himself into the soul, that it seems to breathe an atmosphere of peace, so deep and so calm that it is in no doubt of its acceptance with God, no doubt of being in that state which God is pleased.
IV. In the next placeThe conditions upon which Enoch received this testimony, and upon which every one else may receive it.
(1.) The first condition that I notice is, that the individual who will have this testimony must actually please God, for God will bear no false testimony. It is not enough that Christ has pleased God, that in some mysterious manner Christ's righteousness is imputed to the man. It is only a mere trueism to say that God is pleased with Christ. In the text it is said that God was pleased with Enoch. Now I suppose that we are to understand something more than thisthat God accepted him for Christ's sake. I suppose that we are to understand that God, for Christ's sake, gave him so much of the Holy Spirit as to secure in him a state of mind actually pleasing to God, and that through the Spirit he actually did that which pleased God. We say then that any one who would enjoy this testimony that he pleased God, must be in such a condition of mind as is acceptable to God, and live a life that is pleasing to God.
(2.) I remark again: that there must be, as a condition, implicit confidence in God. There is no duty that is so pleasing to God. When Enoch lived, the atonement had not yet been made, but then it was understood that an atonement was to be made. And if this was so, it is certain that he would have had implicit confidence in God as a condition for pleasing him. The Bible affirms that without faith it is impossible to please him; Enoch must therefore have had implicit confidence in God. But what is implicit confidence; I mean by implicit confidence, that he must have abhorred all self-confidence, and have cast himself upon God's grace. And in order to do this, he must have had some knowledge of the manner in which God expects man to have implicit confidence in his truthfulness, and faithfulness, and mercy.
(3.) But let me mention another condition -he must have lived to God. It is said of him in the Old Testament that he walked with God three hundred years, and then was translated, and was not, for God took him. This walking with God implies agreementfor the Bible says, "how can two walk together except they be agreed"which in Bible language, means, that two cannot walk together except they are agreed. Therefore when it is said that "Enoch walked with God," we are to understand that his will and his heart were at one with God; and if this was true he might well have the testimony that he pleased God. And be it remembered that every one who would please God, and would have his testimony, must do as Enoch did; he must agree to have God's government and no other, he must live for every end for which God lives.
(4.) Again: he must set his heart upon pleasing God. No individual will have the testimony that he pleases God unless he really means to please. A man, I say, who would have the testimony that he pleases God, must have a heart set upon pleasing him; he must regard it as of the greatest importance that he please God, he must give himself to the work of pleasing God as a condition of pleasing him.
(5.) Again: Another condition is, that he must not be contented at all to live without the testimony that he pleases God. He must not only aim to please him, but must not be content to live without the testimony that he does please him. If he truly aims to please God, and his heart is set upon this, he will not be satisfied without he succeeds in that which he aims to do, that he really does please God. If an individual does aim to obtain this testimony, but if he considers it only of little importance whether he succeeds, of course he will not have it.
(6.) I remark again: another condition is, he must believe it possible for him to please God. If he does not believe it possible for him to please God; if he has such an idea of God's requirements that they are so exceedingly strict, and that he requires so much of man, that it is almost hopeless of man to expect to please him, if he has this idea, I say, he need not expect to please him. I have heard many persons talk as if it was the height of presumption to try to please God in this world, as if it would be most dangerous to the soul to indulge in the belief that it could please him. These persons represent God as so infinitely exacting, that the highest angel in heaven might hardly hope to please himthen how could man hope to do it? Now when an individual has this ideathat God requires his creatures to make brick without straw, that he requires of men that which they cannot do, because he does not give them the ability to do it, then he rejects every expectation of pleasing God. When an individual has this idea, he is in a state of mind that cannot please God. It is true that God is holy, that his requirements are perfect. It is true that he requires men to love him with all their heart, and soul, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves, but it also true that his grace is equal to his requirements; and in his requirements he pledges his grace to enable us to perform. It were infinitely strange, not to say unjust, if it were otherwise.
(7.) But again: another condition of having this testimony is thisa belief that we may have the testimonynot only that we may please God, but that we may secure his testimony to the fact that we do please him. If we forget the idea that God is slow to manifest his pleasure, it will no doubt effectually prevent our having this testimony. It is the tendency of sin to prevent the soul enjoying this delightful assurance of its acceptance with God, and the arch enemy of souls is ever ready to prevent the rising to this belief and conviction.
Now, let me pause here, and apply what I have I said to all classes of persons: not only to professed saints, but to those who are not professed saints. Now, do you really desire the testimony that you please God? Of course, you cannot expect to have it while you remain impenitent. But, may you not enjoy this testimony, if you set your heart upon pleasing God? Yes! you may. To be sure you have not this testimony now, and some of you may say, it will be a great while before I can have it. Why? Will it take you a great while to repent, and set your heart upon obeying God? Oh, no! Well, it is as important for you to have this testimony as anybody else,then why not say at once, As I can have this testimony by the grace of God, I will not live another day without it. But I would observe, here, that the spirit of self-sacrifice is a condition of having this testimony. Christ lived not to please himself, but to please his Father: and, in order to do this, he was willing to sacrifice everything and his own life also. Now, if any of his followers would have the testimony that they please God, they must have the self-sacrificing spirit of their master. They must be willing to be used up, for the good of his kingdom. They must be willing, as Christ was, to sacrifice even their lives. But, I must hasten to consider
V. The importance of having this testimony.
(1.) And, I remark, first: if persons have it not, who are professors of religion, or seriously disposed, the best that can be said of them is, that they live in a state of continual doubt. If they have not the testimony that they do not please God, yet they fully admit that they feel such a sense of condemnation as to be as far as possible off from having the testimony that they do please him. Now, perhaps, it is so with some of youthat everything condemns you, every sermon that you hear condemns you, your own consciences condemn you, you cannot go into your closet and pray as you feel you ought: God seems to frown upon you. You have the clearest evidence that you do not please God. Others of you, perhaps, may not be in exactly this state of depression, but your life, to say the best of it, is full of doubts; you have no such evidence that God is pleased with you, as will allow you to rest satisfied. You are the subjects of many doubts, fears, and anxieties. Perhaps, you seldom, if ever, rise higher than to be greatly anxious about yourselves: or perhaps, you are too careless even to care about it at all. When you have heard some searching preaching, instead of going with clear testimony that you please God, you seldom go further than to get many doubts and perplexities about it. No wonder that you doubt whether you love and please God. If you have not the testimony that you do, you have good reason to doubt: and I beg of you, unless you have this testimony, not to persuade yourselves that you ought to do other than doubt! The only rational way for you to act is to decide that you do not please God. If you do please him, why this state of anxiety? Why this everlasting halting? Is it because God is unwilling to manifest himself to you, although you do please him? Let your own hearts answer the question.
(2.) In the next place, as professors of religion, if you have not this testimony, when you are called upon to proclaim the gospel to sinners and pull them out of the fire, you will find that you have so much to think about yourselves as to be able to do nothing for anybody else. This is a great and sore evil! In how many thousands of cases have I found sinners becoming inquirers, and going for advice and comfort to the church, but the church was unable to do anything for them, because they were in doubt, whether they were Christians themselves. You ask them to pray for sinners, and they can only say, Lord have mercy on me. Now, is this not a great evil? Indeed, it is an evil of the greatest magnitude. Professors of religion, unless they have this testimony, can do but very little for God. I have heard ministers during the time of a Revival, say that they could neither preach nor pray! They had so little evidence of their own acceptance with God that their mouths were shut. What a great evil is this! What can they do for others, when they are in this lamentable condition themselves? They cannot go out and work as men of God ought to work. With what confidence can they preach that which they really do not know that they believe themselves, or hold forth the salvation of which they touch not, taste not, handle not! All such persons are a dead weight upon the cause of God, and hang like millstones round the necks of those who would otherwise pull sinners out of the fire. What minister has not found it true, that when is people were living without knowing that they pleased God, that an immense number of difficulties were thrown in the way of good being done! When the church can only hang upon the minister, they are in a very bad condition. Perhaps it is the case with some of youthat you are hanging like dead weights on the energies and prayers of those who are laboring for the salvation of souls? And it always will be so, if you are without the testimony that you please God. Professors of religionWhere are you? What are you doing? If you have not the testimony that you please God, you are stumbling blocks, you misrepresent religion! What do you mean? You profess to be Christians, children of God, then you ought to have the witness of the Spirit, and hold forth the blessedness of such a salvation to others. But, what are really the facts? Alas! alas! in general, professors are always complaining of their leanness and their trials. It would seem, to hear them talk, as if God was the hardest master that any body ever had to serve; that he dealt out his pleasures with so sparing a hand as quite to discourage them! How many times have I heard persons say, if such and such a person's religion is the religion of Christ, it may do very well for a death-bed, but not to live in the world with. Must I go mourning all my days and never have any cheerfulness, if so, I am afraid of such a religion! And well they may be.
(3.) But, let me say again: that without this testimony you cannot use the promises. How many times have I heard persons say, if I knew that I was accepted of God, how gladly would I apply to myself such and such promises, but they are meant for the children of God, and I do not know whether I am a child of God or no. O that I did but know that I was a child of God, and I would claim all the promises as mine own. Perhaps this is the language of some of you. Now, the promises may lie in the Bible, and the Bible may rot upon your shelves, and you make no use of them, because you lack the testimony that they belong to you -because you do not know whether you are children of God.
(4.) Again: this testimony is indispensable to a rational hope of salvation. What reason has a man to believe that he is personally interested in the salvation of Christ, if he has not this evidence. I know that some persons have a hope that they shall be saved, while they are really living in a state of condemnation. But is this a rational hope? I say, no; it is not a rational hope. I know that such persons as have it cleave to it, but they have no right to cleave to it, most assuredly.
(5.) Again: this testimony is indispensable to peace of mind. NO man is at peace till God speaks to him, but when God speaks peace to his soul, he is at peace. But God will not speak peace to his soul till he comes into a state of mind with which God is at peace.
(6.) Again: it is indispensable to Christian liberty. Many professors of religion have no conception of Christian liberty. Christian liberty seems to be with them a kind of license that they suppose themselves to have, as resulting from the imputed righteousness of Christ: and as Christ's righteousness is imputed to them, they imagine that they can be personally sinful, and yet acceptable with God. I know that salvation does not depend upon personal holiness; but, without it, the man is not a Christian. No man, therefore, possesses Christian liberty, unless he has the testimony that he pleases God.
(7.) But I remark again: this testimony is indispensable to Christian cheerfulness. No individual has true cheerfulness without it; the mind will be so oppressed with a sense of guilt that the man can hardly speak a word; from day to day he will go bowed down with a sense of guilt. Real Christian cheerfulness that arises from love, and communion with God and deep sympathy with him, is a kind of cheerfulness which they do not understand who have not this testimony. And, let me say, it is of the greatest importance that Christians be cheerful, for it recommends religion to others, and often very materially influences their conduct. Four or five years ago, one of the principal officers in the State of Ohio, Judge Andrews, an unconverted man, came to hear me preach; and when I had done, he came and asked me if I would go with him to see an individual that evening. I agreed; and it was to a me a great treat indeed. It was a truly Christian woman that we went to see; and, as soon as we were seated, she began to talk with great cheerfulness, and fullness, of what the Lord had done for her soul. Judge Andrews sat and listened with the greatest attention, and by and by a tear trembled in his eye, and the old lady went on conversing with such cheerfulness, that it riveted him, and he sat for three quarters of an hour to hear that woman talk. When we left, he said to me, if this is the religion of Jesus Christ, I am determined that I will not rest till I possess it and know what it is: and there is good reason to believe that he did not rest till he did know what it was by experience. Now, many cases of this kind occur where persons, unconsciously perhaps, influence those around them. How often have I heard men say, when they have seen religion thus cheerfully exhibited, that is the religion for me, that is the religion which meets the demand of our being. Without cheerfulness, a man can scarcely be said to be useful. Let a minister preach to his people without it, and the utmost he will do will be to preach them into condemnation. Said a minister to me, "Brother Finney, tell me what you think is the defect in my ministry; I find that sinners are brought under conviction, but they get no further." I made but a brief answer at the time, but I prepared a sermon in a few days, on the seventh chapter of Romans, contrasting it with the eighth chapter. I showed that the seventh chapter was descriptive of a state of bondage, of law; but, that the eighth was descriptive of the state of Christian liberty. I preached the sermon in the hearing of my brother, and when I had done, he came to me and said, "Brother Finney, if what you have been preaching is true, I do not know anything about religion, for my experience does not go any further than the seventh chapter." Now, said I, you have answered the question that you asked me the other day. You do not know what it is to have liberty, and how can you preach a gospel that you do not understand? The man did not live long in that state. Let me remark here, that it is a mournful fact that the great mass of religious teachers go no further than the seventh chapter of Romans; they can go so far and cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" but they cannot go on to the eighth and say, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." Now, a minister cannot lead his people further than he goes himself; and, if the people were to get into the liberty of the gospel otherwise than by his means, he would pour cold water upon them, and tell them that they were getting into a strange fanatical state of mind; but how different will it be when the minister has come into this liberty which the gospel is calculated to give. I now come to consider
VI. Some of the reason why so few persons seem to have this testimony! When I say few, I do no mean to say that the whole number is small, for I am happy to know that it is not. Wherever I go I find persons that understand it, and when they hear the sound, they recognize it as the gospel. But taking the great mass, comparatively few know what it is to enjoy this testimony.
(1.) The reason why they have it not, is not because it is so hard to please God. His commandments are not grievous, he says. He is not exacting and hard to please. He expects a willing mind in his service, but he does not expect from man that which he hath not, but only that which he hath. If the heart and will is right, God accepts it; and the man who gives his heart and will to God shall have the testimony that he please God. So that when a man has not the testimony that he please God, it is not because God is unwilling to manifest his pleasure when he is pleased. Some people seem to think that it is dangerous to praise even virtue itself. Flattery is always dangerous, but condemnation is only just where it is deserved. Take a family, for example, where the children are endeavoring to please their parents, and when they know that they have done their best, if they are not commended, they think that injustice has been done to them, and they relax in their efforts, because they conclude that it is impossible to please so as to gain commendation, let them do what they will. Just so with a wife who is always endeavoring to please her husband, and if he is never pleased, the effect is, that she gives up trying, because she sees it is of no use. God in his government supplies this demand of our nature. Let sin be put away from any moral agent, and God loves the agent and manifests his pleasure; it is in his very nature for him to do so. It is but an exception to this rule, that God in a very remarkable and marvelous way hid his face from Christ. Christ was the representative embodiment of sin, and it was necessary that God should make a public demonstration of his hatred of sin, and although Christ was personally holy, since he had become the representative of a sinful race, it was necessary that he should have to utter that agonizing cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But ordinarily when anybody pleases God, he has just as much willingness to manifest it as the most indulgent of parents have to commend their children when they do right. Some persons, I know, are unwilling to commend their children, and I know that by such conduct they greatly injure their children. When the wife is not commended for kindness to her husband, or the husband to his wife, or children for dutifulness to their parents, great injustice is done, and an immense amount of injury.
(2.) In the next place, the reason why so few have this testimony is, because so few really please God, so few really aim to please him. If they were conscious of being sincerely aiming to please God, they would undoubtedly expect to please him; but being conscious that they do not live for that end, they cannot rationally expect to please him, and of course they cannot expect any manifestation of his pleasure.
(3.) But again, another reason that so few have this testimony is, that they consent to live without it. If men consent to live without knowing whether they please or displease God, they will assuredly not have the testimony that they please him.
(4.) I remark again, that many do not have it, because they have more regard for the approbation of men than the approbation of God. They care so little about pleasing God, that they have ceased to inquire what will please him, and they will not hesitate to do what they know will displease God rather than displease man. These persons, of course, cannot have the testimony of which we are speaking.
(5.) I remark again; that great multitudes of person seems satisfied with mere negative testimony; if they can manage not to have a conscious sense of condemnation they can get along very well. Dearly beloved, as I have gone over these points, have I been stating the history of any of you? You are all strangers to me, and I always feel embarrassed in preaching to persons of whose spiritual state and condition I am ignorant. God only knows, therefore, whether the things spoken to-night meet the case of any of you, or not.
A few remarks will close what I have now to say.
(1.) When a soul has once had the testimony that it pleased God and has lost this testimony that it pleased God and has lost this testimony, it cannot rest without it. Let an individual who once enjoyed the testimony that he pleased God, fall into sin, and such a person will be among the most unhappy and wretched of mankind.
(2.) This accounts for the fact, that backsliders in heart are ever the most unhappy of mankindthe man that backslides in heart from God is wretched. I deeply pity the man who is a backslider. I pity the husband who has a backsliding wifeI pity the wife who has a backsliding husbandI pity the children who have backsliding parentsI pity the parents who have backsliding childrenI pity the minister who has a backsliding church, and I pity the church who has a backsliding minister; the effect is, that the backslider in heart is filled with his own wayshe is wretched wherever he is, and the language of his heart will often be
"O, where can rest be found?
"Rest, for the weary soul."
Perhaps some of you remember, and often say,
"Those peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still."
When you walked with God and had the testimony that you pleased him. You once enjoyed his testimony, and now you are fallen. Well, let me ask if you are not very uncomfortable in that fallen state? Do not your very dreams torment you; Are you not almost afraid to be alone? If you are in the condition which I have supposed, you are most unhappy and wretched, wherever you are. You may try to be happy and comfortable, but you never can be till you return to God; but when you have done this, and when God's frown is taken away, and he smiles upon you, then you may have peace. Now will you return? Great as your sins are, will you return? Do you say that your sins are so very great, so that you cannot even lift up your eyes to heaven! Neither could the publican, but he smote upon his breast, and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." You can do that! If you cannot hold up your head before God, you can get down into the dust, where the Psalmist was when he cried out in the agony of his soul to God and confessed his sin before him. You can do that, and the question is will you do it?
(3.) I remark again, what I have said to-night to Christians may with equal propriety be applied to anxious sinners. And to such, I say, you can have the testimony that you please God, if you give yourself up to please him. If you renounce your sins, and have no fellowship with iniquity, so great is his grace, that through his son Jesus Christ you may breath the spirit of liberty and of love, and possess the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. If you will but believe; if you will but make up your minds to walk with God, you may know what it is to have the testimony that you please him. Some of you may be ready to say, O, if I could have this testimony, there is nothing that I would not do; there is no part of the world to which I would not go, if I could obtain acceptance with God. Yes, you want to buy it; but, until you will be content to do the will of God, and cast yourselves wholly upon the grace of Christ for it, you will never possess it. You may say, I have thought, desired, and prayed, and avowed my willingness to do anything if I might but obtain acceptance with God. Did it occur to you that there was much self-righteousness in your desire to do something to obtain this, otherwise than by the means which God has appointedit was a self-righteous effort. It is not very difficult to come to Christ; why do not you come to him? What say you, may I come to Christ? Can I come to Christ just as I am? Will he accept me? Yes, you may come to him, and he will accept you. Hear what he says, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." If you come to Christ, you may have the testimony that you please God; that you believe on him, and cast yourselves upon him, is all God requires of you. And now, you who are professors of religion, and you who are not, is it not best for you one and all to say"by the grace of God we will have this testimony." What minister, what professor, what sinner, in this house, but will say, "If by the grace of God it is offered to me, I will have it and enjoy it, or I will die for it. O God, I will accept thy offered mercy. Lord Jesus, I believe thy gospel, and I accept it." You that have the testimony that you please God, I know that in the depth of your emotions you often groan within you, on account of the miserable death in which some persons are, that pretend to live: your souls, pray for them, let them pray on, God's spirit is in the midst of you, and now is the time for a resurrection from the dead. What say you sinner? Will you arise from the dead and come forth? Christ calls you, and presents you with his life-giving blood. He puts it even to your lips. Do you dash it away? Does your soul not want the testimony that God is reconciled to you? Do you not desire the testimony that you please God? If you do, then believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall have the very thing that you require. Now we are going to God in prayer, and what say you, shall we go on your belief in the name of Christ? Who of you are prepared to go with us to a throne of grace, and cast your souls upon God? What individual now in bondage is willing to be released? Come and sore away from all your unbelief, and cast yourself upon Christ. Empty every vessel -cast it bottom upwards and make it quite empty, and then bring it to Christ, and it shall be filled. Will you come? Will you come? Will you come? Let your heart answer! Let your heart respond! Let it speak out, Lord Jesus my soul hears, and I come, I come. Amen.
April 10, 1861.
"Be ye tender-hearted."Eph. 4: 32
In speaking from these words I inquire,
I. What it is to be tender-hearted.
In my last I said that hard-heartedness was stubbornness; that it consisted in the committed state of the will against the claims of God; was a selfish, unsubdued will.
Tender-heartedness is the opposite of this. It is the will committed to the claims of God, in the attitude of obedience to God, of submission to Him. It is, in short, benevolence; a state of mind adjusted in the will of God; a state that accepts His whole will, and commits the whole mind to obedience.
II. I notice the effects and manifestations of this tender-heartedness.
1. Candor is an effect and a manifestation of this state of the will.
A tender heart will always use the intellect in a candid manner; it will weigh evidence, and be careful to do nobody any injustice in judgment; it will weigh the claims of God, and the claims of a neighbor. Hence,
2. It will be easily convinced of error, if error there be. Being candid and open to conviction, and in a yielding state of mind to all truth and duty, if any error is indulged, the mind is very open to conviction.
3. Another effect and manifestation of tender-heartedness is great readiness to retract any error of practice or opinion.
The mind, yielding as air, is easily convinced of error; and when convinced, spontaneously retracts. The opposite of this is true in hardness of heart. The mind is uncandid, hard to be convinced, and not ready to retract even then.
4. Another effect and manifestation of tenderness of heart is a fear of prejudice, or pre-judgment. A mind in this state will be on its guard against a hasty opinion, and especially a hasty judgment against any person. In this state everybody is loved; consequently the mind is disposed to think favorable of all the objects of its regard.
It is disposed to judge charitably, and to avoid all prejudice. It regards prejudice as a great injustice; and if prejudices have been entertained, this state of mind will instantly yield them, and yield them joyfully, as soon as evidence can be obtained to show that there is prejudice.
5. Another effect and manifestation of tenderness of heart is charitableness in judgment.
As I have just said, the state of heart of which we are speaking, is that of love to God and man; consequently the mind in this state will judge kindly and hopefully of everybody so far as it honestly can.
6. A sixth manifestation of this state of mind is tenderness of conscience.
When the heart is tender, the conscience is very susceptible, easily excited to activity, and readily makes its impression on the sensibility. You will find persons in this state exceedingly sensitive of the presence of any sin. Its perceptions of moral distinctions are very delicate; and its decisions are very emphatic, and often tremendously severe. I have known persons to have so much tenderness of heart as to receive impressions that were almost unendurable.
7. A tender heart will be appreciative of the nature of sin.
Sin consists in a state of mind that does not care for God or man; but cares really only for self and for those that are regarded as parts of self.
It is a state that refuses to will the good of God and of being in general; and does not really concern itself for any interests but its own. Now a tender heart can appreciate the great wickedness of this contempt of the interests of others; this reckless disregard of God and man.
To have neglected God appears to a tender heart to be a great and awful sin.
To have cared nothing for His rights, or interests, or glory, appears to a tender heart to be a sin well-worthy of damnation.
8. A tender heart will manifest a great sensibility in regard to the intrinsic ill-desert of sin. It will readily concede that it deserves eternal banishment from God. It is not blind to the ill-desert of sin, as hardness of heart is; but it can assign no bounds to the guilt of sin.
To have wronged God is an inexpressibly terrible thing to a tender heart.
9. A tender heart will manifest, at times, deep sorrow for sin. Not only can it appreciate intellectually the guilt of sin; but the sensibility is easily and deeply broken up by this sense of the guilt of sin.
A tender heart is a loving heart. A loving heart throws the sensibility open to be deeply moved by a sense of the intrinsic guilt of sin against God. The fountains of the great deep of the sensibility are easily broken up, and sorrows easily gush and flow where the will has yielded the whole controversy and taken its proper attitude. If the will has given scope to the feelings, and has let in upon the sensibility the real facts as they are in all their freshness, the sorrows will gush like a fountain.
10. A tender heart is highly appreciative of the love and compassion of God. It will not only admit the great love and compassion of God, but it will feel it.
It throws the sensibility open to be affected by a sense of this love and compassion. It throws open the windows of the mind to let in the light of God's compassion, its warmth and its influence. In this state the soul will not complain that it cannot realize the love and compassion of God.
11. A tender heart is greatly humbled by a sense of the love and compassion of Christ, and deeply moved in view of what He has done to atone for sin.
This looks dreamy to a hard heart; but to a tender heart it is reality. The love of Christ in dying for the soul, is an overwhelming consideration to a tender heart.
I can conceive that a daughter might become so hardened toward her mother, so disobedient and unsubdued, as to do that which would cost her mother her life; and yet be unable either to appreciate her own sin, or the great love of her mother in giving up her life for her daughter.
But on the other hand, I can conceive a daughter so subdued, that, if she had done that which had cost her mother her life, she would feel as if she never could forgive herself; never could think of it without a flood of tears; never could speak of it without breaking down with sorrow.
If her heart were tender, the very thought of what she had done, and what love and compassion the suffering mother had for her, would carry her away in a flood of weeping. Thus it is in respect to Christ. When the heart is tender, the whole mind is easily affected, greatly subdued, and humbled unspeakably low, in view of those sins that crucified Christ, that love that bore our sins in His own body on the tree.
12. A tender heart will always manifest great religious sensibility on all questions connected with the kingdom of Christ. You will find that such a mind is easily excited, and more easily excited on religious subjects than any other. There is a general tenderness of feelings, and a great susceptibility of emotion, especially of the tender emotions.
13. A tender heart will always manifest great fear of grieving Christ. It will have supreme regard to Christ's feelings. It cannot bear to grieve, cannot bear to offend Him. It will often seem to such a mind that it had rather die than to grieve the Savior. It will not only say with Joseph, "How can I commit this great wickedness and sin against God," but it will spontaneously exclaim in the presence of temptation, "I cannot, will not do that which will grieve the Savior that died for me."
14. A tender heart will manifest great fear of stumbling others, of misleading them, of creating prejudice in their minds against Christ or His religion. It will manifest great fear of saying or doing anything that may in anywise mislead them to their injury, or to the injury of the kingdom of Christ. If at any time it has done anything to stumble others, the recollection of it will be too painful for endurance; and the soul will hasten to remove the stumbling block, and will not rest until it is done.
15. A tender heart will manifest great reluctance to grieve any one. If, in faithfulness to the souls of any, it finds itself obliged to be severe, to reprove and rebuke with any degree of sternness, it will be done with reluctance and with grief; and the tender-hearted will often find that in probing others he inflicts a deep wound on his own sensibility; that while he uses the sword of the Spirit unsparingly, the foundations of his own compassion are stirred to their bottom. He will be obliged to gird himself with the whole strength of his will to perform the duty, and strengthen himself to the utmost to avoid breaking down in the effort.
16. Tenderness of heart will manifest great readiness to repent and confess, if in anything it finds itself to have been in the wrong. The repentance will be spontaneous, and the confession thorough.
To such a mind it is no trial to confess, but rather a luxury. Confession will not be guarded and half-hearted; but such a soul will make a clean breast of it, and confess the whole, and will not stop short of finding full relief.
17. A tender heart will manifest great tenderness in justifying self. It is apt to be suspicious of self; and is afraid of a self-justifying spirit.
It will not, as a general thing assert at once its own consciousness of innocence; but, if there be any doubt, will take the matter into consideration, look narrowly into all the motives, weigh every circumstance with great candor, and will after all often come to the conclusion that Paul did when he said, " I will not judge mine own self."
Or at any rate, if it cannot see its wrong, it will say, " I leave it to the judgment of God. I may be wrong, though I am not conscious of it. Still, I will not be too positive; God may see that I am in the wrong."
But again, 18. A tender heart is very apt to manifest a self-accusing spirit.
It is curious to see that where brethren in the hardness of their hearts have each held the other to be in the wrong; as soon as their hearts become tender, each one insists that he is almost, if not altogether, in the wrong. He thinks himself greatly more to blame than his brother; and often so much so, that he frequently thinks that his brother would not have been in the blame at all if it had not been for his own wrong. I have seen many instances of thisthat as soon as the hearts of the people become tender, every one could see his own wrong much more plainly than he could his brother's.
And a self-accusing spirit, rather than a self-justifying spirit, is manifest throughout the whole circle of the tender-hearted.
19. A tender heart manifests a spirit of self-loathing. It cannot endure its former selfishness and folly. When it thinks of its former self-seeking and wicked state of mind, it cannot express the loathing that it has of self. Such a mind seems to itself to have been the most hateful of all beingsperhaps the most worthy of damnation, or least worthy of notice; and often feels surprised that anybody should treat it otherwise than with utter neglect and contempt.
In speaking the other day to a sister in the church, whose heart has recently became tender, I said to her that I was trying to get time to call upon her. She replied, tearfully, " How can you think of calling upon me? I am not worthy that anybody should take any notice of me." As I was speaking to a brother but a few days since, he made this remark: "I am not worthy to be on the face of the earthI am not fit to live in human societyI am a loathing to myselfI have no right to live, I have been so vile."
And yet neither of these persons have been guilty, to my knowledge, of any conduct that in the sight of men would have been regarded as disgraceful. But this is the natural tendency of a tender heart when fully convinced by the Spirit of God.
In another case, a sister said to me, "I never saw myself as I have today. I am so hateful, I do not think it would be right in God to forgive me. Really, I do not want to be forgivenI feel as if God's honor so demanded that I should be punished." And this she said with many tears, and in a tone and with a manner so subdued as to be very touching. How opposite all this to hardness of heart!
20. A tender heart will manifest much concern lest it should be more highly thought of than is just and reasonable. It will manifest a desire to confess over and over again, to make confession and restitution full and complete; and if it discovers any want of fullness in the confession or restitution, it will not rest without repeating it and making such additions as shall fully meet the convictions of this deeply impressed spirit.
21. A tender heart will manifest a great unwillingness to blame others. It "hopeth all things;" it "believeth all things." It is ready to "cover a multitude of sins;" and especially will this be so in regard to sins committed against itself. If it has been wronged in anywise, it does not heap the blame upon the offending party. It does not delight in this, in criminating and making out the strongest case against the offender, but exactly the opposite. It will judge him as charitably as possible; it will make for him all reasonable apologies. It does not like to bear down upon him, and dwell upon his fault; but is easily pacified, ready to overlook, spontaneous in forgiveness. It will forgive willingly and thoroughly; will make a clean breast of forgiveness, laying up nothing, holding on to no shade of resentful feeling.
22. A tender heart is slow to believe evil of others. It loves every one, and therefore is disposed to think well of every one. This is the natural result of love. We do not easily believe evil of those whom we greatly love, but on the contrary are slow to believe evil of them.
The tender-hearted are slow to believe evil of any one, either friends or foes.
Indeed, a tender-hearted soul has no foes, in the sense of his having any enmity toward any one. It loves all; it can pray for all; it is disposed to think well of all; and it is always grieved when compelled to believe evil of any one.
Hard-heartedness is the opposite of this. It manifests a readiness to believe evil, to judge harshly and censoriously; it is ready to retain resentful feelings; it forgives ungraciously and superficially, and after all, retains resentful feelings. But not so with tender-heartedness.
Tender-heartedness is grieved to be obliged to think evil of others; and dismisses all such thoughts, and all such judgments, and all such things, from the mind as soon as possible.
23. Kindness of manner is always an effect and manifestation of tenderness of heart. It cannot be unkind in manner; but is loving, compassionate, forbearing.
In manner, and tone of voice, and gesture, and look, it will be kind, compassionate, benevolent.
24. Another effect of tenderness of heart is generosity. It is generous to the poor, generous in trade, generous in social intercourse. Largeness of heart and beneficence will always manifest themselves when the heart is tender.
25. A self-sacrificing spirit for the good of others will always be manifested when the heart is tender. It is striking to see how much pains the tender-hearted will take to promote the good of others.
This Jesus did; this His followers do; this is natural as its breath to a tender-hearted mind. It does not come hard for the tender-hearted to deny themselves, to make sacrifices for the good of others. In them it is spontaneous; it is an outburst of a state of mind; it is the natural development of a Christian spirit within them.
You will find that such persons are always willing to do all they can for God and souls; and indeed, they are greatly desirous of doing a great deal more good than they can. Their hearts are often too large for their means. When they have done all they can, it seems to them that they have done little; and their grief is that they cannot do more. They will cry out within, " O, for an ocean of means to meet the necessities of all the children of want!"
26. A tender heart never indulges hard or resentful feelings at all. If in any way disobliged, it lays up nothing ; if in anywise wronged, it spontaneously forgives; and can earnestly pray that God would bring the wrong-doer to repentance, and forgive him.
27. The tender-hearted will not resent reproof; but are always thankful for it. The more thoroughly and honestly you call the attention of such a one to anything that has been wrong in himself, he is all the more your friend. He really thanks you for the suggestion or the reproof; and will be sure to profit by it. He realizes that they are his best friends who deal most faithfully with him. He sincerely wishes to be rid of everything that can hinder his usefulness, or in anywise do harm. He sincerely wishes to set everything right with God and man; and most thankful is he to any one that will kindly help him to understand himself.
28. Of course the tender-hearted have no enemies, in the sense that they have any quarrel with anybody.
They are not easily offended; they are not jealous, and critical, and ready to make another an offender for a word. They are ready to make apologies for those who in anywise appear either to neglect them or to encroach upon their rights.
29. The tender-hearted will manifest a realizing sense of the reality of religious truth. The Bible deeply impresses them; preaching, and all religious truth, makes them deeply solemn. It greatly searches them; it takes hold upon their whole being; and to them it is a solemn matter to have God speak to them. In this state of mind they are easily and savingly influenced by the truth of God. Every sermon will take effect upon them.
30. The tender-hearted manifest great depth and sincerity of feeling.
In them there is nothing of affectation; for they feel so deeply that no affectation is necessary, and there is no temptation to any such thing. There is no cant about them, no effort to get up an appearance of feeling; but it requires a great deal more effort to suppress the too audible manifestation of it. There is everything in religious truth to make the soul feel, to excite it in the very highest degree. When the heart is hard this is not realized, the truth is not seen; but when the eye is single, the whole body is full of light. When the heart is tender, then truth has a tremendous bearing on the sensibility. It moves it in all its depths and manifestations; and it sometimes requires not a little effort to suppress even the boisterous manifestations of feeling. I have often, myself, when my heart was thoroughly subdued, felt it difficult to avoid screaming in view of the state of sinners, or shouting in view of the love of God. In this state of mind the will is yielded up to truth; and consequently the feelings, having full scope, are very liable to boil over.
But of course there is a good deal of difference in different temperaments, in respect to the extent to which the feelings will be excited when the heart is tender. But as all men have sensibility, all men can feel when the appropriate conditions are fulfilled; and when the heart is tender, there is generally a very great susceptibility to feeling in every mind.
Men are very apt to apologize for the want of feeling, by saying, that they are of such a temperament that they cannot expect to feel. I have heard much of this; and often have I seen these same persons, when thoroughly subdued to God, as full of feeling as they could hold.
31. A tender heart will manifest much prayerfulness for the salvation of souls. When the heart is tender, compassion is strongly excited, the danger of souls is clearly apprehended, so that crying to God in their behalf is an inevitable result.
Persons in this state of mind will not go over with a cold statement of their own wants, and confine their prayers to themselves and a few friends; but the yearnings of such a mind will pour themselves out in mighty prayer for those that are perishing.
32. A tender heart will manifest much watchfulness, and will walk softly before God. When the heart is tender, there is a solemn awe vesting upon the mind; a fearfulness of offending in word, or thought, or deed; a watchfulness over the tongue and over the life; and a walking carefully and softly, lest the Holy Spirit should be grieved.
33. A man of tender heart will manifest much concern for backsliders. He will be pitiful and earnest; and in endeavors to reclaim them will try to restore them in the spirit of meekness, considering himself lest he also should be tempted.
1. How differently does everything appear in this state from what it does in a state of hardness of heart. Religion, the world, our neighbors, our sins, the conduct of everybody elseall, all appear so changed as soon as the heart is softened.
The change is indeed wonderful, in passing from a state of hardness to a state of tenderness of heart. It seems almost as if we had changed worlds. Everything is seen in so different a light; everything makes so different an impression upon us! Life is altogether a different affairand so is death.
2. When the heart is softened there is a great readiness to correct any mistakes that were made while the heart was hard. Even bargains that were made in hardness of heart, and without any misgiving, at the time, as to their being truly honest, will be seen, often, when the heart is tender, to have been oppressive and selfish; and the mind will not willingly let them rest without proposing to set the matter right.
A hard-hearted man buys a poor man's cow. The poor man needs to sell her, and he buys her for a little less than what she is worth. When his heart becomes tender and he thinks of the poor man's cow, he will be very apt not to rest till he pays the full value of her. I have known many striking instances like this.
3. A tender heart always brings great peace to the soul.
While the heart is hard, the mind is restive under the government of God; and in human society the will is too stiff. The hard-hearted man elbows his way in human society, and chafes under the government of God. But as soon as his heart is tender and subdued, he quiets himself like a weaned child under the government of God. He bows himself to the providence of God; he feels his way carefully and kindly among mankind; he walks in peace with God, and so far as in him lies with all men.
4. It is easy to deal with tender hearted people. They are fair-minded, honorable, and will take no advantage. In dealing with them you need not stand upon your guard lest they should devour you; for they spontaneously give you that which is your own.
They are not grasping, and trying to get the lion's share; but would do by their neighbors as they would do by themselves.
It is easy to get along with tender-hearted people, in all the concerns of life. They are candid, unselfish, good neighbors, kind friends, generous and loving in all the relation of life.
5. There is something very beautiful in tender-heartedness.
Indeed, it is often very affecting to see the beauty of a tender-hearted mind.
To see its simplicity, its unaffected sincerity, its self-sacrifice, its pains-taking for the food of others, its care not to injure others, its fear of prejudiceand indeed all the manifestations of such a mind are so symmetrical, so beautiful, so Christ-likeit is a luxury to live and move in the midst of such minds.
6. How beautiful will heaven be, where all hearts are tender; and God's heart the most tender of all.
There is no hard place in God's heart; no hard heart in heaven; no blind, selfish mind; no censorious, cruel, unfeeling soul there; but all is perfect tenderness, and on God's part infinite tenderness.
7. If often requires great nerve to probe and search a tender heart. It sometimes happens that a mind that has become tender-hearted, has forgotten some past wrong. Its attention needs to be called to something it has not considered. In this state the soul will be aware that there is something that binds here and there; and that the mind, though tender, has not yet full liberty. The spirit of prayer does not flow spontaneously; there is something that binds the feelings, something that checks the power of faith.
In such cases the heart needs searching; the wedges that bind, need to be sought out; the error detected. But to do this, as I said, requires nerve, and is often a painful operation to the one who is called to this duty.
I must say, that in my own experience, I have often undergone exquisite suffering from having such a work to do.
It has been sometimes with the utmost difficulty that I could make up my mind to use the probe thoroughly; and when I could see what needed to be said, it seemed as if I could scarcely say it. But yet such a labor always pays. When the work is done, the mind is healed; and you will surely say that the pain could be well-afforded.
8. Tenderness of heart is always essential to peace of mind and joy in God. And where the heart is really tender, and it has been thoroughly searched and emptied, its peace will be like a river, and its joy purely spontaneous.
Lastly. Let no one stop short of a thoroughly tender heart. When the members of a church are tender-hearted, it is easy to settle all difficulties.
The brethren are then disposed, each one, to blame himself; and to go as far as he ought in justifying others.
All are ready to forgive; and there is no difficulty that cannot be well and easily settled. I have often seen brethren in a state of controversy in which I could see that the whole difficulty with them was the hardness of their hearts. They were blind, and for the time being each thought the other to be the most in fault. But as soon as their hearts are tender, this state of things is reversed. Each one is ready to blame himself, and difficulties will soon be adjusted. Brethren in such cases will not rest nor sleep, if they can avoid it, till they have confessed to each other, and prayed with each other, and restored each other to confidence.
Neighborhood broils will cease, family broils will cease, church broils will cease, as soon as the hearts of the parties are tender. Church-members will cease to oppose their ministers, and ministers cease to think hard of their people, when there is mutual tenderness of heart. Then there will be no controversy which shall be greatest; but members will vie with each other to get the lowest seat, each one feeling, the lowest seat belongs to me.
THE TREASURE AND THE PEARL.
March 31, 1858.
The Oberlin Evangelist, Vol. XX. New Series Vol. XV. No 5, page 33.
BY PRESIDENT FINNEY.
REPORTED BY THE EDITOR.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof, goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant-man, seeking goodly pearls; who, when he hath found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."MAT. 13: 44-46
Here we have two parables to illustrate manifestly one idea. It first compares the kingdom of heaven to treasure hid in a field, which a man, having found, sells all he has and buys it. The second gives us the case of a merchant-man seeking choice pearls, who, having found one of very great value, sells all he has and buys it.
What do this treasure and this pearl represent?
Jesus Christ, beyond a doubt. The parables are intended to show how it is in the kingdom of God. When Christ is really found, He charms the soul away from every thing else.
Here we must enquire firstWhat is implied in finding Christ, this great treasure?
It is plain that the very idea of finding a treasure and being appropriately affected thereby, implies that the finder appreciates its value. Applying this obvious fact to the finding of Christ, it is plain that men may learn something about Him in the merely speculative sense, and be none the wiser or richer, for they may, in their hearts, reject Him, despite of such knowledge. To find Christ, therefore, in the true sense, cannot be a merely historical finding, or a theological, or a doctrinal finding. In fact, men have often found Christ in these speculative senses, without being led thereby to sell all to buy Him. In the merely historical sense, Christ may be found without any such result, as these parables indicate.
Again, I remarkIn these parables, Christ teaches not only how things ought to be, but how they arethe actual results of this finding. The repetition in a second parable, reveals His earnestness in inculcating these ideas.
It is plain that the finding of Christ in this sense is very much misunderstood. If, in fact, men who really find Christ, sell all that they have, it must be that this finding has taken strong hold of the soul.
It must imply a spiritual apprehension of Christ, reaching to His real nature. The mind must apprehend Him as more than a mere man who lived, died, and went to heaven. It must require something more than these views of Christ, to produce the results given in our text. He might have lived and died as the first and greatest of martyrs, and yet, even so, none of these emphatic results would follow. But, plainly, the soul must understand Christ in a truly spiritual sensein a sense that takes strong hold of the mind. The soul must perceive the infinite richness, fulness and glory of Christ. Else He will be only a root out of dry ground, and you will see in Him no form and comeliness.
Hence, it is essential that we enquire nextWhat are the conditions under which Christ may be thus seen and found?
1. You must thoroughly know yourself and your spiritual wants.
Nobody is much interested in knowing a remedy for a disease which he neither feels nor fears. Suppose some great remedy were proclaimed among us, and we were all fully assured that it had performed many cures. The testimony seems fair; but, if nobody is suffering from the disease, and if none of the people fear it, there will be very little interest taken in it. Perhaps you could not sell an ounce of it, or get the attention of the people to it for five minutes. There is no sense of want, in relation to that remedy.
So, unless people come to have a deep sense of their own spiritual disease, they will not seek after Christ, and, of course, will not find Him.
But, in order to understand ourselves, we must search ourselves most honestly, and be quite willing to weigh ourselves "in the balances of the sanctuary." If a man will not admit these convictions of personal guiltwill not let the light of God's word shine in upon his heart, and even shine through his heart, there is no hope for him. Self-blinded to his sin and consequent danger, he must go down to eternal darkness. For God does not deal with us as with stocks, but as with thinking minds. He gives us His law as our rule, and asks us to study it and judge ourselves by its demands. Hence, unless one has made up his mind to know himself, and is willing both to take the trouble and to admit to his heart the whole truththere is no hope for him. It is amazing to see how much self-delusion there is, and how much lack of self-scrutiny.
Another condition of feeling one's need of Christ is that he consider deeply what the Bible teaches respecting himself. It is amazing to see how many read and hear the Bible over and over, and it never gets hold of their attention, and, consequently, they get no just conception of its greatest and most vital truths. "Why did not you tell me of these things before?" said a young man who had heard the gospel, and who had the finest possible opportunity to know all about it, but who had ruled it out of his mind"Why did you not tell me there was such a hell?"
I did tell you; I have often told you and urged it upon your attention.
"No; but you did not get it before my mind."
The reason was, you would not attend to it.
Sometimes one will read a book in time of sermon, as if determined not to hear. Of course, he hears nothing to any purpose. Sometimes, one will sit down to read a chapter in the Bible. A great many precious things are in it, but his eye slips over everything, for his heart is not there. He is not searching for truth and wisdom as worldly men dig for hid treasure. Is it strange that men fail to find the things of the gospel?
Again, another condition is prayer. There must be earnest, persevering prayer, and the reason why is, that you need God's light and wisdom to instruct you, and He gives only to those who humbly ask. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally; and it shall be given him. A Unitarian lady, last winter, who had been strong in her position, finally consented to ask the ladies to pray with her and for her. I said to herYou have not seen Christ. Ultimately, Christ came; and she exclaimed"O what revelations did Christ make of Himself to my soul!" By asking for prayer in her behalf, she had laid herself open to the truth, and to the Spirit who teaches truth.
Again, you must forbear to make your own experience a standard in such a sense that you will assume that what you have not known is not worth knowing. Beware of this! If you have not so found Christ that He is more to you than all things else, you ought to understand that you have made very little advance in piety if indeed you have made any at all. If you have not found Him spiritually, and so found Him that your soul is seized and held by Christ, you ought to assume that there is something more yet for you to know.
Take care, also, not to make uninspired men your standard, above the Bible. Don't get anybody's biography and read it as your standard; and especially not, the biography of one who has not known Christ. But read your Bible; and be assured there is no teaching so plain as that. If you will go right to the Bible, and get Christ to teach you, all will be well. Raise the enquiry on every passage. What does this mean? Go upon your knees and ask that divine light may shine upon your soul. I know a young man, who, if he found any difficult passage in reading the Bible, would go at once to no other fountain of wisdom save to Christ Himself. And you need not doubt that Christ will teach you if you really go to Him.
Moreover, you must beware of prejudice. You may be under the influence of many of which you are not aware. Avoid the posture of committal to any opinions which you have not surely learned from God's word. Let no such committal stand in your way. I know not how many cases I found last winter of those whose minds had been confused with conflicting speculations about Christ. I often saidYou have been discussing these questions here all your life. A little practical experience of Christ as your Savior from sin, would be worth more than all the speculative wisdom you have attained. I became much interested in the case of one young man who had been abroad to complete his education, but who returned with his faith in Christ and Christianity sadly shaken. His Christian friends had been greatly distressed for him. During the winter, a friend of his wrote to him to come to Boston. When he came, this friend of his did not pretend that she could relieve him of his speculative difficulties, but she gave herself to prayer for him, and so did others. When I met him, it was easy to show him that every form of infidelity is self-annihilating. He admitted this, and finally said that the only two consistent schemes were, the common or orthodox one, and nihilism. I said to himCan you believe the latter? He answered, Yes. Then you can believe there is neither matter nor mind? Yes. One more questionWhat is that which has this belief? What forms this conception? Is this done by a non-entitya mere thing? Is your own mind a mere negation?
Then I addedYoung man, I advise you to pray. You are not so great a man as you may suppose. It could not be amiss for you to humble yourself before God, beg His forgiveness, and implore His teaching. He did pray; and his friends also prayedtill he came into the light of the gospel and found Christ.
I must now pass to notice, in greater detail, the results of thus finding Christ.
The text represents self-renunciation as one of them. He who finds the goodly pearl, sells all that he has to buy it. When you thus apprehend Christ, you will say as Paul, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." It is every way natural that this should be so. It will result in fact. Those who find Christ, will forsake all in the sense of disclaiming all right to hold their property as their own. They abjure all selfish holding of property, and all careful anxiety about any thing of a worldly nature.
Those who find Christ to be really their Advocate, and know Him to be made of God unto them their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, will find no more need of legal efforts to work out their own salvation. When Christ does all this for the soul, it is enough, and is felt to be. The sinner needs a righteousness; in Christ he finds it. Find in Christ every thing which before he sought in selfish works, what further need has he of self-righteousness? The old robes, or rather rags, may well be laid off and cast away!
The Bible distinctly teaches that unconverted men do not thoroughly understand the gospel, and never would have devised such a scheme. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, says, "We speak the wisdom of Godthat (long) hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, (as it is written,) Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, . . . the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him," (in the gospel system and to be revealed in gospel times;)"But God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit." "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness to him." He does not feel his want of them; hence does not appreciate their value, nor even comprehend their nature. It is doubtful whether Judas ever well understood Christ. He doubtless heard much about Him, and may have had some queries raised in his mind; but, obviously, he did not correctly understand Him.
The Bible is remarkably a dead letter to every man until the Spirit of God convicts him of sin. Its first power on the heart is only to condemn. The sinner's first experience of the power of the Bible is in its condemning sentence, and in its fearful revealings of his own sin. Conviction fastens on him; his soul, full of want, sallies forth after something better.
Have you ever had this experiencea deep conviction that you must have something better than your own righteousness? If so, you can appreciate the change that takes place, under this conviction, in the soul's estimate of the value of Christ. If any man can introduce an effectual remedy when a fearful disease is raging in every family, it will be of some use to cry aloud in all the streetsa remedy! a certain cure! A cure for the choleraa cure for the plague! If the cholera were here in its fearful terrors; if, casting your eye from the window at any hour, you could see hearses moving on, slowly and solemnly with their dead;in such a state of things, men would gather in troops round the placard, crying outWill it bring salvation? Will it stay this fearful plague?
So, under conviction of sin, men cry outTell us that again! Even as when the apostles preached with convincing power, men begged of them to tell them more of those glad tidings, on the next Sabbath. Father Oliphant once said"I have been reading the Bible now two hours, and have read over yet but two verses." Ah, he had been drinking in their spirit, and partaking of their power! Christ spake to his soul! Said I not unto thee, "If thou canst believe, thou shalt see the glory of God?" And have not some of you lingered long on your knees, while Christ was saying to your inmost heartSaid I not unto thee, "All things are possible to him that believeth?" The fact is, that when the heart is laid open and prepared to have His glory revealed, a single sentence, a word, has an ocean of meaning. Now, the pearl of great price is found, and verily all else is worthless but Christ. When you speak to them of Christ, they cryTell us that story of the cross again! There is no end to their desire to hear of Christ.
I have had occasion many times to say to my friendsYou can never settle these questions about the person of Christ, by controversy. You must go to Christ for yourselves and say to HimReveal Thyself to me; Thou art divine; let me know it in my own experience. Didst Thou not say"When He, the Spirit of truth shall come, He shall guide you into all truth; He shall reprove the world of sin because they believe not on me?" Let that Spirit guide, reprove and sanctify me.
Again, it often happens that persons are too self-righteous. You may say to themChrist is preciousthe chief among ten thousands; but they don't understand it. Ask themHave you ever found Jesus near? They don't know what they have. The truth is, they need to see Him and to get such apprehensions of Him that they cannot but know Him.
How few seem to have found Christ and renounced all things for His sake. The Psalmist said"Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth whom I desire besides Thee;" but, alas, there are not many to sympathize in these utterances of his heart.
Let me say to every unpardoned sinnerYou need to find Christ. You complain of condemnation and bondage. If you can only find that goodly treasure in the field, you will part with all things, as of little worth, that you may gain it.
If ministers do not preach the law, they cannot make men understand the gospel. So long as the spirituality of the law is not understood, people will lose the true idea of Christ.
Sometimes, after the law has deeply convicted men of sin, a single sermon on Christ will bring in hundreds to accept Him as their Savior. But, if men have not this sense of lostness, preaching Christ to them does them no good. You might as well proclaim a remedy for an unknown disease.
Who of you have found Christ? Whoever has will sayThe treasure is far richer than I expected. So it will always be. And with every fresh view of His glories, deeper and deeper will sink your views of self; higher and higher will rise your views of Christ.
If you have not really found Christ, so that you can truly count all things but loss for His name, then you have much more yet to do. You have by no means reached the place yet to rest. O, if theological students were to seek Christ more, and the love of book-learning less, they would surely have far more power. Let them get a rich experience of Christ in the soul, and then they will have one of the first requisites for preaching Christ out of their very souls. It is entirely essential to persuasive eloquence that men should absolutely know that of which they try to persuade others.
On the same principle, every church member needs to have the living gospel in his own heart before he can hope to commend it with any effect to the hearts of his fellow-men. You must yourself find Christ as the merchant-man found a precious pearl; then you can direct your fellows how to search and where to find.
THE ONE THING NEEDFUL.
February 2, 1859.
The Oberlin Evangelist, Vol. XXI. New Series Vol. I. No 3, page 17.
BY PRESIDENT FINNEY.
REPORTED BY Henry cowles.
"Jesus answered, and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10: 41, 42
This text is introduced in the sacred narration, thus
"Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, 'Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore, that she help me.'"
Thus it appears that on this memorable visit made by Jesus to this family, Mary gave herself up immediately to be instructed. She sat down at once at His feet to hear His words. "But Martha was cumbered about much serving," and was almost ready to complain of Christ that He would let Mary neglect the work and throw it upon her. Martha was the housekeeper and made herself a good deal of trouble in the matter of extra entertainment of guests. Jesus replied to her, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things." She was full of anxietynot about one thing only, but many; her mind was taken up and divided, anxious, in a state of great perturbation. This thing and that thing must be attended to. But Christ does not care for the "many things." In His view the many things were of small value; and only the one thing had a value supreme and immeasurable. This one thing He puts in opposition to the many things chosen by Martha. Mary had discriminated and chosen wisely, and had therefore taken the right thing for her portion. You, said He to Martha, have many things in your heart; Mary has seized upon the one thing, the good part, which she shall never lose.
The very emphatic manner in which Christ speaks of this one thing, might imply that but one thing is of any use; or it might mean that but one thing is indispensableall the rest being naturally inferior and such as one may afford to forego.
What is this one thing needful?
Evidently it is a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To this Mary gave her earnest attention. Jesus had come to her house; immediately she gave herself up to sit at His feet and to hear His words. Christ was not displeased with her seeming inattention to His earthly wants. It did not offend Him that she should be so entirely engrossed with her own salvation. He noticed her fixed attention, her tearful eye and her trembling voice, and He would not have her diverted to anything else.
On the other hand, Martha was careful to entertain Him well, and doubtless had a high regard for Him as a friend. But she had not well understood His mission and her own need to know it. Mary did understand these things and Jesus rejoiced to see that she did.
The words of Jesus show that in His view there is no comparison between the one thing and the many things. They may be contrasted; they cannot be compared. The many things are mere trifles, finite, and of small account; but the one thing is infinite. The many are temporary, for a moment only; the one is perpetual. The finite and infinite can never be compared; they may naturally be contrasted. Christ did not intend to say that these many things had no value; but did intend to say that the one thing is not merely a good, but an indispensable good. As to those other thingsthe manyfor which Martha was so careful, if He had no supper, no matter. He could not forgive Martha for not giving herself up to what both she and Mary needed so much. It was a natural necessity that Martha should have Christ for her Savior. Nothing else can suffice, or can supply the want of this.
Why is but one thing needful?
Because if we have this one thing, we shall escape all that we need to fear as the consequence of our sins. Let us consider what this is and must be from its own nature.
The thing the sinner needs is escape from their consequences. What are these consequences?
I often trace the different steps in the experience of different persons. Some seem to have always regarded God as their Father, but to have not seen Christ. I mean, have not seen Christ in the sense of the hymn,
I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood;
It is one thing to estimate God as a Father, and another to see Christ. Seeing Christ in this sense is the natural result of being deeply convicted and of feeling frequent remorse for sin. This remorse for sin seems to be the indispensable condition of seeing and appreciating Christ as a Savior. It is remarkable that remorse for sin always ceases with the exercise of true faith in Christ. It is worthy of enquiryWhy is it that a saving knowledge of Christ not only gives the sense of pardon, but wipes out the dreadful remorse? so removes it that it is gone and cannot be found? Yet such is the fact. No one who has had this experience could ever afterwards doubt the reality of justification by faithso great is the power of believing on Christ on one's own state of mind. Remorsethat most horrible condition of mindcan never be expelled permanently, save by faith in the Lord Jesus. With this faith there comes into the soul a blessed sense of peace and pardon. This expels remorse; nothing else can.
Under this remorse, we are so displeased with ourselves that we cannot help feeling that God is angry against usnot with malicious anger, but yet with such anger as crushed the spirit downa sense of God's infinite displeasure against sin. Put a man in heaven, he could not be happy there without this deliverance from remorse.
By a saving knowledge of Jesus, one gets rid also of despair. Think what despair is; estimate its unutterable agony, and then add to it this horrible, remorseful state of mind, and you have the consummation of sorrow and wretchedness.
I have seen persons in despair who yet seemed not to be remorseful. They could not believe that God could forgive them; yet the keen gnawings of remorse were not there. But sometimes I have seen both these things together; and there was perfect misery! How awful! How horrible!
Those of you who have felt this have saidI cannot live so five minutes; I cannot endure this crushing weight of woe! Sometimes the sense of one sin is enough to cut down and crush out all our life. How dreadful then it must be when sin after sin comes rushing down upon us with unendurable self-reproach and condemnation! Naturally this remorseful sense of sin is an ever growing quantity. Suppose one to have it, going on from bad to worse. All the pain which the mind can inflict on itself it does with accumulating force, mountain on mountain; ocean on ocean.
Sometimes one may suffer in body all the body can endure, but the soul be in perfect peace. This state I have known to continue a long, long time; but it is by no means to be compared with the horrors of remorse. No pains of body alone can be compared with the agonies of the soul.
Besides this, think of soul-agony, enduring forever. Let the pain be ever so trifling, yet if there be no limitation of timeif it can never end, how dreadful! No matter whether it be a governmental infliction, or a natural consequence; in either case, the results are, beyond measure, awful. Now to suppose anything can be a good, compared with deliverance from such sin and from such consequences of sin, is utterly preposterous. All things in the comparison, are as nothing.
It is amazing to hear some men speak of religion. When you exhort them to become religious, they feel nothing. I met a man of this class some years since and said to him"Are you a religious man?" "No sir." "Ought you not to have religion?" "O, I suppose it would do me no hurt!" Think of that"no hurt!" He don't think it would hurt him to love God, and to love Jesus for His Savior and Friend! Strange that men do not see that if religion is anything, it must be everything.
If you have this one thing, you have everything of highest value; you have the great thingeternal holiness and happinessan enduring happiness gained, and an ever-growing misery escaped. O what an aggregate of solid misery and woe! All the misery of hell up to this day is nothing in the comparison with the prospective misery of one lost soul. Accumulate all the miseries of war, pestilence and famine; pile them up heights over height;all is not to be compared with the misery of one lost soul in hell. You have often heard the illustration from the supposed case of an old bird who takes one sand from our globesupposing it to be all sandone each thousand years. You say what an amazing period of time ere this globe will be exhausted. But still the soul of man lives on yet, after this globe has been exhausted of its matter and reduced to nothinglosing one particle of sand each thousand years. And you may add still to this supposition that this same old bird removes another globe in the same way, and still another and another all the planets of our system and then the sun and then all the other suns which glitter only as stars to us because of their immense distance; let her take them all awayall the stars and all the nebulæone grain at a time and only one for each thousand years; let her go on till she has worn out ten thousand pairs of wings and ten thousand beakswhat then? Eternity is not exhausted. There has not been even a beginning made towards exhausting it. That little child, reposing in its mother's lap, shall outlive all the suns and all the planets of the universe.
Suppose that little one, many years ago, had gone to heaven, and you were now to see him face to face and he could tell you what he has become; and how his mind has been expanding, and his heart become like Christ's; you see that he now knows more than you can conceive. But let that little child go on still in the same career of progress, and the day will come when he will know more than all the angels of heaven know now.
Suppose that you could see Marythat Mary who once sat at Jesus' feetas she is todaynot as she was then with her eye fixed on Christ and the tear quivering in itbut as she is now. You would think her more than an angel, and almost divine. So glorious! so heavenly! What a part that must have been which she then chose! Well might she forget everything else. O yes, for the Savior had come, and now is the time to rush to His feet and catch the words of life from His lips. And has He really come to offer her the peerless blessing? How then can she be expected to care much for the little things that so encumber Martha.
1. Christ says"Mary hath chosen;"from which you may see that something is to be chosen. To do this choosing must therefore be the great business of life. Christ presents Himself before us to be chosen. The thing to be done is to choose Him and to receive Him thus as our own portion. Mary made this wise discrimination, and seized on the one good part. Perhaps she did not understand that the thing to be gained as her life's great labor was to be chosen and then seized upon.
2. Nothing should divert us from this choice. The mind needs to seize upon it with all its strength. If Mary had run about the house, and set her heart upon getting a good supper for her guest, she would have missed this good part and lost it, perhaps forever. Her mind needed to be fastened, and her attention held until her heart's great choice was fully made. Christ encouraged her to sit there and attend to His life-giving words. When Martha came along, fretting and complaining, Mary may have been deeply grieved. But Jesus took her part, and replied for her, so that she had nothing to do but to bend her ear and her whole heart again to the words of her Lord. Thus to this one thing to be chosen, everything else should yield. Christ said"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
3. Many never fulfill the conditions of this choosingnever give their fixed attention to this subject. There are multitudes who have seasons of serious thought; but Satan says to them"You must not neglect any of your duties;"and in this temptation, Christians are sometimes his most effectual allies. Christ says, "Sit down and give your attention earnestly to this one thing." This attention must be a necessitya thing indispensable to the wise and blessed choice. You never get the good thing save as you fulfill this condition. Undoubtedly it was Mary's duty to sit down and to give her whole mind up to thought and feeling, so that His truth might find its way to her soul. Christ wanted to save her soul; He saw the way openingsaw the need of continuous attention, and therefore directed His efforts to this end.
If this one thing is secured, all that is really important is gained; if this is lost, all is lost. To secure this one thing needful, there must first be fixed attention, diligent hearing and earnest thought.
This leads me to say that some people seem to have forgotten the conditions of having a general revival, or else have made up their minds never to have one. How difficult it is here for the people to agree to make a general effort. When some are ready and urgent, others are not. But if you mean to have a general revival, you must have a general attention; if your heart be for an extensive revival, you must have an extensive attention. If as soon as the church begins to feel the importance of a concerted movement, one goes off to this thing and another to that, all comes to nought. I do not suppose that true Christians intend to frustrate a revival, but they really do so without purposed intention.
Think of the men among us who have been here for years but are not converted. Shall they be saved? Thus far they are only more hardened. Will they ever choose that good part? When shall it once be? I will tell you. It will be when Christian people shall unite in treating this matter as the one thing needful. Then, when unconverted people see that Christians are absorbed in efforts to save them, and treat everything else as of no value, compared with their souls, then you may expect them to believe you are sincere, and then your example and efforts will have weight. But suppose a general effort to promote a revival is made; they are invited to come in; but they hear that a party is being gotten up at this place and another at another place and that many professed Christians attend these parties, what will they think of it? Must it not tend to banish all serious thought from their minds?
On the other hand, if you all come to the prayer meeting, you cannot keep these men away. They will get ahead of you all.
Now if this saving knowledge of Christ be the one thing needful, will you not treat it as if it were?
What will you do now? Some of you may sayIf I should do as Mary did and get no supper for my guest, and prepare him no lodgings, then what would he do? Jesus Christ would say to youYou don't know your duty!
Christ demands your heart, young man, and yours too, young woman. Do you sayI must study while I am here, for I am here to study? But what of your soul? Is it nothing to you that you lose your soul?
Will you, Christian, fulfill your part of the conditions of a general revival? Do you answerI will give my whole heart to it? I will bend to it my utmost efforts? Then it will not be long before each one will have chosen the one thing needful. Christ would sayYou have all chosen that good part which shall not be taken from you.
Each one must take up this matter for himself. It is in its very nature a personal thing.
Conversion will be more or less suddenother things being equalaccording as you give up your mind more or less singly and exclusively to the effort. Until you give up your heart fully, you do nothing to purpose.
I once attempted to labor as an evangelist with a church which seemed determined not to make any change in their usual habits. Their custom was to have a sewing society once a month. The minister would go and close with prayer. I had been engaged for some time preaching every evening and minds were becoming solemn; when all at once I heard that the preaching was suspended because of the sewing circle. Preaching went over. By and by, when the interest had become yet greater, another sewing circle, and no preaching. Everything was fixed and nothing could be changed. When I found out all this I said to themI cannot stay here, good bye. If any people want a revival, they must consent to give their attention to it.
Many of you are crying outWho will show us any good? Our text answersJesus Christ. He will show you the good part which shall never be taken away from you. Will you have it?
"Say, will you have this Christ or no?"
But one thing is needful; do not distract your attention among other things that are comparatively worthless.
ON LOVING GOD.
BY PRESENT FINNEY
REPORTED BY THE EDITOR.
The Oberlin Evangelist, Vol. 22 (New Series Vol. 2, No. 13) page 97. June 20, 1860.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment."
Matthew 22: 37-38.
The connection in which this passage stands is striking. Our Savior was constantly engaged in rebuking the delusions and sophistries of the Sadducees. They were a sect of semi-infidels, embracing in the times of our Savior, many of the rich and honored of the nation. On this occasion, Matthew remarks that when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered about Him, and one of them being a lawyer (not an attorney in our modern sense of lawyer, but a man who was skilled in the Mosaic law,) asked Him a question, tempting Him. It was this: "Which is the great commandment of the law?"
To this question, Jesus promptly answered as in our text: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Mark how comprehensive our Lord makes His exposition of the fundamental law. All the books of Moses and the prophets hang upon itare embraced within it. Everything indeed written or unwrittenthe entire preceptive part of religion is here. It covers the whole field of moral obligation to God and to man.
It would require a whole course of lectures to discuss this subject fully. I propose only to touch briefly on some of its main points. And:
I. The kind of love here required.
You will readily see that this is a vital question. How can we hope to obey this first and great commandment, unless we understand what it requires?
1. I observe then first that it must be a voluntary thingnot involuntary, as is shown plainly by the fact that it is required. Nothing but what is voluntary can be properly demanded. The justice of God forbids Him to require and demand on pain of damnation, things that are beyond our power to dothat lie not within the control of our voluntary powers. This fundamental precept of the law cannot therefore be a thing of such sort that we have no voluntary power to do it. In all reasonable law, every precept requires only voluntary action; otherwise it is absurd.
2. It is an essential feature in the character of this love, that it be supremeelse it cannot be right in kind. The language used by our Lord most fully implies this"Thou shalt love with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind"
3. It must be an abiding love. It must be a state of good-will, as distinguished from transient acts. A state of mind that is continuous must manifestly be implied and required.
II. I must next notice some things implied in this love.
1. If this love be good-willa perpetual purposing to promote the highest happiness of all, then it must imply a life devoted to this object. The love of the heart naturally and surely controls the life. Supreme love to God must therefore imply supreme devotion of the life to God, and by this I mean, to pleasing God and doing faithfully all His known will. If love be supreme and abiding, it must forever control the life and hold it to perpetual devotion, to the things that please God.
Here some will ask"What can we do for God? What should He care what we do?"
Ah, do you assume that God does not care what we do? Did God have no care for it when those two young men shot down a father and mother in the field, and left their children orphans? To suppose this, were to suppose that He is no Father of His creatures at all.
2. Again, this law of love implies that we find our highest pleasure in seeking to know and do God's pleasure. If we have this love, it will be most grateful to us to please Him. It will be a richer joy to us to please God than to please ourselves. It will be our supreme pleasure to please God. We shall devote ourselves to pleasing Him and shall both seek and find our chief joy in this.
We sometimes see human beings so devoted to each other that they find their supreme pleasure in promoting each other's welfare. Such devotion, obedience to this great law implies, towards God.
3. Again, the exercise of this love implies a sympathy with whatever pleases God, so that anything that anybody does to please God will surely please us. We shall naturally have a great complacency with anything that pleases God.
On the same principle, it implies a state of mind that will be pained with anything that displeases God. If we love God supremely, we shall account anything done against God as if it were done against ourselvesnay, more painful than if done against ourselves merely. It will give us more pain than if done against ourselves only.
Of course it also implies that we are joyful in the exercise of self-denial for Christ's sake.
It sometimes happens that persons receiving favors from us, express so much gratitude that we are ready to thank them for the privilege of doing anything for them. See that little child sick and faint; she motions for a drink of water. Poor child; she can only lisp out, "Thank you, Ma!" Her mother did not need those uttered thanks. The grateful look sufficed. Nay, she so loved that dear sick one that it was joy enough for her to do anything for her welfare, because of the love she bore. You have felt this. You have felt such love, and such joy in doing any kindness to one you love that you were ready to thank that dear one for the privilege of doing him any good. Your heart has been so set on doing good that you have felt it more blessed to give than to receive.
So God feels. God's love is of this sortpure good-willingpure love of doing all the good He can safely and wisely, to His children. His children feel so towards Him. If they can do anything for His cause, it is the highest joy of their heart. Suppose the Lord were to say to some of youYou may do any way you please. Would you not at once replyNot so, Lord, but rather anything that pleases Thee? Nothing else can ever please me, but doing what pleases Thee. What do I live for but to please and honor Thee?
If you find one who cannot deny himself, but chooses his ways to please himself otherwise than in pleasing God, you may know he does not love God.
If you seek anyone's good with real love, you will certainly avail yourself to every means to learn what will please him. So of loving and pleasing God.
Of course supreme love implies a greater dread of displeasing God than of displeasing anyone else. Nothing will distress one who loves God, so much as the thought of displeasing Him.
You may each and all, apply every one of these principles warm and fresh, to your own heart in self-examination. Say, does my love to God bear this test?
Again, if you truly love God, there will always be a spontaneous sorrow if you become conscious of having displeased Him. If you should be overcome by temptation, you would not need to make a great effort to feel sorry for it. When you have injured any friend whom you love more than any other being, you can easily regret and sorrow over the sad wrong.
Again, when the heart is supremely engrossed with love to God, the thoughts will turn naturally towards Him. Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.
Moreover God will become the object of our complacent affections. The fact that He is infinitely lovely and good, will secure in our hearts an intense complacency in His character, words, and ways.
We shall find supreme satisfaction in His service. We always find most satisfaction while pursuing the objects on which our affections are concentrated.
There will be a perpetual reference to God in all we do. Take the case of a man supremely devoted to his family; he will see everything in the light of its bearing on his family. So a father will do for his children if he supremely loves them. So a husband for his wife; every thing will be referred to the question of the happiness of the loved one. Thus real love to any friend begets spontaneous sympathy with him and with all his interests, and equally spontaneous sympathy against all his enemies.
III. I must next enquireWhat are the grounds of this obligation to love God?
It is not that God has commanded it. We do not and cannot love merely out of regard to authority. God does not expect that His mere authority will beget and ensure love. But He bases His claim for our love on His own infinite worthiness, and on the infinite importance of having His creatures obey Him. The obligation to love God must always be equal to the value of God's happiness and glory, and to the good of His creatures as depending on His relations to them. To withhold due love from God is therefore to derogate from His rights and claims, and by consequence, from the rights and claims of the universe He has made and rules over to bless.
IV. Next let us notice the natural consequences of refusing to render this supreme love and service to God.
First, refusing to love God, you must inevitably lose all true peace of mind. Every rational being is so constituted that he cannot be satisfied unless he gives God his heart's best love. He cannot have peace with God, nor peace with himself. So long as this love is withheld, his soul will be uneasy and jarring because supremely selfish.
Then also there are governmental consequences. God must condemn those who deny to Him the love of their heart and the devotion of their life. He must regard them with holy displeasure. By all the love He bears to the best interest of His creatures, He must disown and be displeased with those who array themselves against Himself and His great family. He is bound to reveal to all His creatures His displeasure against those who hate both Him and them. He ought to make the fact of this displeasure as patent as He possibly can, for the happiness of the universe depends upon His revealing it most fully. He should make the revelations of His heart and of His hand against sin as nearly according to the right and justice of the case as He can.
Consequently He must make this revelation as enduring as His own government. Both the natural and governmental consequences of sin must be as enduring and as striking as God can make them. Else God cannot do justice to His responsibilities as the Great Moral Father of the universe.
I must next notice some delusions which prevail on this subject.
(1.) Men get up some other standard of right. By a sort of mutual consent or conventionalism, they frame a code of morals in trademorals in social life or in politics, and then take great credit to themselves for having done right.
Now let men devise their own codes and notions as they may, this law of God is forevermore the one great and only standard of right. Nothing is right except it be in accordance with this law. If men talk about doing right, on any rule of right short of this, they egregiously deceive themselves. What do you mean by doing right? Do you mean that your life is a constant offering to God? Do you offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice? If not, why do you talk about pleasing God? Do you sayI pay all my debts; I live fairly in society; I injure no man?
Suppose it were true that you were doing no wrong to your neighbor, yet how is the case between your own soul and God? If you care nothing for Him, what is this but, as far lies in you, to dethrone God, to deny His right to reign, and to deny His parental love and care over all His creatures?
Place before your mind a band of robbers, outlaws against all human governments. They may have what they are pleased to call excellent rules among themselves; they may treat each other with great kindness; when they have sallied out of their fastnesses and come down upon some lovely, quiet village; burned down their houses, murdered whoever resists, and plundered them of everything they care for, they go back, and divide this booty perhaps very honorably among each other; they are careful to provide for their sick, and they take great interest in training themselves to adroitness and skill so as to rob and murder with the best success.
Now what of all the good and right things in these bandits? What would you think of them if they were to justify themselves before the bar of mankind, by appealing to their kindness to each other, their justice to each other, and their great diligence in caring for everything that would make them good and successful robbers?
Just so, all sinners are out-laws as to God. They have their own ways and choose none of His; as towards God their whole spirit is transgression,just as the band of robbers subsist on the principle of setting at nought all human governments, and abjuring all obligation to seek or to respect the welfare of their fellow beings, outside of their own pale.
A gang of these outlawed freebooters, if arrested and brought before a court of justice, might be very apt to say, if they daredWhy, what evil have we done? Naturally, if they chance to escape, they go back to their comrades and appeal to themHave not we done right? Are not we all good fellows? To which the whole band respond"First rate; all noble and true, generous fellows!"
A pretty farce this, to play before the face of the civilized world!
Suppose a pirate ship should be fitted up with her black flag and cross bow+es and her brave buccaneers, and then boast of being the best managed ship on the seas. Nowhere, say they, can you find seamen so experienced, so brave, so faithful to their commander; nowhere else officers so daring and so true.
But what commendations are these to pirates? Do they sanctify the guilty business of piracy?
But the pirate may still askWhat have I done? Pause and see what. Just what the selfishness and wickedness of your heart has prompted; nothing else; nothing better. Men could do nothing in the pirate's business without these virtues. Those therefore who choose a pirate's life must pay at least so much homage to virtue as to be truthful, kind and generous to each other. And then shall they be blind enough to plead in self-defense that they are very moral piratesvery kind and true to one another, and very much devoted to their business?
Like the self-justifying pirate, so the sinner asksWhat have I done? Done? You have waged war against God and all the nations of men. And can you call that, doing right? Will you plead that you are trying to do right?
It is a very simple thing to examine yourself and to know whether you are right as before God and His law. Is it your great aim to please God? Is it the business of your life? What have you done today to learn His will and to do His pleasure? Have you given yourself to prayer and to the faithful study of His word? Have you been seeking in all possible ways to please and honor your Father in heaven? Have you not been pluming yourself to display your beauty? Or is it true that you really bathe yourself in His presence all the day long and deem yourself blest then and then only then when you have the consciousness of pleasing Him?
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
LIVING TO PLEASE GOD.
January 30, 1861.
"Ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God."I Thes. 4: 1.
In speaking from these words, I enquire,
I. What is it to live and walk so as to please God. To this I answer,
1. To make His pleasure our ultimate end of life; that is, to make His pleasure an end, and not a means of promoting our own. It is possible to aim at pleasing God simply as a means of securing our own salvation. But this is not really aiming to please God as our end, but is aiming to please ourselves as an end, and pleasing God only as a means.
To make His pleasure our ultimate end, is to aim at pleasing Him for His own sake, and not from some good to ourselves that may result from pleasing Him.
His pleasure is an infinite good in itself; that is, it is an infinite good to Him. To make His pleasure therefore our end, is to do that which is becoming in us.
But 2. To make His pleasure our supreme end, that is, to care more to please Him than to please ourselves, or more to please Him than to please any and all other beingsto walk so as to please Him, you must lay supreme stress upon His pleasure. To so live and walk as to please God is in all things to aim at meeting His approbation, meeting His wishes, fulfilling all His pleasure; to intend this, to have this in view, and make this the great motive of all our acting.
II. Why we should so live and walk as to please God.
1. God created us for this end, and hence has given us a conscience that universally demands that we should live to please God. He has made this our unalterable law and rule of action. We never fulfil the demands of conscience except as we live to please God.
2. His pleasure is always wise and good. He says, I will do all my pleasure." It would not be right in any other being to say that; but in God it is right, for what else could He do? Nothing pleases Him that is not wise and good. He never desires or wishes anything that is not wise and good.
3. To thus live to please God is true benevolence to Him; it is to will His good, His highest happiness and well-being. This is the real idea of love to God. It is devotion to His good; or in other words, it is devotion to His gratification or pleasure; it is good-willing to God, willing His infinite happiness and satisfaction. It is aiming to satisfy all His wishes in regard to us; to meet and fulfill all His desires respecting us.
To please Him is to gratify His fatherly heart. To please Him we must meet His views respecting our obligation; we must meet His wishes, we must obey His will, must adjust ourselves to all that He wishes us to be and do.
He is then pleased with us; He is not grieved but gratified. Now to live with this continual aim to be all that God, under the circumstances wants us to be, is to live and walk so as to please God.
4. To please Him is to gain His approbation; and this is not only a good to Him, but it is a good to us. The love of approbation is natural to us, and especially the approbation of the good. And to have the approbation of God is of supreme importance to us.
It is a comfort to Him to be able to approve the life that we live, as it is a comfort to parents to be able to approve the lives of their children. And it is a comfort to us to secure His approbation, as it is a comfort to children to secure the approbation of their parents. Nay, the comfort of receiving the approbation of God is infinitely more sweet, consoling, and joyous, than the approbation of all other beings together.
5. It follows, that to gain His approbation is to secure our own happiness. Hence to live to please Him is the only sure way of pleasing ourselves. We cannot be satisfied with ourselves unless we are conscious of aiming to satisfy God. While we are conscious of not aiming to meet His approbation, we cannot secure our own approbation. To aim at pleasing Him, then, in all we do, is a condition of securing our own happiness; and more than this, this aim will be sure to secure our own highest satisfaction.
6. It is right to aim in all things at pleasing God, because His pleasure is the most worthy end for which we can live. It is not living for an abstraction. Some people have thought that the end proposed was rather an abstraction than a reality.
But do you account it an abstraction to live to please your mother or your father, your wife, or your dearest friend? That is anything but an abstraction. Your wife, or husband, or friend, would account their own pleasure anything but an abstraction.
I have been amazed sometimes, to hear some people talk of the end of being as an abstraction, as if it were a mere idea, and not the profoundest reality in the universe. What! the end of sentient beings, and especially of moral beings, their highest satisfaction and perfect happiness, an abstraction! Verily, I pity the individual who regards the good pleasure of God as an abstractionor the good pleasure of any good being.
7. To intend to please God is always safe. It is not safe to make the pleasure of any other being universally our aim. But God is infinitely wise and infinitely good, and we never need to fear to aim at fulfilling all His pleasure.
8. It is of no use to live to please ourselves. We never can please ourselves by making this our aim or end. We please ourselves in fact all the less by how much the more singly we aim to please ourselves. We cannot approve of living to please ourselves, and practically treating our own pleasure as the highest good.
Therefore we always violate the laws of our own nature, the laws of our conscience and higher reason, whenever we live to please ourselves. There is always an inward upbraiding, an inward struggle, a mutiny, a self-condemnation, when we live to please ourselves.
9. It is not right to make the pleasure of any other being than God our supreme end. This is idolatry. To live to please any other being than God, is to make that being our god, is to practice downright idolatry, is to place another in the very throne belonging to Jehovah.
10. It is not safe for us to live to please any other being than God; nor is it safe for them. To make another being our god, is to expose that being to destruction. God is a jealous God, He will not give His glory to another; and if we give another the throne of our hearts, it may prove the destruction of that idol, as well as our own destruction.
11. It is essential to peace with self, to peace with God, that we live, and walk, and aim in all things, to meet His pleasure.
III. How to please God.
1. To please God you must honestly intend to do so. That is, you must honestly make it your supreme object, and your ultimate object to please God; to please Him from regard to Himself; to lay absolutely supreme stress upon pleasing Him. Only honestly endeavor thus to please Him, and you will be sure to please Him.
2. He always accepts the honest endeavor. "If there be a willing mind," He expressly says, "it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not."
We are so constituted that when we honestly endeavor to please any being, we cannot help assuming that that being ought to accept our endeavor. We have done what we could; nothing more can in justice be required of us. If the endeavor is honest, and the intention right, all is done that the mind can do under the circumstances.
Now, with the honest intention to please God, you cannot commit a single mistake. If the heart is set to please Him, the mind is in an honest state, and will use all the means to obtain light that it can, and will endeavor to the utmost to please Him. Now any mistake that may be made in the state of mind cannot involve sin; for how else could one [aim]? If God will fault us, when we honestly endeavor to please Him, what would He do if we did not honestly endeavor? What else, more or less, should we do, than honestly endeavor to please Him? What else is possible to us? What other obligation can there be than honestly to endeavor to please Him? He must accept honest endeavor, for what else could we do? But do you object, that Paul "verily thought he ought to do so many things contrary to the name of Jesus and Nazareth"? and was not this a sinful mistake?
Paul says he verily thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But Paul was a Pharisee, a bigot, dishonestly committed against Jesus. He was a persecuting fanatic, and he was just one of those of whom Christ said, "The days shall come when he that killeth you will think that he doeth God service." But does any one suppose that these persecutors were really filled with the love of God; that they were honestly devoted to pleasing a God of love; that they were fair-minded, candid, and really devoted to pleasing the true God? No! their zeal was founded in delusion, and in a delusion in which they were dishonest. They were under a dishonest bias; they assumed that Jesus was a wicked impostor, and that His disciples were deluded fanatics. This they had no right to assume; this assumption was dishonest. It was founded in prejudice. Its roots were roots of bitterness, and its fruit was death. But it remains a truth, that where a mind is truly and honestly committed to pleasing God, in all its honest endeavors, it is and must be accepted.
And it is impossible to conceive that God should condemn us when we honestly endeavor to please Him. The youngest child knows this. If your young child means to please you and then you find fault with it, it feels that it is wronged. It is grieved and regards you as tyrannical and unjust. Sometimes parents will require something of a child. The child attempts to please, but by mishap, breaks something. It was perhaps hastening with rapid step, to fulfill some command, to meet the wishes of a parent, but he slipped; something happened that he failed to secure the end intended. In such cases it is always cruel to even give a look of disapprobation. The child in every instance feels that it is unjust. The child has a conscience, and it knows that when it honestly endeavors to please, it ought to be accepted. And parents, or guardians, or masters, commit a great error, or a great sin, when they frown upon an honest endeavor, although it may have proved a failure. God never does this. He is never displeased with an honest endeavor. He never upbraids for any mistake that was so incidental as not at all to impair the integrity and honesty of the endeavor. If the intention was right, if the endeavor was honest, if the soul truly designed to meet His whole will, His will is met. There is no possibility in such a case of His being displeased.
3. We can please God without the least real sacrifice of good to ourselves. I mean that it is always more profitable to us to please Him, cost us what it may, than it is to displease Him. It were even better to go to the martyr's stake, and have our flesh burned off from us in the flames, than to refuse to go, should He call us to the sacrifice. Happiness belongs to the mind and not to the body. Happiness might be complete, even were the body consuming in the flames. And which, think you, would be the greatest good or evil to us, to stand in the will of God in the midst of consuming flames, or to rebel against God and suffer our bodies to repose on beds of roses? The bed of roses could not make us happy, if God were displeased with us. Heaven itself could be no pleasure to us. There is always a relish, a peace, a sweetness in walking with singleness of eye to God's good pleasure. But break away from this and aim at pleasing any other, and real happiness is impossible.
IV. Do any of you ask, How can I intend to please Him?
1. What is implied in this question? Suppose you should ask, how you should intend to please your mother, your father, or your benefactor. It is easy to see that the question implies that you do not love God; that His goodness to you has not led you to repentance. What! do you really find it difficult to mean to please Him? Then how totally unfit for heaven are you! Why, what would heaven be to you if it is so difficult for you to please God? You have no pleasure in pleasing God, no care to please God, no delight in pleasing God! Then hell must be your home. What would such a spirit do in heaven!
2. Would it really afford you no pleasure to please Him? Do you really care nothing whether you please or displease God? How is this? Suppose you should meet the Lord, and you knew that it was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and suppose He should ask you if you would do Him a favor, would you decline? Would you consider it no honor, no pleasure to please Him? Suppose the Lord Jesus Christ should write you a letter, and should ask you if you were willing to do a given thing for Him; should remind you of who He is and what He has done for you; and should tell you withal that that letter was written in the blood shed for you on Calvary, and then ask you if you would not deny yourself for His sake, if you would not go and preach His Gospel. Suppose He was to send to you a revelation from heaven to some part of the world, in which He should reveal some great truth essential to their salvation, and should ask you to go and carry that book and revelation, to leave your home and friends and go on such an errand for Him, what would you say? Would you consider it no honor to go? Would you say, no, I cannot afford it, I care not for Thee. What have I to do to please Thee?
When in England, I was struck with the fact that everybody considered it such an honor to have an opportunity in any way to oblige the queen. Now, suppose that you were in London, in Hyde Park, and the queen was riding through the Park, and her postillion should stop, and the queen should call you to her carriage and ask you if you would do her the favor to put a letter in the post-office for her. Now, if you were one of her subjects, would you not consider it a great favor to do this for her? Would you not care to please her? Would it not almost draw from your eyes tears of joy to be able to do anything which should meet her wishes? Why, her officers and her soldiers can march in the face of death to gain her approbation. They will run any risk, and make any sacrifice, and account it all joy to do so, to please the queen.
Now you are made with a love of approbation. Have you no desire to please the great and the good? If a subject of Victoria can joyfully hazard his life, make any sacrifice to please the queen, and even in the agonies of death, feel that he is rewarded if he has met the queen's approbation, have you no care to please God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
Why, suppose you should meet the Lord Jesus Christ, and He should show you His hands and His feet, should remind you of His bloody sweat, of His shameful death, of all He had done and suffered for you, and then should ask if you had no care to make any grateful returns to Him, no care to please Him, no fear of displeasing Himwhat would you say? Would you ask, How can I care to please Thee? Why, what would be said in heaven to such a state of mind as this? Just let Him signify to the hosts of heaven a wishlet Him inquire, "Whom shall I send? and who will go for Me?" ten thousand voices are raised at once, "Here am I; send me." And if there be any controversy, it is who shall be allowed to do His willwhich shall be allowed to do the most to please Him. All the ambition there is to lay themselves out to the uttermost, to see which shall do most to meet His blessed will.
What if it should be inquired in heaven, as you inquire, How can I care to please Him? Why, there the anxiety is all the other wayHow can I help caring to please Him? I must please Him; I will please Him; I would rather die than displease Him, is the language of all His real friends.
But is His love in fact to you no prevailing motive to seek His pleasure? Has all that He has done for you fallen so far short of winning your heart that after all you coldly inquire how you can intend and care to please Him? If this is your case, you are in fact far enough from being saved.
1. From this subject it is easy to see what true religion is. When I was young, I do not recollect ever to have heard a sermon from which I could gather what true religion was. I used to say, What is it? I used to ponder what Christianity meant by the language they used. I could not understand it. For a long time the impression was on my mind that religion was purely a feeling; that it was something that was to come to us, and no deliberate intention or act of my own. I thought it an unintelligible matter. But here see what it is. It is one of the most intelligible of all things. Just contrast it with sin. Take the case of Adam and Eve. For a time they dressed God's garden, and kept it. They were devoted to pleasing Him. And doubtless the lovely Eve, with her delicate hands, was pruning and cultivating in a most tasteful manner, the shrubbery and flowers in the garden of God. She and her husband took delight in this. As yet they knew no other way than to meet God's pleasure in everything.
When He visited His garden, and commended their diligence, and commended their taste, and expressed a pleasure in the appearance of His garden, it no doubt filled their minds with inexpressible delight. They meant to please Him; they did please Him. Their hearts were set upon meeting His wishes, and when they did they were satisfied. But in an evil hour they fell. The tempter suggested that they could please themselves, though at the expense of displeasing and disobeying God. They consented, and made their own pleasure their supreme end. In this they sinned; they fell. And this has been the sin of man, living to please himself instead of living and walking to please God.
2. Now see what it is to become a Christian. Suppose that when Adam and Eve had fallen, when they heard the voice walking in the garden, instead of hiding among the trees, they had immediately come forward, and Eve had broken down before the Lord, confessed her sins, and begged to be restored, and allowed to keep the garden.
If she and Adam had returned with all their heart, with the simplicity of aim that they had before to please the Lordthis would have been repentance, this would have been a change of heart. They changed their hearts when they turned away for pleasing God, and set up their own pleasure as their end. In this they changed their hearts from a holy to a sinful heart.
Now had they immediately returned, changed back again, renounced their wrong, and devoted themselves at once to pleasing God again, this would have been conversion to God. In this they would have become truly religious again.
3. You see what is a truly religious life. That is a truly religious life which is a continual offering to God; and where in all our ways we intend to please Him. There are many who think they live a religious life, and after all seem to be doing many things they cannot pretend to be doing for God. You see them in many places, engaged in many employments; and if you should ask them, why are you here? what do you here? they could not tell you that God sent them therethey could not tell you that they are doing this for God.
They might, as many do ask you, Why, what harm is there in it? Is there any harm in my being here? Is there any harm in my doing this or that? Now, the very asking of such a question, shows that the person is not truly religious. A great many people are living to please themselves, and doing what they do for their own pleasure, and are merely asking, What harm is there in it?
Why, God's commandments are positive and not negative. He commands that whatever we do, "whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God;" we do all to glorify and please Him. The question is not, therefore, in any given act or course of action, what harm it will do, but, will it do any good? The question is not, Does God forbid it? but, Does He require it?
It is common, I find, among professors of religion, to go hither and thither merely to please themselves, to take journeys, to purchase articles, and in short, to pursue a self-pleasing course of life, and really make their own pleasure their end. And yet they profess to be consecrated to God, they profess to be Christians. Expostulate with them for this or that act or course of action, for this or that expenditure of money, for this or that use of their time, and you will receive for answer immediately, "Why, what harm is there in it? what hurt will it do?" Now this question always indicates a delusion in the mind of the professor of religion who makes it. It shows that he has no positive religion, but only a negative religion. He is contenting himself with doing no harm, as he says. He is using his time, his influence, his possessions, really to please himself, because he cannot see any harm that will result from what he is doing. But this is not the religion of Jesus. The inquiry with a true Christian is, What wilt Thou have me to do? Will this or that course of action please Christ? Will it promote His honor and glory? Will it win a soul? Will it help forward the kingdom of God?
The question is not what harm a thing will do, but what good it will do? The question is not, whether a thing, this or that, is objectively right or wrong, but what is the subjective intention. What do I mean or intend in what I do? Objectively, it is right to go to meeting; but subjectively, it is wrong, unless I mean to please God thereby.
Objectively, that is, in the letter, many courses of conduct are right; but they are wrong subjectively, that is they are sinful in any case in which the intention is not to please God. According to the letter, it is right to pray; that is, the outward act has no wrong in it. But if I do not mean thereby to please God, it is wrong in me.
So with everything wise. If a man asks me what harm there is in what he is doing, I answer, it is all harm or wrong in you, unless you mean therein to please God. Here is a person who gives himself to the study of music. He asks me, Is it not right to cultivate the fine arts? is it not right to study painting? is it not right to study music? What harm is there in it? what harm will it do? I answer, there may be no harm in it, it may do no hurt, but the question returns, what do you mean by it? what do you intend by it? In you it is all wrong, and all harm, unless you mean thereby to please the Lord and to serve Him; unless you do it because you suppose that He requires it of you.
Many people seem to go no farther than this: they will do what will please themselves, and take it for granted that God does not object to it. They do not suppose that He wants them to do it; they do not do it because it is His pleasure, and because they regard it as His pleasure that they should do it. This they cannot believe. But it is their pleasure to do it; and they do it to please themselves, God not objecting, as they think. They never think of rising any higher than to avoid that which they think will displease God. But, positively, they never think of doing whatever they do because they mean to please Him.
Now in all this negative religion there is not one particle of acceptable service rendered to God. There is nothing in it but self-pleasing after all. It is only a modified form of selfishness. It is just that kind of philosophy that teaches that men are to seek their own interest and their own pleasure as an end; but in so doing, not to interfere with the rights of others. They do not care to please God, but to please themselves. But they hold that in pleasing themselves they should not displease God. But the fact is, they always do displease God unless they positively mean to please Him. His requirements are positive, that we should live and walk so as to please Him; that is designing to please Him, making this our supreme and ultimate end in all that we do.
Now this religion that inquires, what harm will this do, and what harm will that do, instead of inquiring how to please God, and doing it for the purpose of pleasing HimI say the religion that seeks to please self and not God, that asks what harm will a thing do, instead of what good will it do, is not the religion of Jesus. It is not supreme love to God and equal love to man. It is the supreme love of self; it is selfishness under a religious type; it is a delusion, and an abomination to God.
But I fear it is after all the religion of the vast majority of professors. Many seem seldom or never to be aggressive in their religion. They are not laying themselves out, sacrificing self to please God; but they are living to please themselves, and as far as is consistent with this supreme regard to self, they avoid displeasing God. But in fact it is all displeasing to God. I say again, the religion of Jesus is positive, is necessarily aggressive. It is not merely the avoiding what there is harm in; but it is a positive labor, and a constant endeavor to please Christ, to do that which will glorify Him and save souls.
The enquiry, therefore, must be made, Wherefore do I do this? A proposition is before me to do this or that. Now the true enquiry universally is, not what harm will it do, but why should I do it? Does Christ want me to do it? Will it please God? Is it His good pleasure that I should do it? I am invited to a party: here the true question is not, What harm it will do for me to go there? but, what good can I do there?
The question is not, will the Lord object to my going; but does He wish me to go? The question is not whether I can barely get His consent; but is it His positive wish that I should go, and will He be pleased with it?
We sometimes see children set their hearts upon going somewhere, and their parents dislike to have them go, and yet they do not like absolutely to refuse. They dislike to say no because other young people are going. The children are very anxious to go to please themselves. The parents do not think it is wise; they would greatly prefer that their children should not go, but upon the whole they reluctantly consent. They do not like to restrain them too much. Now the children go, knowing at the same time that their parents would have preferred that they should not go, that they gain but the reluctant consent of their parents to go. They know their parents would have been much better pleased if they had cheerfully and willingly remained at home.
Now a great many professors of religion treat God just in this way; with this difference, however, that God has not given His consent. They go, in fact, without His consent. They cannot believe that God really wants them to go. They do not go because they think that God desired them to go. The deep impression is on their minds after all, that in going they have not the consent of their heavenly Father. Yet they are set upon pleasing themselves. So they will; and their determination to go is almost always prefaced by the question, Why, what harm is there in it, after all? What can there be wrong about it? What evil will it do? And then they think, why ministers do sominister's children do soeverybody's going, why what harm is there in it? And thus they go with the multitude, to serve themselves.
Now this is nothing but real disobedience to God. There is no religion in any such course of conduct as this in any case whatever. And I am really afraid that after all this is the religion of great multitudes, to avoid doing harm while at the same time they aim at supremely pleasing themselves.
4. Religion greatly simplifies the aims of life. When once the whole being is consecrated to God there is really but one great question to askWill this please God? The question is not whether it will please this one or that one. We are then disentangled from the meshes of worldly influence and the fear of man, and can act with simplicity, with singleness of aim. Instead of continually troubling ourselves with what this one or that one will think, what this or that one wishes us to do, how this or that will please or displease man, we have only one question to askWill it please God? And this question is generally very easily answered. In almost everything the way is so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot err therein.
Apply this to various kinds of business. Who, for example, would engage in selling tobacco as a business, intending thereby to please God? Who would engage in dealing in intoxicating drink, intending thereby to please God? Who would get up theatres, intending thereby to please God? Who would attend them, and spend their time and money, intending thereby to please God? Who would buy slaves, intending thereby to please God? Who, in short, would engage in very many branches of business, intending thereby to please God? No one, surely; for everybody knows that God would not call upon any man to engage in such business and to do such things.
5. Many persons profess to consecrate all to God. This they will do at the communion table; this they will kneel down solemnly and profess to do in the house of God, in their closets, or at the family altar; and then immediately go away, and go right to pleasing themselves, and pursue their own plans of self-gratification just as they did before. Practically, they have made no change whatever in their lives. They go right away and carry out all the schemes of self-pleasing upon which they had settled.
Here is a person who has promised at the communion table to live wholly to please the Lord. The next day I find him starting off on an excursion of pleasure, or in pursuit of some selfish object. I ask him, How is this? have you got the mind and will of God in this? and has He required this at your hands?
He will reply, I had calculated upon this course, had laid my plans for this for some time past; I thought I might as well execute it now as at any future time. I reply: so you did not mean anything yesterday when you swore at the table of the Lord to do all for His glory and to aim in all things at pleasing Him. Practically, then, you have made no change in your self-pleasing arrangements. You purpose still to carry out all your plans for self-gratification. Here you are deliberately pursuing all the plans that you had laid to please yourself, and this is your religion! This is all you intended by your consecration! This is what you meant when you swore with the elements of Christ's broken body and shed blood in your hands, that you would not live to please yourself, but would live wholly to please God! Yesterday was Sabbathyou swore solemnly to live every day of your future life wholly to please the Lord. But today you are executing your projects of self-pleasing. Tomorrow you have something else planned for pleasing yourself; and the next day, and the next; and so you deceive yourself. Today I meet you here. I ask, Brother, how came you here? Your answer amounts to this, I came here to please myself. But you ask, what harm is there in it? I answer, in you, there is infinite harm in it, for you don't mean to please God. And thus you think you are religious, and go about what you call a religious life; but with the supreme intention of pleasing yourself. After all, how little real, honest, consecration to God there seems to be.
But after all we can well afford to live to please God; for the more singly we aim at pleasing Him, the more truly and surely do we really please ourselves. We do not aim in this to please ourselves; but, notwithstanding, we do gain our own approbation. We aim at pleasing God, and not man. We therefore care comparatively little what man thinks of what we do; if God approve, it is enough. The soul is quiet under that consideration, is peaceful and calm as a summer-evening sea. It becomes crucified unto the world and the world unto it; it pleases God; it is adjusted to His will; it meets His pleasure. He smiles His approbation, and all is peace.
JOY IN GOD.
September 27, 1843.
"Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."Hab. 3:17, 18.
I. What is implied in the state of mind which the prophet describes.
II. This state is indispensable to peace of mind and to salvation.
I. What is implied in this state of mind.
1. The true knowledge of God. The prophet would not have said what he did, except he had known God as He really isa being in every way worthy of confidence and unfailing trust.
2. Perfect confidence in God, in his natural and moral attributes, his natural perfection and his moral character. Observe, he says, even though all temporal mercies are withheld and fail, he will yet rejoice in God. Though calamity of the severest kind should fall upon him and all around him, yet he will confide in God fully, and with the utmost assurance. God should be to him a source of joy, deep, constant, never-failing, notwithstanding he should in his just indignation do all those things.
3. Perfect sympathy with God. His language is consistent with no other state than one of complete and universal sympathy with God, in all his works and ways. Not merely does he have confidence in God as just and righteous, but the prophet joyfully, and with his whole soul, enters into the spirit which God cherishes towards all objects, views them with the same eye, acquiesces most entirely in the glorious manifestations of his indignation against sin, and rejoices with a full heart, even in the midst of the judgments of his hand. God is regarded as equally good in his judgments and his mercies; to be rejoiced in as much, when in holy indignation He chastises a rebellious nation, as when in mercy He pours blessings upon the penitent and obedient; to be adored with supreme and unspeakable love, in all the wonders of his work, in his fearful visitations of merited punishment, no less than when in his grace, He causes the fountains of plenty to be opened, and streams of prosperity to flow to every quarter of the land.
And this state implies more than mere submission, in the commonly received religious use of that term. The prophet did not barely tolerate God's dealings in his providence; his language means not simply, that he would not find fault, that he would not murmur or complain, that he would tolerate God so far as not to go into overt rebellion against Him. But what does he say? 'I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation.' He goes the whole length of full and overflowing joy, and extatic rejoicing.
God, though He delights not in the death of a sinner, but desires rather his return to life and happiness, and salvation, yet renders the righteous retribution which the good of universal being demands; not in the spirit of revenge and malice, but from a holy and unalterable regard to the dictates of impartial benevolence; and in all this display of his judgment, He is everlastingly and unchangeably at peace with Himself, and forever rejoices in the consummation of right, and the maintenance of eternal justice, in accordance with, and subservient to the great end of universal good. In this work of his, God does, and cannot but rejoice, for his name is Love. So the righteous prophet also, rejoiced in sympathy with God, and in complete conformity of heart to the same great end.
4. God is regarded as the all-sufficient portion of the soul. Though all else should fail, still his joy would be overflowing, perennial. No circumstances whatever, could have any power to damp the flame of love, no wind to parch the soil and dry the current of holy joy in the soul.
This state of mind is such, that the soul cannot be deprived of its portion, while God lives and reigns, while He holds the throne and sways the sceptre of infinite love. The mind cannot be despoiled of good, of happiness, and joy, of an all-satisfying portion, while God endures; and though all besides give way and disappear, God remains, and the soul is full.
5. Universal and joyful acquiescence in all God's will. An intelligent mind, in being able to adopt the language of the prophet, must be, like the blest above, in harmony with the divine will.
II. This state is indispensable to peace of mind and to salvation.
1. Without this state of mind, the providence of God will continually distress and disturb. Unless you can see calamity and judgments come upon men for their sins, and behold them with joy and peace, you cannot be happy, for these things are, and must be constantly taking place. Men must be able to rejoice in God, let Him do what He will. They must be able to confide in his wisdom and love, and feel assured that He can make no mistake, that He is doing all for the best. Unless they can thus confide, they cannot be happy in God and rejoice in Him; for God must often visit the world with severe judgments.
2. Indispensable to prevent being disturbed by Satan. God must of course, do many things mysterious to his creatures. He is working on a vast scale, consistent with his infinite nature. Much must be unexplained and inexplicable to creatures finite in duration and knowledge. In many cases, doubtless, it would be impossible so to lay before a finite mind, the whole scheme of things, as to make him see the reason for the divine conduct. Now if men cannot feel that He is good at any rate, and however appearances may be, then they cannot rest in Him, and be at peace; and Satan will take advantage of all such mysteries, and thence draw things to disturb the mind's repose, to throw it off its balance, and send it headlong down the declivity of infidelity, or if not that, yet greatly to harass and vex the soul's peace and communion with God. Ah, Satan will say, how came God to make man as He did, liable to suffer the extremest misery without possibility of escape; nay more, when He knew certainly that such would be the result? How can God be good, and yet permit the world to be as it is, the abode of hate, and war, and suffering inexpressibleto go on as it has these thousands of years, in blood and carnage? Why is a good man cut off in the midst of his days, taken from a field of usefulness, upon his very entrance thereinto, while a vile and profane wretch, doing nought but evil continually, is left to live on in prosperity, a sheer curse to the world? Why is one portion of the human race sunk in deep wretchedness, in the profoundest night of ignorance and vice? Could not God have carried the blessed light of Heaven to their desolate shores if He had chosen so to do? And can He be good in this that He has not done so? Why, Satan whispers, should God send parching heat, when rather drenching rain is neededand floods of rain, when there should be the warm and genial sun in its mild shining? Why is the holy saint tortured with disease and racked with pain? the faithful martyr bound to the stake? the witness to the truth made to pour out his blood in its defense? Surely the world is sadly out of jointthese are not the dispositions which an all-wise and all-good being would make! Now nothing but the most perfect confidence in God, can prevent us from accusing Him of ignorance or impotence, or downright malevolence. In the midst of so much that must be wholly unaccountable to finite minds, what is needed, but such a confidence as to say, "Let Him do what He will, I will rejoice in Him continually."
3. Nothing but this confidence can secure the soul against that kind of carefulness and anxiety, that restless fear of ill and wrong, which is so destructive of peace, and dishonorable to God. Persons are perplexed and anxious, because God deals so or so with them; they have no confidence in Him, and they cannot be happy till they do have.
4. Nothing short of this can meet the demands of our intelligence. Reason affirms that we ought to have universal and perfect confidence in God, because He is infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely good; and there must be a sense of guilt in the soul where this confidence is not exercised, and the peace of the soul must thereby be destroyed. Nothing else, moreover, is consistent with God's commands. A man obeys not God till he comes into that statetill he can say with the prophet, 'Though the fig-tree shall not blossom, and there be no fruit in the vine; though the labor of the olive fail, and the fields yield no meat, the flocks be cut off from the folds, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and will joy in the God of my salvation.' He is an unbeliever and a wicked man, who does not thus rejoice, who does not adopt this language as his own with all his heart.
5. It is in this very thing that salvation consists. Nothing short of this is salvation. What is holiness here? What is holiness in Heaven? What is it but the state in which the mind looks over all God's works and exclaims, 'holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. Who shall not praise thee O God? Who shall not fear thy name, O king of saints?' No others are saved but those who are thus in sympathy with God. And they are saved no farther than they thus rejoice in Him, and cry 'Whom have I in Heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.' 'Thou art my rock and my strength, the rock of my salvation and my God.'
1. This state of mind is indispensable to usefulness. A man cannot be truly useful in the worldcannot do what is needed to be donecannot make the world holy and happy by his influence, till he is thus. He cannot truly represent God, promote genuine religion, or enforce the claims of piety on man, till he is thus. He may have much zeal, create conviction, produce excitement, but he does not and cannot lead the soul to God. He does not know what true religion is in his own experience, and he cannot tell others what it is, however clear his intellect may be, and sway their minds under the power of truth, for he is a stranger to that honest, hearty, deep-felt conviction of the truth, and that personal consecration, devotion, and experience of the joy flowing therefrom, without which, commonly all efforts are in vain. His life, conversation, conduct, and preaching, will not exemplify true religion without this experience.
2. Any thing short of this in a professor of religion, is a gross stumbling block. What! profess religion, declare God to be the all-sufficient and never-failing portion of the soulprofess to rely implicitly on Him, and trust in Him always and forever, and yet practically show the same anxiety and carefulness, the same distress and perturbation, the same uneasy, restless disquietude, that other people have? Is not that a stumbling block? Would it have been honorable to God, had the prophet gone on to complain, and lament the loss of comfortsto cry out, What shall I do? I am undone! if he had refused to be in sympathy with God, to justify Him in all his doings, and love Him, and rejoice in Him through all? And does it not dishonor God, for professedly pious men now to distrust his goodness, and murmur at his justice? Is it not a stumbling block to those who look on and see their inconsistency?
3. Many seem to be reconciled to nothing else in God, but his mercy, and that without regard to the conditions of its exercise, as though that could be mercy, which should be put forth inconsistent with holiness, as if mere fondness, the obeying the impulses of blind sensibility, could be mercy at all. They are moved to joy and praise only by the compassion of God, and are comforted by nothing but a view of his mercy and compassion. They are pained by any other apprehension of God's character, by any other view of his dealings with his creatures. Instead of rejoicing in God, in the great, and glorious, and harmonious whole, which makes up the perfection of his character, they can see Him only in one light, that of compassion and grace. Had the prophet been so, could he have said what he did? Every sustenance of life cut off, the world starving around him, and desolation and desert wastes stretching over the landhow could he rejoice, if he had had complacency only in mercy and compassion?
This class of persons seem to have no other idea of religion, than a sort of good natured fondness, a sort of easy disposition, so as not to be angry at sin or sinners, but to exercise a mere blind indiscriminate compassion for sinners, and a disposition to treat all, impenitent and penitent, with the same lenity, and in just the same way. These men neither know, not worship the true God; the Bible is a stumbling block to them, and Satan keeps them constantly in a worry and fret, by pressing on them, these points of God's character. Much of the Old Testamentthe dealings of God with the heathenthe prayers of David in the Psalms for vengeancethese seem to be the spirit of hate and malice; they will not comprehend that a God of love can inflict the penalty of a righteous law, and yet they cannot shut their eyes to the undeniable fact that He does visit the sinner with utter destruction.
4. Holy beings, from the very nature of holiness, rejoice none the less in God because He rules the earth in judgment, and because He visits the world with calamitylove Him none the lessconfide in Him none the lessare no less happy in Him because He sends sinners to hellthey sympathize with Him in all He does, in the promotion of the highest good of the universe; they love Him none the less for his scourgings, for his desolations, for his destruction of men and of nations, than for the pouring out of his Spirit to bring the world to salvation. They know he has the same great end in view in both cases, and they love Him equally in both.
5. Many professors of religion are at heart, Universalists. They are not thoroughly and really with God, in his administration of government. Universalism has its seat in the heart. It is a state of heart, divesting God of his holiness, of his justice, of his prerogative to execute terrible judgments, to send the wicked to hell. These things Universalism cannot love. Their God must not do such things as these. No, surely! Is this true religion? to limit God, to say, do thus or thus; punish not me, my friends, or my race; no matter how rebellious we are, destroy us not; no matter how incorrigible we are; or we cannot love you? This is selfishness, and is regarded by Jehovah as such.
6. See why so many are disturbed by God's providential dealings. Because they have not the confidence in God which belongs to true religion. By judgments they are disturbed, thrown off their pivot, and down they go into rebellious murmurings, or impious infidelity. If any thing goes out of their little channel, contrary to their marked out path, across their finite judgments, all is wrong.
7. Many seem to have no enjoyment in religion any longer than the providence of God seems to favor their particular plans and favorite schemes. Forsooth, God does just as I want Him to do, all my notions are exactly realized, my ship goes before the breeze with all sails set, in beautiful trim, and therefore, God is good and I am happy! Their country is blest, their state is prosperous, their commonwealth is in peace, their family is in prosperity, their circumstances are comfortable, and therefore, God is good, and they are happy! They love God for all this, they rejoice in his love. But let Him thwart them, run across their track, turn upside down their cherished plans, blow to the winds their favorite schemes, and what then? What then? They tolerate God perhaps, perhaps not even that; they by no means rejoice now in their God, they do not now joy in the God of their salvation. Oh, no! They cannot help what God has done, to be sure, He is too strong for them; but suppose they could, what would they do? Now what is the matter? They have no true religion. They thought they had religion. God was so good and kind to them, they thought they loved Him, but it was themselves they loved, and Him only because He was subservient to them. They were pleased to have God for an almighty servant, surely they were; but to have Him on the throne, that was another matter! Their own way they are supremely set on, not on God's way. Instead of rejoicing in God's will, whether or not it is like theirs, God must succumb to them, or they are displeased and grieved.
8. To know God as the all-sufficient portion of the soul, is the highest knowledge. No man knows any thing as he ought to know, till he knows this. Till he knows God thus, he has no knowledge of any avail for happiness. All other is worse than useless without this. How often have I thought upon the quiet and happiness of ignorance. Ignorance, by its very want of knowledge, avoids much restlessness and anxiety. An increase of knowledge in the same unreconciled state of heart, but increases misery and wretchedness. Learning is only a curse, without the knowledge of God as the portion of the soul.
9. The happiness of the true saints is secure, because it depends not on external and contingent circumstances, but on God Himself. They know God, and to know Him is eternal life. As long as God lives and reigns, they know their happiness cannot be disturbed.
President Edward's wife, at one period, thought she could not bear certain thingsshe thought certain losses would destroy her peace. She thought she could not bear the alienation of her husband's affection, the loss of her reputation among his people, &c. But when her soul came into communion with God, she was delivered from the fears which had distressed her, she was carried so high above all earthly things, they had no power to affect her happiness. Like the glorious sun, which from its height in the heavens looks down on the earth below, and rolls rejoicingly on, unmoved by all that passes among us mortals, so the soul whose trust is in God, rests in exquisite peace on the bosom of exhaustless love, far beyond all sublunary influences and cares. The martyr at the stake, though in the extremest agony of body, is yet, often full, inexpressibly full of glory and joy. Why is this? How can it be? God is the natural and all-sufficient portion of the soul, and it rests in Him.
10. Sinners cannot be happy, from their very state of mind as sinners. If they do not know God, they can find no peace for the sole of their foot; like Noah's dove, forever on the wing and no place for them. And why? There is no place but in God, and when it rests not here, it must remain restless, forever seeking peace and finding none. It is thrown from its pivotit is naturally impossible for that soul to be happy. It is gnawing upon itself, eating out its own vitals. The soul must return to God, must dwell in God, repose under the shadow of his pavilion, or happiness is out of the question. The home of the soul, is the bosom of God. 'Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations,' is the beautiful and true exclamation of the Psalmist. Till the mind finds its home, its home in God, where can it be quiet? The prophet's soul had reached its home. In this dwelling-place was he rejoicingly securewithout care, without anxiety, without fear; with all joy and glory, in unspeakable blessedness.
11. Those who do not know God thus, do not know God truly.
They have but the outside of religion, the form, the rite, but where is the spirit? Where the filial love, the child-like confidence, the simple unquestioning trust, the artless, heart-felt joy, the soul-absorbing delight in God? Most religion seems to be externalit comes to the temple, it views the building, the splendor, the sacrifices, the gorgeous apparel, the imposing ceremony, it joins blindly in the ritual. But the new and living way, into the holy of holies, opened by the great high priestthat way its foot never trod, that inner glory its eye never rested on. Most have no personal communion with their King, no fellowship with Jesus Christ, or scarcely any; but all is distant, cold, hearsay. They have heard of God by the hearing of the ear, but their eyes never saw Him. Now, the prophet had gone beyond the outward service, in beyond the veil into the holiest of all, even to the presence chamber of the King. In view of all that his eye, in the ken of prophetic vision, saw of judgment and calamity, his soul was calm, nay not calm, but intensely wrought up to the most exquisite joy, and bliss untold. The prophet knew God and knew Him to some purpose.
12. This is the only reasonable state. This, and this only, answers fully, the demands of the intelligence.
13. Sinners can see the necessity of a change of heart. They know this is not their state of mind, every sinner knows perfectly well he does not feel thus towards God; every sinner knows he cannot be happy, except his own way is followed, his own will gratified. He cannot rejoice in God let him do what he will, and yet who does not know that this is universal in heaven? How could he be happy in heaven, were he to go there? He has no sympathy with God, no delight in his will, he would be alone in heaven; the holiness of that pure place, how could it receive him, or be congenial with his selfishness?
14. If this be true, professors can see why they are not saved, nor likely to be saved. They have not that spirit, which is the essential element of a state of salvation.
15. Many seem to rest in conviction. They see their sins. They are in agony. There they rest. The agony, be sure, subsides, but that uneasy state produced by a sense of present guilt remains, while they should pass through conviction into a state of conscious consecration, conscious forgiveness, and acceptance, and resting their souls joyfully in God. Many expect no such thing, look for, labor for no such thing as continual peace and happiness in God.
16. They who think outward circumstances essential to peace, think so, because they do not know God. If they only were thus and thus, if they only had this and that and that, then they could enjoy religion. If I had some Christian society, if my husband were pious, if I were not so poor, if I enjoyed good health, or were not so severely afflicted, if the Church were only awake and active, if these, and a thousand things were as I wish they were, I could enjoy religion, but as it is, in my circumstances, I cannot rejoice, I am in distress, in solitude, in persecution, in poverty; how can I be glad? How can you? How could the prophet rejoice? He could rejoice by having God for his all-sufficient portion, and his everlasting home. So could you rejoice. If you knew God thus, no suffering, not the most intense, could shake the fabric of your bliss, and throw your soul from its firm resting place, on the everlasting Rock.
17. Why, sinners seek happiness in vain. They seek it where it cannot be foundevery where but in God. All sorts of knowledge they strive to attain, but the knowledge of God. In all directions, they push their researches, but towards God. Every thing else they do, but give themselves to God. They seek the world, its pleasures, honors, riches, its fame, its glorycan these be an everlasting portion? They pass away like a dream. Can the soul say"If all these pass away, and disappear, yet is my treasure secure, my happiness unmoved? Indeed no, for these were the sources of your joy, and how can you be happy? You will say 'Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?' So might the Christian's hope be destroyed, if God could be dethroned, and Satan have full rulethen might the Christian say"All joy is fled from my soul." But while the throne of God stands unshaken, his soul remains safe who has put his trust therein. Can riches make a man happy? Is the richest man in country happy? Nay, he is one of the most miserable men, and he grows more wretched every day. How could he more effectually become the sport of winds and waves, of every vicissitude, than by placing his heart on riches? His houses burn down, his ships founder at sea, his tenants fail to pay their rent, he is at the mercy of every wind that blows. Can he say"Let every penny of my wealth be burnt up, and still I am happy?" Young man, you are a student, you are talented, ambitious, aspiringyou climb, and climb, and climb, the ladder of promotion, to the summit of greatness. Are you happy? You are only multiplying incalculably the vulnerable points of your soul, and from the very peak of your fame, you will topple and fall, and plunge into the lowest deeps of perdition. O, how mad! Why not come back to God, know God, and be able to say, "He lives, and reigns, and I am happy."
18. The true knowledge of God completely ravishes the soul. Men think they can be satisfied in some object of their choice. This is a mistake with respect to all created things. But with respect to God it is sublimely true! In God is the soul swallowed up, absorbed, hidden, lost, in an ocean of bliss.
No man should stop short of this knowledge. Stop not till you reach this high goal. Professor, stop not till you arrive at this blissful consummation. Be not content till you can rest in God as Habakkuk did. He was no more than in a state of salvation. He was no more than happy. This was not the peculiar privilege of a prophet. And suppose it were then so. What did Christ mean, when he said, "The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he?' You may be able to say not only this, which the prophet did, but every thing in the same direction, in the strongest possible manner.
19. Wherever you lack this state, you may know you have unbelief. If there is any thing in which you cannot say, 'I rejoice in God,' you are in unbelief, and have no right to stay there a moment.
Most professors know little or nothing of this state of confidence and joy, and therefore represent religion falsely, represent it as a gloomy, sepulchral, death-bed affair, not to be thought of at the same time with joy and gladness.
God deliver us and bring us to this state of joy in Him.
[Note: This sermon, printed in the Oberlin Evangelist in two parts was titled "Spiritual Delusion" in part #1, "On Leaving One's First Love" in part #2 and as "Spiritual Declension" in the table of contents. Ed.]
August 1, 1860.
"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Rev. 2:4
This passage is found in Christ's message to the church of Ephesus. In these messages, Jesus appears in unearthly majesty walking amid the golden candlesticks which represent the churches. Thus He indicated that His eye can never cease to be fastened on His professed people.
It is very noticeable in all these epistles that Christ commended wherever He honestly could. He found some things to commend in the Ephesian church. "I know thy works," said He, "and thy labor and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil, and hast tried them who say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars." They were opposed to many forms of iniquity even as you are to slavery. They pushed some useful reforms no doubt, perhaps with zeal as you do, for Christ says of them"Ye cannot bear them that are evil." They held fast their orthodoxy; for they tried false apostles and proved them liars. They had also "borne and had patience, and for Christ's name, had labored and had not fainted."
"Nevertheless,"despite of so many good things,Jesus said, "I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love." The words I have here used express the true sense of the original. Christ did not mean, "I have a small somewhat against thee because thou hast left thy first love," but "I have this solemn charge against thee"viz. that thou hast left thy first love. This is precisely the sin they had committed.
Does it not strike you, my brethren, that their case was remarkably like your own? They had many good things; great reformatory zeal; had hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans which said Christ, "I also hate,"but they had left their first love.
So, it often happens that after one's first love is gone, the heart still hates and denounces manifest, outrageous evil. We see this in many churches and in many prominent men of our age. O, if they might only take counsel from the messages of their professed Lord!
In discussing the subject involved in the text, I shall show,
I. What the first love of the Christian really is;
II. How this may be distinguished from spurious religion;
III. How the true love of any Christian may be infallibly known;
IV. When it may truly be said that persons have left their first love;
V. Show the consequences of this sin.
I. What the first love of the Christian really is. It is in one word, devotion to God. It may be illustrated in many ways. You may take, for one, the devotion of a true wife to her husband. This is God's standing illustration. You find it everywhere in the Old Testament prophets, and often in the New Testament.
What do we see in the devotion of a wife to her husband? Or of the husband to his wife?
The desire to please each other. Each is set upon promoting the other's happiness.
Or you may study the devotion of the father and the mother to their child. They live their life over in the little one. How many are living and toiling all their lives to get something for their children.
The essential element of this love to Christ is voluntary. It implies voluntary consecration, giving one's self up to the promotion of the highest good of the person loved. This good-will carries with it the affections. Such is the relation of the will to the sensibility that when the will is fixed, the sensibilities are borne along in harmony with it.
Voluntary love is in this respect entirely different from natural affection. In voluntary good-willing, the will acts first, takes the lead, and carries the sensibility after it. The affections and sensibilities do not lead the will, but follow it.
But in natural affection, this order is reversed. The natural impulses go forward and take the lead. In the conjugal relation, the taste is gratified and leads on to the devotion of the will. Hence this devotion is not obedience to the law of Godthat is, it may exist without any thought of God's law. It is often controlled by the tastes and the sensibilities only.
But in religion this order is reversed. The will is first committed. This draws after it the sensibilities. The Christian purpose has respect to God's law; conscience demands obedience; the will yields and becomes fixed in obedience to God; then and thenceforward, it carries with itself the emotions and sensibilities. This distinction is worthy of special regard.
II. Let us next notice how true Christian love differs from the spurious.
Just as prudential marriage differs from a marriage of sincere affection. These prudential cases sometimes take place; a man marries a woman for her property, or for her talents, or for her value in the family. The woman is dependent, wants a home, so she gives her consent. There is no real love on either side, although each may suppose the other to love sincerely.
On precisely this principle some persons become religious, and with the same consequences. They think it very imprudent, not to become Christians, since they may die and go down to hell. Hence they become religious from mere prudence. Just as in a prudential marriage, the woman consents in order to provide for her own support and safety, and having got what she aimed to get, she is satisfied. Little does she care for her husband's comfort or happiness.
But if she had married from real love, she would go with her husband to prison and to death. She would be truly devoted to his interests. If he were sick, she would not eat or sleep but he would have all needful care. One of these wives makes herself her chief end; the other, her husband.
So, true Christian love makes Christ its end; the spurious makes itself its end. True love adores Christ, holds Him in highest reverence and purest affection, and the heart is so drawn out that even life is not held dear if one may only please Christ and be found in Him.
III. I am next to show how true Christians may be infallibly known.
Just as true love in the marriage relation may be known. For so far as this point is concerned it matters not which is first in time, the will, or the sensibility. It makes no difference as to the manifestations of real love, whether it began with the purpose of the will as in love to God, or with the attractions of the sensibility, as in conjugal love.
I say then that true love to Christ will bear the same characteristics, the same infallible proofs, as the true love of a husband or of a wife.
The loving wife does not need a formal code of law to induce her to do all she can to please her husband, for she has the law written on her heart, and this law of love inwardly impels her to do all the duties of her station. So the Christian does not need the impulses of law, for the law to him is not now written on stone, but on the heart of flesh. I do not mean that the law becomes part of the constitution, but that it has become seated in the heart.
Mark again, Christians who are truly in love to Christ, cannot neglect Christ. As the wife who loves her husband does not and cannot neglect him, for the reason that she is so united to him in heart; so the Christian, truly loving Christ, cannot neglect Him. Christ is in all his thoughts. Never was a bride more in the thoughts of her husband, or a husband in the thoughts of his bride.
Of course if love to Christ be true, it must be supreme. Nothing else can compare with it in strength. The Christian can by no means find it in his heart to neglect Christ. What! neglect his own Redeemer! Neglect those precious words that reveal to him his precious Savior! No more than a faithful wife can neglect a letter just received from her long absent husband. So the convert reads his Biblereads and lovesreads and weeps, and still looks through his tears to read more. He finds so many loving promises, so many fond utterances of love. Never did a friend receive anything so rich and so dear from a friend as this Bible which the Christian receives from God.
Such a Christian can never neglect worship of God. His soul is full of worship. To him the very sound of prayer or praise is full of worship and of love. Never shall I forget how much, soon after my conversion, it affected me to hear the voice of prayer. It was in a barn, during a revival of religion. It seemed to me like the praises of heaven. I wept for joy. I caught some of the words. O, how precious to me was the thoughtThere is a soul in communion with God! What! can a Christian in his first love neglect God? What! a convert need urging to read his Bible? Need to be urged to pray? Tell me, do you need to urge your wife to do her duty? If you do, you have lost her love. So the Christian needs no more urging. It is all in his heart without being urged. He will do all for Christ that he can. It is as spontaneous as his life.
Christians in their first love are not easily prevented from doing all they can to manifest their love in the performance of their duty to God. They will be careful to lay their plans so as to have plenty of time to spend with God. They will not embark in selfish, worldly schemes which make it necessary to turn aside from the great duties of their calling as Christians. What would you think of the wife who should have so many other things to divert her that she could not please her husband? So persons in their first love will not have separate ends to divert themselves from labor for the salvation of souls.
Again, Christians, in real love to Christ, will spontaneously avoid whatever they suppose will displease God. It is impossible while truly loving God with their heart, that they should not avoid displeasing Him. What would you think of a wife full of love to her husband, yet continually doing things to displease him? The thing is impossible, absurd!
It is no dreadful thing to the loving Christian to give up all sin. Yet sinners look on this as a dreadful thing. To bid farewell to such pleasures forever! But the young convert feels no such attractions and bonds holding him to the follies of the world. No loving, faithful wife has trouble with a heart going after other lovers. No true husband has conflicts and struggles to prevent his conjugal affections from sinful wanderings. It is no trial on either side to restrict their conjugal love to each other. They do it naturally.
The Christian's love is in a yet higher sense spontaneous in his supreme devotion to God. The very thought of displeasing God makes him tremble. The very danger makes him turn pale.
Again, first love makes it a standard principle to do the whole will of God.
The convert will study the scriptures to learn there what will please God. So the affectionate wife or husband, parent, or child, always strives to anticipate the wants of the loved one, and do what can be done to promote his real happiness. Loving hearts make swift feet and willing hands. Whatever we see that we can do for those we love, we shall do with alacrity and with joy.
Look into any of the relations of life where true love exists, and there you find this devotion to the interests and well-being of the loved one. Neither wife or husband, if really loving deem any suitable service for the other a task, but rather do all they can with the utmost joy. The secret of this is that they neither of them seek their own good supremely, but each the other's good. If these things were done selfishly, it could be but a poor and sorry satisfaction. But done in love, no joy can be richer. The labors of love are always sweet. If you ask the Christian what gives him the greatest joy, he will answerTo please God, to have the consciousness of having aimed supremely to please Him, and the divine testimony that our aims and efforts have come up in remembrance before God. Ask the living Christian what gives him the greatest sorrow? He answers, that I should grieve my Savior; that I should ever displease him.
Again, a Christian in a state of real love to God will love God's friends, even as God Himself does, and His enemies, with the same love of pity, not of complacency, that God feels towards them. He will love to pray for God's enemies.
His mind will be given to God and not to worldliness. This is true both of his voluntary, purposed control of his own thoughts, and also of the natural proclivities of his mind; for where the treasure is, there will the heart be also. He will love to converse about God and will speak not coldly but warmly, as one who loves.
He is not given to fleshly indulgencesis not mainly asking, "What shall I eat or what shall I drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed?"
He will have a zeal for souls, warm, spontaneous and loving.
His spirit is universally forgiving. That love for others which is often so partial and limited in its regards, he delights to extend to all. If of old he had hard feelings towards others, now all is changed. He loves everybody, and finds it easy to forgive, even as we forgive our children easily and joyfully. He cannot retain hard feelings. Parents toward their children may become hard-hearted and lose even their natural affection, but converts, in the freshness of their affection, have more than a mother's and a father's love. If you have ever felt the saint's first love, you know this. You may have had prejudice, or ill-will before, but all that is passed away now. You love to pour out your soul in confession.
The Christian's love is always charitable. It thinketh no evilis not suspicious, but inclines to impute good and not bad motives. It is also patient and meek under injuries; ready also to press forbearance even to the extent of long-suffering.
Such a man has no enemies. Not that others may not hate him bad enough to kill him; but he hates no one. He has no quarrel with his neighbors. If they hate and persecute him, he knows it must be a mistake, because they misapprehend him. So completely is his selfishness subdued and supplanted by love, that he has none of the rasped feelings of wicked men.
True Christian love has great joy in God. This is a new experiencenew as the love which gave it birth. Strangers to love are stranger to real joy. They may have a low, base sort of joy in themselves, that they shall be saved, and are out of danger of perdition; but this is only a selfish joy. Self, not God, is its object.
Again, great peace is characteristic of true love to God. Their peace is like a deep flowing river. There is no state of mind in which one is so conscious of a divine flowing, a deep moving current, which no language can so fitly describe as this of scripture"like a river." Not like the river that dashes furiously and roars boisterously; but like the waters of Siloam that flow gently.
This experience is always new to the young convert. He knows he never realized this love and peace before.
This peace never can exist without love, nor indeed can this true love exist without producing this peace of soul. You cannot interrupt this peace if the love rules there. It is a peace and repose like that you feel in friends when you are sure you know them and may confide in them most entirely and without fear. The mind, conscious of being in sympathy with God, is of course full of peace.
Again, obedience will be universal. A soul moved by love does not find some things hard and some things easy, but finds all easy and sweet to do for God. Some persons find in their experience that they shrink from some duties, while they can perform other duties with tolerable ease. Not so the Christian whose soul is full of love.
Again, when this love is fresh, the soul is conscious of a great cleaving to Christ. No other consciousness can be more full and distinct than this that the affections are fastened on Christ. The very thought of Him, the bare mention of His name, suffices to stir up all the tenderest sensibilities of the heart.
In this state of mind, you do not easily feel the force of any temptation. No external influence is properly a temptation till its alluring influence is felttill it sensibly acts on our sensibilities. Mark the case of Eve. Her sensibilities were not excited instantly. They seem not to have been moved by the first suggestion. It was rather under the repeated suggestions of the serpent tempter and the combination of appeals to her various sensibilities to pleasure through the eye, the taste, and her thirst for knowledge, that she finally yielded. Under the influence of a convert's first love, it is always very hard for a temptation to reach the sensibilities, so that its influence is felt as an impulse towards sin. When the heart is left loose, floating, so to speak, at large with no object of love on which the affections are fixed, temptations come in easily and get hold readily. They find the heart unoccupied. It must be a state of fearful danger in such a world as this, to move about with a soul open to every bad influence. How different the case of those whose soul is filled already with the love of Jesus!
ON LEAVING ONE'S FIRST LOVE
[Note: This sermon, printed in the Oberlin Evangelist in two parts was titled "Spiritual Delusion" in part #1, "On Leaving One's First Love" in part #2 and as "Spiritual Declension" in the table of contents. Ed.]
August 15, 1860
By The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY
[Concluded from August 1, 1860Ed.]
"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Rev. 2:4
In speaking from this text, I was to enquire
I. What the first love of the Christian really is;
II. How this may be distinguished from spurious religion;
III. How the true love of any Christian may be infallibly known;
IV. When it may truly be said that Christians have left their first love;
V. What are the consequences of this sin.
Three of these points, first in order, have been already considered. We now come to the fourth.
IV. When may it truly be said that Christians have left their first love? The state in which one has left his first love is far different, and almost the opposite of that which I have just described. If you were to recall each separate characteristic of a convert's first love, you would find the corresponding characteristics of one who has left his first love right over against them. Whereas the former did not need the constraint of law and precept to induce him to obey, but obedience was spontaneous, in the latter case obedience has ceased to be spontaneous, and the man needs to be coerced by the scourge of law and penalty to induce him to obey. When you detect this in yourself, you may know you have left your first love.
So the convert in his first love will not, and cannot neglect God. He will not neglect his worship or his fear.
But after he has left his first love, he neglects God and his worship. He naturally neglects secret prayer. He can be absent from the communion of the supper and from the worship of God in the Sabbath Congregation. When you see this neglect, whether in yourself or in another, you may safely infer that "first love" has gone.
On the same principle, one who has left his first love will neglect God's word. The soul in the fullness of its love, will not neglect the Blessed Bible. Often you will hear him cry out"O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day." You may perhaps hear him declare that no words can express his joy in reading it. But now, alas, it lies on its shelf unread. As you pass through the room, or as you take up your daily paper or some empty tale, practically sayingI prefer this to God's word; it might well left up its voice to rebuke and reproach you! What! is this the way you treat God as he comes before you in his revealed word?
Now when professed Christians are inclined to neglect their Bibles, and their accustomed times and places of social worship, and when they need to be preached to earnestly, and almost sternly, to bring them to even a reluctant attendance, you may know their first love is gone. The Christian in his first love cannot be induced to neglect such meetings. Sometimes he will go though very much unwell. No trifling excuses will be made for non-attendance. He will not allow the demands of business to detain him. Serving God with them is always above and more than business. Nay, business is all made subordinate to serving God, so much so that he would do no business at all if he could not honestly serve and please God in and by it.
Again, when one has left his first love, there is no spontaneous avoidance of evil habits. If he does anything in this line, it is all constrained. His heart is manifestly not set upon it, and love does not constrain him.
Again, comparing these two classesthose in their first love, and those not in it; the former are God-minded; the latter, world-minded. The former are minded towards God, as opposed to being minded after the flesh. The latter are strongly minded towards the world. Their thoughts are engrossed with earthly things. If reformed from any vice, back he goes as the dog to his vomit. Any appetite readily enslaves him. All slavery is bad; none so bad, so tyrannous, and so debasing, as this.
The former has a universal zeal for God and his cause. The reason is, his heart is there. In the case of the latter, all zeal seems to have died out. If you ever get him to speak about religion, you will readily see that he has no heart in it.
Again, they do not labor for souls. They do not feel any real love for the souls of men. It is plain enough that such love does not fill their hearts.
They have no spirit of universal forgiveness. They will often say"It is soon enough to forgive when I see proof of repentance." And they are none too ready to see and accept this proof.
In the exercise of first love, one cannot have animosity and ill-will. It is all gone out of sight. All enmities have ceased. Its spirit is dead.
But when first love has languished, how irritable! How uncharitable! How many bickerings! How full of heart-burnings! Where these feelings exist, you may know the heart is far from God.
He will perhaps say in self-vindicationThe man greatly abused me! Indeed! Then hear the dying Savior cry"Forgive, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Or think of Stephen when the hurled stones smote him down"Lord lay not this sin to their charge!"
Are not those cases God-like?
But he who has lost his first love has no such sympathies.
In the life of its first love, the convert has peace like a river. Not so when one has lost his first love. He knows he has no such peace. In one's first love, he is full of gratitude, love, trust in Christ. When first love is left, these first and blessed frames of soul pass away.
Let us next enquire how Christians come to lose their first love.
This point often seems full of wonder. They don't know how it comes to pass, and are in great confusion. They do not see the philosophy of this rapid decline and loss of first love.
1. It is often to be ascribed specially to the seductive arts of Satan. These are so manifold and almost universal that no Christian altogether escapes their assault. None of the children of God "are ignorant of his devices." Satan seduces God's children more artfully and with more direct purpose to draw into sin than any vile seducer who goes about to ruin the virtue of women.
Take the case of Eve as tempted by Satan. After long parley, he at length gained her attention. This was his first artful, dangerous step. Then he went on saying smooth thingsgentle insinuations against Godseductive solicitations addressed to her love of knowledge, and her animal appetitesuntil his point was gained.
This is Satan's policy. To the young man, he saysYou must go in company with the wicked. Take care not to be too particular. You want to make your mark in the world. Strike boldly, and high.
Here is a case for illustration. In 1830, a Christian lady of N. was very full of prayer and of the Holy Ghost. In this frame she went on well for a time, till one evening in public service, during the closing prayer as she was askingWhat can I do for Christ and his cause? the suggestion came powerfullyBuy a lottery ticket; you may be sure of getting the highest prize, because your only object is to please God and help forward his kingdom.
Her first thought wasNo; that will never do for me! But the response cameIt will certainly be a prize; somebody will get the prizes; better you than any one else because you mean to do good with it.
She yielded and went immediately out from the meeting. She is now prepared to justify her purpose to buy a ticket, insisting that the suggestion came to her immediately from the Spirit. She went and bought her lottery ticket. No sooner done than Satan changed his tone, and thundered in her earNow you have committed the unpardonable sin! You are forever certain of damnation! Now go and take your life. Why should you live any longer?That was Satanthe arch-deceiver of souls.
Very much like this is his way of tempting businessmen. Make money whatever you do or fail to do, make money; then you can do good with it. To Christians of this generation, as to Jesus in the wilderness, Satan offers all the world if they will only bow down and do homage to him. O this is a terrible snare!
Satan tempts converts by the seductions of the flesh. To one he saysTake tobacco; it will be good for your cold stomach, or for your teeth, or for your nerves. To others he has other forms of seduction. Everywhere he is the great Seducer.
But I must hasten to speak of the consequences of losing one's first love.
Persons who have taken the first step know it. They know that their neglected Bible and closet and sanctuary could tell the story. They are brought into bondage. They lose the sense of free and open communion with God. They might know what has befallen them, even as the wife who has given her heart to another than her husband might know her guilt and shame. So the fallen Christian who serves God only because he must. Think of his case. His heart will not go forth freely and lovingly to God. He has lost the spirit of prayer. His comfort is gone. Whereas once it was the daily comfort of his soul to please God, it is so no longer. He has lost his God.
He has fallen into great doubts as to his good estate. Perhaps he never was a Christian. His hope is almost gone; he can scarcely sustain a very trembling hope. Yet he thinks a great deal about his hope. A convert in the strength of his first love makes little of hopethinks little about it; thinks much more of Jesus than of his hope.
He has the spirit of self-condemnation. I have seen brethren so cast down, the very lines of their face revealed self-condemnation.
His heart will not pray. It is not congenial. All is intellectual, and void of emotion. His soul is sluggish, his heart inert. This is another consequence of losing first love.
He cannot realize the truths of religion. To him, they seem only a dread theory. They have lost their hold upon his heart.
(I wonder if any of you are saying in your heartHe is just reading off the history of my experience. Who has been telling him how I feel?)
Now all these experiences are just what a loveless wife would have as towards her husband. Take one who has once known true love, but has been seduced by some villain. What is left to her? Not her joy in wedded lifenot her peace of mindnot one joy that a virtuous woman can prize. Where is she? Just where you are if you have left your first love towards Jesus Christ. You are the loveless wife or husband.
Where does this sermon find you? Have you ever had this first love? In delineating the convert's first love, I have only given its general type and not its higher and more advanced manifestations. Hence if you have not had this, you must sayI have had nothing.
Now let me askAs I described this first love did you sayI know all that; I have felt it; I have loved the precious Bible; I so loved meetings for prayer that I could have stayed in the hallowed place all night; yes I have known all that.
Have you the same spirit now? Can you say, Indeed I know by my own precious experience what all that is now?
But some of you are not there. On the contrary you know you have lost your first love. Yet let me askHave you no heart to return? Do you sayI would fain return, but I know God will not accept me. How can he accept so vile a being as Iand one who has dishonored him so falsely? Ah but you may have confidence if you will return, for he says,"Return unto me, and I will return unto you."
Are you still making the profession of loving Christ while yet your first love is gone? How odious must that profession be to Jesus Christ? Suppose you are a wife and your husband should run off after other lovers and scatter his ways to the ends of the earth. Then when he should hear of your grief, suppose he should come back with flattering lips and a lying tongue, but no confessions, would you not sayAway, away with such hypocrisy and such infidelity! And will you come to God in like manner with lying lips? And can you delude yourself with the thought that you can deceive the omniscient God?
It is your business at once to return, but not with a proud heart. It is not our business to ask how you shall be received, but whether you can be, upon any confessions you can make and any mercy God can show. As a wife who had played the harlot should lay herself at her husband's door and humble herself greatly for her sin, making no conditions as to her being received, but be humble enough to accept any conditions gladly; so your business is to return to your Father's house and repent deeply in sackcloth and ashes there. No backslider ever returned really to God until they had this spiritI will go back in all my guilt and lay my bones there.
"I can but perish if I go;
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know
I must forever die."
Sinners who have never come to Christ at all must come in this same spirit. Let no such sinners be ashamed to sayI have wronged Jesus Christ and have abused his love exceedingly. I will surely go and confess it all, though all the world revile and disown me for it. And return now, for this is your accepted time; perhaps your last time.
Can any of you sayI have no need to return? If so I am glad for it.
But some of you have left your first love. And what reason did you have for it? Are you like that poor unfortunate wife who was so mistaken in her husband, whose soul is full of sorrow, who is lost for life because she did not know the man before she married him? Is that your case? And did Jesus Christ deceive you? Did he prove unfaithful in his love to you? Has he treated you so ill and abused you and wounded your feelings?
How is this?
How? Hear what the Lord says: What have I done to you that you should lose your first love to me? Have I been a wilderness to you? Has my heart been cold towards you? Wherein have I wearied you? Testify against me. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord."
Yes, come, wanderer from God, and consider your ways.
Why are you afar from God to-day?
Sermons published over thirty years from The Oberlin Evangelist and Penny Pulpit.
Selection arranged and edited by
Richard M. Friedrich
Editor of The Works of Charles G. Finney,
& The Works of Asa Mahan.
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