By Rev. Charles G. Finney
14. I come now to the consideration of the tendency of a denial that christians have valid grounds of hope that they shall obtain a victory over sin in this life.
(1.) We have seen that true religion consists in benevolence or in heart obedience to God. It consists essentially in the will's being yielded to the will of God, in embracing the same end that he embraces, and yielding implicit obedience to him in all our lives or in our efforts to secure that end. This constitutes the essence of all true religion. The feelings or affections or the involuntary emotions are rather a consequence than strictly a part of true religion. Since religion consists essentially in yielding the will to God in implicit obedience, it follows that faith or implicit confidence is a condition or rather an essential element of true religion.
(2.) We have in former lectures also seen what faith is, that it consists in committing the soul to God, in trust, confidence. It is not an involuntary, but a voluntary state of mind. We have also seen that intellectual conviction is an indispensable condition of faith; that this conviction is not evangelical faith, but is only a condition of it. Faith essentially consists in the will's embracing the truths perceived by the intellect; and this intellectual perception is of course indispensable to faith. We have seen that faith can not exist any further than truth is apprehended, understood, and intellectually believed. This intellectual apprehension, understanding, and belief, I say again is not itself saving or evangelical faith, but only a condition of it. When truth is apprehended, understood and intellectually embraced or believed, then and so far true faith is possible, and no farther. Then and not till then, can the will embrace and commit itself to truth.
(3.) Of course, as we have heretofore seen, faith is a condition of all heart obedience to the will of God. The will can not consistently, and ought not to be yielded to any being in whose wisdom and goodness we have not the best perceived and understood grounds of confidence. The intellect must apprehend the grounds of confidence before we have a right to trust in, or commit our will to the direction of any being. We ought to have the fullest intellectual conviction of the wisdom and uprightness of a being, before we can innocently yield up to him the direction of our powers, and commit ourselves to him in implicit and universal obedience.
(4.) Again faith is also a condition of prevailing prayer. Without faith it is impossible to please God in any thing. It is, as every reader of the Bible knows, the every where expressed or implied condition of the fulfillment of the promises of God, and we are expressly assured that he who wavers and does not implicitly believe or trust in God, must not expect to receive any thing in answer to prayer.
(5.) Implicit confidence or faith is also a condition of sanctification, as we have fully seen. Indeed faith is indispensable to any progress in religion. Not a step is taken from first to last in the real and true service of God without faith or heart confidence in him. The very nature of religion forbids the expectation and the possibility of progress in religion without faith.
(6.) Implicit confidence or faith is of course, and as every one knows, a condition of salvation. Without faith a preparation for heaven is naturally impossible, and of course without faith salvation is naturally impossible.
(7.) We have also seen what hope is; that it is compounded of desire and expectation; that it includes a feeling and some degree of expectation. As we have seen, both these elements are essential to hope. That which is not desired, can not be hoped for, although it may be expected. So, that which is desired can not be hoped for unless it is also expected. Both expectation and desire are always essential to hope.
It has also been seen that a thing may be truly desirable, which is not desired. A thing may be ever so excellent and desirable in itself, yet from false views of its nature it may not be desired.
So also a thing may be desired which is not expected; and there may be good reason to expect an event which is desired, and yet expectation may be prevented for want of a knowledge of the reason, or grounds of expectation. There may be never so good and substantial evidence that an event will occur, and yet we may not expect it for want of an apprehension of it. Since desire and expectation are both essential elements of hope, it follows that whatever seems to inspire desire and expectation, tends to produce hope. And so on the other hand, whatever tends to prevent desire and expectation, tends to prevent hope.
(8.) From what has been said, it is plain that hope is a condition of the beginning of religion and of all progress in it. Desire and expectation must both exist as a condition of true religion. If there be no desire there will of course be no attention to the subject, and no effort. But if there be desire and no expectation or intellectual conviction, there can be no faith. Both desire and expectation are conditions of all religion, and of all salvation. Hope is a condition of all effort on almost every subject. Without both desire and expectation, the very sinews of effort are wanting.
Whatever therefore tends to prevent hope, tends to prevent religion. There is, as every one must see, a difference between a hope of eternal life founded upon a consciousness of being a christian and a hope founded upon the mere offer of salvation. The difference, however, does not consist in the nature of hope, but only in the evidence upon which expectation is based. The offer of salvation, as has been said, lays a good foundation for a rational hope that we shall be converted and saved. But finding ourselves in the way of obedience, and drawn by the Holy Spirit, we have a higher evidence upon which to base expectation. Both desire and expectation are greatly increased in the latter case, but they may justly exist in a lower degree in the former case.
The foregoing remarks prepare the way for saying,
(9.) That there are two effectual ways of opposing religion.
[1.] By so misrepresenting it as to prevent desire.
When God and his government and service are so represented as to prevent desire, this is one of the most effectual ways of apposing religion. If such representations are accredited, this is an effectual bar to religion in every case. This is a common way in which Satan and his emissaries oppose the religion of the Bible. They misrepresent God and religion, and hold it up to contempt, or so misrepresent it in multitudes of ways as to cause the human mind necessarily to regard it as undesirable, as rather injurious than beneficial to the world, and to individuals. They represent religion either as unnecessary, or as something that can not be desired upon any other principle than as the less of two evils--as something to be submitted to, rather than to go to hell, but as being far from any thing desirable and lovely in itself. This I say again, is one of the most common and most fatal methods of opposing religion. Many men who think they are promoting religion, are among the most efficient agents of Satan in preventing it by the false representations they make of it.
They by their spirit and manner throw around and over it a fanatical or a melancholic or a superstitious cant, whining and grimace, or a severity and a hatefulness that necessarily disgust rather than attract the enlightened mind. Thus the soul is repelled instead of attracted; disgust instead of desire, is awakened. Such representations are among Satan's most efficient instrumentalities for opposing God and ruining souls.
[2.] Another frequent and most successful method of opposing God and his government is by discouraging expectation. This was the devil's first successful experiment with mankind. He succe[e]ded in undermining confidence in God; this he did by suggesting that God is selfish in his requisitions and prohibitions. Ever since the fall of our first parents, unbelief has been the easily besetting sin of our race. God has therefore taken, and is taking, all possible pains to restore confidence in himself and in his government, as a condition of saving the souls of fallen men.
We have seen, and Satan and his emissaries know that intellectual expectation or conviction is a condition of faith, and that faith is a condition of all holiness and of salvation. It has therefore always been, and still is, one of the principal objects of Satan to prevent faith. To do this, he must destroy hope or expectation, and desire. Men are exceedingly prone to discredit the Divine testimony and character, and it would seem that unbelief is the most common, as well as the most unreasonable abomination in the world. It is remarkable with what readiness and with what credulity a hint or an insinuation against the testimony of God will be received. It would seem that the human mind is in such an attitude towards God, that his most solemn declarations and his oath can be discredited upon the bare denial of man, and even of the devil. Man seems to be more prone to unbelief than to almost any other form of sin. Whatever, therefore, tends to beget distrust or to prevent expectation in regard to the promises and truth of God, tends, of course, in the most direct and efficient manner to oppose God and religion. Now suppose ministers should set themselves so to caricature and misrepresent religion, as to render it undesirable and even odious to the human mind; so that, as the human mind is constituted, it would be impossible to desire it. Who can not see that such a ministry were infinitely worse than none, and would be the most successful and efficient instrumentality that Satan could devise to oppose God and build up the influence of hell? If those who are supposed to know by experience, and who are the leaders in, and teachers of religion, represent it as undesirable, in just so far as they have influence, they are the most successful opposers of it. The result would be the same, whether they did this through misapprehension or design. If they mistook the nature of religion, and without designing to misrepresent it, did nevertheless actually do so, the consequence must be just as fatal to the interests of religion as if they were its real, but disguised enemies. This, as I have said, is no uncommon thing for ministers, through misapprehension to misrepresent so grossly the gospel as to repel rather than attract the human mind. In so doing, they of course render hope impossible, by preventing the possibility of one of its essential elements, desire. There is of course no effort made on the part of the hearers of such ministers to obtain what they are prevented from desiring. Such ministers preach on and ascribe to the sovereignty of God their want of success, not considering' that the fault is in their grossly misrepresenting God and his claims and the nature of his religion. It were perfectly easy, were this the place to do so, to show that the representations of God, and of his claims, and of religion, which are sometimes made in the pulpit and through the press, are calculated in a high degree to repel and disgust, rather than attract the human mind. When such misrepresentations are complained of, we are told that the carnal mind will of course repel true representations of the character of God and of religion; and the fact that disgust is produced, is regarded as evidence that the truth is held forth to the people.
I know it is true that the carnal or selfish mind is enmity against God. But what does this mean? Why it means that the carnal heart is selfishness, that the will is committed to self-gratification, which is a state of heart or an attitude of the will directly opposite to that which God requires. It is also true that this selfish state of will does often beget emotions of opposition to God, when God is contemplated as opposed to the sinner on account of his selfishness. But it is also true that the human intelligence can not but approve the character and government of God when they are rightly apprehended; and further, when the true character of God, of his government and religion is properly represented to, and apprehended by the human mind, from a law of necessity the mind pronounces the character of God to be lovely, and his government and religion infinitely desirable. Such being the nature of the human mind, the Holy Spirit by thoroughly enlightening the intellect arouses the desires, and develops the feelings in their relations to God. The desires thus come into harmony with the law of God, and favor the consecration of the will, and the whole man is renewed in the image and favor of God.
Men are susceptible of conversion by the truth as presented by the Holy Spirit upon condition of their nature being such that a true representation of God rather attracts than repels them. But since I have dwelt so much at large upon this particular in lectures on depravity and regeneration, I must not enlarge upon it in this place.
It is very plain that when through mistake or design, God, his government, and religion are so represented as naturally to repel rather than attract men, this is the most efficient method of opposing the progress of religion since it prevents desire which is an essential clement of hope, and hope is indispensable to successful effort.
But suppose that the teachers of religion set themselves to prevent the expectation of becoming religious, or of making progress in religion. Suppose they represent to sinners that there is no rational ground of hope in their case--that men can not rationally expect to be saved or to be converted, however much they may desire it. What must be the effect of such teaching? Every body knows that in just so far forth as such teachers had any influence, hell could not desire a more efficient instrumentality to dishonor God and ruin souls. This would be just what the devil would himself inculcate. It would prevent hope and of course prevent faith, and render salvation impossible, and damnation certain, unless the lie could be contradicted and the spell of error broken.
Suppose also, that religious teachers should instruct the church that they have no rational ground for the expectation that their prayers will be answered. Suppose they should tell them that present faith has no connection whatever with future faith, or no such connection as to render future faith probable; that present faith in any promise is so far from having any certain connection with its fulfillment, that it affords no ground whatever for rational hope that the promises at present believed will ever be fulfilled. Suppose they are told that prayer for the grace of perseverance and a present desire and determination to persevere, had no such connection with the desired end as to afford the least ground of rational hope that they should persevere.
Suppose that ministers should take this course to render expectation, and of course hope and faith impossible, what must be the result? Every one can see. Take any class of promises you please and let the ministry in general present it as a dangerous error for christians to expect or hope to realize their fulfillment, and what must the consequence be? Why in so far forth as they had influence they would exert the very worst influence possible. Apply this principle to the promises of the world's conversion, and what would be done for missions? Apply it to parents in relation to their children, and what would become of family religion?
Now take the class of promises that pledge a victory over sin in this life. Let for example, ministers explain away 1st Thess. 5:23,24: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it:" and this whole class of promises; or let them teach, as some of them do, that it is a dangerous error to expect that these promises will be fulfilled to christians, and what must the result be? This would be just as the devil would have it. "Ha, hath God said, he will sanctify you wholly, spirit, soul, and body, and preserve you blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Ye shall not surely be so sanctified and kept, and the Lord doth know this, and it is dangerous to trust him."
This surely is the devil's teaching; and when he can get the ministers of Christ to take this course, what more can be done? Suppose the ministers admit, as many of them do, that the blessing we have been considering is fully promised in the Bible, but at the same time inculcate that it is promised upon a condition with which it is irrational for us to hope to comply. What must result from such teaching as this? Such teaching represents God and his gospel in a most revolting and ridiculous light. The provision, say such teachers, is adequate, and proffered upon conditions with which you might comply, but with which you can not rationally hope to comply. Well, then, what remains but to regard the gospel as a failure? The fact is, every man and every soul may rationally hope to comply with the conditions of salvation and with the conditions of the promises, or what are they?
But the point we are now considering is, the tendency of such teaching; the tendency of teaching the church that it is irrational for them to expect to fulfill the conditions of the promises. I care not what class, any class. God has written them, and holds them out to inspire desire and expectation--to beget hope, and faith, and effort, and thus to secure their fulfillment to his people. Now what an employment for the leaders and instructors of the people, to be engaged in teaching them not to expect the fulfillment of these promises to them--that such an expectation or hope is a dangerous error--that it is irrational for them to hope to so fulfill the conditions of these promises as to secure the blessings promised, however much they may at present desire to do so. I say again the devil himself could not do worse than this. Hell itself could not wish for a more efficient opposition to God and religion than this. This is indeed a most sublime employment for the ministers of God, to be zealous in their private and public, in their individual and in their associated capacities, in season and out of season, in persuading the people that the grace of God is sufficient for them if they would believe the promises and appropriate this proferred grace to themselves, but that it is "dangerous error" for them to expect even by grace divine so to fulfill the conditions of the promises, as to avail themselves of this proffered grace, however willing and desirous they now are to do so. They might be saved, but it is dangerous to expect to be saved. They might obtain answers to prayer, but it is dangerous error to expect them. They might obtain a victory over sin in this world, but it is "dangerous error" to expect to do so, however much they may desire it. This is sublime religious instruction; or rather a most gross contradiction and denial of the grace and truth of God. I will not of course say, nor do I think, that it is intentional, but I must expose its tendency and its true nature.
Such instruction is in its very nature a libel upon the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and it tends as directly and as efficiently as possible to infidelity and to the ruin of the church of God. Why, in just so far forth as such teaching is believed, it renders hope and faith impossible.
There are good and sufficient grounds of hope in the case under consideration, but these grounds are strenuously denied by multitudes of ministers, and pains are taken in every way to discourage faith in the class of promises that pledge deliverance from the bondage of sin in this life. Those who plead for God and his promises and inculcate expectation and faith and effort, are branded as heretics, and proscribed and treated as the enemies of religion. O, tell it not in Gath. For my life I would not say this were it not already a matter of common knowledge.
Why may not a man as well caricature God and religion and so represent both as to render them odious, and thus render desire impossible, as to exclaim against their being any ground of rational hope that the promises will be fulfilled to us? Why may not a man as well be employed in preventing desire as in preventing expectation? One certainly is equally as fatal to the interests of religion and to souls as the other. I do not complain of designed misrepresentation in regard to the truth we have been considering; but O, what a mistake! What an infinitely ruinous misapprehension of the gospel and of the grounds of hope! God has endeavored by every means to inspire desire and expectation, to secure confidence and effort, but alas! alas! how many ministers have fallen into the infinite mistake of laying a stumbling block before the church! How many are crying, There is no reason to hope, no ground for rational expectation that you shall so fulfill the conditions of the promises as to secure their fulfillment. You must expect to live in sin so long as you are in this world. It is dangerous to entertain any other expectation.
Who does not know that faith is a sine qua non of all progress in religion? Nothing can be more fatal to the progress of the gospel and to its influence over individuals and over masses of men than to destroy expectation, and thus render faith impossible. Observe, hope is composed of desire and expectation. The very nature of hope shows beyond controversy its relation to effort and to faith. Expectation is itself intellectual faith, or belief. It is capable of indefinite degrees. In many instances hope in relation to a desired event is very weak; we greatly desire it, but our expectation is very slight, so that we can hardly say that we hope, and yet we are aware that we do hope. Now in this case, hope will increase as expectation increases. If expectation is slight it is difficult to believe with the heart, that is, to rest confidently in, or confidently to look for the occurrence of the event. It is difficult when intellectual faith or expectation is but slight, to commit the will and trust calmly that the desired object will be obtained. It is a common experience in regard to objects of desire, to find ourselves unable to rest or trust with the heart in the confidence that the event will be as we desire. Now the thing needed in this case is, to have expectation or intellectual faith increased. The mind needs to be more thoroughly convinced; it wants more evidence or to apprehend more clearly the reasons for rational expectation. Now if the occurrence of the event depends in any measure upon our hope or faith, as all events do that are dependent upon our diligent attention and use of appropriate effort and instrumentalities, who does not see that we need encouragement and evidence instead of discouragement? Discouragement in such a case is ruinous to what slight hope we have.
Now God has made to us exceeding great and precious promises, and held them out to our faith, and said, "All things are possible to him that believeth." "If thou canst believe, thou shalt see the glory of God." "Be it unto thee according to thy faith." "If ye will not believe, ye shall not be established." But why should I quote passages; every reader of the bible knows that every where the greatest stress is laid upon faith, and that nothing is too hard for God to do when his people will believe. Now what must be the influence of a religious teacher who discourages faith? Suppose he explains away the promises to parents in reference to their children. Who has not observed the influence of a teacher that is himself stumbling through unbelief in regard to that class of promises. You will universally find that so far as his influence extends, it is death to the expectation, and of course to the faith of parents, in regard to the conversion of their children. Of course their children grow up in sin, and the families of the members of his church are filled with impenitent children. The same will be true in reference to revivals of religion. Let the pastor be himself unbelieving; let him have little or no hope of having religion revived; let him cast the stumbling block of his own iniquity or unbelief before the church, and the influence is death. It were much better that a church had no minister, than for them to have one who has so much unbelief as to preach unbelief instead of faith to the people, who is forever throwing out discouraging suggestions in regard to the efficacy of prayer and faith in the promises of God. What would be the influence of a minister who should from year to year hold out to his people the doctrine that the promises are made upon conditions which they had no rational ground of hope of fulfilling? that they might have a revival if they would use the appropriate means in the appropriate manner, but it was dangerous error for them to expect to do so? that the children of the members of his church might be converted if the parents would appropriate to themselves, and rest in, and plead the promises made to parents, but that these promises were made upon conditions that they had no rational ground for hope that they should fulfill, and that therefore it was dangerous error to expect to fulfill them and to have their children converted? Who does not see what the influence of such a pastor must be?
It must be death and ruin. He preaches unbelief instead of faith to the people.
Precisely the same is true in respect to the doctrine of holiness in this life. Suppose a pastor to read to his congregation such passages as the following:
2 Cor. 6:16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
7:1. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
1 Thess. 5:23. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
Now suppose that he explains away, or suggests that these passages are interpolations; or that they are not correctly translated; or affirms that at any rate they have no rational ground of hope that these promises will be fulfilled to them; that they might be fulfilled to them if they would believe them, but that they have no reason to expect that they shall believe them; that very few, if any, have in fact believed them; and that many who have thought they believed them and that they had received the fulfillment of them, have found themselves mistaken; that it is very difficult to get a permanent victory over sin in this world; that they might fall into fanaticism if they should expect these promises to be fulfilled to them; and that such an expectation were dangerous error.
Now I ask, how could a minister more directly serve the devil than by such teaching as this? He could hardly be more injuriously employed. The fact is that an unbelieving minister is the greatest of all stumbling blocks to the church. I have had occasion to witness enough of this to make any man's heart sick. It matters not at all in what particular form his unbelief develops itself; in that direction all will be ruin. Suppose he loses, or never had any confidence in revivals of religion, and is always letting out his unbelief upon his church. He is the greatest stumblingblock that could be laid before them. Suppose he neither understands nor believes the promises of God made to parents respecting their children, and that in this respect he lets out his ignorance and unbelief: he is the ruin of their children. Suppose he is in the dark, and filled with error or unbelief in respect to every thing where faith and energetic action are concerned, and throws doubt and discouragement in the way:--his influence is death.
What! a leader in the host of God's elect disheartening the church of God by his unbelief! It is in vain to say that entire sanctification in this life is not promised; for it really and plainly is, and nothing is more expressly promised in the word of God. These promises like all others are conditioned upon faith, and it is as rational to hope to believe them, and to expect them to be fulfilled to us, as it is to hope to believe any other class of promises, and to have them fulfilled to us. We have the same Spirit to help our infirmities and to make intercession for us in one case as in the other; but the ruin is that false teaching has forbidden expectation and crippled faith, and therefore the blessing is delayed. It would be just so in regard to every thing else whatever. Now suppose that this course should be taken in regard to family religion and to revivals of religion until centuries should pass without revivals, and without the faithfulness of God being manifested to parents in the conversion of their children; and then suppose that the fact that there had been so few or no revivals, or so few children converted in answer to the parents' prayers, should be urged as proving that parents had no rational ground for the hope that their children would be converted; or that the church had any rational ground for the hope that religion would be revived, what would be the effect of all this?
The fact is, that nothing can be more disastrous and death-dealing than for religious teachers to throw discouragements in the way of christians taking hold of and appropriating the promises. It is ruin and death. God presents promises and calls the church to believe them at once, and without hesitation to cast themselves upon them, to appropriate them and make them their own, and to lay hold on the blessings promised. Now what an employment for a minister to stand before the people and cry out, It is dangerous error for you to expect these promises to be fulfilled to you. Surely this is the devil's work.
Let facts be searched out, and it will be found to be true that the influence of a minister is as his confidence in God and in his promises is. Let search be made, and it will be found that those ministers who by precept and example encourage the faith of their churches, are producing a healthful influence in proportion as they do so. But on the contrary, when they by example and precept discourage the faith of their churches, the influence is disastrous in proportion as they do so.