The GOSPEL TRUTH
[by Charles G. Finney]
"By faith 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, chap. XI, verse, 5.
ON the last clause of this verse, I purpose to make some remarks:--"Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God."
In speaking from these words, I shall first inquire, Who gave this testimony which Enoch had?
Secondly, What is the nature of the testimony?
Thirdly, How it was given.
Fourthly, The conditions upon which he must have had it, and upon which we may [have] such a testimony.
Fifthly, The importance of having this testimony.
And, lastly, I shall offer some reasons why so few seem to have this testimony that they please God.
This is the outline of thought to which I will call your attention; and I suppose that these several points will include the substance of that which any Christian man would naturally desire to know upon this subject.
I.--The first inquiry is, whose 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 him he knew it; and if anybody was to be testified of, he was the one to proffer such testimony: and doubtless this was the fact, that he had God's testimony; and this was the real meaning of the apostle, that he had God's testimony before his translation, and that he pleased God.
II.--An inquiry, secondly, into the nature of this testimony, shows that it certainly was not a merely negative testimony, the mere absence of an opposite testimony, it was not the mere absence of a sense of condemnation, and of fear that God was displeased with him; for the hardened sinner might for the time being have this kind of testimony; he might not feel the frown of God, nor have any feeling that he was condemned. The testimony doubtless was a positive testimony. This is plainly implied in what the apostle says, that he pleased God, and not merely that there was an absence of any evidence that he displeased God, and absence of the frown of God, or of anything that indicated God's displeasure. God in some way doubtless convinced Enoch, and gave him to understand that he was pleased with him; for , according to the apostle, not only was it true that God was pleased with him, but in some way he gave this testimony to Enoch; he communicated to Enoch the fact that he was pleased with him. Enoch himself had the testimony, God's testimony, that he pleased him.
III.--The next inquiry is, how are we to suppose this testimony was given to Enoch? I observe first, not merely in a providential way. He did not manifest to Enoch by a course of his providence that he was pleased with him. This has never been the course of God with man. Every one knows that oftentimes it is impossible to know much about the moral character of men by the manner in which God seems to deal with them in this world. This plainly indicates, and God designs that it shall indicate that this world is not a state of retribution, of reward and punishment. There have been many mistakes on this subject in the opinions of judges of the world. The friends of Job manifestly misunderstood this subject, and supposed that God's providential dealings with him were indicative of his being a wicked man, and that they really were God's testimony, that he was a hypocrite. Job resisted this, and insisted upon it, that this was a false view of the subject; and the main scope of the whole book of Job, was to show this point:--that God does not by his providence and his word, indicate his views of the moral characters of men. The Bible in many places expressly affirms this: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust;" and often the wickedest of men seem to be exalted in the providence of God, while the righteous are depressed, and trodden down, and greatly afflicted: nay, neither in this life nor in their death does he manifest oftentimes his views of their character. The psalmist observed this, and said that the wicked flourished as a green bay tree, that they were not in trouble as other men, and that when they died, their end appeared to be peaceful. When he considered this before he was well instructed, it greatly stumbled him, until he went into the house of the Lord, and there he understood the matter, that this was not a state of retribution, where God deals with men according to their characters, but that he had set the sinner on slippery places, and that he casts him at last down into destruction.
These remarks are merely designed to illustrate the assertion that I made, that we are not to suppose that God providentially gave this testimony to Enoch, that it was merely a providential dealing, or that God favoured him in such a manner in his designs, or in any way as to indicate to him infallibly, that he was pleased with him. It is contrary to Scripture, and contrary to the universal observation of men, that God should do this; but I remark again, that he must doubtless have in some way or another communicated the fact to the mind of Enoch by his word and spirit, or through his word by his spirit. How else could he have made this known? It must have been either providentially by so arranging his providence as that it should be plainly known that God was pleased with him, or he must have communicated it to his mind directly by his spirit, as I suppose through his word. But, inasmuch, as at that time the Scriptures were not filled up as they now are, and therefore the spirit of God, except by direct revelation to him, could not have made an application of much that is now written in the Bible to his mind, he undoubtedly in this case, in the case of Enoch, gave him a direct manifestation of his approbation, and of his acceptance with God. And let me say also, that in all cases where persons have this testimony that they please God, it must be of this character: in other words, it cannot be providentially, so that a man can infer infallibly from God's providence that he pleases God. It must be that he communicates this to him through his word by his spirit.
But let me say again, this is done by speaking peace to the soul, and giving the soul to understand that God is at peace with it, and shedding as it were God's peace, and diffusing it through his soul, giving him the spirit of adoption, and leading him to cry, "Father," and leading him to see that he is at peace with God, by God's smiling on his soul, drawing him into communion with him, shedding abroad his love in his heart, and thus creating a state of mind that will lead the individual clearly to comprehend the fact that he is accepted of God; that he pleases God, and that God is not only reconciled to him, but 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 this is in exact accordance with the experience of every Christian that has ever known anything of experimental religion. I mean by a Christian acquainted with experimental religion, any one that has ever had real communion with God, that has ever known what it is to be drawn into communion with God in such a manner, and to sympathize with him so deeply, as to be the partaker of his holiness, and to drink of the river of his pleasure, and to enter into his state of mind, so as to understand both what the holiness of God is, and what the consequence of the sensibility of God is; in other words, the clear happiness which such a holy being enjoys.
But, let me say there is such a thing as God's giving to men a sense of justification. God gives the man an inward sense of his approval, so that at the time the man's soul has no doubt, and can have no doubt of it; it understands it is accepted with God. God so smiles upon the soul, and so (as it were), sheds himself into the soul, that it feels to breathe an atmosphere of peace, so deep and so calm, that it has no doubt of its acceptance with God, and of being in the state of which God is pleased. But I must not dwell here any longer upon this part of the subject, as the outline which I have marked out is so extensive.
IV.--I am to inquire, in the next place, into the conditions upon which Enoch and every one else who has this testimony can have it; the conditions upon which it may be had.
1. And the first condition to which I refer is, the individual that will have this testimony, must actually please God, for he will bear no false testimony. It is not enough that Christ has pleased God, and that in some mysterious way, Christ's righteousness is imputed to a man, and that therefore God is pleased with Christ. It is only a mere truism that God is pleased with Christ. It is said that God was pleased with Enoch. He had the testimony not merely that God was pleased with Christ, and what Christ had done, but he had the testimony that he pleased God. Now I suppose we are to understand more from it than that God accepted him for Christ's sake, in his services, and that for Christ's sake, God gave him the Holy Spirit. I suppose we are to understand that, indeed, God for Christ's sake gave him such a spirit, and so much of the Holy Ghost, as to secure in him the state of mind that actually pleased God; and he, through the spirit of Christ himself, and the grace of God, actually did that which pleased God. If any one then would enjoy this testimony, this must be one of the conditions, certainly, that he must actually be in a state of mind, and live a life that is pleasing to God.
2. I remark again, this testimony is conditional upon implicit confidence in God. Now there is no doubt that I might go back to this, and say that his pleasing God was conditioned upon the fact that Christ, for the atonement had not then been made, and that it was understood that the atonement was to be made; and that it really was regarded in the divine economy as made, so far forth that the Holy Spirit was given to him to scoure[secure] a holy heart in him, and that this was a condition of his pleasing God. But if this was so, it is certain that he must have had implicit confidence in God as a condition of pleasing him. The Bible affirms that without faith it is impossible to please God: he must therefore have had implicit confidence in God. But what is implicit confidence? I mean by implicit confidence, that he must have wholly cast himself upon God, and have thrown himself upon God's grace, upon what he knew of God, upon those things which he knew of the attributes of God, and must have had some sign, doubtless, in some way, of the manner in which God accepted him, and have had implicit confidence in God's truthfulness, and faithfulness, and mercy.
3. But let me say again, another condition of having this testimony is, he must have love to God. It is said of him, as you recollect, in the Old Testament, that "Enoch walked with God after he begat Methusaleh[sic.] three hundred years," and he was translated; "He was not; for God took him." (Gen. v. 22, 24.) Here, then, by walking with God we are to understand that there was an agreement with the Lord; for in another place the Bible says, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Am. iii. 3.) And this is in Bible language, a strong affirmation that two cannot walk together except they be agreed. And when it is said that Enoch walked with God, it is intended that he really agreed with God, and his will, that his will and his heart were at once[one] with God, that he and God were perfectly agreed, that they walked together, and he thus walked with God three hundred years. If this were true, he might well have had the testimony that he pleased God. Every one that would please God, that would have this testimony that he pleases God, must do as Enoch did: he must be agreed to have God govern him; he must agree with God in his views, in his aims; he must live to God, live to the same end for which God lives.
4. Again, if he would have this testimony that he pleases God, he must set his heart upon pleasing him. No individual will have the testimony that he pleases God, unless he really means to please God. He must have a heart set upon pleasing God, must regard it as of the great importance that he please God. His mind must regard it as of the greatest importance, and he must give himself to the work of pleasing God as a condition of pleasing him.
5. Again, another condition is, he must not be content at all to live without the testimony that he pleases God. He must not only aim to please God, but he must not be content to live without God's testimony that he is pleased. If he be truly a conscientious man, and truly aim to please God; if his heart is really set upon this, he will not of course be satisfied unless he has some evidence in some way satisfactory to his own mind that he succeeds in this which he aims to do, that is, that he really does please God. Now if an individual does not aim to obtain this testimony, if he considers it of but little importance, he will of course not have it; but he must not content himself to live without it if he expects it. He must feel the importance of it.
6. But I remark again, another condition is, he must believe it possible for him to please God. If he does not believe it possible to please God, if he has such an idea and such an estimate of God's requirements, and thinks, or rather assumes, that God's requirements are so exceedingly strict, that God is so exceedingly exacting and requires so much, that it is presumption in man to expect to please him--if he has this assumption in his mind, he need not expect to have the testimony that he does please him. Indeed I have heard many persons talk as if they conceived it the height of all presumption to expect to please God in this world, and that it would be a dangerous delusion to expect to please him or to have the impression on our minds that we did please him; and when they are conversing on the subject, and even preaching and writing, they represent God as so exceedingly exacting, that the highest state in heaven cannot really hope to please him; thus exalting his requirements, and spreading them out over a field, I had almost said infinitely beyond the capacities of a finite creature, much more of man, so as to shut out and preclude every hope and expectation of pleasing God. But now if an individual has this idea of God, if he has this presumption lying in his mind, that God is thus exacting, that he requires brick without straw, and that he takes up that which he laid not down, that he gathers where he did now sow, that he requires where he gives no ability, and indeed he is so exacting that it is impossible to please him--if a man has such a presumption in his mind, his very idea of God is such that he need not expect to have the testimony that he pleases him; if he is only able to think of him thus; he cannot please him. It is true that God is universal, that his requirements are perfections. This is true, that he requires that men should love the Lord with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves; but it is also true that his grace is equal to his requirements, and that if he requires a thing of us, in the very requirement he freely pledges his grace to secure the thing that he requires, if we set our hearts to it: it were infinitely strange, it were unjust if otherwise.
7. Another condition of having this testimony that we please God, is the belief that we may have the testimony; not only that we may please him, but that we may secure his testimony to the fact we do please him. If we get an impression that God is slow to manifest his pleasure, and that it would be presumption in us to expect any such testimony from him, if we got such an impression as that in our minds, it will, no doubt, fatally prevent our having that testimony; and, no doubt it is the mission of Satan to discourage the saints, and that he is ready to hold the saints down, and to accuse them of anything and everything in order to prevent their rising to the belief that they may please God, and that they may have the testimony that they do please him.
Now, let me pause here to apply what I have said to all classes of persons, not only to the professing class, but to those in this house that are not professed saints. Now, do you really desire this testimony that you please God? Of course you cannot expect to have it if you are not Christians, if you remain impenitent; but may you not enjoy this testimony by setting your heart upon things I have mentioned? Yes, you may. To be sure, you that are in your sins have not this testimony now, and perhaps you are ready to speak thus:--"Oh, it must be a great while before I can expect to have this testimony." And why must it be a great while? Will it take you a great while to repent, to renounce your wicked ways, and to set your heart upon obeying God? Will that take a great while? Oh, no. Why, it is as important for you to have this testimony as for anybody else. Why not then at once say, "I must have this testimony that I please God, and by the grace of God I will not live another day without it?"
8. But lastly under this head, I observe, the spirit of self-sacrifice is a condition of having this testimony. Christ lived not to please himself, but to please his Father. He was willing, and did sacrifice himself, and offered himself upon the altar, and if his followers would have the testimony that they please God, they must have the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ; they must be willing to be used all up for the glory of God, and the good of his kingdom. As Christ laid himself upon the altar, and gave himself up entirely, even unto death, man must be willing to sacrifice his life if he would hope for anything from God, or he cannot have this testimony.
V.--But I must make some remarks upon the importance of having it.
1. And, first, if persons have it not, but are seriously disposed, they are not callous and hardened. If, indeed, they are professors of religion, and have not the testimony that they please God, the best that can be said, is, that they live in a state of continual doubt. They may, to be sure, and often do have the testimony that they do not please God. This is a very common thing, as I have found, with professors of religion. They feel condemned, and know that they are condemned. Their own conscience condemns them; and they have lived under such a sense of condemnation, as to be as far as possible from having the testimony that they please God. Now perhaps it is so with some of you, my dear hearers, that instead of having the testimony that you please God, you find that everything condemns you; every sermon you hear condemns you; every time you take up the Bible you are condemned; your own conscience condemns you, and you cannot think of your state without a sense of condemnation. You know that you have not the testimony that you please God, but he seems to frown and to shut you out from communion with him, and you have the highest evidence that you do not please God. Others of you may perhaps not be exactly in this state, but after all, are in such a state, that your life, to make the best of it, is one of frequent, if not continual doubt. You have no such evidence that God is pleased with you, as you can rest upon. You have many doubts, many fears, many anxieties, and perhaps you seldom, if ever, rise higher in religious feeling, than into a state in which you are greatly anxious about yourselves. Your are in doubt about your real state; sometimes, and perhaps a great deal of your time, too callous to care much about whether you please God or not: but when most exercised on the subject of religion, when under the most searching and pungent preaching, instead of coming out clear with the testimony that you please God, perhaps you seldom go further than to get into states of deep anxiety, great doubt and perplexity. So long as the conscience does its work, the spirit of God does his work; and if you have not the testimony that you please God, no wonder you doubt. Without this testimony you have reason to doubt; and I beg of you, unless you have this testimony, not to suffer anybody to persuade you to do other than either doubt or else come to the conclusion at once that you do not please God: indeed, the only rational way in such a case, is to come to the conclusion that you do not please God, for the plain reason that if you did please him, he would manifest it to you, and you would have the testimony that he was pleased. And I beg of you, my dear hearers, if any of you have this testimony, do not suppose that it may be that you are pleasing God, and that he conceals the fact. The only safe and rational way is for you to come to the conclusion, that you do not please him; for if you did, why should there be these doubts, why this state of anxiety, why these fears, why these everlasting terrors? Is it because God is so ungracious as not to manifest his pleasure although you please him?
2. I shall have occasion to call up this point again, and therefore pass on to say in the next place, if you have not this testimony, whenever your thoughts are exercised on subjects of religion, when cases occur in which it is of the greatest importance that you should be clear and free to lay hold of anything that can raise you out of the fire; your thoughts are always occupied about yourselves--you have so much to say, and think, and do about yourselves. When persons have not this testimony that they please God, they are always occupied in thinking very much about themselves; they are doubting whether they are Christians themselves, asking people to pray for them; nay, they are engrossed with themselves, and with their own states so much, that when you ask them to pray for sinners, they have no heart to pray for them; they can only say, "Lord have mercy on me, teach me where I am and what I am." Now, is not this a great evil? Indeed, it is one of the greatest and sorest evils. One of the greatest parts of the labour of a minister of Christ, is to get professors of religion out of the way, so that they may have confidence in their own faith, so that they can think themselves freed, and take hold of the work of saving others. Those individuals, unless they have this testimony, can do very little indeed for others. Nay, I have seen ministers again and again in revivals of religion, come into such a state of mind, that they thought they could not preach, and could not pray; they had so little confidence in their own acceptance with God; so little of communion with God; such a sense of guilt, that they were totally unfit to guide others. What a great evil is this! What can they do for others if they are not individually possessors of this testimony? Religious leaders, if they have not this testimony, have no heart to come out and work as men of God ought to work for others. Without this testimony, without a confidence that they possess it, can they, unless they be hypocrites, stand up in a congregation and hold forth the words of eternal life to others? Can they preach a gospel which they do not really know they have themselves received--a Christ that they do not themselves come to? And can they hold forth a salvation of which they taste not, touch not, handle not? What can they do if they have not this testimony?
3. Again, let me say, that all such persons who are professors and yet not have this testimony, are like a dead weight upon the congregation, and hang, like a mill-stone, upon the necks and energies of those individuals who would endeavour to pull the sinners out of the fire. And what minister, let me ask, has not found, when the great mass of his church were living so as not to have the testimony that they pleased God; what a mass of difficulties are raised in the way in such a state of things as this? The Church!--what can they do? Only hang right upon Christ's word. Perhaps they may be so here; it may be, perhaps, that some of you--instead of living in such a state as to help through the work of the minister--are, really, dead weights hanging on all the energies, and powers, and efforts, of those that are labouring for the salvation of souls. Why should not this be so, that you are dead weights, if you have not the testimony that you please God? Where are you? What are you? I speak now to professors of religion.
4. Again, let me say, that without this testimony professors of religion are stumbling-blocks--a misrepresentation of religion. What do they mean? They profess to be children of God; but if they really are the children of God they ought to have the witness that they are so; they ought to have God's testimony that they please him; and if they hold forth the blessedness of such a testimony, and of such a salvation, they ought to be able to pour forth their whole hearts in recommending it to others. But what are the real facts of the case if they have not this testimony? Complaining! Complainers that, alas, are always complaining about their leanness and their difficulties and their trials; and it would seem as if God were the hardest master that never had any servant, and as if he dealt out his favours, and especially his smiles and evidences of being pleased with individuals, with so sparing them, and make any use of them, and avail themselves of them. How many times have I heard persons say, "O, if I could only but believe that I am accepted with God, I am sure I could use the promisses[sic.] and claim them as my own, but, as I am, I cannot use these promises. I read them, but they do not seem to be meant for me; they seem to be framed for the children of God, and I do not know whether I am a child of God or not; they seem to be framed for Christians, but I do notk now[not know] whether I am a Christian or not. O, if I did but know that I was an accepted child of God, then would I use these promises with great effect, andd[sic.] would claim them all as my own." It is frequently that persons speak thus who have not in them the testimony that they please God. The hard experience of some persons present, perhaps, is the same, and you cannot use the promises with any confidence. Do you read the promise? "O, yes, but they are ont[not--Ed.] meant for me." Your heart says "That promise is not mine; it was made for Christians and for God's children, and I am afraid I am not a Christian, I have no such evidence of it that I can say, 'That promise is made for me.'" Now, the promises may be in the Bible, as they really are, and the people read them, it is true; but they make no use of them, because they back[lack] God's testimony that the promises belong to him. Now, I am not saying they are not doing right in thus treating the promises as if every one related only to those that will believe and embrace them. There[their] business is therefore, if they have not embraced them before, to believe them now, and accept them at once, and appropriate them to their own use. They may confess their evils, but until they have the evidence, how can they plead the promises that are made to God's children?
6.* Again, this evidence is really indispensable to a rational hope of salvation. What right has man to hope that he shall be saved? what reason has he to suppose himself to be really a partaker of the gospel of God, or in the salvation of Christ personally, if he has not this evidence that he pleases God? I know it is true that multitudes of persons have the hope that in some way they shall be saved, though they really live in a state of condemnation; but is this a rational hope? I say no, it is not a rational hope. I know that they cleave to it, but they have no right to cleave to such a hope as this, most cowardly.
7. Again, another point of view in which it is important is this, it is certainly indispensable to peace of mind. Persons that have it not, cannot have peace of mind. They may have apathy as impenitent sinners have; they may be hardened and callous; but have peace they cannot. No man has peace until God speaks peace to him; no man has true peace of mind only upon condition that God speaks peace to his soul. When God speaks peace to his soul he has peace; and God will not speak peace to him until he really comes into a state of mind with which God is at peace.
8. Again, it is indispensable to Christian liberty. This is implied in what I have said: but I have often thought that a great many even professors of religion had no true notion of what Christian liberty is. Christian liberty with them seems to be very much like a license to go on in any kind of indulgence, that in some way or other they suppose themselves to have Christ's righteousness so imputed to them, that although they are personally sinful, and know that they are, still they live in the indulgence of the thought that they are truly on the way to heaven. Their liberty consists in indulging themselves in this thing and that, because Christ's righteousness is imputed to them. Christ's righteousness was imputed; but they cannot be personally sinful and yet accepted with God. Now, I know it is true that no man's salvation is grounded upon the fact of his own righteousness; but I know also that a personal holiness is an indispensable condition of salvation, or else the Bible is not true. No man then has true Christian liberty, only as he has the testimony that he pleases God. What is essential to Christian liberty is, that a man should not be cowed by selfish fears, or have only that peace which rises from apathy; but that he should have the true liberty of love; that he should not work for a life but from a life existing within him; that he should not go to work as a servant works for wages, and serve God that he may hereby earn eternal life; but he serves God from the spontaneity of the love and faith that is within him. The fact is, true Christian liberty consists in an individual really being led onward by the love within him, and the spirit of God working onward by the love of God in him, led on as spontaneously as wives and husbands are spontaneously led by their affection to each other, to try to please each other.
9. I remark again, it is indispensable to Christian cheerfulness to have this testimony. An individual may be filled with levity, but he can have true Christian cheerfulness only on the condition that he has the testimony that he pleases God. If he is truly wakeful to this truth, it will only be to agonize him, to fill his mind perhaps with awful solemnity, and such a sense of guilt and condemnation, that he feels as if he could not smile or even have a cheerful heart, and thus be from day to day bowed down with a sense of guilt. How many poor miserable creatures in this state of mind! The cheerfulness of a Christian--real Christian cheerfulness, that that[sic.] arises from love of communion with God, and deep sympathy with God; that kind of cheerfulness astonishes them, they do not understand it, and perhaps it even shocks them. But after all, every one ought to know that Christian cheerfulness is one of the most indispensable requisites to really honoring God. Man needs to have such a state of mind that he comforts every one at once, by having that cheerful love, that flowing of heart, that whenever anybody sees it, he at once sees the loveliness and excellence of the religion of Jesus. Some four or five years since, I saw a beautiful and striking illustration of this in the case of one of the principal men in the State of Ohio, in the United States. When spending a few days in one of the cities of Ohio, Judge Andrews, who was a lawyer, an impenitent man, was present and heard some words that were made use of, and that struck him; and after the meeting, he came up to the pulpit and asked if I would not go with him to see an individual that he named. Said he, "I want to see what you think of her." I asked him who it was, and he told me, and I told him I would go. In the evening we went over to see the person, who was an elderly lady. He took me in and introduced me to her, and in a moment she began to converse about the Saviour, and about the salvation of the gospel, and its great fulness, and to tell me what the Lord had done for her soul. Judge Andrews sat down and listened with the greatest attention; and by and by, I observed the tears trembling in his eye. The old lady went on with such cheerfulness, with such a flow of soul, such a deep overflowing of heart, that struck him and riveted him. I suppose he sat for three quarters of an hour and heard that woman talk. It was really a feast to hear her, and it fastened in him. As soon as we got to the door he said "What do you think of it?" and then he stopped before me and struck his hands together and said, "I know that is the religion of Jesus Christ, that is the thing I want. I am now more determined than ever not to live without it, that I will never rest again till I know what it is." There is good reason to believe that he did not rest again till he knew what it was. Many cases of this kind occur where persons really pour out from the fulness of their hearts the true spirit of the gospel, that immediately commends itself so completely to the intelligence of those around them, that they say "That is real religion--the religion that I want." And how often have I heard impenitent men saying, "Now I knew that must be the religion I require: it must be the religion of Jesus; it meets the demands of our being, and commends itself to my understanding. That is worth having."
It is therefore indispensable that we have this testimony that we please God, to our truly living to the glory of God, and to our highest usefulness in the world. Nay, without it man can scarcely be said to be useful; without it he is exceedingly apt to stumble everybody. For example, let a minister of the gospel preach to his people without it, and you will see that the utmost that he will do, will be to preach them into conviction and condemnation. Such a minister came to me at one time, and said "Brother Finney, how is this? I want you to tell me what you think defective in my ministry. I find that under my preaching, sinners are brought under conviction, and saints are brought under condemnation; but I cannot go any further." I made him but a brief answer at the time, but prepared a sermon (as he then sat under my ministry.) A few days afterwards on the 7th of Romans, taking the 7th and 8th chapters, showing that the 7th was descriptive of a state of bondage to the law; and that the 8th was descriptive of a state of Christian liberty. When I had done and had come down out of the pulpit, he met me and said "Brother Finney, if what you have preached is true, then I don't know anything about religion, for my experience has always been that of the 7th Romans, and I never had that of the 8th." I said, "I have now answered the question you put to me. You asked me a few days since what was the matter with your ministry, that you only preached persons into conviction and into condemnation; but but[sic.] never could get them into liberty. I answer, you never have had liberty yourself, and how can you preach a gospel that you do not understand?" The man did not live long in that state before he understood how to preach the gospel.
But let me say again, this is an inevitable consequence, and how mournful is the fact, that go where you will in the length and breadth of the land, there are masses of these preachers who go no further than to preach as far as the 7th Romans, and cry out "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death," (v. 24), and cannot go into the 8th and say, "There is 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, (v.1-4.) Now I would say, what is it for a man to stop under the sentence of the law and agonize there? the result will be inevitable. If he himself live short of the testimony that he pleases God, the man cannot lead his people further than he goes himself, and if they went further he would be frightened; if themselves got into the liberty of the gospel, he would be frightened; and knowing not what it is himself, he cannot assist the poor souls in their struggle to get the liberty of the gospel; but will frown and pour cold water on them until they get into some strange, fanatical, state of mind. But it is a fact too, that if individuals have the testimony that they please God, and really hold forth the possibility and importance of having this testimony, they may expect to lead their people to have it; and thus christian parents that have this testimony may expect to lead their children to have it, and churches that have it may expect to lead others around them to have this testimony. There can be nothing more important than for Christians to have the clear and steady light of God's countenance and smile, and feeling the importance of having it, that they may be able to lead others from darkness into the light of the gospel by the power of his spirit.
VI.--But I am to make some remarks upon the reasons why so few persons seem to have this testimony. And, observe, when I say so few. I do not mean, by any means, to suppose that the whole number is small, for I am happy to know that great multitudes, in all ages of the church have had this testimony, and I know wherever I go I find multitudes of persons, here and there, that understand it, who, when they hear the sound, recognize it as their gospel, and know Jesus is their Saviour. But comparatively few of the great mass of professors of religion, of all denominations, (I speak it not uncharitably,) comparitively[sic.] few know what it is to enjoy, for any length of time, this testimony that they please God. The reason is, that they do not walk with God; they do not do what Enoch did, who walked with God three hundred years.
1. But let me say again, the reason they have it not is not because it is so hard to please God. It is not hard to please God; his commands are not grievous, he says: and never allows himself, in the Bible, to be represented as so exacting that he is hard to please, but the direct opposite of this is the case. Everywhere the reading of the Bible is, not that he is hard to please, but if there be but first a willing mind it is accepted according to what he has, and not according to what he hath not. The Bible says, God does not expect nor ask anything more than that which all may have--a willing mind; in other words, if his heart and will are right, God accepts him, not according to what power he hath not, but according to what he hath. The widow that threw in her two mites pleased God. Yes, she had the testimony that she pleased God; Christ, himself, testified to it: so that persons with never so small abilities can please God--may have the testimony that they please him.
2. But let me say again, it is not owing to the fact that God is unwilling or slow to manifest his pleasure when he is pleased. Some people seem to have doubted this and thought it very dangerous to rest upon it, but God never lets those who hope in his promises cast themselves upon that hope without supporting them. Flattery is always dangerous, but deserved condemnation is only just. It is the demand of our being: our vigilance demands that when we do right we shall be commended for doing right, and if we deserve commendation we esteem it no more than just that we shall be commended. Let us see a case of this now:--Take a family, for example, where the wife and children are endeavouring to please the head of the family. Now, while the children endeavour to please, and set their heart upon pleasing, they feel that they deserve commendation. If the parent be afraid to commend his child, or let him know that he is pleased with his obedience, if he fears to do this and withholds his testimony of his pleasure, the child is discouraged. He strives to please his father--he set his heart upon it--and when his father was absent he did what he could do to please him, but his father withholds from him any manifestation of his being pleased with him. This is a clog upon the mind of that child: the child feels that it is unjust, that he has a right to know that his father is pleased with him. This father really ought to be pleased with him. We have a natural sense of justice, and when we endeavour to please any being, we expect that he will be pleased with us, and that he will let us know when he is pleased with us. Just so it is with a wife who gives herself to please her husband to the extent of her capacity. What is the effect of this in any family where they try to please the head of the family, and never please? There is no use in trying if they cannot please him. Just so it is in the government of God. God knows the nature of the human heart, and he knows that it would be injurious to withhold his testimony that we please him; he knows how to meet the demand of our being, and expresses his satisfaction when he is satisfied with us. It must be of the highest importance to our hearts, and he then does not hesitate to smile on us; nay it is his very nature to do so; it is as natural to God to smile on those that please him as it is for the sun to pour his beams upon the earth when every obstruction is removed out of the way. Let sin be put away from any moral agent and God loves to manifest his pleasure.
3. But let me say again, it is no exception to this, that God, in a very remarkable and marvellous manner, hid his face from Christ, although Christ personally obey him:--Christ was the representative of a sinning race, and standing as the representative, or, as it were the embodiment of sin, it was necessary that God should make a public demonstration before all the race, of his feelings towards sin; and although Christ was personally holy, since he had consented to be the representative of all the sinning race, God dealt with him as if he were angry with him. He dealt with him in such a manner that he cried out in his agony, "My God!" He says, "My God! why hast thou forsaken me?" But this, I say, was an exception, grounded on the best reasons, to God's general practice in this case. Here was the embodiment, the representative of all the sin in the world, and God making a public demonstration of his feelings towards sin as a condition of being able to pardon it without relaxing the rigour of the strength of his law and dishonouring it. And God does perfectly manifest his pleasure to any body who pleases him; he must love to manifest this just as parents love to manifest their pleasure to their children when they are well pleased with them. I know some parents neglect to do this, but, wherever that is the case, they greatly injure their children; they violate the very laws of their being. And when a wife is not commended for taking pains to please her husband in her treatment of her children, when she does well, or when a child is not commended when it does well (though it may be, no doubt, to avoid flattery,) it deeply injures them; injustice is done, and a sense of injustice must be the result.
4. But I pass on to say in the next place, the real reason why so few have that testimony is because so few really please God, and so few really aim to please him. How many there are that are perfectly aware that they do not aim, daily, to please him.
5. Again, they do not expect to please him. They have no such expectation, because they have no such aim. If they were conscious of truly and seriously aiming to do it they would, undoubtedly, expect that they should please him; and being conscious that they do not live for that end, they cannot rationally expect to please him, and they do not expect it. Of course they do not expect that he will manifest any pleasure, and that he is pleased with them. They are not looking for it, and they have no right to do so under the circumstances.
6. But again, another reason is, they consent to live without it. If a man consent to live without this he will not have it--will not have the knowledge of whether he pleases or displeases God.
7. But I remark again, many do not have it because they do not really care to have it. I mean they are not anxious to have it--they are not careful to have it.
8. But again, many do not have it because they really have more regard to the approbation of men than to the approbation of God. Many persons that are careful to please men, have little care to please God, or to have his commendation. They wish to be commended by men, but they pour contempt on the commendation! Can it be wonderful that they have not this commendation? They say much with regard to their submission to God's will, but if God's will and man's will come into competition, and if they would displease man, or displease God, they do not hesitate, at all, to displease God--to do what they know will displease God, rather than to displease man. How common this is! Can they expect to have the testimony that they please God? Put them in circumstances where a public sentiment demands of them that which will please God--put them in such circumstances--bring them into communion with society where they know that they must do that with which God will be displeased or they will give offence to somebody around them; they will displease God for the sake of pleasing man, and, of course, they cannot, as is said, have this testimony.
9. But I remark, lastly, under this head, that great multitudes of persons seem satisfied to live with a mere negative testimony; if they can manage not to have an agonizing sense of condemnation they get along very well. If they are not stabbed with anxiety and remorse--if there is a state in which they are [not] bowed down under a sense of sin, they get along pretty well, and satisfy themselves with that state of mind.
Now, dearly beloved, that I have gone over these points, do, let me ask, have I described the history of any of you? You are stranger to me, and I always feel embarrassed when I come to preach to a company of strangers of whose spiritual state I am ignorant. I have hope that these thoughts may meet the case of some of you, God knows whether they do. Am I telling your history? Am I speaking to any of you in such a manner that some of you say, "that means me?--that is my experience--I can testify that this is true of myself?" A few remarks must close what I have to say.
When a soul has once had this testimony that it pleases God, and loses this testimony, it cannot rest without it; and let an individual but once enjoy the testimony that he pleases God, and falls into sin, and of all the most unhappy of mankind such a person is the most wretched.
This, let me say in the next place, accounts for the fact that backsliders in heart are oftentimes amongst the most unhappy of all men. One that backslides in heart from God, is wretched; he does not enjoy himself, and he makes everybody round about him wretched. I pity the woman that has a backsliden husband, and that husband that has a backsliden wife, and the children that have backsliden parents: I pity the minister that has a backsliden church, and the church that has a backsliden minister. The fact is, a backslider in heart is filled with his own ways; he is a wretch, whoever he is, and God knows that he is, and he knows that he is; and with all his efforts to secure rest and happiness his soul will often cry in the language of the hymn:--"O, where can rest be found--
Rest for the weary soul?"
Perhaps some of you have known what it was, in days that are past, to have the testimony that you please God? "The peaceful hours"--you recollect the hymn--"I once knew." You recollect that hymn? Where art thou? Where art thou? Have you know this testimony once and held communion with God, and have you fallen? Well, then, let me ask you, were you not very uncomfortable in your fallen state? Do not your very dreams torment you? Do not your waking hours torment you? Are you not almost afraid to be a[sic.] alone? Dare you commune with your own heart and be honest, even for a day, with yourself? Perhaps you flit from object to object, immerse yourself in business, and engross your intellect in thought; but if you have once had the testimony that you please God, and are fallen from that state, I need not a physician's eye to discover and affirm that you are a most unhappy wretch, whoever you are! You try to be happy, and you cannot. The fact is there is an aching void there, and God's frown has taken the place of his smile, and you are a taxed and a banished one. Now do let me ask, will you return? You may have again the testimony that you please God. Great as your sins are, will you return? Do you say "O, my sins were so great! Once I had light, and having known once what this light was, my sins are so great that I cannot look God in the face?" Very well; suppose you cannot; nor could the publican so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" You can do that[.] If you cannot look God in the face--if you cannot stand up as once you did before him, you can confess your sins, and you can humble yourselves, you can get down in the dust; you can go where the Psalmist went when he cried out in the agony of his soul to God, and confessed his sin before him. And will you do it? Dearly beloved, will you do it?
But I remark again, what I have said to-night to Christians may be applied with propriety, to all anxious sinners. You may have the testimony and you may please God. If you will please him, if you will give yourselves to pleasing him, you will find him not a hard master, a difficult, captious, exacting being. He is free and large in his heart. Yes, although he has no fellowship with iniquity, yet so great is his mercy that by the grace of Christ you may approach h im in the liberty and love, and walk about in the fullness and blessing of the gospel of Christ. If you will but belive[sic.]--if you will but set your heart to please him--if you will but make up your mind to walk more with God, you too, may have this testimony. And how important it is that you should have it! Do not you say, "O, if I had this testimony there is nothing that I would not give for it"--"There is no part of the world that is accessible to me," said a young man once, "to which I would not go for an evidence, if I could obtain it, of God's acceptance of me."--"Yes," I answered "I believe you; I suppose this is true; you want to buy this, to purchase it by your own works; you are not willing, at once, to throw yourself upon Christ for pardon and acceptance and grace to do the will of God."--"What[!] is that the way?"--said he--"I have been thinking and thinking, and praying, and trying to get over this difficulty; and that I might solemnize my mind I have walked a whole night in the grace yard, and knelt upon the cold graves, cried upon the tops of the graves to God to have mercy on me. I am willing to go any where, and do any thing to get a sign that I am accepted." "But," said he "it did not come to me." ["]All this was but a self-righteous effort to get hold of something, and do something myself, but is it true that I may come to Christ just as I am?" "Just so," I answered, "just as you stand." "What! come to Christ just as I am now?["] "Will he accept me?" "Yes; if you will come--'come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Do you not labour?' "Yes." "And are you not heavy leaden[sic.]?" "Yes, I have told you that I threw myself on my knees on the cold graves that I might solemnize my mind, and cried to God from the midst of the tombs to see if I could not unburden my own mind and reach the Saviour, and move him to mercy.["] This is the difficulty with many; they are wanting to do something or other by their own strength, to get something to commend them to Christ, instead of at once coming to Christ for grace, instead of coming to cast themselves, at once, upon Christ for salvation and eternal life, believing.--Upon this condition, then, you may have this testimony, for this will please God; this is the very thing that God requires of you. Now, in one word, you that are professors of religion, and you that are not, what do you say? Is it not best for you to say, one and all--"By the Grace of God, if it be the will of God, we will have the testimony ourselves?'"[sic.] What minister--what Professor of religion, or what sinner in this house that has not this testimony will not say--"by the grace of God if this is offered to me I will take it." Surely if God has proffered it, why not have it? If God offers it, why not enjoy it? If God holds it out, why not take it?--Lord Jesus, I take thee at thy word and accept thy proffered mercy and thy proffered salvation at thine hand. Lord Jesus I take thee at thy word. I believe thy Gospel, and pour my soul out, and if thou has a mind to send it to hell I will pour it out into thy very bosom, that I may have the testimony that I please God. I know how your hearts feel; they burn within you, and they often groan within you when you see the state of the miserable death in which some persons are that pretend to live. And have you hearts to pray? Pray on then, and don't be afraid of praying, don't be afraid to have God's spirit in the midst of you. And now, in the day of ressurrection[sic.], what would you, sinners, do? Come forth in the name of the Lord! Come forth and partake of the salvation of Jesus Christ. Why not? Why not? Why, if God stoops from heaven and Christ follows him and presents the cup of salvation to your parched and burning lips, do you dash it away, sinner, do you dash it away? And do you still need the testimony that God is reconciled to you, and you to him? Do you wish to have the testimony that you please him? Then believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the testimony you shall have, for this is the very thing that he requires. Now we will go into prayer; and what say you, shall we go in your behalf and in the name of Christ? Who of you are prepared to go with us to the throne of grace? Who of you are prepared to go there right on to a throne of mercy--cast your soul upon Jesus and take the boon that he has so long offered you? What professor of religion under bondage here to-night will tear himself away from his unbelief to come to Christ with his empty vessel that it may be filled to the brim? Bring it to Christ empty and let him fill it. Who will come? Who will come?
Let your heart answer--let your heart respond; let it speak out "Lord Jesus Christ, my soul hears, and I come, I come.
A. WESTON, PRINTER
*Original had no number 5 --Ed.
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