Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
The GOSPEL TRUTH
A MORE EXCELLENT WAY.
BY PRESIDENT CHARLES G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 20, 1873
It has been loosely assumed and often asserted that play, glee, fun, hilarious sports are as truly essential to our existence as food and drink, and that to teach men to rise above the desire for such things is to teach them to annihilate or, at least, to mutilate a part of their very nature; that a piety conformed to such teaching is superficial, one-sided, fanatical, and greatly defective. But, if play and hilarious sports are as necessary to us as our food, how happens it that hundreds and thousands do, indeed, rise and live above a felt necessity for any such thing?--that they live entirely above a desire for such things, and are conscious of living a higher, healthier, holier, and altogether happier life than when they lusted after worldly pleasures and amusements? This has been the living and dying testimony of thousands of God's children. The fact is, we have a double nature--a physical and a moral or spiritual nature. One side of our nature, so to speak, is allied to the physical universe; and another allied to the spiritual or moral universe. Hence, we have many classes of appetites, propensities, desires terminating upon physical objects; another and a higher class of desires, affections, and propensities terminating upon spiritual objects. These two classes of objects really exist, and we are conscious of having desires and affections terminating upon both these classes of objects. The desires, affections, and propensities of our lower nature naturally begin their development at birth. The light we receive from our physical relations to the world around us stimulates into activity the desires and propensities that terminate upon these objects. At first these desires are very few and simple, terminating on food and drink. As we grow older, our sensibility is more and more developed in its relations to the multitudinous physical objects with which we become acquainted. If unenlightened by the spirit of God at an early age, the development is altogether on the natural or physical side of our nature. We begin with desiring to play with a rattle, then with a doll or a hammer and whip; and then we desire pictures and music and books, and physical science and art, sports, pastimes, and rise from step to step in our desires. As the higher ones are developed, the mind naturally drops out, and ceases to exercise the lower ones. The rattle and the doll are exchanged for higher amusements, and the lower are suppressed by the development of the higher, until we lose ourselves in reveling in the higher walks of science. Does any one think of this process as an annihilation or mutilation of our nature? Or do we regard it as a higher and nobler development of our nature? If a scientist loses an interest in what he regards as the insipid pleasures of youth, has his mind become unsound, is he fanatical or insane? All this may take place, and often does, under the simple light of Nature, while the darkness of night broods over our moral Nature. The conscience may hardly have asserted its existence; and, hence, the true idea of guilt and sin has hardly dawned upon the soul. The sensibility has not been aroused to feel its relations to spiritual and eternal realities. The soul is a stranger to conviction of sin; and the desire for emancipation, the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the feeling after God, Christ, and eternal life have not been awakened. But the Spirit of God sheds his light upon the soul; we immediately become aware of a nature, or, at least, of a department of our nature of which we had not been apprised. The holy law of love comes home upon us. Our sinful indulgences can no longer satisfy or please us. Our self-pleasing spirit is seen to be sinful. Self-indulgence reacts us and pains us. We are bowed under a sense of condemnation and lose all interest in worldly amusements. The world looks dark, the heavens frown; we even lose our appetite for necessary food; we try to pray, but our heart will not pray; we are driven to extremity; we find ourselves lost, and are about to conclude that it is all over with us, that we have played the fool and lost our souls. At last the troubled spirit smites upon its breast and cries: "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Whereupon the "star of Bethlehem" arises, the glory of God in the face of Jesus is seen. He is embraced in the arms of faith; self is renounced and our whole being given to him. His love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and now we are conscious of a new and heavenly life stirring within us. Now our Bible, our hymn-book, and our Jesus fill our thoughts and arouse the deepest and holiest activities of our souls. And now, after that we have believed, if this our first love is confirmed, enlarged, and deepened by a powerful baptism of the Holy Ghost, if the Spirit continue to descend as a dew, or come with a mighty outpouring like a shower, just in proportion as we are visited with heavenly illuminations and walk in the light of the Lord will our thoughts, desires, and affections and whole spiritual being be engrossed with these revelations. This is a new and higher life. Our lower desires, affections and propensities have ceased their play, and a higher and more spiritual class have been developed. We have been born again. We have come to live, as it were, in a new world. A new set of truths, realities, and facts have been revealed to us; and our moral nature is engrossed with them, and we naturally lose our interest in the pleasures, the fun, and play of this world. We have an entirely new and higher source of enjoyment. In communion with God we lose all desire for communion with worldly minds, and can consent to associate with them only for the purpose of doing them good. We have neither annihilated nor mutilated any part of our nature. Under divine illumination the faculties of our higher nature have been unfolded, our spiritual nature has been developed; and, as an inevitable consequence, our desire for worldly sports, glee, fun, pastime, play is no longer present in consciousness. This is only a higher development, and no annihilation or mutilation. It is only the inevitable consequence of divine illumination. That exactly this state of facts does exist, where the baptism of God's Spirit has been received, hundreds of thousands of God's children can attest. From this standpoint it is easy to see how Christians may be and are enabled to live above the world whilst they are in it; how and when it ceases to be a snare to their souls; and by what means both the aged and the young Christians of all ages may be permanently so interested in Christ and his religion as to be full of spiritual cheerfulness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, and effectually rid of the clamor of their lower propensities for fun, glee, merriment, and hilarious sports. Pleasure parties, pic-nics, pleasure excursions, theaters, balls, and all like amusements cease to be desired. I know that this has been the case with me, as well as I know my existence; and, if human testimony is to be relied upon at all, I know that the same has been true of multitudes of persons with whom I have conversed and whose biographies have come down to us. And who cannot see that this is the inevitable result of divine illumination? It is spiritual darkness that leaves the mind in so low a state as to be hungering and thirsting after worldly pleasures and amusements. Under these illuminations the spiritual desires and affections become thoroughly aroused and fastened upon their correlated objects, divine and heavenly things, and lower and earthly aspirations fall away. This process is not peculiar to peculiar temperaments or to persons of peculiar employments. it is the universal effect of high and permanent divine illumination. Let ministers, then, insist upon the privilege and necessity of a powerful baptism of the Holy Ghost as a gift to be received after conversion. If the pastor himself is not enjoying this divine illumination, let him not rest till he does. Let him live it before and preach it to his church as essential to their daily walk with God. let it be constantly impressed upon all classes that they are not emancipated, that they are not fully alive from the dead, until they are sealed with this divine baptism. Let new converts be universally assured that they will lose their first love, and fall into a restless legal bondage, unless they receive this baptism of the Holy Ghost, this flooding of the water of life, this "well of water which shall spring up in them to eternal life," this "anointing that abideth, this divine light that shall permanently interest them in the Word of God, and make the Bible forever their book of books. Let all classes of God's children understand that this baptism may be renewed to meet their highest and every possible want; then teach their faith to work, and to work by love, to do everything for the Lord, to have a single eye to his glory, not only on Sabbath days, but on all days; not only in some things, but in all things. Under a powerful divine illumination this can be easily and effectually taught them, and this will secure their permanent satisfaction with the love of Christ. Their "peace will become as a river and their righteousness as the waves of the sea." They will not feel the need of worldly amusements, so great and high will be their joy in the Lord. Let the pastor, his wife, the elders or deacons, with their wives, the elder members of the church, be imbued with this spirit and live under the influence of this divine illumination, and rely upon it they will not leave the young people who are members of the church behind. Let the pastor teach judiciously and constantly with a divine unction; let him lay out the spiritual work of the church. Let him lead off, and the anointed one will surely follow. If any lag behind and begin to clamor for worldly indulgences, let him understand that they are not of a heavenly mind, that they are falling or have fallen into spiritual death. Let the whole church be formed into Bible classes, taught by the more able and spiritual members of the church, either male or female. let the church be divided into sections or classes, and every member held responsible to attend his particular sectional meeting as often as it occurs. Let the church select, yearly or oftener, and ordain leaders of these sections, and let it be the duty of these leaders to know from week to week the spiritual state and labors of every member of their section.
Let these leaders report to their pastor weekly the state, progress, wants, and prospects of their different sections. Let these leaders employ such members of their sections as they please, to help them in the oversight of the other members. Let their sectional meetings be free and open for prayer and remarks from every member. Let spiritual questions be freely asked and answered and spiritual experience freely related. Let these meetings abound in prayer and praise, and Jesus ever be the central object to which all their aspirations tend. Let these leaders be changed as often as need be, the exercises varied, and any amount of new measures introduced that are necessary to keep up a lively and powerful interest among the members. Stereotype nothing, but exercise a spiritual and common-sense discretion in presenting spiritual things in every way to interest. Let these leaders see that every member has some spiritual work on hand from day to day. Let him ascertain that they are laboring with and praying for some souls in an especial manner. Encourage them to invite inquirers to their sectional meetings from week to week, that they may be instructed and prayed for. Let the whole church be a missionary band; and let their labors, successes, discouragements, triumphs, joys, sorrows be reported by the leaders to the pastor every week. This will teach him what he ought to preach. Let him come before the church and congregation in all his public ministrations with unction and power. Especially encourage the young to be free in all the meetings for prayer, conference, and social worship. Do not allow the coldness, formality, the dignity, aristocracy, or fastidiousness of the older members to create a distance between them and the younger members. Let the church be one family, and the older members nursing fathers and mothers to the younger. let the greatest cordiality and affection be manifested by the older toward the younger members; and let the pastor be the confidential friend and spiritual adviser of every member of the flock. Let every member be a responsible working member, and let every church be fully equipped with its elder or elders and deacons and helpers, so that the whole church may be kept in a state of permanent interest. Let every member, on joining, be required to take his or her place; let them be pledged to give of their substance, according to their ability, for the support of religious institutions; and let it be seen that these dues are punctually paid.
Let the preaching be as frequent and abundant as the pastor is able to perform; and let religious meetings be varied and multiplied to meet the full necessities of the case and keep up a perpetual interest. Let this course, or its equivalent, be pursued by any number of persons thoroughly baptized with the Holy Ghost, and you will witness, not a whirlwind of excitement, such as we now see in places where the church has been for years asleep, and is suddenly and powerfully awakened to their state and the state of sinners around them; but you will see a steady and powerful development of the religious life, conversions occurring from week to week and from day to day, Christians abounding in zeal, full of faith, love, and every good work. Christians will become well acquainted with each other, and their social intercourse will take on a spiritual type, and not be a snare to them. They will meet to plan their work and for prayer and praise. The women will meet for every benevolent purpose, and the men to organize new enterprises for God; and they will have so sweet and divine a satisfaction in all this as not to hunger or thirst for fun, glee, hilarious sports, or pastimes. This is the scriptural and rational remedy for a clamor after worldly amusements. Only let the Holy Spirit, with all his quickening and enlightening influences, bathe the soul in heavenly light from day to day, and the lower and worldly aspirations of the soul will be effectually suppressed. And this, I say again, is neither annihilation nor mutilation; but simply a resurrection to a higher life. I have seen enough of pastoral life to have full faith in the practicability of the course I have marked out. Especially may we calculate with certainty that the young, if rightly dealt with when first converted, will not only in their first love, but will abound in love and joy and hope and every grace, more and more, instead of falling back into a clamor for worldly amusements. The fundamental error lies in failing to effectually urge them to secure the powerful and continuous baptism of the Holy Ghost. If this is neglected, they will live in so much spiritual obscurity as to lose their first love and hanker after worldly indulgences. Does any one say that in theory this is well enough, but that it is impracticable? But does not God require that Christians should not only abide in their first love, but continue to grow in every grace? Does not God hold out to all his children the baptism and ensealing of the Holy Ghost? Let no one say that what has usually been the course of the Christian life has been so of necessity. Is no better thing promised than we usually witness? Does Christ blame Christians for leaving their first love if they cannot help it? After the Day of Pentecost did Christians think backsliding a necessity? Did the apostles ever assume or teach any such thing? Did they not assume and teach the direct opposite?
To be sure, many of the churches backslid through unbelief, as they do now; but, as God is true, there is no necessity for this. Since Oberlin was first founded there has been almost without interruption what in other places would be called a revival. As pastor, I have been much absent from my people, in evangelistic labors. Until the church was divided, because of its overgrown dimensions; until the place has been filled up by strangers; until new congregations have been organized under diverse religious teachers, it can truly be said that the religious interest was almost universal and permanent. I have always had a great deal more than pastoral labor to perform; but, with all this labor, with the help of my brethren and the powerful baptism of the Holy Ghost, the work of God has gone on and still goes on, and the work, especially among the young, has never ceased. The work among our numerous students has prevailed from year to year, and among no class has there been so steady and prevailing an influence as among the young. While pastor in New York, we had no difficulty in interesting the young members of the church permanently, and I never heard the inquiry raised there: "What shall we do to interest the young members of our church in religion?" We have never realized my full ideal of what ought to be: but from the day I was converted I have experienced and seen enough to convince me of the practicability of keeping the church and especially young Christians from clamoring for worldly amusements.
But, in conclusion, let me say again, and, if possible, more emphatically, that no multiplication of meetings or means will long prevent Christians from backsliding in heart unless they secure the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Let this be insisted on, as a universal necessity and an unalterable condition of a permanent, all-pervading satisfaction with the love of Christ--a satisfaction that shall rule out of the mind all that class of desires that clamor for worldly indulgences.
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