Copyright 1977, 1984, 1995(Revised)
All rights reserved, including the right to grant the following permission and to prohibit the misuse thereof:
The Author hereby grants permission to reproduce the text of this book, without changes or alterations, for non-commercial distribution for ministry purposes.
GOSPEL TRUTH Ministries
P.O. Box 352
Lindale, TX 75771
1. A VERY UNUSUAL MAN
2. PRINCIPLES DO NOT CHANGE
3. SOMEBODY IS IN CHARGE
4. WHERE DO I FIT IN?
5. WHAT IS REALLY WORTH LIVING FOR?
6. WE CANNOT GO IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS AT THE SAME TIME
7. LET'S TALK ABOUT LOVE
8. SELF CAN BE A FOUR-LETTER WORD
9. WE ARE ALL HEADED SOMEWHERE
10. DON'T BLAME IT ALL ON ADAM
11. GOD CAME TO THE RESCUE
12. WE NEED A CHANGE
A Very Unusual Man
In the small frontier town of Adams, in western New York, a young lawyer paced back and forth in his office. He was troubled--deeply troubled.
Outside, trees had turned from the green of summer to the red, gold and brown of autumn. The October morning air had a zestful edge to it. All the signs of nature clearly signaled the waning of the year. Soon 1821 would be history.
But Charles G. Finney's attention that day was not on the weather or the season of the year. The questions that disturbed him so deeply were about matters that reach beyond all time.
He stopped his pacing and sat down again to read the book lying open on his desk. Finney had recently passed his twenty-ninth birthday. For twenty-six of those years he had paid little attention to the Bible. But that was before he began studying law.
Noticing that the old legal authorities frequently appealed to the Scriptures, Finney decided to secure a copy and read for himself the passages cited in the law books.
Meanwhile, he began to attend the local Presbyterian church. There he listened to the preaching of Reverend George W. Gale, the Princeton-educated pastor.
Gradually he became aware of the pressing importance of eternal issues. Heavy conviction of sin weighed him down. This frame of mind continued for some time, becoming almost unbearable. Then, on Sunday night, October 7, he resolved to seek the salvation of his soul without further delay.
Monday came. Then Tuesday. He prayed. He read the Scriptures. Whenever he heard someone coming to the office, he threw his Blackstone law books over his Bible so the visitor would not know he had been reading it.
His stress increased. Tuesday night Finney's nerves nearly gave way under the stress of his spiritual conflict.
The next morning he rose early and started for the office. Just before he arrived, an inner voice stopped him with the question: "What are you waiting for?"
Suddenly, standing there in the street, he realized that salvation comes not through our own works but through the completed work of Christ on our behalf, accepted as a free gift.
"Will you accept it now--today?" The question bore down on Finney's mind.
"Yes, I will accept it today, or I will die in the attempt!" he replied.
Self-consciously he walked into the woods north of town. Out of sight of the village, he tried to pray. But every few minutes he imagined he heard someone coming.
Then it dawned on him--he was too proud to be seen praying! He was ashamed to be seen on his knees making his peace with God. Realizing his sinful pride, he shouted out that he would not leave that place even if everybody saw him.
Finney was heartbroken before the Lord. Soon the promise of Jeremiah 29:13 came to him: "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Immediately he seized the promise by faith. God cannot lie; so Finney decided then and there to trust His word.
As other promises came to him from the Scriptures, his heart took them in. Soon his heart was full. His distress was gone. He had peace with God.
That evening God mightily baptized him in the Holy Spirit. Here is how Finney described it:
"... The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
"No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart."1
The call of God to preach the gospel came to Finney immediately. He was certain of it and eager to fulfill it.
A well-known incident demonstrates Finney's resolve. One of the deacons of the church had retained Finney to be his attorney in a pending lawsuit. On the morning the case was to be tried, the deacon reminded him of it. Finney replied: "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause, and I cannot plead yours."2
Finney's conversion and his testimony for Christ had a profound effect on the little town. Some of his close friends and associates were converted almost right away. In some cases Finney said just a few words to someone about his personal relationship with God and the person would go off into the woods and seek God for salvation.
Finney began theological studies under his pastor, Reverend Gale. But the experience turned out to be most frustrating for both teacher and student. Hyper-Calvinism was the popular theology of the times. But when the good Reverend tried to instill those views into Finney, the lawyer's keen analytical mind could not accept them as being either Scriptural or logical.
As Finney saw it, man has something more to do in conversion than to wait passively for God to change him. The sinner has a free will. He is a sinner by choice. By the exercise of his free will he can repent of his sins and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. This God commands him to do--now.
In love, God is doing all He wisely can to persuade the sinner to change his own heart. But God will not force him. The sinner is totally responsible for being a sinner. His own desires have such a hold on him that he will not repent unless the Holy Spirit mightily persuades him to do so. But the divine influence is aimed at getting him to make the decision to submit to God and believe the gospel. And that decision is up to the sinner.
And so, armed with these convictions, and with an intense love for God and the souls of men burning deeply inside him, Charles Grandison Finney set out to preach the gospel.
Initially Finney felt that all he was qualified for was home missionary service among the frontier settlements.
Finney's strategy in preaching was to appeal to reason--to press the claims of Christ upon the intelligence of his hearers. But he knew full well that his own persuasions alone would not move the stubborn wills of the unconverted. For that he depended entirely on the Holy Spirit. That is why he prayed so much and so earnestly. He prayed in faith, and so prayed effectively.
Things began to happen immediately. When he called on the people at Evans Mills to indicate publicly whether they would accept Christ or reject Him, they were astonished. No preacher had ever confronted them with such a demand! They rose up in anger and walked out of the meetinghouse. Finney went to prayer.
The next night the building was packed. Once again Finney preached. The evangelist, assuming that they had indicated the day before their intention to reject Christ, pressed upon them the consequences of their commitment. Many listeners became deeply distressed. Through the night these alarmed souls came to Finney for help. They were lost if they did not find peace with God, and suddenly they realized it.
Conversions multiplied. Revival fires spread to the little German village of Antwerp, then to Perch River, Brownville, LeRayville, Governeur, DeKalb, and Western. In some cases nearly the whole community surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some conversions were dramatic. The Holy Spirit was mightily at work!
Such a revival could not go unnoticed very long. Soon the churches in the east began hearing of the unusual happenings in western New York, particularly in the town of Western. When the revival hit Western, the eastern establishment took notice. As the news spread, accounts of what was happening grew proportionately. Some stories were factual; some were distorted.
With the theological climate extremely Calvinistic, strong objections were inevitable. Telling sinners that they can repent on the spot if they but choose to do so! Telling them that they were to blame for not being Christians! Such heresy! Pelagianism! Self-salvation! Emotionalism! Didn't Finney know that sinners can do nothing about their own salvation? Didn't he know that everyone has to wait passively and see if God will regenerate him before he can know whether or not he is elect?
But the reaction was not all negative or hostile. Some influential ministers in larger city churches recognized that Finney's preaching and his methods were right on target.
So Finney was invited to Rome, New York. Immediately the power of God took hold of the people. Hardened sinners were cut down by the Holy Spirit under Finney's preaching. People of all classes were affected equally.
Meanwhile, over in Utica, the spirit of travailing prayer took hold of an influential Christian woman. The worldliness of the church and the carelessness of sinners distressed her deeply. Soon her pastor became aware of her prayer burden and recognized it as the work of God. Believing that God was ready to awaken Utica, he sent for Finney. The evangelist arrived shortly and began laboring for souls. In a few weeks' time, five hundred people were converted to Christ.
During the revival at Utica, the evangelist was invited to tour a cotton factory a few miles west of the city. He agreed to go to a nearby village, preach there in the evening, and go through the cotton mill the next day. Finney tells us what happened:
"The next morning, after breakfast, I went into the factory, to look through it. As I went through, I observed there was a good deal of agitation among those who were busy at their looms, and their mules, and other implements of work. On passing through one of the apartments, where a great number of young women were attending to their weaving, I observed a couple of them eyeing me, and speaking very earnestly to each other; and I could see that they were a good deal agitated, although they both laughed. I went slowly toward them. They saw me coming, and were evidently much excited. One of them was trying to mend a broken thread, and I observed that her hands trembled so that she could not mend it. I approached slowly, looking on each side at the machinery, as I passed; but observed that this girl grew more and more agitated, and could not proceed with her work. When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She observed it, and was quite overcome, and sunk down, and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like powder, and in a few moments nearly all in the room were in tears. This feeling spread through the factory. Mr. Wolcott, the owner of the establishment, was present, and seeing the state of things, he said to the superintendent, 'Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory run.' The gate was immediately shut down, and the factory stopped; but where should we assemble? The superintendent suggested that the mule room was large; and, the mules being run up, we could assemble there. We did so, and a more powerful meeting I scarcely ever attended. It went on with great power. The building was large, and had many people in it, from the garret to the cellar. The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in the course of a few days nearly all in the mill were hopefully converted."3
While at Utica, Finney became aware of the nature and extent of the opposition building up in the east. The reports clearly indicated that many objections to the revival were based on misinformation. But Finney refused to be diverted from the work at hand, and left to others the task of replying to the misrepresentations.
As a result of the Rome and Utica awakening in 1826, three thousand converts were received into the Presbyterian churches of the Oneida Presbytery.
From Utica, Finney went to Auburn, Troy, New Lebanon, Stephentown, Wilmington, and Philadelphia.
In spite of well-organized opposition led by influential men, the larger cities of the east began to open their pulpits to Finney. The pastors who invited him had a love for God and for souls that overrode their objections to Finney's emphasis on man's free will. God blessed their broadminded, Christian attitude.
For about a year and a half, Finney ministered in Philadelphia with great power. The results in the city were deeper and more far-reaching. The city population generally was better educated and more intellectually responsive to the profound logic of Finney's sermons. So the results were more lasting.
From Philadelphia Finney went to two other Pennsylvania cities, Reading and Lancaster. In both, the need for genuine revival was urgent. Professed Christians were very worldly and the public very dull and careless about eternal matters. But God blessed His Word and the cities woke up.
In 1830 Finney returned to the state of New York. During a short revival in Columbia nearly everybody in the town was converted.
Then the Christian philanthropist, Anson G. Phelps, invited Finney to come to New York City. Phelps was both deeply spiritual in heart and highly successful in business. He put both himself and his pocketbook into revival. He rented a vacant church building on Vandewater Street and Finney started preaching there. People were converted and soon a congregation gathered. Phelps purchased a church building on Prince Street, and Finney and many of the converts organized a new church there.
During 1830 Finney received an invitation from Rochester, New York, to labor for souls in that place. Rochester did not look like a very promising field to him. In his own mind he wanted to go back to New York City or Philadelphia. The issue perplexed him for a while. Finally he realized that the problems at Rochester were part of the very reason he should go there. So, trunks packed, the Finneys were off to Rochester!
And it is a good thing they went. A tremendous revival broke out. Most of the community leaders were converted, including many in the legal profession.
News of the Rochester revival spread all over New England. People started coming from far and near. Dr. Lyman Beecher (who, incidentally, had led the earlier opposition to Finney) told Finney later that from that revival one hundred thousand converts were added to the churches in one year! Rochester's jail was said to be empty for years afterward.
Finney worked himself to exhaustion at Rochester. The local doctors thought he had "consumption" and was dying. His friends implored him to rest. But instead of resting, he went back to Auburn. The invitation came from the very ones who had led the opposition to him when he was there previously! Five hundred were converted in six weeks. From Auburn he went to Buffalo, where again the revival had a great effect among the influential classes.
In 1831 Finney went to Providence, Rhode Island, for three weeks. Then Boston opened its doors. The pastors cooperated beautifully and revival started immediately. By this time Finney realized how exhausted he really was from his intense labors and decided to accept an invitation from the Second Free Presbyterian Church in New York City to become its pastor.
Lewis Tappan and others leased a theater on Chatham Street, and in April of 1832 the Finney family moved again to the big city.
Revival broke out. So did the cholera. Finney himself came down with it and spent the winter recuperating both from the disease and from the primitive medical practices of the time. Eventually, Finney recovered and went on with his work.
The people who worked with Pastor Finney realized the power of the printed page. Soon the presses were busy and revival literature blossomed in New York City, spreading its delightful fragrance over the nation and across the ocean to Europe. The New York Evangelist began publication as an "official organ" for the defense and promotion of the revivals. And when Finney's Lectures On Revivals was published, twelve thousand copies sold as fast as they could be printed. Wherever they were read and applied, revivals broke out.
Finney moved into the Tabernacle on Broadway and continued his preaching there.
But out west in Ohio something was happening. A group of young ministerial students had left Lane Seminary because the trustees had prohibited the discussion of slavery. These young students headed for Oberlin. In those days, Oberlin consisted of a clearing in the woods, a few dwellings, a charter for a college and one college building. These dissident students from Lane Seminary, most of whom had been converted under Finney's ministry, now wanted to study for the ministry under the great evangelist himself, even if it meant "roughing it" in barracks out in the wilderness.
The call went out for Finney to come to Oberlin. What should he do? After wrestling with the question for some time, he decided to spend his summers teaching in Oberlin. Arthur Tappan, a successful businessman, opened his big heart and substantial resources to fund the project as long as necessary (that was before the depression of 1837 wiped him out). In the summer of 1835 Finney brought his family and a round tent one hundred feet in diameter to Oberlin.
Finney came on two conditions: (1) there would be complete academic freedom to discuss slavery, and (2) there would be no racial discrimination.
The news spread that Finney was coming to Oberlin. More students poured in, and by the time classes started about a hundred eager young people were on hand. In the years that followed many young people received their theological education and training for the ministry under Charles G. Finney. Oberlin grew, and so did Finney. His influence expanded--through his students, his preaching, and his writings.
In 1842 he returned to Rochester, where at one service a group of lawyers rose spontaneously and came forward en masse to accept Christ.
The parade of revivals, conversions and victories marched on. Finney labored diligently, teaching at Oberlin, pastoring the First Church at Oberlin, conducting revivals in the United States and Britain, and writing prolifically. In 1857 and 1858 a great revival spread across the northern states. Prayer meetings sprang up from Omaha to Boston. During the peak of the awakening, fifty thousand people were being converted per week.
In some of the cities where Finney's influence had been the greatest, the majority of the adult population were born-again Christians. In some villages around Boston, not one sinner could be found!
Finney continued his labors as health permitted him right up until his death early in the morning of August 16, 1875, at nearly eighty-three years old.
In fifty years of ministry, Charles G. Finney won approximately half a million people to Jesus Christ. Volumes have been written about his remarkable life and ministry, about the times during which he ministered, about his great influence on nineteenth century America.
But our main concern now is to find out what it was that Finney believed and preached that had such a powerful effect on his hearers, especially on the more educated and intelligent audiences--not the sermons themselves, but the deep underlying principles and philosophy.
What clear Scriptural concepts did Finney present with compelling logic that would bring such full endorsement by the Holy Spirit? What great principles were so deeply instilled in the new converts that kept the majority of them true to Christ and made them effective workers in the Church?
Yes, Finney was a man of tremendous prayer and faith. But so have been others with fewer results. Yes, he had many helpers. But so have others.
A lot could be said about social and political factors, about the nature of the young nation. But none of these explains a qualitative difference about Finney's ministry.
Did he say something fresh and meaningful? Did he present some principles that are valid in every age--principles that society in general and the Church in particular desperately need to know now, today? Many of us believe he did.
In 1846 Finney wrote his most important work. He called it Lectures On Systematic Theology. It is his declaration of the principles that produced such great results when put into practice.
And do we have access to those principles today?
Fortunately, we do. But for some reason they have been neglected. This neglect is one of the tragedies of our times.
Oh, yes, people like to talk about Finney's great life and revivals. But not very many are willing to dig down into his theology with an open mind to discover the real why--the logical, Scriptural truth that set so many free.
The dynamic ministry of Charles G. Finney is an eloquent practical demonstration of the principles set forth in his Theology. Likewise, the Theology is an outpouring of the giant intellect and noble heart of this prince of soul-winners. No, Finney was no cold logician or dead theologian; his ministry proves that!
So, when someone who won half a million souls to Christ tells us what the basic principles are, we ought to examine those principles very carefully.
Let us do so.
Principles Do Not Change
Something deep within the human intellect says that absolutes must exist. Man cannot live without them and maintain his sanity, nor the other elements of his distinctive humanity. Reason demands absolutes, because absolutes integrate everything. Without them nothing makes sense.
So thinking man looks at himself and his world and says, "Everything should make sense; it should be meaningful. All the elements are there." All that remains is to find the absolutes, and chaos is turned into cosmos. There must be a core, a fundamental reality, an underlying set of facts and unchanging principles!
But where to look? Philosophy, ethics, or religion broadly defined? Modern man has done that but has heard discord instead of harmony.
Western man devotes himself to technology. In the physical sciences things are governed by laws--workable, predictable, harmonious. But "know-how" is no substitute for "know why." Man must know why, and no amount of knowing how will bring the answer.
Groping to find their way out of the dilemma, many Westerners are experimenting with parapsychology, the occult and metaphysical Eastern religions. Rejecting plastic materialism, they hope to find immutable universals in the preternatural, or within their own minds and emotions. But for those who reject the reality and finality of the God who has revealed Himself authoritatively and personally in the Bible, few things are more vague than the metaphysical, or more changeable than human emotions. Cut loose from their anchorage in the Christian revelation, they drift into the dark, dangerous waters of the supernatural they neither understand nor escape by themselves.
Then we have the epicurean and/or hedonist. This is the person who accepts the premises of materialism and proceeds to escape from his reasonable humanity into pleasure seeking. He believes that he is a meaningless animal and tries to live like one. His is the bumper-sticker philosophy "if it feels good, do it"; The Bible describes this as the "eat, drink, and be merry" philosophy--the philosophy of the fool. ( Luke 12:16-21.)
We turn from these delusions to something that meets the demands of both reality and reason while satisfying the yearnings of the human soul--biblical principles.
We know that the physical world operates according to definite physical law. If this were not true, we could not have put men on the moon.
It might come as a surprise to many that morality also operates according to definite law--moral law.
The laboratory where moral law is observed in operation is not equipped with test tubes, flasks, Bunsen burners and embalmed specimens. It is populated instead with real persons, moral agents who live, move, love, suffer, struggle, hope, and sometimes rejoice.
Some people do attempt to account for human behavior by ascribing it to physical causes only (brain cells, stimulus response associations). But human values and moral actions go far beyond physical considerations.
True, physical law and moral law do operate side-by-side. They do affect each other. But, and this is fundamentally important, they are separate and distinct from each other and operate in different areas.
Physical law does not govern moral action, and moral law does not directly govern physical action. Moral law governs people who live in the world of substance, but moral law does not govern substance itself. It governs morality and moral relationships, including what people do with their physical world.
Physical law governs everything that is involuntary, including matter and involuntary states and actions of the mind. Everything is under physical law except free will and what is caused by free will. Physical law is the law of automatic sequence, necessity, force. It is cause and effect.
Moral law is the law of free will, including what is caused by free will. It is the law of intelligence, the law of liberty, the law of responsible choice. It operates by persuasion, not coercion. It does not force, but holds up to the intelligence the values to be chosen and the consequences of free choice. It moves by motivation. It rules by reason.
If a moral agent will not be governed by reason, external restraints may be applied to safeguard society. But, strictly speaking, moral law operates only in the area of free will. Whatever is not the action of free will or the result of free will is under physical law, not moral law. Please keep this clearly in mind.
For example, Joe decides to steal Bill's watch. He plans how he is going to do it. He waits for the opportune moment. Then he carries out his plan. His hand reaches out and takes the watch. Swiftly, his feet carry him away from the scene of the crime and he is lost in the crowd.
Now, where does moral law apply directly? To the emotional excitement of planning the theft? To the movement of the hand to grasp the watch? To the muscular action of the body as Joe hurried away?
Did Joe's hand reach out of its own accord and grab Bill's watch against Joe's will? Can Joe say, "I just don't know what I'm going to do with this thieving hand of mine. It just keeps stealing things against my will".
Of course not. Joe's hand cannot take anything unless Joe wills for it to do so. in other words, the sin of theft takes place in Joe's heart (choice), not in his hand.
So moral law applies directly to the choices involved--the choice to commit the act in the first place and the choices involved in carrying it out (which are a continuation of the original choice). Thoughts, emotions and physical actions are the direct and indirect results that follow necessarily from the choices. They are under physical law, the "law of necessity," the law of automatic sequence. They derive their moral character only from the choices, the willing, that produced them.
In other words, the guilt is in the heart; that is, the will, intention, purpose. What is in the heart is carried out into the life. "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (Jas. 1:15). Lust or desire conceives the moment it gains the consent of the will.
THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF MORAL LAW
Moral law has several attributes, or permanent qualities. Let's look at them as Finney listed them.
"1. Subjectivity. It is, and must be an idea of the reason developed in the mind of the subject."4
To be a free moral agent, a person must have some inner knowledge of right from wrong. This means that he (or she) must have some perception of the valuable and therefore be under a personal moral obligation to choose the valuable. This is the point where conscience starts operating and the "age of accountability" arrives.
"2. Objectivity. Moral law may be regarded as a rule of duty prescribed by the supreme Lawgiver and external to self."5
Being all-knowing and all-wise, God knows absolutely what is beneficial and what is harmful. So, as the supreme Lawgiver, He has the right and the obligation to reveal the rule of duty and to maintain it.
"3. Liberty. The precept...cannot possess an element or attribute of force in any such sense as to render conformity of will to its precept unavoidable. This would confound it with physical law."6
Love cannot be forced. By its very nature it is voluntary. If obedience is not willing, if it does not come from the heart, it is no obedience at all. So it is with sin. No one can be forced to sin. Persuaded, yes; forced, no. So then, though we use it, the term "free moral agent" is redundant, because moral choice is free choice by its very nature. In his Preface Finney states:
"Especially do I urge to their logical consequences the two admissions that the will is free and that sin and holiness are voluntary acts of mind."7
"4. Fitness. It must be the law of nature, that is, its precept must prescribe and require just those actions of the will which are suitable to the nature and relations of moral beings and nothing more nor less."8
Moral law demands exactly what God's highest glory and our highest good naturally require. Holiness is natural, beneficial, wholesome, reasonable. Sin is unnatural, harmful, disruptive, dissipating, unreasonable.
"5. Universality. The conditions and circumstances being the same, it requires, and must require, of all moral agents the same things, in whatever world they may be found."9
The moral obligation to love God with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves applies everywhere, to every nation, in every culture, in Heaven, on earth, and in hell. Love is the universal obligation. If certain violations of the good and well-being of others are permitted within a certain culture, they are not thereby justified. Stealing, immorality, killing whatever. Even the members of those cultures that permit such things know that they do not want done to them what they find culturally acceptable in doing to others. The words of Jesus are universal and unchanging: "therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12).
"6. Impartiality. Moral law is no respecter of persons .... It demands one thing of all ...."10
As moral law applies everywhere, so also it applies to every moral agent. If we can perceive the valuable--that is, if we have reason and light--we are responsible moral agents. No moral agent is exempt from moral law. None is above the obligation to love--not even God Himself. In fact, the greater our reason and light, the greater our moral obligation to conform our whole being to reason and light. The clearer our perception of what is valuable to God and others, the greater is our responsibility to pursue it for His sake and the sake of others.
Oh, how beautiful is God's love! He has infinite intelligence, and perfect knowledge of what is truly best for all. And His great heart is perfectly conformed to His intelligence and knowledge. He seeks the highest good with a perfect heart. Oh, the grandeur of His holiness! the perfection of His character!
"7. Practicability. That which the precept demands must be possible to the subject. That which demands a natural impossibility is not, and cannot be, moral law .... To talk of inability to obey moral law is to talk nonsense."11
Everything required by moral law is possible. Remember, moral law applies to free will. It applies to what we can do by choosing to do. What we cannot do by choosing to do is outside the jurisdiction of moral law and moral obligation. Moral law cannot require natural impossibilities, because no one is morally obligated to perform natural impossibilities.
There is no such thing as a moral impossibility. "Moral impossibility" is a contradiction of terms. If something is impossible, it is not required by moral law. If something is moral, it is something the person is obligated to do and can do, otherwise it would not be classified as moral.
The only impossibility is this: We cannot do what we refuse to do. But this impossibility applies only to the outward action, not the heart. The refusal is a deliberate choice. The sinner cannot live for God as long as he (or she) refuses to do so. This is sin.
"8. Independence. It is an eternal and necessary idea of the divine reason. It is the eternal, self-existent rule of the divine conduct, the law which the intelligence of God prescribes to himself .... As a law, it is entirely independent of his will just as his own existence is."12
The will of God always requires what the law of love itself already requires on the basis of the values that impose obligation in and of themselves.
God's interests are infinitely valuable. That is why I should choose them supremely. I must love God for His sake, and not just for the sake of His will. Of course, it is the will of God that we love Him supremely and others as ourselves. But we are to do this for His sake and for the sake of others.
This makes the will of God very precious, because it is the only way we can properly secure these infinitely valuable interests. The will of God is the necessary means to the valuable end, but it is not the end in itself. We shall return to this subject later.
"9. Immutability. Moral law can never change, or be changed."13
What does moral law require? "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40). Moral law requires this and nothing more nor less of every moral agent. No one can possibly do more. No one can morally do less. If a genius suffers a blow on the head and becomes a moron, he (or she) has less mind than before, but can still love God with all that is left. We are simply held responsible according to the amount of moral enlightenment we possess.
"10. Unity. Moral law proposes but one ultimate end of pursuit to God and to all moral agents. All its requisitions... are summed up in one word, love or benevolence. Moral law is the idea of perfect, universal and constant consecration of the whole being to the highest good of being."14
Partial obedience to moral law is impossible. Either we do love God with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves, or we do not. We often do so with far less than perfect knowledge and understanding. But we obey with a perfect heart according to the knowledge we do have, or we do not obey at all. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other" (Matt. 6:24).
"11. Expediency. That which is upon the whole most wise is expedient. That which is upon the whole expedient is demanded by moral law .... Expediency may be inconsistent with the letter, but never with the spirit of moral law .... That which is plainly demanded by the highest good of the universe is law. It is expedient. It is wise. So, on the other hand, whatever is plainly inconsistent with the highest good of the universe is illegal, unwise, inexpedient, and must be prohibited by the spirit of moral law .... The Bible precepts always reveal that which is truly expedient and in no case are we at liberty to set aside the spirit of any commandment upon the assumption that expediency requires it .... That which is upon the whole most expedient is right and that which is right is upon the whole expedient.''15
We may disregard temporal laws and regulations when moral considerations clearly require us to do so, but we may not disregard absolute principles on the pretext that moral considerations require us to do so. Because the highest good is inherent within absolute principles, the violation of absolute principles is always destructive of the highest good. Therefore, it is self-contradictory and absurd to claim that a situation could exist in which one would be morally obligated to disregard absolute principles. Absolute principles always embody moral law and moral obligation.
The instructions of the Bible are always the wisest and most beneficial course of action in any situation. They are always what love truly demands.
"12. Exclusiveness. Moral law is the only possible rule of moral obligation .... This is and must be the law of love or benevolence. This is the law of right and nothing else is or can be."16
Every valid law must be an expression and application of the moral law. As a guide for the choices and actions of moral beings, no law can overrule, replace, or even coexist with moral law. Moral law, that is, the law of love, is the only legitimate rule for moral conduct.
Now, is all of this just theoretical and idealistic? Not at all. It is as practical and relevant as eating and drinking. In fact, it touches every part of our lives, as we will see.
Somebody Is In Charge
Every new space probe sent out to determine if "life" exists somewhere else in the universe reminds us of the story of a shipwrecked sailor who spent his first days ashore wandering over his island and calling out, "Helloooooooo! Is anybody there?"
When people deny the existence and providence of a personal God, they begin to feel terribly alone in the universe.
Volumes have been written and will be written on the compelling evidences of Divine activity and purpose in creation. And everyone should become acquainted with these evidences.
Look around you. Read. Think! All the complexity and design evident in nature could not possibly have happened by the chance operation of unintelligent, blind forces. The odds against it are astronomical.
Somebody is there and He is not idle. He has the power and the intelligence to create a universe of mind-boggling magnitude, and He is running it by physical laws that are amazing in their complexity, precision and dependability! And He is also governing His universe morally. Almighty God has an overriding moral purpose in His creation, and His moral government is just as vast, active and benevolent as His purpose is. Here is a good definition of the nature and purpose of God's moral government:
"Moral government consists in the declaration and administration of moral law. It is the government of free will by motives as distinguished from the government of substance by force ...."17
We all know how physical control or government works. We push a button, or pull a lever, and a machine, circuit, or some other device goes into operation. Turn the steering wheel and the car turns. Step on the gas, and it goes. Hit the brakes, and it stops. That is physical control.
But moral control does not operate that way. We might know enough about people's psychological nature--what makes them "tick"--to be able to manipulate their emotions and behavior by certain words and actions. But this is still following a law of sequence, a "law of necessity." It is not moral persuasion by an appeal to reason. It is manipulation by externally applied motivation (stimuli).
Moral government operates on an entirely different principle. It tries to secure voluntary and intelligent obedience to moral law by internal motivation. It presents values to the reason in an appeal to the will of the person to choose those values and live by them. True, external motivations (stimulation of certain emotions, the promise of reward and the threat of punishment) are used to make the choice of the values easier and to minimize the appeals of opposing emotions and circumstances. But moral government is essentially an appeal to reason, with appropriate built-in consequences of acceptance or rejection of the appeal to reason.
We are ready now to talk about the reason for moral government. Government must be based on a valid reason, or it has no right to exist. Nobody has a right to exercise authority over others unless there is a basis for that right.
Does moral government rest on a solid basis? Is there an obligating reason for God to exercise moral government over His universe, including the inhabitants of this planet?
Yes, indeed. God's right to rule the heart is based on a very solid foundation. We will never have a world where everybody agrees. Even if everyone were virtuous and living up to all the light he has, not everybody would have the same degree of light or knowledge. Nothing would guarantee that we would not drift into ignorance. So then, we need someone to reveal, establish and uphold moral law and moral order. We need moral government. This need for moral government is the basis for its existence.
The fundamental reason for moral government, therefore, is the necessity for moral government as an indispensable means of securing the highest good. Without it there would be moral disintegration. The resulting moral anarchy would be an intolerable catastrophe for the whole universe. Who would want to live in a society where the well-being of the members of that society is not maintained by appropriate moral authority? So we need moral government to sustain moral order for the good of the universe.
But who has the right to govern? Obviously, the One who is best qualified. That, of course, is God. We have every reason to believe that God is the Moral Governor of the universe. Would a God of love create beings who need His moral supervision, and then refuse to provide that supervision? Of course not. Everything that God does clearly demonstrates His determination to uphold moral order. He has given us His Word, the Bible, to show us the way. He sent His Son to die for us to save us from our sins and our sinning. Now His Holy Spirit is here doing everything morally possible to move human hearts to God and righteousness--that is, everything short of violating man's free will.
We see clearly that God's sovereignty over the universe is a just and legitimate sovereignty. He rules because our good requires it, and not merely because He happens to be powerful enough to force His authority upon us.
If God did not love us, He would not bother to commit His infinite energies to administer faithfully the vast and complex moral government that we need so desperately. He is working earnestly for our good, even though most of the inhabitants of this planet earth are in open rebellion against His just and benevolent rule. Oh, how great is God's love! God is the only one qualified to govern the universe. For that reason it is His right and His obligation to govern.
And what does this imply? Just this:
A. "... the duty or obligation to govern. There can be no right in this case without corresponding obligation, for the right to govern is founded in the necessity of government and the necessity of government imposes obligation to govern.
B. "... obligation on the part of the subject to obey. It cannot be the right or duty of the governor to govern unless it is the duty of the subject to obey. The governor and subjects are alike dependent upon government as the indispensable means of promoting the highest good.
C. "... the right and duty to dispense just and necessary rewards and punishments... whenever the public interest demands ....
D. "... obligation on the part both of the ruler and the ruled... to make any personal and private sacrifice demanded by the higher public good ....
E. "... the right and duty to employ any force which is indispensable to the maintenance of order...and sustaining the supremacy of moral law....To deny this right is to deny the right to govern."18
Again, the good of all is dependent upon the moral government of God. And God is faithful in His benevolent administration, always acting in the highest interest of His creatures.
Oh, how good and reasonable it is to yield heart-obedience to Him! How wicked and unreasonable it is to rebel in heart against His rightful authority in our lives! Man's selfish determination to be independent of God's holy will and rule is most destructive. The person who refuses to allow God to rule upon the throne of his heart is his own worst enemy as well as the enemy of the highest good of the universe.
THE LIMIT OF THE RIGHT TO GOVERN
It is important to define the limit of the right to govern. Since the right to govern is based on the necessity for government, it follows that the right cannot go beyond the necessity.
God is the Creator. And God is uniquely qualified to govern the universe He has created. If He were not, He would have no right to govern, no matter how much the universe needed to be governed. On the other hand, no matter how much God is able and qualified to govern, He would have no right to govern the universe unless it needed to be governed. The fact that it needs to be governed is the basis of God's right to govern it, and His unique qualifications are the conditions of His right to govern it.
This means then that God is not a bully, ruling us just because He has the power to do so. There is a compelling reason for Him to govern and for us to obey. We need God, and we cannot get along without Him and His moral authority!
But, base government on anything else than the necessity of government for the good of all, and rulers will see no limit to their authority. Look at the parade of history. Kings, generals, Caesars, prelates, emperors march through its pages. How many of them ruled for the good of the people? How many followed the principle that their right to rule went no farther than the people's actual need for their rule?
Look at the sad record. From ancient Nimrod to this evening's news we see a long line of monarchs, tyrants and demagogues ruling for their own ends on the basis of power and might. Only now and then will you find a ruler who governs truly for the highest good of the people and who limits his power by the actual requirements of the people.
In contrast, let us look at the majestic moral government of God.
Now it is true that God is sovereign. He does not ask anyone for permission to govern His universe. He does not ask anyone's advice how to run it. But the sovereignty of God, though complete, is not arbitrary. God's authority (and duty) to govern is based on the necessity for moral government and is conditioned on His unique qualifications to govern.
And God is fulfilling His moral obligation to govern. God's sovereignty is being directed by His infinite love and wisdom. In all that He does, God is guided by His determined purpose to secure our greatest good and His highest glory by the best, wisest and most just means possible. Truly, "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
Loving submission to the sovereign will of God is the only morally justifiable course of action for reasonable creatures. Sin is the basest form of treason ever introduced into the' universe, because, remember, all who refuse to obey God are working directly and violently against the good of the universe, against the good of their community, against the good of their family, and against their own personal good.
Where Do I Fit In?
Most people do not like it. They do everything possible to avoid it. They deny it. They throw it onto someone else. They try to escape it personally by spreading it over society collectively. It challenges them and makes them uncomfortable.
What is it? Personal moral responsibility!
One school of psychology says that man is only a machine (and who ever heard of a machine being morally responsible for anything?). Stimulus-response associationism places all the blame on in-coming stimuli ("society made me do it; my social and physical environment stimulated me, and I had to respond the way I did. I am a victim.").
Maybe it is heredity ("it's my glands, you know"); or parental influences ("my mother dominated me as a child"). Sometimes it sounds theological ("it's my sinful nature"); or religious ("the devil made me do it").
You name it; somebody has thought of it.
Of course, many things influence us or appeal to us. But they do not make us do anything. The choice is still ours. We are not the product of these influences unless we choose to be.
We are more than machines or animals. Our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, values, hopes, joys, sorrows, and affections are not just complex electro-chemical processes. There is a spiritual part of our being that is uniquely human. One of its functions is the power of intelligent, self-determined choice--choice either in conformity with reason or in opposition to reason. And because these choices are self-generated, we are personally responsible for them. We are morally obligated to choose intelligently in conformity with the will and Word of God.
THE CONDITIONS OF MORAL OBLIGATION
"There are various forms of obligation: obligation to choose an ultimate end of life, obligation to choose the necessary conditions of this end and obligation to put forth executive efforts to secure this end."19
A little later we shall discuss the foundation or basis of moral obligation. Right now we shall explore the conditions of moral obligation, that is, the two things a person must have to be under moral obligation.
The first is moral agency. A person must be a moral agent to be under personal moral obligation. And what must a person have to be a moral agent?
"The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility and free will.
"Intellect includes... reason, conscience, and self-consciousness.
"Sensibility is... feeling.
"Free-will is... the power of choosing, or refusing to choose,... in compliance with moral obligation.
"Unless the will is free, man has no freedom; and if he has no freedom, he is not a moral agent, that is, he is incapable of moral action and also of moral character."20
So then, to be capable of responsible choices one must have (1) a functioning intellect, (2) feelings by which we are aware that happiness is valuable (whether our own happiness or the happiness of others), and (3) the ability to choose without coercion. These three capacities make a person a moral agent.
But before our choices can have real moral character, we must have something else:
"A second condition of moral obligation is light, or so much knowledge of our moral relations as to develop the idea of oughtness."21
We must realize what is valuable in itself and that we ought to choose it because it is valuable in itself. The moment that we realize that God's happiness is supremely valuable and that the happiness of others is just as valuable as our own, we have light. We know what we ought to live for, and therefore we come under moral obligation to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. The more we understand how to please God and do good to others, and how our words and actions affect others in practical every day living, the greater is our light.
Moral obligation cannot go beyond our knowledge, but it does go as far as our knowledge. It demands that we live up to all the light we have, and that we get all the light we can. Love can do no more. And love will do no less.
So then, as we become aware of the value of what we should live for, we become aware of personal moral obligation and of the development of a sense of right and wrong.
We human beings know right from wrong because we know the valuable. That is, we know what we ought to live for and we know whether or not we are living for it.
EXTENT OF MORAL OBLIGATION
Now that we have established what is required for us to be personally morally accountable, let us consider what we are morally accountable for. That is, to what does moral obligation apply?
We start by eliminating the things that are not directly under moral obligation.
Physical action is neither right nor wrong in itself. The right or wrong is in the motive for choosing to act in a given situation. And some bodily actions are purely reflexive, with no deliberate choices or purposes behind them.
At the instant the choice is made in the heart, moral character is determined, whether a person has the opportunity to carry the choice out into practice or not.
When does a person become a murderer? When he pulls the trigger, or when the decision was made to do the deed? The answer is obvious--the person became guilty of murder the instant the decision was made (see 1 John 3:15). And so Jesus taught us "That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28).
Feelings also are not directly under moral obligation. They are not directly within our power of choice. For that reason our moral character does not depend upon how we feel. It does depend, though, on what we do with our feelings. More about this later.
Involuntary mental conditions and actions are not under moral obligation, either. The actions of people who do not know what they are doing (babies, sleepwalkers) are not under moral obligation. The actions of people who are senile often come into this category.
To what then does moral obligation directly apply? The answer is simple: moral obligation applies directly to our ultimate motive, freely and knowingly determined by and within ourselves personally.
Now, every moral agent who has any degree of light has chosen an ultimate end or purpose and is living to fulfill it. Having chosen an ultimate end, moral agents are also choosing the known means to secure that end, and they are actively working on those means.
Yes, we can give up one ultimate end and choose the opposite ultimate end. But as long as we actually choose a particular end, we cannot deliberately refuse to pursue it. Choosing an end is the same thing as choosing to go after it by all known available means. Refusing to go after a goal is the same thing as giving up the goal.
So then, if we really love God, we will live for Him. If we refuse to obey Him, we do not love Him.
We might experience certain sentiments about Him or toward Him. But these in themselves are involuntary and have no moral character. Our moral character is determined not by how we feel but by what we are living for!
Suppose you walk up to a friend at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago:
"Well, hello there, Mike. Getting ready for another ride on the DC-8, eh? Where to this time?"
"Oh, uh ..., hi, Glen. I'm heading for New York City. Really important that I be there immediately."
"New York City? Then how come your ticket is for Los Angeles?"
"Well, you see, Glen. It's like this. I really want to go to New York. And I'll make it to New York somehow. But right now ... oh, excuse me, Glen. My flight to L.A. is boarding at Gate 3. See you later."
And so Glen walks slowly away, muttering to himself, "Poor Mike. He's flipped. He's really flipped."
What was Mike's real goal? It was the one he was knowingly using means to secure, not the one he professed.
"Men are to be judged by their motives, that is, by their designs, intentions .... If a man intend evil, though perchance he may do us good, we do not excuse him .... So if he intend to do us good and perchance do us evil, we do not and cannot condemn him .... He may be to blame for other things connected with the affair. He may have come to our help too late ... but for a sincere and of course hearty endeavor to do us good he is not culpable ....
"The Bible... recognizes this truth. 'If there be a willing mind,' that is, a right willing or intention, 'it is accepted' [2 Cor. 8:12]. Again, 'All the law is fulfilled in one word, love' [Gal. 5:14]. If the intention is right, or if there be a willing mind, it is accepted as obedience. But if there be not a willing mind, that is, right intention, no outward act is regarded as obedience."22
The motive is what really counts with God. If the heart (supreme motive) is truly right, all else will be right. But if the heart (supreme motive) is wrong, all is wrong.
Remember the Pharisees? Jesus reviewed their religious activities, and then disposed of them all by saying, "But all their works they do for to be seen of men..." (Matt. 23:5). Their motive was selfish, and so all their religious actions were selfish also. They were only religious means to a selfish end.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 13:3 informs us that it is possible to give all one's goods to feed the poor and to give one's body to be burned, and to have it all amount to nothing in the sight of God if the motive is wrong.
"Example: A student labors to get wages, to purchase books, to obtain an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls and to please God. Another labors to get wages, to purchase books, to get an education, to preach the gospel, to secure a salary and his own ease and popularity.
"Now the proximate ends, or immediate objects of pursuit, in these two cases are precisely alike, while their ultimate ends are entirely opposite. Their first or nearest end is to get wages. Their next end is to obtain books; and so we follow them until we ascertain their ultimate end before we learn the moral character of what they are doing.... One is selfish and the other benevolent."23
Now, before we can choose means and exert actions intelligently, we must first choose an end. It is the choice of an end that sets moral action in motion. In fact, it can be said that the choice of an ultimate end or purpose in life is the great moral action. All others flow from it.
Once the ultimate goal or end has been chosen by a moral agent, the will immediately embraces all the known available means to obtain that end and generates actions accordingly. This is unavoidable. The choice of a supreme object automatically sets a moral agent in motion toward securing that object. And please notice, it is the choice of a supreme object, not just the recognition, admiration, or desire of an object.
A river system is a good illustration. Each drop of water finds its way into a rivulet, each rivulet into a creek, each creek into a tributary river, each tributary river into the main course. Finally, everything surges past the mouth of the mighty river to its end or goal--the ocean.
Choice is the same way. Every intelligent and meaningful choice contributes directly or indirectly toward securing the great ultimate goal of the moral agent.
And there are only two ultimate ends to choose from. One is "the highest well-being of God and the universe," that is, God first, and our neighbor as ourselves. The other is self. There is no other mode of moral action. As ultimate objects, the two are mutually exclusive, antithetical, antagonistic.
So if Jesus Christ is not occupying first place in the heart, it is for one reason and one reason only: self has usurped the throne and is ruling there.
Moral obligation applies directly only to free-will choice or motive. If that be true, and it is, then moral obligation applies indirectly to everything that is controlled in some way by the free will, and that is an expression or result of free choice.
For this reason right thoughts, actions and even feelings are required by the moral law because a right heart will produce them under normal conditions.
On the other hand, if thoughts, actions, and even feelings that seem to be good and righteous proceed from a selfish ultimate motive, there is no real virtue in them.
"Sinners do many things outwardly which the law of God requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts, they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful ....
"Moral obligation then indirectly extends to everything about us over which the will has direct or indirect control.
"We speak of thought, feeling and action as holy or unholy. By this, however, all men really mean that the agent is holy or unholy, is praiseworthy or blameworthy in his exercises and actions, because they regard them as proceeding from the state or attitude of the will."24
The character of the end determines the character of the means and actions. The means and actions are right only if the end is right. The heart, or motive, is what counts with God. This will become clearer and more meaningful as we proceed to apply this principle to everyday living.
What Is Really Worth Living For?
In this chapter we shall examine the true basis, or foundation, of moral obligation. It is of vital importance to understand clearly just what we are required by the great moral law to aim at and live for as the great ultimate goal or value of life.
But first we need to define some terms. Finney frequently uses the word "intrinsic." Intrinsic means "within itself." Something intrinsically valuable is valuable within itself. It is valuable, not because it is scarce or because of demand, but because it has worth or value within its own nature.
Finney also uses the word "intention." He does not use the word in the popular sense of "I mean to do it someday." Rather, he uses the word to mean actual and immediate choice.
Here is what Finney says about the foundation of moral obligation:
"The ground of obligation, then, is that reason or consideration intrinsic in or belonging to the nature of an object, which necessitates the rational affirmation that it ought to be chosen for its own sake.
"The well-being of God and the universe... is intrinsically important or valuable, and all moral agents are under obligation to choose it for its own sake. Entire, universal, uninterrupted consecration to this end... is the duty of all moral agents.
"God's ultimate end in all he does or omits is the highest well-being of himself and of the universe .... All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty.
"Thus it is self-evident that moral character belongs to the ultimate intention and that a man's character is as the end for which he lives, moves and has his being.
"Let us proceed to the examination of the various conflicting theories of the ground of obligation.
1. THE WILL OF GOD AS THE GROUND OF OBLIGATION
"I will first consider the theory of those who hold that... God's sovereign will creates, and not merely reveals and enforces, obligation. To this I reply:
"Obligation to do what? Why, to love God and our neighbor .... And does God's will create this obligation? Should we be under no such obligation had he not commanded it? Are we to will this good, not for its own value to God and our neighbor, but because God commands it?
"If the will of God does of itself create and not merely reveal obligation, then the will and not the interest and well-being of God ought to be chosen for its own sake, and to be the great end of life.
"The reason does indeed affirm that we ought to will that which God commands, but it does not and cannot assign his will as the foundation of the obligation... God requires me to labor and pray for the salvation of souls .... Now his command is necessarily regarded by me as obligatory, not as an arbitrary requirement, but as revealing infallibly the true means or conditions of securing the great and ultimate end, which I am to will for its intrinsic value."25
It is always God's will that we love Him supremely and others as ourselves, because of the value of His highest good and the good of others.
But when people become self-convinced that the will of God is an end in itself, and not the means to the end, the result is fanaticism. Any code of ethics built on this premise becomes completely detached from real, practical values.
The Crusades provide us with a classic example. Once they had convinced themselves that it was God's will to "rescue the holy sepulchre," the crusaders felt perfectly justified in killing everybody who stood in their way. A modern example is the religiously based but politically motivated terrorism that has resulted in so much violence and bloodshed in the Middle East and elsewhere. "God wills it" is used to justify all kinds of evil and foolishness.
People who struggle to "do the will of God" without a real love for God and others are under a delusion. They are only trying to provide a moral rationale for the gratification of passion and ambition. They have no real regard for the good that truly doing God's will would bring to God and to others.
The will of God is not an end in itself to which all interests, human and divine, are to be sacrificed. Rather, the will of God is always to be understood as the course of action that results in the highest practical good to God and man, and for that reason it is the will of God.
2. THEORY OF SELF-INTEREST
"This theory ... makes self-interest the ground of moral obligation. Upon this theory I remark--
"If self-interest be the ground of moral obligation,... to be virtuous I must in every instance intend my own interest as the supreme good.
"Upon this hypothesis I am to treat my own interest as supremely valuable, when it is infinitely less valuable than the interests of God.
"But enough; we cannot fail to see that this is a selfish philosophy, and the exact opposite of the truth of God."26
This is a popular one today. It is the "live-and-let-live" philosophy. We hear it every time someone says, "I just mind my own business. I don't bother other people and they don't bother me."
What they mean is, "I'll live for myself and you live for yourself, and we'll try to stay out of each other's way."
Each cares only for self or what is in some way related to self.
There's no love, no morality in that.
3. THE UTILITARIAN PHILOSOPHY
"This maintains... that the tendency of an act, choice or intention to secure a good or valuable end is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that choice or intention. Upon this theory I remark--
"The tendency is valuable or otherwise as the end is valuable or otherwise.
"A choice is obligatory because it tends to secure good. But why secure good rather than evil? The answer is, because good is valuable. Ah! here then we have another reason, the one which must be the true reason, to wit, the value of the good which the choice tends to secure.
"The obligation to use means may and must be conditionated upon perceived tendency, but never founded in this tendency .... The end must be intrinsically valuable, and this alone imposes obligation to choose the end and to use the means to promote it."27
The utilitarian philosophy is the "good works" tread mill. Its objective is to maintain one's moral self-image by piling up moral "credits."
4. THE THEORY OF RIGHT AS THE FOUNDATION OF OBLIGATION
"The law of God does not, cannot, require us to love right more than God and our neighbor. What! Right of greater value than the highest well-being of God and of the universe? Impossible!
"When we pray and preach and converse, must we aim at right, must the love of right, and not the love of God and of souls influence us?... Did he [God] give his Son to die for the right, for the sake of the right, or to die... for the sake of... souls?
"Consistent rightarianism is a godless, Christless, loveless philosophy. 'Do the right for the sake of the right .... ' But now, having adopted this maxim, the mind... finds God and being to exist and sees it to be right to intend their good... But... we are to will their well-being as an end or for its own sake, or because it is right? If for its own sake, where then is the maxim, 'Will the right for the sake of the right'?"28
This system is the opposite of utilitarianism. Here is where millions of people are deceived. They struggle to do "right," thinking that this is true religion and morality. But ask them to surrender their hearts to God, and what do they reply?
"Well, I'm trying to do right. I pay my debts. I try to treat my family and my fellowman right. I try to live a good clean life."
They endeavor to assure themselves that they are "right," while all the time self sits enthroned in their hearts. Not once are they motivated by true love for God and for all mankind. They just struggle to be "right." And when they feel that they are "right," they often find pleasures in judging others. It makes them feel righteous, and reinforces their moral self-image. The world accepts them as "good," and often the church accepts them as Christian. Deluded souls!
5. THE PRACTICAL TENDENCY OF THE VARIOUS THEORIES
"I will begin with the theory that regards the sovereign will of God as the foundation of moral obligation.
"One legitimate and necessary result of this theory is a totally erroneous conception both of the character of God, and of the nature and design of his government. If God's will is the foundation of moral obligation, it follows that he is an arbitrary sovereign... But if his will is under the law of his reason,... then his will is not the foundation of moral obligation, but those reasons that lie revealed in the divine intelligence ....
"There is ground for perfect confidence, love and submission to his divine will in all things... His will is law... in the sense of its being a revelation of both the end we ought to seek, and the means by which the end can be secured.
"I will next glance at the legitimate results of the theory of the selfish school.
"It tends directly and inevitably to the confirmation and despotism of sin in the soul. All sin... resolves itself into a spirit of self-seeking .... This philosophy represents this spirit of self-seeking as virtue, and only requires that in our efforts to secure our own happiness we should not interfere with the rights of others in seeking theirs .... What! I need not care positively for my neighbor's happiness,... yet I must take care not to hinder it. But why? Because it is intrinsically as valuable as my own.
"Practical bearings and tendency of rightarianism. "Having... in mind a law of right distinct from, and perhaps opposed to, benevolence, what frightful conduct may not this philosophy lead to? This is indeed the law of fanaticism.
"It sets men in chase of a philosophical abstraction as the supreme end of life instead of the concrete reality of the highest well-being of God and the universe.
"Lastly, I come to the consideration of the practical bearings of what I regard as the true theory of the foundation of moral obligation, namely, that the intrinsic nature and value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe is the sole foundation of moral obligation.
"If this be true, the whole subject of moral obligation is perfectly simple and intelligible.
"Every moral agent knows in every possible instance what is right and can never mistake his real duty.
"His duty is to will this end with all the known conditions and means thereof.
"Multitudes of professed Christians seem to have no conception that benevolence constitutes true religion; that nothing else does; and that selfishness is sin, and totally incompatible with religion. They live on in their self-indulgences, and dream of heaven."29
No code of conduct or system of ethics that leaves the soul under the control of selfishness is real morality. And no "faith" that does not break the power of selfishness in the heart is true religion.
Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). If a person's religion does not break the bondage of sin in the heart, it cannot be the truth, because the truth always liberates the soul from the power of sin.
The true foundation or reason for moral obligation is the highest happiness of God and His creation. God's happiness is supremely valuable; therefore, we are morally obligated to place His happiness first. Living supremely for anything else is not living right because it is not living supremely for God; it is placing something that bears an ultimate relationship to self ahead of God; it is sin.
What is to be said about the "religious" person who regards the will of God as a moral justification for some selfish end, and not out of love for God? That person's religion is a delusion. He wants to feel that God is on his side. But he has not the love of God in him. Serving God only for selfish reasons must be terribly tiresome. Religion is a burden if one does not love Jesus Christ.
The same is true of utilitarians, the folks who are always involved in doing "good," and promoting the "cause." Their "morality" consists in quantity, not quality. They strive to achieve higher quotas, more productivity. They are busy in good causes, always "involved." It is "so rewarding" and gives them such a good feeling.
But ask them why they are so active, and they become uneasy, defensive. In their hearts they know that they are not motivated by true love for God and man.
Jesus said, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:22, 23).
Remember 1 Corinthians 13. That great love chapter teaches that it is possible to give all our goods to feed the poor and even to give our body to be burned without being motivated by love.
Works motivated by self-gratification are of no moral value.
And the rightarian--always a stickler for the letter of the law, regardless of whether or not it does God or anybody else any good.
In the Bible the prime example of rightarians are the Pharisees. Jesus healed a lame man and told him to carry his bedroll home. The Pharisees, however, complained that he was carrying it on the sabbath. In their twisted morality, it was wrong for Jesus to heal on the sabbath, but perfectly "right" for them to plot His death on the sabbath.
Jesus summed up all their religious activity, and then disposed of it all by saying, "All their works they do for to be seen of men..." (Matt. 23:,5).
In other words, their motive was wrong, and when the motive is wrong, all is wrong. All their praying, fasting, tithing were only means to a selfish ultimate end--to be seen of men.
Rightarians are motivated by a smug, self-satisfying regard for the "right," not by real love for God and man. If people just believe and act "right," they are satisfied. Their standing for the "right" keeps them in good stead in the church and/or community, and bolsters their hope that they are on the road to Heaven.
No good deeds, right opinions, firm beliefs, or fervent feelings can be moral or Christian, even in the slightest degree, while the will is not surrendered to God.
When we turn our hearts to God and love Him supremely and others as ourselves, the will of God becomes our delight as the indispensable means of glorifying Him; active service flows freely and gladly; and for the first time we are truly right!
Instead of being objectives in themselves, all these things and others like them become means and conditions for promoting the great end, the great goal, of every true heart--the highest well-being of God and His creatures. Genuine Christians are motivated by the highest possible values. Love for God and for others commands the full commitment of their whole being and motivates them to the development and employment of their full potential. God's highest happiness and the greatest good of all mankind--these are the values worth living for. These are the values that all true believers seek. They are the basis of all morality.
It is that simple. lt all adds up to love.
Yet, many people feel that they can be somewhat good and somewhat bad at the same time. But is this possible? Is there a certain amount of goodness and a certain amount of evil mixed together in all of us? Can we be partly holy and partly sinful at the same time?
That is our next subject.
We Cannot Go In Opposite Directions
At The Same Time
I remember hearing a story about a boy, a new convert, who was asked how he was doing in his new Christian life. The boy replied that there were two dogs fighting inside him, a good dog and a bad dog. When asked, "which dog wins?" he replied, "The one I say 'sic 'em' to."
As long as we are in this world we are subject to temptations.. But temptations are not sin. They are just the invitations to sin. Our moral character depends on whether we accept the invitations or reject them.
Because we are free moral agents we can choose and do choose an ultimate end. But while we embrace one supreme end or goal, we reject its opposite. We cannot choose both at the same time. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters..." (Matt. 6:24). The possibility of changing masters always exists, and the temptation to do so often exists, but we cannot serve both at the same time.
"Obedience cannot be partial in the sense that the subject ever does, or can, partly obey and partly disobey at the same time,
"If, for example, the soul chooses the highest well-being of God and the universe as an ultimate end, it cannot while it continues to choose that end use or choose the means to effect any other end .... The only possible choice inconsistent with this end is the choice of another ultimate end."30
By "choice" is meant intelligent choice--choice under light. We all make a lot of ignorant mistakes, mistakes in areas where we do not yet have sufficient light. We can love God supremely and purely, and yet ignorantly do things that are not in His highest interest. But as we grow in grace and knowledge, we live for God more intelligently and effectively. And, it might be added, more happily.
We progress in obedience, not into obedience. Obedience must be with the whole heart--that is, it must be honest--or it is not obedience at all. If obedience is with the whole heart--that is, if it is honest--it is full obedience. But if it is not, it is not obedience. It is hypocrisy. Jesus said, "He that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30).
A person's ultimate goal is evidenced in the means he uses. No one can choose an ultimate end and at the same time knowingly choose means that work against that end and for the opposite end. The choice of an end necessitates the choice of the known means to that end.
When we knowingly use means to a particular end, that is the end we are really choosing. If we say that we are living in the Spirit but are deliberately living in the flesh, we deceive ourselves.
"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (1 John 1:6).
"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:16,17).
How much dedication does love produce? It cannot produce an amount of dedication equal to God's real worth, because God's real worth is infinite.
Remember, one's moral obligation goes only as far as one's light. That means, then, that our devotion to Jesus Christ depends on how real and precious He is to us. Love can do no more. Love will do no less. As Jesus becomes more real and precious to us, our devotion and dedication to Him will grow. The same is true of our service for others and our commitment to win the lost, etc.
Get close to God; get into His Word; "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields" (John 4:35). Give God a chance to make Himself more real to you and to show you the value of lost souls. Love will naturally produce the right amount of corresponding dedication. Wisdom will direct it according to a realistic understanding of our individual gifts, talents, time and opportunities.
Moral law does not require us to live on the verge of exhaustion. That is counter-productive. Moral law requires us to love God with all our heart and others as ourselves, including the expenditure of whatever strength, time, and resources that we honestly believe will do the most good in the long run.
On the other hand, we do not truly love God if we are not living up to our knowledge of what He deserves from us. That is selfishness, not love. The two do not mix.
So then, no one can be partly holy and partly sinful at the same time. Sin is a unit--the choice of self-gratification as the supreme pursuit of life, including the choice of all the known means to secure that end. Holiness or morality is also a unit--the choice of the highest well-being of God and of others as the supreme pursuit of life, including the choice of all the known means to secure that end.
To put it another way, moral action comes in two complete packages. Each package comes complete with a supreme end, plus the known means and actions to achieve that end. One package is labeled "love." The other is labeled "selfishness." The one is full obedience, the other is total disobedience.
The two systems are mutually exclusive and antagonistic. There is no mixing, no crossover, no coexistence between them.
The choice of the end determines the choice of the known means, and the choice of the known means reveals the end we are really living for. The heart determines the life, and the life reveals the heart.
"Virtue consists in willing every good according to its perceived relative value, and... nothing short of this is virtue .... To talk, therefore, of a virtue ... right in kind but deficient in degree is to talk sheer nonsense. It is the same absurdity as to talk of sinful holiness, an unjust justice, a wrong rightness, an impure purity, an imperfect perfection, a disobedient obedience."31
Our whole moral obligation is to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves with all the light we have and can obtain. God requires nothing more than this; He can require no less. We can do no more; we can do no less and be Christians. It is that simple.
"But," someone might ask, "can my heart be right with God when I feel all these bad desires and emotions?" Finney comments regarding the Christian--
"Emotions contrary to his intentions may, by circumstances beyond his control, be brought to exist in his mind; yet, by willing to divert the attention from the objects that produce them, they can ordinarily be banished. If this is done as soon as... it can be, there is no sin. If it is not done as soon as... it can be,... the intention is not what it ought to be.''32
Emotional discipline is an important subject. The point to be emphasized here is that true religion, true morality, is not a matter of how we feel but of what we are living for.
The next question is a big one:
"Does a Christian cease to be a Christian whenever he commits a sin?
"I answer: whenever he sins, he must for the time being cease to be holy...He must incur the penalty of the law of God. If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian the penalty is forever set aside, I reply that to abrogate [set aside] the penalty is to repeal the precept, for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys...Until he repents he cannot be forgiven."33
In two important ways a Christian who sins is different from the person who has never been saved.
First, a Christian who sins is under a covenant of chastisement (see Heb. 12:5-11 ). God has invested a tremendous amount of grace in that Christian, and He is not going to let him go without doing everything wisely possible to bring him to repentance.
My father never did spank the neighbors' kids. He was more concerned about how I turned out than how they turned out. That's because he was my father.
Our heavenly Father is the same way. First Corinthians 11:32 tells us that we are chastened of the Lord, so that we will not be condemned with the world.
But suppose that I am arrested for a crime, and my father is the judge. Can he justly suspend the sentence because I am his son? No, He cannot.
Second, a Christian who sins feels his broken fellowship with God, unlike the sinner who has never experienced real fellowship with God.
When I was growing up as a boy, if our neighbor, Mr. Mathis, was displeased with me, it didn't bother me very much. But if my father was displeased with me, it was a different matter. Real fellowship was broken. I couldn't stand it. I had to make it right.
Christian, if you sin, you know it. Your joy is gone. You miss that peace; oh, how you miss it! And that sweet fellowship and tender communion with your Father. How you long for it! Things are wrong between the Father and you, and you can't stand it. You have to make it right!
But if you refuse to make it right, if you go right on and harden your heart, crushing the tender feelings once so carefully nurtured--you will be lost.
You will not be able to say on that day, "But, Father, I was born again. I am your child." Sorrowfully, the Father will withdraw, having turned the judgment seat over to the Son (John 5:22), and you will have to receive your sentence from the nail-scarred hand of the One whose blood you refused for your cleansing, the One whom you crucified afresh and put to open shame.
"Can a man be born again and then unborn?
"I answer:... None will maintain that there is anything impossible in this except it be those who hold to physical regeneration. If regeneration consists in a change in ... the ultimate intention, as we shall see it does, it is plain that an individual can be born again and afterwards cease to be virtuous."34
Most people who have difficulty understanding this point do so because, like Nicodemus, they fail to realize that the new birth is a moral change, not a physical or metaphysical change. The new birth is a change of the supreme object of pursuit in life, resulting in a complete revolution in all of life. Such a change does not necessitate a change of any "thing" down inside us. It is not a change in the essence of body, soul, or spirit. It is a change of ultimate choice; and, by its very nature, ultimate choice can be changed more than once.
"Can there be no such thing as weak faith, weak love, and weak repentance?
"I answer: If you mean comparatively weak,... yes. But if you mean weak in such a sense as to be sinful, no.
"Unbelief... is the rejection of truth perceived. Faith is the reception of truth perceived. Faith and unbelief then are opposite states of choice and can by no possibility coexist.
"Faith to be real must be equal to the light we have."35
Our commitment to the truth can be no stronger than our grasp of the truth.
Our faith cannot go beyond our light. Our faith is weak if we do not know the Word of God. Our love for Jesus is weak if we do not allow Him to become as real to us as He wants to be. Our burden for lost souls will not be as great as it should be unless we "look on the fields" (John 4:35). A person's repentance and faith will be weak if he does not see clearly the guilt of his sin and the power of Christ to save him.
But in all of these cases the faith, love and repentance are real. The weak Christian does not have much light, but he (or she) is living up to all the light possessed. There is no rejection of light, because that would be no faith, love, or repentance at all.
As light grows, so will the believer. As he feeds on the Word of God, his faith grows. As the Holy Spirit makes Jesus more real and precious, his love for his Savior grows. This is sanctification. It is progress in holiness, but not progress into holiness.
"The theory of the mixed character of moral actions is an eminently dangerous theory, as it leads its advocates to suppose that ... there is some holiness in them while they are in the known commission of sin.
"It leads its advocates to place the standard of conversion or regeneration exceedingly low .... There can scarcely be a more dangerous error than to say, that while we are conscious of present sin, we are or can be in a state of acceptance with God.
"The only sense in which obedience to moral law can be partial is that obedience may be intermittent.
That is, the subject may sometimes obey and at other times disobey .... These may succeed each other an indefinite number of times, but coexist they plainly cannot."36
Nobody has to sin. Victory over sin is the norm for the Christian. In fact, to be a Christian means to be in victory over sin: "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not..." (1 John S: 18). That is, he does not practice sin. "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
This does not mean that the Christian is not capable of sinning. Christ is able to keep us from sinning if we allow Him to do so. But if we do sin, He is there as our merciful High Priest to forgive us if we repent and trust Him (see 1 John 2:1).
But, what about the Christian who does sin? Is he lost because of that one sin? Will one sin send him to hell?
For one thing, true Christians do not sin as much or as often as some people might think. The idea that we believers "sin every day" is just not true.
Honest mistakes, errors in judgment, temptations, moods--these are not sin.
We must be careful not to use the term "sin" lightly by applying it to things that are not violations of moral law. If we apply the term to things that are not really sin, we obscure the serious meaning of the word and trivialize sin.
Sin is a deliberate choice to disobey God. That is not the believer's choice.
Christians are walking in the light. Now, believer X might have more light than believer Y. But believer X has no right to say that believer Y is sinning just because he is not living up to his (X's)light.
Light can be imparted, but it cannot be imposed. The attempt to impose light leads to legalism. Light is imparted only when the believer is led to see it for himself or herself.
The effort to impose light is a violation of the believer's liberty in Christ. Christian liberty is the privilege to live honestly in Christ in all the light one has without the imposition of external legal restrictions. But Christian liberty is not the right to violate the light one has, or to refuse further light.
Now, it often happens that when the believer suddenly draws closer to God, the greatly increased awareness of God's holiness (light) reveals areas of his own life that need major improvement. Suddenly he realizes that certain previous behavior does not glorify God, and also that there are certain things he should be doing for His glory that he has not been doing. When that happens, he might say, "How ignorant I was!" or, "I didn't realize that!" But if he was living up to all the light he had at the time, he cannot truly say, "I was sinning."
So, Christians do not sin as much or as often as is sometimes supposed. Christians do not need to be kept under self-condemnation to be kept humble. Rather, Christians need to know that they are victorious in Christ, and that nothing less than present victory over sin constitutes real Christian experience.
It is amazing how victorious Christians become when they believe that they are victorious in Christ. There is no eternal security in defeat. Expecting defeat produces no assurance, but expecting victory in Christ does.
Still there are times when Christians do sin. Here is where 1 John 2:1 comes in: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
If the Christian's sin does not bring condemnation, he would not need the Advocate. He would not need forgiveness. The very fact that he needs forgiveness indicates that he is under condemnation if he sins.
If God can justly overlook one sin, why not two? ten? a hundred? No, God does not operate His moral government that way. If He did, the Bible's oft-repeated warnings to Christians would be meaningless.
Grace is not the careless overlooking of sin. It is the forgiveness of repented sin. Only if we confess our sins are we forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness (see 1 John 1:9).
But remember, the moral momentum of the believer is in the opposite direction of sin. He is not prone to wander. To conquer the Christian, temptation has to overcome the strong moral and spiritual momentum of the believer's light, his love for God, his regard for God's honor and for eternal values, his faith in Christ's keeping power, the arsenal of Scripture hidden in his heart, the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, plus a host of other positive influences--all combined together!
Even if temptation can concentrate its appeal on one point strongly enough to overcome such a moral momentum and such spiritual resources, usually it is able to succeed only briefly. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, and feeling deeply his broken fellowship with God, the sinning believer flees quickly to his Savior and is immediately and fully restored.
Let us return to Mr. Finney and listen to what he has to say about "entire obedience."
"The government of God accepts nothing as virtue but obedience to the law of God.
"This...is generally denied. Indeed, probably nine-tenths of the nominal church deny it .... They maintain that there is much virtue in the world, and yet that there is no one who ever for a moment obeys the law of God; that all Christians are virtuous...and yet not one on earth obeys the moral law of God."37
By "law" Finney is not referring to the law of Moses or to any body of external regulations. He means the moral law--the law of love. The law of faith has not abolished moral law. Some seem to suppose that because Christians are not under the Law of Moses, we are therefore not under moral law or moral obligation. But every moral agent is obligated to love God supremely and others as himself, and that obligation is moral law. It is the law of faith, the law of love.
Moral law in itself is not a set of legal enactments. No legislature can pass or repeal moral law, because moral law is made up of principles, not regulations. 'The principles were there before the regulations were, and the regulations were formed to give expression to moral law within the framework of society.
Moral law was present before the Ten Commandments were given as an expression of moral law within society.
Cain never heard of the Ten Commandments; but when he killed Abel, his brother, he knew he had violated moral law. So the moral law was in existence before the law of Moses, and it is still in existence today. The law of Moses was replaced by the law of faith so far as believers are concerned, for the very reason that the law of faith secures obedience to the moral law whereas the law of Moses did not.
Love replaces legislation because love succeeds where legislation failed.
The repeal of the legislation did not mean the repeal of moral law. Personal obedience to moral law, the law of love, is still required of all moral agents.
"A common idea seems to be that a kind of obedience is rendered to God by Christians which is true religion, and which, after all comes indefinitely short of full or entire obedience at any moment... that they are justified by grace, not in the sense that they are made really and personally righteous by grace, but that grace pardons and accepts... them... in the present commission of an indefinite amount of sin.
"What is this, but pardoning present and pertinacious rebellion! Receiving to favor a God-defrauding wretch! ... Yes, this must be if it be true that Christians are justified without present full obedience.
"That surely must be a doctrine of devils that represents God as receiving to favor a rebel who has one hand filled with weapons against his throne.
"To ask for pardon while we do not repent and cease from sin is a gross insult to God.
"Does the Bible recognize the pardon of present sin... ? Let the passage be found, if it can, where sin is represented as pardoned or pardonable unless repented of and fully forsaken. No such passage can be found.
"The very beginning of true religion in the soul implies the renunciation of all sin. Sin ceases where holiness begins. Now, how great and ruinous must that error be, that teaches us to hope for heaven while living in conscious sin,... that justification is conditioned upon a faith that does not purify the heart of the believer.
"Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation and must repent... or be lost."38
So it is clear that moral action is a unit. It is impossible to obey and to disobey at the same time. Obedience and disobedience do not mix. Either we obey or we do not obey. There are no half-Christians.
Just as the tributaries of a river system all flow to one end, so the intelligent choices of the heart all flow to one end--the object of ultimate choice.
No wonder salvation is such a radical change. It is like reversing the flow of an entire river system, turning it completely over so as to flow in the opposite direction.
When the object of ultimate choice--what the person is ultimately living for--is reversed, the whole life is revolutionized. New life and new motives produce new interests, desires, experiences and relationships.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cot. 5:17, italics added).
When Christ comes in to take His rightful place on the throne of the heart, self comes down to its proper position. The love of God replaces selfishness. Light replaces darkness. Peace replaces turmoil. Holiness replaces sin.
No wonder the Bible calls it a new birth, regeneration, a new life. Have you experienced it? Have you made the choice?
If not, the Savior is waiting now to come into your heart. He said, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him...."(Rev. 3:20).
Let's Talk About Love
Obedience to God is the most natural and normal life for any human being.
Conversion or regeneration is not like Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth, then--ZAP--stepping out as Superman.
Remember, the change in becoming a Christian is not physical or metaphysical. It is a moral change, a change in choice, supreme choice.
"Entire obedience does not imply any change in the substance of the soul or body .... Entire obedience is the entire consecration of the powers, as they are, to God."39
"Nor does it imply...continual calmness of mind. Christ was not in a state of continual calmness. The deep peace of his mind was never broken up, but the surface....emotions....were often in a state of great excitement ....
Nor does it imply perfect knowledge Nor does it imply freedom from mistake on any subject whatever.
"Nor does it imply exemption from sorrow or mental suffering. It was not so with Christ. "Nor does it imply moroseness of temper and manners....Cheerfulness is certainly the result of holy love."40
Many people have strange ideas about what it means to be a Christian. Even knowledgeable people can have wrong ideas about what is implied and what is not implied in morality or true religion. They include things that have nothing to do with moral obligation, and exclude the very things that are essential to moral obligation.
In this way the world often gets the idea that the Christian life is something unreal, impractical.
But the life of obedience to God--the Christian life--is the only truly natural life. Love is normal and natural; selfishness is abnormal and unnatural. It is the sinner who is "out of whack."
Living in moral harmony with God is a wonderful life. The love of God rules the heart and all that the heart influences. "For all the law is fulfilled in one word... love" (Gal. 5:14). In other words, it all adds up to love.
When we speak of such virtues as love, compassion, patience, humility, etc., we are referring to choices. But in everyday language we frequently use the same words to describe our feelings.
For that reason it is absolutely essential that we understand the difference between the two. Love as a choice or motive is far deeper than "love" as a mere feeling or emotion. The same is true of all the various expressions and characteristics of love.
Real love--the essence of true morality and religion--is a fundamental commitment of the soul. This commitment usually results in feelings, but it does not consist in feelings. Love is not just an emotion.
Here is where many people make a big mistake. They judge their morality and religion by how they feel, rather than by what they are living for.
Remember, feelings are neither holy nor sinful in themselves. They are involuntary. Thoughts produce feelings. And many feelings are common to both Christians and sinners.
For example, when thinking about someone who is suffering, many sinners can feel the same emotions of pity that a Christian would feel. Think about suffering, and you feel pity. Think about injustice, and you feel indignation. This does not mean that you are religious or good. It just means that you are human. A gangster can murder a man one day, and cry the next day when he hears that the little girl next door was injured by a car.
Some sinners assume that they must love God a little bit because they have good feelings toward Him once in a while. In fact, some sinners have their warmest religious feelings when they are drunk. This is sentimentality, not love.
Everybody, saint and sinner, can have "good" feelings and "bad" feelings. And so, thinking that morality and religion are in the feelings, sinners believe that they have a lot of good in them along with the bad, just because they have some "good" feelings. Likewise, Christians can be led to believe that they have a lot of bad in them along with the good, just because they experience "bad" feelings.
"Bad" feelings make it easier to make wrong choices and harder to make good ones, and "good" feelings make it easier to make right choices and harder to make wrong ones. But moral character is in the choices, not in the feelings.
And morality is not a matter of following "good" feelings, either. Obeying "good" feelings does not make us good. It is still obeying our feelings, not God, and so it is nothing but a self-righteous form of self-gratification.
Whenever people do anything through emotion that they would not do through reason without emotion, they are being motivated by the emotion and not by love. Remember 1 Corinthians 13. It is possible to give all of one's goods to feed the poor just for the self-gratification that comes from doing it and not out of real love. This is a very subtle, self-deceiving, yet highly respectable form of selfishness.
All sinners are voluntary slaves to their desires. The sinner is ruled by the desire that is the dominant one at the moment, whatever that desire might be. Today he feels generous, so he contributes liberally to charitable causes or to friends. Tomorrow he feels miserly, so he reprimands himself for "letting his feelings run away with him" the day before. One day he feels lust and commits adultery; the next day he feels affectionately toward his family, has a spasm of conscience, and resolves to be faithful.
Because he follows "good" feelings and "bad" feelings, he thinks that he is both good and bad at the same time. He does not realize that as long as he chooses to be ruled by his desires, whatever they are, there is not a particle of goodness in him. He is ruled by self-gratification, not love.
Love is a fundamental choice--the choice of the highest good to God and man. This choice has many qualities. These qualities of love are expressions of love in various relationships and situations. Love is intelligent and reasonable. It is soft-hearted, but not soft-headed.
Love is a unit, a whole, and all of its parts harmonize. Every characteristic of love is consistent with every other characteristic of love. They all work together, balance each other, reinforce each other. The result is beautiful.
"Every virtue is only benevolence viewed... in certain relations .... This is true of God's moral attributes. They are... only attributes of benevolence .... This is and must be true of every holy being.''41
Let us look at the qualities or characteristics of love. What can be said about love?
Love is voluntary. It is a free choice, made in the full knowledge that the opposite choice (selfishness) is always possible. It is an intelligent choice. The heart knows what it is choosing, why it is choosing, and that the choice is reasonable and pleasing to God. It knows that what it is choosing is really valuable and that it is being chosen on that account. It knows that it is the right choice, a holy choice.
Love is unselfish. It reaches out beyond the things that self has an interest in, or that self will ultimately benefit from.
Love is impartial.
"It is no respector of persons .... Selfish love is partial,...has its favorites, its prejudices, unreasonable and ridiculous .... But benevolence knows neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, white nor black .... The fact that a man is a man, and not that he is of our party, of our complexion, or of our town, state, or nation--that he is a creature of God, that he is capable of virtue and happiness, these are the considerations that are seized upon by this divinely impartial love."42
Love is universal. It excludes no one from its concern. Wherever good can be done, there love reaches out. It does not stop at the boundaries of our personal family, our community, or nation. It endeavors to gain the highest good of the greatest number, wherever they are, according to our ability and opportunity.
Love is productive. Love is an active, positive choice of the highest good of God and the universe. Certainly the choice of such tremendous values must put us into action! What a high and holy calling! We have the Almighty God to glorify, and a world of good to be done. Such a commitment will mobilize us and all of our resources for its accomplishment. Love cannot possibly be lazy.
Love delights in holiness. And it is opposed to all sin.
"Benevolence is... willing the highest good of being as an end. Now there is nothing in the universe more destructive of this good than sin. Benevolence cannot do otherwise than be forever opposed to sin...."43
Remember, anything that is a virtue is an act of the will. Choice is where moral action is. Real opposition to sin, therefore, must be from the heart or will.
Many sinners are opposed to sin in their mind and in their feelings, while they continue to practice sin. Practically everybody disapproves of wrong, and sometimes even sinners will feel so deeply opposed to some particular form of evil that they will crusade passionately against it.
Because they feel so strongly opposed to the evil, and act so vigorously against it, they suppose that they have a certain amount of virtue in them. At the same time they know that they are committing sins of their own. Thinking that virtue consists in having good feelings, or in obeying "good" feelings, they conclude that they are partly good and partly bad at the same time.
But real love is opposed to all sin. This opposition is a choice. It includes the rejection of all sin, the renunciation of all sin. The heart cannot be truly opposed to sin and continue to hold on to sin at the same time. The two choices are mutually exclusive.
Sinners hold onto their sins because they love the pleasure that their unreasonable indulgences give them. They do not sin because they love "sin" itself. They do not choose their sinful indulgences because the indulgences are sinful, but in spite of the fact.
For example, the thief does not say, "I crave sin tonight. I just must have some sin." Of course not. He craves the pleasure that the object he steals will bring him, and perhaps the pleasure the act of stealing will bring. But he does not steal because it is sinful, but in spite of the fact that it is sinful.
Many sinners "hate" what they are doing, but they keep on doing it anyway, because it gives them the most pleasure and pleasure is what they are after. They are not truly opposed to sin. If they were, they would quit sinning.
Love is compassionate. It chooses to lift the miserable out of misery and into happiness. Now, even sinners can feel compassion or pity when they see or hear of suffering and misery. They consider this feeling to be a sign of goodness in themselves.
James speaks of some who say to a brother or a sister in need, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," but do nothing about it (Jas. 2:15,16). They are content just to "feel" sympathetic. Others will act, but only because their feeling of pity is their overriding desire at the moment.
Finney makes this comment on the subject:
"A man of compassionate heart will also be a man of compassionate sensibility. He will feel and he will act. Nevertheless, his actions will not be the effect of his feelings, but will be the result of his sober judgment.
"Three classes of persons suppose themselves, and are generally supposed by others, to be truly compassionate. The one class exhibit much feeling of compassion, but their compassion does not influence their will....These content themselves with mere desires and tears.
Another class feel deeply, and give up to their feelings. Of course, they are active and energetic in the relief of suffering. But being governed by feeling...they are not virtuous, but selfish ....A third class feel deeply, but are not governed by blind impulses of feeling. They take a rational view of the subject, act wisely and energetically....These last are truly virtuous, and altogether the most happy of the three."44
Love is merciful. It seeks to pardon. But love cannot exercise mercy at the expense of the greater public good. This would be a denial of itself, as love is a choice to seek the greatest good.
"No one attribute of benevolence is or can be exercised at the expense of another, or in opposition to it....This would be a contradiction, to will good...out of regard to its intrinsic value, and then choose injurious means to accomplish this end."45
Mercy, too, is more than just a feeling. The feeling of mercy by itself would pardon, regardless of the attitude of the guilty and regardless of what has or has not been done to make his pardon safe and reasonable.
Real mercy is a choice to do everything possible to bring about the conditions that will make the pardon of the guilty safe and reasonable, and therefore morally possible.
Universalism has made its fundamental mistake on this very point. God is merciful. So then, universalism rationalizes, because God is merciful, He will forgive sinners. And because He will forgive sinners, everybody will be saved. But the conclusion does not necessarily follow.
Yes, God is love; love is merciful; and mercy will forgive sinners. But love cannot exercise mercy in violation of its other qualities.
Love is also just, and it is wise. These qualities of love demand that certain conditions be fulfilled before mercy is exercised--conditions that will make the exercise of mercy safe and just. That is why love requires repentance and a sacrifice for sin as pre-conditions for mercy.
"As mercy is an attribute of benevolence, it will naturally and inevitably direct the attention of the intellect to devising ways and means to render the exercise of mercy consistent with the other attributes of benevolence. It will employ the intellect in devising means to secure the repentance of the sinner, and to remove all obstacles out of the way of its free and full exercise .... This attribute of benevolence led the Father to give his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, and it led the Son to give himself to die, to secure the repentance and pardon of sinners .... It is an amiable attribute. All its sympathies are sweet, and tender, and kind as heaven."46
Love is just. The world is cursed with an eruption of phony activism for "justice."
When feeling is allowed to get hold of people, havoc can result. People look at the injustices in the world and get mad. But instead of doing something constructive and consistent to meet the need, many let anger get control of them.
What happens? Out they go into the streets to protest, riot, sometimes even to wreck and destroy. Some can plant explosives that maim and kill innocent victims, and then sit back in their twisted self-righteousness, having satisfied the cruel mandate of their personal sense of justice. Horrible!
Yes, some sinners will do something practical. But if they act only because their feelings demand it of them, they are really serving their emotions, not God and society. Self-gratification motivates them, not love. People motivated by love will feel deeply, and they will act. But they will act reasonably within the light they have, and not merely out of obedience to their emotions.
"Justice as an attribute of benevolence is virtue and exhibits itself in the execution of the penalties of the law, and in support of public order, and in various other ways for the well-being of mankind .... Public justice is modified in its exercise by the attribute of mercy... Mercy cannot... extend a pardon but upon conditions of repentance, and an equivalent being rendered to the government [a substitutionary sacrifice]. Justice is conditioned by mercy, and cannot... take vengeance when the highest good does not require it, when punishment can be dispensed with without public loss. Thus these attributes limit each other's exercise and render the whole character of benevolence perfect, symmetrical and heavenly.
"Benevolence without justice would be anything but morally lovely and perfect.
"Let any one attribute of benevolence be destroyed... [and] you have in fact destroyed benevolence.
"This attribute... says to violence, disorder, and injustice, Peace, be still, and there must be a great calm."47
Justice is not something distinct from love. How often we have heard the statement, "God is a God of justice as well as a God of love."
That statement is faulty.
God's justice is not the antithesis, the opposite, of His love. It is not something to be placed over against His love, as something to balance His love.
God is a God of justice because He is a God of love. Justice is a vital part of His love, a part of His total commitment to the highest good.
True, justice balances mercy, but both justice and mercy are expressions of God's love.
And here is another thought:
"Where true benevolence is, there must be exact commercial justice, or business honesty and integrity .... This attribute of benevolence must secure its possessor against every species and degree of injustice; he cannot be unjust to his neighbor's reputation, his person, his property, his soul, his body, nor indeed be unjust in any respect to man or God."48
Where justice is missing, love is missing.
Look at the sinner who takes pride that he pays all his debts. He would never cheat anybody out of a dime. Never! He gives an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
But look at the way he is treating people's souls! He is extremely unjust to his family by refusing to be the spiritual head of his house. He commits a cruel injustice to his children by keeping them out of Sunday School and church week after week. He lures them away with Sunday fishing trips and camp-outs, thus depriving them of their priceless right to know God and His Word, and their right to eternal life.
He might be "Honest Abe" around town.. But is he really just? No. His actions show he has not a particle of real justice in him.
Love is truthful.
Becoming a Christian means the acceptance of the truth. It implies a willingness to face the truth, acknowledge the truth, obey the truth. Love is honest. Love seeks the highest good as its end, and knows that truth is the necessary means to secure that end.
A Christian cannot lie for the glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Truth, and every falsehood is a denial of Him. All who truly love our Lord Jesus Christ love the truth, and will not knowingly misrepresent the facts.
Where truth is absent, virtue is absent. A liar is in complete disobedience to moral law.
Love is patient.
Patience is the steadfastness of the heart in its love for God and for others, in spite of everything.
Calmness is not patience. It comes as the result of patience. You are exercising greater patience when you are upset than when you are calm--if you hold steady.
Trials, adversities, provocations, and things like that test your patience and give it a chance to get some exercise. But if the heart gets discouraged and gives up, love stops.
Love is meek.
Meekness is "taking it on the chin," a refusal to retaliate in any way when mistreated. If you love the person who mistreats you, you cannot retaliate or try to get even. Are you mistreated, persecuted, the object of provocation? Accept it as an opportunity to develop and demonstrate meekness. Jesus did.
Meekness is not weakness. It takes real strength to be kind and gentle toward those who mistreat you.
Love is humble.
Sometimes even sinners can feel humble. When deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, they can feel very ashamed of themselves and their sins, and yet at the same time refuse to surrender to God.
When the prodigal son came home, he confessed to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son" (Luke 15:21).
And listen to the words of the publican in Luke 18:13-- "God be merciful to me a sinner." That is genuine humility.
"Humility, considered as a virtue, consists in the consent of the will to be known, to confess, and to take our proper place in the scale of being...to pass for no other than we really are."49
Love is self-denying.
If we love God more than we love ourselves, we will deny ourselves whenever we see that our own desires conflict with His interests. If we do not, we do not love Him. Love puts self in its proper place. Love refuses to let self be first in the heart. Nothing else is true self-denial.
A person might give up smoking during Lent, give up a meal and send the cost of the meal to the hungry, or go through all kinds of ascetic self-mortifications, and still refuse to take self off the throne of the heart. There is no love, no real self-denial, no virtue in that.
"A monk immures himself in a monastery; a hermit forsakes human society, and shuts himself up in a cave;... and a martyr goes to the stake. Now if these things are done with an ultimate reference to their own glory and happiness, although apparently instances of great self-denial,...they are in fact only a spirit of self-indulgence and self-seeking."50
Giving up one indulgence for the sake of another is not true self-denial. Sometimes two sins conflict. For example, a selfish person cannot be a miser and a spendthrift at the same time. The desire that gives the most pleasure to self rules and the other desire gives in.
"One man will deny all his bodily appetites and passions for the sake of a reputation with men .... Another will... sacrifice everything else to obtain an eternal inheritance, and be just as selfish as the man who sacrifices to the things of time, his soul and all the riches of eternity."51
It is also important to emphasize that self-denial is not self-rejection. Self-denial does not mean that we refuse to give ourselves any place, but only that we refuse to give ourselves first place or to put self above others. Self-denial is the choice to make whatever sacrifices that are called for by the greater good of God and of others. It certainly must be one of the characteristics of love, and can be expressed by the rich as well as by the poor. In fact, the greater one's advantages, the greater the opportunities for self-denial.
The most glorious example of self-denial is found in the gospel. God gave His Son, and the Son gave Himself to die in agony and blood to secure our salvation. We can only begin to comprehend the amount of self-denial involved in God's great redemptive act.
And love is condescending. It is willing to reach down as far as necessary to meet the need.
"Condescension...consists in a tendency to descend to the poor, the ignorant, or the vile, for the purpose of securing their good. This attribute is called by Christ 'lowliness of heart.' This is a lovely modification of benevolence. It seems to be entirely above the gross conceptions of infidelity. Condescension seems to be regarded by most people, and especially by infidels, as rather a weakness than a virtue. Skeptics clothe their imaginary God with attributes in many respects the opposite of true virtue. They think it entirely beneath the dignity of God to come down even to notice...the concerns of men.
"The Bible represents God as clothed with condescension .... Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without him. No creature is too low, too filthy, or too degraded for him to condescend to--this places his character in a most ravishing light. He is infinitely above all creatures. For him to hold communion with them is infinite condescension.''52
The self-righteous think it to be beneath their dignity and their moral standing to associate with sinners. Theirs is a hard, cold, loveless "morality." It wraps its proud robes around itself and snubs "that class of people."
"Benevolence cannot...be above any degree of condescension that can affect the greatest good. Christ could condescend to be born in a manger, to be brought up in humble life, to mingle with and seek the good of all classes, to be despised in life and die between two thieves on a cross."53
Love is stable.
Remember, love is not just a set of feelings that come and go. It is a choice, a fundamental commitment of the soul to the greatest values possible--the highest happiness of God and of others.
"Stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this. It is a new birth, a new nature, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guarantee of its stability. What then shall we conclude of those... who are soon hot and soon cold, whose religion is a spasm? We must conclude that they never had the root of the matter in them. They are stony ground hearers."(Italics added.)54
Love is morally pure and holy.
To be happy, we must be holy. That is, we must have a pure heart and a pure life. Love seeks to make people truly happy. But to make them happy, they must be holy and pure in heart. Therefore, love puts the highest priority on holiness, because it is absolutely necessary to the happiness and well-being of all.
"The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks to make its object happy only by making him holy."55
So then, to add it all up, every virtue is love expressed in some form. It is love in action, love revealed.
This love is not the shortsighted so-called "love" promoted by situational ethics. Rather, it is a commitment to the highest good in the long run, to be achieved only by means consistent with its own pure nature.
It all adds up to love.
Self Can Be A Four-Letter Word
"Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in self-love. Self-love is simply the constitutional desire of happiness,... an involuntary state. It has, as a desire, no moral character any more than has the desire of food. It is no more sinful to desire happiness and properly to seek it than... to desire food and properly to seek that.''56
But when we put ourselves first, we sin. That is selfishness. That is when self becomes a "four-letter word."
Love is so beautiful, so pleasant to talk about. But there is an opposite of love, and that is selfishness. In fact, selfishness is the only alternative to love.
Selfishness is not a vacuum. It is not just the absence of love. It is a deliberate choice to place self first. As such, it is the antagonist of love, the mortal enemy of the well-being of God and man.
"Disobedience to God's law must consist in the choice of self-gratification as... the supreme and ultimate end of life. This is selfishness. This is sin and the whole of sin viewed in its germinating principles ....
"This... choice is the 'carnal mind,' or the minding of the flesh, which the apostle affirms to be 'enmity against God' [Rom. 8:7]."57
As we explore the characteristics of selfishness, we shall see that every sin is an expression of selfishness, just as every virtue is an expression of love.
Selfishness is sin, not just the cause of sin. Selfishness is sin, and the cause of sins.
Selfishness is voluntary.
It is a free choice, made in the full knowledge that the opposite choice (love) is always possible. It is an intelligent choice in the sense that the heart knows what it is choosing, why it is choosing, and that the choice is unreasonable and not pleasing to God. It knows that what it is choosing supremely is not supremely valuable. It knows that God's interests are more valuable than its own, and that the interests of others are just as valuable as its own, but it chooses self supremely in spite of that fact. It knows that it is the wrong choice, a guilty choice.
Selfishness is unreasonable.
This has nothing to do with IQ. Many sinners have high intelligence and excellent education. But, every sinner lives in opposition to truth and reason.
No one can defend logically the proposition that the happiness of self is more valuable than the happiness of God and of others. The proposition is contrary to fact and therefore totally unreasonable. Yet it is the proposition that every sinner lives by.
"Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason and would dethrone the divine, and place mere blind lust upon the throne of the universe.
"Sinners, while they continue such, never say or do one thing that is in accordance with right reason. They have made an unreasonable choice of an end, and all their choices of means... are put forth to secure an end contrary to reason. The very first time that a sinner acts or wills reasonably is when he turns to God ...."58
Selfishness is ultimately interested only in self. This sounds redundant, but just think about it for a moment--
"Nothing is practically regarded as worthy of choice, except as... a means of self-gratification.
"Whatever propensity [craving] is most indulged will gain the greatest development. It may be the love of reputation; and then there will be at least a public decent exterior .... Where the love of knowledge prevails, we have the scholar, the philosopher, the man of learning. This is one of the most decent and respectable forms of selfishness .... When compassion as a feeling prevails, we have as a result the philanthropist and often the reformer; not the reformer in a virtuous sense, but the selfish reformer. Where love of kindred prevails, we often have the kind husband, the affectionate father, mother, brother, sister, and so on. When the love of country prevails, we have the patriot, the statesman, and the soldier."59
Now, the truly virtuous will do these things reasonably and out of regard for the good to be secured. And they will usually experience normal feelings about them, too. But the sinner does these things because they are what his feelings demand. He does them only because he has a strong desire to do them. If the desire were not there in strong enough measure, he would not do them, even though reason demanded that they be done.
Ah, but selfishness is tricky! The selfish heart is deceitful.. Many sinners do "good" even when they do not feel like it. And so, they believe that they have done "right," having performed their "duty."
But even this is selfish, because it was done to gratify the desire to do "right," or the "sense of duty." It is little Jack Horner's "what-a-good-boy-am-I" feeling of self-satisfaction. This by itself is no virtue.
Selfishness is partial.
"I am under obligation to give the practical preference to the interests of my own family, not because... their interests sustain such a relation to my own, but because I can more readily secure their interests ....
"But selfishness is always partial. It always... lays the greatest stress upon... those interests the promotion of which will gratify self.
"To will the good of my neighbor, or of my country, and of God because of the intrinsic value of those interests... is virtue; but to will them to gratify... blind desire is selfishness and sin. If I yield to mere desire in any case, it must be to gratify the desire. Partiality consists in giving one thing the preference of another ..., not because the intelligence demands this preference, but because the sensibility demands it."60
Let it be remembered that we are talking about intelligent choices, that is, choices made in opposition to moral light.
Selfishness is productive, just as love is productive. Only selfishness is productive in the opposite direction.
Selfishness is an active, positive choice of self-gratification as the ultimate end of pursuit. And choice produces action--lots of it.
Even when laziness is the form of self-indulgence preferred above others, selfishness will work as hard as necessary to avoid work!
A selfish end will produce selfish means.
Sin in the heart will produce sin in the life. As long as a person is committed to self-gratification, that is the way he (or she) is going to live. The only way to stop living like a sinner is to stop being one. Let Christ take control.
"There is no way, therefore, for the sinner to escape from the commission of sin, but to cease to be selfish. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease from outward sin. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner does is selfish. The end being wrong, all is and must be wrong [Luke 6:43-45]."61
Selfishness is opposed to love or virtue.
"This resistance to benevolence... is what the Bible calls hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will under the light ...."62
But we hear the sinner protest: "Not me. I have nothing against God. I believe in religion and the Church. I'm for all the good that's being done."
But is that really true? The sinner has nothing against God--until God gets in his way and frustrates the pursuit of his self-interests. The sinner thinks that religion and the Church are OK--as long as they don't bother him. Christians are fine--as long as they just go to church on Sunday morning and keep their mouths shut.
But what happens if righteousness really gets the upper hand in town?
The sinner hears people singing and talking about Jesus in the stores and on the streets. His wife just "got religion," and now she won't go down to the local tavern with him anymore. In fact, the tavern has been losing so many customers it's about to close up.
Now watch the devil's crowd get mad.
Whenever a person chooses an end, as long as the choice of that end remains, the heart must be opposed to everything that gets in the way of attaining that end.
Let the kingdom of God prosper. At first it will only annoy the sinner. Then, it begins to frustrate him, getting in his way and making him feel uncomfortable. Finally, if the interests of God and His kingdom prosper to the point that the sinner finds the road of selfishness blocked--watch out. Frustrated selfishness is a monster.
Selfishness hates God, the Bible, and real Christians. It is the enemy of all righteousness. It has been said that if half of the people got genuinely converted to Jesus Christ, the other half would get fighting mad.
Selfishness is cruel.
"Selfishness is always and necessarily cruel--cruel to the soul, cruel to the souls of others in neglecting to care and act for their salvation; cruel to God in abusing him in ten thousand ways; cruel to the whole universe.
"Some form of cruelty is practiced by every sinner. The fact that they live in sin, that they set an example of selfishness, that they do nothing for their own souls, nor for the souls of others; these are really most atrocious forms of cruelty."63
Look at that man who just stands there and shakes his head when you ask him to repent and accept Jesus Christ. He knows the Bible is true. He knows he's a sinner and under condemnation. But will he take care of his own soul ? No! His children and his neighbors are unsaved, but will he pray for them and try to lead them to God? No! If they follow his example, they will all go to hell. He's cruel.
And look at that hypocrite who says he believes the gospel, but who hasn't won a soul to Christ in years. He's a member of the church and believes in the hereafter. But out of church he follows the crowd. At work he's just "one of the boys," laughing, joking, getting along fine--but no prayer for their souls, no burden, no effort to speak to anyone about the Savior. He's cruel.
Selfishness is unjust.
"There is the utmost injustice in the end chosen. It is the practical preference of a petty self-interest over infinite interests. This is universal injustice to God and man. No sinner at any time is at all just to any being in the universe."64
There is not a sinner on earth or in hell who is treating God right. And if we refuse to treat God right, we have no legitimate claim that we are treating other people right. A man might walk ten miles to pay another man a dollar he owes him, but if he cares not for the man's soul, he is still being unjust and unfair to him.
The heart of the sinner is unjust!
Selfishness is a lie.
"The selfish man has practically proclaimed that his good is the supreme good,...that all interests are to yield to his. His choice affirms that God has no rights, that he ought not to be loved and obeyed,...but that God and all beings ought to obey and serve the sinner. Can there be a greater, a more shameless falsehood than this?"65
Every unconverted person is living the worst possible lie. By his example he is saying to everyone he influences that God is to be ignored, that eternal values are not important, that we ought to live to please ourselves.
By refusing to live according to the truth, the sinner is living in falsehood. He is lying every moment he lives.
Selfishness is proud.
"Pride is a disposition to exalt self above others, to get out of one's proper place in the scale of being,... to exalt not merely one's own interest, but one's person, above others and above God...A proud being supremely regards himself."66
Pride is simply putting self on the throne of the heart. The sinner refuses to surrender first place to God. He refuses to acknowledge in heart and in practice that God is the Supreme Being. In effect, he says, "1 am more important than God." This is pride. This is the sin of Lucifer. It is the character of every sinner.
The claims of Christ are a threat to the sinner's self-supremacy, an intrusion into his little self-ruled world. For that reason he attempts to live as though either God does not exist as a real Person, or He has no authority, rights and business in his life.
"Selfishness is opposition to God's existence. Opposition to a government is opposition to the will of the governor. It is opposition to his existence in that capacity. Selfishness will brook no restraint in respect to securing its end. But God is the uncompromising enemy of selfishness. He is more in the way of selfishness than all other beings.
"Selfishness offers all manner and every possible degree of resistance to God. It disregards God's commands. It contemns his authority. It spurns his mercy. It outrages his feelings. It provokes his forebearance."67
Selfishness is intemperate.
"Selfishness is self-indulgence not sanctioned by the reason."68
Sin is knowingly allowing one's desires to take control and to rule the life. Now, this does not mean that all of the desires can rule at once. Some have to be denied in order to gratify others. But identify the ruling desires and you have found the pet sins. These take priority in the sinner's heart. They have the right-of-way to full development and gratification as the sinner has opportunity. He seeks to fulfill them and finds in them his purpose for living.
"But it may be asked, are we to have no regard whatever to our tastes, appetites and propensities [cravings]?
"We are to have no such regard for them as to make their gratification the end for which we live, even for a moment. God has not given us propensities to be our masters and to rule us, but to be our servants and to minister to our enjoyment when we obey the biddings of reason and of God. The propensities are not, therefore, to be despised, nor is their annihilation to be desired."69
Christians are not cold stoics or unfeeling ascetics. We have real feelings and we enjoy life. But we enjoy life more because we are not living just for the enjoyment. This is the beauty of God's economy.
Live for happiness, and you will never find it; live for Jesus Christ, and you will discover happiness!
Now, one of the real problems with self-indulgence is that the price keeps going up. Indulgences have a way of losing their "kick." Thrill-seekers get tired of their toys. Pleasures become commonplace, and a stronger "dose" of the pleasure-producer is required to get the same effect as before.
But lusts are never satisfied. They always demand "more." The multimillionaire eagerly pursues a few more dollars. His passion for money is never satisfied, no matter how much he has. The same is true of the alcoholic, the drug addict, the sex-aholic, and so forth.
Ah, but what about the hardworking man who behaves himself, stays at home and spends his leisure time with his family?
If he refuses to surrender his heart to Christ, he is just as self-indulgent as the man who destroys his job and his home for the sake of drink, sex and gambling. He is merely doing what pleases himself more than anything else does. For the sake of the pleasures of marriage, family life and home, and all that goes with it, he is denying all incompatible indulgences, at least in outward practice.
The desires for domestic pleasures might be so strong that he has never given competing pleasures a chance even to develop. Or he might have strong competing and conflicting desires, but denies them for the sake of the stronger desire for a stable job and a pleasant home life.
Maybe someday he will do what many respectable people in public life do when they get tired of behaving in a socially acceptable way--blow it all on a binge and shock everybody.
At any rate, if self-indulgence rules the heart, no matter what kind of self-indulgence it might be, the heart is totally sinful. It is intemperate because it is totally committed to the fulfilling of the demands of indulgence.
"Every sinner is chargeable in the sight of God with every species of intemperance, actual and conceivable. His lusts have the reign. If there is any form of self-indulgence that is not actually developed in him, no thanks to him. The providence of God has restrained the outward indulgence, while there has been in him a readiness to perpetrate any and every sin, from which he was not deterred by some overpowering fear of consequences."70
Selfishness is totally sinful.
Every sinner is sacrificing the higher interests of God and of others to his own chosen desires. What greater guilt than this can there be? What more can the sinner become guilty of? He is sinning against all the light he has; for that reason he is as guilty as he can be with the light he has. What is to prevent him from sinning against more light--all light--if he had it?
As long as the sinner pursues the course of self-gratification, he (or she) will continue to reject all light received and sacrifice all interests that get in the way of the demands of self-gratification.
If the sinner will sacrifice one thing for self, what would keep him from sacrificing everything? What is to keep the sinner from expelling God from Heaven, abolishing His throne, and destroying the whole universe if the fulfillment of his selfish desires demanded it and it were possible? There is nothing in his present course of self-gratification to indicate if and when he would stop the pursuit and development of selfishness, stop the destructive effects of selfishness, and turn his heart to God.
True, he might do so under increased light, but the present course of his heart gives no indication of it. If he continues in selfishness, he has the potential of destroying the whole universe if he had the power to do so.
What sinner is there who really knows what he would do if his desires demanded it and he had the opportunity?
Only God knows how many Adolf Hitlers there are who never get the chance to become one. The fact that only a few sinners have succeeded in fulfilling their selfish desires to such an extent is a marvelous demonstration of the restraining providence of God.
"Every selfish being is at every moment as wicked and as blameworthy as with his knowledge he can be.
"The selfish man's guilt is just equal to his knowledge of the intrinsic value of those Interests that he rejects [Luke 12:47,48].
"Selfishness is the rejection of all obligation. It is the violation of all obligation. The sin of selfishness is then complete; that is, the guilt of selfishness is as great as with its present light it can be."71
Remember, the character of the end determines the character of the means. If the ultimate end is selfish, the means are selfish no matter how respectable they seem to be.
If the sinner quits drinking and carousing around, yet does not surrender the heart to God, he is merely changing means to the same end. Self-interest demands the change, not regard for God's interests or real regard for the interests of others.
Why does the "respectable" but unconverted businessman refrain from socially unacceptable behavior? Because he loves God supremely and his neighbor as himself? No. He loves himself supremely. His "morality" is plastic, self-serving.
Why does the alcoholic, the adulterer, or the spendthrift mend his ways, yet still reject Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Out of real love? No. His desire perhaps for the benefits of a disciplined life overpowers his other desires.
Or, perhaps the feeling of pity or remorse over the way he has treated his family becomes his strongest emotion. If this leads him to think, and then make an intelligent surrender to Jesus Christ, well and good. But if he continues to choose to be a slave to his desires, he will let himself be controlled by the feeling of remorse. And as long as this is his ruling, overriding desire, he will follow good resolutions. But self is still in control. He is still in bondage to sin. Romans, chapter seven is his experience. When his desires change, his behavior will change.
We will do what we choose to do. If we choose to love God, we will love Him. If we choose to gratify self instead, we will gratify self. This is exactly what Romans 7:14 through 25 teaches. As long as self-gratification rules, we will do what self-gratification demands, even though we might hate ourselves for it. Self must be dethroned from the heart by the enthronement of Christ before the moral agent can stop sinning in his outward life.
It is important to remember that the sinful choice of self-gratification as an ultimate end is made knowingly, that is, in opposition to light. Christians often do things out of impulse ignorantly and without realizing it. Many true Christians blunder ignorantly because they do what they feel like doing instead of what they would do if they thought and prayed about the matter.
We all need more light. We need to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).
As Christians, we are living for an infinitely valuable end--the highest well-being of God and man. Let us not pursue that end carelessly. It is too valuable to trifle with. Let us know the means that most effectively secure that end and follow them intelligently. Let us get all the light we can. Learn the Scriptures and follow them. Learn how to please God better. Bring every emotion under discipline to the Lordship of Jesus.
For this we have the all-sufficient grace of God. And we have the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth and is working to perfect in us the beautiful fruit of the Spirit.
We are All Headed Somewhere
We were not made to die. Something immortal is in us. Eternity is in our hearts.
The rich young ruler's anxious cry to Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" epitomizes the deep, universal longing of the human soul. If death ends it all, what about the unpaid moral bills? If all the rewards and punishments come in this life only, the books are way out of balance. In that case, Adolf Hitler received the same thing in the Fuhrerbunker as the twenty-year-old Christian GI in the burned-out Sherman tank.
Something basic in our intelligence tells us that the moral government of God is not going to let things end like that. God is going to settle accounts and balance the books. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves it. We can count on it.
The moral law has appropriate rewards and punishments, administered by the moral government of God. Some of these are the natural consequences of obedience and disobedience. They are a simple matter of reaping what we SOW.
But other rewards and punishments are specifically prescribed in addition to the natural ones. Rewards and punishments exist for several reason:
(1)they serve as inducements to obedience and deterrents to disobedience;
(2) they demonstrate the fact that God cares enough about us to do everything morally possible to uphold moral law and order, promote obedience and prevent sin;
(3) they show us how important moral law is to us, how right it is, and how necessary it is for the highest good of all;
(4) they prove that God means business. One look at the penalty should convince us that God is not trifling with sin.
How long do the rewards and punishments last? The answer is simple: they last as long as our obedience or disobedience lasts.
Man is immortal. Every one of us will spend forever somewhere. So then, happiness must continue as long as obedience continues, and punishment must continue as long as disobedience continues.
The Bible teaches us that those who go to Heaven are the ones who will obey God forever. Revelation 22:3 says, "His servants shall serve him," and so their joy will be endless.
Also, there is no indication that sinners in hell will ever stop sinning. On the contrary, the very fact that their punishment is endless is a strong indication that their disobedience will be endless also. Stubbornness has a way of perpetuating itself under severe punishment. And no amount of punishment can forgive our sins or make us innocent. Punishment earns us nothing.
Sin perpetuates and aggravates itself. It is not static. Sinners grow worse as they grow older. Just think of the result as this process continues. Let countless ages roll. Then, if you could stop and look into hell for one brief moment, what would you find? Not one soul is willing to love and obey God. Instead, they have become immeasurably worse. The blast of vile cursing and bitterness that erupts from the caverns of the damned cause us to flee instantly in horror and revulsion.
The sin of hell continues. So must the punishment.
"It is not merely natural death, for this would in reality be no penalty at all. It would be offering a reward to sin. If natural death be the penalty, then infants and animals suffer this penalty. If natural death be the penalty, the only penalty, it sustains no proportion whatever to the guilt of sin. Natural death would be no adequate expression of the importance of the precept.
"The penal sanction of the law of God is endless death, or that state of endless suffering which is the natural and governmental result of sin ...."
"'Endless punishment is unjust because life is so short that men do not live long enough in this world to commit so great a number of sins as to deserve endless punishment."
"I answer...that one breach of the precept always incurs the penalty of the law, whatever that penalty is. The length of time employed in committing a sin has nothing to do with its blameworthiness or guilt."
"A finite creature cannot commit an infinite sin."
"This objection takes for granted that man is... so much less than the Creator that he cannot deserve his endless frown. Which would involve the most guilt, for a man to smite his neighbor and equal or his lawful sovereign? The higher the ruler is exalted above the subject in his nature, character, and rightful authority, the greater is the obligation of the subject to will his good, to render him obedience, and the greater is the guilt of the transgression in the subject. Therefore, the fact that man is so infinitely below his Maker does but enhance the guilt of his rebellion ....
"Sin is not an infinite evil, and therefore does not deserve endless punishment."
"This objection may mean either that sin would not produce infinite mischief if unrestrained, or that it does not involve infinite guilt. It cannot mean the first, for... misery must continue as long as sin does and therefore... sin unrestrained would produce endless evil.
"What does all sin in its own nature deserve? They who deny the justice of endless punishment manifestly consider the guilt of sin as a mere trifle. They who maintain the justice of endless punishment consider sin as an evil of immeasurable magnitude, and deserving of endless punishment.
"The Bible... represents the future punishment of the wicked as eternal, and never once represents it otherwise. It expresses the duration of the future punishment of the wicked by the same terms and... as forcibly as it expresses the duration of the future happiness of the righteous."72
God is not trifling with sin and sinners, because He is not careless in protecting and promoting the well-being of the universe. Calvary proves that. With God, moral issues are of fundamental and eternal importance. So should they be with us.
Don't Blame It All On Adam
Man's problem is called moral depravity It is a voluntary condition, requiring a total moral transformation. External remedies will not work.
Man needs more than behavior modification. He needs a new heart, that is, a complete change of ultimate choice. A new heart will correct a person's behavior. Without a new heart, behavior will regress, reverting back to the self-commitment of the will.
But change the direction of the will, and the life will change.
"Moral depravity is depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. Depravity of the will as a faculty is, or would be, physical and not moral depravity. Moral depravity is depravity of choice."73
The most common Greek word in the New Testament for "sin" is hamartia. It means "missing the mark." In other words, sin is aiming at the wrong target, striving for the wrong goal, living for the wrong end.
Virtue is living for God. Sin is living for self.
Remember, all choices of means are made with the purpose of securing the end chosen. Consequently, the character of the end determines the character of the means. What we are living for determines how we are going to live and the moral character of our living. The motive of the heart counts for everything, because it is the reason why we do what we are doing.
So then, a person's total moral character is determined by what he is living for. If he is living for God, he is morally right one hundred percent. If he is living for self, he is morally wrong one hundred percent.
If self is the ultimate preference of the soul, the total moral character of the person is selfish. While this selfish ultimate preference continues, he does nothing to please God, and can do nothing to please God; for if pleasing God were his motivation, he would order his whole life accordingly.
"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). They miss the mark. Holding onto the wrong end, everything they do is wrong. It is selfish. It is sinful.
That means, then, that every unconverted person is totally, morally depraved, without any real moral goodness in him. He does nothing consciously that is contrary to the selfish ultimate purpose that motivates him. He is pursuing this purpose with all his heart according to all the knowledge and opportunity he has. He is totally self-committed, and therefore totally guilty.
But why is selfishness so universal, and why is everyone of us so committed to self-gratification to start with that to save even some of us, God has to use the most powerful persuasions to pry us away from selfishness and win our hearts to Himself?
The most common explanation is to say that we were all born that way, that we all were born with a sinful "nature" down inside of us that craves sin and causes us to commit sin.
Whether we agree with this explanation or not is influenced largely by how we have been taught to interpret certain Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 5:12-19).
Finney was quite opposed to this doctrine of original sin. For one thing, he did not believe that the Bible really teaches that we are born with a sinful nature or a natural disposition toward sin per se.
Also, Finney. believed that the idea of original sin inherited by the whole human race from Adam involves a wrong concept of what sin is. Sin is a choice, not a substance. It is moral, not physical or metaphysical. It is a choice that we are responsible for, individually and personally. It is not an accident or misfortune that happened to us, but a crime that we commit and are accountable for.
"Moral depravity consists in selfishness, or in the choice of self-interest, self-gratification, or self-indulgence as an end. Consequently it cannot consist in a sinful constitution or in a constitutional...craving for sin. Moral depravity is sin itself, and not the cause of sin.
"To talk of a sinful nature... is to ascribe sinfulness to the Creator, who is the author of nature.
"It is a monstrous and blasphemous dogma that a holy God is angry with any creature for possessing a nature with which he was sent into being without his knowledge or consent.
"If sin necessarily implies a sinful nature, how did Adam and Eve sin? How did angels sin? Had they also a sinful nature?
"Can we not account for Eve eating the forbidden fruit without supposing that she had a craving for sin? Her craving was for the fruit, for knowledge, and not for sin. This led to prohibited indulgence. All men sin in precisely the same way. They consent to gratify, not a craving for sin, but a craving for other things, and the consent to make self-gratification an end is the whole of sin.
"I object to the doctrine of constitutional sinfulness that it makes all sin, original and actual, a mere calamity, and not a crime.
"Upon this supposition, the law is tyranny and the gospel an insult to the unfortunate.
"What! Create them with a sinful nature, from which proceed by a law of necessity actual transgressions, and then send them to an eternal hell for having this nature, and for transgressions that are unavoidable! Impossible!
"The Bible...intimates that Adam's first sin has in some way been the occasion, not the necessary physical cause, of all the sins of men.
"James says that a man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lusts and enticed .... Paul and other inspired writers represent sin as consisting in a carnal or fleshly mind,... in minding the flesh.
"The representations of Scripture are that the body is the occasion of sin. The law in his members, that warred against the law of his mind, of which Paul speaks [Romans 7] is manifestly the impulse of the sensibility opposed to the law of the reason.
"Selfish choice is the wicked heart .... This sinful choice is properly enough called indwelling sin.
"Moral depravity in our first parents was induced by temptation....All moral depravity commences in substantially the same way. The impulses of the sensibility are developed gradually... from... birth. The first acts of will are in obedience to these. A habit of self-indulgence is formed. When reason affirms moral obligation, it finds the will in a state of... committal to the impulses of the sensibility.
"Selfishness confirms, strengthens and perpetuates itself .... It grows with the sinner's growth, strengthens with his strength, and will do so forever unless overcome by the Holy Spirit through the truth.
"The constitution of a moral being as a whole, when all the powers are developed, does not tend to sin, but strongly in an opposite direction. When reason is thoroughly developed by the Holy Spirit, it is more than a match for the sensibility, and turns the heart to God. The Holy Spirit reveals God and the spiritual world,... so as to give reason the control of the will. This is regeneration and sanctification."74
So then, sin is not a thing--a solid, liquid, gas, electrical impulse, radio wave, ray, or some mystical substance that pollutes our blood stream.
Sin is a choice. It is not just a thought. It is a commitment. It is not something that sits inside of us and makes us do bad things. Sin is inside of us only in the sense that choices take place inside of us.
Our moral choices are not determined by anything internal or external. We determine them ourselves. When we choose whom we will serve, that's whom we will serve until we choose otherwise.
Internal and external influences appeal to us to choose in their direction, but they cannot force us to do so. Our attention is continually addressed by considerations that tend to stir up feelings. Many of these feelings are normal and proper. Some are not. In either case we can keep our feelings under subjection to reason and to the higher interests of God, others and even ourselves, or we can surrender to them and let them rule us in spite of the consequences to God, others and even to ourselves.
The surrender of the will to be controlled by the desires is sin when it is done under light and in opposition to the reason. It is deliberately placing the demands of desire above the values presented to us by reason and the revealed Word of God.
So then, we do not have to look any further than our own desires and the things that stimulate our desires to find the cause of temptation and the reason for sin. People are doing what they feel like doing instead of what they know they ought to do. It all adds up to selfishness--a refusal to love.
God Came To The Rescue
We all know what a red traffic light means. It means stop. And most of us know better than to run through that stop light or sign.
Why? Because we know we might kill somebody or get killed ourselves if we do.
At least, that is the ultimate reason. But there is another reason, too. That traffic signal has a penalty behind it. And it is the penalty that makes it a law. Without the penalty that stop light would not be a law. It would be only very good advice.
But when the penalty is added and enforced, it is a different matter. People start taking it seriously, because people pay more attention to penalties than they do to good advice. And the more serious the penalty, the more seriously they regard the law.
"The design of legal penalties is to secure obedience to the precept. The exercise of mercy in setting aside the execution of penalties is a matter of extreme delicacy and danger. The influence of law ... is found very much to depend upon the certainty felt by the subjects that it will be duly executed."75
Mother tells little Suzie, "Don't dig up mother's flowers. If you do, I'll spank you."
So little Suzie goes out to play. Fifteen minutes later mother looks out the window and sees her little darling uprooting her tulips.
"Suzie!" mother yells, "come in here right now!"
"Oh, mother, I'll never, never do it again. Please don't spank me!" the little tyke pleads.
"All right," mother responds, "I won't spank you this time. But don't do it again."
Suzie goes back to playing and mother returns to her housework. Ten minutes later mother glances out the window, and there is little misbehave right in the middle of the flowerbed, pulling up more tulips.
"Suzie! What did I tell you?" Mother's voice sounds stern this time.
"Mama, I'm sorry. Please don't spank me. I'll never do it again!!" Suzie sounds so sincere.
"All right," mother repeats, "I won't spank you this time. But don't you ever do it again."
Well, five minutes later mother looks out the window, and what does she see?
You guessed it. Suzie is back in the tulips.
Why? Because she did not really believe that mother meant what she said. She violated her mother's word and escaped the penalty merely by acting sorry. As a result, mercy was interpreted as leniency. Law had become only advice.
Now, God is not dealing with minor acts of mischief. He is the moral Governor of the universe and planet Earth is in open mutiny. He is dealing with total rebellion in the human heart. Moral order on Earth is threatened with total collapse.
What shall God do about it? Inflict the penalty appropriate to such sin? This He must do if all else fails.
But God wants to win sinners away from their rebellion and forgive their sin. He wants to have mercy upon them, but He will not pardon any of them in any way that will make mercy look like leniency. God loves the universe too much to allow that.
Something must be done so that the offer of mercy will not lead people to think, "That was easy. All we had to do was say we are sorry. God must not be very serious about sin after all."
"The exercise of mercy... where no atonement is made weakens government by begetting and fostering a hope of impunity."76
God has the moral responsibility to promote the happiness and well-being of the universe in general, and the world in particular, and to protect it from everything that would harm or destroy it.
Now, the most harmful and destructive influence of all is sin or selfishness.
So then, because God loves the world and is committed to our highest well-being, as well as to the highest well-being of the whole universe, He must and will do everything possible to protect it from the destructive influence of sin.
One necessary way He does this is by upholding moral law, including enforcing the penalty when moral law is violated.
But God wants to forgive, not punish. But forgiveness means dropping the penalty for the person who is forgiven, and dropping the penalty for even one person who has broken the law is a very dangerous thing. In fact, it would be wrong because it would endanger everything. If even one person can get by with doing wrong, the safety of all is threatened because the basic integrity of moral law is violated.
Therefore, if God is going to drop the penalty in any case, something must be put in the place of the penalty that will do what the penalty was intended to do. Whatever it is, it must have the same influence as the penalty in preventing sin, in demonstrating the seriousness and destructiveness of sin, and in letting people know that God means business.
Well, what can that be?
Repentance? Repentance is a necessary condition of forgiveness. Unless we repent, we cannot be forgiven. But repentance alone is not enough. It is too easy in the sense that it promotes the "I-can-do-it-myself-whenever-I-get-ready" idea. No, our repentance in itself will not forgive us. It cannot save us. We have sinned before the holy Lord God of the universe, and only He can forgive us.
Well, then, why does God not just go ahead and forgive everybody?
We would not respect Him if He did, any more than we would respect a judge who opened up all the prisons and turned all the inmates loose.
Well, then, what about a substitute? Let an animal be sacrificed as a substitute for the punishment of the guilty person.
No, because the sufferings and death of an animal would not be enough to get the real message across to us. It just would not have enough influence to stop people from sinning. It will take something more than that.
But a substitute is the right idea. Who shall it be?
Another mere human being cannot do it. For one thing all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). All of us would have to suffer the penalty for our own sins, and so we could not do it for someone else. Besides, just one human being's suffering and death still would not stop a world from sinning.
Then how about an angel coming down from Heaven and dying for us?
No, again for the same reason.
Then, who can do it?
1) It would have to be someone who is innocent himself.
2) It would have to be someone who really loves us, because he certainly would not owe it to us.
3) It would have to be someone very, very important, because his sufferings and death would really have to have a tremendous influence. When people really understood what he had done for them, it would have to have enough of an effect on them to cause them to love God and stop sinning. But who?
There is only One--God Himself!
And that is exactly what God did! In His Son, Jesus Christ, God came to earth, became a man, took our place, and suffered and died on the cross as our Substitute!
And so now, if the guilty soul will turn to God (repent) and trust his great Substitute, he will receive forgiveness as a free gift.
Because God in Jesus Christ did for us the one and only thing that can wake us up to the seriousness of sin, make us hate sin and turn to God, with a moral effect on us at least equal to the threat of the penalty.
In fact, the cross of Christ should have a far greater influence on us than the threat of punishment. If the sight of our innocent Sovereign and our great and gentle God dying on the cross in agony and blood for our sins and out of love for us does not break our stubborn hearts and turn us to Him now and forever, nothing will.
He did it all for me, and He did it all for you.
Oh, turn to Him, receive Him, believe Him, trust Him, love Him, obey Him, serve Him--forever and ever!
Allow the mercy and grace of God offered at such an awesome and staggering cost, to melt your heart, to win your heart! Accept it by faith.
Let the blood of Jesus Christ wash your sins away. It is the only way to be forgiven. If you refuse, you will have to face the penalty.
Why die when you can live?
Let Jesus Christ take His rightful place on the throne of your heart as your Savior and Lord, bringing with Him joy, peace, happiness and eternal life.
We Need A Change
Many people do not want to change. They like their little self-centered world just as it is. They like running their own lives and are not interested in having Jesus Christ come in and take over. If they gave Him first place in their hearts, things would change--completely. The change would be greatly for the better, of course, but it would mean the end of selfishness.
And selfishness has so many little pets. Christ cannot save people as long as they refuse to let Him change them.
Usually people have to become sick and tired of sin before they are willing to give up to God. They wait until sin has wrecked and ruined them before they have had enough of it. And some hold onto their pet indulgences until death. How foolish! How much better it is to live for Christ from early life and let Him build a beautiful life than to bring the broken pieces of sin-wrecked years for Him to mend.
Yes, we human beings need a change, whether we realize it or not.
And some do realize it, but fail to understand what it is they need. What they do not know--or are unwilling to admit--is that they need a change of heart.
A change of heart, that is, a change in what one is ultimately living for, is the greatest possible moral change that can come to an individual. It is a new birth, a new life. This makes regeneration a total change, because a change in the supreme goal of living will produce a change in every part of living--actions, emotions, values, plans, preferences.
Most of all, it is a spiritual change. Being reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ, we come into a dynamic living relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
In other words, you see the dramatic effects of the wind, but you do not see the wind. Just so, you see in the life of the believer in Christ the results of the Holy Spirit's work, but you do not see the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, if we hear no wind, feel no wind, and see no evidence that any wind is blowing, it is likely that no wind is, in fact, blowing. Just so, if no evidence of a real change of heart appears in the life, it is likely that no real change has taken place.
And now, before bringing this book to a close, it is only fair to point out that Charles G. Finney said much more about the subjects we have explored than the few quotations that are cited here. Often he becomes very eloquent in developing his thesis.
We might not agree with all that Finney says. However, before his views on any point be rejected, fairness demands a careful study of his full treatment of the subject in his Lectures On Systematic Theology.
In our present exploration we have seen Paradise lost and regained.
Every unconverted person is in "death-row" right now, under the condemnation he cannot rid himself of.
But God in Christ took the sinner's place--my place, your place. It happened on a cross at the top of a hill just outside Jerusalem. Now God can safely and wisely pardon every one who will let Him do so. What must we do? Just accept it. That's all. But that involves everything. It means accepting the terms of the pardon: the surrender of the whole heart, renouncing all sin and receiving Jesus Christ by faith as Savior and Lord.
"The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Have you surrendered to God and accepted His free offer of pardon and eternal life through Jesus Christ? If not, do so right now. You will be so glad that you did.
1. Finney, Charles G., Autobiography. Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1876, p. 20.
2. Ibid., p. 24.
3. Ibid., pp. 183,184.
All of the following references are from Charles G. Finney's Lectures on Systematic Theology, one-volume edition, published in 1878 by E. J. Goodrich; republished in 1994 by Bethany House Publishers, 6820 Auto Club Road, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55438.
Words set in brackets have been supplied. Elliptical marks (...) in quotations indicate words have been omitted for the sake of clarity or brevity. Care has been taken not to change the meaning of the sentences by the omission of words.
6. 20, 21
15. 22, 23
16. 23, 24
18. 27, 28
24. 42, 43
26. 50, 51
30. 104, 105
31. 112, 113
35. 117, 118
41. 141, 142
44. 156, 157
46. 158, 159
48. 161, 162
52. 172, 173
54. 173, 174
59. 183, 184
61. 186, 187
63. 189, 190
64. 190, 191
66. 192, 193
67. 194, 195
69. 195, 196
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