Lectures On Systematic Theology
By Charles G. Finney
1878 Edition
Edited by J.H. Fairchild


5. Again it is objected, that many who have embraced this doctrine, really are spiritually proud. To this I answer:

(1.) So have many who believed the doctrine of regeneration been deceived and amazingly puffed up with the idea that they have been regenerated when they have not been. But is this a good reason for abandoning the doctrine of regeneration, or any reason why the doctrine should not be preached?

(2.) Let me inquire whether a simple declaration of what God has done for their souls, has not been assumed as of itself sufficient evidence of spiritual pride, on the part of those who embrace this doctrine, while there was in reality no spiritual pride at all? It seems next to impossible, with the present views of the church, that an individual should really attain this state, and profess to live without known sin in a manner so humble, as not, of course, to be suspected of enormous spiritual pride. This consideration has been a snare to some, who have hesitated and even neglected to declare what God had done for their souls, lest they should be accused of spiritual pride. And this has been a serious injury to their piety.

6. But again it is objected, that this doctrine tends to censoriousness.

To this I reply:

(1.) It is not denied, that some who have professed to believe this doctrine have become censorious. But this no more condemns this doctrine than it condemns that of regeneration. And that it tends to censoriousness, might just as well be urged against every acknowledged doctrine of the Bible, as against this doctrine.

(2.) Let any Christian do his whole duty to the church and the world in their present state, let him speak to them and of them as they really are, and he would of course incur the charge of censoriousness. It is therefore the most unreasonable thing in the world, to suppose that the church in its present state, would not accuse any perfect Christian of censoriousness. Entire sanctification implies the doing of all our duty. But to do all our duty, we must rebuke sin in high places and in low places. Can this be done with all needed severity, without in many cases giving offence, and incurring the charge of censoriousness? No, it is impossible; and to maintain the contrary would be to impeach the wisdom and holiness of Jesus Christ Himself.

7. It is objected that the believers in this doctrine lower the standard of holiness to a level with their own experience. To this I reply, that it has been common to set up a false standard, and to overlook the true spirit and meaning of the law, and to represent it as requiring something else than what it does require; but this notion is not confined to those who believe in this doctrine. The moral law requires one and the same thing of all moral agents, namely, that they shall be universally and disinterestedly benevolent; in other words, that they shall love the Lord their God with all their heart, and their neighbor as themselves. This is all that it does require of any. Whoever has understood the law as requiring less or more than this, has misunderstood it. Love is the fulfilling of the law. But I must refer the reader to what I have said upon this subject when treating of moral government.

The law, as we have seen on a former occasion, levels its claims to us as we are, and a just exposition of it, as I have already said, must take into consideration all the present circumstances of our being. This is indispensable to a right apprehension of what constitutes entire sanctification. There may be, as facts show, danger of misapprehension in regard to the true spirit and meaning of the law, in the sense that, by theorizing and adopting a false philosophy, one may lose sight of the deepest affirmations of his reason, in regard to the true spirit and meaning of the law; and I would humbly inquire, whether the error has not been in giving such an interpretation of the law, as naturally to beget the idea so prevalent, that, if a man should become holy, he could not live in this world? In a letter lately received from a beloved, and useful, and venerated minister of the gospel, while the writer expressed the greatest attachment to the doctrine of entire consecration to God, and said that he preached the same doctrine which we hold to his people every Sabbath, but by another name, still he added, that it was revolting to his feelings to hear any mere man set up the claim of obedience to the law of God. Now let me inquire, why should this be revolting to the feelings of piety? Must it not be because the law of God is supposed to require something of human beings in our state, which it does not and cannot require? Why should such a claim be thought extravagant, unless the claims of the living God be thought extravagant? If the law of God really requires no more of men than what is reasonable and possible, why should it be revolting to any mind to hear an individual profess to have attained to entire obedience? I know that the brother to whom I allude, would be almost the last man deliberately and knowingly to give any strained interpretation to the law of God; and yet, I cannot but feel that much of the difficulty that good men have upon this subject, has arisen out of a comparison of the lives of saints with a standard entirely above that which the law of God does or can demand of persons in all respects in our circumstances, or indeed of any moral agent whatever.

8. Another objection is, that, as a matter of fact, the grace of God is not sufficient to secure the entire sanctification of saints in this life. It is maintained, that the question of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life, resolves itself after all into the question, whether Christians are sanctified in this life? The objectors say, that nothing is sufficient grace that does not, as a matter of fact, secure the faith, and obedience, and perfection of the saints; and therefore that the provisions of the gospel are to be measured by the results; and that the experience of the church decides both the meaning of the promises, and the extent of the provisions of grace. Now to this I answer: If this objection be good for anything in regard to entire sanctification, it is equally true in regard to the spiritual state of every person in the world. If the fact that men are not perfect, proves that no provision is made for their perfection, their being no better than they are proves, that there is no provision for their being any better than they are, or that they might not have aimed at being any better, with any rational hope of success. But who, except a fatalist, will admit any such conclusion as this? And yet I do not see but this conclusion is inevitable from such premises. As well might an impenitent sinner urge, that the grace of the gospel is not, as a matter of fact, sufficient for him, because it does not convert him: as well might he resolve everything into the sovereignty of God, and say, the sovereignty of God must convert me, or I shall not be converted; and since I am not converted, it is because the grace of God has not proved itself sufficient to convert me. But who will excuse the sinner, and admit his plea, that the grace and provisions of the gospel are not sufficient for him?

Let ministers urge upon both saints and sinners the claims of God. Let them insist that sinners may, and can, and ought, immediately to become Christians, and that Christians can, and may, and ought to live wholly to God. Let them urge Christians to live without sin, and hold out the same urgency of command, and the same encouragement that the new school holds out to sinners; and we shall soon find that Christians are entering into the liberty of perfect love, as sinners have found pardon and acceptance. Let ministers hold forth the same gospel to all, and insist that the grace of the gospel is as sufficient to save from all sin as from a part of it; and we shall soon see whether the difficulty has not been, that the gospel has been hid and denied, until the churches have been kept weak through unbelief. The church has been taught not to expect the fulfillment of the promises to them; that it is dangerous error to expect the fulfillment to them, for example, of the promise: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:23, 24). When God says He will sanctify us wholly, and preserve us blameless unto the coming of the Lord, masters in Israel tell us that to expect this is dangerous error.

9. Another objection to this doctrine is, that it is contrary to the views of some of the greatest and best men in the church: that such men as Augustine, Calvin, Doddridge, Edwards etc., were of a different opinion. To this I answer:

(1.) Suppose they were; we are to call no man father, in such a sense as to yield up to him the determination of our views of Christian doctrine.

(2.) This objection comes with a very ill grace from those who wholly reject the opinions of these divines on some of the most important points of Christian doctrine.

(3.) Those men all held the doctrine of physical moral depravity, which was manifestly the ground of their rejecting the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life. Maintaining, as they seem to have done, that the constitutional susceptibilities of body and mind were sinfully depraved, consistency of course led them to reject the idea, that persons could be entirely sanctified while in the body. Now, I would ask what consistency is there in quoting them as rejecting the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, while the reason of this rejection in their minds, was founded in the doctrine of physical moral depravity, which notion is entirely denied by those who quote their authority?

10. But again; it is objected, that, if we should attain this state of continual consecration or sanctification, we could not know it until the day of judgment; and that to maintain its attainability is vain, inasmuch as no one can know whether he has attained it or not. To this I reply:

(1.) A man's consciousness is the highest and best evidence of the present state of his own mind. I understand consciousness to be the mind's recognition of its own existence and exercises, and that it is the highest possible evidence to our own minds of what passes within us. Consciousness can of course testify only to our present sanctification; but,

(2.) With the law of God before us as our standard, the testimony of consciousness, in regard to whether the mind is conformed to that standard or not, is the highest evidence which the mind can have of a present state of conformity to that rule.

(3.) It is a testimony which we cannot doubt, any more than we can doubt our existence. How do we know that we exist? I answer, by our consciousness. How do I know that I breathe, or love, or hate, or sit, or stand, or lie down, or rise up, that I am joyful or sorrowful? In short, that I exercise any emotion, or volition, or affection of mind? How do I know that I sin, or repent, or believe? I answer, by my own consciousness. No testimony can be "so direct and convincing as this."

Now, in order to know that my repentance is genuine, I must know what genuine repentance is. So if I would know whether my love to God and man, or obedience to the law is genuine, I must have clearly before my mind the real spirit, and meaning, and bearing of the law of God. Having the rule before my mind, my own consciousness affords "the most direct and convincing evidence possible," whether my present state of mind is conformed to the rule. The Spirit of God is never employed in testifying to what my consciousness teaches, but in setting in a strong light before my mind the rule to which I am to conform my life. It is His province to make me understand, to induce me to love and obey the truth; and it is the province of consciousness to testify to my own mind whether I do or do not obey the truth, when I apprehend it. When God so presents the truth, as to give the mind assurance, that it understands His mind and will upon any subject, the mind's consciousness of its own state in view of that truth, is "the highest and most direct possible" evidence of whether it obeys or disobeys.

(4.) If a man cannot be conscious of the character of his own supreme or ultimate choice, in which choice his moral character consists, how can he know when, and of what, he is to repent? If he has committed sin of which he is not conscious, how is he to repent of it? And if he has a holiness of which he is not conscious, how could he feel that he has peace with God?

But it is said, that a man may violate the law, not knowing it, and consequently have no consciousness that he sinned, but that, afterwards, a knowledge of the law may convict him of sin. To this I reply, that if there was absolutely no knowledge that the thing in question was wrong, the doing of that thing was not sin, inasmuch as some degree of knowledge of what is right or wrong is indispensable to the moral character of any act. In such a case, there may be a sinful ignorance, which may involve all the guilt of those actions that were done in consequence of it; but that blameworthiness lies in that state of heart that has induced this, and not at all in the violation of the rule of which the mind was, at the time, entirely ignorant.

(5.) The Bible everywhere assumes, that we are able to know, and unqualifiedly requires us to know, what the moral state of our mind is. It commands us to examine ourselves, to know and to prove our own selves. Now, how can this be done, but by bringing our hearts into the light of the law of God, and then taking the testimony of our own consciousness, whether we are, or are not, in a state of conformity to the law? But if we are not to receive the testimony of our own consciousness, in regard to our present sanctification, are we to receive it in respect to our repentance, or any other exercise of our mind whatever? The fact is, that we may deceive ourselves, by neglecting to compare ourselves with the right standard. But when our views of the standard are right, and our consciousness bears witness of a felt, decided, unequivocal state of mind, we cannot be deceived any more than we can be deceived in regard to our own existence.

(6.) But it is said, our consciousness does not teach us what the power and capacities of our minds are, and that therefore if consciousness could teach us in respect to the kind of our exercises, it cannot teach us in regard to their degree, whether they are equal to the present capacity of our mind. To this I reply:

Consciousness does as unequivocally testify whether we do or do not love God with all our heart, as it does whether we love Him at all. How does a man know that he lifts as much as he can, or runs, or walks as fast as he is able? I answer, by his own consciousness. How does he know that he repents or loves with all his heart? I answer, by his own consciousness. This is the only possible way in which he can know it.

The objection implies that God has put within our reach no possible means of knowing whether we obey Him or not. The Bible does not directly reveal the fact to any man, whether he obeys God or not. It reveals his duty, but does not reveal the fact whether he obeys. It refers for this testimony to his own consciousness. The Spirit of God sets our duty before us, but does not directly reveal to us whether we do it or not; for this would imply that every man is under constant inspiration.

But it is said, the Bible directs our attention to the fact, whether we outwardly obey or disobey, as evidence whether we are in a right state of mind or not. But I would inquire, How do we know whether we obey or disobey? How do we know anything of our conduct but by our consciousness? Our conduct, as observed by others, is to them evidence of the state of our hearts. But, I repeat it, our consciousness of obedience to God is to us the highest, and indeed the only, evidence of our true character. If a man's own consciousness is not to be a witness, either for or against Him, other testimony can never satisfy him of the propriety of God's dealing with him in the final judgment. There are cases of common occurrence, where the witnesses testify to the guilt or innocence of a man, contrary to the testimony of his own consciousness. In all such cases, from the very laws of his being, he rejects all other testimony: and let me add, that he would reject the testimony of God, and from the very laws of his being must reject it, if it contradicted his own consciousness. When God convicts a man of sin, it is not by contradicting his consciousness; but by placing the consciousness which he had at the time, in the clear strong light of his memory, causing him to discover clearly, and to remember distinctly what light he had, what thoughts, what convictions, what intention or design; in other words, what consciousness he had at the time. And this, let me add, is the way, and the only way, in which the Spirit of God can convict a man of sin, thus bringing him to condemn himself. Now, suppose that God should bear testimony against a man, that at such a time he did such a thing, that such and such were all the circumstances of the case; and suppose that at the same time the individual's consciousness unequivocally contradicts Him. The testimony of God in this case could not satisfy the man's mind, nor lead him into a state of self-condemnation. The only possible way in which this state of mind could be induced, would be to annihilate his opposing consciousness, and to convict him simply upon the testimony of God.

(7.) Men may overlook what consciousness is. They may mistake the rule of duty, they may confound consciousness with a mere negative state of mind, or that in which a man is not conscious of a state of opposition to the truth. Yet it must forever remain true that, to our own minds, "consciousness must be the highest possible evidence" of what passes within us. And if a man does not by his own consciousness know whether he does the best that he can, under the circumstances whether he has a single eye to the glory of God and whether he is in a state of entire consecration' to God he cannot know it in any way whatever. And no testimony whatever, either of God or man, could, according to the laws of his being, satisfy him either as to conviction of guilt on the one hand, or self-approbation on the other.

(8.) Let me ask, how those who make this objection know that they are not in a sanctified state? Has God revealed it to them? Has He revealed it in the Bible? Does the Bible say to A.B., by name, "You are not in a sanctified state?" Or does it lay down a rule, in the light of which his own consciousness bears this testimony against him? Has God revealed directly by His Spirit, that he is not in a sanctified state, or does He hold the rule of duty strongly before the mind, and thus awaken the testimony of consciousness that he is not in this state? Now just in the same way consciousness testifies of those that are sanctified, that they are in this state. Neither the Bible nor the Spirit of God makes any new or particular revelation to them by name. But the Spirit of God bears witness to their spirits by setting the rule in a strong light before them. He induces that state of mind which conscience pronounces to be conformity to the rule. This is as far as possible from setting aside the judgment of God in the case; for conscience, under these circumstances, is the testimony of God, and the way in which He convinces of sin on the one hand, and of entire consecration on the other; and the decision of conscience is given to us in consciousness.

By some it is still objected, that consciousness alone is not evidence even to ourselves of our being, or not being, in a state of entire sanctification; that the judgment of the mind is also employed in deciding the true intent and meaning of the law, and is therefore as absolutely a witness in the case as consciousness is. "Consciousness," it is said, "gives us the exercises of our own mind, and the judgment decides whether these exercises are in accordance with the law of God." So then it is the judgment rather than the consciousness, that decides whether we are, or are not, in a state of entire sanctification; and therefore if, in our judgment of the law, we happen to be mistaken, than which nothing is more common, in such case we are utterly deceived if we think ourselves in a state of entire sanctification. To this I answer:

It is indeed our judgment that decides upon the intent and meaning of the law. We may be mistaken in regard to its true application in certain cases, as it respects outward conduct, but let it be remembered, that neither sin nor holiness is to be found in the outward act. They both belong only to the ultimate intention. No man, as was formerly shown, can mistake his real duty. Every one knows, and cannot but know, that disinterested benevolence is his duty. This is, and nothing else is, his duty. This he can know, and about this he need not mistake. And sure it is, that if man can be certain of anything, he can be certain in respect to the end for which he lives, or in respect to his supreme ultimate intention.

I deny that it is the judgment which is to us the witness, in respect to the state of our own minds. There are several powers of the mind called into exercise, in deciding upon the meaning of, and in obeying, the law of God; but it is consciousness alone that gives us these exercises. Nothing but consciousness can possibly give us any exercise of our own minds; that is, we have no knowledge of any exercise but by our own consciousness. Suppose then the judgment is exercised, the will is exercised, and all the involuntary powers are exercised. These exercises are revealed to us only and simply by consciousness; so that it remains an invariable truth, that consciousness is to us the only possible witness of what our exercises are, and consequently of the state of our own minds. When, therefore, I say, that by consciousness a man may know whether he is in a state of sanctification, I mean, that consciousness is the real and only evidence that we can have of being in this state.

This objection is based upon a misapprehension of that which constitutes entire or continued sanctification. It consists, as has been shown, in abiding consecration to God, and not as the objection assumes, in involuntary affections and feelings. When it is considered, that entire sanctification consists in an abiding good will to God and to being in general, in living to one end, what real impossibility can there be in knowing whether we are supremely devoted to this end, or supremely devoted to our own interest?

11. Again, it is objected, that if this state were attained in this life, it would be the end of our probation. To this I reply, that probation since the fall of Adam, or those points on which we are in a state of probation or trial, are:

(1.) Whether we will repent and believe the gospel.

(2.) Whether we will persevere in holiness to the end of life.

Some suppose, that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints sets aside the idea of being at all in a state of probation after conversion. They reason thus: If it is certain that the saints will persevere, then their probation is ended; because the question is already settled, not only that they are converted, but that they will persevere to the end; and the contingency, in regard to the event, is indispensable to the idea of probation. To this I reply, that a thing may be contingent with man that is not at all so with God. With God, there is not, and never was any contingency, in the sense of uncertainty, with regard to the final destiny of any being. But with men almost all things are contingent. God knows with absolute certainty whether a man will be converted, and whether he will persevere. A man may know that he is converted, and may believe that by the grace of God he shall persevere. He may have an assurance of this in proportion to the strength of his faith. But the knowledge of this fact is not at all inconsistent with his idea of his continuance in a state of trial till the day of his death, inasmuch as his perseverance depends upon the exercise of his own voluntary agency; and also, because his perseverance is the condition of his final salvation.

In the same way some say, that if we have attained a state of entire or permanent sanctification, we can no longer be in a state of probation. I answer, that perseverance in this depends upon the promises and grace of God, just as the final perseverance of the saints does. In neither case can we have any other assurance of our perseverance, than that of faith in the promise and grace of God; nor any other knowledge that we shall continue in this state, than that which arises out of a belief in the testimony of God, that He will preserve us blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. If this be inconsistent with our probation, I see not why the doctrine of the saint's perseverance is not equally inconsistent with it. If any one is disposed to maintain, that for us to have any judgment or belief grounded on the promises of God, in regard to our final perseverance, is inconsistent with a state of probation, all I can say is, that his views of probation are very different from my own, and so far as I understand, from those of the church of God.

Again: there is a very high and important sense in which every moral being will remain on probation to all eternity. While under the moral government of God, obedience must for ever remain a condition of the favor of God. And continued obedience will for ever depend on the faithfulness and grace of God; and the only confidence we can ever have, either in heaven, or on earth, that we shall continue to obey, must be founded upon the faithfulness and truth of God.

Again: if it were true, that entering upon a state of permanent sanctification in this life, were, in some sense, an end of our probation, that would be no objection to the doctrine; for there is a sense in which probation often ends long before the termination of this life. Where, for example, for any cause God has left sinners to fill up the measure of their iniquity, withdrawing forever His Holy Spirit from them, and sealing them over to eternal death: this, in a very important sense, is the end of their probation, and they are as sure of hell as if they were already there. So on the other hand, when a person has received, after believing, the sealing of the Spirit unto the day of redemption, as an earnest of his inheritance, he may regard, and is bound to regard this as a solemn pledge on the part of God, of his final perseverance and salvation, and as no longer leaving the final question of his destiny in doubt.

Now it should be remembered, that in both these cases the result depends upon the exercise of the agency of the creature. In the case of the sinner given up of God, it is certain that he will not repent, though his impenitence is voluntary, and by no means a thing naturally necessary. So, on the other hand, the perseverance of the saints is certain, though not necessary. If in either case there should be a radical change of character, the result would differ accordingly.

12. Again: while it is admitted by some, that entire sanctification in this life is attainable, yet it is denied, that there is any certainty that it will be attained by any one before death; for it is said, that as all the promises of entire sanctification are conditionated upon faith, they therefore secure the entire sanctification of no one. To this I reply, that all the promises of salvation in the Bible are conditionated upon faith and repentance; and therefore it does not follow on this principle, that any person ever will be saved. What does all this arguing prove? The fact is, that while the promises of both salvation and sanctification, are conditionated upon faith, yet the promises that God will convert and sanctify the elect, spirit, soul and body, and preserve and save them, must be fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, by free grace drawing and securing the concurrence of free-will. With respect to the salvation of sinners, it is promised that Christ shall have a seed to serve Him, and the Bible abounds with promises to Christ that secure the salvation of great multitudes of sinners. So the promises, that the church, as a body, at some period of her earthly history, shall be entirely sanctified, are, as it regards the church, unconditional, in the sense that they will assuredly be accomplished. But, as I have already shown, as it respects individuals, the fulfillment of these promises must depend upon the exercise of faith. Both in respect to the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of Christians, God is abundantly pledged to bring about the salvation of the one and the sanctification of the other, to the extent of His promise to Christ.

13. It is also objected, that the sanctification of the saints depends upon the sovereignty of God. To this I reply, that both the sanctification of the saints and the conversion of sinners is, in some sense dependent upon the sovereign grace of God. But who except an antinomian would, for this reason, hesitate to urge it upon sinners to repent immediately and believe the gospel? Would any one think of objecting to the doctrine or the fact of repentance, that repentance and the conversion of sinners were dependent upon the sovereignty of God? And yet, if the sovereignty of God can be justly urged as a bar to the doctrine of entire sanctification, it may, for aught I see, with equal propriety be urged as a bar to the doctrine and fact of repentance. We have no controversy with any one upon the subject of entire sanctification, who will as fully and as firmly hold out the duty and the possibility, and the practical attainability, of entire sanctification, as of repentance and salvation. Let them both be put where the Bible puts them, upon the same ground, so far as the duty and the practicability of both are concerned. Suppose any one should assert, that it were irrational and dangerous for sinners to hope or expect to be converted, and sanctified, and saved, because all this depends upon the sovereignty of God, and they do not know what God will do. Who would say this? But why not as well say it, as make the objection to sanctification which we are now considering?

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