The GOSPEL TRUTH
by Charles G. Finney
"Who is on the Lord's side?" -- Exodus 32:26.
People try to serve God for many different reasons. Some serve from true love and some from other motives. They all profess to be servants of God. Yet instead of their being God's servants, they are trying to make God their servant. Their leading aim and object is to secure their own salvation or some other advantage for themselves through God's favor. They want to make God their friend so they can use Him to serve their own needs.
One class of professed Christians, however, are the true friends of God and man. If you observe the true design and aim of their faith, you will see that they are sincerely benevolent. That this is their character is obvious by their carefulness in avoiding sin. They hate it in themselves, and they hate it in others. They will not justify it in themselves, and they will not justify it in others. True Christians won't try to cover up or excuse their own sins, neither will they try to cover up or excuse the sins of others. In short, they aim at perfect holiness.
This conduct makes it evident that they are the true friends of God. I don't mean to say that every true friend of God is perfect, no more than I would say that every truly affectionate and obedient child is perfect or never fails his parent. But if he is an affectionate and obedient child, his aim is always to obey. If he fails in any respect, he by no means justifies it, pleads for it, or aims to cover it up; but as soon as he comes to think of the matter, he is dissatisfied with himself and repents.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
The true friends of God and man are always ready to humble, blame, or condemn themselves for what is wrong. But you never see them finding fault with God. You never hear them excusing themselves and throwing the blame on their Maker by telling of their inability to obey God. They always speak as if they felt that what God has required is right and reasonable with only themselves to blame for their disobedience. God does not require impossibilities of His creatures.
Christians manifest a deep abhorrence of the sins of other people. They do not cover up the sins of others or plead for them and excuse them. You never hear them apologizing for sin. As they are indignant at sin in themselves, they are just as much so when they see it in others. They know its horrible nature and abhor it always.
God's friends manifest this spirit in zeal for His honor and glory. They show the same ardor to promote God's honor and interest that the true patriot does to promote the honor and interest of his country. If he greatly loves his country, its government, and its interest, he sets his heart to promote it. He is never as happy as when he is doing something for his country.
A child who truly loves his father is never as happy as when he is advancing his father's honor and interest. He never feels more indignant grief than when he sees his father abused or injured. If he sees his father disobeyed or abused by those who ought to obey, love, and honor him, his heart breaks.
Multitudes of professing Christians are zealous to defend their own character and honor. But true saints feel more engaged, and their hearts beat higher, when defending or advancing God's honor. These are the true friends of God and man.
They sympathize with God in His feelings toward man and have the same love for souls that God feels. I do not mean that they feel in the same degree but that they have the same kind of feelings. There is such a thing as loving the souls of men but hating their conduct. You always naturally feel sympathy for a person in distress, unless you have some selfish reason for feeling malevolent. If you see a murderer hung, you would feel compassion for him. Even the wicked have this natural sympathy for those who suffer.
The real child of God feels and manifests another peculiar kind of sympathy toward sinners--a mingled feeling of abhorrence, compassion, and indignation against his sins and pity for his person.
Two kinds of love exist. One is the love of benevolence. This has no respect to the character of the person loved but merely views the individual as exposed to suffering and misery. God feel this way toward all men. The other kind, the love of complacency, includes esteem or approval of character. God feel this way only toward the righteous. He never feels this love toward sinners. He infinitely abhors them. He has compassion and abhorrence at the same time.
Christians have the same feelings but not to the same degree. They probably never feel right unless they have both these feelings at the same time. The Christian does not feel as God feels toward individuals unless both these feelings exist in his mind at the same time. You see this by one striking characteristic: the Christian will rebuke most pointedly and frequently those for whom he feels the deepest compassion. Did you ever see this? Did you ever see a parent yearning with compassion over a child and reprove him with tears but with a severity that would make the little offender shake under his rebuke?
Jesus often strongly manifested these two emotions. He wept over Jerusalem, yet He tells the reason in a manner that shows His burning indignation against their conduct: "O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent to thee" (Matthew 23:37). What a full view He had of their wickedness as He wept with compassion for the doom that hung over them. Similarly, a Christian's most tender appeals are accompanied with a strong rebuke for sin.
RECONCILIATION: A ROYAL COMMANDMENT
The true friend of God and man never takes the sinner's part because he never acts through mere compassion. At the same time, he is never seen to denounce the sinner without manifesting compassion for his soul and a strong desire to save him from death.
His main objective is to promote Christianity and to lead everybody to glorify God. He does this naturally if he is the true friend of God. A true friend of the government wants everybody to obey the government. A true and affectionate child wants everybody to love and respect his father. If anyone is at odds, his constant aim and effort is to bring him to reconciliation. A true friend of God makes it a primary objective of his life to reconcile sinners to God.
If the leading feature of your character is not the absorbing thought and effort to reconcile men to God, you have not the root of the matter in you. Whatever appearance of religion you may have, you lack the leading and fundamental characteristic of true piety--the character and aims of Jesus and His disciples. Look at them and see how this feature stands out, in strong and eternal relief, as the leading characteristic, the prominent design, and the objective of their lives.
What is the leading objective of your life? Is it to bring all God's enemies to submit to Him? If not, away with your pretensions. Whatever else you have, you don't have the true love of God in you.
True Christians always want to avoid everything calculated to prevent or hinder the salvation of souls. They never ask, "Is this something God forbids?" The first question that naturally suggests itself to their minds is, "How will this affect the Kingdom? Will it prevent the conversion of sinners or hinder the progress of revivals?" If so, they don't need the thunder of Sinai to be pealed in their ears to forbid it. If they see it contrary to the spirit of holiness and to their main objective, that is enough.
Take gambling, for instance. Christians don't say, "Gambling is nowhere prohibited in the Bible, and I don't feel bound to give it up." They find that it hinders the great objective for which they live, and that is enough for them.
The friends of God avoid whatever they see would hinder revival. Just as a merchant would avoid anything that had a tendency to impair his credit and defeat his goal of making money. Suppose a merchant was about to do something that you knew would injure his credit, and you go to him in the spirit of friendship and advise him not to do it. Would he turn around and say, "Show me the passage where God has prohibited this in the Bible"? No. He won't ask you to show him anything else.
A person who strongly desires the conversion of sinners doesn't need an express prohibition to prevent his doing anything that would hinder it. No danger arises in his doing anything that will defeat the very purpose of his life.
Christians become distressed unless they see the work of converting sinners going on. They call it a lamentable state in the Church if sinners are not converted no matter how rich the congregation grows or how popular their minister, their panting hearts are uneasy unless they see the work of conversion actually going on. They see that without evangelism all is vain.
THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER
God's children often trouble those who are religious from other motives and want to keep quiet and have everything go on in the "good old way." These Christians are often called "uneasy spirits in the church." If a church has a few such spirits in it, the minister will be made uneasy unless his preaching is geared to convert sinners. You sometimes hear of these men reproving the Church for living so cold and worldly. Their hearts are grieved, and their souls are in agony because sinners are pressing down to hell.
If you know people's prayer habits, it will show you how they truly feel. If a man is motivated mainly by a desire to save himself, you will hear him praying chiefly for himself--that he may have his sins pardoned and enjoy the Spirit of God.
If he is truly the friend of God and man, you will find that the burden of his prayers is for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. He is never so enthusiastic and powerful in prayer as when he gets upon his favorite topic--the conversion of sinners. Go to a prayer meeting where such Christians pray. Instead of praying for themselves, you will hear them pouring out their souls for sinners.
You can tell how your prayer life is by whether you feel and pray most for yourself or for sinners. If you know nothing about the spirit of prayer for sinners, you are not the true friend of God and man. Sinners are going to hell on every side! Don't tell me men are truly holy when their prayers are droned over. This is as much a matter of form as when a priest counts over his beads. Such a man deceives himself if he talks about being the true friend of God and man.
When anything is presented to true Christians that promises success in converting sinners, they don't wait for a command to do it. They only want the evidence, and they will engage in it with all their soul. The question is not, "What am I commanded to do?" but "In what way can I do most for the salvation of souls and the conversion of the world to God?"
Another characteristic of such Christians is a disposition to deny themselves in order to do good to others. God has established throughout all the universe the principle of giving. Even in the natural world rivers, oceans, and clouds all give. This is true through the whole kingdom of nature and of grace.
This is the very spirit of Christ. He sought not to please Himself but to do good to others. Children of God are always ready to deny themselves enjoyment, comforts, and even necessities, if they can do more good to others.
They continually devise new means and new measures for doing good. This is what would be expected from their continual desire to do good. They are not like people who are satisfied with doing what they call their duty. Where an individual is aiming mainly at his own salvation, he may think that if he does his duty he is discharged from responsibility, and he is satisfied. He thinks he has escaped divine wrath and gained heaven by doing what God required him to do; he cannot help whether sinners are saved or lost.
But a Christian's main objective isn't to gain heaven and avoid wrath--it is to save souls and honor God. If this objective is not attained, he is in pain.
DYING TO SAVE SOULS
The friends of God are always grieved when they see a church asleep and doing nothing for the salvation of sinners. They know it is impossible to do anything considerable for the salvation of sinners while the Church is asleep. Those who have other objectives in view may think things are going on very well. They are not grieved when they see the professed people of God going after show and folly.
Christians are grieved if they think their minister compromises or does not reprove the church pointedly and faithfully for their sins. False converts are willing to be rocked to sleep and let their minister preach smooth, flowery sermons with no point or power. But God's children are not satisfied unless he preaches powerfully, pointedly, and boldly, with long-suffering and doctrine. Their souls are not fed, edified, or satisfied with anything that does not take hold and work for the ministry appointed by Jesus Christ.
They will always stand by a faithful minister who preaches the truth boldly and pointedly. Even if the truth he preaches hits them, they like it and say, "Let the righteous smite me. . . it shall be an excellent oil" (Psalm 141:5). When the truth is poured forth with power, their souls are fed and they grow strong in grace.
They can pray for such a minister and weep for him, that he may have the Spirit of God always with him. Others scold him and talk about his extravagance, but true Christians will stand by him and would go to the stake with him for the testimony of Jesus.
Christians are especially distressed when ministers preach sermons not adapted to convert sinners. But when a man has his heart set on the conversion of sinners and he hears a sermon not calculated to do this, he feels as if it lacked the great thing that constitutes a gospel sermon. If they hear a sermon calculated to save souls, then they are fed, and their souls rejoice.
Here you see the ground for the astonishing difference you often find in the judgment that people pass upon preaching. There is no better test of character than this. It is easy to see who is filled with the love of God and of souls by the judgment they pass upon preaching. The true friends of God and man are grieved when they hear a sermon that is not particularly designed to rouse the Church to action.
I remember a man who used to continually pray for individuals, places, and the world's conversion. Once, when he was quite exhausted from praying, he exclaimed, "Oh! my longing, aching heart! There is no satisfying my desire for the conversion of sinners, and my soul breaks with longing." Although he had been useful beyond almost any other man his age, he saw much to do. He longed so much to see sinners saved that his mortal frame could not sustain it. "I find," he said one day, "That I am dying for strength to do more to save the souls of men; how much I want strength, that I may save souls."
If you want to move true saints, you must make use of motive drawn from their great and leading objective. Hold up the situation of sinners and show how they dishonor God, and you will find that this will move their souls and set them on fire sooner than any appeal to their hopes and fears. Show them how they can convert sinners, and their longing hearts will beat and wrestle with God in prayer and travail for souls.
And now I ask you before God, do you have these characteristics of a child of God? Do you know they belong to you? Can you say, "O Lord, you know that I love you and that these are the features of my character!"
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