CHARLES G. FINNEY
Compiled and edited by F. G. Kuruvilla
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Copyright c. 2003 by Finny Kuruvilla.
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The front cover painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane is by Matthew Philleo. Used with permission. The back cover painting of Charles Finney is by Waldo and Jewett, 1834. Used with permission of the Oberlin College Archives.
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Scripture quotations marked with an asterisk (*) are verses taken from the original language editions, often with contemporary language equivalents. In many instances some of the original language was preserved because Finney utilizes particular words or phrases later (for example, the word travail).
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In December 1833, Charles Finney denied communion to those who were slaveholders in his church. This bold stance, taken over thirty years before slavery was made illegal in the United States, typi.es the character of this courageous preacher. On a national day of fasting in 1841, the .rst sin he preached on was the manner in which Native Americans had been treated by the government. Finney’s signi.cance in shaping the conscience and very history of America is unquestioned. As Allen Guelzo writes, "It would be hard to tell the story of the American Republic before the Civil War without giving Charles Grandison Finney one of the starring roles."
However, Finney’s message was far from exclusively focused on social or political causes. In fact, to the frustration of many social activists, he believed that the best way to solve society’s problems was to preach the gospel. Finney sought to transform people with a gospel message that changed their hearts, and he insisted that it be all of their hearts. His powerful and convicting messages challenged people to submit their entire lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ — this included renouncing materialism, worldly fashion, secular entertainment, and of course, slavery. Few people today have the courage to speak against the culture of the world as Finney did, but God surely blessed his ministry. Over half a million people became Christians under Finney’s preaching.
This book is a collection of lectures drawn from Lectures to Professing Christians, the Way of Salvation, and Lectures on Revivals of Religion. They are grouped into four topics: repentance, prayer, witnessing, and spiritual growth. The chapters were originally sermons or lectures delivered by Finney that he later revised to be more suitable for print form. Because most of the book is drawn from Lectures on Revivals of Religion, one will notice a continuity and cumulative progression from chapter to chapter. (There is an appendix detailing the origin of each chapter in this book.) When reading the book, it is easy to feel the passion that Charles Finney preached with. One is convicted by his direct style that he obviously hopes will be clearly heard, understood, and applied. Some of the chapters in this book are among the most convicting pages written in the last two hundred years. Chapter 4 on repentance is an unforgettable experience, feeling more like a hammer than a lecture. The chapters on prayer and witnessing (5-12) have more insight into the subject than any modern book I have read. Fortunately, he loved to tell real illustrations of the truths he taught — these are of a great help in understanding practical applications.
Finney greatly believed that his works should be simple and easily understood by any audience. Thus he took much effort to make his preaching easily comprehensible by using plain language and many stories. In that spirit, I have edited each chapter to make it more readable for the twenty-.rst century reader. Some words like damask, groat, or weal are simply not used much anymore, while other words like careless have changed their meaning somewhat. For example, when Finney describes the careless sinner, he means the apathetic sinner, someone who has no interest in the things of God. I have changed such words to their modern equivalents. I have modernized the punctuation usage, and sometimes also his sentence structure to improve readability. In the interest of brevity, as well as not wanting to stray into topics unfamiliar or confusing to today’s reader, many of the chapters have also been shortened. However, I have intentionally retained the parts in each chapter where he asks the hearer to respond in application. These are obviously derived from the fact that these were originally sermons to a live audience. Hearing his pleas to the audience is very moving, and is part of the power of each chapter. My goal with this book is to produce an easily readable text that faithfully reproduces the substance and style of Finney’s original lectures.
I would especially like to thank Tyler VanderWeele for his proofreading the manuscript and for his numerous suggestions to improve clarity. I am very grateful to Raymond Yim, Peter Park, and Nicole Rim for their help in the cover design and typesetting. Finally, I would like to thank Raymond for his being a constant source of encouragement to me in the completion of this work.
May God continue to use this work for his glory.
Table of Contents
I REPENTANCE 1
1 DISCERNING YOUR CHARACTER 3 2 THE SALVATION OF THE WICKED IMPOSSIBLE 11 3 TRUE AND FALSE REPENTANCE 21 4 HOW TO REPENT 35
II PRAYER 47
5 PREVAILING PRAYER 49 6 THE PRAYER OF FAITH 67 7 THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER 81 8 MEETINGS FOR PRAYER 103
III WITNESSING 117
9 HOW TO TESTIFY TO THE GOSPEL 119 10 TO WIN SOULS REQUIRES WISDOM 133 11 FALSE COMFORTS FOR SINNERS 149
12 INSTRUCTIONS TO SINNERS 173
IV SPIRITUAL GROWTH 189
13 INSTRUCTIONS TO CONVERTS 191 14 ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS TO CONVERTS 215 15 THE BACKSLIDER IN HEART 233 16 GROWTH IN GRACE 249
DISCERNING YOUR CHARACTER
"They feared the LORD, but also served their own gods." (2 Kings 17:33)
When the ten tribes of Israel were carried away captive by the king of Assyria,1 the land was .lled with strangers from different idolatrous nations who knew nothing about the religion of the Jews. Very soon wild beasts increased in the land and lions killed many people, and they thought it was because they did not know the god of the country, had offended him, and he had sent the lions among them as a punishment. So they asked the king, who told them to get one of the priests of the Israelites to teach them the manner of the god of the land. They took this advice, and obtained one of the priests to come to Bethel and teach them the religious ceremonies and forms of worship that had been practiced there. And he taught them to fear Yahweh as the God of that country. But still they did not receive him as the only God. They feared him, that is, they feared his anger and his judgments, and to avoid these, they performed the prescribed rites. But they "served" their own gods. They kept up their idolatrous worship, as this was what they loved and preferred, though they felt obliged to pay some reverence to Yahweh as the God of that country. There are still many people, professing to fear God, and perhaps possessing a certain kind of the fear of the Lord, who nevertheless serve their own gods — they have other things to which their hearts are supremely devoted, and other objects in which they mainly put their trust.
1 In 722 BC, Israel was invaded by the armies of Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, and the people were deported from their homeland. This is recorded in 2 Kings 17:3-6.
There are, as you know, two kinds of fear. There is that fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom, which is founded in love. There is also a slavish fear, which is a mere dread of evil, and is purely sel.sh. This is the kind of fear that is possessed by those people spoken of in the text. They were afraid Yahweh would send his judgments if they did not perform certain rites. This was the motive they had for paying him worship. Those who have this fear are supremely sel.sh, and while they claim to revere Yahweh, they have other gods whom they love and serve.
There are several classes of people to whom this applies, and my goal is to describe some of them in such a way that you may know your character. To serve a person is to be obedient to the will and devoted to the interests of that individual. It is not properly called serving where only certain deeds are performed, without entering into the service of the person. To serve someone is to make it one’s business to do the will and promote the interest of that person. To serve God is to make religion2 the main business of life. It is to devote one’s self, heart, life, powers, time, in.uence, and all, to promote the interests of God, to build up the kingdom of God, and to advance the glory of God. Who are they who, while they profess to fear the Lord, serve their own gods?
Those of you who have not enthusiastically renounced the ownership of your possessions, and given them up to God. It is self-evident that if you have not done this, you are not serving God. Suppose a gentleman were to employ a clerk to take care of his store. Suppose the clerk were to continue to attend to his own business, and when asked to do what is necessary for his employer who pays him his wages, he says, "I really have so much business of my own to attend to, that I have no time to do these things." Would not everybody cry out against such a servant, and say he was not serving his employer at all? His time is not his own, it is paid for, and he has only served himself. So where a person has not renounced the ownership of himself, not only in thought, but practically, he has not learned the .rst lesson in religion. He is not serving the Lord, but serving his own gods.
That person who does not make his occupation a part of his religion does not serve God. You hear a person sometimes say, "I am so busy all day at work that I do not have time to serve God." He thinks he serves God for a little while in the morning, and then attends to his
2 Finney uses the word "religion" to mean devotion or obedience to God. He uses it often throughout the book. It is unfortunate that this word has negative connotations in Christian circles today, since the Bible (see James 1:27) and many historic Christian writings use it in a positive sense.
worldly business. That person has left his religion where he said his prayers. He is willing perhaps to give God the time before breakfast, before he gets ready to go to his own business. As soon as that is over, he goes to his own work. He perhaps fears the Lord enough to say his prayers night and morning, but he serves his own gods. That person’s religion is the laughing stock of hell! He prays very devoutly, and then, instead of engaging in his business for God, he is serving himself. No doubt the idols are very satis.ed with the arrangement, but God is completely displeased.
Those of you who devote to the Lord only that which costs you little or nothing are serving your own gods. There are many who make religion consist in certain acts of piety that do not interfere with their sel.shness. You pray in the morning with your family, because you can do it then very conveniently, but do not allow the service of Yahweh to interfere with the service of your gods, or to stand in the way of your getting rich, or enjoying the world. The gods you serve make no complaint of being offended or neglected for the service of Yahweh.
Those who suppose that the six days of the week belong to them, and that only the Sabbath is God’s day, serve their own gods. There are many who suppose that the week is their time, and the Sabbath God’s, and that they have a right to do their own work during the week, to serve themselves and promote their own interests, if they will only serve God on the Sabbath. You that do this do not serve God at all. If you are sel.sh during the week, you are sel.sh altogether. To suppose you had any real piety would imply that you were converted every Sunday and unconverted every Monday. But is this the idea of the Sabbath, that it is a day to serve God instead of other days? Is God in need of your services on the Sabbath to keep his work going?
God requires all your services as much on the six days as on the Sabbath. He has designated the Sabbath for unique duties, and required its observance as a day of rest from physical toil and from those fatiguing cares and labors that concern the present world. Because the gospel is to be spread and sustained by the things of this world, God therefore requires you to work all the six days at your secular employments. But it is all for his service, as much as worship is for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is no more for the service of God than Monday. You have no more right to serve yourselves on Monday than you have on the Sabbath. If any of you have regarded the matter this way, and imagined that the six days of the week were your own time, it shows that you are supremely sel.sh. I beg of you not to consider that in prayer and on the Sabbath you are serving God at all, if the rest of the time you are serving yourself. You have never known the radical principle of serving the Lord.
Those people who will not make any sacri.ces of personal comfort are serving themselves, or their own gods. Suppose your servant were to say, "I cannot do this," or "I cannot do that," because it interferes with his personal comfort. He cannot do something because he likes to sit on a cushion and work. Or he cannot do something else because it would separate him from his family for an hour and a half. What! Is that doing service? When a person enters into service he gives up his ease and comfort for the interest of his employer. Can any person be supremely devoted to the service of God, when he shows that his own ease and comfort are dearer than the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and that he would sooner sacri.ce the salvation of sinners than sit on a hard seat, or be separated from his family an hour or two?
Those who grudgingly give their time and money, by constraint, and not with a cheerful heart, are serving their own gods. What would you think of your servant, if you had to force him all the time to do anything for your interest? How many people are there who when they do anything for Christianity, do it grudgingly? If they do anything, it is dif.cult. If you go to one of these people and want his time or money for any religious goal, it is dif.cult to get him interested. It seems to go across the grain and is not easy or natural. It is clear he does not consider the interests of Christ’s kingdom the same as his own. He may make a show of fearing the Lord, but he "serves" some other gods of his own.
Those who always ask how little they may do for religion, rather than how much they may do, are serving their own gods. There are many people who seem always to ask how little they can get by with in what they do for God. If this is you, it is a simple matter of fact that you have never set your hearts on the goal of promoting Christianity in the world. If you had, you would ask, "How much can I do for this goal and for that goal?"
They who are saving up wealth for their families, to elevate and promote them, are serving gods of their own and not the Lord. Those who are thus aiming to elevate their own families to a different sphere, by saving up wealth for them, show that they have some other goal to live for than bringing this world under the authority of Jesus Christ. They have other gods to serve. They may pretend to fear the Lord, but they "serve" their own gods.
Those who are making it their goal to accumulate so much prop
erty that they can retire from business and live comfortably, are serving their own gods. There are many people who profess to be the servants of God, but are eagerly engaged in gathering property, intending to eventually retire to the country and live in comfort. What do you mean? Has God given you a right to a perpetual rest, as soon as you have made so much money? Did God tell you, when you professed to enter his service, to work hard so many years, and then you might have a perpetual holiday? Did he promise to excuse you after that from making the most of your time and talents, and let you live in comfort the rest of your days? If your thoughts are set upon this notion, I tell you, you are not serving God but your own sel.shness and sloth.
Those people who would sooner gratify their appetites than deny themselves things that are unnecessary, or even hurtful, for the sake of doing good are serving their own gods. You .nd people that greatly love things that do them no good, and others even form an arti.cial appetite for what is positively loathsome, and they will chase after it. No arguments will make them abandon it for the sake of doing good. Are such people absorbed in the service of God? Certainly not. Will they sacri.ce their lives for the kingdom of God? Why, you cannot make them even give up a cut of tobacco! A weed that is harmful to health and loathsome to society — they cannot give it up, even to save a soul from death!
Who does not see that sel.shness predominates in such people? It shows the astonishing strength of sel.shness. You often see the strength of sel.shness showing itself in some such little thing more than in things that are greater. The real state of a person’s mind strongly stands out, showing that self-grati.cation is his rule, when it will not give place, even in a little way, to those great interests for which he should be willing to lay down his life.
Those people who are most readily moved to action by appeals to their own sel.sh interests show that they are serving their own gods. You see what motivates such a person. Suppose I wish to get him to pledge for building a church, what must I say? Why, I must show how it will improve the value of his property, or advance his party, or gratify his sel.shness in some other way. If he is more excited by these motives, than he is by a desire to save perishing souls and advance the kingdom of Christ, you see that he has never given himself up to serve the Lord. He is still serving himself. He is more in.uenced by his sel.sh interests than by all those benevolent principles on which Christianity is based. The character of a true servant of God is the opposite of this.
Those who are more interested in subjects other than religion are serving other gods. If you .nd them more ready to talk about other subjects, more easily excited by them, more awake to learn the news, they are serving their own gods. Many are more excited by the economy, or the question about war, or about the .re, or anything of a worldly nature, than about revivals, missions, or anything connected with the interests of religion. You .nd them completely engaged about politics, but if you bring up the subject of religion, ah, they are afraid of excitement! This shows that religion is not the subject that is nearest their hearts. A person is always most easily excited on that subject that lies nearest his heart. Bring that up, and he is interested. When you can talk all day about the news and other worldly topics, and when you cannot possibly be interested in the subject of religion, you know that your heart is not in it. If you pretend to be a servant of God, you are a hypocrite.
When people are more interested in their own fame than God’s glory, it shows that they live for themselves, and serve their own gods. You see a person more annoyed or grieved by what is said against him than against God. Whom does he serve — who is his God, himself or Yahweh? A minister may be thrown into frenzy because somebody has said a word derogatory to his scholarship, his dignity, or his infallibility, while he is as cool as ice at all the abuses thrown upon the blessed God. Is that person willing to be considered a fool for the cause of Christ? Did that person ever learn the .rst lesson in religion? If he had, he would rejoice to have his name slandered for the cause of Christianity. No, he is not serving God — he is serving his own gods.
Those who do not make the salvation of souls the great and leading goal of their lives are serving their own gods. The aim of all Christian institutions, that which gives value to them all, is the salvation of sinners. The end for which Christ lives, and for which he has left his church in the world, is the salvation of sinners. This is the business that God puts his servants about. If anyone is not making this business the main goal of his life, he is not serving the Lord, but instead his own gods.
Those who seek happiness in religion, rather than usefulness, are serving their own gods. Their religion is entirely sel.sh. They want to enjoy religion, and all the while are asking how they can get happy states of mind. And they will go only to such meetings, and sit only under such preaching, which will make them happy. They will never ask whether that is the way to do the most good or not. Now, suppose your servant should be like this, and were constantly planning how
to enjoy himself. If he thought he could be most happy in the parlor, stretched on the sofa, with a pillow under his head and another servant to fan him, he would refuse to do the work that you had for him and urgently required. Instead of showing a desire to work for you, a care for your interest, and a willingness to pour himself out with all his powers in your service, he wants only to be happy! It is just so with those professed servants of Yahweh, who want to do nothing but sit on their handsome cushion, and have their minister feed them. Instead of seeking how to do good, they are only seeking to be happy. Their daily prayer is not, like that of the converted Saul of Tarsus, "Lord what will you have me do?" but instead, "Lord, tell me how I can be happy." Is that the spirit of Jesus Christ? No, he said, "I delight to do your will, O God."3
16. Those who make their own salvation their supreme object in religion, are serving their own gods. There are many in the church who show by their conduct and even acknowledge in their language that their main goal is to secure their own salvation — their grand determination is to get their own souls to the .rm towers of the heavenly Jerusalem. If the Bible is correct, all such characters will go to hell. Their religion is pure sel.shness. "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24).
See why so little is accomplished in the world for Jesus Christ. It is because there are so few that do anything for him. It is because Jesus Christ has so few real servants in the world. How many professing Christians do you suppose there are in this church, or in your whole acquaintance, that are really at work for God, and making a business of religion, and pouring themselves out to advance the kingdom of Christ? The reason why religion advances no faster is that there are so few to advance it and so many to hinder it. You see a group of people trying to get the merchandise out of a store on .re. Some are determined to get the merchandise out, but the rest are not engaged with it, and they divert their attention by talking about other things, or hinder those at work by .nding fault with their way of doing it, or by holding them back. So it is in the church. Those who desire to do the work are greatly hindered by the objections and resistance of the rest.
Understand why so few Christians have the spirit of prayer. What should God give them the spirit of prayer for? Suppose someone were
3 Psalm 40:7-8, quoted in Hebrews 10:7
engaged in his worldly schemes and God gave him the spirit of prayer. Of course he would pray for that which lies nearest his heart, that is, for success in his worldly schemes, in order to serve his own gods. Will God give him the spirit of prayer for such purpose? Never. Let him go to his own gods for a spirit of prayer, but let him not expect Yahweh to grant the spirit of prayer while he is serving his own gods.
You see that there are many professing Christians that have not begun to be religious yet. A man said to one of them, "Do you feel that your property and your business are all God’s, and do you hold and manage them for God?" He said, "Oh, no. I have not gotten as far as that yet." Not gotten as far as that! That man had been a professing Christian for years, and yet had not got so far as to consider his property, business, and all that he had as belonging to God! No doubt he was serving his own gods. For I insist that renouncing one’s possessions is the very beginning of Christianity. What is conversion, but turning from the service of the world to the service of God?
It is great dishonesty for people to profess to serve the Lord, and yet in reality serve themselves. You who are performing religious duties from sel.sh motives are in reality trying to make God your servant. If your own interest is the supreme goal, all your religious services are only desires to make God promote your interests. Why do you pray, keep the Sabbath, or give your property for religious goals? You answer, "For the sake of promoting my own salvation." Indeed! Not to glorify God, but to get to heaven! Do you not think the devil would do all that, if he thought he could bene.t by it and be a devil still? The highest form of sel.shness must be to get God with all his attributes enlisted in the service of your mighty self.
And now, my hearers, where are you all? Are you serving the Lord, or are you serving your own gods? Have you done anything for God? Have you been living as servants of God? Is Satan’s kingdom weakened by what you have done? Could you say now, "Come with me, and I will show you this sinner and that sinner converted, or this backslider and that backslider reclaimed, or this weak saint and that weak saint strengthened and helped?" Could you bring living witnesses of what you have done in the service of God? Or would your answer be, "I have been to meetings regularly on the Sabbath, heard a great deal of good preaching, and I have generally attended the prayer meetings, and we had some precious meetings, and I have prayed in my family, and two or three times a day in my closet, and I read the Bible." And in all that you have been merely passive, as to anything done for God. You have feared the Lord, and served your own gods.
THE SALVATION OF THE WICKED IMPOSSIBLE
"If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:18, NIV)
The teaching of the text is that the salvation of the righteous is dif.cult and that of the sinner impossible. I am now to show why the salvation of the wicked is impossible.
Here let me .rst state that by "the righteous" it is not meant those who have never sinned. It could not be dif.cult to save those who have never sinned against God. They are in fact already saved. But these righteous ones are those who having been sinners, come to have faith in Christ, and become "heirs of the righteousness that comes by faith."1 It is vitally important to consider here that the governmental dif.culty in salvation, because of your having sinned, is completely removed by Christ’s atonement. This is true no matter how great your guilt, if you will only have faith in Jesus and accept his atonement as the ground of pardon for your sins.
Hence the dif.culty in saving sinners is not simply that they have sinned in the past, but that they now continue sinning and not believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The salvation of sinners is therefore impossible.
1. The sinner cannot be saved, because salvation from sin is a necessary
1 Hebrews 11:7
condition of salvation from hell.2 Being saved from sin must come .rst. Every sinner knows, and on re.ection and self-inspection, he must see that his state of mind is such that he cannot respect himself. Until he meets the demands of his own moral nature, the elements of blessedness cannot therefore be in him.
He also knows that he does not want to have anything to do with God
— he is afraid of God. He both dreads and hates his presence, being afraid to die and go near to God where death carries all people. He knows that all his relations to God are extremely unpleasant. How certainly then may he know that he is utterly unprepared for heaven.
Now the sinner must be saved from this guilty and detestable state of mind. No change is needed in God, his character, government, or position toward sin. But the greatest possible change is needed on the part of the sinner. If salvation implies .tness for heaven, and if this implies ceasing from sin, then of course it is naturally and forever impossible that any sinner can be saved without holiness.3
2. The peace of heaven forbids that you should go there in your sins. I know you expect to go there in the end. Your parents are there, as you hope and believe, and for this reason you even more want to go there, that you may see them in their glory. You say, "Oh, I would like to be where my father and mother are." And do you think you can follow them, in your sins? What could you do in heaven if you were there? What could you say? What kind of songs could you sing there? What sort of happiness, .tted to your heart, could you hope to .nd there?
Your pious mother in heaven — oh how changed! You heard her last words on earth — for they were words of prayer for your poor guilty soul. But now she shines and sings above, all holy and pure. What sympathy could there be between you and her in heaven? Remember what Christ said when someone told him that his mother and his brothers stood outside, wanting to see him. He said, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:48,50). Therefore the law of sympathy in heaven is not based on earthly relationship, but on oneness of heart — on the common spirit of love and obedience toward their great common Father.
2 Supporting this, Jesus is often referred to in the Bible as Savior from sin, not from
hell. For example, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from
their sins" (Matthew 1:21). 3 A reference to the verse, "Strive for. . . the holiness without which no one will see the
Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
Do you then expect that your mother would be glad to see you — that she would spread her garment over you and take you up to heaven? Oh, if she were told that you were at the gate, she would rush down to say, "Oh my sinning child, you cannot enter heaven. Into this holy place nothing can by any means enter that ‘does what is detestable or false.’4 You cannot — no, you cannot enter!"
If it were left to your own mother to decide the question of your admission, you could not come in. She would not open heaven’s gate for you. She knows you would disturb the bliss of heaven. She knows you would damage its purity and be an element of discord in its shared feelings and in its songs.
You know that it did not have to be this way. You might have given your heart to God before, and then he would have shed his love abroad in your soul, given you the Holy Spirit, and made you ripe for heaven. But you would not give your heart. Everything was done for you that God could wisely do, all that Christ could do, all that the Spirit of God could consistently do. But all was in vain. All came to nothing because you would not give up your sins, even for everlasting life. And now will heaven let you in? No. Nothing that does what is detestable can by any means go inside.
Besides, it would not be comfortable for you there. You were never quite comfortable in spiritual company on earth. In the prayer meeting you were unhappy. As one individual said, "Oh, what a place this is! I cannot go across the street without being spoken to about my soul. How can I live here?" Let me tell you, it will be just as bad — no, much worse for you in heaven. That can be no place for you, sinner, since you hate most of all those places and scenes on earth that are most like heaven.
The justice of God will not allow you to participate in the joys of the saints. His relations to the universe make it necessary that he should protect his saints from company like you. They have had their discipline of trial in such company long enough. Their eternal reward will bring everlasting relief from this torture of their holy emotions. Oh how will God, their in.nite Father, put around them the shield of his protection upon the mountains of paradise, which lift their heads eternally under the sunlight of his glory!
His sense of propriety forbids that he should give you a place among his pure and trusting children. It would be so un.tting — so unsuitable! It would throw such discord into the sweet songs and shared
4 Revelation 21:27
feelings of the holy! Besides, as already said, it would not be kind to you. It could not soothe, but only grate and annoy your spirit. Oh if you were forced to be there, how it would torment and irritate your soul!
What then will become of the ungodly and the sinner? They will certainly not be in a desirable place or position. Not with the righteous in the judgment, for this God’s word has often and most solemnly af.rmed. Christ himself af.rms that, when all nations are gathered before him for judgment, he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. This separation, as the description shows, brings the righteous on the right hand and the wicked on the left. He says he will separate them one from another not according to their nationality or their family connections, but according to their character as friends or enemies of God.
Oh, what a separation must this be in families and among dear earthly friends! On this side will be a husband — on that a wife. Here a brother and there a sister, here one of two friends and there the other, parted forever — forever! If this great division were to be struck between you today according to present character, how fearful the line of separation it would draw! Ask yourselves where it would pass through your own families and among the friends you love. How would it divide college classes — and oh, how would it strike many hearts with terror and dismay!
It is asked, where shall the ungodly appear? I answer, certainly not in heaven. But they must be in the judgment, for God has said that he would bring the whole human race into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it is good or evil. All are to be there, but some are on the right hand and some on the left.
The ungodly and the sinner will appear in that day among the damned
— among lost angels, doomed to the place prepared for their eternal home. Jesus has himself told us so. The very words of their judgment are on record, "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal .re prepared for the devil and his angels’ " (Matthew 25:41). This is indeed the only place for which they are prepared. This is the only company to which their hearts are friendly. They have chosen to belong to Satan’s government on earth, at least in the sense of doing precisely what he would have them do. Now therefore, after such training in sel.shness and sin, they are clearly .t for no other company than that of Satan and his angels.
Let it not surprise any of you to be told that the friendly sinners of earth, remaining enemies to God and radically sel.sh, are preparing themselves for the company of the arch spirit of evil. Just observe what restraints are put around sinners here. Observe how obviously they feel restrained, and show that they are impatient and uncomfortable. It may be read out of their very hearts that they would be glad to be vastly more wicked and sel.sh in their outward life if they could. It is wonderful to see how many ways God’s providence has walled in the sinner’s path and hedged him in from explosive sin.
But let these walls be torn away. Let all care for his reputation among good people perish forever from his soul. Let despair of ever gaining God’s favor take full possession of his heart, and fasten its iron grasp upon him. Then what will he become? Take away all the restraints of civil society, of laws and customs, of Christian example, and of Christian society. Let there be no more prayer made for him by pitying Christian friends, no more counsel given, or request made to persuade him towards the good. Then tell me, where is the sinner? How terribly will sin work out its dreadful power to corrupt and madden the soul! Bring together many desperate wretches, in the madness of their despair and rage and wrath against God and all the good, and oh what a fearful world would they make! What can be conceived more awful! Yet this is the very world for which sinners are now preparing, and the only one for which they will be found to be prepared for in the judgment.
As this is the only world for which the sinner is prepared, so it is the only one that is appropriate given his in.uence for mischief. Here only, here in this prison-house of woe and despair, can sinners be effectively prevented from doing any further mischief in God’s kingdom. Here they are cut off from all possibility of doing any more harm in God’s universe.
In this earthly state one sinner destroys much good. Each and every sinner does much evil. God looks on, not unconcerned, but with amazing patience. He tolerates a great deal of evil to be done for the sake of securing an opportunity to attempt the power of patience and love upon the sinner’s heart. You are abusing his love and defeating all his kind intentions, but still God waits, until the point is reached where patience ceases to be virtue. Beyond this point, how can God wait longer?
Here you .nd ample room for doing mischief. Many are around you whom you in.uence to evil and urge on towards hell. Some of them would be converted if not for your in.uence to hold them back and ensnare their souls. If this were the place, I could name and call out some of you who are exerting a deadly in.uence upon your associates.
Ah to think of the souls you may ruin forever! God sees them and sees how you are playing into the devil’s hands to drag them down with you to an eternal hell. But before long he will take you away from this sphere of doing evil. He will forever cut off your connection with those who can be in.uenced to evil, and leave around you only those associates who are ruined, despairing, and maddened in sin like yourself. There he will lock you up, discard the key, and let you rave on, swear on, curse on, and madden your guilty soul more and more forever! Oh what inmates are those in this prison-house of the guilty and the lost! Why should not God make such a place for such beings, so lost to all good, and so given up to all the madness and guilt of rebellion?
There alone can sinners be made useful. They refused to make themselves useful by their voluntary agency on earth. Now God will make use of them in hell for some good. Do you ask me if I talk about sin being made useful? Yes, to be sure I do. God never permits anything to occur in his universe unless he extracts some good from it, overruling its in.uence, or making the correction and punishment of it a means of good. This is a great consolation to the holy that no sinner can exist from whom God will not bring out some good. This principle is partially developed in society here, in civil government. Government can make great use of those people who will not obey the law. It can make them examples and lift them up as beacons of warning to show the evil of disobeying wholesome laws. A great many people have had strong impressions made on their minds when riding through Auburn on the railroad.5 They have observed those lofty frowning walls and towers that enclose and guard the culprits con.ned within. Many a hard heart has trembled before those walls and the terrors of those cells behind. If the outside view does not help to awe the spirit of transgression, give them the inside view and some of its heart-desolating experience. These things do good. They tame the passion for doing evil and impress a healthy fear on the hardened and reckless. If so under all the imperfections of human government, how much more under the perfect administration of the divine!
God cannot afford to lose your in.uence in his universe. He will rejoice to use you for the glory of his mercy, if you choose. Oh yes, he will put away your sins as far as the East is from the West, and will put a robe of beauty and glory upon you, a sweet harp in your hands, a song of praise on your lips, and the melody of heaven’s love in your heart. All these are yours if you choose. But if you will not, then he has other
5 A reference to the Auburn State Prison in New York.
attributes besides mercy that need to be illustrated. Justice will come in for its claim, and to illustrate this he will make you an example of the bitter misery of sinning. He will put you deep in hell. The holy, seeing you there, will see that God’s kingdom is safe and pure, and in their everlasting song they will shout, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed" (Revelation 15:3-4).
If you will not repent, this is the only way that God can make you useful in his kingdom. He has tried every means of bringing you to repentance, but all in vain. He cannot get you to agree. Of course there is no alternative but to make you an example to deter all other moral agents from sinning.
There is no other way for God to meet the demands of the public welfare, but to make you an example to show his abhorrence of sin. God is most thoroughly economical of his resources. He manages everything to the very best account. Everything must, under his hand, be made conducive in some way to the general good. Even of your misery he will be as economical as he can, and will carefully turn it all to the very best account. Every groan and every throb and pang of your agonized soul will be turned to use. Yes, count on it, all this agony, which does you no good, but is to you only pure and unalleviated misery, will be a warning beacon, under God’s hand, crying out in tones of thunder, "Stand away! Stand away, lest you come into this place of torment. Stand far away from sin — fear this awful sin. Watch against it, for it is an awful thing to sin against Yahweh. I have tried it, and here I am in unspeakable pain!" Oh what a testimony, when all hell shall produce one mighty accumulated groan — a groan, whose awful voice shall be, "Stand in awe and do not sin, for God is severe in his judgments upon the guilty."
Oh sinner, think of it. God wants you now to cry out to every fellow-sinner, and warn him away from the brink of hell. Will you do it? What are you in fact doing? Are you preparing yourself to go out as a missionary of light and love and mercy to those in darkness? Are you preparing your wings as an angel of mercy to bear the messages of salvation? No, you refuse to do this, or anything of the sort. You hate to preach such a gospel and to preach it so! But God will make you preach it in another way. As I said, he is thoroughly economical of the resources of his kingdom, and all must do something in some way for his glory. He will have everything preach — saints preach and sinners preach. Yes, sinners in hell must preach for God and for his truth. He will make your very groans and tears preach, and they will tell over and over the dreadful story of mercy abused and sin persisted in, and growing worse and worse, until the bolts of vengeance broke at last upon your guilty head! Over and over will those groans and tears repeat the fearful story, so that when the angels shall come from the farthest regions of the universe, they shall cry out, "What is here? What do those groans mean? What do those .ames mean, twisting around their miserable victims?" Ah, the story then told will make them cry aloud, "Why will God’s creatures sin against his throne? Can there be such madness in beings gifted with reason’s light?"
These angels know that the only thing that can secure public con.dence in a ruler is .delity in the execution of his law. Hence it is to them no wonder that God should punish sin with the most exemplary severity. They expect this, and seeing its awful demonstrations before their eyes, serves only to more deeply impress on their souls the holiness and justice of the great and blessed God.
Come then, repent and believe the gospel if you would be saved.
But what are you doing? Do you .atter yourselves that the work of salvation is so easy that it may be safely and surely done during a few of life’s last moments? Will you presume, as the man did who said he should need only .ve minutes to prepare to die? Hear his story. What was the result of his system? Disease came on. It struck him with its strong hand. Delirium set in. Reason tottered and fell from its throne, and so he died! Consider what news we hear of others who once sat as you now sit, and once heard the gospel as you hear it now. There, one is dead, and now another — and now another. In rapid succession they drop from the stage of mortal life — and what next? Soon we shall meet them in the fearful judgment!
Are you aware that the smooth sea of temptation carries you on to the rapids of death? Were you ever at Niagara Falls? How smooth and deceitful those waters, as they move along up above the current of the suction from below. But lower down, see how those same waters roar, and dash, and foam, and send up their thick mists to the heavens above you. Yet in the upper stream you glide gently and noiselessly along, dreaming of no danger, and making no effort to escape. In a moment you are in the awful current, plunging head.rst down. Where are you now?
And what should you do? Like Bunyan’s Christian pilgrim6, put your .ngers in both ears and run, shouting, "Life! Life! Eternal Life!" How many of you are sliding along on the smooth, deceitful stream, yet only just above the awful rapids and the dreadful waterfall of death! What if, this night, delirium should strike you? Or what if the Spirit should leave you forever, saying, "He is attached to his idols, leave him alone"?
Surely, oh sinners, it is time that you should set down your foot in most .xed determination, and say, "I must and I will have heaven! How can I ever bear the doom of the damned?"
6 A reference to the main character in John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress, written in 1675.
TRUE AND FALSE REPENTANCE
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)
In this text, the apostle refers to another letter that he had formerly written to the church at Corinth on a certain subject for which they were greatly to blame. He speaks here of the effect that it had in bringing them to true repentance. They had a godly grief. Here was the evidence that their repentance was genuine. "For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter" (2 Corinthians 7:11).
In the verse that I have taken for my text, he speaks of two kinds of grief for sin: one producing repentance that leads to salvation, the other producing death. He refers to what is generally understood as two kinds of repentance. I will now show:
I. What true repentance is.
II. How it may be known.
III. What false repentance is.
IV. How it may be known.
It is urgent that professing Christians were taught to better discriminate the nature and character of various religious exercises. If it were
so, the church would not be so overrun with false professors.1 I have recently been often led to examine, over and over again, the reason why there is so much false Christianity, and I have tried to discover what the root of the problem is. It is notorious that many suppose themselves to be religious who are not so according to the Bible. Why is it that so many are deceived? Why do so many, who are still impenitent sinners, get the idea that they have repented? The cause is certainly a lack of discerning instruction about the foundation of religion, and especially a lack of discrimination between true and false repentance.
I. WHAT TRUE REPENTANCE IS
Repentance is a change of mind about the nature of sin. To one who truly repents sin looks very different than it does to someone who has not repented. Instead of looking desirable or fascinating, it looks the very opposite, completely detestable, and he is surprised at himself, that he ever could have desired such a thing. Impenitent sinners may look at sin and see that it will ruin them, because God will punish them for it. But it still appears inherently desirable. They love it. They roll it under their tongue. If it could end in happiness, they would never think of abandoning it. But to the other it is different. He looks at his own conduct as perfectly hateful. He looks back on it and exclaims, "How hateful, how detestable, how worthy of hell, such a thing was in me."
Repentance is a change of mind about the nature of sin in relationship to God. Sinners do not see why God threatens sin with such severe punishment. They love it so much themselves that they cannot see why God should look at it in such a way as to consider it worthy of everlasting punishment. When they are strongly convicted, they see sin differently. In their mind, they see sin in the same light that a Christian does, and then they only lack a corresponding change of heart to become Christians. Often a sinner sees its relationship to God to be such that it deserves eternal death, but his heart does not go with his mind. This is the case with the devils and wicked spirits in hell. Note that a change of mind is necessary to true repentance, and always precedes it. The heart never goes out to God in true repentance without a previous change of mind. There may be a change of mind without repentance, but no genuine repentance without a change of mind.
1 The term "professors" is what Finney often uses for professing Christians. A pro
fessor claims to be a Christian, though may not be so in God’s eyes. The term has
nothing to do with an academic professor.
Repentance is a change of mind regarding the tendencies of sin. Before the sinner thinks it utterly unbelievable that sin should have such tendencies as to deserve everlasting death. However, his mind may be fully changed on this point without repentance, but it is impossible that a person should truly repent without a change of mind. He sees sin, in its tendency, as ruinous to himself and everybody else, soul and body, for time and eternity, and against all that is lovely and happy in the universe. He sees that sin tends to harm himself and everybody else, and that there is no remedy but universal abstinence. The devil knows it to be true. And possibly there are some sinners now in this congregation who know it.
Repentance is a change of mind regarding the guilt of sin. The word "repentance" implies a change in the state of the mind including all this. The apathetic sinner is almost devoid of right ideas about the guilt of sin. Suppose he admits in theory that sin deserves eternal death, he does not believe it. If he believed it, it would be impossible for him to remain an apathetic sinner. He is deceived if he supposes that he honestly holds an opinion that sin deserves the wrath of God forever. But the truly awakened and convicted sinner has no more doubt of this than he has of the existence of God. He sees clearly that sin must deserve everlasting punishment from God. He knows that this is a simple matter of fact.
In true repentance there must be a corresponding change of heart. The change of heart involves sin in these four areas: its nature, its relations, its tendencies, and its guilt. The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile, and worthy of abhorrence, but he sincerely abhors it and hates it in his heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and detestable, while yet his heart loves it, and desires it, and clings to it. But when he truly repents, he most heartily abhors and renounces it.
In its relation to God, he feels towards sin as it really is. And here is the source of those outpourings of sorrow in which Christians sometimes break out, when contemplating sin. The Christian sees its nature, and simply feels disgust. But when he views it in relation to God, then he weeps. The fountains of his sorrow pour out, and he wants to get right down on his face and pour out a .ood of tears over his sins.
Then as to the tendencies of sin, the individual who truly repents feels it as it really is. When he views sin in its tendencies, it awakens a vehement desire to stop it, and to save people from their sins, and roll back the tide of death. It sets his heart on .re, and he goes to praying, laboring, and pulling sinners out of the .re with all his might, to save them from the awful tendencies of sin. When the Christian sets his mind on this, he will stir himself to make people give up their sins. Just as if he saw all the people taking poison which he knew would destroy them, and he lifts up his voice to warn them to beware.
He feels correctly, as to the guilt of sin. He has not only an intellectual conviction that sin deserves everlasting punishment, but he feels that it would be so right, so reasonable, and so just, for God to condemn him to eternal death, that instead of .nding fault with the sentence of the law that condemns him, he thinks it the wonder of heaven, a wonder of wonders, if God can forgive him. Instead of thinking it hard, severe, or unkind of God that stubborn sinners are sent to hell, he is full of adoring wonder that he is not sent to hell himself, and that this whole guilty world has not already been hurled down to endless burnings. It is the last thing in the world he would think to complain of, that all sinners are not saved. Oh, it is a wonder of mercy that the whole world is not damned. And when he thinks of such a sinner’s being saved, he feels a sense of gratitude that he never knew until he was a Christian.
II. HOW TRUE REPENTANCE IS SHOWN
I want to show you what the works of true repentance are and to make it so clear to your minds that you can know with certainty whether you have repented or not.
If your repentance is genuine, there is a conscious change of views and feeling in your mind about sin. Of this you will be just as conscious as you ever were of a change of views and feelings on any other subject. Now, can you say this? Do you know that on this point there has been a change in you and that old things are done away and all things have become new?
Where repentance is genuine, the inclination to repeat sin is gone. If you have truly repented, you do not now love sin. You do not now abstain from sin out of fear to avoid punishment, but you abstain because you hate it. How is this with you? Do you know that your inclination to commit sin is gone? Look at the sins you used to practice when you were impenitent — how do they appear to you? Do they look pleasant? Would you truly love to practice them again if you dared? If you do, if you have the inclination to sin remaining, you are only convicted. Your opinions of sin may be changed, but if the love of that sin remains, you are still an impenitent sinner.
Genuine repentance produces a reformation of conduct. I take this idea to be mainly intended in the text, where it says, "godly grief produces a repentance." Godly grief produces reformation of conduct.
Otherwise it is a repetition of the same idea, saying that repentance produces repentance. Instead, I believe the apostle was speaking of a change of mind such as produces a change of conduct, ending in salvation. Now, let me ask you, are you really reformed? Have you forsaken your sins? Or, are you practicing them still? If so, you are still a sinner. Though you may have changed your mind, if it has not produced a change of conduct, an actual reformation, it is not godly repentance.
Repentance, when true and genuine, leads to confession and restitution. The thief has not repented while he keeps the money he stole. He may have conviction, but no repentance. If he had repentance, he would go and give back the money. If you have cheated any one, and do not restore what you have unfairly taken, or if you have injured any one, and do not set about correcting the wrong you have done, you have not truly repented.
True repentance is a permanent change of character and conduct. The text says it is repentance that leads to salvation, "without regret." What else does the apostle mean by that expression but that true repentance is a change so deep and fundamental that the person never changes back again? The love of sin is truly abandoned. The individual who has truly repented has so changed his views and heart that he will not change back again, or go back to the love of sin. Bear this in mind now, all of you, that the truly penitent sinner exercises feelings of which he never will regret. The text says it is "leading to salvation." It goes right on to the very peace of heaven. The very reason why it ends in salvation is because it is without regret.
And here I must remark that you see why the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is true, and what it means.2 True repentance is such a thorough change of heart that the individual who performs it comes to hate sin so much that he will naturally persevere and not take back all his repentance and return to sin again.
2 The Perseverance of the Saints is the .fth point of Calvinism that states the true believers always persevere in their faith to the very end. Though Finney believed in the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, he was not an "Old Calvinist." His views are a blend of two main theologies. First, he drew heavily from the "New Divinity" Calvinists, a system of theology propounded by Jonathan Edwards and his followers. (See the book Edwards on the Will by Allen Guelzo for a scholarly examination of how Edwards’ ideas in.uenced American theologians and ministers, including Finney.) Second, Finney’s views are similar to those of "New Haven theology," a system propounded by the Congregationalist Nathaniel William Taylor, Professor of Theology at Yale University. Finney’s blending of belief systems makes it dif.cult to neatly classify his theology into traditional schemes.
III. WHAT FALSE REPENTANCE IS
False repentance is said to be worldly, the grief of the world. It is grief for sin, arising from worldly considerations and motives connected with the present life. It at most has relevance to personal happiness in a future world, and has no regard to the true nature of sin.
It is not based on the change of mind I have described that belongs to true repentance. The change in false repentance is not on fundamental points. A person may see the evil consequences of sin in a worldly point of view, and it may .ll him with dismay. He may see that it will greatly affect his character, or endanger his life. If some of his concealed conduct should be found out, he would be disgraced, and this may .ll him with fear and distress. It is very common for people to have this kind of worldly grief when some worldly consideration is at the bottom of it all.
False repentance is based on sel.shness. It may simply be a strong feeling of regret for what he has done because he sees the evil consequences of it for himself, because it makes him miserable, exposes him to the wrath of God, or injures his family or his friends. All this is pure sel.shness. He may feel remorse of conscience — biting, consuming remorse — and no true repentance. It may extend to deep fear of the wrath of God and the pains of hell, and yet be purely sel.sh. All the while there may be no such thing as a hearty abhorrence of sin, and no feelings of the heart following the convictions of the mind, regarding the in.nite evil of sin.
IV. HOW FALSE REPENTANCE IS SHOWN
False repentance leaves the heart unchanged. It leaves unbroken and unconquered the disposition of the heart to sin. The feelings on the nature of sin are not properly changed, and the individual still feels a desire for sin. He abstains from it, not from abhorrence of it, but from dread of the consequences of it.
False repentance produces death. It leads to hypocritical concealment. The individual who has truly repented is willing to have it known that he has repented, and willing to have it known that he was a sinner. He who has only false repentance resorts to excuses and lying to cover his sins, and is ashamed of his repentance. He will cover up his sins with a thousand apologies and excuses, trying to smooth them over, and lessen their enormity. If he speaks of his past conduct, he always does it in the softest and most favorable terms. You see a constant inclination to cover up his sin. This repentance leads to death.
How is it with you? Are you ashamed to have any person talk with you about your sins? Then your grief is only a worldly grief, and produces death. How often you see sinners avoiding conversation about their sins, and yet calling themselves seekers, and expecting to become Christians in that way. The same kind of grief is found in hell. No doubt all those wretched inhabitants of the pit want to get away from the eye of God. No such grief is found among the saints in heaven. Their grief is open, candid, full, and sincere. Such grief is not inconsistent with true happiness. The saints are full of happiness, and yet full of deep, undisguised, and .owing grief over sin. But this worldly grief is ashamed of itself, is miserable, and produces death.
False repentance produces only a partial reformation of conduct. The reformation that is produced by worldly grief extends only to those things of which the individual has been strongly convicted. The heart is not changed. You will see him avoid only those prominent sins about which he has been stirred.
Observe that young convert. If he is deceived, you will .nd that there is only a partial change in his conduct. He is reformed in certain things, but there are many things that are wrong that he continues to practice. If you become intimately acquainted with him, instead of .nding him tremblingly aware of sin everywhere, and quick to detect it in everything that is contrary to the spirit of the gospel, you will .nd him, perhaps, strict and quick-sighted in regard to certain things, but loose in his conduct and lax in his views on other points, and very far from showing a Christian spirit in regard to all sin.
Ordinarily, the reformation produced by worldly grief is temporary even in those things that are reformed. The individual is continually relapsing into his old sins. The reason is that the disposition to sin is still there — it is only checked and restrained by fear. As soon as he has a hope and is in the church and gets bolstered up so that his fears are calmed, you see him gradually returning to his old sins. This was the problem with the house of Israel that made them so constantly return to their idolatry and other sins. They had only worldly grief. You see it now everywhere in the church. Individuals are reformed for a while and then relapse into their old sins. They love to call it getting cold in religion, backsliding, and the like. But the truth is, they have always loved sin. When the occasion offered, they returned to it, like the washed pig returned to its wallowing in the mud, because it was always a pig.
I want you to understand this point thoroughly. Here is the foundation of all those stops and starts in religion that you see so much of. People are awakened, convicted, and eventually they acquire hope and settle down in false security and then away they go. Perhaps they may keep on their guard enough to not be cast out of the church, but the foundations of sins are not broken up, and they return to their old ways. The woman that loved fashion loves it still, and gradually returns to her ribbons and trinkets. The man who loved money loves it still, and soon slides back into his old ways, dives into business, and pursues the world as eagerly and devotedly as he did before he joined the church.
Go through all the classes of society, and if you .nd thorough conversions, you will .nd that their most besetting sins before conversion are farthest from them now. The real convert is least likely to fall into his old besetting sin, because he detests it most. But if he is deceived and worldly minded, he is always tending back into the same sins. The fountain of sin was not broken up.
5. It is a forced reformation. The reformation produced by a false repentance, is not only a partial reformation, and a temporary reformation, but it is also forced and constrained. The reformation of one who has true repentance is from the heart. He no longer has an inclination to sin. In him the Bible promise is ful.lled. He actually .nds that wisdom’s ways are "ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."3 He experiences that the Savior’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.4 He has felt that God’s commandments are not sad but joyous. "More to be desired are they than gold, even much .ne gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb."5 But this false kind of repentance is very different: it is a legalistic repentance, the result of fear and not of love, a sel.sh repentance, anything but a free, voluntary, sincere change from sin to obedience. You will .nd, if there are any individuals here that have this kind of repentance, you are conscious that you do not abstain from sin by choice or because you hate it, but for other reasons. It is more because of the warnings of conscience, or the fear you shall lose your soul, or lose your hope, or lose your character, than from the abhorrence of sin or love for duty.
Such people always need to be urged to do their duty with a clear passage of scripture, or else they will evade duty and think there is no great harm in doing as they do. The reason is that they love their sins, and if there is not some clear command of God that they dare not .y in the face of, they will practice them. Not so with true repentance. If a thing seems contrary to the great law of love, the person who has
3 Proverbs 3:17 4 Matthew 11:30 5 Psalm 19:10
true repentance will detest it and naturally avoid it, whether he has an clear command of God or not. Show me such a person, and I tell you he does not need a clear command to make him give up drinking or making or selling strong drink. He sees it is contrary to the great law of benevolence, and he truly detests it, and would no more do it than he would blaspheme God, steal, or commit any other abomination.
This false repentance leads to self-righteousness. The individual who has this repentance may know that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and may profess to believe on him and to rely on him alone for salvation, but after all, he is actually placing ten times more reliance on his reformation than on Jesus Christ for his salvation. And if he would watch his own heart, he would know it is so. He may say he expects salvation by Christ, but in fact he is dwelling more on his reformation. His hope is based more on that than on the atonement of Christ, and he is really patching up a righteousness of his own.
It leads to false security. The individual supposes his worldly grief to be true repentance, and he trusts in it. It is a curious fact, that so far as I have been able to understand the state of mind of this class of people, they seem to take it for granted that Christ will save them because they have had grief because of their sins, although they are not conscious that they have ever felt any resting in Christ. They felt grief, and then they experienced relief and felt better, and now they expect to be saved by Christ, when their very consciousness will teach them that they have never felt a sincere reliance on Christ.
It hardens the heart. The individual who has worldly grief becomes harder in heart, in proportion to the number of times that he exercises such grief. If he has strong emotions of conviction, and his heart does not break up and .ow out, the fountains of feeling are more and more dried up, and his heart more and more dif.cult to be reached. Take a real Christian, one who has truly repented, and every time you bring the truth to bear upon him to break him down before God, he becomes more and more soft, affected, melted, and broken down under God’s blessed word, as long as he lives and to all eternity. His heart gets into the habit of following the convictions of his understanding, and he becomes as teachable as a little child.
Here is the grand distinction. Let churches, or individual members, who have only this worldly repentance, pass through a revival6, and be woken up, and bustle about, and then grow cold again. Let this be repeated and you .nd them more and more dif.cult to be stirred, until eventually they become as hard as a millstone, and nothing can ever rally them to a revival again. In contrast are those churches and individuals who have true repentance. Let them go through successive revivals, and you .nd them growing more and more broken and tender until they get to such a state that if they hear the trumpet for a revival, they kindle and glow instantly, and are ready for the work.
9. It sears the conscience. People who falsely repent are liable at .rst to be distressed, whenever the truth is .ashed upon their mind. But the real Christian is .lled with peace at the very time that his tears are .owing from conviction of sin. And each repeated season of conviction makes him more and more watchful, tender, and careful, until his conscience becomes, like the apple of his eye, so tender that the very appearance of evil will offend it. But the other kind of sorrow, which does not lead to sincere renunciation of sin, leaves the heart harder than before, and eventually sears the conscience like with a hot iron. This sorrow produces death.
We learn from what has been said, one reason why there is so much spasmodic religion in the church. They have mistaken conviction for conversion, the grief of the world for that godly grief that produces repentance leading to salvation, without regret. I am convinced, after years of observation, that this is the true reason for the present deplorable state of the church all over the land.
We see why sinners under conviction feel as if it was a great cross to become Christians. They think it a great trial to give up their ungodly companions, and to give up their sins. If they had true repentance, they would not think it any cross to give up their sins. I remember how I used to feel, when I .rst saw young people becoming Christians and joining the church. I thought it was a good thing on the whole to have religion, because they would save their souls and get to heaven. But I thought it was a very sorrowful thing for them now. I never dreamed
6 The theme of revival is a frequent one in this book. Much of this book is drawn from Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion, and most of Finney’s ministry was dedicated to promoting revival in churches in America and England. At the famous "New Lebanon Convention," Finney and other ministers de.ned a revival as follows: "Revivals of true religion are the work of God’s Spirit, by which, in a comparatively short period of time, many persons are convinced of sin, and brought to the exercise of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
then that these young people could be really happy now. I believe it is very common for people, who know that religion is good on the whole and good in the end, to think they cannot be happy in religion. This is because of a mistake about the true nature of repentance. They do not understand that true repentance leads to a disgust for those things that were formerly loved. Sinners do not see that when their young friends become true Christians, they feel disgust for their balls and parties, and sinful amusements and follies — the love for these things is cruci.ed.
I once knew a young lady who was converted to God. Her father was a very proud worldly man. She used to be very fond of fashion, the dancing school, and balls. After she was converted, her father would force her to go to the dancing school. He used to go along with her, and force her to stand up and dance. She would go there and weep, and sometimes when she was standing up on the .oor to dance, her feelings of disgust and grief would come over her so much that she would turn away and burst into tears. Here you see the cause of all that. She truly repented of these things, with a repentance without regret. Oh, how many related thoughts would such a scene recall to a Christian: compassion for her former merry companions, abhorrence of their giddy mirth. How she longed to be in the prayer meeting — how could she be happy dancing? Such is the mistake that the impenitent, or those who have only worldly grief fall into regarding the happiness of the real Christian.
Here you see what is the matter with those professing Christians who think it dif.cult to be very strict in religion. Such people are always apologizing for their sins, and pleading for certain practices that are not consistent with disciplined Christianity. It shows that they love sin still, and will go as far as they dare in it. If they were true Christians, they would detest it, turn from it, and would feel it dif.cult to be dragged to it.
You see the reason why some do not know what it is to enjoy Christianity. They are not cheerful and happy in religion. They are grieved because they have to break off from so many things they love, or because they have to give so much money. They are in the .re all the time. Instead of rejoicing in every opportunity of self-denial, and rejoicing in the clearest and most cutting exhibitions of truth, it is a great trial to them to be told their duty, when it opposes their inclinations and habits. The plain truth distresses them. Why? Because their hearts do not love to do duty. If they loved to do their duty, every ray of light that broke in upon their minds from heaven, pointing out their duty, would be welcomed, and make them more and more happy.
Whenever you see such people, if they feel cramped and distressed because the truth presses them, if their hearts do not yield and go along with the truth, the name of all such professing Christians is hypocrite. If you .nd that they are distressed like anxious sinners, and that the more you point out their sins the more they are distressed, be certain that they have never truly repented of their sins, nor given themselves up to be God’s.
You see why many professed converts, who had very deep experiences at the time of their conversion, afterwards apostatize. They had deep convictions and great distress of mind, and afterwards they found relief and their joy was very great, and they were amazingly happy for a while. But eventually they decline, and then they apostatize. Some, who do not discriminate properly between true and false repentance, and who think there cannot be such "deep" exercises without divine power, call these cases of falling from grace. But the truth is, they went out from us because they were not of us.7 They never had that repentance that kills and annihilates the disposition to sin.
See why backsliders are so miserable. There is a radical difference between a backslidden Christian and a hypocrite who has gone back from his profession of faith. The hypocrite loves the world, and enjoys sin when he returns to it. He may have some fears and some remorse, and some hesitation about the loss of character — but after all he enjoys sin. Not so with the backslidden Christian. He loses his .rst love, then he falls prey to temptation, and so he goes into sin. But he does not love it. It is always bitter to him — he feels unhappy and away from home. At the time, he indeed has no Spirit of God, no love of God working to keep him from sin, but he does not love sin. He is unhappy in sin and he feels that he is a wretch. He is as different from the hypocrite as can be. Such a person, when he leaves the love of God, may be delivered over to Satan for a time in order to destroy the .esh that the Spirit may be saved. But he can never again enjoy sin as he used to, or delight himself as he once could in the pleasures of the world. Never again can he drink sin like water. So long as he continues to wander, he is miserable. If there is such a person here tonight, you know it.
You see why convicted sinners are afraid to pledge themselves to give up their sins. They tell you they dare not promise to do it, because they are afraid they shall not keep the promise. There you have the reason. "They love sin." The drunkard knows that he loves rum, and though he may be forced to keep his promise and abstain from it, his appetite still craves it. So it is with the convicted sinner. He feels that
7 See 1 John 2:19.
he loves sin, that his hold on sin has never been broken off, and he dares not promise.
See why some professing Christians are so opposed to pledges. It is on the same principle. They love their sins so much, they know their hearts will plead for indulgence, and they are afraid to promise to give them up. Hence many who profess to be Christians refuse to join the church. The secret reason is that they feel that their heart is still going after sin, and they dare not come under the obligations of the church-covenant. They do not want to be subject to the discipline of the church, in case they should sin. That person knows he is a hypocrite.
Those sinners who have worldly grief can now see where the dif.culty lies, and what the reason is they are not converted. Their intellectual views of sin may be such that if their hearts agreed, they would be Christians. And perhaps they are thinking that this is true repentance. But if they were truly willing to give up sin, all sin, they would not hesitate to pledge themselves to it, and to have the whole world know that they had done it. If there are any such here, I ask you now to come forward and take these seats. If you are willing to give up sin, you are willing to promise to do it, and willing to have it known that you have done it. But if you resist conviction, and when your understanding is enlightened to see what you should do, your heart still goes after your sins, tremble, sinner, at the prospect before you. All your convictions will avail you nothing. They will only sink you deeper in hell for having resisted them.
If you are willing to give up your sins, you can give it the signi.cance that I have named. But if you still love your sins and want to keep them, you can stay in your seats. And now, shall we go and tell God in prayer, that these sinners are unwilling to give up their sins, that though they are convinced they are wrong, they love their idols, and they will go after them? The Lord have mercy on them, for they are in a fearful situation.
HOW TO REPENT
"Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness on you." (Hosea 10:12)
The Jews were a nation of farmers, and it is therefore common in the Scriptures to use illustrations from their occupation and to refer to scenes familiar to farmers and shepherds. The prophet Hosea addresses them as a nation of backsliders. He rebukes them for their idolatry, and threatens them with the judgments of God. Fallow ground is ground which has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and softened, before it is ready to receive grain. I will show:
I. What it is to break up the fallow ground, in the sense of the text.
II. How it is to be performed.
I. WHAT IS IT TO BREAK UP THE FALLOW GROUND?
To break up the fallow ground is to break up your hearts, to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit unto God. The human mind is often compared in the Bible to ground, and the Word of God to seed sown in the ground. The fruit represents the actions and affections of those who receive it. To break up the fallow ground, therefore, is to bring the mind into such a state that it is .tted to receive the Word of God. Sometimes your hearts get matted down, hard and dry, until it is impossible to get fruit from them until they are broken up, softened, and .tted to receive the Word. It is this softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground.
II. HOW IS THE FALLOW GROUND TO BE BROKEN UP?
It is not by any direct efforts to feel. People fall into a mistake on this
subject from not studying the laws of mind. People talk about religious feeling as if they could, by direct effort, call forth religious affection.1 But this is not the way the mind acts. No person can make himself feel in this way, merely by trying to feel. The feelings of the mind are not directly under our control. We cannot directly will religious feelings. They are purely involuntary states of mind. They naturally and necessarily exist in the mind under certain circumstances that evoke them. But they can be controlled indirectly. Otherwise there would be no moral character in our feelings, if there were not a way to control them. One cannot say, "Now I will feel so-and-so towards such an object." But we can command our attention to it, and look at it intently, until the proper feeling arises. Let a man who is away from his family bring them up before his mind, and will he not feel? But it is not by saying to himself, "Now I will feel deeply for my family." A person can direct his attention to any object, about which he ought and wishes to feel, and in that way he will call into existence the proper emotions. Let a person bring his enemy before his mind, and his feelings of enmity will rise. So if a person thinks of God, and fastens his mind on any aspects of God’s character, he will feel — emotions will come by the very laws of mind. If a person is a friend of God, let him contemplate God as a gracious and holy Being, and he will have emotions of friendship kindled in his mind. If a person is an enemy of God, only let him bring the true character of God before his mind, and fasten his attention on it, and then his bitter enmity will rise against God, or he will break down and give his heart to God.
If you mean to break up the fallow ground of your hearts, and make your minds feel on the subject of religion, you must go to work just as you would with any other subject. Instead of keeping your thoughts on everything else, and then imagining that by going to a few meetings you will get your feelings engaged, use common sense as you would
1 The two key terms of this sentence, feeling and affection, are used interchangeably by Finney, but have different meanings than those used today. To understand feeling or affection merely as equivalent to emotion fails to capture the signi.cance of these words. In the century before Finney, the great Christian preacher Jonathan Edwards heavily used the phrase "religious affection" and would in.uence many later writers. Edwards de.ned affections as "the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul." Thus Finney also used the word affection, along with the term feeling, to represent the exercises and expressions of the will. It resembles the biblical word "heart." While feelings and affections include emotions, it has wider breadth and signi.cance. As another example of these terms being confusing to today’s reader, Finney sometimes talks about how a good Christian will raise the standard of feeling in a congregation. Such a sentence becomes meaningful in light of this de.nition of feeling.
on any other subject. It is just as easy to make your minds feel on the subject of religion as it is on any other. God has put these states of mind under your control. If people were as illogical about moving their limbs as they are about regulating their emotions, you would never have reached this meeting.
If you mean to break up the fallow ground of your hearts, you must begin by looking at your hearts. Examine and note the state of your minds, and see where you are. Many never seem to think about this. They pay no attention to their own hearts, and never know whether they are doing well in religion or not, whether they are gaining ground or going back, whether they are fruitful or lying waste. Now you must draw your attention away from other things, and look into this. Make a business of it. Do not be in a hurry. Examine thoroughly the state of your hearts, and see where you are: whether you are walking with God every day or with the devil, whether you are serving God or serving the devil most, whether you are under the dominion of the prince of darkness, or of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To do all this, you must set yourself to work to consider your sins. You must examine yourselves. Self-examination consists in looking at your lives, in considering your actions, in recalling the past, and learning its true character. Look back over your past history. Take up your individual sins one by one, and look at them. I do not mean that you should just cast a glance at your past life, and see that it has been full of sins, and then go to God and make a sort of general confession, and ask for pardon. That is not the way. You must take them up one by one. It will be a good thing to take a pen and paper, as you go over them, and write them down as they occur to you. Go over them as carefully as a merchant goes over his accounting books, and as often as a sin comes before your memory, add it to the list. General confessions of sin will never do. Your sins were committed one by one. As far as you can remember them, they should be reviewed and repented of one by one.2
Now begin, and take up .rst what are commonly, but improperly, called Sins of Omission.
Ingratitude. Take this sin, for instance, and write down under that heading all the instances you can remember when you have received gifts from God for which you have never expressed gratitude. How many cases can you remember? Some remarkable providence, some wonderful turn of events, that saved you from ruin. Write down the instances of God’s goodness to you when you were in sin, before your conversion, for which you have never been half thankful enough, and the numerous mercies you have received since. How long the catalogue of instances, where your ingratitude has been so blatant that you are forced to hide your face in confusion! Go on your knees and confess them one by one to God, and ask forgiveness. The very act of confession, by the laws of suggestion, will bring up others to your memory. Write these down. Go over them three or four times in this way, and see what an astonishing number of mercies there are for which you have never thanked God.
Lack of love to God. Think how grieved and alarmed you would be if you discovered any decrease of affection for you in your wife, husband, or children — if you saw another engrossing their hearts, and thoughts, and time. Perhaps in such a case you would practically die with a just and virtuous jealousy. Now, God calls himself a jealous God, have you not given your heart to other loves and in.nitely offended him?
Neglect of the Bible. Put down the cases when for perhaps weeks, or longer, God’s Word was not a pleasure. Some people, indeed, read over whole chapters in such a way that they could not tell what they
2 This lecture, one of Finney’s most famous, is an excellent example of his drawing from the example of Jonathan Edwards. In the tract Christian Cautions: The Necessity of Self-examination, Edwards exhorted his readers to systematically examine their lives for sin. The exercise that Finney is about to explain is very similar to that of Edwards in his tract. Edwards asked his readers to examine their lives for a set of sins that he described. Because Edwards believed in the necessity of living a holy life in order to be saved, this was an essential exercise of the Christian. As he writes in the tract, "Though men reform all other wicked practices, yet if they live in but one sinful way, which they do not forsake, it may prove their everlasting undoing" (Section I, Heading 2, Subheading 3). Since ignorance was no excuse, people were exhorted to proactively and diligently test their lives by the Bible. Edwards’ Scriptural supports for this exercise included the following verses: Deuteronomy 4:9, Psalm 139:23-24, Proverbs 4:23, Matthew 26:41, Luke 21:34-36, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Ephesians 5:15, Hebrews 3:12-13.
had been reading. If so, no wonder that your Christian walk is such a miserable failure.
Unbelief. Recall the instances in which you have practically charged the God of truth with lying, by your unbelief of his clear promises and declarations. God has promised to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. Now, have you believed this? Have you expected him to answer? Have you not practically said in your hearts when you prayed for the Holy Spirit, "I do not believe that I shall receive?" If you have not believed nor expected to receive the blessing that God has clearly promised, you have charged him with lying.
Neglect of prayer. Think of the times when you have neglected secret prayer, family prayer, and prayer meetings, or have prayed in such a way as to offend God more grievously than to have omitted it altogether.
Neglect of the means of grace. When you have made tri.ing excuses to prevent your attending meetings, have neglected and poured contempt upon the means of salvation, merely from dislike of spiritual duties.
The manner in which you have performed those duties. That is, with lack of feeling and lack of faith, in a worldly frame of mind, so that your words were nothing but the mere chattering of a wretch who did not deserve God’s least concern. Think of when you have fallen down upon your knees and "said your prayers" in such an unfeeling and apathetic manner that if you had been put under oath .ve minutes later, you could not have remembered what you had been praying for.
Lack of love for the souls of others. Look around at your friends and relatives, and remember how little compassion you have felt for them. You have stood by and seen them going right to hell, and it seems as though you did not care if they did go. How many days have there been, in which you did not make their condition the subject of a single fervent prayer, or demonstrate serious desire for their salvation?
Lack of care for nations without the gospel. Perhaps you have not cared enough for them to attempt to learn their condition, perhaps not even to read a missionary magazine. Look at this, and see how much you really care for the lost, and write down honestly the real amount of your feelings for them, and your desire for their salvation. Measure your desire for their salvation by the self-denial you practice, in giving of your resources to send them the gospel. Do you deny yourself even the hurtful super.uities of life, such as tea, coffee, and tobacco? Do you reduce your standard of living, and embrace subjecting yourself to any
inconvenience to save them? Do you daily pray for the lost in private? Are you saving something to put into the treasury of the Lord when you go up to pray? If you are not doing these things, and if your soul is not in agony for the poor ignorant lost, why are you such a hypocrite to pretend to be a Christian? Why, your profession is an insult to Jesus Christ!
Neglect of family duties. Think how you have lived before your family, how you have prayed, what an example you have set before them. What direct efforts do you habitually make for their spiritual good? What duty have you performed?
Neglect of watchfulness over your own life. In how many instances have you ignored your private duties, and have neither taken yourself to task, nor honestly made up your accounts with God! How often have you entirely neglected to watch your conduct, and having been off your guard, have sinned before the world, and before the church, and before God!
Neglect of watch over your fellow believers. How often have you broken your covenant that you would watch over them in the Lord! How little do you know or care about the state of their souls! And yet you are under a solemn oath to watch over them. What have you done to make yourself acquainted with them? In how many of them have you interested yourself, to know their spiritual state? Go over the list, and wherever you .nd there has been a neglect, write it down. How many times have you seen your fellow believers growing cold in religion, and have not spoken to them about it? You have seen them beginning to neglect one duty after another, and you did not reprove them, in a brotherly way. You have seen them falling into sin, and you let them go on. And yet you pretend to love them. What a hypocrite! Would you see your wife or child going into disgrace, or into the .re, and hold your peace? No, you would not. What do you then think of yourself, to pretend to love Christians and to love Christ, while you can see your fellow believers going into disgrace, and say nothing to them?
Neglect of self-denial. There are many professing Christians who are willing to do almost anything in religion that does not require self-denial. But when they are required to do anything that requires them to deny themselves — oh, that is too much! They think they are doing a great deal for God, and doing about as much as the Lord should reasonably ask. But they are not willing to deny themselves any comfort or convenience for the sake of serving the Lord. They will not willingly suffer hardship for the name of Christ. Nor will they deny
themselves the luxuries of life, to save a world from hell. They are so far from remembering that self-denial is a condition of discipleship that they do not know what self-denial is. They have never really denied themselves a ribbon or a pin for Christ and the gospel. Oh, how soon such professing Christians will be in hell! Some are giving from their abundance, and are giving much, and are ready to complain that others do not give more. However, in truth, they do not themselves give anything that they need, anything that they could enjoy if they kept it
— they only give of their surplus wealth. Perhaps that poor woman, who puts in her mite3, has exercised more self-denial than they have in giving thousands.
From these we now turn to Sins of Commission.
1. Worldly mindedness. What has been the state of your heart in regard to your worldly possessions? Have you looked at them as really yours
— as if you had a right to use them as your own, according to your own will? If you have, write that down. If you have loved property, and pursued it for its own sake, or to gratify lust, ambition, a worldly spirit, or to acquire it for your families, you have sinned and must repent.
Pride. Recollect all the instances you can in which you have found yourself being proud. Vanity is a particular form of pride. How many times have you found yourself pursuing vanity about your dress and appearance? How many times have you thought more, put more effort, and spent more time about decorating your body to go to church than you have about preparing your mind for the worship of God? You have cared more how you appeared outwardly in the sight of mortals, than how your soul appeared in the sight of the heart-searching God. You have, in fact, set up yourself to be worshiped by them, rather than prepared to worship God yourself. You sought to divide the worship of God’s house, to draw off the attention of God’s people to look at your pretty appearance. It is in vain to pretend now that you do not care at all about having people look at you. Be honest about it. Would you take all this effort about your looks if every person were blind?
Envy. Look at the cases in which you were envious of those whom you thought were above you in any way. Or perhaps you have envied those who have been more talented or more useful than yourself. Have you not so envied some that you have been hurt to hear them praised? It has been more agreeable to you to dwell upon their faults than upon their virtues, upon their failures than upon their success. Be honest with yourself. If you have harbored this spirit of hell, repent deeply
3 A reference to the woman in Mark 12:41-44.
before God, or he will never forgive you.
Criticizing. Think of instances in which you have had a bitter spirit, and spoken of Christians in a manner without charity and love. Charity requires you always to hope the best the situation will allow, and to offer the best explanation for any ambiguous conduct.
Slander. The times you have unnecessarily spoken behind people’s backs of the faults, real or supposed, of members of the church or others. This is slander. You do not need to lie to be guilty of slander. To tell the truth with the intent to injure is to slander.
Levity. How often have you tri.ed before God as you would not have dared to tri.e in the presence of an earthly ruler? You have either been an atheist and forgotten that there was a God, or have had less respect for him than you would for an earthly judge.
Lying. Understand now what lying is: any form of designed deception. If the deception is not designed, it is not lying. But if you intend to make an impression contrary to the plain truth, you lie. Put down all those cases you can remember. Do not call them by any soft name. God calls them LIES, and charges you with LYING, and you had better charge yourself correctly. How many are the falsehoods committed every day in business, and in social interactions, by words, and looks, and actions, designed to make an impression on others, for sel.sh reasons that is contrary to the truth!
Cheating. Write down all the cases in which you have done to an individual that which you would not like to have done to you. That is cheating. God has laid down a rule in the case, "Whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them."4 That is the rule. And if you have not done so you are a cheat.
Hypocrisy. For instance, consider your prayers and confessions to God. Write down the instances in which you have prayed for things you did not really want. And the evidence is, that when you .nished praying, you could not remember for what you had prayed. How many times have you confessed sins that you did not mean to break off, and when you had no solemn purpose not to repeat them?
Robbing God. Think of the instances in which you have wasted your time, squandering the hours that God gave you to serve him and save souls. Think of cases of vain amusements or foolish conversation, in reading novels or doing nothing, misapplying your talents and powers of mind, or squandering money on your lusts, or on things that you
4 Matthew 7:12
did not need, and which did not contribute to your health, comfort, or usefulness. Perhaps some of you have spent God’s money for tobacco. I will not speak of intoxicating drink, for I presume there is no professing Christian here that would drink it, and I hope there is not one that uses that .lthy poison, tobacco. Think of a professing Christian using God’s money to poison himself with tobacco!
Bad temper. Perhaps you have abused your wife, or your children, or your family, or servants, or neighbors. Write it all down.
Hindering others from being useful. Perhaps you have weakened their in.uence by accusations against them. You have not only robbed God of your own talents, but also tied the hands of somebody else. What a wicked servant is the person who not only wastes his own life but also hinders the rest! This is done sometimes by taking their time needlessly, sometimes by destroying Christian con.dence in them. Thus you have played into the hands of Satan, and not only showed yourself an idle vagrant, but prevented others from working.
If you .nd you have committed a fault against an individual and that individual is within your reach, go and confess it immediately, and get that out of the way. If the individual you have injured is too far off for you to go and see, sit down and write the person a letter and confess the injury. If you have defrauded anybody, send the money, the full amount and the interest.
Go thoroughly to work in all this. Go now. Do not put it off — that will only make the matter worse. Confess to God those sins that have been committed against him, and to people those sins that have been committed against them. Do not think of getting off track by going around the stumbling blocks. Take them up out of the way. In breaking up your fallow ground, you must remove every obstruction. Things may be left that you think are small things, and you may wonder why you do not feel as you wish to feel in religion, when the reason is that your proud and carnal mind has covered up something that God requires you to confess and remove. Break up all the ground and turn it over. Do not "balk" at it, as the farmers say. Do not turn aside for little dif.culties. Drive the plow right through them, aim deep, and turn the ground up, so that it may all be broken and soft, and .t to receive the seed and bear fruit "a hundredfold."
When you have thoroughly gone over your whole life history in this way, if you will then go over the ground a second time, and give your solemn and .xed attention to it, you will .nd that the things you have put down will remind you of other related and connected things of which you have been guilty. Then go over it a third time, and you will remember other things connected with these. And you will .nd in the end that you can remember an amount of history and particular actions, even in this life, which you did not think you would remember in eternity. Unless you take up your sins in this way, and consider them in detail, one by one, you cannot understand the amount of your sins. You should go over the list as thoroughly, and as carefully, and as solemnly, as you would if you were preparing yourself for the Judgment.
As you go over the catalogue of your sins, be sure to resolve upon present and entire reformation. Wherever you .nd anything wrong, resolve at once, in the strength of God, to sin no more in that way. It will be of no bene.t to examine yourself, unless you determine to correct in every way that which you .nd wrong in heart, temperament, or conduct.
If you .nd as you go on with this duty that your mind is still clouded and unfocused, there must be some reason for the Spirit of God to depart from you. You have not been faithful and thorough. In the progress of such a work you must force yourself as a rational being up to this work, with the Bible before you, and try your heart until you do feel. You need not expect that God will work a miracle for you to break up your fallow ground. It is to be done by means.
Fasten your attention to the subject of your sins. You cannot thoroughly look at your sins for long and see how bad they are, without feeling, and feeling deeply. Experience fully proves the bene.t of going over our history in this way. Set yourself to the work now. Resolve that you will not stop until you .nd that you can pray. You never will have the Spirit of God dwelling in you until you have unraveled this whole mystery of iniquity, and spread out your sins before God. Let there be this deep work of repentance and full confession, this breaking down before God, and you will have as much of the spirit of prayer as your body can bear. The reason why so few Christians know anything about the spirit of prayer is because they will not take the trouble to examine themselves properly, and so never know what it is to have their hearts completely broken up in this way.
You see that I have only begun to deal with this subject. I want to lay it out before you, in the course of these lectures, so that if you will begin and go on to do as I say, the results will be just as certain as they are when a farmer breaks up a fallow .eld, and softens it, and sows his grain. It will be so, if you will only begin in this way and keep on until all your hardened and callous hearts break up.
It will do no good to preach to you while your hearts are in this hardened, useless, and fallow state. The farmer might just as well sow his grain on the rock. It will bring forth no fruit. This is the reason why there are so many professing Christians in the church who are not bearing fruit, and why there is so much external showcase yet so little deep feeling. Look at the Sunday school, for instance, and see how much showcase there is and how little of the power of godliness. If you go on in this way the Word of God will continue to harden you, and you will grow worse and worse, just as the rain and snow on an old fallow .eld make the turf thicker and the lumps stronger.
See why so much preaching is wasted, and worse than wasted. It is because members of the church will not break up their fallow ground. A preacher may wear out his life, and do very little good, while there are so many "stony-ground" hearers, who have never had their fallow ground broken up. They are only half converted, and their religion is a change of opinion rather than a change of the feeling of their hearts. There is plenty of mechanical religion but very little that looks like deep heart-work.
Professing Christians should never satisfy themselves, or expect a revival, just by starting out of their slumbers, and blustering about, and talking to sinners. They must get their fallow ground broken up. It is utterly illogical to think of getting engaged in religion in this other way. If your fallow ground is broken up, then the way to get more feeling is to go out and see sinners on the road to hell, and talk to them, and guide inquiring souls, and you will experience more feeling. You may become excited without this breaking up of fallow ground. You may show a kind of zeal, but it will not last long, and it will not take hold of sinners, unless your hearts are broken up. The reason is that you go about it mechanically, and have not broken up your fallow ground.
And now, .nally, will you break up your fallow ground? Will you enter upon the course now pointed out and persevere until you are thoroughly awake? If you fail here, if you do not do this, and get prepared, you can go no further with me. I have gone with you as far as it is of any use to go until your fallow ground is broken up. Now, you must make thorough work upon this point, or all I have further to say will do you little good. No, it will only harden and make you worse. If, when the next lecture-night arrives, it .nds you with unbroken hearts, you should not expect to bene.t from what I shall say. If you do not set about this work immediately I shall take it for granted that you do not mean to be revived, that you have forsaken your minister, and in
tend to let him go up to battle alone. If you do not do this, I charge you with having forsaken Christ, with refusing to repent and "do the works you did at .rst"5 . But if you will be prepared to enter into the work, I propose, God willing, in the next lecture, to lead you into the work of saving sinners.
5 This phrase comes from Jesus’ saying, "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at .rst. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at .rst" (Revelation 2:4-5)
"The effective fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much." (James 5:16*)
There are two kinds of means necessary to promote a revival: one to in.uence people, the other to in.uence God. The truth is employed to in.uence people, and prayer to move God. When I speak of moving God, I do not mean that prayer changes God’s mind, or that his disposition or character is changed. But prayer produces a change in us that makes it consistent for God to act as it would not be consistent for him otherwise. When a sinner repents, that state of heart makes it proper for God to forgive him. God has always been ready to forgive him on that condition, so that when the sinner changes his heart and repents, it requires no change of heart in God to pardon him. It is the sinner’s repentance that makes God’s forgiveness proper, and is the occasion of God’s acting as he does. So when Christians offer effective prayer, their state of heart renders it proper for God to answer them. He was never unwilling to bestow the blessing — on the condition that their heart was right, and offered the right kind of prayer.
Prayer is an essential link in the chain of causes that lead to a revival, as much as truth is. Some have zealously used truth to convert men, and laid very little stress on prayer. They have preached, talked, and distributed tracts with great zeal, and then wondered why they had so little success. The reason was that they forgot to use the other branch of the means, effective prayer. They overlooked the fact that truth by itself will never produce the effect, without the Spirit of God, and that the Spirit is given in answer to prayer.
Sometimes it happens that those who are the most engaged in employ
ing truth are not the most engaged in prayer. This is always unfortunate. For unless they have the spirit of prayer (or unless some one else has), the truth by itself will do nothing but harden people in impenitence. Probably in the Day of Judgment it will be found that nothing is ever done by the truth, used ever so zealously, unless there is a spirit of prayer somewhere in connection with the presentation of truth.
Others err in the opposite direction. Not that they lay too much stress on prayer, but they overlook the fact that prayer might be offered forever, by itself, and nothing would be done. To expect the conversion of sinners by prayer alone, without the employment of truth, is to tempt God.
Our subject being Prevailing Prayer, I propose:
I. To show what is effective or prevailing prayer.
II. To state some of the most essential attributes of prevailing prayer.
III. To give some reasons why God requires this kind of prayer.
IV. To show that such prayer will avail much.
I. WHAT PREVAILING PRAYER IS
Effective, prevailing prayer, does not consist in benevolent desires alone. Benevolent desires are doubtless pleasing to God. Such desires pervade heaven and are found in all holy beings. But they are not prayer. People may have these desires as the angels and glori.ed spirits have them. But this is not the effective, prevailing prayer spoken of in the text. Prevailing prayer is something more than this.
Prevailing, or effective prayer, is that prayer which attains the blessing that it seeks. It is that prayer which effectively moves God. The very idea of effective prayer is that it achieves its goal.
II. ESSENTIAL ATTRIBUTES OF PREVAILING PRAYER
I cannot fully detail all the things that make up prevailing prayer. But I will mention some things that are essential to it, some things which a person must do in order to prevail in prayer.
1. A person must pray for a de.nite object. He need not expect to offer prevailing prayer if he prays at random, without any distinct or de.nite goal. He must have an object distinctly before his mind. speak now of secret prayer. Many people go away into their rooms alone "to pray," simply because "they must say their prayers." The time comes when they are in the habit of going alone for prayer — in the morning, at noon, or at whatever time of day it may be. But instead of having anything to say, any de.nite object before their mind, they fall down on their knees and pray for just what comes into their minds
— for everything that .oats in the imagination at the time. When they are .nished, they can hardly describe what they have been praying for. This is not effective prayer. What should we think of anybody who should try to move a Legislature in this way, and should say, "Now it is winter, and the Legislature is in session, and it is time to send up petitions," and should go up to the Legislature and petition at random, without any de.nite object? Do you think such petitions would move the Legislature?
A person must have some de.nite object before his mind. One cannot pray effectively for a variety of objects at once. The mind is so constituted that it cannot fasten its desires intensely upon many things at the same time. All the examples of effective prayer recorded in the Bible are purposeful. Wherever you see that the blessing sought in prayer was attained, you will .nd that the prayer that was offered was for that de.nite goal.
2. Prayer, to be effective, must be in accordance with the revealed will of God. To pray for things contrary to the revealed will of God is to tempt God. There are three ways in which God’s will is revealed to people for their guidance in prayer.
By clear promises or predictions in the Bible, that he will give or do certain things, promises in regard to particular things, or in general terms, so that we may apply them to particular things. For instance, there is this promise, "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24).
Sometimes God reveals his will by his Providence. It would be impossible to reveal everything in the Bible. But God often makes it clear to those who have spiritual discernment that it is his will to grant particular blessings.
By his Spirit. When God’s people are at a loss what to pray for, agreeable to his will, his Spirit often instructs them. Where there is no particular revelation, and Providence leaves it unclear, and we do not know what to pray for, we are told that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" and "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26). A great deal has been said on the subject of praying in faith for things not revealed. It is objected that this doctrine implies a new revelation. I answer that, new or old, it is the very revelation that the LORD says he makes. It is clear here that the Spirit of God helps the people of God to pray according to the will of
God, when they themselves do not know what to pray for. "And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:27). He leads Christians to pray for just those things, "with groanings too deep for words." When neither the Word nor Providence enables them to decide, let them be ".lled with the Spirit," as God commands them to be. He says, "Be .lled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). And he will lead their minds to those things that God is willing to grant.
3. To pray effectively you must pray with submission to the will of God. Do not confound submission with indifference. No two things are more different. I once knew an individual who came where there was a revival. He himself was cold, and did not enter into the spirit of it, and had no spirit of prayer. When he heard the believers pray as if they could not be denied, he was shocked at their boldness, and kept insisting on the importance of praying with submission. It was obvious that he confused submission with indifference.
Again, do not confuse submission in prayer with a general con.dence that God will do what is right. It is proper to have this con.dence that God will do right in all things. But this is different from submission. What I mean by submission in prayer is acquiescence in the revealed will of God. To submit to any command of God is to obey it. Submission to some possible, but secret, decree of God is not submission. To submit to any working of Providence is impossible until it comes. For we never can know what the event is to be, until it takes place.
Take a case: David, when his child was sick, was distressed, agonized in prayer, and refused to be comforted. He took it so much to heart that when the child died his servants were afraid to tell him. But as soon as he heard that the child was dead, he put aside his grief, arose, asked for food, and ate and drank as usual. While the child was alive he did not know what the will of God was, and so he fasted and prayed, and said, "Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" He did not know if his prayer and agony was the very thing on which it turned, whether the child was to live or not. He thought that if he humbled himself and begged God, perhaps God would spare him this blow. But as soon as God’s will appeared, and the child was dead, he bowed like a saint. "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:22-23). This was true submission. He reasoned correctly in the case. While he had no revelation of the will of God, he did not know if the child’s recovery depended on his prayer. But when he had a revelation of the will of God, he submitted. While the will of God is not known, to submit, without prayer, is tempting God. For all you know, your offering the right kind of prayer may be the thing on which the event turns. In the case of an impenitent friend, the very condition on which he is to be saved from hell may be the fervency and persistence of your prayer for that individual.
4. Effective prayer for an object implies a desire for that object proportional with its importance. If a person truly desires any blessing, his desires will have some proportion to the greatness of the blessing. The desires of the Lord Jesus Christ for the blessing he prayed for were amazingly strong, amounting even to agony. If the desire for an object is strong, and it is a benevolent desire, and the object is not contrary to the will and providence of God, the presumption is that it will be granted. There are two reasons for this presumption:
From the general benevolence of God. If it is a desirable object, it would be an act of benevolence of God to grant it. His general benevolence is presumptive evidence that he will grant it.
If you .nd yourself moved with benevolent desires for any object, there is a strong presumption that the Spirit of God is inducing these very desires and stirring you up to pray for that object, so that it may be granted in answer to prayer. In such a case no degree of desire or persistence in prayer is improper. A Christian may come up and take hold of the hand of God. Observe the case of Jacob, when he exclaimed in an agony of desire, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26). Was God displeased with his boldness and persistence? Not at all — he granted him the very thing he prayed for.
So it was in the case of Moses. God said to him, "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you" (Exodus 32:10). What did Moses do? Did he stand aside and let God do as he said? No, his mind goes back to the Egyptians, and he thinks how they will triumph. "Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out’? "1 It seemed as if he took hold of the uplifted hand of God, to avoid the blow. Did God rebuke him and tell him he had no business to interfere? No, it seemed as if he was unable to deny anything with such bold urgency, and so Moses stood in the gap, and prevailed with God.
Prevailing prayer is often offered in the present day, when Christians have been wrought up to such a pitch of fervent urgency and such a holy boldness afterwards when they looked back upon it, they were frightened and amazed at themselves to think they should have dared
1 Exodus 32:11
to exercise such boldness with God. And yet these prayers have prevailed, and obtained the blessing. And many of these people, with whom I am acquainted, are among the holiest people I know in the world.
Prayer, to be effective, must be offered from right motives. Prayer should not be sel.sh, but should be dictated by a supreme regard for the glory of God. A great deal is offered from pure sel.shness. Women sometimes pray for their husbands, that they may be converted because they say, "It would be so much more pleasant to have my husband go to church with me." And they seem never to lift up their thoughts above self at all. They do not seem to think how their husbands are dishonoring God by their sins, or how God would be glori.ed in their conversion. So it is very often with parents. They cannot bear to think that their children should be lost. They pray for them very earnestly indeed. But if you talk with them upon the subject they are very tender about it and tell you how good their children are — how they respect religion, and how they are indeed, "almost Christians now." So they talk as if they were afraid you would hurt their children by simply telling them the truth. They do not think how such amiable and lovely children are dishonoring God by their sins. They are only thinking what a dreadful thing it will be for them to go to hell. Unless their thoughts rise higher than this, their prayers will never prevail with a holy God.
The temptation to sel.sh motives is so strong that there is reason to fear that many parental prayers never rise above the yearnings of parental tenderness. And that is the reason why so many prayers are not answered and why so many pious, praying parents have ungodly children. Much of the prayer for the non-Christian world seems to be based on no higher principle than sympathy. Missionary agents and others are dwelling almost exclusively upon the hundreds of millions of the lost going to hell, while little is said of their dishonoring God. This is a great evil, and until the church learns to have higher motives for prayer and missionary effort than sympathy for the lost, her prayers and efforts will never amount to much.
Prayer, to be effective, must be by the intercession of the Spirit. You never can expect to offer prayer according to the will of God without the Spirit. There must be a faith, such as is produced by the effective operation of the Holy Spirit.
It must be persevering prayer. As a general fact, Christians who have backslidden and lost the spirit of prayer, will not get at once into the habit of persevering prayer. Their minds are not in a right state, and
they cannot .x their thoughts to hold on the object of prayer until the blessing comes. If their minds were in that state in which they would persevere until the answer came, effective prayer might be offered at once. But they have to pray again and again, because their thoughts are so likely to wander away and are so easily diverted from the object.
Most Christians come up to prevailing prayer by a long process. Their minds gradually become .lled with anxiety about an object, so that they will even go about their business breathing out their desires to God. Just as the mother whose child is sick goes around her house sighing as if her heart would break. And if she is a praying mother, her sighs are breathed out to God all day long. If she goes out of the room where her child is, her mind is still on it. If she is asleep, still her thoughts are on it, and she starts in her dreams, thinking that perhaps the child may be dying. Her whole mind is absorbed in that sick child. This is the state of mind in which Christians offer prevailing prayer.
Why did Jacob wrestle all night in prayer with God? He knew that he had done his brother Esau a great injury in stealing the birthright a long time before. And now he was informed that his injured brother was coming to meet him with an armed force, altogether too powerful to contend with. And there was great reason to suppose that Esau was coming with a purpose of revenge. There were two reasons then why Jacob should be distressed. The .rst was that he had done this great injury and had never made any reparation. The other was that Esau was coming with a force suf.cient to crush him. Now what does he do? He .rst arranges everything in the best way he can to placate and meet his brother: sending his present .rst, then his property, then his family, putting those he loved farthest behind. And by this time his mind was so exercised that he could not contain himself. He goes away alone over the brook and pours out his very soul in an agony of prayer all night. And just as the day was breaking, the Angel of the Covenant said, "Let me go." Yet Jacob’s whole being was agonized at the thought of giving up, and he cried out, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." His soul was wrought up in agony, and he obtained the blessing, but he always bore the marks of it, and showed that his body had been greatly affected by this mental struggle. This is prevailing prayer.
Prayer is not effective unless it is offered up with an agony of desire. The apostle Paul speaks of it as a travail of the soul. Jesus Christ, when he was praying in the garden, was in such agony that "his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). I have never known a person sweat blood, but I have known a person pray until the blood started from his nose. And I have known people pray until they were all wet with perspiration, in the coldest weather in winter. I have known people pray for hours, until their strength was all exhausted with the agony of their minds. Such prayers prevailed with God.
This agony in prayer was prevalent in President Edwards’ day, in the revivals that then took place.2 It was one of the great stumbling blocks in those days to people who were opposed to the revival, that people used to pray until their body was overpowered with their feelings. I will give a paragraph of what President Edwards says on the subject, to let you see that this is not a new thing in the church, but has always prevailed wherever revivals prevailed with power. It is from his "Thoughts on Revival."3
We cannot determine that God shall never give any person so much of a discovery of himself, not only as to weaken their bodies, but to take away their lives. It is supposed by very learned and judicious divines, that Moses’ life was taken away in this way, and this has also been supposed to be the case with some other saints. . . If God gives a great increase of discoveries of himself, and of love to him, the bene.t is in.nitely greater than the calamity, though the life should presently be taken away. . .
There is one particular kind of exercise in which many have been overpowered, which has been especially stumbling to some. That is, their deep distress for the souls of others. . . People may be allowed, from no higher a principle than common humanity, to be very deeply concerned, and greatly exercised in mind, at seeing others in great danger of, or being burned up in a house on .re. And it will be allowed to be equally reasonable, if they saw them in danger of a calamity ten times greater, to be still much more concerned, and so much more still, if the calamity was still vastly greater. Why then should it be thought unreasonable and looked upon with a very suspicious eye, as if it must come from some bad cause, when persons are extremely concerned at seeing others in very great danger of suffering the .erceness and wrath of almighty God to all eternity? Besides, it will doubtless be allowed that those that
2 President Edwards is a reference to Jonathan Edwards, who served as President of Princeton University in 1758. 3 From Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England by Jonathan Edwards, Part I, Section II, Subheading II.
have great degrees of the Spirit of God, which is a Spirit of love, may well be supposed to have vastly more love and compassion to their fellow-creatures, than those that are in.uenced only by common humanity. Why should it be thought strange that those that are full of the Spirit of Christ should be proportionally in their love to souls, like Christ? He had so strong a love and concern for them, to be willing to drink the dregs of the cup of God’s fury. At the same time that he offered up his blood for souls, he offered up also, as their High Priest, strong crying and tears4, with an extreme agony, where the soul of Christ was in travail for the souls of the elect. Therefore, in saving them, he is said to see the travail of his soul. As such a spirit of love and concern for souls was the spirit of Christ, so it is that of the church. Therefore the church, in desiring and seeking that Christ might be brought forth in the souls of others, is represented as pregnant and "crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth" (Revelation 12:2). The spirit of those who have been in distress for the souls of others, so far as I can discern, seems not to be different from that of the apostle, who travailed for souls, and was ready to wish himself accursed from Christ, for others.5 Nor from that of the Psalmist. . . "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law" (Psalm 119:136). Nor from that of the prophet Jeremiah, "My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war" (Jeremiah 4:19). And so Jeremiah 9:1, 13:17, and Isaiah 22:4. We read of Mordecai, when he saw his people in danger of being destroyed with earthly destruction, that he "tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry" (Esther 4:1). And why then should persons be thought to be distracted when they cannot refrain from crying out, at the consideration of the misery of those that are going to eternal destruction?
I have quoted this to show that this was common in the great revivals of those days. It has always been so in all great revivals, and has been more or less common in proportion to the greatness, and extent, and
4 Hebrews 5:7 5 Romans 9:3
depth of the work. It was so in the great revivals in Scotland6, and many people used to be overpowered, and some almost died, by the depth of their agony.
If you mean to pray effectively, you must pray a great deal. It was said of the Apostle James that after he was dead it was found that his knees were callous, like a camel’s knees, by praying so much. Ah, here was the secret of the success of those early ministers! They had callous knees!
If you intend prayer to be effective, you must offer it in the name of Christ. You cannot come to God in your own name. You cannot plead your own merits. But you can come in a name that is always acceptable. You all know what it is to use the name of a person. If you should go to the bank with a draft or note, endorsed by John Jacob
6 This would apply to John Livingstone, who spent the whole night prior to June 21, 1630 in prayer and conference, being designated the next day to preach at the Kirk of Shotts. He preached the next day on Ezekiel 36:25-26. After he preached for an hour and a half a few drops of rain dispersed the people. Livingstone, asking the people if they had any shelter from the storm of God’s wrath, went on for another hour. About .ve hundred were converted on the spot. This revival was linked to another revival at the great meeting at Kilsyth on July 23, 1839. William Chalmers Burns, preaching on Psalm 110:3, retold the story of the Kirk of Shotts, and pressed immediate acceptance of Christ: "I felt my own soul moved in a manner so remarkable that I was led, like Mr. Livingstone, to plead with the unconverted instantly to close with God’s offer of mercy. . . The power of the Lord’s spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the ‘rushing mighty wind’ of Pentecost. Some were screaming out in agony. Others — and among these strong men — fell to the ground as if they had been dead. I was obliged to give out a psalm, our voices being mingled with the mourning groans of many prisoners sighing for deliverance." So also, prayer prevailed at Cambuslang, Scotland in the revival under William Mc-Culloch and George White.eld (1741-1742). When White.eld reached Cambuslang he immediately preached to a vast congregation on a Tuesday at noon. At six o’clock he preached again, and a third time at nine. Then McCulloch took up the parable and preached until one in the morning, and still the people were unwilling to leave. So many were convicted, crying to God for mercy, that White.eld described the scene as "a very .eld of battle." On the ensuing Communion Sunday, White.eld preached to twenty thousand people; and again on the Monday, when, he said, "you might have seen thousands bathed in tears, some at the same time wringing their hands, others almost swooning, and others crying out and mourning over a pierced Savior. It was like the Passover in Josiah’s time." On the voyage from London to Scotland, prior to this campaign, White.eld had "spent most of his time on board ship in secret prayer." See Gledstone’s "George White.eld, M.A., Field Preacher." (This footnote taken from the original notes provided by the Fleming Revell Company.)
Astor7, that would be giving you his name, and you know you could get the money from the bank just as well as he could himself. Now, Jesus Christ gives you the use of his name. And when you pray in the name of Christ, it means that you can prevail just as well as he could himself, and receive just as much as God’s beloved Son would if he were to pray himself for the same things. But you must pray in faith.
You cannot prevail in prayer without renouncing all your sins. You must not only recall them to mind, and repent of them, but you must actually renounce them, and leave them off, and in the purpose of your heart renounce them all forever.
You must pray in faith. You must expect to obtain the things for which you ask. You need not look for an answer to prayer, if you pray without any expectation of obtaining it. You are not to form such expectations without any reason for them. In the cases I have supposed, there is a reason for the expectation. In case the thing is revealed in God’s Word, if you pray without an expectation of receiving the blessings, you just make God a liar. If the will of God is indicated by his providence, you should depend on it, according to the clarity of the indication, so far as to expect the blessing if you pray for it. And if you are led by his Spirit to pray for certain things, you have as much reason to expect those things to be done as if God had revealed it in his Word.
But some say, "Will not this view of the leadings of the Spirit of God lead people into fanaticism?" I answer that I do not know but many may deceive themselves about this matter. Many have deceived themselves in regard to all the other points of religion. And if some people should think they are led by the Spirit of God, when it is nothing but their own imagination, is that any reason why those who know that they are led by the Spirit should not follow the Spirit? Many people suppose themselves to be converted when they are not. Is that any reason why we should not cling to the Lord Jesus Christ? Suppose some people are deceived in thinking they love God, is that any reason why the pious saint who knows he has the love of God shed abroad in his heart should not give expression to his feelings in songs of praise? Some may deceive themselves in thinking they are led by the Spirit of God. But there is no need of being deceived. If people follow impulses, it is their own fault. I do not want you to follow impulses. I want you to be sober-minded, and follow the sober, rational leadings of the Spirit of God. There are those who understand what I mean, and who know very well what it is to give themselves up to the Spirit of God in prayer.
7 Astor (1763-1848), a famous businessman, was for a time the wealthiest person in the United States.
III. WHY GOD REQUIRES SUCH PRAYER
I will state some of the reasons why these things are essential to effective prayer. Why does God require such prayer, such strong desires, such agonizing supplications?
1. These strong desires illustrate the strength of God’s feelings. They are like the real feelings of God for impenitent sinners. When I have seen, as I sometimes have, the amazing strength of love for souls that has been felt by Christians, I have been wonderfully impressed with the amazing love of God, and his desire for their salvation. The case of a certain woman, of whom I read, in a revival, made the greatest impression on my mind. She had such an unutterable compassion and love for souls that she actually panted for breath. What must be the strength of the desire that God feels, when his Spirit produces in Christians such amazing agony, such pangs of soul, such travail — God has chosen the best word to express it. It is travail — travail of the soul.
I have seen a man of as much strength of intellect and muscle as any man in the community fall down prostrate, absolutely overpowered by his unutterable desires for sinners. I know this is a stumbling block to many, and it always will be as long as there remain in the church so many blind and dull professing Christians. But I cannot doubt that these things are the work of the Spirit of God. Oh, that the whole church could be so .lled with the Spirit as to travail in prayer, until a nation should be born in a day!
It is said in the Word of God, "as soon as Zion travailed, she gave birth" (Isaiah 66:8*). What does that mean? I asked a professor of religion this question once. He was taking exception to our ideas of effective prayer, and I asked what he supposed was meant by Zion’s travailing. He said, "Oh, it means that as soon as the church shall walk together in the fellowship of the gospel, then it will be said that Zion travels! This walking together is called traveling." Not the same term, you see.
2. These strong desires that I have described are the natural results of great benevolence and clear views regarding the danger of sinners. It is perfectly reasonable that it should be so. If the women who are present should look up and see a family burning to death in a .re and hear their shrieks, and behold their agony, they would feel distressed, and it is very likely that many of them would faint with agony. And nobody would wonder at it, or say they were fools or crazy to feel so distressed at such an awful sight. It would be thought strange if there were not some expressions of powerful feeling. Why is it any wonder, then, if Christians should feel as I have described when they have clear views of the state of sinners and the awful danger they are in? The fact is that those individuals who never have felt so have never felt much real benevolence, and their piety must be of a very super.cial character. I do not mean to judge harshly, or to speak unkindly, but I state it as a simple matter of fact. People may talk about it as they please, but I know such piety is super.cial. This is not criticizing, but plain truth.
People sometimes "wonder at Christians having such feelings." Wonder at what? Why, at the natural, logical, and necessary results of deep piety towards God, and deep benevolence towards humanity, in view of the great danger they see sinners to be in.
3. The soul of a Christian, when it is thus burdened, must have relief. God rolls this weight upon the soul of a Christian, for the purpose of bringing him nearer to himself. Christians are often so unbelieving that they will not exercise proper faith in God until he rolls this burden upon them so heavily that they cannot live under it, but must go to him for relief. It is like the case of many a convicted sinner. God is willing to receive him at once, if he will come right to him, with faith in Jesus Christ. But the sinner will not come. He hangs back, and struggles, and groans under the burden of his sins, and will not throw himself upon God, until his burden of conviction becomes so great that he can no longer live. When he is driven to desperation, and feels as if he were ready to sink into hell, he makes a mighty plunge, and throws himself upon God’s mercy as his only hope. It was his duty to come before. God had no delight in his distress, for its own sake.
So, when professing Christians get loaded down with the weight of souls, they often pray again and again, and yet the burden is not gone nor their distress relieved, because they have never thrown it all upon God in faith. But they cannot get rid of the burden. So long as their benevolence continues, it will remain and increase. Unless they resist and quench the Holy Spirit, they can get no relief, until when they are eventually driven to an extreme, they make a desperate effort, roll the burden upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and exercise a childlike con.dence in him. Then they feel relieved. Then they feel as if the soul they were praying for would be saved. The burden is gone, and God seems in kindness to soothe the mind with a sweet assurance that the blessing will be granted. Often, after a Christian has had this struggle, this agony in prayer, and has obtained relief in this way, you will .nd the sweetest and most heavenly affections .ow out — the soul rests sweetly and gloriously in God, and rejoices "with joy that is inexpressible and .lled with glory" (1 Peter 1:8).
Do any of you think that there are no such things now in the experience of believers? If I had time, I could show you, from President Edwards and other approved writers, cases and descriptions just like this. Do you ask why we never have such things here? I tell you it is not at all because you are so much wiser than Christians are in rural districts, or because you have so much more intelligence or more enlarged views of the nature of religion, or a more stable and well controlled piety. I tell you, no. Instead of priding yourselves in being free from such extravagances, you should hide your heads, because Christians in the city are so worldly, and have so much starch, and pride, and fashion, that they cannot come down to such spirituality as this. I wish it could be so. Oh, that there might be such a spirit in this city and in this church! I know it would make a commotion if we had such things done here. But I would not care. Let them say, if they please, that the folks in Chatham Chapel8 are getting deranged. We need not be afraid of that, if we live near enough to God to enjoy his Spirit in the manner I have described.
4. These effects of the spirit of prayer upon the body are themselves no part of religion. It is only that the body is often so weak that the feelings of the soul overpower it. These bodily effects are not at all essential to prevailing prayer, but are only a natural result of highly excited emotions of the mind. It is not at all unusual for the body to be weakened, and even overcome, by any powerful emotion of the mind, on other subjects besides religion. The doorkeeper of Congress, in the time of the Revolution, fell down dead on receiving some highly cheering intelligence. I knew a woman in Rochester who was in a great agony of prayer for the conversion of her son-in-law. One morning he was at an anxious meeting9, and she remained at home praying for him. At the close of the meeting he came home a convert, and she was so rejoiced that she fell down and died on the spot. It is no more strange that these effects should be produced by religion than by strong feeling on any
8 The old Chatham Street Theater, New York, a popular place of blasphemy and vice, was purchased by a committee, including Lewis Tappan and other friends of Finney’s. It was during the revivals of 1831 that two gentlemen called on the leaseholder and proposed to buy his lease. He said, "What for?" "For a church," they replied. "A w-h-a-t?" he inquired aghast. "A church," they reiterated. The astonished man broke into tears and exclaimed, "You may have it, and I will give you a thousand dollars towards it." When the house was consecrated to the service of God, Finney preached on "Who is on the Lord’s side?" The bar was changed into a prayer-room and the .rst convert was an actor. Finney continued to preach there until the Broadway Tabernacle was built. (This footnote taken from the original notes provided by the Fleming Revell Company.)
9 An anxious meeting is a meeting especially held for convicted (also called anxious) sinners. In this meeting, instructions are given as to how to obtain salvation.
other subject. It is not essential to prayer, but is the natural result of great efforts of the mind.
Doubtless one great reason why God requires the exercise of this agonizing prayer is, that it forms such a bond of union between Christ and the church. It creates a deep sympathy between them. It is as if Christ came and poured the over.ow of his own benevolent heart into his people, and led them to sympathize and to cooperate with him as they never do in any other way. They feel just as Christ feels — so full of compassion for sinners that they cannot contain themselves. Thus it is often with those ministers who are successful in preaching to sinners. They often have such compassion and such over.owing desires for their salvation that these are shown in their speaking, and their preaching, just as though Jesus Christ spoke through them. The words come from their lips fresh and warm, as if from the very heart of Christ. I do not mean that he dictates their words, but he excites the feelings that give utterance to them. Then you see a movement in the hearers, as if Christ himself spoke through lips of clay.
This travailing in birth for souls creates also a remarkable bond of union between warm-hearted Christians and the young converts. Those who are converted appear very dear to the hearts that have had this spirit of prayer for them. The feeling is like that of a mother for her .rst-born. Paul expresses it beautifully when he says, "My little children!" His heart was warm and tender to them. "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again" — they had backslidden, and he has all the agonies of a parent over a wandering child — "I travail in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19*). In a revival, I have often noticed how those who had the spirit of prayer, loved the young converts. I know this is all so much algebra to those who have never felt it. But to those who have experienced the agony of wrestling, prevailing prayer, for the conversion of a soul, that soul, after it is converted, appears as dear as a child is to the mother. He has agonized for it, received it in answer to prayer, and can present it before the Lord Jesus Christ, saying, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me" (Isaiah 8:18. See also Hebrews 2:13).
Another reason why God requires this sort of prayer is, that it is the only way in which the church can be properly prepared to receive great blessings without being injured by them. When the church is thus prostrated in the dust before God, and is in the depth of agony in prayer, the blessing does them good. While at the same time, if they had received the blessing without this deep prostration of soul, it would have puffed them up with pride. But as it is, it increases their
holiness, their love, and their humility.
IV. SUCH PRAYER WILL AVAIL MUCH
The prophet Elijah mourned over the deteriorations of the house of Israel, and when he saw that no other means were likely to be effective, to prevent a perpetual going away into idolatry, he prayed that the judgments of God might come upon the guilty nation. He prayed that it might not rain, and God shut up the heavens for three years and six months, until the people were driven to the last extremity. And when he sees that it is time to relent what does he do? See him go up to the mountain and bow down in prayer. He wished to be alone. He told his servant to go seven times, while he was agonizing in prayer. The last time, the servant told him that a little cloud had appeared, like a man’s hand, and he instantly arose from his knees — the blessing was obtained. The time had come for the calamity to be turned back. "Ah, but," you say, "Elijah was a prophet." Now, do not make this objection. They made it in the apostle’s days, and what does the apostle say? Why he brought forward this very example, and the fact that Elijah was a human with the same passions as ourselves, as a case of prevailing prayer, and insisted that they should pray in the same way too (1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45; James 5:17). John Knox was a man famous for his power in prayer, so that Queen Mary of England used to say that she feared his prayers more than all the armies of Europe. And events showed that she had reason to do it. He used to be in such an agony for the deliverance of his country, that he could not sleep. He had a place in his garden where he used to go to pray. One night he and several friends were praying together, and as they prayed, Knox spoke and said that deliverance had come. He could not tell what had happened, but he felt that something had taken place, for God had heard their prayers. What was it? Why, the next news they received was that Mary was dead!
Take a fact that was related to me by a minister. He said that in a certain town there had been no revival for many years, the church was nearly extinct, the youth were all unconverted, and desolation reigned unbroken. There lived in a retired part of the town, an elderly man, a blacksmith by trade, with so stammering a tongue that it was painful to hear him speak. On one Friday, as he was working alone in his shop, his mind was greatly stirred about the state of the church and of the impenitent. His agony became so great that he was induced to stop his work, lock the shop door, and spend the afternoon in prayer.
He prevailed, and on the Sabbath called on the minister and wanted him to appoint a "conference meeting." After some hesitation, the minister agreed, observing however, that he feared only few would attend. He arranged it for the same evening at a large private house. When evening came, more assembled than could be accommodated in the house. All were silent for a while until one sinner broke out in tears and asked, if anyone could pray, would he pray for him? Another followed, and another, and still another, until it was found that people from every quarter of the town were under deep conviction. And what was remarkable was, that they all dated their conviction at the hour that the old man was praying in his shop. A powerful revival followed. Thus this old stammering man prevailed, and as a prince had power with God.
1. A great deal of prayer is lost, and many people never prevail in prayer, because, when they have desires for particular blessings, they do not follow them up. They may have desires, benevolent and pure, which are excited by the Spirit of God. When they have them, they should persevere in prayer, for if they turn off their attention, they will quench the Spirit. When you .nd these holy desires in your minds:
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not be diverted to other objects. Follow the leadings of the Spirituntilyouhave offeredthat"effectivefervent prayer"that"avails much" (James 5:16*).
Without the spirit of prayer, ministers will do only little good. A minister need not expect much success unless he prays for it. Sometimes others may have the spirit of prayer and obtain a blessing on his labors. Generally, however, those preachers are the most successful who have most of the spirit of prayer themselves.
Not only must ministers have the spirit of prayer, but it is necessary that the church should unite in offering that effective fervent prayer which can prevail with God. "This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them" (Ezekiel 36:37).10
Now I have only to ask you, about what I have set forth, "Will you do it?" Have you done what I said to you at the last lecture? Have you gone over your sins, and confessed them, and got them all out of the way? Can you pray now? And will you join and offer prevailing prayer that the Spirit of God may come down here?
10 The full verse reads, "Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a .ock." (Ezekiel 36:37)
THE PRAYER OF FAITH
"Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:24)
These words have been supposed by some to refer exclusively to the faith of miracles. But there is not the least evidence of this. The fact that the text was not intended by our Savior to refer exclusively to the faith of miracles is proved by its context. If you read the chapter, you will see that Christ and his apostles, as they returned from their place of rest in the morning, faint and hungry, saw a .g tree at a distance. It looked very beautiful, and doubtless gave signs of having fruit on it. But when they came near, they found nothing on it but leaves.
And [Jesus] said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. . . As they passed by in the morning, they saw the .g tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The .g tree that you cursed has withered." And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him." (Mark 11:14,20-23)
Then the words of the text follow, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Our Savior wanted to give his disciples instructions about the nature and power of prayer, and the necessity of strong faith in God. He therefore stated a very strong case, a miracle — one so great as the removal of a mountain into the sea. And he tells them, that if they exercise a proper faith in God, they might do such things. But his remarks are
not to be limited to faith merely in regard to working miracles, because he goes on to say, "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25).
Does that relate to miracles? When you pray, you must forgive. Is that required only when a person wishes to work a miracle? There are many other promises in the Bible related to this, and in nearly the same language, which have been similarly disregarded, supposing the promises refer to the faith employed in miracles. Just as if the faith of miracles was something different from faith in God!
In the last lecture I dwelt upon the subject of Prevailing Prayer. You will remember that I passed over the subject of faith in prayer very brie.y, because I wished to reserve it for a separate discussion. The subject of the present lecture, then, is the Prayer of Faith. I propose to show:
I. That faith is a necessary condition of prevailing prayer.
II. What it is that we are to believe when we pray.
III. When we are obligated to exercise this faith, or to believe that we shall receive the thing we ask for.
That this kind of faith in prayer always obtains the blessing sought.
To explain how we are to come into the state of mind in which we can exercise such faith.
VI. To answer several objections, which are sometimes alleged against these views of prayer.
I. FAITH A NECESSARY CONDITION
This fact will not be seriously doubted. There is such a thing as offering benevolent desires, which are acceptable to God as such, that do not include the exercise of faith regarding the actual receiving of those blessings. But such desires are not prevailing prayer, the prayer of faith. God may see .t to grant the things desired, as an act of kindness and love, but it would not be properly in answer to prayer. I am speaking now of the kind of faith that ensures the blessing. Do not understand me as saying that there is nothing in prayer that is acceptable to God, or that even obtains the blessing sometimes, without this kind of faith. But I am speaking of the faith that secures the very blessing it seeks. To prove that faith is necessary to prevailing prayer, it is only necessary to repeat what the apostle James clearly tells us, " If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:5-6).
II. WHAT WE ARE TO BELIEVE WHEN WE PRAY
We are to believe in the existence of God. "Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). There are many who believe in the existence of God, but do not believe in the ef.cacy of prayer. They profess to believe in God, but deny the necessity or in.uence of prayer.
We are to believe that we shall receive. Not something, or anything, but some particular thing we ask for. We are not to think that God is such a Being, that if we ask for a .sh he will give us a serpent, or if we ask for bread, he will give us a stone. But he says, "whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." With respect to the faith of miracles, it is obvious that the disciples were obligated to believe they should receive just what they asked for
— that the very thing itself should come to pass. Now, what should people believe in regard to other blessings? Is it a mere loose idea, that if a person prays for a speci.c blessing, God will by some mysterious Sovereignty give something or another to him, or something to somebody else, somewhere? When a person prays for his children’s conversion, is he to believe that either his children will be converted or somebody else’s children — it is completely uncertain which? No, this is utter nonsense and highly dishonorable to God. We are to believe that we shall receive the very things that we ask for.
III. WHEN ARE WE OBLIGATED TO MAKE THIS PRAYER?
When are we obligated to believe that we shall have the very things we pray for? I answer, "when we have evidence of it." Faith must always have evidence. A person cannot believe a thing, unless he sees something that he supposes to be evidence. He is under no obligation to believe, and has no right to believe, something will be done, unless he has evidence. It is the height of fanaticism to believe without evidence. The kinds of evidence a person may have are the following:
1. Suppose that God has especially promised it. For instance, God says he is more ready to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask, than parents are to give bread to their children. Here we are obligated to believe that we shall receive it when we pray for it. You have no right to put an if, and say, "Lord, if it be your will, give us your Holy Spirit." This is to insult God. To put an "if" into God’s promise, where God has put none, is equal to charging God with being insincere. It is like saying, "O God, if you are sincere in making these promises, grant us the blessing we pray for."
I heard of a case where a young convert was used to teach a minister a solemn truth on the subject of prayer. She was from a very wicked family, but went to live at a minister’s house. While there she was hopefully converted1 . One day she went to the minister’s study while he was there — something she was not in the habit of doing. He thought there must be something wrong with her. So he asked her to sit down, and kindly asked the state of her religious feelings. She then told him that she was distressed at the manner in which the older church members prayed for the Spirit. They would pray for the Holy Spirit to come, and would seem to be very sincere, and plead the promises of God, and then say, "O Lord, if it be your will, grant us these blessings for Christ’s sake." She thought that saying, "If it be your will," when God had clearly promised it was questioning whether God was sincere in his promises. The minister tried to reason her out of it, and he succeeded in confusing her. But she was distressed and .lled with grief and said, "I cannot argue the point with you, sir. But it is impressed on my mind that it is wrong, and dishonoring to God." And she went away, weeping with anguish. The minister saw she was not satis.ed, and it led him to study the matter again. Finally he saw that it was putting an "if" where God had put none and where he had clearly revealed his will. He saw that it was an insult to God. Then he went and told his people they were obligated to believe that God was sincere when he made them a promise. And the spirit of prayer came down upon that church, and a most powerful revival followed.
2. Where there is a general promise in the Scriptures that you may reasonably apply to the particular case before you. If its real meaning includes the particular thing for which you pray, or if you can reasonably apply the principle of the promise to the case, there you have evidence. There are general promises and principles laid down in the Bible that Christians might make use of, if they would only think. Whenever you are in circumstances to which the promises or principles apply, there you are to use them. A parent .nds this promise, "But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear
1 The expression "hopefully converted" was applied to those who professed faith and now lived consistent with Christian behavior. The expression can be found in Puritan writings such as those of Jonathan Edwards. It re.ects a cautious attitude in which seeing someone profess faith and live a holy life is not enough to de.nitively say that person is a Christian (though it is minimally necessary). Since a person cannot know someone else’s heart, the expression "hopefully converted" was used to effectively mean, "converted as far as can be determined."
him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments" (Psalm 103:17-18). Now, here is a promise made to those who possess a certain character. If any parent is conscious that this is his character, he has a rightful ground to apply it to himself and his family. If you have this character, you are obligated to make use of this promise in prayer, and believe it, even to your children’s children.
I could go from one end of the Bible to the other, and produce an astonishing variety of texts that are applicable as promises. This would be enough to prove, that in whatever circumstances a child of God may be placed, God has provided in the Bible some promise, either general or particular, which he can apply, that is precisely suited to his case. Many of God’s promises are very broad, to intentionally cover much ground. What can be broader than the promise in our text, "Whatever you ask in prayer"? What praying Christian is there who has not been surprised at the length and breadth and fullness of the promises of God when the Spirit has applied them to his heart? Who that lives a life of prayer has not wondered at his own blindness, in not having before seen and felt the extent of meaning and richness of those promises, when viewed under the light of the Spirit of God? At such times he has been astonished at his own ignorance, and found the Spirit applying the promises and declarations of the Bible in a sense in which he had never before dreamed of their being applicable.
The manner in which the apostles applied the promises, prophecies, and declarations of the Old Testament, places in a strong light the breadth of meaning, fullness, and richness of the Word of God. He that walks in the light of God’s countenance and is .lled with the Spirit of God as he should be will often make an application of promises to his own circumstances, and the circumstances of those for whom he prays, that a blind professor of religion would never dream of making.
3. Where there is any prophetic declaration that the thing prayed for is in the will of God. When it is plain from prophecy that the event is certainly to come, you are obligated to believe it, and to make it the ground for your special faith in prayer. If the time is not speci.ed in the Bible, and there is no evidence from other sources, you are not obligated to believe that it shall take place immediately. But if the time is speci.ed, or if the time may be learned from the study of the prophecies, and it appears to have arrived, then Christians are under obligation to understand and apply it, by offering the prayer of faith. For instance, take the case of Daniel, in regard to the return of the Jews from captivity. What does he say? "I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years" (Daniel 9:2). Here he learned from books, that is, he studied his Bible, and in that way understood that the length of the captivity was to be seventy years.
What does he do then? Does he sit down upon the promise, and say, "God has pledged himself to put an end to the captivity in seventy years, and the time has expired, and there is no need of doing anything"? Oh, no. He says, "Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes" (Daniel 9:3). He set himself at once to pray that the thing might be accomplished. He prayed in faith. But what was he to believe? What he had learned from the prophecy. There are many prophecies yet unful.lled, in the Bible, which Christians are obligated to understand, as far as they are capable of understanding them, and then make them the basis of believing prayer. Do not think, as some seem to do, that because a thing is foretold in prophecy it is not necessary to pray for it, or that it will come whether Christians pray for it or not. God says, in regard to this very class of events, which are revealed in prophecy, "This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them" (Ezekiel 36:37).
When the signs of the times, or the providence of God, indicate that a particular blessing is about to be given, we are obligated to believe it. The Lord Jesus Christ blamed the Jews, and called them hypocrites, because they did not understand the indications of Providence. They could understand the signs of the weather, and see when it was about to rain, and when it would be fair weather. But they could not see from the signs of the times that the time had come for the Messiah to appear and build up the house of God. There are many professing Christians who are always stumbling and hanging back whenever anything to be done is proposed. They always say, "The time has not come — the time has not come," when there are others who pay attention to the signs of the times, and who have spiritual discernment to understand them. These pray in faith for the blessing and it comes.
When the Spirit of God is upon you, and excites strong desires for any blessing, you are obligated to pray for it in faith. You are obligated to infer, from the fact that you .nd yourself drawn to desire such a thing while in the exercise of such holy affections as the Spirit of God produces, that these desires are the work of the Spirit. People are not likely to desire with the right kind of desires unless the Spirit of God excites them. The apostle refers to these desires, excited by the Spirit,
where he says, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27). Here, then, if you .nd yourself strongly drawn to desire a blessing, you are to understand it as an indication that God is willing to bestow that particular blessing, and so you are obligated to believe it. God does not tri.e with his children. He does not go and excite in them a desire for one blessing, to turn them off with something else. But he excites the very desires he is willing to gratify. And when they feel such desires, they are obligated to follow them out until they get the blessing.
IV. THIS KIND OF FAITH ALWAYS OBTAINS THE OBJECT
The text is clear here, to show that you shall receive the very thing prayed for. It does not say, "Believe that you have received it, and you will either have that or something else equivalent to it." To prove that this faith obtains the very blessing that is asked, I observe:
That otherwise we could never know whether our prayers were answered. We might continue praying and praying, long after the prayer was answered by some other blessing equivalent to the one for which we asked.
If we are not obligated to expect the very thing we ask for, it must be that the Spirit of God deceives us. Why should he excite us to desire a certain blessing when he means to grant something else?
What is the meaning of this passage, "which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone"? (Matthew 7:9). Does not our Savior rebuke the idea that prayer may be answered by giving something else? What encouragement do we have to pray for anything in particular, if we are to ask for one thing and receive another? Suppose a Christian should pray for a revival here — he would be answered by a revival in China! Or he might pray for a revival, and God would send cholera or an earthquake! All the history of the church shows that when God answers prayer he gives his people the very thing for which their prayers are offered. God grants other blessings, on both saints and sinners, which they do not pray for at all. He sends rain both upon the just and the unjust. But when he answers prayer, it is by doing what they ask him to do. To be sure, he often more than answers prayer. He grants them not only what they ask, but often connects other blessings with it.
4. Perhaps a dif.culty may be felt about the prayers of Jesus Christ. People may ask, "Did not Jesus pray in the garden for the cup to be removed, and was his prayer answered?" I answer that this is no dif.culty at all, for the prayer was answered. The cup he prayed to be delivered from was removed. This is what the apostle refers to when he says, "In the days of his .esh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).
Some have supposed that he was praying against the cross, and begging to be delivered from dying on the cross! Did Christ ever shrink from the cross? Never. He came into the world with the purpose to die on the cross, and he never shrank from it. But he was afraid he should die in the garden before he came to the cross. The burden on his soul was so great, and produced such an agony that he felt as if he was at the point of dying. His soul was sorrowful even unto death. But the angel appeared to him, strengthening him. He received the very thing for which he asked.2 As he says, "I knew that you always hear me" (John 11:42). But there is another case which is often brought up, that of the apostle Paul praying against the "thorn in the .esh." He says, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is suf.cient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ " (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). It is the opinion of Dr. Clarke and others, that Paul’s prayer was answered in the very thing for which he prayed — that "the thorn in the .esh, the messenger of Satan," of which he speaks was a false apostle who had distracted and perverted the church at Corinth. When Paul prayed against his in.uence, the Lord answering him by the assurance, "My grace is suf.cient
2 This interpretation is not commonly heard today, but there are at least three Scriptural supports for this view: 1) Mark links the cup to strength for enduring the hour. "[Jesus] fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’ " (Mark 14:35-36). 2) Luke’s account puts the ministering angel immediately after Jesus’ request, as if it were an answer to prayer. "And [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:41-43). Hence some commentators have suggested that Jesus was praying to be delivered from intense suffering at that hour in Gethsemane, which the angel relieved. 3) "In the days of his .esh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7). This verse seems to contradict the idea that Jesus prayed for deliverance from death but then was denied.
But suppose that Paul’s prayer was not answered by the granting of the particular object for which he prayed. In order to make out this case as an exception to the prayer of faith, it is necessary to assume the very thing to be proved, that is, that the apostle prayed in faith. There is no reason to suppose that Paul would always pray in faith, any more than that any other Christian does. The very manner in which God answered him shows that it was not in faith. He virtually tells him, "That thorn is necessary for your sancti.cation, and to keep you from being exalted above measure. I sent it to you in love, and in faithfulness, and you have no business to pray that I should take it away. Leave it alone."
There is not only no evidence that Paul prayed in faith, but a strong presumption that he did not. From the record it is evident that he had nothing on which to build faith. There was no particular or general promise that could be applicable — no providence of God, no prophecy, no teaching of the Spirit, that God would remove this thorn. But the presumption was that God would not remove it, since he had given it for a particular purpose. The prayer appears to have been sel.sh, praying against a mere personal hindrance. This was not any personal suffering that hindered his usefulness, but on the contrary, it was given to him to increase his usefulness by keeping him humble. Because on some account he found it inconvenient and mortifying, he set himself to pray out of his own heart, evidently without being led to do so by the Spirit of God. Could Paul pray in faith without being led by the Spirit of God, any more than any other person? And will any one undertake to say that the Spirit of God led him to pray that this might be removed, when God himself had given it for a particular purpose that could be accomplished only as the "thorn" continued with him?
V. HOW WE ARE TO COME INTO THIS STATE OF MIND
How are we to have the state of mind in which we can offer such prayer? People often ask, "How shall I offer such prayer? Shall I say, ‘Now I will pray in faith for such and such blessings’?" No, the human mind is not moved in this way. You might just as well say, "Now I will call up a spirit from the bottomless pit."
1. You must .rst obtain evidence that God will grant the blessing. How did Daniel make out to offer the prayer of faith? He searched the Scriptures. Now, you need not let your Bible lie on a shelf, and expect God to reveal his promises to you. "Search the Scriptures," and see where you can get either a general or special promise, or a prophecy, on which you can plant your feet. Go through your Bible, and you will .nd it full of such precious promises, which you may plead in faith.
A notable case occurred in one of the towns in the western part of the state of New York where there was a revival. A certain clergyman came to visit the place, and heard a great deal said about the Prayer of Faith. He was staggered at what they said, for he had never regarded the subject in the light in which they did. He inquired about it of the minister that was laboring there. The minister requested him, in a kind spirit, to go home and take his Bible, look up the passages that refer to prayer, and go around to his most prayerful people and ask them how they understood these passages. He did so, going to his praying men and women, reading the passages, without note or comment, and asking what they thought. He found that their plain common sense had led them to understand these passages and to believe that they meant just what they said. This moved him. Then, the fact of his presenting the promises before their minds awakened the spirit of prayer in them, and a revival followed.
I could name many individuals who have set themselves to examine the Bible on this subject who, before they got half through with it, have been .lled with the spirit of prayer. They found that God meant with his promises just what a plain, common sense person would understand them to mean. I advise you to try it. You have Bibles. Look them over, and whenever you .nd a promise that you can use, fasten it in your mind before you go on. You will not get through the Book without .nding out that God’s promises mean just what they say.
Cherish the good desires you have. Christians very often lose their good desires by not paying attention to this, and then their prayers are mere words, without any desire or sincerity at all. The least longing of desire must be cherished. If your body were likely to freeze, and you had even the least spark of .re, how you would cherish it! So, if you have the least desire for a blessing, be it ever so small, do not tri.e it away. Do not lose good desires by levity, by criticizing, by worldly mindedness. Watch and pray.
Entire consecration to God is necessary for the prayer of faith. You must live a holy life, and consecrate everything to God — your time, talents, in.uence — all you have, and all you are, to be his entirely. Read the lives of pious people, and you will be struck with this fact, that they used to set apart times to renew their covenant, and dedicate themselves again to God. Whenever they have done so, a blessing has always followed immediately. If I had President Edwards’ works here,
I could read passages showing how it was in his days.
You must persevere. You are not to pray for a thing once and then stop, and call that the prayer of faith. Look at Daniel. He prayed twenty-one days, and did not stop until he had obtained the blessing. He set his heart and his face to the Lord, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. He held on three weeks, and then the answer came. And why did not it come before? God sent an Archangel to bear the message, but the devil hindered him all this time. See what Christ says in the Parable of the Unjust Judge, and the Parable of the Loaves. What does he teach us in them? Why, that God will grant answers to prayer when it is persistent. "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?" (Luke 18:7).
If you would pray in faith, be sure to walk every day with God. If you do, he will tell you what to pray for. Be .lled with his Spirit, and he will give you objects enough to pray for. He will give you as much of the spirit of prayer as you have strength of body to handle.
A good man said to me, "Oh, I am dying for the lack of strength to pray! My body is crushed, the world is on me, and how can I stop praying?" I have known that man go to bed absolutely sick, for weakness and faintness, under the pressure. And I have known him pray as if he would do violence to Heaven, and then have seen the blessing come as plainly in answer to his prayer as if it were revealed, so that no person would doubt it any more than if God had spoken from heaven. Shall I tell you how he died? He prayed more and more. He used to take the map of the world before him, and pray, and look over the different countries and pray for them, until he died in his room, praying. Blessed man! His example brought shame to the ungodly, and carnal, unbelieving professors. But he was the favorite of Heaven, and a prevailing prince in prayer.
VI. OBJECTIONS BROUGHT AGAINST THIS DOCTRINE
1. "It leads to fanaticism and amounts to a new revelation." Why should this be a stumbling block? They must have evidence to believe, before they can offer the prayer of faith. And if God should give other evidence besides the senses, where is the objection? True, there is a sense in which this is a new revelation — it is making known something by his Spirit. But it is the very revelation that God has promised to give. It is just the one we are to expect, if the Bible is true. When we do not know what we should pray for, according to the will of God, his Spirit helps our weakness, and teaches us. Shall we deny the teaching of the Spirit?
It is often asked, "Is it our duty to offer the prayer of faith for the salvation of all people?" I answer, "No," for that is not according to the will of God. It is contrary to his revealed will. We have no evidence that all will be saved. We should feel benevolently to all and desire their salvation. But God has revealed that many of the human race shall be damned, and it cannot be a duty to believe that all shall be saved, in the face of a revelation to the contrary. In Christ’s prayer, he clearly said, "I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me" (John 17:9).
But some ask, "If we were to offer this prayer for all people, would not all be saved?" I answer, "Yes, and so they would be saved, if they would all repent. But they will not."
But you ask, "For whom are we to pray this prayer? We want to know in what cases, for what people, and places, and at what times, we are to make the prayer of faith." I answer, as I have already answered, "When you have evidence — from promises, or prophecies, or providences, or the leadings of the Spirit — that God will do the things for which you pray."
"How is it that so many prayers of pious parents for their children are not answered? Did you not say there was a promise that pious parents may apply to their children? Why is it, then, that so many pious, praying parents have had impenitent children who have died in their sins?" Grant that it is so, what does it prove? "Let God be true though every one were a liar" (Romans 3:4). Which shall we believe: that God’s promise has failed, or that these parents did not do their duty? Perhaps they did not believe the promise, or did not believe there was any such thing as the prayer of faith. Wherever you .nd a professing Christian who does not believe in any such prayer, you .nd, as a general rule, that he has children and others at home still in their sins.
"Will not these views lead to fanaticism? Will not many people think they are offering the prayer of faith when they are not?" That is the same objection that Unitarians make against the doctrine of regeneration: that many people think they have been born again when they have not. It is an argument against all spiritual religion of any kind. Some think they have it when they do not, and are fanatics. But there are those who know what the prayer of faith is, just as there are those who know what spiritual experience is, though it may stumble coldhearted professors who do not know it. Even ministers often expose themselves to the rebuke that Christ gave to Nicodemus, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" (John
People who have not known by experience what the prayer of faith is, have great reason to doubt their own piety. This is by no means uncharitable. Let them examine themselves. It is to be feared that they understand prayer as little as Nicodemus did the New Birth. They have not walked with God, and you cannot describe it to them, any more than you can describe a beautiful painting to a blind man.
There is reason to believe that millions are in hell because professing Christians have not offered the prayer of faith. When they had promises under their eye, they have not had enough faith to use them. The signs of the times, and the indications of Providence, were favorable, perhaps, and the Spirit of God prompted desires for their salvation. There was enough evidence that God was ready to grant a blessing. If professors had only prayed in faith, God would have granted it.
You say, "This leaves the church under a great load of guilt." True, it does. No doubt many will stand up before God, covered all over with the blood of souls that have been lost from their lack of faith. The promises of God, accumulated in their Bibles, will stare them in the face, and weigh them down to hell.
Many professing Christians are so far from God, that talk to them about the prayer of faith is unintelligible. Very often the greatest offense possible to them, is to preach about this kind of prayer.
I now want to ask professing Christians a few questions. Do you know what it is to pray in faith? Did you ever pray in this way? Have you ever prayed until your mind was assured the blessing would come
— until you felt that rest in God, that con.dence, as if you saw God come down from heaven to give it to you? If not, you should examine your foundation. How can you live without praying in faith? How do you live in view of your children, while you have no assurance that they will be converted? One would think you would go deranged. I knew a father who was a good man, but had erroneous views on the prayer of faith, and his whole family of children were grown up, without one of them being converted. After some time his son grew sick, and seemed about to die. The father prayed, but the son grew worse, and seemed sinking into the grave without hope. The father prayed, until his anguish was beyond words. He went at last and prayed (there seemed no prospect of his son surviving) so that he poured out his soul as if he would not be denied, until at last he got an assurance that his son would not only live but be converted, and that not only this one, but his whole family would be converted to God. He came into the house, and told his family his son would not die. They were astonished at him. "I tell you," he said, "he will not die. And no child of mine will ever die in his sins." That man’s children were all converted, years ago.
What do you think of that? Was that fanaticism? If you think so, it is because you know nothing about the matter. Do you pray this way? Do you live in such a manner that you can offer such prayer for your children? I know that the children of professing believers may sometimes be converted in answer to the prayers of somebody else. But should you live so? Do you dare trust in the prayers of others, when God calls you to sustain this important relation to your children?
Finally, see what combined effort is made to disregard the Bible. The wicked want to dispose those verses in the Bible that threaten them, and the church wants to dispose the verses of promises. And what is there left? Between them, they leave the Bible a blank. I ask it in love, "What is our Bible good for, if we do not lay hold of its precious promises and use them as the ground of our faith when we pray for the blessing of God?" You had better send your Bibles to the lost, where they will do some good, if you are not going to believe and use them. I have no evidence that there is much of this prayer now in this church or in this city. And what will become of them? What will become of your children? Your neighbors? The wicked?
THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27)
In my last lecture I observed that one of the most important attributes of effective or prevailing prayer is faith. This was so extensive a subject that I reserved it for a separate discussion. And accordingly my last lecture was on the subject of faith in prayer, or as it is called, the Prayer of Faith. It was my intention to discuss the subject in a single lecture. But as I needed to condense so much on some points, it occurred to me and was mentioned by others, that there might be some questions that people would ask that should be answered more fully, especially as the subject is one on which there is so much confusion. One important purpose in preaching is to show the truth in such a way to answer the questions that would naturally arise to those who read the Bible with attention, and who want to know what it means, so that they can put it into practice. In explaining the text, I propose to show:1
I. What the Spirit does for us.
II. Why he does what the text declares him to do.
III. How he accomplishes it.
1 This chapter is an abridgment of two lectures originally delivered by Finney. See the Appendix for details.
The degree in which he in.uences the minds of those who are under his in.uence.
How his in.uences are to be distinguished from the in.uences of evil spirits, or from the suggestions of our own minds.
VI. How we are to obtain this agency of the Holy Spirit.
VII. Why many do not have the Spirit.
VIII. The consequences of having the Spirit.
IX. The consequences of not having the Spirit.
I. WHAT THE SPIRIT DOES
He intercedes for the saints. "He intercedes for us," and "helps us in our weakness," when "we do not know what to pray for as we ought." He helps Christians to pray "according to the will of God," or for the things that God desires them to pray for.
II. WHY IS THE HOLY SPIRIT THUS EMPLOYED?
Because of our ignorance. Because we do not know what we should pray for as we ought. We are so ignorant both of the will of God, revealed in the Bible, and of his unrevealed will that we could learn from his providence. People are very ignorant both of the promises and prophecies of the Bible, and blind to the providence of God. And they are even more in the dark about those points of which God has said nothing except by the leadings of his Spirit. I have named these four sources of evidence on which to ground faith in prayer — promises, prophecies, providences, and the Holy Spirit. When all other means fail to lead us to the knowledge of what we should pray for, the Spirit does it.
III. HOW DOES HE MAKE INTERCESSION?
In what manner does the Spirit operate, to help us in our weakness?
1. Not by superseding the use of our faculties. It is not by praying for us, while we do nothing. He prays for us by stirring our faculties. Not that he immediately suggests to us words, or guides our language. But he enlightens our minds, and makes the truth take hold of our souls. He leads us to consider the state of the church, and the condition of sinners around us. The manner in which he brings the truth before the mind, and keeps it there until it produces its effect, we cannot tell. But we can know at least this — that he leads us to a deep consideration of the state of things, and the natural and logical result of this is deep feeling. When the Spirit brings the truth before a person’s mind there is only one way in which the person can keep from feeling deeply. That is by turning away his thoughts to think of other things. Sinners, when the Spirit of God brings the truth before them, must feel. They feel wrong, as long as they remain impenitent. So, if a person is a Christian, and the Holy Spirit brings the subject into warm contact with his heart, it is just as impossible he should not be moved as it is that your hand should not feel pain if you put it into the .re. If the Spirit of God leads a person to dwell on matters intended to excite overpowering feelings regarding the salvation of souls, and he is not then moved, it proves that he has no love for souls, nothing of the Spirit of Christ, and knows nothing about Christian experience.
The Spirit makes the Christian feel the value of souls and the guilt and danger of sinners in their present condition. It is amazing how dull Christians often are about this. Even Christian parents let their children go right down to hell before their eyes, and scarcely seem to exercise a single feeling, or put forth an effort to save them. And why? Because they are so blind to what hell is, so unbelieving about the Bible, so ignorant of the precious promises that God has made to faithful parents. They grieve the Spirit of God away — and it is in vain to make them pray for their children, while the Spirit of God is away from them.
He leads Christians to understand and apply the promises of Scripture. It is amazing that in no age have Christians fully been able to apply the promises of Scripture to the events of life. This is not because the promises themselves are obscure. But there has always been an amazing inclination to overlook the Scriptures, as a source of light about the events of life. How astonished the apostles were at Christ’s application of so many prophecies to himself! They seemed to be continually ready to exclaim, "Astonishing! Can it be so? We never understood it before!" Who, that has seen the way the apostles, in.uenced and inspired by the Holy Spirit, applied passages of the Old Testament to gospel times, has not been amazed at the richness of meaning which they found in the Scriptures? It has been this way with many a Christian. While deeply engaged in prayer he has seen that passages of Scripture are appropriate which he never thought before had any such application.
I once knew an individual who was in great spiritual darkness. He had secluded himself for prayer, resolved that he would not stop until he had found the Lord. He kneeled down and tried to pray. All was dark, and he could not pray. He rose from his knees, and stood for a while, but he could not give up, for he had promised that he would not let the sun go down before he had given himself to God. He knelt again, but his mind was dark, and his heart was as hard as before. He was nearly in despair, and said in agony, "I have grieved the Spirit of God away, and there is no promise for me. I am shut out from the presence of God." But his resolve was .rm, and again he knelt down. He had said but a few words when this passage came into his mind, as fresh as if he had just read it, "You will seek me and .nd me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV). He saw that though this promise was in the Old Testament, and addressed to the Jews, it was still as applicable to him as to them. And it broke his heart, like the hammer of the Lord, in a moment. And he prayed, and rose up happy in God.2
This is often the case when professing Christians are praying for their children. Sometimes they pray, and are in confusion and doubt, feeling as if there were no foundation for faith, and no special promises for the children of believers. But while they have been pleading, God has shown them the full meaning of some promise, and their soul has rested on it as on his mighty arm. I once heard of a widow who was greatly concerned about her children until this passage was powerfully brought to her mind, "leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me" (Jeremiah 49:11). She saw it had an extended meaning, and she was enabled to grasp it. She prevailed in prayer, and her children were converted. The Holy Spirit was sent into the world by the Savior to guide his people, and instruct them and bring things to their remembrance, as well as to convince the world of sin.
4. The Spirit leads Christians to desire and pray for things of which nothing is speci.cally said in the Word of God. Take the case of an individual. The fact that God is willing to save is a general truth. So it is a general truth that he is willing to answer prayer. But how shall I know the will of God for that individual? Can I pray in faith according to the will of God for the conversion and salvation of that individual, or not? Here the Spirit comes to lead the minds of God’s people to pray for those individuals, and at those times, when God is prepared to bless them. When we do not know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit leads the mind to dwell on some object, to consider its situation, to realize its value, and to feel for it, and pray, and "travail in birth," until the person is converted. This sort of experience, I know, is less common in cities than it is in some parts of the country, because of the vast number
2 This story is actually Charles Finney’s own conversion experience. This occurred
in a grove of trees nearby his house where he went to pray, having resolved not to
leave until he had given his heart to the Lord.
of things that in cities divert attention and grieve the Spirit.
I have had much opportunity to know how it has been in some districts. I was acquainted with an individual who used to keep a list of people for whom he was especially concerned. I have had the opportunity to know many people for whom he became thus interested who were immediately converted. I have seen him pray for people on his list when he was literally in agony for them, and have sometimes known him to call on someone else to help him pray for such a person. I have known his mind to fasten on an individual of hardened, abandoned character, and who could not be reached in any ordinary way. In a town in a north part of this State, where there was a revival, there was a certain individual who was a most violent and offensive opponent. He kept a tavern, and used to enjoy swearing at a furious rate whenever there were Christians within hearing, in order to hurt their feelings. He was so bad that one man said he believed he should have to sell his place, or give it away, and move out of town, because he could not live near a man who swore this way. This good man of whom I am speaking passed through the town, and, hearing of the case, was very grieved and distressed for the individual. He took him on his praying list. The case weighed on his mind when he was asleep and when he was awake. He kept thinking about the ungodly man, and praying for him for days. And, the .rst we knew of it, the tavern keeper came into a meeting, confessed his sins, and poured out his soul. His bar immediately became the place where they held prayer meetings. In this manner the Spirit of God leads individual Christians to pray for things that they would not pray for. Thus they pray for things "according to the will of God."
Great evil has been done by saying that this kind of in.uence amounts to a new revelation. Many people will be so afraid of it, if they hear it called a new revelation, that they will not stop to ask what it means, or whether or not the Scriptures teach it. The plain truth of the matter is that the Spirit leads a person to pray. If God leads a person to pray for an individual, the inference from the Bible is, that God intends to save that individual. If we .nd, by comparing our state of mind with the Bible, that we are led by the Spirit to pray for an individual, we have good evidence to believe that God is prepared to bless him.
5. The Spirit gives Christians a spiritual discernment about the movements and developments of Providence. They sometimes almost seem to prophesy. No doubt people may be deluded, and sometimes are, by leaning to their own understanding when they think the Spirit leads them. But there is no doubt that a Christian may be made to discern clearly the signs of the times, so as to understand from Providence what to expect, and thus to pray for it in faith. Thus they are often led to expect a revival, and to pray for it in faith, when nobody else can see the least signs of it.
There was a woman in New Jersey, in a place where there had been a revival. She was sure there was going to be another. She wanted to have "conference meetings" appointed. But the minister and elders saw nothing to encourage it, and would do nothing. She saw they were blind, and so she went forward, and got a carpenter to make seats for her, for she said she would have meetings in her own house
— there was certainly going to be a revival. She had barely opened her doors for meetings before the Spirit of God came down with great power, and these sleepy church members found themselves immediately surrounded with convicted sinners. They could only say, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it" (Genesis 28:16). The reason why such persons as this praying woman understand the indication of God’s will is not because of superior wisdom, but because the Spirit of God leads them to see the signs of the times. And this is not by revelation, but they are led to see a converging of providences to a single point that produces in them a con.dent expectation of a certain result.
IV. THE DEGREE OF INFLUENCE
In what degree are we to expect the Spirit of God to affect the minds of believers? The text says, "The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." I understand the meaning of this to be that the Spirit excites desires too great to be spoken except with groans
— making the soul too full to speak its feelings with words, so that the person can only groan them out to God, who understands the language of the heart.
V. DISTINGUISHING THE INFLUENCES
How are we to know whether it is the Spirit of God that in.uences our minds, or not?
1. Not by feeling some external in.uence applied to us. We are not to expect to feel our minds in direct physical contact with God. If this happened, we know of no way in which it can be made perceptible. We know that we control our minds freely, and that our thoughts focus on something that captures our interest. But we are not to expect a miracle, such as a perceptible leading by the hand, hearing something whispered in the ear, or seeing a miraculous manifestation of the will of God.
Individuals often grieve the Spirit away, because they do not harbor him and cherish his in.uences. Sinners often do this ignorantly. They suppose that if they were under conviction by the Spirit, they should have mysterious feelings — a shock would come upon them that they could not mistake. Many Christians are so ignorant of the Spirit’s in.uences, and have thought so little about having his assistance in prayer, that when they have such in.uences they do not know it, and so do not yield to them, and cherish them. We perceive nothing under the Spirit’s in.uence, only the movement of our own minds. There is nothing else that can be felt. We merely know that our thoughts are intensely focused on a certain subject.
Christians are often unnecessarily misled and distressed on this point because they are afraid they do not have the Spirit of God. They feel intensely, but they do know not what makes them feel. They are distressed about sinners. But should they not be distressed, when they think of their condition? Now the truth is, the very fact that you are thinking upon them is evidence that the Spirit of God is leading you. Do you not know that most of the time these things do not affect you this way? Most of the time you do not think much about the case of sinners. You know their salvation is always equally important. Even when you are not busy, your mind lacks any feeling for them. But now, although you may be busy with other things, you think, you pray, and feel intensely for them, even while you are about business that at other times would occupy all your thoughts. Now, almost every thought you have is, "God have mercy upon them!" Why is this? Why, their case is placed in a strong light before your mind. Do you ask what it is that leads your mind to exercise benevolent feelings for sinners, and to agonize in prayer for them? What can it be but the Spirit of God? There are no devils that would lead you this way. If your feelings are truly benevolent, you should consider it as the Holy Spirit leading you to pray for things according to the will of God.
2. "Test the spirits" by the Bible. People are sometimes led away by strange fantasies and crazy impulses. If you compare them faithfully with the Bible, you never need to be led astray. You can always know whether your feelings are produced by the Spirit’s in.uences by comparing your desires with the character of Christianity, as described in the Bible. The Bible commands you to "test the spirits." "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).
VI. HOW SHALL WE GET THIS INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT?
1. It must be sought by fervent, believing prayer. Christ says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13) Does anyone say, I have prayed for it, and it does not come? It is because you do not pray correctly. "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3). You do not pray from right motives. A professing Christian, a leading member in a church, once asked a minister what he thought of his situation. He had been praying week after week for the Spirit, and had not found any bene.t. The minister asked what his motive was in praying. He replied that, "he wanted to be happy." He knew those who had the Spirit were happy, and he wanted the enjoyment they had. Why, the devil himself might pray so! That is mere sel.shness. The man, when this was shown to him, at .rst turned away in anger. He saw that he had never known what it was to pray. He was convinced that he was a hypocrite, and that his prayers were all selfish, dictated only by a desire for his own happiness. David prayed that God would sustain him by his Spirit, that he might teach transgressors and turn sinners to God.3 A Christian should pray for the Spirit to be more useful to God and glorify him more, not to personally be happier. This man saw clearly where he had been in error, and he was converted. Perhaps many here have been making just the same mistake. You should examine if your prayers are not tinted with sel.shness.
2. Use the means adapted to stir your minds on the subject and to keep your attention .xed there. If a person prays for the Spirit, and then diverts his mind to other objects — if he uses no other means, but goes away to worldly objects, he tempts God. The person swings loose from his object, and it would be a miracle if he should get what he prays for. How is a sinner to get conviction? Why, by thinking of his sins. That is the way for a Christian to obtain deep feeling — by thinking about the object. God is not going to pour these things on you without any effort of your own. You must cherish the slightest impressions. Take the Bible, and go over the passages that show the condition and prospects of the world. Look at the world, look at your children and your neighbors, and see their condition while they remain in sin. Then, persevere in prayer and effort until you obtain the blessing of the Spirit of God to dwell in you. This was the way, doubtless, that Dr. Watts came to have the feelings that he has described in his hymn:
My thoughts on awful subjects dwell,
Damnation and the dead;
3 Psalm 51:11-13
What horrors seize the guilty soul
Upon a dying bed!
Look, as it were, through a telescope that will bring far objects to your sight. Look into hell, and hear them groan. Then turn the glass upwards and look into heaven, and see the saints there, in their white robes, and hear them sing the song of redeeming love. Ask yourself, "Is it possible that I should prevail with God to elevate the sinner there?" Do this, and if you are not a wicked person and a stranger to God, you will soon have as much of the spirit of prayer as your body can bear.
3. Aim to obey perfectly the written law. In other words, have no fellowship with sin. Aim at being entirely above the world, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). If you sin at all, let it be your daily grief. The one who does not aim at this intends to live in sin. Such an individual need not expect God’s blessing, for this person is not sincere in desiring to keep all his commandments.
VII. WHY MANY DO NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT
It may be that you live a hypocritical life. Your prayers are not sincere. Not only is your religion a mere outward show, without any heart, but you are insincere in your interactions with others. Thus you do many things to grieve the Spirit, so that he cannot dwell with you.
A minister was once living with a certain family, and the lady of the house was constantly complaining that she did not "enjoy" religion, and nothing seemed to help her. One day some ladies visited her, and insisting that she was very offended because they had not visited before, she urged them to stay and spend the day, and declared she could not agree to let them go. They excused themselves, and left the house. As soon as they were gone she told her servant that she wondered why these people had so little sense to be always troubling her and taking up her time! The minister heard it, immediately rebuked her, and told her she should understand why she did not "enjoy" religion. It was because she was in the daily habit of insincerity that amounted to downright lying. And the Spirit of truth could not dwell in such a heart.
Others have so much levity that the Spirit will not dwell with them. The Spirit of God is solemn and serious, and will not dwell with those who give way to thoughtless levity.
Others are so proud that they cannot have the Spirit. They are so fond of dress, high life, accessories, fashion, etc., that it is no wonder
they are not .lled with the Spirit. And yet such people will pretend to be at a loss to know why it is that they do not "enjoy" religion!
4. Some are so worldly-minded, love property so much, and are trying so hard to get rich, that they cannot have the Spirit. How can he dwell with them when all their thoughts are on things of the world, and all their powers absorbed in obtaining wealth? And when they get money they are troubled if pressed by conscience to do something with it for the conversion of the world. They show how much they love the world in all their interactions with others. Little things show it. They will bargain down a poor man, who is doing a little piece of work for them, to the lowest penny. If they are dealing on a large scale, very likely they will be liberal and fair, because it is to their advantage. But if it is a person they do care not about: a laborer, a mechanic, or a servant
— they will grind him down to the last fraction, no matter what the work is really worth. They actually pretend to make it a matter of conscience that they cannot possibly give any more. Now, they would be ashamed to deal this way with people of their own rank, because it would be public and hurt their reputation. But God knows it, and has it all written down, that they are covetous and unfair in their dealings, and will not do right except when it is for their interest. Now, how can such professing Christians have the Spirit of God? It is impossible.
5. Others do not fully confess and forsake their sins, and so cannot enjoy the Spirit’s presence. They will perhaps confess their sins in general terms and are always ready to acknowledge that they are sinners. Or they will confess partially some particular sins. But they do it reservedly, proudly, guardedly, as if they were afraid they should say a little more than is necessary, when they confess to others. They do it in a way that shows that, instead of .owing from a candid heart, the confession is extracted from them by conscience gripping them. If they have injured any one, they will make a partial retraction, which is hard-hearted, cruel, and hypocritical, and then they will ask, "Now brother, are you satis.ed?" We know that it is very dif.cult for a person who has been wronged to say in such a case that he is not satis.ed even if the confession is cold and heartless. But I tell you that God is not satis.ed. He knows whether you have made a full and honest confession, and taken all the blame that belongs to you. If your confessions have been forced and extracted from you, do you suppose you can cheat God? "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). "He who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11). Unless you come down, and confess your sins honestly, and compensate where you have done injury, you have no right to expect the spirit of prayer.
6. Others are neglecting some known duty, and that is the reason why they do not have the Spirit. Someone does not pray with his family, though he knows he should do so, and yet he is trying to get the spirit of prayer! There is many a young man who feels in his heart he should prepare for the ministry, but who does not have the spirit of prayer because he has some worldly goal in view which prevents his devoting himself to the work. He knows his duty, refuses to do it, and yet is praying for direction from the Spirit of God! He cannot have it.
Another has neglected to make an outward profession of faith. He knows his duty, but he refuses to join the church. He once had the spirit of prayer but, neglecting his duty, he grieved the Spirit away. And now he thinks, if he could once more enjoy the light of God’s face and have his feelings renewed, he would do his duty and join the church. And so he is trying to bring God over on his terms, to grant him his presence. He should not expect it. You will live and die in darkness, unless you are willing .rst to do your duty, before God manifests himself as reconciled to you. It is in vain to say you will come forward if God will .rst show you the light of his face. He never will do it as long as you live. He will let you die without it, if you refuse to do your duty.
I have known women who felt that they should talk to their unconverted husbands and pray with them. But they neglected it, and so they entered darkness. They knew their duty and refused to do it. They "went around it," and lost the spirit of prayer.
If you have neglected any known duty, and thus lost the spirit of prayer, you must yield .rst. God has a controversy with you. You have refused obedience to God, and you must retract. You may have forgotten it, but God has not. You must set yourself to recall it to mind and repent. God never will yield or grant you his Spirit until you repent. Were I omniscient, I could call the names of the individuals in this congregation who have neglected some known duty or committed some sin that they have not repented of. Now they are praying for the spirit of prayer, but they cannot succeed in obtaining it.
7. Perhaps you have resisted the Spirit of God. Perhaps you are in the habit of resisting the Spirit. You resist conviction. In preaching, when something has been said that involved your situation, your heart has risen up against it. Many are willing to hear clear and convicting preaching, so long as they can apply it all to other people. A spirit of contempt for humankind makes them take satisfaction in hearing others searched and rebuked. But, if the truth touches them, they directly cry out that the preaching is "personal" and "abusive." Is this your case?
8. The fact is that you do not, on the whole, desire the Spirit. This is true in every case in which you do not have the Spirit. Let me be clear here. I want you to carefully distinguish this possibility. Nothing is more common than for people to desire something for certain reasons, yet not to choose it after considering everything. A person may see in a shop window an article that he desires to purchase. So he goes in and asks the price, thinks about it a little, yet in the end decides not to purchase it. He desires the article but does not like the price, so that in the end he prefers not to purchase it. People may desire the Spirit of God from a consideration of the comfort and joy that he brings. If you know from former experience what it is to commune with God, and how sweet it is to immerse in penitence and to be .lled with the Spirit, you cannot help but want a return of those joys. And you may determine to pray earnestly for it, and to pray for a revival of religion. But, on the whole, you are unwilling it should come. You have so much to do that you cannot attend to it. Or it will require so many sacri.ces that you cannot bear to have it. There are some things you are not willing to give up. You .nd that if you wish to have the Spirit of God dwell with you, you must lead a different life. You must give up the world, you must make sacri.ces, you must break off from your worldly associates, and make confession of your sins. And so, on the whole, you do not wish to have the Spirit come, unless he will agree to dwell with you and let you live as you please. But that he will never do.
VIII. THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING THE SPIRIT
1. You will be called eccentric, and you will probably deserve it. You will probably be truly eccentric. I never knew a person who was .lled with the Spirit that was not called eccentric. And the reason is that such people are unlike other folk. There is therefore the best of reasons why such persons should appear eccentric. They take different views, are moved by different motives, and led by a different spirit. You should expect such remarks. How often I have heard the remark about various persons, "He is a good man — but he is rather eccentric." I have sometimes asked for particular details. What does his eccentricity consist in? I hear the list, and it amounts to this — that he is spiritual. Be resolved for this, to be called "eccentric." Now there is such a thing as pretended eccentricity. That is horrible! But there is such a thing as being so deeply permeated with the Spirit of God that you will appear strange and eccentric to those who cannot understand the reasons for your conduct.
If you have much of the Spirit of God, it is not unlikely you will be thought deranged by many. We judge people to be deranged when they act differently from what we think is good judgment and common sense, and when they come to conclusions for which we can see no good reasons. Paul was accused of being deranged by those who did not understand the views under which he acted. No doubt Festus thought that Paul was crazy, and that "great learning had driven him out of his mind." But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus" (Acts 26:24-25). His conduct was so strange, so unusual, that Festus thought it must be insanity. But the truth simply was, Paul understood the subject so clearly that he threw his whole soul into it. Festus and the rest were entirely ignorant about the motivations that drove him. This is by no means uncommon. Many people have appeared to the unspiritual as if they were deranged. Yet they saw good reasons for doing what they did. God was leading their minds to act in such a way that those who were not spiritual could not understand the reasons.
If you have the Spirit of God, you must expect to feel great distress about the condition of the church and the world. Some spiritual epicureans ask for the Spirit because they think he will make them so perfectly happy. Some people think that spiritual Christians are always free from sorrow. There never was a greater mistake. Read your Bibles, and see how the prophets and apostles were always groaning and distressed in view of the state of the church and of the world. The apostle Paul said he was "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:10). "I protest," he said, "I die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31). You will know what it is to sympathize with the Lord Jesus Christ, and be baptized with the baptism that he was baptized with. Oh, how he agonized when looking at the state of sinners! How he travailed in soul for their salvation! The more you have of his spirit, the more clearly you will see the condition of sinners, and the more deeply you will be distressed about them. Many times you will feel as if you could not live in light of their situation — your distress will be unspeakable.
You will be often grieved with the state of the ministry. Some years ago I met a woman belonging to one of the churches in this city. I asked her about the state of religion here. She seemed unwilling to say much about it, made some general remarks, and then choked up, her eyes .lled with tears, and she said, "Oh, our minister’s mind seems to be
very dark!" Spiritual Christians often feel like this and often weep over it. I have seen much of it, having often found Christians who wept and groaned in secret, contemplating the ignorance in the minds of ministers in regard to religion, worldliness, and fear of man. But they dared not speak of it lest they should be denounced and threatened, and perhaps cast out of the church. I do not say these things critically, to reproach my brethren, but because they are true. And ministers should know that nothing is more common than for spiritual Christians to feel burdened and distressed at the state of the ministry. I do not wish to stir up any wrong feelings towards ministers. But it should be known that Christians do often get spiritual views of things, their souls are kindled up, and then they .nd that their minister does not share their feelings. They .nd he is far below where he should be, and spiritually is far below some of the members of his church.
This is one of the most prominent and deeply deplorable evils of the present day. The piety of the ministry, though real, is so super.cial, that in many cases the spiritual people of the church feel that ministers cannot sympathize with them. The preaching does not meet their needs and it does not feed them. The ministers do not have deep enough religious experience to know how to search and wake up the church, how to help those under temptation, to support the weak, and to direct the strong. When a minister has gone with a church as far as his experience in spiritual matters goes, there he stops. Until he has a renewed experience, until he is reconverted, his heart broken up again, and he steps forward in the divine life and Christian experience, he will help them no more. He may preach sound doctrine, but so may an unconverted minister. But his preaching will lack that searching power, that practical bearing, that anointing, which alone will reach the case of a spiritually minded Christian. It is a fact over which the church is groaning, that the piety of young men suffers so much in the course of their education, that when they enter the ministry, however much intellectual furniture they may possess, they are in a state of spiritual babyhood. They need nursing and feeding, instead of trying to feed the church of God.
5. If you have much of the Spirit of God, you must know you will have much opposition, both in the church and the world. Very likely the leaders in the church will oppose you. There has always been opposition in the church. So it was when Christ was on earth. If you are far above their state of feeling, church members will oppose you. Anyone who lives a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Often the elders and even the minister will oppose you, if you are .lled with the Spirit of God.
You must expect very frequent and agonizing con.icts with Satan. Satan has very little trouble from those Christians who are not spiritual, but lukewarm, slothful, and worldly minded. Such people do not understand what is said about spiritual con.icts. Perhaps they will smile when such things are mentioned. And so the devil leaves them alone. They do not disturb him, nor he them. But spiritual Christians he knows very well are doing him a vast injury, and therefore he sets himself against them. Such Christians often have terrible con.icts. They have temptations that they never thought of before: blasphemous thoughts, atheism, suggestions to do deeds of wickedness, to destroy their own lives, and the like. And if you are spiritual you may expect these terrible con.icts.
But, you will have peace with God. If the church, and sinners, and the devil, oppose you, there will be One with whom you will have peace. Let you who are called to these trials, con.icts, and temptations, and who groan, pray, and weep, remember this consideration. Your peace, so far as your feelings towards God are concerned, will .ow like a river.
You will likewise have peace of conscience if the Spirit leads you. You will not be constantly prodded and kept on the rack by a guilty conscience. Your conscience will be calm and quiet, unruf.ed as the summer’s lake.
If .lled with the Spirit, you will be useful. You cannot help being useful. Even if you were sick and unable to go out of your room, or to talk, and saw nobody, you would be ten times more useful than a hundred of those common sort of Christians who have no spirituality. To give you an idea of this, I will relate an anecdote. A pious man in the western part of this State was suffering from tuberculosis. He was a poor man and was ill for years. An unconverted merchant in the place, who had a kind heart, used to send him now and then some things for his comfort, or for his family. He felt grateful for the kindness, but could offer nothing in return, as he wanted to do. Eventually he determined that the best return he could make would be to pray for the man’s salvation. So he began to pray, his soul kindled, and he got hold of God. No revival was taking place there, but, eventually to the astonishment of everyone, this merchant came right out on the Lord’s side. The .re kindled all over the place, a powerful revival followed, and many were converted.
This poor man lingered in this way for several years, and died. After his death, I visited the place, and his widow put his diary into my hands. Among other entries was this, "I am acquainted with about thirty ministers and churches." He then went on to set apart certain hours in the day and week to pray for each of these ministers and churches, and also certain seasons for praying for different missionary stations. Then followed, under different dates, such facts as these, "Today I have been enabled to offer what I call the prayer of faith for the outpouring of the Spirit on church A, and I trust in God that there will soon be a revival there." Under another date he had written, "I have today been able to offer what I call the prayer of faith for church B, and trust that there will soon be a revival there." Thus he had gone over a great number of churches, recording the fact that he had prayed for them in faith that a revival might soon prevail among them.
Of the missionary stations, if I remember right, he mentioned in particular one at Ceylon. I believe the last place mentioned in his diary, for which he offered the prayer of faith, was the place in which he lived. Not long after, the revival commenced, and spread over the region of country, nearly, I believe, if not quite, in the order in which the places had been mentioned in his diary. In due time news came from Ceylon that there was a revival of religion there. The revival in his own town did not begin until after his death. His wife told me that he was so exercised in prayer during his sickness, that she often feared he would "pray himself to death." The revival was exceedingly powerful in the whole region, and the fact that it was about to prevail had not been hidden from this servant of the Lord. According to his Word, "the secret of the LORD is with those who fear him" (Psalm 25:14*). Thus, this man, too feeble to go out of his house, was yet more useful to the world and the church of God than all the heartless professing believers in the country. Standing between God and the desolations of Zion, and pouring out his heart in believing prayer, he had "struggled with God and with men, and had prevailed" (Genesis 32:28*).
IX. THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
You will often doubt, and reasonably so, whether you are a Christian. You will have doubts, and you should have them, because the children of God are led by the Spirit of God. If you are not led by the Spirit, what reason do you have to think that you are a child of God? You will try to make a little evidence go a long way to increase your hopes. But you cannot do it, unless your conscience is seared, like with a hot iron. You cannot help being often plunged into painful doubt about your state (Romans 8:9, 2 Corinthians 13:5).
You will always be unsettled in your views about the prayer of faith. The prayer of faith is something so spiritual, so much a matter of ex
perience and not of speculation, that unless you are spiritual you will not understand it fully. You may talk a great deal about the prayer of faith, and for a while become thoroughly convinced about it. But you will never feel settled enough on it to keep the same attitude about it, and in a little while you will be completely uncertain again. I know of a remarkable example in a fellow minister. He told me, "When I have the Spirit of God and enjoy his presence, I believe .rmly in the prayer of faith. But when I do not have him, I .nd myself doubting whether there is any such thing, and my mind is full of objections." I know, from my own experience, what this is, and when I hear people objecting to the view of prayer that I have presented in these lectures, I understand very well what their dif.culty is. I have often found it impossible to satisfy their minds, while they are so far from God, when at the same time, they would understand it themselves without argument with some personal experience.
If you do not have the Spirit, you will be very likely to stumble by seeing those who have him. You will doubt the propriety of their conduct. If they seem to be motivated much more than yourself, you will be likely to call it "animal feeling." You will perhaps doubt their sincerity when they say they have such feelings. You will say, "I don’t know what to make of this brother. He seems to be very pious, but I do not understand him — I think he has a great deal of animal feeling." Thus you will be trying to criticize them, for the purpose of justifying yourself.
You will have a good reputation with the impenitent and with carnal professing believers. They will praise you, as "a rational, orthodox, consistent Christian." You will have just the mindset to walk with them, because you are agreed.
You will be much troubled with fears about fanaticism. Whenever there are revivals, you will see in them "a strong tendency to fanaticism," and will be full of fears and anxiety.
You will be a cause for shame to Christianity. The impenitent will sometimes praise you because you are so much like them, and sometimes laugh about you because you are such a hypocrite.
You will know only little about the Bible.
If you die without the Spirit, you will fall into hell. There can be no doubt about this. Without the Spirit you will never be prepared for heaven.
Christians are as guilty for not having the Spirit as sinners are for not repenting. In fact, they are even more guilty. As they have more light, they are even more guilty.
All beings have a right to complain of Christians who do not have the Spirit. You are not doing work for God, and the Lord has a right to complain. He has placed his Spirit at your disposal, and if you do not have the Spirit, God has a right to hold you responsible for all the good you might otherwise do. You are sinning against heaven, because you should be adding to the happy ranks of the redeemed. Sinners, the church, and ministers, all have a right to complain.
You are an obstacle to the work of the Lord. It is in vain for a minister to try to work in spite of you. Ministers often groan and struggle, and wear themselves out in vain, trying to do good where there are people who live so that they do not have the Spirit of God. If the Spirit is poured out, the church will immediately grieve him away. Thus, you may tie the hands and break the heart of your minister, wear him down, and perhaps kill him, because you will not be .lled with the Spirit.
Do not tempt God by "waiting" for his Spirit, while using no means to obtain his presence.
If you intend to have the Spirit, you must be childlike, and yield to his in.uences — being just as easily moved as air. If he is drawing you to prayer, you must quit everything to yield to his gentle efforts. No doubt you have sometimes felt a desire to pray for some object, and you have put it off and resisted, until God left you. If you wish him to remain, you must yield to his softest leadings, watch to learn what he would have you do and yield yourself to his guidance.
Christians should be willing to make any sacri.ce to enjoy the presence of the Spirit. A woman in high society who was a professing Christian said, "I must either give up hearing this minister preach, or I must give up my merry company." She gave up the preaching and stayed away. How different from another case — that of a woman in the same social standing — who heard the same minister preach, and went home resolved to abandon her merry and worldly manner of life. She changed her whole manner of dress, of accessories, of living, and of conversation. Her merry and worldly friends were soon willing to leave her to the enjoyment of communion with God and free to spend her time in doing good.
You see from this, that it must be very dif.cult for those in fashionable life to go to heaven. What a calamity to be in such circles! Who
can enjoy the presence of God in them? See how crazy those are who are scrambling to get up to these social circles, expanding their houses, changing their style of living, their dress, and their furniture. It is like climbing up to the masthead to be thrown off into the ocean. To enjoy God, you must come down, not go up there. God is not there, among all the starch and .attery of high life.
Many professing Christians are as ignorant of spirituality as Nicodemus was of the New Birth. They are ignorant, and I fear unconverted. If anyone talks to them about the spirit of prayer, it is all algebra to them. The case of these professing believers is awful. How different was the character of the apostles! Read the history of their lives, read their letters, and you will see that they were always spiritual and walked daily with God. But now how little is there of such religion! "When the Son of Man comes, will he .nd faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) Put some of these professing believers to work in a revival, and they do not know what to do, for they have no energy, no skills and make no impression. When will professing Christians set themselves to work, .lled with the Spirit? If I could see this church .lled with the Spirit, I would ask nothing more to in.uence the many minds around us. Not two weeks would pass before the revival would spread all over this city.
Why do you suppose that so little stress is laid on the in.uences of the Spirit in prayer, when so much is said about his in.uences in conversion? Many people are amazingly afraid the Spirit’s in.uences will be left out. They lay great stress on the Spirit’s in.uences in converting sinners. But how little is said, how little is printed, about his in.uence in prayer! How little complaining there is that people do not make enough of the Spirit’s in.uence in leading Christians to pray according to the will of God! Let it never be forgotten that no Christian ever prays correctly, unless led by the Spirit.
I have dwelt more on this subject, because I want to have it made so plain that you will be careful not to grieve the Spirit. I want you to have high ideas of the Holy Spirit, and to feel that nothing good will be done without his in.uences. No praying or preaching will be of any use without him. If Jesus Christ were to come down here and preach to sinners, not one would be converted without the Spirit. Be careful, then, not to grieve him away, by slighting or neglecting his heavenly in.uences when he invites you to pray.
In praying for an object, it is necessary to persevere until you obtain it. Oh, with what eagerness Christians sometimes pursue a sinner in their prayers, when the Spirit of God has .xed their desires on him! No
miser pursues gold with so .xed a determination.
The fear of being led by impulses has done great injury, by not being properly considered. A person’s mind may be led by an ignis fatuus4 . But we do wrong if we let the fear of impulses lead us to resist the good impulses of the Holy Spirit. No wonder Christians do not have the spirit of prayer, if they are unwilling to take the trouble to distinguish, but will reject or resist all leadings of invisible agents. A great deal has recklessly been spoken on the subject of fanaticism, and that causes many minds to reject the leadings of the Spirit of God. "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). And it is our duty to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). We should insist on a close scrutiny, and an accurate discrimination. There must be such a thing as being led by the Spirit. And when we are convinced it is of God, we should be sure to follow on, with full con.dence that he will not lead us wrong.
We see from this subject the absurdity of using set forms of prayer. The very idea of using a form rejects, of course, the leadings of the Spirit. Nothing more destroys the spirit of prayer, and entirely confuses the mind as to what prayer is, than to use forms. Forms of prayer are not only absurd in themselves, but they are the very device of the devil to destroy the spirit and break the power of prayer. It is of no use to say the form is a good one. Prayer does not consist in words. And it does not matter what the words are if the heart is not led by the Spirit of God. If the desire is not kindled, the thoughts directed, and the whole current of feeling produced and led by the Spirit of God, it is not prayer. And set forms are best designed to keep an individual from correctly praying.
The subject provides a test of character. "The Spirit intercedes," for whom? For the saints. If you are truly a saint, you know by experience what it is to be moved in this way. If you do not, it is because you have grieved the Spirit of God so that he will not lead you. You live in such a manner that this Holy Comforter will not dwell with you, nor give you the spirit of prayer. If this is so, you must repent. Do not stop to settle whether you are a Christian or not, but repent, as if you never had repented. I do not assume that you are a Christian. So go, like a humble sinner, and pour out your heart to the Lord. You never can have the spirit of prayer in any other way.
If people do not know the spirit of prayer, they are very likely to
4 Literally, a "foolish .re." A term given to mysterious lights that trick travelers at night.
be unbelieving in regard to the results of prayer. They do not see what takes place, or do not see the connection, or do not see the evidence. They are not expecting spiritual blessings. When sinners are convicted, they conclude that such are merely frightened by terrible preaching. And when people are converted, they feel no con.dence, saying, "We will see how they turn out."
Those who have the spirit of prayer know when the blessing comes. It was this way when Jesus Christ appeared. Those ungodly religious scholars did not know him. Why? Because they were not praying for the redemption of Israel. But Simeon and Anna knew him. Why? Take note of what they said, how they prayed, and how they lived. They were praying in faith, and so they were not surprised when Jesus came (Luke 2:25-38). So it is with the Christians of whom I speak. If sinners are convicted or converted, they are not surprised. They are expecting just such things. They know God when he comes, because they are looking out for his visits.
There are three classes of people in the church who are prone to error, or have left the truth out of view, on this subject.
Those who place great reliance on prayer, and use no other means. They are alarmed at any special means, and talk about your "working up a revival."
More than these are those who use means, and pray, but never think about the in.uences of the Spirit in prayer. They talk about prayer for the Spirit, and feel the importance of the Spirit in the conversion to sinners, but do not realize the importance of the Spirit in prayer. And their prayers are all cold talk, nothing that anybody can feel, or that can take hold of God.
Those who have certain strange notions about the Sovereignty of God, and are waiting for God to convert the world without prayer or means.
There must be in the church a deeper sense of the need of the spirit of prayer. The fact is that generally, those who use means most diligently, and make the most strenuous efforts for the salvation of people, and who have the most correct notions of how means should be used for converting sinners, also pray most for the Spirit of God, and wrestle most with God for his blessing. And what is the result? Let facts speak, and say whether these people do or do not pray, and whether the Spirit of God does not testify to their prayers, and follow their labors with his power.
18. Nothing will produce an excitement and opposition so quickly as the spirit of prayer. If any person should feel burdened with the case of sinners and groan in his prayer, some become nervous, and he is visited at once with rebuke and opposition! From my soul I hate all pretense of feeling where none exists, and all attempts to work one’s self up into feeling by groans. But I feel obligated to defend the position, that there is such a thing as being in a state of mind in which there is only one way to keep from groaning, and that is by resisting the Holy Spirit. I was once present where this subject was discussed. It was said that, "groaning should be frowned upon." The question was asked in reply whether God could produce such a state of feeling. Then abstaining from groaning would be impossible. The answer was, "Yes, but he never does." Then the apostle Paul was greatly deceived when he wrote about groanings too deep for words. Edwards was deceived when he wrote his book about revivals. Revivals are all in error. Now, no one who reviews the history of the church will adopt such a sentiment. I do not like this attempt to shut out, sti.e, or limit the spirit of prayer. I would sooner cut off my right hand than rebuke the spirit of prayer, as I have heard of its being done by saying, "Do not let me hear any more groaning!"
I hardly know where to end this subject. I should like to discuss it a month, indeed, until the whole church could understand it, so as to pray the prayer of faith. Beloved, I want to ask you, do you believe all this? Or do you wonder how I should talk this way? Perhaps some of you have had some glimpses of these things. Now, will you give yourselves up to prayer, and live so as to have the spirit of prayer, and have the Spirit with you all the time? Oh, for a praying church! I once knew a minister who had a revival fourteen winters in succession. I did not know how to account for it, until I saw one of his members get up in a prayer meeting and make a confession. He said, "Brethren, I have been long in the habit of praying every Saturday night until after midnight, for the descent of the Holy Spirit among us. And now, brethren," and he began to weep, "I confess that I have neglected it for two or three weeks." The secret was out. That minister had a praying church. Brethren, in my present state of health, I .nd it impossible to pray as much as I have been in the habit of doing, and yet continue to preach. It overcomes my strength. Now, shall I only pray, and stop preaching? That will not do. Now, will you not, who are in health, throw yourselves into this work, bear this burden, and give yourselves to prayer, until God shall pour out his blessing upon us?
MEETINGS FOR PRAYER
"Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 18:19)
Thus far, in treating of the subject of prayer, I have limited my remarks to secret prayer. I am now to speak of social prayer, or prayer offered in company, where two or more are united in praying. Such meetings have been common since the time of Christ, and it is probable that God’s people have always been in the habit of making united supplication, whenever they have had the privilege. The propriety of the practice will not be questioned here. I do not need to dwell now on the duty of social prayer. Nor is it my intent to discuss the question, whether any two Christians agreeing to ask any blessing, will be sure to obtain it. My object is to make some remarks on meetings for prayer, noting:
I. The purposes of prayer meetings.
II. The manner of conducting them.
III. Several things that will defeat the purpose of holding them.
I. THE PURPOSES OF PRAYER MEETINGS
1. One purpose of gathering several persons together for united prayer is to promote union among Christians. Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so much as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer. Their spirituality creates a feeling of union and con.dence, very important to the prosperity of the church. It is doubtful whether Christians can ever be divided, if they are in the habit of really
praying together. Hard feelings and differences among themselves are eliminated by uniting in prayer. The great goal is gained, if you can bring them really to unite in prayer. If this can be done, the dif.culties vanish.
To extend the spirit of prayer. God has so made us, and such is the economy of his grace, that we are sympathetic beings, and communicate our feelings to one another. A minister, for instance, will often breathe his own feelings into his congregation. The Spirit of God that inspires his soul makes use of his feelings to in.uence his hearers, just as much as the Spirit makes use of the words he preaches. So God makes use of the feelings of Christians. Nothing is more deliberate to create a spirit of prayer than to unite in social prayer with one who has the spirit himself, unless this one should be so far ahead that his prayer will repel the rest. His prayer will awaken them, if they are not so far behind as to revolt at it and resist it. If they are anywhere near the standard of his feelings, his spirit will kindle, and burn, and spread all around. One individual who obtains the spirit of prayer will often stir a whole church, and extend the same spirit through the whole, so that a general revival follows.
Another grand purpose of social prayer is to move God. Not that it changes the mind and feelings of God. When we speak of "moving" God, as I have said in a former lecture, we do not mean that prayer changes the will of God. But when Christians offer the right kind of prayer, they are in such a state of mind that it becomes proper for God to grant a blessing. They are then prepared to receive it, and he gives because he is always the same, and always ready and happy to show mercy. When Christians are united, and praying as they should, God opens the windows of heaven, and pours out his blessing until there is not room to receive it (Malachi 3:10).1
1 "When God has something very great to accomplish for his church," says Jonathan Edwards, "it is his will that there should precede it, the extraordinary prayers of his people, as is clear by Ezekiel 36:37 taken with the context. And it is revealed that when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication (Zechariah 12:10). If we are not to expect that the devil should go out of a particular person that is under demon possession without extraordinary prayer, or prayer and fasting, how much less should we expect to have him cast out of the land and the world without it! I should think the people of God in this land would be in the way of their duty to do three times as much fasting and prayer as they do" (Thoughts on the Revival, Part 5). As previously mentioned, Finney was very in.uenced by the writings of Edwards. He read them in the house of Dr. Aiken of Utica, who said that Finney "often spoke of them with rapture." (This footnote taken from the original notes provided by the Fleming Revell Company.)
4. Another important purpose of prayer meetings is the conviction and conversion of sinners. When properly conducted, they are eminently suited to produce this effect. Sinners are likely to be solemn when they hear Christians pray. Where there is a spirit of prayer, sinners will be affected. An ungodly man, a universalist, once said about a certain minister, "I can handle his preaching very well, but when he prays, I feel .lled with awe — as if God were coming down upon me." Sinners are often convicted by hearing prayer. A young man of distinguished talents said about a certain minister to whom, before his conversion, he had been very much opposed, "As soon as he began to pray, I began to be convicted. If he had continued to pray much longer, I should not have been able to hold myself back from Christ." Just as soon as Christians begin to pray as they should, sinners then know that Christians do pray, and begin to feel awe. They do not understand what spirituality is, because they have no experience of it. But when such prayer is offered, they know there is something in it. They know God is in it, and it brings them near to God. It makes them feel reverently solemn, and they cannot bear it. And not only is it suited to impress the minds of sinners, but when Christians pray in faith, the Spirit of God is poured out and sinners are melted down and converted on the spot.
II. THE MANNER OF CONDUCTING PRAYER MEETINGS
It is often good to open a prayer meeting by reading a short portion of the Word of God, especially if the person leading the meeting can call to mind any portion that will be applicable to the object or occasion, and that is moving and to the point. If the person has no passage that is applicable, it is better not read any at all. Do not drag in the Word of God to make up part of the meeting as a mere matter of form. This is an insult to God. It is not good to read any more than is applicable to the subject before the meeting or the occasion. Some people think it is always necessary to read a whole chapter, though it may be very long and have a variety of subjects. It is just as wise to read a whole chapter as it would be for a minister to take a whole chapter for his text, when his goal was to make some particular truth bear on the minds of his audience. The purpose of a prayer meeting should be to bring Christians to the point, to pray for a de.nite object. Wandering over a large .eld hinders and destroys this goal.
It is proper that the person who leads should make some short and appropriate remarks, calculated to explain the nature of prayer, and the encouragements we have to pray, and to bring the object to be prayed for directly before the minds of the people.
A person can no more pray without having his thoughts concentrated than he can do anything else. The person leading should therefore see to this, by bringing up before their minds the object for which they came to pray. If they came to pray for any object, he can do this. And if they did not, they had better go home. It is of no use to stay there and mock God by pretending to pray when they have nothing on earth to pray for.
After stating the object, the leader should bring up some promise or some principle, as the ground of encouragement to expect an answer to their prayers. If there is any indication of Providence, or any promise, or any principle in the Divine government, that provides a ground of faith, let him call it to mind, and not let them be talking out of their own hearts at random, without knowing any solid reason for expecting an answer. One reason why prayer meetings generally accomplish so little is because there is so little common sense used in them. Instead of looking around for some solid footing on which to rest their faith, people come together and pour forth words, and neither know nor care whether they have any reason to expect an answer. If they are going to pray about anything concerning which there can be any doubt or any mistake