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Phila delphia > Eternal Life by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture I
Eternal Life

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
January 1, 1839

Lecture I.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--I John 5:10,11: "He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, Because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."

In discoursing upon this subject, the following is the order in which I intend to direct your thoughts:

I. Show what we are to understand by eternal life.

II. That Jesus Christ is the eternal life of the soul.

III. That God has given eternal life to all mankind, entirely irrespective of their knowledge or consent.

IV. That this gift may be rejected by unbelief, or received by faith.

V. Whosoever believes on the Son of God, or receives this gift, has the witness in himself, or knows that he has eternal life by his own consciousness.

I. I am to show what we are to understand by eternal life.

II. I am to show that Jesus Christ is the eternal life of the soul.

"The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, how can this man give us his flesh to eat?" "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no LIFE in you.--"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, HATH ETERNAL LIFE; and I will raise him up at the last day." "For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."

"As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall LIVE by me." "This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall LIVE for ever."

At these words His disciples murmured, saying, verse 60 and onward, "This is an hard saying, who can hear it?" "When Jesus knew in himself, that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?" "What, and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?"

"It is the Spirit that QUICKENETH; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are LIFE." His disciples supposed Him to speak of His material body, and blood--but in these verses he informs them that it was His divine nature which came down from heaven, and that constituted the bread and blood of which He spake, and of which, if they ate and drank, they should have eternal life. I need not multiply passages of scripture. You who read your Bibles, know that Christ is everywhere represented as "the resurrection and the LIFE," as "the way, the truth, and the LIFE," as "the bread and water of eternal LIFE," as the "fountain of LIVING waters," and in a vast variety of ways, this truth is taught throughout the Scripture.

III. I am to show that God has given eternal life to all mankind, entirely irrespective of their knowledge or consent.

By this, I do not mean that they have received, or are actually put in possession of eternal life, or if they remain in unbelief, that they ever will be put in possession of it, but that an act is passed conferring on them pardon, and eternal life. In proof that this gift must be irrespective of our believing it, I remark, that whatever is to be believed, must be true, independent of our belief. If the truth of a proposition depended upon our believing it, then we should be under the necessity of believing it before it was true, which would be an absurdity. Every truth of the gospel which is an object of faith, is true, whether we believe it or not. Were it not so, we could not be required to believe it. It must, therefore, be true that God has given eternal life to all who are under any obligation to believe the gospel. The text represents the unbeliever as making God a liar, "because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son." "And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal LIFE, and this life is in his Son." Now, is the unbeliever to believe that God has given to others, eternal life, and exclude himself, or is he to believe himself to be included in the gift of eternal life. If by us,"he is to include himself with the rest of mankind, then it must be true that eternal life was given him before he believed or received it. Did the gift belong only to those that believe, and that, too, after they believe? How, then, should our unbelief make God a liar? This gift must extend to all for whom Christ died. In John 1:29, he is called the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." In John 3:16,17, it is said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." In John 4:42, he is again called the "Saviour of the world." In John 6:33, he is represented as "giving life to the world," and in the 51st verse, the same fact is declared, "and the bread which I will give, is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world." In Heb. 2:9, it is said, "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for EVERY man." These, and many other passages that might be quoted, show that this gift respects all mankind.

IV. I am to show that this gift may be rejected by unbelief, or received by faith.

The gift is absolute, without any other conditions than those necessarily implied in the bequest. If I give a man anything, the condition is always implied, that he receive it. The gift on my part may be absolute, and the condition, if not expressed, is always implied in the very nature of the case. A father may make a will, and bequeath his estate to an heir; but in this bequest, this condition is implied, that he receive it. The gift is an absolute gift, which may be received or rejected, at the pleasure of the heir. Now, faith is a necessary condition of the Gospel. It is naturally impossible that an unbelieving mind should accept, or receive the gift of eternal life. The gift is holiness. Holiness is love and active obedience. Unbelief is distrust. Faith is trust or confidence--that confidence of the heart that works by love. Faith is the yielding up the soul to the influence and truth of Christ. And thus Christ is represented as being our sanctification. Not our sanctifier, as if he made us holy in ourselves, and left us to obey, in the exercise of our uninfluenced and unaided powers. When he is said to be our life--"our sanctification," the "bread of life," --the "vine of which we are branches"--I suppose these, and such like expressions, all mean the same thing, viz: that Christ is the perpetual author of all our holy feelings and actions. Faith is that act of the mind that submits to the control of Christ and of the truth. It is the receiving of Christ as an indwelling Savior--it is that opening of the door of the heart spoken of in the Scripture, and receiving Christ as an indwelling and reigning king. Thus in Eph. 3:17, Christ is represented as "dwelling in the heart by faith," and in many other passages, he is represented as dwelling in the heart, and faith is represented as the door by which he enters. It is, as I have already said, the voluntary receiving of the divine influence of Christ, and of his truth into the mind. It is the yielding of our voluntary powers to his divine control. Hence he is represented as dwelling in us--which I suppose to be really and literally true--that by his Spirit he is personally present with the mind, and by his truth and persuasive influences, controlling, guiding, and directing it. Now distrust or unbelief rejects His teaching--refuses to receive, and be guided, and molded by truth; while faith receiving the divine communication, surrenders the will, and all the powers to his entire control. So that he is our sanctification, i.e. he does not change our nature, so that we become good in ourselves--so that we have life in ourselves, apart from him. But as it is said in Colossians, [3:3-4,] "Our life is hid with Christ in God, and when he who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory." He is the life, or the holiness of the soul; it is his presence and agency that produces holiness in us; and this holiness continues no longer, and extends no farther, than the divine agency that produces it. By this, I do not mean that we are passive in holiness, or that we receive his holiness or righteousness by imputation; but that we actually become partakers of his holiness, and of his life, by the voluntary surrender of our powers to his control. Nor by controlling our powers, do I mean that our own agency is, in any sense, suspended. Our own agency is never more freely and fully exercised, than when under the divine influence of Christ. His influences are moral, i.e. persuasive only, else they could not be received by faith. It were absurd to speak of receiving a physical or compulsory influence by faith. Nor, in the nature of the case, can eternal life, although absolutely given, and left at the option of every man, be received in any other way, than by simple faith. This gift is entirely irrespective of works of any kind on our own part. Nor do works of law, or any other kind of works, bring us any nearer the reception of it. Faith alone receives it. Unbelief alone rejects it.

V. I am to show that, whosoever believes on the Son of God, or receives this gift, has the witness within HIMSELF, or knows that he has eternal life by his own consciousness.

This is expressly affirmed in the text. And I might quote various other passages to the same effect--but would observe, that as eternal life consists in holiness, it must be a subject of consciousness. Holiness is supreme love. Now of what can we be conscious, if not of the supreme affection of the mind? Is it possible that any of you should love God supremely, and not be conscious of it? Many persons hope that they love God, and hope that they have eternal life; but if they would consider that eternal life is holiness, and that nothing short of supreme love is holiness, they would know at once that if any man believes, he has the witness in himself--the testimony of his own consciousness, which is the highest and best possible evidence. Now if any of you have not this evidence, the witness of your own consciousness, I beg of you to put away your hope and your talk about eternal life. For what is a life worth which is not a matter of consciousness?


1. From what has been said, every one of you must know whether you have eternal life. Can you say with Paul "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me?" "And the life which I now live, I live by faith on the Son of God?" Do you know that you live in love, and walk in love?

2. You who do not believe, and thus receive eternal life, are making God a liar. How horrible it would sound were the language of your unbelief put into words!

3. You see, from this subject the great mistake of those who suppose if persons were wholly sanctified they would have no further need of Christ. You who think thus, overlook the fact that Christ is the eternal life of the soul. The difference between those who are wholly, and those who are partially sanctified, is, that the former are made to feel, continually, their entire dependence upon God--that "in him they live, and move, and have their being" that without him they are absolutely dead in "trespasses and sins"--that every spiritual breath they breathe, and pulse they tell, is from his influence. They know they have not, and never expect to have any life but in him, any more than the vine has life when severed from the branch. Constant faith receives the tide of eternal life as it flows continually from Christ; in other words, it receives a continual influence, and the constant leadings and guidings of the Spirit of Christ. Whereas, they that are but partially sanctified, have so illy learned their dependence, as sometimes to look to Christ, and at other times to turn away and depend upon the exercise of their own unaided powers.

4. If God has given to us eternal life, why should we not enter into, and take possession of it? The gift is absolute; our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, has it in possession, and holds it as a trustee, or surety, or guardian, and invites and continually urges us to accept it. And why, with such an inheritance as this, should we go about like swine, and wallow in the filth of sin, instead of at once entering upon our inheritance, and taking hold of the fulness of gospel salvation? Take hold, at once. Christ, your elder brother, has in possession, this eternal life. Believe in Him--believe now, at once, without any preparatory process whatever. Believe the record "that God hath given to us, eternal life, and this life is in his Son," and you shall now enter into the rest of faith.

5. From this subject, you see also the infinite guilt of those who reject the gospel. The gift is absolute--it is tendered to their acceptance, with all the sincerity of God--it was purchased by the blood, and treasured up in the life of Christ. There is an infinite excellence, and power, and glory in it--and if "he that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing."

6. Lastly. Let it be remembered, understood, realized and felt by every one of you, that this bequest is made. The testator has died and sealed it with his blood. The infinite treasure--the pearl of great price lies before you, waiting for your acceptance. Take it--receive it--hold fast to it by faith.

of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart

  1. Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE XII).

  2. Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit, but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).

  3. Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).

  4. Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).

  5. Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).

  6. Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  7. Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity, because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  8. Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect... it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  9. Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).

  10. Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  11. Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).


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