What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Christians the Light of the World by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture XVI
The Light of the World

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"
August 12, 1840

Lecture XVI.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Matt. 5:14-16: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

I shall show,

I. That the world is in great spiritual darkness.

II. That Christians, under God, are to enlighten it.

III. How they are to do this.

IV. If the world is not enlightened, it is the fault of Christians.

I. The world is in great spiritual darkness.

And here let me say that when we speak of the spirituality of God's law, there are many minds who seem to turn away from us as if we were speaking very mystically. What, they say, law is law. We can understand what God's law says as well as you can, and do understand it as well as you do. And why should you mystify and speak of its spirituality as if it had some occult meaning which none but the initiated can understand? To this I reply:

As a farther illustration, take the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal." The letter of this commandment, prohibits the secret taking of another's property, and using it as if it were our own, without intention of returning it. But the spirit of this commandment forbids all covetousness and requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It prohibits our using our neighbor's good, selfishly, whether with or without his consent. It prohibits every form of fraud, speculation, and taking any advantage in business, that is inconsistent with the royal rule, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Now who does not know that unconverted sinners are in the dark in regard to the spirituality of these and every other command of God. What horrible conviction and consternation would fill the world if sinners but thoroughly understood the spirituality of God's law.

II. Christians, under God, are to enlighten the world.

III. How Christians can enlighten the world.

Under this head I inquire what constitutes the Christian's light, or what renders him a light to others? Ans.

Christians then can enlighten the world, not

IV. If the world is not enlightened, it is the fault of Christians.


1. How much evil is done by temporizing and keeping out of view the great and numberless points of difference between Christianity and the spirit of the world, as if we could show ungodly men the necessity of a great and radical change in themselves, by as nearly conforming our lives and tempers to theirs as possible. It is only by strong and constant contrast that the conviction of the necessity of a radical change in themselves, is to be forced home upon them. The more striking and constant this contrast, the better: the more universal and perfect this contrast is, the more sudden and irresistible will be their conviction of the necessity of a great and radical change in themselves.

2. We see from this subject how utterly injudicious it is to conceal the true light, on any great subject of reform, whenever a favorable opportunity should present itself to hold it up. Some ministers and professors of religion, seem to be always waiting to have the people find out the truth themselves, and for such a public sentiment to be formed as will anticipate and render it popular to hold up any heretofore unpopular or offensive doctrine. They seem not inclined to go ahead and rebuke the darkness of the public mind, by holding up the true light. They seem to dread the loss of their own popularity, and as they say, fear to injure their usefulness, by calling things by their right names, by declaring their own experience of the power of the gospel of the blessed God, by at once preaching and bringing out the whole truth before the world. In order to render themselves popular with all parties, they will so hold forth certain unpopular truths, as that the already initiated, will perceive that they believe them and correctly teach them: but in such language, with such provisos and caveats as that none others will suspect them of believing or teaching any such thing. If the whole Church and congregation were but to get right, without their instrumentality, if a public sentiment should be formed that would invite their coming out in plain language, they would then become bold champions for the truth. But they are waiting for the Churches to learn the truth before they declare it to them. And when it becomes popular to tell the whole truth, they will be the first to tell it.

3. The same is true of multitudes of professing Christians, in respect to their lives. For their worldly-mindedness, and for all forms and degrees of conformity to the world, they plead the force of public sentiment, that it will not do to differ from every body else, and that the law of expediency demands of them a good degree of conformity to the world, in order to secure an influence over them. But is this the way to enlighten the world? Instead of setting yourself to correct public opinion, do you suffer yourself to become the mere creature of it? Instead of opposing what is wrong in the views and practices of mankind, on every subject, do you fall in with them, and thus strengthen their bands, and confirm them in their darkness, expecting that by and by public sentiment will change so that you can do your duty without losing your influence, so that you can declare what God has done for your soul, relate your experience of the power of his grace, and hold up your light in the midst of the acclamations of the crowd? What a delusive dream is this!

4. Christians should remember that silence on any great subject of moral reform, that hiding their light either in precept or example, when a suitable opportunity occurs for exhibiting it, implies either that they do not believe it, or that it is with them a mere matter of opinion, and that they lay little or no practical stress upon it. Or else it implies that they are ashamed of it.

5. How cruel it is to let people remain in darkness through a fear of losing our own popularity. On what multitudes of subjects, are people injuring both their bodies and their souls for lack of correct information. And how shameful and cruel it is for those who have the true light, to hide it.

6. We see from this subject, the importance of believers in the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, holing up this infinitely important doctrine, both by principle and example, whenever they have the opportunity. They should be "living epistles known and read of all men."

7. Unless Christians hold up the true light in contrast with the world's darkness, they are the greatest curses that are in the world. They are like a false light, that decoys the unwary mariners upon the rocks and quicksands. The world knows that you are professors of religion, that you are set as a moral lighthouse. They therefore think it safe to steer in the direction in which your light indicates that they should go. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, what a curse are you to your family, your neighborhood, and the world around you. They will look at you. They mark your words. They ponder well your temper, and spirit, and life. They feel themselves safe in copying your example, in drinking in of your spirit, and in steering their course to eternity, by your light. And what a cruel monster are you, if you mislead them. What do you say of pirates who erect a false light upon some shoal, to decoy the unwary mariners to dash upon it, for the sake of plunder? Does not your blood curdle in your veins? Do not cold chills run over you? Does not your soul shudder when you read of the abominable selfishness of those who hold up false lights to mariners at sea, destroying so many lives, and so much property, for the sake of gratifying their odious selfishness? But professors of religion, you are the light of the world. Do you hold up a false light in the midst of the world's darkness? And when thousands of sinners are hovering round about upon your coast, benighted and bestormed, and looking to you for light, are you engaged in your selfish projects, exhibiting a carnal, earthly, and devilish spirit, while they are running upon the rocks and quicksands, ruining their souls, and going to hell by scores around you? Hear the wail of that lost soul, as it dashes upon the rocks, and sinks to hell. It lifts its eyes and cries out, O, I did not dream that evil was near. I had my eye upon that professor of religion. I transacted business upon the same principles, upon which I saw he transacted his. I kept my eye upon him and steered my bark by his light. And oh, unutterable horror, I am in the depths of an eternal hell!


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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