What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > Christian Character by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture IV
Christian Character

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"
February 15, 1843

Lecture IV.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--1 John 3:9: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

In this discourse I shall,

I. Inquire what sin is not.

II. What it is.

III. What to be born of God is not.

IV. What it is.

V. What the seed spoken of in the text is not.

VI. What it is.

VII. What is not intended by the assertion that whosoever is born of God does not and cannot commit sin.

VIII. What is intended by it.

IX. How a Christian may be distinguished from a sinner.

I. What sin is not.

II. What sin is.

III. What to be born of God is not.

IV. What is it to be born of God?

V. What the seed which remaineth in Christians is not.

VI. What this seed is.

VII. What is not intended by the assertion that whosoever is born of God does not and cannot commit sin.

VIII. What is intended by it.

IX. How a Christian may be distinguished from a sinner.


1. Every real Christian lives habitually without sin. Nothing is more common than to find large classes of professors of religion who acknowledge that they are living in sin. You ask them--Do you not know that this is wrong? Yes, they say, but no person is expected to live without sin in this world. We must sin some. Now, as the Bible is true, such persons are deceived, and in the way to hell. If that is religion, what is Christianity? But, you will say--"I know what you say of this text cannot be the meaning, for it is not my experience." Poor soul! this excuse will do you no good, for God's word is true, whatever your experience is, and in the day of eternity, where will you be if you rely on this? Now do you cry out and say, "why this is awful; for if it be true what will become of the great mass of Christians?" Let me tell you all true Christians will be saved, but hypocrites God will judge. Said a woman to a minister not long since, "Do you confess your sins?" confess your sins! What did she mean by that? Why, she meant to inquire whether every time he prayed he confessed, not that he had been a sinner in times past, but, that he was now actually sinning against God? She, with many other professors, actually seemed to think that Christians should sin a little all the while in order to keep them humble, and to have something to confess. Indeed!

2. It is a dangerous error to inculcate that Christians sin daily and hourly. It sets the door wide open for false hopes, and the effect on the Church is that it is thronged with the victims of delusion.

3. Equally dangerous is it, to say that their most holy duties are sinful--that "sin is mixed with all we do." What! Then John should have said--"Whosoever is born of God commits sin daily and hourly, notwithstanding the seed of God remaineth in him, for sin is mixed with all he does!" It is a palpable matter of fact that whatever is holy is not sinful. Holiness is conformity to all perceived obligation--it is an act of the will, and must be a unity. If then holiness be a unity, a compliance with all perceived obligation, there is not and cannot be sin mixed in it. Says Christ, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." And James says--"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." A person therefore, knowing obligation to rest on him, and not discharging it, is living in sin and is not a Christian. It is in vain to appeal to experience against the Bible.

4. All who live in the omission of duty or commission of what is contrary to known truth, are living in habitual sin and are not Christians.

5. How infinitely different is the doctrine of this discourse, from the common view, and what is generally inculcated. Said a celebrated minister in giving the definition of a Christian--"He has a little grace and a great deal of devil." Now where did such a sentiment as that come from? From the Bible? No. But from a ruinous accommodation of the Bible to a false standard. And yet so current is such a sentiment, that if you deny it, they look astonished, and say--"Why, I guess you are a perfectionist." Now read the language of the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, right along side of what John says. Says the Confession of Faith--"No mere man since the fall, is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and in deed."--And to this almost all the standards of the Church agree. It is the common sentiment of the Church. Now I would ask how this accords with what John says, in the text and in many other places in this epistle? Let me say he is not here speaking of some Christians who have made rare attainments, but of the common attainment. Now, which is right? By which will you be tried at the Judgment? By the Bible or the common standards? You know very well which.

6. When any, therefore, live in the omission of known duty, or commission of what they know to be contrary to truth, we are bound to say they are not Christians. This is not a want of charity but a love of the truth. Suppose an infidel should meet you with the Bible in his hand and should point out what it describes a Christian to be, and should ask you, "do you believe the Bible speaks the truth?" And should then point to those Christians who live daily and hourly in the omission of known duty, in a violation of perceived obligation, and ask you if you believe they are Christians, what would you say? What would you feel bound to say to maintain the honor of the Bible? The answer is plain. The truth is, the common views on this subject are a flat denial of the Bible, and are a ruinous accommodation to the experience of carnal professors.

7. Now, beloved, if this is so it becomes us, to ask ourselves, whether our experience accords with the Bible or the popular standard. Not whether we think we were converted some time ago, not what feelings we may have had: but are we at present conformed to all the truth we know. Does the seed remain in us? The test is a habitual perfection of moral character. He who has it is a Christian. He who has it not is not a Christian. Now where are you? Where would you be to night if summoned to the Judgment? Could you lay your hand on your heart and say, "Lord Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love Thee?" Thou knowest that my life is a life of conformity to all thy known will?


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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