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Phila delphia > Moral Depravity- No. 1 by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture III
Moral Depravity- No. 1

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"
March 12, 1862

Lecture III.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Rom. 8:7: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be."

The first inquiry is--

I. What is moral depravity?

II. The attributes or qualities of moral depravity.

III. What is the "carnal mind"?

IV. The "carnal mind" is a state of enmity against God.

V. The carnal mind is a state of mortal enmity against God.

VI. The carnal mind is a state of supreme opposition to God.

I. What is moral depravity?

Again, moral depravity lies entirely back of individual actions and volitions, and is the source from which these actions and volitions spring.

II. It behoves us to enquire into the attributes or qualities of moral depravity.

Again, that which is a part or attribute of either soul or body, cannot be a violation of moral obligation. Nor can any attribute of body or mind be a violation of conscience. It cannot be a violation of duty; it cannot be instantly abandoned; it cannot be blame-worthy.

Moral depravity must consist in a settled ultimate choice, the choice of an end. It must consist in the voluntary devotion of the mind to self--self-interest and self-gratification. Human activity is rational and responsible. Men are moral agents--that is, they act under the responsibilities of moral obligation, are subjects of moral law and of moral government. Moral law requires of all moral agents sincere, perfect, universal devotion to God and to the interests of his kingdom. In other words, it requires perfect, universal, perpetual, unselfish benevolence.

Moral depravity is the opposite of what this law requires; or, more strictly, it is want of conformity to this law. It is primarily a withholding--a refusal to be devoted to God and to the interests of his kingdom. It sets up self above God. It deliberately prefers self-interests and self-will to God's interest and God's will. It practically makes self of supreme importance. In one word, it is selfishness. It is the mind's committed to self as the great supreme good of life.

Moral depravity is a standing choice as distinct from a volition. It is a choice of the supreme end to which the mind shall devote itself. It is the choice of an ultimate end, that is, self-gratification is chosen for its own sake. We know from consciousness, that when the mind is made up and has decided upon the end to be secured, its whole activities will be directed to the accomplishment of that end. Volition, as distinguished from the choice of an end is the minds' effort to secure the end. When we speak of individual sins, we speak of volition and consequent action. When we speak of moral depravity as distinct from individual sinful acts, we mean that abiding and wrong, selfish choice from which these volitions proceed. Please observe the distinction I make between sinful acts and moral depravity. Moral depravity is originally a choice and therefore a mental act. It is the choice of an end, and therefore an abiding, standing choice. Volitions are individual efforts to secure the end chosen. Sinful acts are found in the life. Moral depravity lies back of the outward life, and back of volition, in a standing preference of self-interest over God's interests and all other interests.

III. What is the "carnal mind"?

Here two constitutional propensities, innocent in themselves, were strongly excited by this appeal of the tempter. The desire of knowledge is constitutional; the appetite for food is constitutional. These appetites are not wrong in themselves, nor is it morally wrong that they should be in an excited state. But the question as put by the tempter, amounted to a proposal to Eve and to Adam to gratify their appetites, although it involved disobedience to God. This question was really fundamental to their moral character. They could not yield to this temptation without preferring their own self-gratification to the will of God, and their own pleasure to God's pleasure. To yield to this temptation would be to revolt from the government of God. It would break off their allegiance to him. In the very act they must decide to seek their own pleasure in their own way as their supreme good. This would really be a change of the supreme ultimate end of life. Instead of loving God supremely, they now love themselves supremely. They reject God's authority, God's rights, God's happiness and his glory, as all subordinate to their own gratification. You will observe that the temptation was not merely to put forth a single volition to secure some good, without any reference to the ultimate end in view. It was nothing else than a proposal from the tempter to set aside God as the great end for which they should live, and set up self-gratification as the supreme object of life. Yielding to this temptation, plunged them into a state of choice--a settled state of voluntary preference of self-interest above all other interests, and of self-gratification above all other good.

A voluntary state as distinguished from a voluntary act, is a matter familiar to us all. We all know what is meant by choosing a partner for life, and abiding in that choice; and we know that when that choice is settled and abiding, the volitions and the outward life flow from it. The choice, abiding, gives direction to all the subsequent life.

Just so of this choice made by Adam. It became a fixed state of mind. He lapsed into a state of supreme selfishness, which is nothing else than a strong committal of the will, and consequently of the whole being, to self-gratification.

The mind being settled in its great ultimate aim and end, the supreme choice being to gratify the deepest desires and propensities, it will of course reveal itself in all the myriad ways of self-indulgence in which unconverted sinners actually live.

IV. The "carnal mind" is a state of enmity against God. I say a state, that is, an abiding choice.

It is enmity against God,

But, perhaps you will say--I do not contemn the authority of God.

But how much do you care for this authority? Do you, in fact, treat it as if it were of the slightest importance? You will set aside the authority of God for the most trifling indulgence. See that young man smoking that cigar. Do you think, young man, that that is right? Do you think God wants you to smoke that cigar? Do you believe he is pleased with it? You know he is not; and yet you care less for God's authority than you do for smoking that cigar. Every day you live, you gratify yourself in ways which you know to be unlawful, without the slightest regard to God's authority. What do you mean, then, by saying that you do not contemn the authority of God? Is there anything in the world that you treat as of less importance than the authority of God? Your daily conduct is equivalent to saying, "What do I care for the authority of God? Who is God that I should obey him, or what profit should I have if I should pray unto him?"


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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