CHARLES G. FINNEY
The Oberlin Evangelist
December 23, 1846
PROFESSOR FINNEY'S LETTERS TO CHRISTIANS.
Dear Bro. Cowles;
Will you permit me through the columns of the O. Evangelist, to address a few lines to Christians on several highly practical and important subjects.
I will begin with the inquiry,
WHAT IS SIN?
Sin is the transgression of the law of God. The law of God requires supreme and perfect love to God, and equal love to man. In other words, the law of God requires disinterested, perfect, universal benevolence or good will to being. The consecration of all we are and have to the promotion of his glory, and the highest good of his kingdom. That "whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we should do all for the glory of God." That we should have a good reason for all we do or omit. That this reason should be that in our estimation the glory of God and the highest good of being demands it.
Sin is the opposite of all this. It is consecration of self-interest and self-gratification. It is self-seeking instead of seeking the good of universal being. It consists in choosing the wrong end and preferring our own interest and gratification to the infinitely higher interests of God and the universe. Sin is a choice, a state of mind, and does not consist in outward actions. It is manifested by outward acts, but does not consist in them. Sin consists in willing and acting without good reasons or in a manner not demanded or approved by reason. Holiness is obedience to the demands of the reason or to the law of God as it lies revealed in the reason. Sin is obeying the law of the sensibility. That is, sin consists in giving up the will to seek the gratification of the desires, appetites, passions and propensities. Every moral agent knows and really assumes, in spite of himself, that he ought not to be selfish, that he ought to obey reason and not appetite. This knowledge he has and cannot but have from the laws of his nature. Selfishness then is sin in him, whether he thinks of it as such or not. Selfishness is obeying the desires, appetites, propensities, as I have said. When we act simply in obedience to appetites or passions, we sin, whether we think of it in that light or not. Sometimes, indeed, reason sanctions and demands the appeasing of appetites. Under certain circumstances this is for the glory of God, and for our highest good and for the highest good of his kingdom. In such cases the gratification is not strictly in obedience to the appetites, but obedience to reason which says, seek the object and appease the appetites. But except the reason approves the gratification, it is sin. Let it be understood then, that self-gratification is always a sin, unless it be sanctioned and demanded by the law of the intelligence, or which is the same thing, by the law of God. Unless the law of benevolence demands it, and unless we do it for that reason, or in obedience to that law, we sin.
We must have a good, that is, a benevolent reason for all we do. The question, always to be asked, is this. Does the glory of God and the highest good of being demand this? Have I a good reason for this course, such an one as I am confident God will approve? I fear that many professed Christians have very loose ideas on the subject of sin, and are living in daily and constant sin without seriously inquiring into the nature of sin. This is infinitely dangerous, and my spirit is often stirred within me when I consider the conduct of many professing Christians, and the fact that without being at all aware of it they are certainly in sin and in the way to hell.
I propose with your leave to address to them, as frequently as I can get time to write, some serious and searching questions in regard to some of their habits and practices. And may the Lord search us all out.
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