The Oberlin Evangelist

March 16, 1853


Pres. Finney's Lecture on Sanctification

[continued from March 2, 1853 extract--Ed.]


We continue the excellent lecture, from which we made extracts in our last, quoting continuously from the point where our last selections closed. The extract will serve the double purpose of illustrating a vitally important subject, and of presenting a specimen of a great standard theological work. --Ed.


"What are the real grounds of hope in respect to the question now under consideration?

"Here it is necessary to state again distinctly, what is not, and what is, the real question to be decided.

"It is not what Christians have hoped upon this subject, for they may have entertained groundless expectations and irrational hopes; or they may have had no hope or expectation, when there have been good grounds of hope. Let it be distinctly understood then, that the true point of inquiry is, have Christians a right to expect to obtain in this life a complete victory over sin? Not, do they expect it? but, have they a right to indulge such a hope, is it irrational? Or, provided they have not such a hope, have they good and sufficient ground for such hope revealed in the Bible'? This brings us to inquire what are not, and what are, the grounds of rational hope.

"( l .) They are not in the mere natural ability of man, for the Bible abundantly reveals the fact, that if man is left to himself, he will never so exert his agency as to comply with the conditions of salvation. This is equally true of all men.

"(2.) They are not in the gospel, or in the means of grace, aside from the agency of the Holy Spirit, for the Bible reveals the fact, that no one will ever be sanctified by these means, without the agency of the Holy Spirit.

"In prosecuting inquiry upon this subject, I remark:

"(i.) That the inquiry now before us respects real Christians. It might be interesting and useful to look into the subject in its bearings upon the impenitent world, but this would occupy too much time and space in this place. It might be useful to inquire, what ground of rational hope any sinner may have, that he shall actually he converted and saved, when the gospel is addressed to him. It certainly cannot be denied, with any show of reason, that every sinner to whom the gospel call is addressed, has some reason to hope that God has designs of mercy toward him, and that he shall he converted, and kept, and sanctified, and saved. He must have some ground of hope for this result, upon the bare presentation to him of the offers of mercy. He has all the evidence he can ask or desire, that God is ready and willing to save him, provided that he is willing to accept of mercy, and comply with the conditions of salvation. So that, if he is disposed to accept it, he need not raise any question about the grounds of hope. There is nothing in his way but his own indisposition; if this is removed, he may surely hope to be saved. But the offers of mercy also afford some ground of hope, that the Holy Spirit will strive with him, and overcome his reluctance, so that he may rationally hope to he converted.

"The ground of this hope may be more or less strong in the case of individual sinners, as they find the providence and Spirit of God working together for the accomplishment of this result. If, for example, the sinner finds, in addition to the offers of salvation by the word of the gospel, that the Holy Spirit is striving with him, convincing him of sin, and trying to induce him to turn and live, he has of course increased grounds for the hope that he shall he saved.

"But, as I said, the inquiry now before us respects the grounds of hope in Christians.

"(ii.) I remark, that Christians, of course, from the very nature of their religion, have come strongly to desire a complete and lasting victory over sin. I need not in this place attempt to prove this.

"(iii.) Christians not only desire this, but in fact so far as they are Christians, they will to obtain this victory. That is, when they have the heart of a child of God, and are in a state of acceptance with him, they will to render to God a present, full, universal, and endless obedience. This is implied in the very nature of true religion.

"(iv.) The inquiry before us respects future acts of will. The state under consideration consists in an abiding consecration to God. The Christian is at present in this state, and the inquiry respects his grounds of hope, that he shall ever attain to a state in this life, in which he shall abide steadily and uniformly in this state, and go no more into voluntary rebellion against God. Has grace made no such provisions as to render the hope rational, that we shall in this life ever cease to sin? Or has it pleased God to make no such provisions, and are we to expect to sin as long as we live in this world? Has the Christian any rational ground for a hope, that he shall he sanctified in this life? that is, that he shall obtain a complete and final victory over sin in this life? The question here is, not whether Christians do hope for this, but, may they rationally hope for this? Have they good reason for such a hope, did they apprehend or understand this ground? They have desire, which is an element of hope--have they grounds for a rational expectation? I do not here inquire, whether they do expect it, but whether they have good and valid reason for such an expectation? Is the difficulty owing to a want in the provisions of grace, or in a misconception of these provisions? Some Christians do hope for this attainment. Are they mad and irrational, or have they good reason for this hope?

In replying to these inquires, I remark, that the Holy Spirit is given to the saints for the express purpose revealed in such passages as the following. I Thes. v. 23, 24. "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." With this, and similar promises, and express declarations in his hands, is it rational or irrational in him, to expect to receive the fulfilment of such promises? If it be answered, that these promises are conditioned upon his faith, and it is irrational for him to hope to fulfill the condition; I reply, that the Holy Spirit is given to him, and abides in him, to draw him into a fulfilment of the conditions of the promises. It is nowhere so much as hinted in the Bible, that the Holy Spirit will not do this until the close of life. Observe, that this is the very office-work of the Spirit, to work in us to fulfill the conditions of the promises of entire sanctification, and thus to secure this end. His business with and in us, is to procure our entire sanctification; and, as I said, there is not so much as a hint in the Bible, that he does not desire or design to secure this before death. Now, suppose we lay aside all knowledge of facts, in relation to the past experience of the church, and look into the Bible. From reading this, would any man get the idea, that God did not expect, desire, and intend, that saints should obtain an entire victory over sin in this life? When we read such promises and declarations as abound in the Bible, should we not see rational ground for hope, that we shall obtain a complete victory over sin in this life?

"But here it may be said, that the past history of the church shows what are the real promises of grace; that grace has not in fact secured this attainment, at least to a great part of the church, until at or near the close of life; and therefore grace in fact made no provision for this attainment in their case.

"But if this objection has any weight, it proves equally, that grace has made in no case any provision for any one's being any better than he really is, and has been, and that it had been irrational in any one to have expected to be any better than in fact he has turned out to be. If he had any time expected to be any better at any future time, than he turned out to be, this, upon the principle of the objection in question, would prove that he had no rational ground for the expectation: that grace in fact had made no such provision as to render any such hope rational. If this be true, we shall all see when we get into the eternal world, that in no case could we have indulged a rational hope of being any better than we have been, and that when we did indulge any such hope, we had no ground for it.

"But again, if what the church has been settles the question of what it is rational for her to hope in time to be, why then we must dismiss the hope of any improvement. This objection proves too much, therefore it proves nothing.

"But again, since the Holy Spirit is given to and abides in Christians, for the very purpose of securing their entire and permanent sanctification, and since there is no intimation in the Bible that this work is to be delayed until death, but, on the contrary, express declarations and promises, that as fully and expressly as possible teach the contrary, it is perfectly rational to hope for this, and downright unbelief not to expect it. What can be more express to the point than the promises and declarations that have been already quoted upon this subject?

"Now the question is, not whether these promises and declarations have inspired hope, but might they not reasonably have done so? The question is, not whether these promises have been understood and relied upon, but might they not reasonably have inspired confidence, that we should, or that they should gain a complete and lasting victory over sin in this life? Do not let us be again diverted by the objection, that the provisions of grace, and what it is rational to hope for, is settled by what has been accomplished. We have seen that this objection is not valid.

"Desire has existed, why has not expectation also existed? We shall see in its place. I said, that the Bible represents the design of God to be, to sanctify Christians wholly in this life, and nowhere so much as intimates, that this work is not to be complete in this life. Let such passages as the following be consulted upon this question. Titus ii. 11-14. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." This passage teaches that this state is to be expected; it also teaches that it is to be expected before death, (ver. 12.); that Christ gave himself to secure this result. (ver. 14.) The chapter concludes with this direction to Titus, 'These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee." Now suppose Titus to have taught, as some now teach, that it is dangerous error to hope to live in this life according to the teaching of this passage; suppose he had told them, that although Christ had given himself expressly to secure this result, yet there was no rational ground of hope, that they would ever do this in this present evil world; would he have complied with the spirit of the apostle's injunction in verse fifteenth?

"Again: the thing spoken of in this passage is no doubt a state of entire sanctification, in the sense, that it implies a complete victory over sin in this present evil world.

"Again, 2 Cor. vi. 17, 18: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." Now in view of these promises, the apostle immediately adds the following injunction, 2 Cor. vii. 1: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Did the apostle think it irrational to expect or hope to make this attainment in this life? Suppose he had added to the injunction just quoted, that it was dangerous for them to expect to make the attainment which he exhorted them to make. Suppose he had said, you have no right to infer from the promises I have just quoted, that it is rational in you to hope to make this attainment in this life. But suppose the Corinthians to have inquired, Do not these promises relate to this life? Yes, says the apostle. And does not your injunction to perfect holiness in the fear of God, relate to this life? Yes. Did you not utter this injunction seeing that we have the promises? Yes. Is it not rational, seeing we have these promises, to hope to avail ourselves of them, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God in this life? Now suppose that to this last question the apostle had answered, No. Would not this have placed the apostle and the promises and his injunction in a most ridiculous light? To be sure it would. Would not any honest mind feel shocked at such an absurdity? Certainly.

"Again, I Thes. v. 23, 24: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." Now suppose that, immediately upon making this declaration, the apostle had added, you cannot rationally hope that God will do what I have just expressly affirmed that he will do. Suppose he had said, the declaration in the 24th verse is only a promise, and made upon a condition with which you cannot rationally hope to comply, and therefore as a matter of fact, you cannot rationally hope to be sanctified wholly and preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. How shocking and ridiculous would such a prayer, with such a promise, accompanied with such a conclusion, appear!

"Again, a Christian is supposed not only to desire to make this attainment, but also to be at present willing to make it, and at present to have his heart set upon obedience to God, and upon attaining to such a degree of communion with God as to abide in Christ, and sin no more. A Christian is supposed at present to be disposed to make this attainment; not only to desire it, but also to will it. Now, may he rationally aim at it, and rationally intend or hope to make this attainment? Or must he calculate to sin so long as he lives; and is it irrational for him to expect or hope to have done with rebelling against God, and with unbelief, and accusing him of lying, as long as he lives? If he is at present desirous and willing to have done with sin, is it rational for him to hope, by any means within his reach and which he is at present disposed to use, to attain a state in which he shall have a permanent victory over sin, in which he shall abide in Christ, in such a sense as to have done with rebellion against God? By present willingness, desire and effort, is it rational for him to hope to secure, a future desire and willingness, and an abiding state of heart-conformity to God? Are there any means within his reach, and which he can at present, while he has the will and desire, rationally hope so to use as to secure to him either at present, or at some future time in this life, a complete and lasting victory over sin? May he hope through present faith to secure future faith? through present love, and faith, and effort, to secure future faith, and love, and successful effort? For it is not contended by me, that the Christian will or can ever stand fast in the will of God without effort. This I have sufficiently insisted on. The question is exactly this: May a Christian, who is conscious of being at present willing to attain, and desirous of attaining, a state of abiding consecration to God in this life, rational{y hope to make such provision as to render such a hope rational? Not, can he rationally hope to make it without desire and effort? Not whether he could rationally hope to make such an attainment, if he is at present neither willing nor desirous to make it; but whether, provided he at present has both the will and desire, he may rationally hope to secure so rich an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and to be so thoroughly baptized into the death of Christ, as to remain henceforth in a state of abiding consecration to God?

"I care not to speculate upon abstractions, and upon the grounds of hope, where there is neither desire nor will; that is, where there is no religion. But I have been amazingly anxious myself to have the question here put answered in relation to myself; and I know that many others are intensely anxious to have this question answered. Must I always expect to be overcome by temptation? May I not rationally hope to obtain a permanent victory over sin in this life? Must I carry with me the expectation of going more or less frequently into rebellion against God so long as I live? Is there no hope in the case? Has grace made no such provision, that it is rational for me, in this state of intense interest and anxiety, to hope for complete deliverance from the overcoming power of sin in this life? Is there no foundation anywhere upon which I can build a rational hope, that I shall make this attainment? Are all the commands, and exhortations, and promises, and declarations in the Bible touching this subject, a delusion? Are they no warrant for the expectation in question? May I never rationally expect to be more than a conqueror in this life? Must I expect to succumb to Satan ever and anon, so long as I live, and is every other expectation irrational?

"The Holy Spirit is given to Christians, to abide with and in them, for the express purpose of procuring sanctification in this life. It is said, Rom. viii. 26, 27: "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Now it is a fact that the Holy Spirit often stirs up, in the souls of all Christians, intense desire for this attainment. He as manifestly begets within them a longing for this attainment, as he does for ultimate salvation. Now, why is it not as rational to expect the one as the other? Their ultimate salvation they do expect, and receive the drawings of the Spirit after the grace of perseverance, as an earnest or evidence that God intends to secure their perseverance and salvation. They regard it as rational to indulge this desire, excited by the Holy Spirit, and to hope for the thing which they desire. The thing is promised, and they feel stirred up to take hold on these promises. Surely then it is perfectly rational to hope for the fulfilment of them.

"And is not the same true of the promises of entire sanctification in this life? These are among the most full and express promises in the Bible. The Holy Spirit excites in all Christians the most earnest desire for the thing promised. Why is it not rational to hope for the thing which we desire? I do not here say that all do hope for it. All Christians do desire it; this is one element of hope: but why do not all entertain the expectation of making this attainment, and thus hope for it? Is it because there is no rational ground for hope? But what ground is wanting? It is expressly promised. God has nowhere intimated, that it is not his design to fulfill this class of promises. The Spirit leads us to pray for it. Now would it be rational to believe that these promises will be fulfilled to us? Why not? The difficulty, and the only difficulty that can exist in this case, is that human speculation and false teaching have forbidden confidence or expectation; so that while there is intense desire, there is no real hope indulged of receiving the blessing. The blessing is delayed because there is no hope. There is ground of hope. but false teaching has forbidden hope to be indulged. They are told by men in high places, that such a hope is irrational. Thus the Holy Spirit is resisted, and grieved, and quenched, when he is striving to inspire hope that this blessing will be obtained. This is just as the devil would have it.

"The fact is, there are precisely as good grounds for the hope of obtaining a complete victory over sin in this life, as there are for the hope of perseverance and salvation. But in one case these grounds are recognized and acknowledged, and in the other they are denied. In one case the hope is encouraged by teachers, and in the other it is discouraged. But there is not, that I can see, the least ground for this distinction. If there is ground for the one hope, so is there for the other. Suppose the ground for hope in both cases were denied, as it is in one, what would be the result?

"But again: Has grace established any such connection between the present belief of the promises and their fulfilment, as to render it certain, or in any degree probable, that they will be fulfilled to us?

"I have already said, that the objection we are considering must proceed upon the assumption that there is no such connection. But let us look at this.

"Suppose that God had expressly promised any blessing whatever, upon condition that I believe the promise. I am led by the Holy Spirit to a present laying hold by faith upon that promise. Now, does not this render it rational in me to hope that I shall receive the thing promised? If not, why not? Is it replied, that a further condition of the promise is, that I persevere in faith, and in the use of appropriate means, and I have no ground for rational hope that I shall continue to believe and to use the means? Then the fact that the Holy Spirit at present stirs me up to present faith, affords no degree of evidence that he will continue to do so; and the fact, that I at present lay hold of the promise, does not afford the least reason for the hope, that I shall keep hold and use the means, in any such sense as to secure the blessing promised. Well, if this were so, the Bible were the greatest deception that was ever palmed upon mankind. The fact is, there must be at least a connection of high probability, if not of certainty, between the present actual belief of the promises, and the future fulfilment of them to us, or the Bible and the whole gospel are nonsense."


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