The Oberlin Evangelist.
August 28, 1861
HOLDING THE TRUTH IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
By PRES. FINNEY.
[Concluded from August 14, 1861--Ed.]
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. --Romans 1:18 (Concluded.)
9. Holding the truth in unrighteousness is decisive of moral character. It is a state of total depravity, of total dishonesty in regard both to God and men. While the debt is admitted in words, and the obligation both to God and man in words is admitted, yet practically it is a denial of the obligation. The sinner virtually says--"I know I ought to obey God, but I will not. I know I ought to love my neighbor as myself, but I will not . I know I am indebted to God, but I will not pay him. I know I am indebted to man, but I care not for it--I will not pay him."
This, then, is making an open issue with God before the entire universe. It is a deliberate, known, practical, persistent rejection of his authority. Again, it is setting the worst possible example before God's subjects. Suppose a subject of any government to stand forth in the presence of all the subjects, and deliberately refuse to obey the laws; not merely [refuse] to obey some one law, but [refuse] to obey the laws in general and universally. Suppose the subject to admit the obligation, to admit the wisdom and justice, and equity, and necessity of the laws, but for unrighteous reasons to refuse to obey them; to take a course directly opposed to them; to persist in that course, and to hold fast his persistent resistance to the authority of the government--should not the wrath of the government be revealed against such a character as that?
10. Holding the truth in unrighteousness, is the deliberate refusal to pay an acknowledged debt to God.
Suppose that some one is indebted to you. You greatly need your pay, and you go to him and demand it. He acknowledges the debt in terms, and you request him to pay it. He has the money; but he prefers to use it in some other way, to promote his own interest. You urge his obligation upon him--you tell him he ought to pay it, and he laughs you in the face, and says, "What do I care for that? Do you suppose I will be influenced by such a consideration as that? Oughtness! shall that influence me? Never!" But you remind him of the authority of God, and of his command to pay his debts. He laughs again, and says--"And who is God? And what do I care for God's commandments? Do you suppose I am to be influenced by such a consideration as that? never!"
Now you would feel, in such a case as this, that such a deliberate refusal, and such a contempt of obligation, was a dreadful sin against you.
But just see that negligent professor of religion, see that impenitent sinner, deliberately refusing to pay an acknowledged debt to God; virtually saying to God, "What do I care for your authority? What do I care for my obligations to thee? I will not be influenced by an obligation to pay my debts either to God or man."
But again, suppose a child should take such a stand, and deliberately, and habitually, and universally neglect obedience, refuse, omit all obedience--what would you say of such a child? Should not the parent be angry? Should not he reveal his indignation against that child?
And what would you say of your debtor, in case he should treat you in such a way? Would you not feel yourself called upon to put him in a way to pay you, if he deliberately contemned all obligation for selfish reasons, and deliberately refused to pay an acknowledged debt?
Suppose in this case you should go and sue him, and bring him before a court, and he should say, "Why, you appear to be displeased, you appear to feel indignant that I do not pay you." Would you not reply, " I have reason to be indignant. You are a scoundrel; you are a dishonest man; you contemn all moral obligation, and I will see what I can do by enforcing legal obligation."
"You treat all moral obligation with contempt; and what is left to me but to compel you to pay your debt?"
So in the case of holding the truth in unrighteousness: obligation to God is treated with contempt; God himself is treated with contempt; his authority is treated as a mere trifle; his feelings are outraged and contemned, and is it not appropriate that God should be "angry with the wicked every day?" that He should have a benevolent indignation toward those who thus contemn their obligation? And is it not appropriate in Him to express or reveal this indignation, this wrath from heaven against such conduct as this? What would you think of a human ruler, who should let such conduct pass without manifesting the least displeasure at it? Or a parent, who should let such conduct pass without manifesting any displeasure at it?
The fact is, God has infinitely good reasons for being highly displeased. His wrath must be enkindled against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
Now what will be said of Him if He does not manifest this wrath? What will his subjects think of Him? Can they maintain their confidence in Him? Will He not forfeit their confidence? Will He not inevitably lose the confidence of all his faithful subjects, if He neglects to manifest or reveal his wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness?
1. From this standpoint we can see the awful elusion of mere moralist.
There are many men who totally neglect God, and are, therefore, in the sense of this text, emphatically ungodly. They withhold from God the love, confidence, obedience, and worship which is his due, and still imagine that they are doing nothing very wrong. You speak of their danger of being lost--they are ready to say, "Why, what have I done that is bad? Whom have I wronged?" Now the answer is plain, in the light of this text; you have wronged God out of his whole duty; you have never performed your duty to him in any sense or degree. What if you should refuse to pay your debts to men?
Suppose you were indebted to many persons, and never paid them the first cent--habitually and universally neglected to meet their just demands; and then you should set up for a moral man--should ask, "What evil have I done?"
Suppose these creditors of yours should often demand their pay, and you should as often acknowledge in words that the debts were just, and you ought to pay them, but still you should neglect and refuse to pay them, and never pay them at all; and then suppose they should complain of you, and you should say, "Why, what have I done?"--would not this be ridiculous?
But this is the manner in which you treat God; and you make little or no account of your neglect to pay what you owe to God. You would feel intensely if anybody owed you, and they should treat their obligation as you treat you obligation to God.
But just think! you are perfectly ungodly, and yet laying the flattering unction to your soul that you have done nothing very bad.
But again, you have neglected your whole duty to man as well as to God. The law of God and the law of your own conscience, requires you to love your neighbor as yourself; to regard and treat his interests as your own; to be careful of his reputation as of your own, of his feelings as of your own, of his interests as of your own. Now, have you done this? You satisfy yourself by saying you have not wronged him.
Wronged him! Have you not withheld from him that which is his due? Have you not refused to love him? refused to be interested in his welfare? Have you cared for his soul? Have you done anything to save him?
Suppose you had seen him asleep in his house, and the house on fire, and you had suffered it to burn down and consume him, and had given him no warning; and then you should say, "Wherein have I wronged him?"
The fact is, you have wronged both God and man. You have withheld from both their due, and you have no more right to claim to be a moral man than Satan has to claim to be moral. For, a mere moralist, an unconverted man, a man that neglects his duty to God and his fellow-men, as all unconverted sinners do, is void of all moral honesty; and must be, of course.
Why, how ridiculous it is for you to pretend to be morally honest, when you refuse, universally, to pay your debts. You do not hesitate to treat the claims of God, which you admit to be just, with utter contempt in your practice. You withhold from him all that is really valuable to him. For if you do not love him, if you do not regard his interests, your outward life, if it appear to be an honest and moral life, is a mere hypocrisy. Your kind treatment of your fellow men is not, and cannot be, because you love them; for if you are a mere moralist, an unconverted man, you do not love your neighbor as yourself--you must, therefore, have some other reason than love to your neighbor for treating him kindly; it must be some other reason than real honesty of heart, and uprightness before God and man, that leads you to any appearance of honesty.
But suppose some individual owed you, and was under every possible obligation to you and yet should contemn and despise the whole, and never perform his duty, or pay you a debt, or discharge any obligation, could you believe him an honest man? No, you could not believe that he had one particle of moral honesty in him.
But suppose you should see a son who treated his own parents as you treat God--would you believe that son an honest man, however much he might boast of honesty? Would you not be convinced irresistibly that any man that could treat honorable and upright parents with the contempt with which you treat God, could not be an honest man? Would you not regard him as void of all moral honesty? Would you not say irresistibly, a man that can do that can have no honesty in his soul? I beseech you to lay aside the claim of honesty and morality, and take home to yourself the charge that you are a totally dishonest and base man, one who has no real claim to be regarded as anything other than as a wicked, unprincipled, selfish being.
2. The same must be said of many professors of religion. What an awful delusion they are under! Supposing themselves to have been converted, they live on in habitual and known transgression. Many things which they acknowledge to be their duty, they never pretend to perform.
They allow themselves all the time to live in the neglect of what every body knows, and they themselves acknowledge to be their duty; and yet they think they are justified--think they are penitent. But what idea can they have on repentance? Is not repentance the renunciation of sin?
But what is sin but withholding from God and man their due? Here then is a professor of religion that habitually withholds from God and man their due, living on in known omissions; and confessing his omission, and will continue to confess them without end, and never address himself to the performance of these duties. Now what a delusion is this! Why, on the very face of it, it is hypocrisy and a fatal delusion.
3. This text does not agree with the doctrine of inability, about which we hear so much.
There are many who are continually ready to acknowledge their short-comings, and acknowledge in words their crime; but they plead their inability to obey. Inability! and does this text teach or imply any such doctrine as that? Why, this text assumes the very opposite of the doctrine of inability. It takes the ground that men, so far from being unable to obey the commands of God, are positively resisting them. And this is in fact true.
I have already said that truth, and especially the truth of moral obligation, is the natural stimulus of the mind. It wakes it up, and compels it to act in one way or the other. Moral obligation will at once enlist and engage the energies of the soul; and unless they be actively and positively withheld, unless the truth is held back, restrained in unrighteousness, the mind will surely obey it. Here then, instead of being unable to obey, the individual is obliged to gird himself to resist, in order to prevent obedience. Truth is a mighty impulse to draw him into conformity with itself; but, for self reasons, he girds himself and holds it back, restrains it in unrighteousness.
This then, is your inability, sinner, and professor of religion.
Truth, if you did not restrain it, would at once quicken you into activity, and into obedience. But you harden your heart, and you stiffen your neck, you resist the claims of truth and of God.
This is plainly the doctrine of this text, as it is of the Bible universally when it is properly understood.
4. Men feel that neglect is sin, when self is the object of this neglect. Parents feel that the neglect of their children is sin; husbands and wives feel that the neglect of the other party is sin; men in business felt that it is sin in their debtors to neglect to pay them, especially where this neglect is owing, not to inability, but to selfishness, or carelessness of the rights of others. Selfish men are loud in their complaints of others who neglect to pay their debts to them; but it would surely be more consistent for them to cease complaining of anybody's neglecting them, while they are neglecting to pay their debt to God. Thou that complainest that others neglect to pay their debts to you--dost thou neglect to pay thy debts to God?
5. How little stress is laid upon the neglect of duty as a sin. Now it should always be remembered that the law of God is positive. God is never satisfied with a man's doing nothing; He requires him to act, and that with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. And now when God is totally neglected, when men are ungodly and unrighteous, neglecting their duty both to God and man, how strange it is that this neglect should be so little regarded as a great and abominable sin against God, and as indeed the essence of all sin.
6. Church discipline is often a great stumbling block on this account. Men are allowed to live in fellowship with the churches, and neglect their duty habitually and notoriously; men who neglect their duties to the church and their duty to God, and live cold and formal lives, and do not hesitate in words to confess it, while they do not reform.
How strange it is that persons are allowed to remain in the church as accepted members, who so neglect their duty both to God and man.
7. Sinners are greatly misled by the church in this respect. Children in Christian families see that their parents are living in constant neglect of duty; and if they attend meetings, they hear Christians confessing that they are constantly neglecting duty, and they know very well that they expect to continue to neglect their duty. Yet very little stress is laid upon this by the church or by the ministry. Now this fatally misleads many sinners. They come to think but very little of omission of duty. The example of the church on this subject is the greatest stumbling block to them. They hear their parents say that they neglect God, and they neglect duty. Very well how little, then, do they think of neglecting their duty!
It has come to this, that the example of the Church in this respect has completely stumbled the world; so that sinners are living for scores of years in the neglect of all their duty to God, and yet do not consider themselves as very bad sinners. They say they have done nothing very bad. Now how came they to this idea? The fact is, they have learned it from the church. They have been in the habit of hearing the church members speak of the omission and neglect of duty as a thing almost of course.
8. Orthodox neglectors of duty are the greatest sinners in the world. I have said that neglect of duty implies a knowledge of duty. Now the more orthodox in sentiment men are, and the more enlightened men are, the greater, surely, is their obligation. Those, therefore, who are truly orthodox in sentiment, but heterodox in practice, living in the neglect of their known duty, are the greatest sinners in the world.
9. From this stand-point we can also see the actual difference between real saints and sinners.
I have just spoken of professors of religion who live in the habitual neglect of duty; and of the church, which is so largely composed of mere nominal professors, as being a stumbling block to the world. Remember, then, that I am now about to speak, not of nominal professors, of negligent souls, but of real saints and sinners. But I also, wish to be understood as meaning by enemies all who live in the habitual neglect of known duty. Saints are converted persons; sinners are unconverted. Saints are penitent souls; sinners are impenitent. Saints are obedient; sinners are disobedient. Both know their duty; saints do their duty; but sinners omit theirs.
With the true saint, God's will being known, is reason enough; he wants no further reason to influence his conduct. Such is God's will; and this with the true saint, is enough. It is just this state of mind that constituted him a saint. He has given up his spirit of disobedience; he has ceased to hold truth in unrighteousness; he has yielded his mind to the influence of truth; God's will has been accepted by him; he has laid aside his rebellion and become an obedient subject of Christ.
Now mark! he wants no better or higher reason for any course of conduct than to know that such is the will of Christ.
But with the sinner, the opposite is true. He knows his duty, but this is no influential reason with him at all. He has not accepted the will of God as his rule of life. He affirms it to be his duty to do so; but he does not do it. And it is this which constitutes him an impenitent sinner.
The revealed will of God is with him no sufficient reason at all to induce obedience. He knows his duty, perhaps as well as the saint does; but he does not do it. He holds the truth in unrighteousness. Again, with the true saint, the omission of any duty is a dreadful thing. What! to disobey a command of God!
To know that God requires of him a certain course of action, and for him to refuse! Why, it is a dreadful thing! a thing not to be thought of! But with the impenitent sinner, the omission of duty is a mere trifle, a thing scarcely worth considering. He goes forward omitting all his duty, and all with as little consideration, or fear, or regret, as he would have in view of any trifle that you can name.
10. This text is more frequently suggested by facts around us than almost any other in the Bible. It is so very, very common to find persons neglecting what they know and even confess to be their duty, and it is utterly amazing when we consider that so many of these confessors are really professors. They confess themselves to be in the habitual neglect of some duties, and perhaps of many, and yet they profess to be the children of God; they profess to be converted, to be God's saints, his holy ones. Now who can live with such surroundings without being constantly reminded of this text--"The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."
11. The announcement of this text ought to shock such persons like a thunder bolt. See these dreamers! this multitude of souls that are crying peace, peace, when there is no peace! neglecting their duty to God and to their fellow-men! Hark! hear the thunder of this text, and let your nerves tremble!
12. Ministers have reason to tremble for their hearers. How perfectly common it is for ministers to preach and hold out the claims of God, while their people will confess that it is truth, and that so they ought to do, but do they do so? Let such a minister watch his people. He holds out to them on the Sabbath the claims of God, and they go away, perhaps eulogizing the preaching, at any rate, they confess that they have been instructed in regard to their duty--but does he find them the next day, and every subsequent day, addressing themselves to this duty? Does he expect them to do it? Does he even expect his own church to do it? I should like to ask ministers, how many members of their church they have reason to believe, from acquaintance with them, will do their duty as soon as they are instructed in regard to it.
And I should like to ask them if it is not true that in a great multitude of instances, they have no expectation at all that the members of their church will wake up and be influenced by the truth, and will do what they know to be their duty. After preaching on the Sabbath and holding out to the church the claims of God, would they not be surprised on Monday to see the church all astir, and full of energy and vigor in carrying out the instructions of the Sabbath? How common it is for ministers to hold out the claims of God, to pour the truth upon their hearers; and then to see, right before their faces, that they hold the truth in unrighteousness. They know and acknowledge their duty, but they do not do it.
13. Let us reflect that it is the wrath of God that is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. It is the wrath of God, and therefore it cannot be resisted. It is the wrath of God, and therefore it cannot be endured. "Can thine heart endure, can thine hand be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee, saith the Lord? What then wilt thou do in the day when I shall punish thee?" Sinner and negligent professor, have you really considered what it is to have the wrath of an Omnipresent and Almighty Being revealed from heaven against you? Revealed from heaven! See, the holy mount is covered with dark clouds, the batteries are charged, the match is lighted and the Almighty is there!
Are you not afraid to pursue your course of neglect of duty, holding truth in unrighteousness? In just such a time as you think not, and when you are crying peace and safety, these batteries of Omnipotence will open upon you--the discharge will wither you in a moment--and you will sink down, down, down in the blackness of darkness forever!
What then shall you do? I answer, immediately discard this spirit of delay--lay hold upon eternal life--let your heart go to Christ--no longer hold the truth in unrighteousness. Arise, and what you do, do quickly. Lay hold upon eternal life; for "now is the accepted time, now is the day of Salvation."
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