CHARLES G. FINNEY
Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
BY PRESIDENT CHARLES G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 6, 1873
In a series of lectures to the theological students in Yale College the speaker criticised unfavorably a sermon that I preached to his people, some years ago, relating to endless punishment. In this article I cannot enter into a defense of that sermon, or notice the unfairness of the criticism; but will state as briefly as possible my views upon that subject. I shall take it for granted that Orthodox or Evangelical Christians believe in the endless happiness of the righteous and the endless misery of the wicked. This, of course, implies their endless existence. Now, what follows from this? 1st. That they will forever be gaining, at least, in the knowledge obtained by experience, and consequently in their capacity for enjoyment or suffering. But suppose this be denied. it will follow, 2d, from their endless existence, that their happiness or misery is an endlessly growing quantity in its aggregate amount. Hence, it must follow, 3d, that a period will arrive in the future existence of every soul at which each one can truly say that it has enjoyed or suffered more than the whole universe of creatures had enjoyed or suffered before it began to exist. Yes, indefinitely more. Yes, all but infinitely more. This follows irresistibly, from the fact of the immortality of the soul and the endlessness of rewards and punishments. 4th. It matters not at all, as to the final result, what the degree of suffering may be--how rapidly or how slowly the aggregate amount may accumulate. It is only a question of time, or rather of eternity. For, if the increase be but as a drop in a thousand years, still it must follow that a period must arrive in the history of each in which it can truly say: "I have enjoyed or suffered more than the whole universe of creatures had enjoyed or suffered before I began to be." This conclusion must be admitted, or the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the endlessness of future rewards and punishments must be abandoned. I never taught or believed that God could have complacency in the misery of lost souls. But he must have complacency in sustaining the authority of his government, at any cost. The cost he must deplore; but the good resulting must reconcile him to the loss. This must be so, or the whole question of his government is only a fiction. Now, sinners are totally indisposed to consider this question, and in these days of greatly increased worldly excitement it must be the duty of ministers of the Gospel to more frequently than ever press the consideration of this subject upon the attention of both saints and sinners--to lift up their voices like a trumpet, and show the careless, prayerless, inconsiderate ones what is their inevitable doom. To fail to do this is cowardly and cruel beyond expression. Are ministers who neglect to do this insane? At a meeting of ministers, not long since, a leading Congregational minister advised that ministers should not preach on the subject of endless punishments more than once to where they formerly did ten times. I fear this is the practice of ministers of the present day. The reason assigned for such neglect is that people will not bear it, that times are changed, that in these days of pleasure seeking and money seeking men do not like to consider the question of endless punishment. But are not these the very reasons why ministers should all the more frequently and pungently instruct and warn them? What can be more insane, cruel, and hypocritical than the neglect to press this subject upon the consideration of all classes of hearers on the part of the ministry? Do ministers really believe in endless rewards and punishments? If they do not, let them say so and be honest; if they do, how is it possible that they can justify such neglect? It should be remarked that, so far as the amount of suffering to be endured is concerned, it matters not at all under what law the suffering is inflicted or endured. Some insist that the suffering is the natural consequence of dying and remaining in sin. Others insist that the suffering is mostly or, at least, partly a penal infliction, or the execution of the penalty of the divine law. But let it be distinctly understood that, whatever is the cause or the occasion of the suffering, however slight the degree from moment to moment, the aggregate amount, at some period of the future, must be as great as I have above stated. And it should be added and it is dreadful to say that when the period shall have arrived at which any and every soul in the world of suffering shall be able to say that he has suffered more in amount than the whole universe of creatures had suffered before he began to suffer--indefinitely more, incalculably more, still his sufferings are but begun. An eternity of suffering is still before him. I do not wonder that sinners recoil from the consideration of such facts as these. But facts they are, if the doctrine of endless suffering is true, which all orthodox men profess to believe. How immeasurable, then, and damning is the guilt of those Christians, and especially ministers, who fail to compassionately, earnestly, and frequently press this subject upon all classes of men.
It is more pleasant, but, I think, not more profitable to consider the application of this truth to the endless happiness of the righteous. The period must arrive in the future existence of each one of them when he will be able to say that he has enjoyed a greater amount of happiness than had been enjoyed by the whole universe of creatures before he began to enjoy. Yes, unspeakably more. And yet his enjoyment has but begun. An eternity of enjoyment is still before him. Why should truths like these be so sparingly dealt out to men. Why should not the Christian have the full benefit of this view of the subject? Why should not the sinner also have the benefit of considering what is offered to his acceptance? And why should not he also be made to consider, if possible, the supremely dreadful consequences of his dying in sin? And why should not the compassions of the Church be stirred to their deepest foundations by considering what is before the hasty steps of the impenitent? Has the time come that the apostle foretold, when the people "will not bear sound doctrine; but heap to themselves teachers having itching ears."? Then, for the love of God and man, let the whole Church, and especially the ministers, persistently lift up the loud, the long note of warning, that the blood of the lost be not found in their skirts.
OBERLIN, OHIO, OCT. 25th, 1873
Return to INDEX of THE INDEPENDENT
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOKS STORE