CHARLES G. FINNEY
The Freeness of the Gospel:
REV. CHARLES G. FINNEY,
PRESIDENT OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, OHIO, U.S.,
CHAPEL STREET CHAPEL,
WILLIAM BREMNER & CO., 11, MARKET STREET;
LONDON: FREDERICK PITMAN, 20, PATERNOSTER ROW;
AND ALL BOOKSELLERS.
[Preached circa. 1860--Ed.]
The Freeness of the Gospel
"The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Revelation xxii. 17.
The first inquiry that naturally suggests itself in contemplating this text is, What is this water of life here spoken of? Comparing scripture with scripture you will readily see, that it is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. He is often spoken of in the Bible under this figure. Sometimes He is spoken of as rain, coming down upon the mown grass. Sometimes he is compared to water poured forth on the thirsty ground, that cannot be gathered up. In this book, Christ uses the figure frequently. He says:--"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end: I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." You recollect that in the conversation He carried on with the woman of Samaria, who came to the well to draw water:--"Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water. The woman said unto Him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."--John iv. 10-14. Again we read:--"In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."--John vii. 37, 38. This occurred on the last, the great day of the feast, on which occasion, the Jews were in the habit of closing the feast by a number of ceremonies. One of the ceremonies was, to form a procession, and march with a golden pitcher to the pool of Siloam, and filling it with pure clear water, they returned, and poured it out at the foot of the altar. This was understood to represent the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter days. Jesus took His stand at the altar, to which the procession would return, and when they poured out the water, he cried:--"If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." I have merely read these passages as illustrations, and might read a great many others to show what this water is--the water of life.
The figure used here is Eastern. Rains were unfrequent there, and fountains, and living waters, and streams of water in the desert were exceedingly precious. This figure meant a great deal to the East, where wells, and fountains, and streams of water were so rare. You, that are acquainted with the great difficulty in finding water there, and the suffering and loss of life, that arise from the want of it, can better appreciate the force of the figure. Mankind are compared to a party of travellers in the desert, fainting and dying of thirst. A fountain is discovered, and a stream bursts forth. This is used to describe Christ's Spirit, which is to the soul what the natural water would be to the bodies of men. People would die from the want of water, and the soul will die from the want of the Holy Spirit. This text teaches the abundance of the water, and the freeness of the Gospel.
But, the next inquiry that naturally arises is, Who are invited, and called to come and partake of this water? Observe, that it is said,--"The Spirit and the bride say, Come." All that hear may come, all that desire may come, every one that is athirst may come. If you have any desire for salvation, come. You belong to the class invited. Whosoever will, let him come. All who are disposed to partake, let them come. This invitation is so comprehensive as to include all who are desirous of coming--all that are athirst: let them come, and "take of the water of life freely."
But I remark, Who are making it their business to call and invite persons to come? "The Spirit and the bride,"--the Holy Spirit and the church,--the bride in all her membership,--by her ministers, her deacons, her ordinances, her church-going bell, and by all the means she uses to attract the attention of mankind everywhere,--by the press and by personal intercourse, and in the use of every means for this purpose, giving out this invitation in every possible way. Here is the Spirit offering an ever-present invitation, and the bride, scattered in her members, saying, Come, come.
I next notice, Who are authorized to give the invitation, and even commanded to do it? "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come." Not merely the ministers of the church are to say, Come; but he that heareth, let him say, Come. All that hear are not only to drink, but also to say, Come. It is as if a great multitude were seeking water, all scattered abroad in the desert, divided into little parties, and each one busy trying to find water. By and bye, one discovers it. He cries, "Water! water! It is discovered! Come, come!" And as one after another they hear his voice, those that are nearest cry to those at a distance, "Here is water! water! And so the cry passes on and on, until the multitude hear the invitation, "Come, come!" and so the circle increases. As far as this circle extends, they give the information, "Water! water! water!" It rises and swells, and thousands of voices are raised. It is like the sound of many waters. All around the shout is taken up, it increases and melts together, and, like the roaring of the waves, it rises still louder,--"Water! water! water! Come! come! come!" At length it rises from the vast plain, and the multitude collect to the place, where the sound first began, and where the water was discovered. This seems to be the figure. Every one that hears is to say, Come!--to speak to every body--to cry to all the famishing souls. So urgent is this invitation,--so urgent is the gospel,--every one that hears it is to say, Come!--to give the notice, and cry to all around, Come! It would seem as if at the time anticipated by revelation, that, as soon as men heard of the gospel plan of salvation, they should make it known to others and all universally cry out, and the cry increase more and more. You hear the sound, and send it on, and those men catch it, and on it goes, and on, until it swells, and roars like the mighty waves of the sea, all around. It would seem as if this was the way that the gospel should be published, and the gospel treated, and this text enjoins it.
But, I notice, in the next place, the form of the invitation. Something has to be done. You are not to sit there passively, for, unless you come, you cannot partake. If a fountain were opened in the desert, and on being told, you said you believe it, but did not come to drink, you could not be refreshed. This does not mean a local coming, or a change of geographical position; but it does mean that you actually, inwardly partake of this water. It is something for you to take and appropriate, not only as water lying on the surface, but as underlying the whole gospel--a fountain continually springing up, and of which you can always avail yourself. Moreover, there must be an increased taking. "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." It is to be taken freely. Something more than a mere hearing, and an intellectual assent is required; there must be a coming, a taking, and appropriating. Every man must drink for himself. Faith, then, is an act--a coming--a drinking--a taking and partaking.
But, whosoever will, let him come, and partake of the waters of life freely--that is, without pay. I suppose that is the leading idea. The gospel of salvation is free and gratuitous; not to be purchased with money, nor with good works. It is to be had "without money, and without price." "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price."
But, again, you are not only to take it freely in the sense of without pay, but without pretending to make any satisfaction, or giving any equivalent for it. To take it freely, also, in the sense of plentifully, and bountifully. The more you take the better!--drink! drink again! He says: "Drink! yea, drink abundantly, O beloved!" The fact is, you need not be afraid of drinking too much; this water will not hurt you, if you take it quite largely. I know it is stimulating, and very exciting, if only it has been drunk of freely, but it is a very harmless stimulant. Some who drunk thus largely of it, were accused of being drunken with new wine; but no matter for that, they were not drunk, but, instead, were filled with the Spirit.
"It shall be in him a well of water, springing up to eternal life." Boiling up like a fountain, is the idea. Whenever we are disposed to drink of Christ's Spirit, it will boil up, refreshing and strengthening us. It is curious to see how the water of life, which Christ has given, continues to flow. It is there still; it is low--not a flood-tide, but it is there, flowing, flowing; and now there will come a swelling, and bursting stream, and it springs up a well of water unto everlasting life.
But again, I enquire, what is implied in the invitation itself? It is placed in the Bible, and just at the close--at the close of inspiration. It assumes, therefore, all that has gone before; the salvation of Christ is assumed, and we are invited to come and partake freely. Would you not suppose, that if God is honest, and fair minded, we are able to come? Now, suppose anybody should sit down, and say, after reading this text, that they have no power to come. What? Does God offer it to tantalize us? I have heard of an emperor who wrote a law upon a post, but placed it so high, that his people could not read it, and then held them responsible for obeying it. That was the perfection of a tyrant, was it not? But what can God mean by making the conditions of salvation, such as they cannot be complied with? Has He laid upon men this responsibility telling them that they will find how guilty they have been, if they do not obey, and in what danger they are, if they do not partake of it, and yet, all the while, they cannot do so? What? I used to ask a minister, who used to hold to this "cannot" idea, --"Don't you suppose," I said, "when people find themselves in hell, that they will blame themselves for neglecting the gospel, and say it was their own fault?" "Yes," he would answer, "the Bible says so." "Will not the condemned in hell see what a wretched mistake they have made, in not receiving the gospel?" "Yes." "And yet you hold that they can't, and resolve the whole question into the sovereignty of God. Now," said I, "is that the gospel plan that they should be lost? At the close of the gospel we are told, Here is water, come, come, but you say we cannot come." Who believes it? The fact is, nobody believes it; it is only one of those foils that men use for shielding themselves from the pressure of moral obligation. Nobody can believe, that God is capable of offering such an invitation to those who are not able to comply with it. Nobody believes that they are unable, but only unwilling.
But, again, it is very plain that whatever help they need, must be within their reach. Whatever may be necessary to enable them to comply with the invitation, it is something at hand, and of which they can avail themselves. Indeed, such an invitation as this may be regarded as a promise of all needed help. All the commandments may be regarded as a promise of all needed help. If God has said:--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength," see, there stands over against it:--"I will circumcise thy seed to love the Lord with all their heart and soul."
But again, from this text let us learn the earnestness there is, in the manner in which God exhorts sinners to accept His gospel. If in this day, the people in this city should go in this spirit, and invite people to come in this way, what a tremendous multitude it would create; and if everybody else should do the same, and those who had been led to come to Christ should themselves begin to invite others to come, how it would spread and go, like the waves, over this great city. What great earnestness there is in this invitation of God's in the text.
But again, it also represents what Christians do. I am not now talking about Christian professors--dumb professors--who don[']t speak a word for Christ, but of real Christians. Not only they may, or ought, but they do. You may come, and bring all your friends with you,--there is enough for all. It is so full and free, and so much of it, that you need not lose your own soul. Bring your own children, your neighbours, your neighbour's children--bring all who will come. No matter what they have been. You and they may all take of the water of life freely.
A few remarks,--
First, it is very cruel to keep silence on such a subject. How cruel it is for people to suppose that every body knows of this. How cruel it would be, if we were all wandering and scattered over the desert, and some were perishing and burning up for want of water, if some one should find a clear spring, and say nothing about it. Would he not be guilty of the blood of those who perished from his neglect? Why, of course he would; but how much greater a crime it is to act in this way in reference to the water of life. Souls are perishing for want of this water, and yet people don[']t open their mouths. Perhaps you think that modesty forbids, especially in the case of women. Suppose a fountain should be found, and opened in the desert, would it be an impropriety for women to cry out, Water! water! water! I tell you they would cry out. It is cruel to keep silence, and allow them to perish. All persons ought to cry out with all earnestness. I don[']t wonder that people who are invited in a cold manner, don[']t believe it. Suppose you were wandering in a place where water was wanted, and were told it had been found, and cried out the news, yet never went, but busied yourself about something else, who would believe you? The fact is, people need to see that you are coming yourselves, and that you have tasted and drunk freely of it. Many hear, but pay little attention to it, because they are not thirsty--they do not care anything about it--they are not aware of their need. Some are blind, as you know is sometimes the case with travellers, from the reflection of the sun in travelling across the burning sand. As you are aware, in going from Egypt to Judea, they often become so blind from ophthalmia, that they require a guide to lead them. We read in Scripture that persons need some to instruct them, they get so spiritually blind. They want some body to lead them, to instruct them, to guide them. My hearer, how often have you sat down patiently with a sinner, who did not come to the fountain, and try to make him understand it? Are you in the habit of doing this--trying to lead and guide to this water of life--or are you neglecting it? Others, again, become faint and discouraged from being misdirected. I find a great many people settle down by trying to pray to God to convert them--praying and waiting for Him to do what He has told them to do. They are waiting for God to do it! Here is a man praying for God to give him a new heart, and thinking he is sincere; as if, with his corrupt heart, he could ask God acceptably. But he does not really want a new heart. A soon as he wants one, he will have it. To act in this way is to get discouraged. A man once told me that he had done all he could to secure his conversion. "What have you done?" "I prayed for a new heart--prayed for the Holy Spirit." "Why don[']t you take hold of Christ? He has been striving with you all the time. 'Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.'" He said he had not resisted. I asked him, "Have you always acted up to your convictions?" "No." "When He said, 'Give up your sins,' did you obey Him?" "No." The fact is, persons are wearying themselves by trying to get salvation in this way. They do not succeed. Just as when one puts his foot forward to walk in the sand, it seems to slide away, and he does not seem to get on, so you do not progress, because you are waiting for God to do for you what He cannot--He cannot believe for you. He is trying to persuade you to believe. He cannot come for you, nor can He bring you. There must be the exercise of your own thought. He is trying to draw you, and encouraging you to come. You have got discouraged. Oh! how much such persons need some one to help them to get over this difficulty. Some are bewildered because people are going in different directions. We can readily suppose, that when people set up Christ in different directions, it would puzzle and discourage. Suppose, when the water is discovered, some should cry, "Here is water!--Come! come!" and others should call out, in another and opposite quarter, "the water is here;" and the people should be coming, some one way and some another, you would say, "What does it mean? O! they have got into confusion,--there is no knowing which is the right way--it is of no use going." We can all see that this is a great disadvantage, and does great mischief; but what is this to the evil of contradictory directions to awakened sinners? To be sure sinners often think there is more difference amongst Christians than there really is, but they see that there are contrary and diverse instructions given.
But, let me say, further, that you are every one invited to drink. You need not hesitate to drink, because you think you are not invited. You need not stand there, and say, "Is it for me? I am so thirsty, to be sure, but is it for me? Am I one of the elect?" Why hesitate? Take it, take it freely. You need not stop to decide whether you are one of the elect or not, or if it is for you. It is for you, if you thirst. Surely it is. There is plenty of it. There is no need to restrict it to the elect. There is nothing here about any restriction. You need not fear to invite all around you to partake, lest they are not the elect. "Whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely." Who? Why everybody, to be sure. You need not hesitate, and stumble.
But again, this passage of Scripture, stripped of its figure, just presents Christ, with all that belongs to His salvation, freely, to every soul that will come, and that is willing to have it. It can mean nothing else. By the bye, figurative language is the most certain of all language. Some people, when they find a passage figurative, think it does not mean anything. But, the fact is, that figurative language is the most certain of all, for this reason, that words change their meaning, but figures do not. Figures are very striking. While we use words in different senses, we always use figures in the same. This figure signifies, then, that the salvation by Christ is open to all men, everywhere--that they may take it largely, freely, and cordially, and without making any preparation. Take it now; take as much as you please. Suppose that you have drunk before, drink again, and don't be afraid to take large draughts, and so much as to quench your thirst.
But again, will you die with this water just flowing at your feet? Will you continue to thirst with this water flowing at your feet? Well, those of you who live in a gospel land will, if you do perish, perish in just such circumstances. You are like persons standing on the bank of a river, and dying of thirst. Some are so proud, that they will not even condescend to kneel, and put their mouth to the water. It is astonishing to see how persons are changed who do drink--how the spiritual blindness passes off, and what a marvellous fulness they have when they drink freely.
Some years ago, there was a young man at our college, a Scotchman, of the name of M'Culloch. He came over to this country, and was afterwards engaged as a missionary in central America. He has, however, been dead some time. Before he left the college he preached a sermon; and, in the course of his preaching, he told his religious experience. He said he did not better know how to illustrate the fulness of the gospel, than by relating a fact that occurred in his own experience. One day, when a boy, in Scotland, he started, in company with other boys, to the neighbourhood of a hill, for a few hours' fishing. After going some distance they all became very thirsty, and so fatigued, that they had scarcely strength to proceed. They stopped, and said, what shall we do now? Shall we separate and search for water? They agreed to do so. This boy went on for a time, but the ground seemed all hot and dry sand. At last, he came to a place where there was a little moisture, and he scraped out the sand with his hands. Water began to flow, but it was muddy. He continued to examine, and found that it was obstructed in its flow; he put his finger into the place, and sco[o]ped it out, and immediately it overflowed, clearing away all the muddy water. He called his friends, and they all partook of it and were revived. He told the story very beautifully, and then said, "It was just so when I found the water of life. My soul cried out for the living God. I was very thirsty and stricken in my mind. At last, all at once, I seemed to find some of the water of life. Some passage was given me, and I stooped down to drink; then it became a rill, and then a little stream, and then a brook, and then a river, and then, finally, it seemed to sweep me right away to the sea; I set my sail, and I have not seen the shore since, but am in the Pacific Ocean of God's boundless love." Everybody understood it, though so highly figurative. He was in the Pacific Ocean, surely; his sails were full, and he stood away from the shore. Some of you have, perhaps, seen him. I have met persons, since I came to this country, who had become acquainted with him. They said:--"What a man that was." Ah! he had drunk of this water. "He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Drink largely. Lay hold upon the Mediator. Drink!
After prayer, the Doxology was sung, and some of the congregation retired, a large portion remaining to hear Mr. Finney's closing address to penitents, and others under religious concern.
Mr. Finney said:--It is always a great trial for me to leave a field of labour, where persons have been congregated together, and many converted, and many others remain under conviction. But it is not common for me to leave people, just in the same state I leave you, and under the same circumstances. It is generally within my expectation, that I may return and preach to them again for some time; but the idea of leaving you, and parting without coming again, stamps upon me such sadness and weakness, that I am obliged to put it out of my thoughts, lest it should get too much hold upon my mind and nerves. What I want to say to the converts is this, that I have not yet seen anything organized for keeping together those, who have been impressed during these services. At least I have not heard of anything, though I have been expecting this. I don[']t think I have ever left a place without some attempt of this kind on the part of the ministers or people. In many places, where they have gone on, the work has gone forward, and continued, and increased. It is the same in Bolton, and Edinburg, and London, especially in Southwark, where the minister with whom I laboured, says, the work goes on and increases, and that not a week passes without conversions.
Now, I want this work to go on in this great city; but you are scattered, with no kind of organization to secure your union. I have had an idea of calling you together, with some of the earnest professors in the churches, but have had no opportunity hitherto. However, I hope this will be done. All the Christians connected with the various churches should watch over the young converts known to them. This will give them something to do, and the converts should feel they have consecrated themselves for life. And now the inquiry, is, How should the work continue, which you want to go on? First, by meeting in some place where you can pray together; and if only two or three of you meet to pray together, the work will be likely to spread. I have known many revivals commence and spread, with little circles of three or four meeting in a place for prayer.
The thing you must do is to report yourselves to the churches where you prefer to go, and where you can profit, and live up to your privileges, and seek to do good. The great object is to live to some purpose. I wish I could tell you of cases, where single persons have given themselves to such efforts and prosecution of the good work. Perhaps you have been told of a young lady, who was converted ten years ago at the Tabernacle, London. She has worked on since, steadily, so that she has now two hundred families, who formerly attended no place of worship. She has gone among them in Spitalfields, a place where there is much destitution and ignorance. These two hundred families she calls her parish, and though she works for her living, as soon as she can get money enough for a tea, she calls them together. About twenty of the men have been converted. This young woman has little bills and cards printed, to invite them to join the Temperance Society, to go to church, and to send their children to the Sunday School; by these means the men and women become sober, are induced to attend church, and so get converted. This is only one case. Make up your minds, young converts, that the world shall feel your influence. You may be poor, and have but little education, but your prayers have power. Don't think it is humility to say you cannot do anything, or to feel you cannot do anything. You can do something if you are as poor as Lazarus. You have a mighty arm to lean upon. Those of you who are the most obscure and ignorant, can do a great deal. "Where there is a will, there is a way." I often hear people say: "I have very little confidence in myself." I hope it is true. We have generally too much confidence in ourselves, and too little in Christ. Go forward, and go and do whatever He tells you to do. Don't say, I am but an individual. You are all related to somebody, and can use some influence. Build up right against your own place. Don't aspire to great things--to be a public preacher, and because you cannot secure this, do nothing. Let is be said of you, as it was of the woman commended by Christ:--"She hath done what she could";--this is enough for Christ. But, I will not say anything more to you, but leave you with God, and to our friends.
I want to say a few words to you who are still undecided--thirsty and perishing for the want of this water of life, and have not yet drunk of it. This is the last invitation I may have to give you. I stand before you as a minister of Christ to invite you now, and perhaps you will not hear my voice again, until I see you at the judgment. Let me not then have to say: "I recollect seeing you in the chapel at Manchester. What! did you turn away from Christ? you who stood right on the brink of the water of life, the last night I was there? What! did you go away and not partake of it? you cast off and lost! Lost, lost, lost!"
I expect, when I meet you all there, I shall meet some with glad hearts, and be glad to see you, and never be afraid to saying farewell again. O! do not lead a passive life, but be energetic, and still go forward. Can we not to-night all join in one united prayer to God, for those who are still undecided, and for those that do not believe, that they may come to Christ, and take Him at His word, and say, "Lord, I come! I have heard Thy invitation. Thou hast said:--'Look unto me all ye ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.'" "Look to me,"--in the sense of depending upon Him. "Take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord."
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