03. Introduction - 2 letters to Christians on examining themselves


Letters by Charles G. Finney.

Letter 1

To the young Christians who have been converted in the great revivals of the past few years, scattered up and down in the land, wherever the providence of God may have cast your lot.

January 1, 1839.

Beloved in the Lord

My body is so far worn and especially my organs of speech so far exhausted that I cannot visit and preach to you the word of life. I therefore address you through the press, as the most direct and effectual medium through which I can communicate my thoughts.

I propose, the Lord willing, to address to you through the columns of the Oberlin Evangelist from time to time a series of short sermons on practical subjects that I deem most important to you and to the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I shall have said what I desire on those more immediately and highly practical topics, if the Lord permit, I design to give you a series of sermons on some doctrinal topics, especially the moral government of God, including the atonement and the influences of the Holy Spirit in the administration of that government.

A great many of you I know personally, but many more of you know me than I have the honour of a personal acquaintance. You do me the honour to call me your spiritual father, and I have the unspeakable happiness of believing that God has made me instrumental in doing you good. Those of you who know me personally know that it is my manner to deal with the souls and consciences of men with great plainness of speech and directness of address. You remember that this was my manner when I was with you. I have the greatest confidence that this is still the only way to do you good.

Now the thing that I desire to do, so far as I am able, is to lay open before you the very secrets of your hearts, and also to lead you to an entire renunciation of everything that grieves the Spirit of God, to a relinquishment of selfishness under every form and in every degree, and to hold out before you those “exceedingly great and precious promises” whereby you may be made “partakers of the divine nature.” The editors of this paper are willing that I should make it the medium of spreading before you my thoughts, as the providence and Spirit of God shall enable me. I shall give you a sermon as often as my health and other duties will permit; and whenever you receive this paper containing one of my lectures, I wish you to consider yourself as personally addressed by me. I wish you to read for yourself and feel that I mean you, as though it were a private communication made to you from my own pen, or as if I had a personal interview and addressed you “face to face.” If I probe your conscience, I beg of you not to be offended and throw the paper aside and refuse to hear me. “ I beseech you by the mercies of God,” no, I adjure you by our Lord Jesus Christ to hear me patiently and with candor. Beloved, I expect candor from you; and many of you will not only hear me with candor but with joy. I will try to write as if I had you all before me in one great congregation, as if I beheld your countenances and were addressing you “face to face.” In fact, I will consider you, and I desire you to consider yourselves, as in such a sense members of my congregation as to steadfastly fix your attention on my preaching. I shall take it for granted that you read every lecture, and of course address you from time to time as if you had candidly read and attentively considered what I had already said.

Unless I can engage you to grant me one request, I have little hope of doing you good. And that is, as soon as you receive this communication you will make me, yourselves and the subject of the proposed lectures subjects of earnest and constant prayer; and that whenever you receive a paper containing one of the proposed lectures, you go upon your knees before you read it and lay open your heart in solemn prayer before God and to the influence of truth, and implore the aid of the Holy Spirit to make the word to you alive and powerful. We shall all soon meet at the bar of God. I earnestly desire to do you all the good I can while I am in the flesh; and as I do not intend to write for your amusement but solely for your spiritual edification, will you pledge yourselves on your knees before God to examine the truth candidly – make a personal, faithful and full application of it to your own hearts and lives – and to use it profitably since you will answer to God in the solemn judgment? If these are your resolutions and purposes, I am confident the Lord will bless you. I shall not cease to pray for you and intend to make those of you whom I remember special and particular subjects of prayer; and I entreat you to do the same for me.

Charles G. Finney, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Letter 2

February 13, 1839.


I closed my last letter by referring to the fact that several professedly religious periodicals have so referred to what I had said in regard to your being “a disgrace to religion” as virtually to represent me as denying the reality, genuineness and power of those glorious revivals in which you were converted. I denied having said anything in that connection to that effect. But I did assert in my lecture and reassert in my last letter that I believed many of you were by your lives a disgrace to the religion of Christ. Now, beloved, I did not say this then, nor do I say it now to bring a bitter accusation against you, but for the purpose of preparing the way to put some questions to your conscience, with the design to turn your eyes fully upon your own life and spirit as exhibited before the world.

And here let me say that when you receive this issue I desire each of you to consider this letter as directed to you individually, as a private letter to you, although communicated through this public channel. I will write upon my knees, and I beg you to read it upon your knees. And when you have read it as written to yourself and received it, as I adjure you to do, as a private communication to you from me, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I entreat you to hand it to all your Christian friends in your neighbourhood and within your reach, beseeching them to receive it and consider it as a private letter to them, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hereafter, should the providence of God permit, I may more particularly address different classes of individuals than I can in this letter. I intend to address fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, ministers, church officers, editors of religious papers, young men and young women – all distinct classes of individuals to whom particular truths may be applicable. In this, I address you without reference to your age or sex, calling, or position but simply as a professor of the religion of Jesus Christ. (By “professor” Finney means those who profess to be religious, “professing Christians”, not teachers of religion in an educational setting.)

I have said that I fear and believe that many of you, at least are a disgrace to the religion you profess. By this I mean that instead of fairly and truly representing the religion of Christ in your life and spirit, you in many respects grossly misrepresent it. Do not at this point let your temper rise and turn upon me and say: “Physician, heal thyself.” I might, to be sure, confess my own sins; but my business now as “an ambassador of Jesus Christ” is with your own conscience.

And now, dearly beloved, bear with me while I put the questions home to you, as by name.

Are not your life and spirit and habits a miserable misrepresentation of the religion you profess? You are a professor of the religion of Jesus Christ. Your profession of religion has placed you on high, as “a city that cannot be hid.” You are not hid. The eyes of God, of Christians, of the world, of hell are upon you.

And now, precious soul, do you sincerely believe that you feel and act and live and do as the Lord Jesus Christ would under similar circumstances?
Are those around you forced by your life and spirit to recognize the divine features of the character of Christ in you? Would those that know nothing of Christ be able to catch and understand the true spirit and meaning of the religion of Jesus by an acquaintance with you? Would they obtain from your life and example such an idea of the nature, design and tendency of the gospel as would lead them to value it, to understand its necessity and importance?

Are your spirit and temper and conversation so unearthly, so heavenly, so divine, so much like Christ, as to accurately represent Him? Or do you misrepresent Him? Is not the temper that you manifest, the life that you lead, your behaviour, your pursuits - are not all these in many respects the very opposite and contrast of the spirit of the religion of Christ?

My beloved brother, sister, father, mother, whoever you are, remember that while you read these questions God’s eye is pouring its searching blaze into your inmost soul.

What is your temper in your family, among your friends, in your private life, in your domestic relations and in your public walks? Is your behaviour in heaven or is it “earthly, sensual, devilish”?

What is the testimony of your closet? Can it bear witness to your sighs and groans and tears over the wickedness and desolations of the world?

Are those who observe your good works constrained to “glorify your Father who is in heaven”? Or is the name of God blasphemed on account of your earthly and unchristian life and spirit?

Can those that remain unconverted in the place where you live bear witness that a great and divine change was wrought in you by the Spirit of God? In the name of Christ I inquire, are your unrepentant acquaintances constrained to confess that there must have been a work of God to have wrought so great a change in you, as they daily witness? Do you think that the interests of religion are really advanced by your life and that you are continually making an impression in favour of holiness on those around you?

Do they witness in you the “peace of God that passeth understanding”?

Do they see in you that sweet and divine satisfaction in the will and ways of God that spreads a heavenly serenity and calm and sweetness over your mind, in the midst of the trials and circumstances to which you are subjected? Or do they behold you annoyed, anxious, worried, easily disturbed and exhibiting the spirit of the world? My dear soul, if this is so, you are a horrible disgrace to religion; you are unlike Jesus. Was this the spirit that Jesus manifested?

Let me inquire again: what are you doing for the conversion of sinners around you, and what for the conversion of the world?

Would one hundred million such Christians as you are, and living just as you live, be instrumental in converting the world? Suppose there are a thousand million of men upon the earth and suppose that one hundred million of these were just such Christians as you are, in your present state and at your present rate of usefulness; when would the world be converted? Are the church and the world better and holier on account of your profession? And are they really benefited by your life? If not, your profession is a libel upon the Christian religion. You are, like Peter, denying your Saviour; and like Judas, you have kissed but to betray Him.

Now, beloved, I will not take it upon myself to decide these questions that I have put to you on my knees and in the spirit of love. Will you be honest and, on your knees, spread out this letter to God our Maker and Christ your Saviour? Will you not upon your knees read over these questions, one by one, and ask God to show you the real state of your life as it relates to each of them?

And here, beloved, I leave you for the present; and may the Saviour aid you and make you honest in meeting cordially and answering honestly these questions. You must be searched and humbled and broken down in heart before you can be built up and made strong in Christ. Do be honest and in haste, and address yourself to the work of self-examination without delay. I beg of you to prepare yourself to receive the consolations of the gospel of Christ, for my soul is panting to spread them out before you. Providence permitting, you may expect to hear from me again soon.

Charles G. Finney,
A servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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