Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Finney: Speaking with God’s Anointing

Many ministers during the time of Charles Finney were trained to write out their sermons each week. Finney felt this wasn’t the best way to receive God’s anointing and truly give the people what they needed. He had his own unique way of preparing to preach. Here’s how he explains it in his autobiography:

Finney's MemoirsI do not confine myself to hours and days of writing my sermons; but my mind is always pondering the truths of the Gospel, and the best ways of using them.  I go among the people and learn their wants. Then, in light of the Holy Spirit, I take a subject that I think will meet their present necessities. I think intensely on it, and pray much over the subject on Sabbath morning, for example, and get my mind full of it, and then go and pour it out to the people.

Then he discusses the problems associated with written sermons:

Whereas one great difficulty with a written sermon is, that a man after he has written it, needs to think but little of the subject. He needs to pray but little. He perhaps reads over his manuscript Saturday evening, or Sabbath morning; but he does not feel the necessity of being powerfully anointed, that his mouth may be opened and filled with arguments, and that he may be enabled to preach out of a full heart.

He is quite at ease. He has only to use his eyes and his voice, and he can preach, in his way. It may be a sermon that has been written for years; it may be a sermon that he has written, every word of it, within the week. But on Sabbath-day there is no freshness in it. It does not come necessarily new and fresh, and as an anointed message from God to his heart, and through his heart to the people.

Finney always had as his first concern the effectiveness of a message on the people who hear it. What would they take away from the message? How best to communicate it?

I believe that half an hour’s earnest talk to the people from week to week, if the talk be pointed, direct, earnest, logical, will really instruct them more than the two labored sermons that those who write, get off to their people on the Sabbath. I believe the people would remember more of what is said, be more interested in it, and would carry it away with them to be pondered, vastly more than they do what they get from the labored written sermons.

I believe he is correct.

Finney: Partial Holiness Is Nonexistent

HolinessWhat does it mean to be holy? What is Biblical virtue? Can we be holy as God is holy? We’re commanded to be. Some people may misunderstand that. Since we are not God, there is a difference. Charles Finney comments in his Systematic Theology,

It is a well-settled and generally admitted truth that increased light increases responsibility, or moral obligation. No creature is bound to will any thing with the intenseness or degree of strength with which God wills it, for the plain reason, that no creature sees its importance or real value, as He does.

Yet that doesn’t mean, Finney argues, that God settles for some kind of half-holiness. That would be an absurdity. We are to live up to the knowledge we have, and we are to be holy, according to the light we possess. It’s a full holiness, not partial, which is something that doesn’t really exist. He explains further:

Virtue and moral perfection . . . are synonymous terms. Virtue is holiness. Holiness is uprightness. Uprightness is that which is just what, under the circumstance, it should be: and nothing else is virtue, holiness, or uprightness. Virtue, holiness, uprightness, moral perfection—when we apply these terms to any given state of the will—are synonymous.

To talk, therefore, of a virtue, holiness, uprightness, justice, right in kind, but deficient in degree, is to talk sheer nonsense. It is the same absurdity as to talk of sinful holiness, an unjust justice, a wrong rightness, an impure purity, an imperfect perfection, a disobedient obedience. . . .

That which is not entirely conformed to the law of God is not holiness. This must be true in philosophy, and the Bible affirms the same thing. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

God expects a whole heart in obeying Him. Anything less is not real obedience.

Our Actions Reveal Who We Really Are

I always try to have a theme each day, and when I use cartoons, I want to ensure they all connect somehow with that theme. Except maybe today. If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to throw a few random cartoons at you—ones that I have collected and can’t find a way to unite them thematically—and just let you enjoy them. Maybe some kind of theme may emerge in the end.

Here’s one that’s centered on Groundhog Day, but it has a deeper message:

Embrace Bigotry

Let’s see now, what message is this sending? Our fear of being labeled as bigoted and narrow-minded? A prime example of the triumph of political correctness?

How about this one?

Offend Me

Hmmm, are we seeing a pattern here?

I have one more:

Criticize Behavior

Yes, we wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad. In the process, we say some rather silly things. Can we really separate the behavior from the person? Now, I certainly don’t endorse the approach being used in the previous cartoon, but doesn’t it say a lot about how we try to pretend something that is awful isn’t really awful at all? Don’t our actions reveal who we really are?

In Christian circles, we sometimes say we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. I understand the sentiment behind that statement, and I do want to reach out to people who are caught up in their sins. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? Yet, at the same time, I don’t think we should paper over the truth—if you are actively sinning, you deserve criticism, not just for your behavior, but for the person you are. Only when we face up to the truth will we come to grips with what we need to do to be a different person. We are to lay down the sin, turn from it in genuine repentance, and turn to the One who loves us even when we are acting like His enemy.

I didn’t know that was where I was going to end up when I started this blog today, but it’s a message that can’t be repeated too often.

Finney: The Agony & the Ecstasy

I’ve often remarked how I wish I didn’t have to come across as someone who’s always pointing out the sins and errors in the world, especially that part of the world connected with government. It can get old, and it’s easy to tire of being the Jeremiah. Yet, as I was reading some of Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures, I came across something quite pertinent to my situation, and it gave me a measure of encouragement:

Prayer-FerventIf you have the Spirit of God, you must expect to feel great distress in view of the condition of the Church and of the world. Some spiritual epicures ask for the Spirit because they think He will make them so perfectly happy.

Some people think that spiritual Christians are always free from sorrow. There never was a greater mistake. Read your Bibles, and see how the prophets and apostles were always groaning and distressed, in view of the state of the Church and of the world.

The apostle Paul says he was “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” . . . You will know what it is to sympathize with the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with. . . . The more you have of His spirit, the more clearly will you see the state of sinners, and the more deeply you will be distressed about them.

The other side of the proverbial coin is the joy of the Lord, but it always coexists with a profound anguish over the devastating effects of sin all around us. We need to be familiar with both the agony and the ecstasy of seeing things through God’s eyes.

Sage Advice from C. S. Lewis

God in the DockC. S. Lewis was a professor of literature, not a historian. That doesn’t mean, though, that he didn’t have some sage advice for those in my line of study. For instance, here’s a bit of solid guidance for historians in an essay called “Horrid Red Things,” found in a volume called God in the Dock:

A historian who has based his work on the misreading of a document may afterwards (when his mistake has been exposed) exercise great ingenuity in showing that his account of a certain battle can still be reconciled with what the document records.

But the point is that none of these ingenious explanations would ever have come into existence if he had read his documents correctly at the outset. They are therefore really a waste of labour; it would be manlier of him to admit his mistake and begin all over again.

Although he’s applying that directly to people like me who deal with historical documents, it’s really a principle that applies to everyone in any walk of life. Honesty . . . integrity . . . a willingness to acknowledge when we have been wrong . . . should be the hallmarks of one’s character. Christians, in particular, have an obligation to model these traits.

That’s a deep enough thought for today. If we take it seriously, we transform our relationships.

Finney: Popularity & Respect

Charles Finney 4Being popular as a preacher or teacher cannot be our goal. Here are some plain words from Charles Finney on that subject:

My experience has been, that even in respect to personal popularity, “honesty is the best policy” in a minister; that if he means to maintain his hold upon the confidence, and respect, and affection of any people, he must be faithful to their souls. He must let them see that he is not courting them for any purpose of popularity, but that he is trying to save their souls.

Men are not fools. They have no solid respect for a man that will go into the pulpit and preach smooth things. They cordially despise it in their inmost souls. And let no man think that he will gain permanent respect, that he will be permanently honored by his people, unless as an ambassador of Christ he deals faithfully with their souls.

I think those comments stand on their own merit and don’t require anything more from me today.

Finney: Allow God to Search Our Hearts

Revival LecturesWe’re very good at wanting other people to know about their sins, but not quite as enthusiastic about hearing of our own. Charles Finney nails it in his Revival Lectures:

Perhaps you have resisted the Spirit of God. Perhaps you are in the habit of resisting the Spirit. You resist conviction. In preaching, when something has been said that reached your case, your heart has risen up against it.

Many are willing to hear plain and searching preaching, so long as they can apply it all to other people; a misanthropic spirit makes them take a satisfaction in hearing others searched and rebuked; but if the truth touches them, they directly cry out that the preaching is “personal” and “abusive.”

We all need to allow God to lay open the intent of our hearts. We should welcome the “searching.” Anything that pulls us away from sin and toward righteousness is a blessing, even if we don’t always recognize it as such.

We need to keep in mind the plea of the psalmist David:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.