Religion Or Saving Faith
RELIGION OR SAVING FAITH
by Charles G. Finney
"What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after
righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness
which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of
righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore?
Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the
law. For they stumbled at the stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold,
I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offense: and whosoever
believeth on him shall not be ashamed" --Romans 9:30-33
In the epistle to the Romans, Paul systematically proves that not only
the Gentiles but the Jews were in a state of entire depravity. He then
introduces the moral law., explaining it shows that works of the law
cannot save man's soul. Sanctification, or holiness, is by faith, and
all acceptable obedience is based on faith.
In the eighth and ninth chapters, he introduces the subject of divine
sovereignty. Then, in the last part of the ninth chapter, he sums up the
whole matter and asks, "What shall we say, then?" The Gentiles, who
never thought of the law, had become pious and obtained the holiness
which is by faith; but the Jews, attempting it by the law, had entirely
failed. Why? Because they made the fatal mistake of attempting to become
pious by obeying the law and had come short, while the Gentiles became
righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is here called "that
stumblingstone" because the Jews were opposed to Him.
The difference between the religion of law and Christianity does not lie
in the fact that under the law men were justified by works, without
faith. The method of salvation in both covenants has been the same.
Sinners were always justified by faith. The Jewish religion pointed to a
Savior to come. If men were saved at all, it was by faith in Christ. And
sinners now are saved in the same way.
GOD'S MORAL GOVERNMENT
The gospel has not canceled or set aside the obligations of the moral
law. It has set aside the claims of the ceremonial law or law of Moses.
The ceremonial law was nothing but a set of types pointing to the Savior
and was set aside when the great ante-type appeared.
Many people maintain that the gospel has set aside the moral law so that
believers are under no obligation to obey it. Such was the doctrine of
the Nicolaitans, who were severly rebuked by Christ (See Rev 2). The
Antinomians, in the days of the apostles, believed that they were
without any obligation to obey the moral law. They held that Christ's
righteousness was imputed to believers. Since He had fulfilled the law
for them, they were under no obligation to obey it themselves.
In modern times, Perfectionists have held that they were not under
obligation to obey the law. They suppose that Christ has delivered them
from the law and given them the Spirit. They believe the leadings of the
Spirit are now their rule of life instead of God's law. The Bible says
that sin will not have dominion over believers, but these people think
the same acts that would be sin if done by an unconverted person are not
sin in them.
All such notions are radically wrong. God has no right to give up the
moral law. He cannot discharge us from the duty of love to God and love
to man, for this is right in itself. Unless God alters the whole moral
constitution of the universe to make that right which is wrong, He
cannot give up the claims of the moral law. Besides, this doctrine
represents Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as having taken up arms
openly against the government of God.
Some people talk about gospel liberty as though they had a new rule of
life allowing more liberty than the law. The gospel has provided a new
method of justification, but it insists that the rule of life is the
same with the law. The very first sentence of the gospel--the command to
repent--is in effect a reenactment of the law. It is a command to return
to obedience. The idea that the liberty of the gospel differs from the
liberty of the law is absurd.
Legalists depend on their own works for justification either by
profession or in fact. If they do depend on Christ for salvation, their
dependence is a false dependence. They depend on Him, but their faith
doesn't work by love, purity the heart, or overcome the world. They have
a kind of faith, but not the kind that makes men real Christians and
brings them under the terms of the gospel.
LEGAL OBEDIENCE AND LOVE
Several different classes of people have a legal religion. Some profess
to depend on their won works for salvation. Such were the Pharisees. I
want you to distinguish between works of law and works of faith. This is
the main distinction to remember--some works are produced by legal
considerations and some are produced by faith.
Two principles can produce obedience to any government. One is the
principle of hope and fear, under the influence of conscience.
Conscience points out what is right or wrong, and the individual is
induced by hope and fear to obey. The other principle is confidence and
love. You see this illustrated in families where one child always obeys
from hope and fear and another from affectionate confidence. In the
government of God, the only thing that ever produced even the appearance
of obedience is one of these two principles.
A multitude of things address our hopes and fears, such as character,
interest, heaven and hell, ect. These may produce external obedience or
conformity of the law. But filial confidence leads men to obey God from
love. This is the only obedience that is acceptable to God. God requires
a certain course of conduct, and it should spring from love. There never
was and never can be, in the government of God, any acceptable obedience
but the obedience of faith. Some people think that faith will be done
away with in heaven, as if there will be no occasion to trust God in
heaven or no reason to exercise confidence in Him!
Here is the great distinction between the religion of law and
Christianity: Legal obedience is influenced by hope and fear and is
hypocritical, selfish, outward, and constrained. Gospel obedience is
from love and is sincere, free, cheerful, and true. Legalists depend on
works of law for justification, defying what they call a principle of
right and setting themselves to do right--not out of respect to the law
of God or out of love to God but just because it is right.
The religion of law is the religion of purpose or desires founded on
legal considerations and not the religion of preference or love to God.
The individual intends to put off his sins and purposes to obey God and
be religious. His purpose does not grow out of love to God but out of
hope and fear. A purpose founded on such considerations is very
different from a purpose growing out of love. Christianity is not a mere
purpose but an actual preference consisting in love.
Some Legalists depend on Christ, but their dependence is not gospel
dependence because the works that it produces are works of law from hope
and fear. Gospel dependence may produce the very same outward works, but
the motives are radically different. The Legalist drags on a painful,
inksome, moral and outwardly religious life. The gospel believer has an
affectionate confidence in God that leads him to obey out of love. His
obedience is prompted by his own feelings. Instead of being dragged to
duty, he goes to it cheerfully because he love it, and doing it is a
delight to his soul.
The Legalists expects to be justified by faith, but he has not learned
that he must be sanctified, or set apart, by faith. Modern Legalists do
not expect to be justified by works, for they know these are inadequate.
They know that the way to be saved is by Christ. But they have no
practical belief that justification by faith is only true when men are
first sanctified by faith. And, therefore, while they expect to be
justified by faith, they perform works that are works of law.
JESUS' YOKE OF LOVE
True Christians and Legalists may agree on the necessity of good works
and theoretically in what constitutes good works--that is, obedience
springing from love to God. They may agree in aiming to perform good
works of this kind. But the difference lies in the different influences
that enable them to perform good works. The consideration they expect to
affect their minds is different. They look to different sources for
motives. The true Christian alone succeeds in actually performing good
works. The Legalist, aiming to perform good works, is influenced by
hope, fear, and a selfish regard to his own interest. He obeys the voice
of conscience because he is afraid to do otherwise and falls entirely
short of loving God with all his heart, soul, and strength.
The motives under which the Legalist acts have no tendency to bring him
to the obedience of love. The true Christian, on the contrary,
appreciates God and perceives and understands His character. In Christ
he has such an affectionate confidence in God that he finds it easy to
obey from love. The commandments are not grievous. The yoke is easy and
the burden light. He finds the ways of wisdom to be ways of
pleasantness, and all her paths to be peace. (See Proverbs 3:17)
Is it so with you? Do you feel, in your duties, constrained by love? Are
you drawn by such strong cords of love that it would give you more
trouble to disobey than to do His will? Do your affections flow out in
strong currents to God?
What is the matter with individuals who find it hard to obey and harder
still to love? Ask the wife who loves her husband if she finds it hard
to try to please him? Suppose she answers, in a solemn tone, "Yes, I
find it hard to obey and harder still to love my husband." What would
her husband think?
What would you parents say if you heard one of your children
complaining, "I find it hard to obey my father and harder still to love
A radical defect lies in the religion of people who love such
expressions and live as if they were true. If any of you find serving
Jesus a painful thing, you have the religion of law. Did you ever find
it painful to do what you love to do? No. It is a pleasure to do it.
Christianity is not labor, it is the feeling of the heart. What would
you do in heaven if serving God is such a painful thing here? Suppose
you were taken to heaven and obliged to grind out religion every week,
month, and year throughout eternity. What sort of heaven would it be to
you? Would it be heaven or would it be hell? If you were required to
have ten thousand times as much religion as you have here, and your
whole life were to be filled up with such duties, wouldn't hell itself
be a relief to you?
One class strives to be religious through hope and fear. Under the
influence of conscience, they lash themselves if they don't do their
duty. The other class acts from love to God and the impulses of their
own feelings. They know what the Scripture means: "I will put my law in
their inward parts, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their
God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33)
You can see this experience in almost any convicted sinner after he has
become truly converted. He was convicted, and the law was brought home
to his mind. He struggled to fulfill the law. He was in agony, but then
he was filled with joy and glory. Why? He agonized under the law. He has
no rest and no satisfaction and tried to please God by keeping the law.
He went about in pain, read the Bible, and tried to pray. But the Spirit
of God was upon him showing him his sins, and he had no relief. The more
he attempted to help himself, the deeper he sank in despair. The whole
time his heart was cold and selfish.
New let him be influenced by love to God. The same Holy Spirit is upon
him, showing him the same sins that grieved and distress him so before.
But now he hits his knees, tears flow like water as he confesses his
guilt, and his heart melts. Now he performs the same duties, but what a
difference! The Spirit of God has broken his chains, and now he loves
and is filled with joy and peace in believing.
FAITH WORKS BY LOVE
Here is the difference between the slavery of law and the liberty of the
gospel. The liberty of the gospel does not consist in being freed from
doing what the law requires but in a man's being in such a state of mind
that doing it is itself a pleasure. What is the difference between
slavery and freedom? The slave serves because he has to do so, but the
free man serves from choice. The man who is under the bondage of law
serves because conscience thunders in his ears if he does not obey, and
he hopes to go to heaven if he is obedient. The man who is in the
liberty of the gospel serves because he loves to. One is influenced by
selfishness, and the other by selfless love.
If we believe the words and actions of most professing Christians, they
have made a mistake and have the religion of law. They are not
constrained by the love of Christ but moved by hopes, fears, and the
commandments of God. They have gone no further than to be convicted
sinners. I have witnessed the regeneration of so many false converts
that I fear great multitudes in the Church are still under the law.
Although they profess to depend on Christ for salvation, their faith
does not work by love.
Some people are all faith, without works. These are Antinomians. Others
are all works and no faith. These are Legalists. In all ages of the
Church, men have inclined first to one of these extremes and then over
to the other. Sometimes they pretend to be all faith, awaiting God's
time. Then they get zealous about works, without regard to the motive
from which they act.
The true character of these false converts is to cry out, "Legality!" as
soon as they are challenged with holiness. When I first began to preach,
I found this spirit in many places. The moment Christians were urged to
work, the cry would rise, "This is legal preaching. Preach the gospel;
salvation if by faith, not by works; you ought to comfort the saints,
not distress them." All this was nothing but rank Antinomianism.
On the other hand, the same people now complain if you preach the true
nature of gospel faith. Now they want to do something and insist that no
preaching is good unless it stirs them up to good works, They are all
for doing, doing, doing and will be dissatisfied with preaching that
discriminates between true and false faith and urges obedience of the
heart out of love to God. The Antinomians wait for God to produce right
feelings in them. The Legalists want to get right feelings by going to
Going to work is the way, when the Church feels right, to bring about
right feelings. But to dash right out into work without any regard to
the motives of the heart is not the way to get right feelings in the
Real Christians are a stumbling block to both parties--to those who wait
for God's time and do nothing and to those who bustle about with no
faith. The true Christian acts under love to God and his fellowmen, and
he labors to pull sinners out of the fire with earnestness.
If the Church is awakened and has the spirit of prayer and zeal for the
conversion of sinners, there will be some who sit still and complain
that the Church is depending on its own strength. Others will be very
busy and noisy but without any feeling. The third class will be so full
of love and compassion to sinners that they can hardly eat or sleep, yet
so humble and tender that you would imagine they felt themselves to be
nothing. The Legalist, with his dry zeal, makes a great noise, deceives
himself, and thinks he is acting just like a Christian. The true
Christian is stirring and active in the service of Christ but moves with
the holy fire that burns within his own bosom.
Some people's religion is steady and uniform while that of others is
fitful and unstable. You will find some individuals always excited about
Jesus. Talk to them any time, and their souls will kindle. Others are
awake only now and then. Once in a while, you may find them full of
zeal. When one has the anointing that abides, he has something that is
durable. But if his religion is only that of the law, he will have only
as much of it as he has of conviction at the present moment.
Some are anxious to get to heaven, while others are happy here. True
Christians have a love for souls. They have such a desire to have
Christ's Kingdom built up on earth that they are perfectly happy to live
and labor for God as long as He chooses to have them. If they were sent
to hell and permitted to labor there for souls, they would be happy.
Others talk as if people weren't meant to enjoy life; but when they get
to heaven, they expect to be happy. They have no enjoyment except in
hope. The other already has the reality, the very substance of heaven
begun in the soul.
What kind of Christianity do you have? True Christianity is always the
same and consists in disinterested love to God and man. Does this
describe you? Does your faith consist of the pursuit of happiness as the
great end? There is no condemnation in true Christianity. But if any man
doesn't have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.
Please don't make a mistake and go down to hell with a lie in your right
hand because you have the religion of the law. The Jews failed here,
while the Gentiles attained true holiness by the gospel. How many are
deceived, acting under legal considerations, while they know nothing of