Who Are We Trying To Fool
WHO ARE WE TRYING TO FOOL?
by Charles G. Finney
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own
Anyone who does not practice what he admits to be true is self-deceived.
Two classes of hypocrites exist among professing Christians--those that
deceive others and those that deceive themselves. One class of
hypocrites has a deceptive show of religion, cover up the enmity of
their hearts against God, and lead others to think they are very pious
people. Thus the Pharisees obtained the reputation of being remarkably
pious by their show of religion, their alms, and their long prayers.
The other class does not deceive others but themselves. Their religion
consists of a parcel of notions without regard to practice, and they
deceive themselves to think they are good Christians. But they are
destitute of true holiness. They are hearers of the Word but not doers.
They love orthodox preaching and take great pleasure in hearing abstract
doctrines exhibited. With imagination and glowing feeling, they view the
character and government of God; but they are not careful to practice
the precepts of God's Word.
It is highly probable that a number of readers are of this character. I
do not know your names, but I want you to understand that if you are of
this character, you are the person I am speaking to. I mean you. You
hear the Word and believe it in theory, while you deny it in practice.
You deceive yourselves. The Scripture proves it. Here you have an
express "Thus saith the Lord" that all hearers are not doers and are
TRUE SAVING FAITH
In the first place, you hear the Word and admit it to be true, but you
do not truly believe it. Two things are necessary for evangelical or
saving faith. The first is intellectual conviction after hearing truth.
I do not mean merely the abstract truth but its bearing on you. The
truth, in its relation to you, or its bearing on your conduct, must be
received intellectually. True faith includes a corresponding change of
heart. When a man's mind is convinced, and he admits the truth in
relation to himself, then there must be an application of it to himself.
Both these states of mind are indispensable to true faith.
Intellectual conviction of the truth is not saving faith. But
intellectual conviction, accompanied by a change of the affections, is
saving faith. Therefore, true saving faith always brings a change in
conduct. Just as certain as the will controls the conduct, men will act
as they believe. Suppose I say to a man, "Do you believe this?" "Yes, I
believe it." What does he mean--a mere intellectual conviction? He may
have that but not have faith.
A man may even approve or agree with abstract truth. Many persons
suppose faith is applauding for the character and government of God and
the plan of salvation. They view it, however, abstractedly. When they
hear an eloquent sermon on the attributes or government of God, they are
excited about the glory and excellency displayed. They do not have a
particle of true faith. The rational mind is so formed that it naturally
approves of truth when viewed abstractedly.
The most wicked devils in hell love it, as long as they do not see it in
relation to themselves. If the gospel did not interfere with their own
selfishness, they would not only see it as true but would heartily
approve it. The reason why wicked men and devils hate God is because
they see Him in relation to themselves. Their hearts rise up in
rebellion because they see Him opposed to their selfishness.
This is the source of a grand delusion among men in regard to
Christianity. They see it as truth, and they rejoice in contemplating
it. They do not apply it to themselves, and so they love to hear such
preaching and say they are fed by it. But they go away and do not
Imagine a man who is sick, and his feelings are tender. In view of
Christ as a kind and tender Savior, his heart melts, and he feels strong
emotions towards Jesus Christ. Why? For the very same reason that he
would feel strong emotions towards the hero of a romance. But he does
not obey Christ. He never practices one thing out of obedience to Christ
but views Him abstractedly and is delighted with His glorious and lovely
character. He himself remains in the gall of bitterness. Faith must be
an efficient, moving faith that produces good works, or it is not the
faith of the gospel and is no real faith at all
DOERS OF THE WORD
True Christianity consists in obedience. However much you may approve of
Christianity, you have no faith unless you obey it. In saying that true
faith consists in obedience, I do not mean outward obedience. But faith
itself, true faith, works by love and produces action. There is no real
obedience but the obedience of the heart. Love fulfills the law, and
Christianity consists in the obedience of the heart with a corresponding
change of life.
The man who hears the truth and approves it but does not practice it
deceives himself. He is like the man beholding his natural face in a
glass--he sees himself, goes his way, and immediately forgets what he
looks like. (See James 1:23-24)
The state of mind that you mistake for Christianity--an intellectual
conviction of truth and approval of it in the abstract--is as common to
the wicked as to the good. This is why it is so difficult to convince
sinners that they are opposed to God and His truth. Men are created so
that they do approve of virtue and admire the character and government
of God. They would approve and admire every truth in the Bible, if they
could view it abstractedly and without any application to themselves.
They can sit for years under preaching that holds up the truth in such a
way that it has no practical bearing on themselves. Then they will never
consider that they are opposed to God and to His government.
I am persuaded that great multitudes of unconverted souls can be found
in all congregations where the abstract doctrines are preached. No doubt
many come to church because they love orthodox preaching. But after all
this preaching, still they are not doers of the Word. And here is the
difficulty: they have not had that searching preaching that made them
see the truth in its bearing on themselves.
Now that they are in the Church, whenever the truth is preached in its
practical relation to them, they show that their hearts are unchanged by
opposing the truth.
They took it for granted that they were Christians and joined a church
to hear sound doctrinal preaching. They read the Bible and approve of
it. If their faith is not practical enough to influence their conduct,
or if they do not view the truth in relation to their own practice, then
their faith does not affect them as much as the faith of the devil. (See
Great injury has been done by false representation of the wickedness of
real Christians. Many impressions suggest that real Christians are the
most wicked beings on the face of the earth. When they sin, they incur
great guilt. For a Christian to sin is highly criminal. Enlightened
Christians see great wickedness in their sins. When they compare their
obligations with their lives, they are greatly humbled and express their
humility in very strong language.
But it is not true that they are as bad as the devil or anywhere in the
neighborhood of it. When they do sin, their sins have great aggravation
and appear extremely wicked in the sight of God. But to suppose that men
are true Christians while they live in the service of the devil is not
only false but very dangerous.
HERETICS AND PHARISEES
The truth is that those who do not obey God are not Christians. The
contrary doctrine is ruinous to the churches, filling them with
multitudes whose claim to piety depends on their adoption of certain
notions, while they never truly intended to obey the requirements of the
gospel in their lives.
Professing Christians who never like to hear about God or His attributes
but lay all stress on religious practice to the exclusion of Christian
doctrines are Pharisees. They practice outward piety but will not
receive the great truths that relate to God, and they deny the
fundamental doctrines of the gospel.
Wherever you find a man's practice heretical, you may be sure his belief
is heretical too. The faith that he hides in his heart is just as
heretical as his life. He may not be heretical in his notions and
theories. He may be right there, even on the very point where he is
heretical in his practice. But he does not really believe it. For
example, if you ask a careless sinner if he expects to die, he will
reply, "Oh, yes, I know I must die; all men are mortal." As soon as he
thinks about it, he assents to the truth. And if you could fasten the
conviction of his mind until he is really and permanently impressed with
it, he would undoubtedly change his conduct and live for another world
instead of this one. But he does not really believe he is going to die,
and he continues grasping for wealth. A man's belief controls his
practice, just as his will governs his conduct.
The Church has for too long been concerned with abstract doctrines and
left the more practical out of view. Look at the creeds of the Church
and see how the main emphasis lies on those doctrines that have little
to do with our practice. A man may be the greatest heretic on points of
practice, provided he is not openly profane or vicious, and maintain a
good standing in the Church. When we attempt to purify the Church in
regard to practical errors, he cannot bear it.
Why is it so difficult to get the Church to do anything for the
conversion of the world? When will the Church be purified and the world
converted? Not until it is agreed that heresy in practice is the proof
of heresy in belief. Not while a man may deny the whole gospel in his
practice every day and yet maintain his standing in the Church as a
A minister can be deceived in regard to the state of his congregation.
If he preaches a good deal on abstract doctrines that do not immediately
relate to practice, his people rejoice; and he thinks they are growing
in grace. In fact, it is no certain sign that there is any Christianity
among them. But if he preaches practical doctrines and his people show
that they love the truth in regard to themselves practicing it, then
they show they love the truth.
If a minister finds that his people rebel when he comes to press the
practical doctrines, he can be sure that their Christianity is in a low
PRACTICE WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Many people suppose they are Christians from the emotions they feel in
view of truth. But what they receive is truth presented to their minds
in such a way that they do not see its bearing on themselves. If you
present the truth to them, destroy their pride, and cut them off from
their worldliness, they will resist it. Look at the Church. Many
orthodox churches and orthodox Christians live and feed upon the
abstract doctrines of religion from year to year. Then look further at
their lives and see how little influence their professed belief has upon
their practice. Do they have saving faith? It cannot be. I don't mean to
say that none of these church members are virtuous but that those who do
not practice what they admit in theory deceive themselves.
Are you conscious that the gospel is producing a practical effect upon
you, according to your knowledge? Is it weaning you from the world? When
you receive any practical truth into your minds, do you love its
application to yourself? Do you take pleasure in practicing it? If you
are not growing in grace, becoming more and more holy, and yielding
yourselves up to the influence of the gospel, you are deceiving
Woe to that man who admits the truth and yet turns away and does not
practice it. He is like the man who, seeing his natural face in a
mirror, turns away and forgets what he looks like.