Charles Finney How
to Win Souls
HOW TO TESTIFY FOR GOD
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and My
servant whom I have chosen. Isaiah 43:10
It is true, in general, that persons are affected by the subject of
religion, in proportion to their conviction of its truth. Inattention to
religion is the great reason why so little is felt concerning it. No
person can look at the great truths of religion, as truths, and not feel
deeply concerning them. The devil cannot: he feels and trembles. Angels
in heaven feel in view of these things. God feels! An intellectual
conviction of truth is always accompanied with feelings of some kind.
One grand design God has in leaving Christians in the world after their
conversion is, that they may be witnesses for God. It is that they may
call the attention of the thoughtless multitude to the subject of
religion, and make them see the difference in the character and destiny
of those who believe and those who reject the Gospel.
Hence we see why God has scattered His children everywhere; in families,
and among the nations. He never would suffer them to be all together in
one place, however agreeable it might be to their feelings. He wishes
them to be scattered. When the church at Jerusalem was herded together,
neglecting to go forth as Christ had commanded, to preach the Gospel all
over the world, God let loose a persecution upon them and scattered them
abroad, and then "they went everywhere preaching the Gospel." Acts 8:4
In examining the text I propose to show:
I. TO WHAT POINTS THE CHILDREN OF GOD ARE REQUIRED TO TESTIFY.
In general, they are to testify to the truth of the Bible. They are
competent witnesses to this, for they have experience of its truth. The
experimental Christian has no more need of external evidence to prove
the truth of the Bible to his mind, than he has to prove his own
The Christian is conscious that the Bible is true. The youngest convert
knows by his experience the truth of the Bible. He may hear objections
from infidels, which he never thought of, and which he cannot answer,
and he may be confounded; but he cannot be driven from his ground. He
will say, "I cannot answer you, but I know that the Bible is true." A
Christian sees his experience drawn and pictured in the Bible and he
sees the likeness to be so exact that he knows that it is true.
II. HOW THEY ARE TO TESTIFY.
By precept and example. On every proper occasion by their lips, but
always by their lives. Christians have no right to be silent with their
lips; they should rebuke, exhort, and entreat with all longsuffering and
doctrine. But their main influence as witnesses is by their example.
They are required to be witnesses in this way, because example teaches
with so much greater force than precept. This is universally known.
Actions speak louder than words. But where both precept and example are
brought to bear, it brings the greatest amount of influence to bear upon
the minds of sinners. Christians should live in their daily walk and
conversation, as if they believed the Bible.
1. They should live as if they believed the soul to be immortal and as
if they believed that death will not be the termination of their
existence, but only the entrance into an unchanging state. They ought to
live so as to make this impression upon all around them. It is easy to
see that precept without example on this point will do no good. All the
arguments in the world will not convince mankind that you believe this,
unless you live as if you believed it. Your reasoning may be
unanswerable, but if you do not live accordingly, your practice will
defeat your arguments.
2. The vanity and unsatisfying nature of the things of this world. You
are to testify this by your life. The failure in this is the great
stumbling-block in the way of the salvation of mankind. Here the
testimony of God's children is needed more than anywhere else. Men are
so struck with the objects of sense, and so constantly occupied with
them, that they are very apt to shut out eternity from their minds. A
small object that is held close to the eye, may shut out the distant
ocean. So the things of the world, which are near, magnify so in men's
minds, that they overlook everything else.
One important design God has in keeping Christians in the world is, to
teach people on this point. But suppose professors of religion teach the
vanity of earthly things by precept, and contradict it in practice.
Suppose the women are just as fond of dress, and just as particular in
observing all the fashions, and the men as eager to have fineň houses
and equipage, as the people of the world; who does not see that it would
be quite ridiculous for them to testify with their lips, that this world
is all vanity, and its joys unsatisfying and empty?
3. The satisfying nature of religion. Christians are bound to show by
their conduct, that they are actually satisfied with the enjoyments of
religion, without the pomp and vanities of the world; that the joys of
religion and communion with God keep them living above the world. They
are to manifest that this world is not their home. Their profession is
that heaven is a reality, and that they expect to dwell there forever.
4. The guilt and danger of sinners. Christians are bound to warn sinners
of their awful condition, and exhort them to flee from the wrath to
come, and to lay hold on eternal life. But who does not know that the
manner of doing this is everything? Sinners are often struck under
conviction by the very manner in which something is done. There was a
man once very much opposed to a certain preacher. On being asked to
specify some reason for this, he replied, "I cannot bear to hear him,
for he says the word 'hell' in such a way that it rings in my ears for a
long time afterwards." He was displeased with the very thing that
constituted the power of speaking that word.
5. The love of Christ. You are to bear witness to the reality of the
love of Christ, by the regard you show for His precepts, His honour, and
His kingdom. You should act as if you believed that He died for the sins
of the whole world, and as if you blamed sinners for rejecting His great
salvation. This is the only legitimate way in which you can impress
sinners with the love of Christ. Professing Christians, instead of this,
often live so as to make the impression on sinners that Christ is so
compassionate that they have very little need to fear Him.
6. The necessity of holiness in order to enter heaven. It will not do to
depend on talking about this. Christians must live holy lives, and thus
testify that men need not expect to be saved, unless they are holy.
The idea has so long prevailed, that we cannot expect to be perfect
here, that many professors of religion do not so much as seriously aim
at a sinless life. They cannot honestly say that they ever really meant
to live without sin. They drift along before the tides in a loose,
sinful, unhappy manner, at which, doubtless, the devil laughs, because
it is, of all others, the surest way to hell.
7. The necessity of self-denial, humility, and heavenly-mindedness.
Christians ought to show by their own example, what the religion is,
which is expected of men. That is the most powerful preaching, after
all, and the most likely to have influence over the impenitent, by
showing the great difference between them and Christians by a different
course, by copying as near as possible their present manner of life, and
conforming to them as much as they possibly can. They seem to think that
they can make men fall in with religion best, by bringing religion down
to their standard; as if the nearer you bring religion to the world, the
more likely the world will be to embrace it.
No, the true way is to exhibit religion and the world in strong
contrast, or you can never make sinners feel the necessity of a change.
Until the necessity of this fundamental change is embodied and held
forth in a strong light by example, how can you make men believe that
they are going to be sent to hell if they are not wholly transformed in
heart and life?
8. Meekness and patience. The people of God should always show a temper
like the Son of God, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again. If a
professor of religion is irritable, and ready to resent an injury, and
fly into a passion, and take the same measures as the people of the
world to get redress, by going to the law and the like; how is he to
make people to believe that there is any reality in a change of heart?
They cannot recommend religion while they have such a spirit. If you are
in the habit of resenting injurious treatment; if you do not bear it
meekly, and put the best construction that can be on it, you contradict
9. The necessity of entire honesty in a Christian. Oh what a field opens
here for remark! But I cannot go over it fully now; it extends to all
the departments of life. Christians need to show the strictest regard to
integrity in every department of business, and in all their intercourse
with their fellow men. If every Christian would pay a scrupulous regard
to honesty, and always be conscientious to do exactly right, it would
make a powerful impression on the minds of the people, of the reality of
I am happy to say that there are some men who deal on this principle of
integrity. And the wicked hate them for it; they rail against them, and
vociferate in bar-rooms, that they will never buy goods from such and
such individuals; and that such a hypocrite shall never touch a dollar
of their money, and all that; and then they will go right away and buy
from them, because they know that they will be honestly dealt with. This
is a testimony to the truth of religion that is heard from Georgia to
And if Christians will do the same in politics, they will sway the
destinies of nations, without involving themselves at all in the base
and corrupting strife of parties. Only let Christians generally
determine to vote for no man for any office, who is not an honest man,
and a man of pure morals, and let it be known that Christians are united
in this, whatever may be their difference in political sentiments; and
no man would be put up who is not such a character.
The dishonesty of the churches is cursing the world. I am not going to
preach a political sermon I assure you; but I want to show you, that if
you mean to impress men favourably to your religion by your lives, you
must be honest, strictly honest, in business, politics, and everything
you do. What do you suppose these ungodly politicians who know
themselves to be playing a dishonest game, in carrying an election,
think of your religion, when they see you uniting with them? They know
that you are a hypocrite.
It is unreasonable for professors of religion to wonder at the
thoughtlessness of sinners. Everything considered, the carelessness of
sinners is not wonderful. We are affected by testimony, and only by that
testimony which is received to our minds. Sinners are so taken up with
business, pleasure, and the things of the world, that they will not
examine the Bible to find what religion is. Their feelings are excited
only on worldly subjects, because these only are brought into warm
contact with their minds. Therefore, the things of the world make a
strong impression on them. But there is so little to make an impression
on their minds in respect to eternity, and to bring the things of
religion home to them, that they do not feel on the subject.
If they examined the subject, they would feel. But they do not examine
it, nor think upon it, nor care for it. And they never will, unless
God's witnesses rise up and testify. But inasmuch as the great body of
Christians, in fact, live so as to testify on the other side by their
conduct, how can we expect that sinners will feel correctly on the
subject? Nearly all the testimony and all the influence that comes to
their minds tends to make them feel the other way. God has left His
cause here before the human race, and left His witnesses to testify on
His behalf, and behold they all turn round and testify the other way! Is
it any wonder that sinners are careless?
We see why it is that preaching does so little good, and how it is that
so many sinners get hardened. Sinners who live under the preaching of
the Gospel are often supposed to be hardened; but only let the churches
wake up and act consistently, and they will begin to feel. If the
churches were to live one week as if they believed the Bible, sinners
would melt down before them.
They will never have a revival in any place, while the whole church in
effect, testify against the minister. Often it is the case that where
there is the most preaching, there is the least religion, because the
church contradicts the preaching. I never knew means fail of a revival,
where Christians lived consistently. One of the first things is to raise
the standard of religion, so as to embody and hang out in the sight of
all men, the truth of the Gospel. Unless ministers can get the churches
to wake up, and act as if religion were true, and back their testimony
by their lives, in vain will they attempt to promote a revival.
Every Christian makes an impression by his conduct, and witnesses either
for the one or the other. His looks, dress, and whole demeanour, make a
constant impression on the one side or the other. He cannot help
testifying for or against religion. He is either gathering with Christ,
or scattering abroad. At every step you tread on chords which will
vibrate to all eternity. Every time you move, you touch keys whose
sounds will re-echo over all the hills and dales of heaven, and through
all the dark caverns of hell.
Are you going to walk in the street? Take care how you dress. What is
that on your head? What does that gaudy ribbon, and those ornaments upon
your dress, say, to everyone who meets you? They make the impression
that you wish to be thought pretty. Take care! You might as well write
on your clothes, "There is no truth in religion. Give me dress; give me
fashion, and I am happy."
What is the testimony on the leaf of the record which is now sealed for
the judgment concerning this day? Have you manifested a sympathy with
the Son of God, when His heart is bleeding in view of the desolations of
Zion? Have your children, clerks, and servants seen it be so? Have they
seen a solemnity in your countenance, and tears in your eyes, in view of
Perhaps hundreds of souls will meet you in the judgment, and curse you
for leading them to hell, by practically denying the truth of the
Gospel. What will become of this city, and of the world, when the
churches are united in practically testifying that God is a liar? They
testify by their lives, that if they make a profession of religion and
live a moral life, that is religion enough. Oh what a doctrine of devils
is that! It is enough to ruin the whole human race.
HOW TO APPROACH THE UNSAVED
The object of this chapter is to direct Christians in the use of means
for accomplishing their infinitely desirable end, the salvation of
I. DEALING WITH CARELESS SINNERS.
1. In regard to time. It is important that you should select a proper
time to try to make a serious impression on the mind of a careless
2. It is desirable, if possible, to address a person who is careless,
when he is disengaged from other employments. In proportion as his
attention is taken up with something else, it will be difficult to
awaken him to religion.
3. It is important to take a person, if possible, at a time when he is
not strongly excited with any other subject.
4. If possible, where you wish to converse with a man on the subject of
salvation, take him when he is in a good temper.
5. If possible, always take an opportunity to converse with careless
sinners when they are alone. Most men are too proud to be conversed with
freely respecting themselves in the presence of others, even their own
6. Try to seize an opportunity to converse with a careless sinner, when
the events of Providence seem to favour your design.
7. Seize the earliest opportunity to converse with those around you who
are careless. You must seek an opportunity, and if none offers, make
one. Make it look like a matter of business.
8. If you have any feeling for a particular individual, take an
opportunity to converse with him while this feeling continues. If it is
a truly benevolent feeling, you have reason to believe that the Spirit
of God is ready to bless your efforts for his conversion. Make it the
subject of special and importunate prayer.
9. In regard to the manner of doing this: When you approach a careless
individual, be sure to treat him kindly. Let him see that you address
him, not because you seek a quarrel, but because you love his soul, and
desire his best good in time and eternity.
10. Be solemn. Avoid all lightness of manner or language.
11. Be respectful. A rude or coarse style of address is only calculated
to create an unfavourable opinion both of yourself and of your religion.
12. Be sure to be very plain. Do not cover up any circumstance of the
person's character, and his relations to God. Lay it all open. Before
you can cure a wound, you must probe it to the bottom.
13. Be sure to address his conscience. Unless you address the conscience
pointedly, you get no hold of the mind at all.
14. Bring the great and fundamental truths of the Gospel to bear upon
15. Be very patient. If he has a real difficulty in his mind, be very
patient until you find out what it is, and then clear it up.
16. Be careful to guard your own spirit. There are many people who have
not good temper enough to converse with those who are much opposed to
17. If the sinner is inclined to entrench himself against God, be
careful not to take his part in anything. Bring up his particular sins,
if you know his history; kindly but plainly; not to give offence, but to
awaken conscience, and give full force to the truth. It is generally
best to be short, and not spin out what you have to say.
II. HOW TO DEAL WITH AWAKENED SINNERS
Be careful to distinguish between an awakened sinner, and one who is
under conviction. When you find a person who feels a little on the
subject of religion, do not take it for granted that he is convicted of
sin. Persons are often awakened by some Providential circumstance, and
they are ready to hear on the subject of religion with attention and
seriousness, and some feeling.
If you find a person awakened, lose no time to pour in light upon his
mind. Show him the exceeding strictness of the Divine law. Make him see
how it condemns his thoughts and life. Search out his heart. If possible
melt him down on the spot. When once you have got a sinner's attention,
very often his conviction and conversion are the work of a few moments.
III. THE MANNER OF DEALING WITH CONVICTED SINNERS
By convicted sinner, I mean one who feels himself condemned by the law
of God. He sees and feels his guilty state, and knows what his remedy
is. When a person is convicted, but not converted, and remains in an
anxious state, there is generally some specific reason for it.
1. Sometimes the individual has some idol, something which he loves more
than God, which prevents him from giving himself up.
2. Perhaps he has done an injury to some person which calls for redress,
and he is unwilling to confess it, or to make a just recompense.
3. Sometimes there is some particular sin which he will not forsake. He
pretends it is only a small one, or that it is no sin at all.
4. Perhaps he has a prejudice against someone, or is unwilling to
5. Perhaps he entertains some errors respecting the thing to be done,
which may be keeping him out of the Kingdom. He may be waiting for more
conviction, or he may be waiting for certain feelings.
Be careful in conversing with convicted sinners, not to make any
compromise with them on any point where they have a difficulty. If you
do, they will be sure to take advantage of it, and thus get a false
Be sure to deal thoroughly. The Church is now filled up with hypocrites,
because people were never made to see that unless they made an entire
consecration of all to Christ--all their time, all their talents, all
their influence--they would never get to heaven. Many think they can be
Christians, and yet dream along through life. It is a sad mistake, and
they will find it so.
Be careful not to mislead sinners so as to leave the impression that a
selfish submission to God will answer, or a selfish acceptance of the
Atonement, or a selfish giving up to Christ and receiving Him, as if a
man were make a good bargain, giving up his sins, and receiving
salvation in exchange. Man's selfish heart will eagerly seize such a
view of religion, and thus get a false hope.
Make it an object of constant study, and of daily reflection and prayer,
to learn how to deal with sinners so as to promote their conversion. It
is the great business on earth of every Christian, to save souls.
HOW TO INSTRUCT ANXIOUS SINNERS
What must I do to be saved? Acts 16:30
These were the words of the jailer at Philippi: the question which he
put to Paul and Silas, who were then under his care as prisoners.
It is my design to show what are the instructions that should be given
to anxious sinners when they ask this question, in order to promote
their speedy and effectual conversion. In doing this, I will show:
I. WHAT ARE NOT PROPER DIRECTIONS TO BE GIVEN TO ANXIOUS SINNERS.
No more important inquiry was ever made than this, "What must I do to be
saved?" Mankind are apt enough to enquire, "What shall I eat, and what
shall I drink?" And the question may be answered in various ways with
little danger. But when a sinner asks in earnest, "What must I do to be
saved?" it is of infinite importance that he should receive the right
1. No direction should be given to a sinner that will leave him still in
the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. No answer is proper to
be given, with which, if he comply, he would not go to heaven, if he
should die the next moment.
2. No direction should be given that does not include a change of heart,
or a right heart, or a hearty obedience to Christ. In other words,
nothing is proper which does not imply actually becoming a Christian.
Any other direction which falls short of this is of no value. It will
not bring him any nearer the kingdom, it will do no good, but will lead
him to defer the very thing which he must do in order to be saved. The
sinner should be told plainly at once, what he must do or die; and he
should be told nothing that does not include a right state of heart.
Whatever you may do, sinner, that does not include a right heart, is
sin. Whether you read the Bible or not, it is sin, so long as you remain
in rebellion against God. Whether you go to meetings, or stay away;
whether you pray or not; it is nothing but rebellion every moment.
I might almost say that there is almost an endless variety of ways in
which false comfort is given to anxious sinners. The more experience I
have, and the more I observe the ways in which even good people deal
with anxious sinners, the more I feel grieved at the endless fooleries
and falsehoods with which they attempt to comfort their anxious friends,
and thus, in fact, deceive them and beguile them out of their salvation.
Now God desires that they should be comforted. He is benevolent and has
kind feelings, and His heart yearns over them when he sees them so
distressed. But he sees that there is only one way to give a sinner real
comfort. He has more benevolence and compassion than all men, and wishes
to comfort them; but He has fixed the terms, as unyielding as His
throne, on which He will give a sinner relief, and He will not altar. He
knows that nothing else will do the sinner effectual good, for nothing
can make him happy until he repents of his sins and forsakes them, and
turns to God; therefore God will not yield.
Our object, in dealing with sinners, should be the same as that of God.
We should feel compassion and benevolence just as He does, and be as
ready to give comfort, but be sure that it is of the right kind. The
fact is, our prime object should be to induce the sinner to obey God.
His comfort ought to be with us, and with him, but a secondary object;
and while we are more anxious to relieve his distress than to have him
cease to abuse and dishonour God, we are not likely, by our instructions
to do him any real good.
Overlooking this principle has often misled professors of religion, and
when they have heard others dealing faithfully with anxious sinners,
they have accused them of cruelty. I have often had professors of
religion bring anxious sinners to me, and beg me to comfort them, and
when I have probed the sinner's conscience to the quick, they have
shuddered and sometimes taken the sinner's part. It is sometimes
impossible to deal effectually with young people who are anxious, in the
presence of their parents, because they have so much more compassion for
their children than regard to the honour of God. This is all wrong; and
with such views and feelings you had better hold your tongue than say
anything to the anxious.
One of the ways in which people give false comfort to distressed
sinners, is by asking them, "What have you done? You are not so bad." As
if they had never done anything wicked, and had in reality no occasion
to feel distressed at all.
No sinner ever had an idea of his sins greater than they were. No sinner
ever had an adequate idea of how great a sinner he is. It is not
probable that any man could live under a full sight of his sins. God
has, in mercy, spared all His creatures on earth that worst of sights: a
naked human heart. The sinner's guilt is much more deep and damning than
he thinks, and his danger is much greater than he thinks it is; and if
he should see them as they are, probably he could not live one moment.
Others tell an awakened sinner that "conversion is a progressive work,"
and in this way ease his anxiety. When a man is distressed because he
sees himself to be such a sinner that unless he turns to God he will be
damned, it is a great relief to have some friend hold out to him the
idea that he can become better by degrees, and that he is now coming on
little by little. They tell him, "Why, you cannot expect to get along
all at once; I do not believe in these SUDDEN conversions, you must wait
and let it work; you have begun well, and by and by you will get
All this is from the bottomless pit. The truth is, regeneration or
conversion, is not a progressive work. What is regeneration but the
beginning of obedience to God? Is that beginning of a thing progressive?
It is the first act of genuine obedience to God; the first voluntary
action of the mind that is what God approves, or that can be regarded as
obedience to God. This is conversion.
Another way in which anxious sinners are deceived with false comfort, is
by being advised to dismiss the subject for the present. Men who are
supposed to be wise and good, have assumed to be so much wiser than God;
and when God is dealing with a sinner by His Spirit, and is endeavouring
to bring him to an immediate decision, they think that God is crowding
too hard, and that it is necessary for them to interfere; and they will
advise the person to take a ride, or to go into company, or to engage in
business, or do something that will relieve his mind a little, at least
for the present.
Such advice, if it is true conviction of sin that distresses the sinner,
is, in no case, either safe or lawful. The strivings of the Holy Spirit
to bring a sinner to himself, will never hurt him, nor drive him crazy.
He may make himself deranged by resisting the strivings of the Spirit;
but it is blasphemous to think that the blessed, wise, benevolent Spirit
of God, would ever have so little care as to derange and destroy the
soul He came to sanctify and save.
The proper course to take with a sinner, when the striving of the Spirit
throws him into distress, is, to instruct him: clear up his views,
correct his mistakes, and make the way of salvation so plain that he may
see it right before him; not to dismiss the subject, but to co-operate
with the Holy Spirit, and thus hush all those dreadful agonies which are
produced by resisting the Holy Ghost. REMEMBER, if an awakened sinner
voluntarily dismisses the subject once, probably he will never take it
II. WHAT IS A PROPER ANSWER TO THE ENQUIRY, "WHAT MUST I DO TO BE
Generally, you may give the sinner any direction, or tell him to do
anything, that includes a right heart; and if you make him understand
it, and do it, he will be saved. The Spirit of God, in striving with
sinners, suits His strivings to the state of mind in which He finds
them. His great object in striving with them is to dislodge them from
their hiding places, and bring them to submit to God at once.
1. It is generally in point, and a safe and suitable direction, to tell
a sinner to repent. I say generally, for sometimes the Spirit of God
seems not so much to direct the sinner's attention to his own sins as to
some other thing.
In the days of the apostles, the minds of the people seem to have
agitated mainly on the question whether Jesus was the Messiah. And so
the apostles directed much of their attention to this point, to prove
that He was the Messiah; and whenever anxious sinners asked what they
must do in order to be saved, they exhorted them to "believe on the Lord
They bore down on this point because this was where the Spirit of God
was striving with them; and this was the subject which especially
agitated the minds of the people, and consequently this would probably
be the first thing a person would do on submitting to God. It was the
grand point at issue between God and the Jew and Gentile of those
days--whether Jesus Christ was the Son of God. It was the point in
dispute; to bring the sinner to yield this controverted question was the
most effectual way to humble them.
At other times it will be found that the Spirit of God is dealing with
sinners chiefly in reference to their own sins. Sometimes He deals with
them in regard to a particular duty, such as prayer, perhaps family
prayer. The sinner will be found to be contesting that point with God,
whether it be right for him to pray, or whether he ought to pray in his
family. I have known striking cases of this kind, where the individual
was struggling on this point, and as soon as he fell on his knees to
pray, he yielded his heart, showing that this was the very point which
the Spirit of God was contesting; the hinge on which his controversy
with God all turned. That was his conversion.
Repentance is a change of mind, as regards sin itself. It is not only a
change of views concerning sin, but a change of feeling towards sin. It
is what is naturally understood by a change of mind on any subject of
interest and importance. We hear that such a man has changed his mind on
the subject of abolition, for instance, or that he has changed his views
on politics; everybody understands that he has undergone a change in his
views, his feelings, and his conduct. This is repentance on that
subject: it is a change of mind.
Repentance always implies abhorrence of sin. It is feeling towards sin
just as God feels. It always implies forsaking sin. Sinners should be
made to understand this. The sinner that repents does not feel as
penitent sinners think they would feel at giving up their sins, if they
should become religious. Impenitent sinners look upon religion like
this: that if they become Christians, they should be obliged to stay
away from balls and parties, and obliged to give up theatres, or
gambling, or other things they now take delight in. And they see not how
ever they could enjoy themselves, if they should break off from all
I know there are some professors of religion who would be very glad to
betake themselves to their former practices, were it not that they feel
constrained, by fear of losing their character, or the like. Now, mark
me; if they feel so, it is because they do not hate sin. If they desire
their former ways, they have no religion, they have never repented; for
repentance always consists in a change of views and feeling. If they
were really converted, instead of desiring such things, they would turn
away from them with loathing; instead of lusting after the flesh pots of
Egypt, and desiring to go into their former circles, parties, and balls,
and the like, they would find their highest pleasure in obeying God.
2. Sinners should be told to believe the Gospel. Here, also, they need
to have explained to them, what is not faith, and what is. Nothing is
more common than for a sinner, when told to believe the Gospel, to say,
"I do believe it." The fact is, he has been brought up to admit the
fact, that the Gospel is true, but he does not believe it; he knows
nothing about the evidence of it, and all his faith is a mere admission
The fact is that the careless sinner does not believe the Gospel at all.
The idea that the careless sinner is an intellectual believer is absurd.
The devil is an intellectual believer, and that is what makes him
tremble. What makes a sinner anxious is that he begins to be an
intellectual believer, and that makes him feel. No being in heaven, or
earth, or hell, can intellectually believe the truths of the Gospel, and
not feel on the subject.
Faith does not consist in an intellectual conviction that Christ died
for you in particular, nor in a belief that you are a Christian, or that
you ever shall be, or that your sins are forgiven. But faith is that
trust or confidence in the Scriptures, that leads the individual to act
as if they were true.
The sinner should have it explained to him, and be made to see that the
faith which the Gospel requires, is just that confidence in Christ,
which leads him to act on what He says as a certain fact. This is
believing in Christ.
3. Another direction, proper to be given to the sinner is, that he
should give his heart to God. God says, "My son, give Me thine heart."
But here also there needs to be explanation, to make him understand what
it is. It is amazing that there should be any darkness here. It is the
language of common life, in everybody's mouth, and everybody understands
just what it means, when we use it in regard to anything else. But when
it comes to religion, they seem to be all in the dark.
Now to give your heart to God is the same thing as to give your heart to
anyone else; the same as for a woman to give her heart to her husband.
Ask that woman if she understands this, and she replies, "Oh yes, that
is plain enough; it is to place my affections on him, and try to please
him in everything." Very well, place your affections on God, and try to
please Him in everything. Sinner, what God asks of you, is, that you
should love Him supremely.
4. Submit to God, is also a proper direction to anxious sinners. And oh
how dark sinners are here too! Scarcely a sinner can be found who will
not tell you that he is willing to submit to God. But they do not
understand it. They need to be told what true submission is. Sometimes
they think that it means that they should be willing to be damned.
Sometimes they place themselves in this attitude, and call it
submission; they say, if they are elected they shall be saved and if not
they shall be damned. This is not submission. True submission is
yielding obedience to God.
5. Another proper direction to be given to a sinner is, confess and
forsake your sins. This means that they should both confess and forsake
them. They must confess to God their sins against God, and confess to
men their sins against men, and confess them all. A man does not forsake
his sins until he has made all the reparation in his power. If he has
stolen money, or defrauded his neighbour out of property, he does not
forsake his sins by merely resolving not to steal any more, or not to
cheat again; he must make reparation to that extent of his power. So, if
he has slandered anyone, he does not forsake his sin by merely saying he
will not do so again, he must make reparation. So, in like manner, if he
has robbed God, as all sinners have, the must make reparation as far as
he has power.
What would a merchant think if his hired clerk should take all the
capital and set up a store of his own, and die with it in his hands?
Will such a man go to heaven? "No," you say, "if such a man does not go
to hell, there might as well be no hell." God would prove Himself
infinitely unjust, to let such a character go unpunished.
What then, shall we say of the man who has robbed God all his life? Here
God set him to be His clerk, to manage some of His affairs, and he has
gone and stolen all the money, and says it is his and he keeps it, and
dies, and gives it to his children, as if it were his own lawful
property. Is that man going to heaven? Has that man forsaken sin? I tell
you no. If he has not surrendered himself and all to God, he has not
taken the first step in the way to heaven.
6. Another proper direction to be given to sinners is, "Choose ye this
day whom ye will serve." Joshua 24:15. Under the Old Testament
dispensation, this, or something equivalent to it, was the most common
direction given. It was not common to call on men to believe in Christ
until the days of John the Baptist. Under Joshua, this was something
which the people all understood more easily than they would a call to
believe on the distant Messiah.
Sinners are called upon to choose--what? Whether they will serve God or
the world; whether they will follow holiness or sin. Let them be made to
understand what is meant by choosing, and what is to be chosen, and then
if the thing be done from the heart, they will be saved.
Any of these directions, if complied with, will constitute true
conversion. The particular exercises will vary in different cases.
Sometimes the first exercise in conversion, is submission to God,
sometimes repentance, sometimes faith, sometimes the choice of God and
His service; in short, whatever their thoughts are taken up with at the
If their thoughts are directed to Christ at the moment, the first
exercise will be faith. If to sin, the first exercise will be
repentance. If to their future course of life, it is choosing the
service of God. If to the divine government, it is submission. It is
important to find out just where the Holy Spirit is pressing the sinner
at the time, and then care to push that point; push him right up to an
immediate choice of obedience to God.
III. SEVERAL ERRORS WHICH ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE APT TO FALL INTO
RESPECTING THIS GREAT INQUIRY.
1. The first error is in supposing that they must make themselves
better, or prepare themselves, so as in some way to recommend themselves
to the mercy of God. It is marvelous that sinners will not understand
that all they have to do is, to accept salvation from God, all prepared
to their hands. But they all, learned or unlearned, at first betake
themselves to a legal course to get relief.
This is one principal reason why they do not become Christians at once,
just as soon as they begin to attend to the subject. They should be
shown at once that it is impossible they should be any better until they
do what God requires. During every pulse that beats, and every breath
they draw, they are growing worse, because they are standing out in
rebellion against God, so long as they will not do the very thing which
God requires of them as the first thing to be done.
2. Another error is in supposing that they must suffer a considerable
time under conviction, as a kind of punishment, before they are ready to
come to Christ. And so they will pray for conviction; and they think
that if they be ground down to the earth for a sufficient time, then God
will pity them, and be more ready to help them when He sees them so very
They should be made to understand clearly, that they are thus unhappy
and miserable, merely because they refuse to accept the relief which God
offers. Take the case of the stubborn child, when his parent stands over
him with the rod, and the child shudders and screams. Should that child
imagine that he is gaining anything by his agony? Does his father pity
him any more because he stands out? Who does not see that he is all the
while growing worse?
3. Sometimes sinners imagine that they must wait for different feelings,
before they submit to God. They say, "I do not think I feel right yet to
accept Christ; I do not think I am prepared to be converted yet." They
ought to be made to see that what God requires of them is to feel
differently; and to say they must feel differently before they obey God,
is to say, "I do not feel right, because I do not feel right."
God tells the sinner to love Him, and the sinner replies, "Lord, I must
wait until I feel differently." Why, sinner, you are not to wait for
these feelings, as if they were to come into your mind from some other
quarter. What God requires of you is, the present act of your mind, in
turning from sin to holiness, and from the service of Satan to the
service of the living God. They very thing required of you is to feel
right; and do you wait for these feelings, as if they were not to be
exercises of your own?
4. Another error of sinners is to suppose that they must wait until
their hearts are changed. "What," they say, "am I to believe in Christ
before my heart is changed? Do you mean that I am to repent before my
heart is changed?"
Now the simple answer to all this is, that the change of heart is the
very thing in question. God requires the sinner to love Him, that is, to
change his heart. God requires him to repent, that is to change his
heart. God requires him to believe the Gospel, that is, to change his
heart. Goes does not tell him to wait until his heart is changed, and
then repent and believe, and love God. To do any of these things is to
change your heart, and to make you a new heart, just as God requires.
5. Sinners often get the idea that they are perfectly willing to do what
God requires. Tell them to do this thing, or that, to repent or believe,
to give God their hearts, and they say, "Oh yes, I am perfectly willing
to do that. I wish I could do it. I would give anything if I could do
it." They ought to understand that being truly willing, is doing it; but
that there is a difference between willing and desiring. People often
desire to be Christians, when they are wholly unwilling to be so. A man
may desire to go to Philadelphia on many accounts, while, for still more
weighty reasons, he chooses not to go there.
So the sinner may desire to be a Christian. He may see many good things
in being a Christian. He may see that if her were a Christian he would
be a good deal more happy, and that he should go to heaven when he dies,
and yet he is not willing to be a Christian. WILLING TO OBEY CHRIST is
to be a Christian. When an individual actually chooses to obey God, he
is a Christian, but all such desires as do not terminate in actual
choices, are nothing.
6. The sinner will sometimes say that he offers to give God his heart,
but he intimates that God is unwilling to accept it. But this is absurd.
What does God ask? Why, that you should love Him. Now, for you to say
that you are willing to give God your heart, but that God is unwilling
to accept it, is the same as saying, that you are willing to love God,
but that God is not willing to be loved by you, and will not suffer you
to love Him. It is important to clear up all these points in the
sinner's mind, that he may have no dark and mysterious corner to rest
in, where the truth will not reach him.
7. Sinners sometimes get the idea that they repent, when they are only
convicted. Whenever the sinner is found resting in any LIE, let the
truth sweep it away, however much it may pain and distress him. If he
has an error of this kind, you must tear it away from him, if you do not
mean that he shall stumble into the depths of hell.
8. Sinners are often wholly taken up with looking at themselves, to see
if they can find something, some kind of feeling or other, that will
recommend them to God. David Brainerd was for a long time taken up with
his state of mind, looking for some feelings which would recommend him
to God. Thus, the poor man, for want of correct instruction, was driven
almost to despair, and it is easy to see that this Christian exercises
through life were greatly modified, and his comfort and usefulness much
impaired by the false theory he had adopted on this point.
You must turn the sinner away from himself to something else. Suppose he
keeps poring over himself, until he is going into a state of despair;
the proper course then is, to turn off his attention from looking at
himself, and make him look at some duty to be performed, or make him
look at Christ, and perhaps before he is away, he will find that he has
submitted to God.
You should be careful to distinguish between an awakened sinner, and one
who is under conviction. When you find a person who feels a little on
the subject of religion, do not take it for granted that he is convicted
of sin, and thus omit to use means to show him his sin. Persons are
sometimes awakened by some providential circumstance; such as sickness,
thunderstorm, pestilence, death in the family, disappointment, or the
like; or by the Spirit of God, so that their ears are open, and they are
ready to listen on the subject of religion with attention and
seriousness, and some feeling.
If you find a person awakened, no matter by what means, lose no time to
pour in light upon his mind. Do not be afraid, but show him the breadth
of the divine law, and the exceeding strictness of its precepts. Make
him see how it condemns his thoughts and life. Search out his heart and
find what is there, and bring it up before his mind, as far as you can.
If possible, melt him down on the spot. When once you have got a
sinner's attention, very often his conviction and conversion are the
work of a few moments. You can sometimes do more in five minutes than in
years, or a whole life, while he is careless or indifferent.
Be careful to find the point where the Spirit of God is pressing a
sinner, and press the same point in all your remarks. If you divert his
attention from that point, you will be in great danger of destroying his
convictions. Take pains to learn the state of his mind, what he is
thinking of, how he feels, and what he feels most deeply upon, and then
press that thoroughly; and do not divert his mind by talking about
Great evils have arisen, and many false hopes have been created, by not
discriminating between an awakened and a convicted sinner. For want of
this, persons who are only awakened are immediately told, "You must
repent," Submit to God," when they are not in fact convinced of their
guilt, nor instructed so far as even to know what submission means. This
is one way in which revivals have been greatly injured.
If you are going to deal with sinners, remember that you are soon to
meet them in the judgment, and be sure to treat them in such a way that
if they be lost, it will be their own fault. Do not try to comfort them
with false notions now, and have them reproach you with it then. Better
suppress your false sympathy, and let the naked truth cleave them
asunder, joints and marrow, than to smooth them with false comforts, and
beguile them away from God.
Much depends on the manner in which a person is dealt with, when under
conviction. Much of his future comfort and usefulness depends on the
clearness, strength, and firmness, with which the directions of the
Gospel are given, when he is under conviction. If those who deal with
him are afraid to use the probe thoroughly, he will always be a poor,
sickly, doubting Christian. If converted at all, he will never do much
But if, when a sinner is under conviction, you pour the truth into his
mind, put in the probe, break up the old foundations, sweep away his
refuges of lies, and use the Word of God like fire and like a hammer,
you will find that the will come out with clear views, and strong faith,
and firm principles, not a doubting, halting, irresolute Christian, but
one who will follow the Lord wholly. This is the way to make strong
This has been imminently the case in many revivals in recent days. I
have heard old Christians say of the converts, "These converts were born
men and women, fully grown; they never were children, but have, at the
very outset, all the clearness of view, and strength of faith, of old
Christians. They seem to understand the doctrines of religion, and to
know what to do, and how to take hold to promote revivals, better than
one in a hundred of the old members in the churches."
Where instructions are not clear, and are missed up with errors, the
Spirit may strive, even for years, in great mercy, to get sinners
through the fog of false instruction; but not so where their duty is
clearly explained to them, and they are brought right up to the single
point of immediate submission, and have all their false pretences
exposed, and the path of duty made perfectly plain. Then, if they do not
submit, the Spirit of God forsakes them, and their state is well nigh
There is not a case of protracted conviction recorded in the whole
Bible. All the conversions recorded there, are sudden conversions. And I
am persuaded there never would have been such multitudes of tedious
convictions, often ending in nothing after all, if it had not been for
those theological perversions which have filled the world with
"cannot-ism." In Bible days they told sinners to repent, and they did
Afraid of sudden conversions! Some of the best Christians of my
acquaintance were convicted and converted in less than an hour, and came
right out to the Lord's side, and have been shining lights in the
churches ever since.
Finally, never tell a sinner anything, nor give him any direction, that
will lead him to stop short, or that does not include submission to God.
A young in New England once met a minister in the street, and asked him
what he should do to be saved. The minister told him to go home, and go
into his chamber, and kneel down and give his heart to God. "Oh, sir,"
said the boy, "I feel so bad, I am afraid I shall not live to get home."
The minister saw his error, and felt the rebuke thus unconsciously given
by a child, and told him, "Well, then, give your heart to God here, and
go home to your chamber and tell Him of it."