The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
V. Consider the objections to it.
1. It is said that the natural tendency of this doctrine condemns it; that it tends to beget and foster a carnal presumption in a life of sin, on the part of those who think themselves saints.
There is, I reply, a broad and obvious distinction between the abuse of a good thing or doctrine, and its natural tendency. The legitimate tendency of a thing or doctrine may be good, and yet it may be abused and perverted. This is true of the atonement, and the offer of pardon through Christ. These doctrines have been, and are, greatly objected to by universalists and unitarians, as having a tendency to encourage the hope of impunity in sin. It is said by them, that to hold out the idea that Christ has made an atonement for sin, and that the oldest and vilest sinners may be forgiven and saved, tends directly to immorality, and to encourage the hope of ultimate impunity in a life of sin; the hope that, after a sinful life, the sinner may at last repent and be saved.
Now, there is so much plausibility in this objection to the doctrine of pardon and atonement, that many sensible men have rejected those doctrines because of this objection. They have regarded the objection as unanswerable. But a close examination will show, that the objection against those doctrines is entirely without foundation; and not only so, but that the real natural tendency of those doctrines affords a strong presumptive argument in their favour. Who does not know, after all, that from the nature and laws of mind, the manifestation of compassion and of disinterested good will, and a disposition to forgive a fault on the part of the justly offended, tend in the highest degree to bring the offender to repentance? “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” This command is the perfection of wisdom. It recognizes mind, and the laws of mind as they are. The free offer of pardon to a convicted and self-condemned sinner has no natural tendency to encourage him in sin, but is the most potent influence possible to bring him to immediate repentance.
So the telling of a convinced and self-condemned sinner, that Christ has died for his sins, and offers freely and at once to forgive all the past, has no natural tendency to beget a spirit of perseverance in rebellion; but is on the contrary the readiest, and safest, and I may add, the only effectual method of subduing him, and bringing him to immediate repentance. But suppose, on the other hand, you tell him there is no forgiveness, that he must be punished for his sins at all events, what tendency has this to bring him to immediate and genuine repentance; to beget within him the love required by the law of God? Assuring him of punishment for all his sins might serve to restrain outward manifestations of a sinful heart, but certainly it tends not to subdue selfishness, and to cleanse the heart; whereas the offer of mercy through the death of Christ, has a most sin-subduing tendency. It is such a manifestation to the sinner of God’s great love to him, his real pity for him, and readiness to overlook and blot out the past, as tends to break down the stubborn heart into genuine repentance, and to beget the sincerest love to God and Christ, together with the deepest self-loathing and self-abasement on account of sin. Thus the doctrines of the atonement and pardon through a crucified Redeemer, instead of being condemned by their legitimate tendency, are greatly confirmed thereby. These doctrines are no doubt liable to abuse, and so is every good thing; but is this a good reason for rejecting them? Our necessary food and drink may be abused, and often are, and so are all the most essential blessings of life. Should we reject them on this account?
It is admitted, that the doctrines of atonement and forgiveness through Christ, are greatly abused by careless sinners and hypocrites; but is this a good reason for denying and withholding them from the convicted sinner, who is earnestly inquiring what he shall do to be saved? No, indeed.
It is also admitted, that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is liable to abuse, and often is abused by the carnal and deceived professor; but is this a good reason for rejecting it, and for withholding its consolations from the tempted, tempest-tossed saint? By no means. Such are the circumstances of temptation from within and without, in which the saints are placed in this life, that when they are made really acquainted with themselves, and are brought to a proper appreciation of the circumstances in which they are, they have but little rational ground of hope, except what is found in this doctrine. The natural tendency and inevitable consequence of a thorough revelation of themselves to themselves, would be to beget despair, but for the covenanted grace and faithfulness of God. What saint who has ever been revealed to himself by the Holy Spirit, has not seen what Paul saw when he said, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing?” Who that has been made acquainted with himself does not know that he never did, and never will take one step towards heaven, except as he is anticipated and drawn by the grace of God in Christ Jesus? Who that knows himself does not understand that he never would have been converted, but for the grace of God anticipating and exciting the first motions of his mind in a right direction? And what true saint does not know, that such are his former habitudes, and such the circumstances of trial under which he is placed, and such the downward tendency of his own soul on account of his physical depravity*(see below), that although converted, he shall not persevere for an hour, except the indwelling grace and Spirit of God shall hold him up, and quicken him in the path of holiness?
Where, I would ask, is the ground of hope for the saints as they exist in this world? Not in the fact that they have been physically regenerated, so that to fall is naturally impossible. Not in the fact that they have passed through any such change of nature as to secure their perseverance for an hour, if left to themselves. Not in the fact that they can, or will sustain themselves for a day or a moment by their resolutions. Where then is their hope? There is not even a ground of probability, that any one of them will ever be saved, unless the doctrine in question be true, that is, unless the promised grace and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus goes before, and from step to step secures their perseverance. But if this grace is promised to any saint, as his only ground of confidence, or even hope that he shall be saved, it is equally, and upon the same conditions, promised to all the saints. No one more than another can place the least reasonable dependence on anything, except the grace equally promised and vouchsafed to all. What does a man know of himself who hopes to be saved, and who yet does not depend wholly on promises of grace in Christ Jesus?
The natural tendency of true and thorough conviction of sin, and of such a knowledge of ourselves, as is essential to salvation, is to beget and foster despondency and despair; and, as I said, the soul in this condition has absolutely little or no ground of hope of ultimate salvation, except that which this doctrine, when rightly understood, affords. However far he may have progressed in the way of life, he sees, when he thoroughly knows the truth, that he has progressed not a step, except as he has been drawn and inclined by the indwelling grace and Spirit of Christ; and that he shall absolutely go no further in the way to heaven, unless the same gracious influence is continued, in such a sense, and to such an extent, as to overcome all the temptations with which he is beset. His only hope is in the fact, that God has promised to keep and preserve him. Nothing but God’s faithfulness to his Son procured the conversion of any saint. Nothing but this same faithfulness has procured his perseverance for a day, and nothing else can render the salvation of any soul at all probable. What can a man be thinking about, or what can he know of himself, who does not know this? Unless the same grace that secures the conversion of the saints, secures their perseverance to the end, there is no hope for them. It is true, that the promises to sinners and to saints are conditioned upon their faith, and upon the right exercise of their own agency; and it is also true, that grace secures the fulfilment of the conditions of the promises, in every instance in which they are fulfilled, or they never would be fulfilled.
We have seen that the promises of the Father to the Son secure the bestowment upon the saints of all grace to ensure their final salvation.
It shocks and distresses me to hear professed Christians talk of being saved at all, except upon the ground of the anticipating, and persevering, and sin-overcoming, and hell-subduing grace of God in Christ Jesus. Why, I should as soon expect the devil to be saved, as that any saint on earth will be, if left, with all the promises of God in his hands, to stand and persevere without the drawings, and inward teachings, and over-persuading influences of the Holy Spirit. Shame on a theology that suspends the ultimate salvation of the saints upon the broken reed of their own resolutions in their best estate. Their firmest resolutions are nothing unless they are formed and supported by the influence of the Spirit of grace, going before, and exciting, and persuading to their formation and their continuance. This is everywhere taught in the Bible; and who that has considered the matter does not know, that this is the experience of every saint? Where, then, is the ground of hope, if the doctrine in question be denied? “If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” Where, then, is the evil tendency of this doctrine? It has no naturally evil tendency. Can the assurance of eternal salvation through the blood, and love, and grace of Christ, have a natural tendency to harden the heart of a child of God against his Father and his Saviour? Can the revealed fact, that he shall be more than a conqueror through Christ, beget in him a disposition to sin against Christ? Impossible! This doctrine, though liable to abuse by hypocrites, is nevertheless the sheet anchor of the saints in hours of conflict. And shall the children be deprived of the bread of life, because sinners will pervert the use of it to their own destruction? This doctrine is absolutely needful to prevent despair, when conviction is deep, and conflicts with temptation are sharp. Its natural tendency is to slay and keep down selfishness, to forestall selfish efforts and resolutions, and to sustain the confidence of the soul at all times. It tends to subdue sin, to humble the soul under a sense of the great love and faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus; to influence the soul to live upon Christ, and to renounce entirely and for ever all confidence in the flesh. Indeed, its tendency is the direct opposite of that asserted in the objection. It is the abuse, and not the natural tendency of this doctrine, against which this objection is urged. But the abuse of a doctrine is no reason why it should be rejected.
2. But it is said that real saints do sometimes fall into at least temporary backsliding, in which cases the belief of this doctrine tends to lull them into carnal security, and to prolong their backsliding, if not to embolden them to apostatize. To this I reply,–
That if real Christians do backslide, they lose for the time being their evidence of acceptance with God; and withal they know that in their present state they cannot be saved. This objection is levelled rather against that view of perseverance that says, “once in grace, always in grace;” that teaches the doctrine of perpetual justification upon condition of one act of faith. The doctrine as stated in these lectures, holds out no ground of hope to a backslider, except upon condition of return and perseverance to the end. Moreover, the doctrine as here taught is that perseverance in holiness, in the sense, that, subsequent to regeneration holiness is at least the rule, and sin only the exception, is an attribute of Christian character. Every moment, therefore, a backslider remains in sin, he must have less evidence that he is a child of God.
But as I said, he loses confidence in his own Christianity, and in this state of backsliding he does not believe the doctrine of perseverance, as a doctrine of revelation. It is absurd to say, that while backslidden from God he still has faith in his word, and believes this doctrine as a Christian doctrine, and upon the strength of the testimony of God. He does not in this state really believe the doctrine, and therefore it is not the tendency of the doctrine when believed that harms him, but a gross abuse and perversion of it. But the perversion of a doctrine is no objection to it. The real tendency of the doctrine is to break the heart of the backslider, to exhibit to him the great love, and faithfulness, and grace of God which tend naturally to subdue selfishness, and to humble the heart. When backsliders are emboldened by this doctrine and rendered presumptuous, it is never by any other than a gross perversion and abuse of it.
But still it is said, that when Christians backslide, they know if this doctrine is true, that they shall not die in a backslidden state, and that, therefore they are naturally rendered presumptuous by it. I answer, that the same objection lies against the doctrine of election, which cannot be denied. Who does not know that sinners and backsliders say, If I am elected, I shall be saved; and if not, I shall be lost? The event is certain at any rate, and if I am to use the means, I shall use the means; and if I am to neglect them, I shall neglect them. If I am one of the elect, I shall not die in sin; and if not, I shall, do what I may. The backslider says, I have been converted, and am therefore one of the elect; for there is no evidence that any of the non-elect are ever converted; but the elect cannot be lost, or will not be lost, at any rate; therefore I shall be reclaimed before I die. Now who does not see that all such refuges are refuges of lies? They are abuses of precious truth. The objection we are considering is based upon an overlooking of the all-important distinction between the natural tendency and the abuse of a doctrine. If this doctrine has a natural tendency to mischief, it must be calculated to mislead a humble, honest, and prayerful mind in search of truth. It must tend to lead a true saint away from, instead of to Christ. The fact that sinners and backsliders, who for the time being are the chief of sinners, will and do abuse and pervert it, is no better reason for rejecting this doctrine, than it is for rejecting the doctrine of atonement, of justification by faith, or the doctrine of the free pardon of the greatest sinners, upon condition of repentance and faith. It is true that no person whom God foresees will be saved, will die in sin. It is true that no elect person will die in sin; and as I believe all true saints are elect, nevertheless, the natural tendency of this doctrine is anything else than to beget presumption in the real saint; but on the contrary, it has a natural and a powerful tendency to impress him with sin subduing views of the infinite love, compassion, faithfulness, and grace of God, and to charm him away from his sins for ever. If by any means he falls into temporary backsliding, he may abuse this, as he may every other doctrine of the gospel; but let it be understood, that he does not believe for the time being one of the doctrines of the gospel. Not believing them, he of course is not injured by their natural tendency, but only by a perverse abuse of them.
As well might a universalist complain, and accuse you of preaching smooth things, and of encouraging sinners to continue in sin, by preaching that the vilest sinner may be forgiven, as for you to object to this doctrine, that backsliders are rendered presumptuous by it.
If one is more liable to abuse than the other, the difference is only in degree and not in kind. The backslider cannot know that he was ever converted; for, as a matter of fact, he has lost communion with God, and has lost the present evidence of acceptance. He does not, therefore, rest in a real belief of this doctrine, but only in a perverse abuse of it.
Those who persist in such objections should reflect upon their own inconsistency, in making a manifest perversion and abuse of this doctrine an objection to it, when they hold other doctrines, equally liable to abuse and equally abused, in spite of such abuse. Let such persons see, that they are practically adopting a principle, and insisting upon its application in this case, which, if carried out, would set aside the whole gospel. They are thus playing into the hands of infidels and universalists, and giving the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme.
3. It is objected, that the Bible speaks of the saints as if there were real danger of their being lost. It requires them to spend the time of their sojourning here in fear, and abounds with cautions, and warnings, and threatenings, that are certainly out of place, and not at all to be regarded, if the salvation of the saints is a revealed certainty. How, it is inquired, can we fear, if God has revealed the certainty of our salvation? Is not fear in such a case a result of unbelief? Can God reveal to us the fact, that we shall certainly be saved, and then call on us or exhort us to fear that we shall not be saved? Can he require us to doubt his word and his oath? If God has revealed the certainty of the salvation of all true saints, can any saint fear that he shall not be saved without downright unbelief? and can God approve and even enjoin such fears? If a person is conscious of possessing the character ascribed to the true saints in the Bible, is he not bound upon the supposition that this doctrine is true, to have and to entertain the most unwavering assurance that he shall be saved? Has he any right to doubt it, or to fear that he shall not be saved?
I answer, that no true saint who has an evidence or an earnest of his acceptance with God, such as the true saint may have, has a right to doubt for a moment that he shall be saved, nor has he a right to fear, that he shall not be saved. I also add, that the Bible nowhere encourages, or calls upon the saints to fear, that they shall not be saved, or that they shall be lost. It calls on them to fear something else, to fear to sin or apostatize, lest they should be lost, but not that they shall sin and be lost. The following are specimens of the exhortations and warnings given to the saints:–
Mat_26:41 : “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Mar_13:33-37 : “Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. So watch ye therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning; Lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”
Luk_12:37 : “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh, shall find watching; verily I say unto you, That he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.”
1Co_10:12 : “Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
1Co_16:13 : “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
Eph_5:15-16 : “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
Eph_6:10-11 . “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Phi_1:27-28 : “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries; which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.”
1Th_5:6 : “Therefore, let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
1Ti_6:12 : “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
2Ti_2:3 : “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
2Ti_4:5 : “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
1Pe_4:7 : “But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
Mat_10:22 : “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”
Joh_15:6 : “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Rom_2:6-7 : “Who will render to every man according to his deeds; To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.”
1Co_9:27 : “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
2Co_6:1 : “We, then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”
Col_1:23 : “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.”
Heb_3:6, Heb_3:12-14 : “But Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. 12. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13. But exhort one another daily, while it is called, To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”
Heb_4:1, Heb_4:11 : “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 11. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
2Pe_1:10 : “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
Rev_2:10-11, Rev_2:17, Rev_2:26 : “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried: and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. 17. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. 26. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.”
Rev_21:7 : “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
1Pe_1:17 : “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
I find no instance in the Bible in which the saints are enjoined or exhorted to fear that they shall actually be lost; but, on the contrary, this kind of fear is everywhere, in the word of God, discountenanced and rebuked, and the saints are exhorted to the utmost assurance that Christ will keep and preserve them to the end, and finally bestow on them eternal life. They are warned against sin and apostacy, and are informed that if they do apostatize they shall be lost. They are expressly informed, that their salvation is conditioned upon their perseverance in holiness to the end. They are also called upon to watch against sin and apostacy; to fear both, lest they should be lost.
Heb_4:1 : “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”
Heb_6:1-6 : “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God. Of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost; And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Heb_3:12-14 : “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called to day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”
They are required to fear to sin, but not to fear that they shall sin in any sense that implies any expectation of sinning. They are to fear to apostatize, but not to expect, or fear that they shall apostatize. They are to fear to be lost, but not that they shall be lost. To fear to sin lest we should be lost, is a very different thing from fearing that we shall sin and shall be lost. There is just as much need of our fearing to sin, and of fearing to be lost, as there would be if there were no certainty of our salvation. When we consider the nature of the certainty of the salvation of the saints, that it is only a moral and conditional certainty we can see the propriety and the necessity of the warnings and threatenings which we find addressed to them in the Bible. The language of the Bible is just what it might be expected to be, in case the salvation of the saints were certain, with a moral and conditional certainty.
But in replying to this objection, it is important to ascertain the meaning of the terms used by the objector. I will first show what there is not, and what there is, implied in the term danger:–
(1.) We have seen that all events are really certain by some kind of certainty. Danger, then, cannot imply that there is any real uncertainty in respect to that of which we predicate danger; for this cannot truly be said of any event whatever. It will be in some way, and it is beforehand as really certain how it will be, as it is after it has occurred. Danger, then, does not imply real uncertainty.
(2.) We generally use the term as implying uncertainty as it respects our knowledge of how the event will be; that is, we predicate danger of that of which we are not certain how it will turn out to be. We generally use the term as implying that we regard the result as uncertain, and that there is at least a possibility, and even a probability, that it may turn out differently from what we would have it. The term, then, does not imply real, but only to us an apparent uncertainty. This is commonly implied in the term “danger,” as we use it.
(3.) But the term does not always and necessarily imply, that we are uncertain in respect to the event of which we predicate danger. If a thing may fail by natural possibility; if, moreover, the result is suspended on the action of free-will; and if, humanly speaking, and judging of the probability of the result from the usual course of events, there are seen to be many chances to one against it; and if from the nature of the event nothing can make it certain, or secure its occurrence, but the most strenuous care and watchfulness and effort on the part of those whose agency is to be employed in its production; and if, moreover, it is understood, that those concerned will have many temptations to take a course that would, if taken, defeat it; to each of which temptations the agent can yield with the greatest ease, and no compulsion will be used to prevent his yielding;–I say, when there is a concurrence of such facts and circumstances, we should say that there was danger, even if the result were a revealed certainty. There is in this case, in truth, as real and as much danger of failure, as there is that any event whatever will be different from what it in fact turns out to be; and considering the nature of the certainty, and the multitude of apparent contingencies upon which the result is suspended; and, humanly speaking, the many chances to one against its occurrence, we should in such a case say there is danger, and could not but feel a sense of danger, although we knew that the result was certain. For example, suppose a man about to cross the Niagara river upon a wire just over the falls, and suppose it to be revealed to him and to the world that he should cross in safety; but suppose it to be revealed also that he is not to be preserved by a miracle, but that his safety is to depend upon his own skill, prudence, and efforts, and the fact revealed to be simply that he will so behave as to cross in safety. Now all would say and feel that there was danger in this case, although they might have the fullest confidence in the result. The danger is as real, in this case, as if the certainty were not revealed; and considering the multitude of chances of failure, we should feel, and say that there is danger, notwithstanding the revealed certainty. If the certainty were absolute, or were that of necessity, we should not say or feel that there was danger. But when the certainty is understood to be only a moral one, we should as properly say that there was danger, as if the certainty, though real, were not revealed. By danger, then, we mean to express, not a real, but only an apparent uncertainty, and a human probability, or at least a natural possibility, that an event may turn out otherwise than we desire. We do not always and necessarily mean that the event is uncertain to us, but that humanly speaking, and judging from the ordinary course of events, it is possible or probable that it may not occur as we would have it; and that nothing can render it certain but care, and watchfulness, and diligence, and perseverance on the part of him or them upon whose agency the event is suspended.
But this objection assumes a false philosophy of mind. It assumes that fear is out of place and impossible, except when there is at least supposed uncertainty. It is said that fear is an emotion that always implies real or apprehended danger in the sense of uncertainty.
It is asserted, that the emotion of fear cannot exist but upon condition that the subject does not regard himself as safe, or that he does not regard the interest or thing safe, concerning which fear is excited; but this is a mistake. It is true that fear is more readily excited when there is no accredited certainty in regard to the safety of the thing or interest concerning which the fear is excited; and it is also true, that this kind of fear tends, by reason of its strength and from its nature, very strongly to selfish efforts to escape from apprehended danger. It is also true, that fear may be and often is excited, when there is no accredited uncertainty, and no apprehended danger, in the sense of uncertainty in regard to the safety of self, or of the interest or thing respecting which the fear is excited. For example, place an individual upon the verge of a precipice, beneath which yawns a gulph of frightful depth, and withal chain him fast so that he knows that to fall is impossible, and yet his fears will be excited. An emotion of fear will arise in spite of himself. Webster quotes Rogers’s definition of fear, thus: “Fear is that passion of our nature which excites us to provide for our security on the approach of evil.” But this, as we shall see, is saying only half the truth. “Fear,” Webster says, “expresses less apprehension than dread, and dread less than terror, and terror less than flight. The force of this passion beginning with the most moderate degree may be thus expressed: Fear, dread, terror, fright.” He says again, “Fear in scripture is used to express a filial, or a slavish passion. In good men, the fear of God is a holy awe, or reverence of God and of his laws, which springs from a just view and real love of the divine character, leading the subjects of it to hate and shun everything that can offend such a holy being. Slavish fear is the effect or consequence of guilt: it is the painful apprehension of merited punishment.” Every one knows that these two kinds of fear are frequently spoken of in the Bible. Fear does not necessarily imply an apprehension of real danger. For example, to return to the individual upon the verge of the precipice: here, although there is a known natural impossibility of falling, and of course no apprehension of danger, in the sense of uncertainty, yet who does not perceive, that even more than simple fear would, at least in many cases, be excited? To look down, even if certain of not falling, would excite in many minds a degree of dread, and even of terror, that would be almost unendurable. Few individuals could be found, in whom the emotion of fear, and even of terror would not, under such circumstances, be awakened. It is a great mistake to suppose that this emotion cannot exist, except where there is real or apprehended danger in the sense of uncertainty. Who, for example, cannot conceive, and who that has considered the matter does not admit, that a view of the torments of the damned may, and doubtless will, excite a wholesome fear and dread of sin in the inhabitants of heaven? The witnessing of anything terrible in its nature tends to awaken the emotion of fear or terror, whether we regard ourselves as exposed to it or not. Much more is this true, when we know that the evil is naturally possible to us, and that nothing but care and watchfulness on our part, prevents its actually coming upon us. Now, although we are certain, that we shall not fall from a precipice upon which we stand, yet a view of so terrible an object awakens the corresponding emotions at once. Instead of saying that fear is an emotion that is awakened only by an apprehension of real danger, it were more in accordance with truth to say, that it is an emotion that is awakened when its correlated object is present to the thoughts; and its correlated object is anything whatever that is fearful, or dreadful, or terrible in its nature, whether we regard ourselves as really exposed to it in the sense of uncertainty or not. Thus, should we stand on the shore and witness a shipwreck, or be within hearing of a battle, or witness the rush of a distant tornado, as it spreads its wings of desolation over a country or a city, and in a direction that forbids the possibility of injury to us, the emotion of fear, and even of terror, in such cases would be awakened, even if we were sure that no real harm would result to any being whatever. All the emotions have their correlated objects; and it is a great mistake to say, that the presence of these objects does not awaken them, except upon condition that our own interest, or the interest of some one else, is to be affected thereby. Objects naturally lovely, when presented to the mind, naturally awaken corresponding emotions. Objects of beauty and deformity, of desire, and of terror, naturally awaken their corresponding emotions, wholly irrespective of any apprehended pleasure or pain to be derived from them. But surely I need not enter into a further statement or illustration of a fact of universal consciousness. The affirmation that fear is correlated only to real or apprehended danger, in the sense of uncertainty, and not at all to objects naturally fearful or terrible, irrespective of apprehended danger, is so palpable a contradiction of human consciousness, that few reflecting minds can fail to perceive it.
Again: the sanctions of law have and even in heaven will and must have, their appropriate influence. But what is their appropriate influence? These sanctions are remuneratory and vindicatory, as we have formerly seen. They present all that is naturally desirable as the reward of virtue. They hold forth all that is dreadful and terrible as the reward of sin. The contemplation of these sanctions naturally begets their correlated emotions in all worlds and at all times. The inhabitants of hell no doubt have their desires awakened by a contemplation of the happiness of heaven, while the inhabitants of heaven have their pity, their fears, their dread awakened in view of the torments of hell, and in neither case is it in view of any apprehended uncertainty. The inhabitants of hell know that the joys of heaven are certainly never to be theirs, and the inhabitants of heaven know that the miseries of hell are never to be theirs. Nevertheless, the emotions respond to their correlated objects in both worlds, and no doubt will as long as mind exists.
Sin is a hateful, and a fearful, and a terrible thing. The wrath of an offended God is infinitely terrible in its nature. Endless torments are unspeakably fearful and terrible. The flaming penalty of the divine law is an object of infinite terror. These things are so correlated to the constitution of moral agents, as naturally to excite their corresponding emotions, entirely irrespective of any apprehended personal danger. When added to this tendency that results from the nature and correlations of those objects, there is a sense of uncertainty in regard to our personal safety, the contemplation of these objects causes intense agony. A certainty of personal security relieves the agony, but it does not cause the emotion of fear, and awe, and dread, wholly to subside. Enough remains to fix the attention, and to act as a safeguard against presumption, in cases where there is a natural possibility of the evil we fear becoming ours. What a mistake in psychology to affirm, that fear cannot exist unless it be excited by a belief of personal danger, in the sense of uncertainty in respect to whether the evil shall come upon us. I say again, that the emotion is correlated to its object, and is not dependent upon an apprehension of personal danger, as every one knows. When the apprehension of personal danger is added, the excitement of the emotion is greatly and painfully aggravated. And on the other hand, the emotion is modified and softened by a sense and certainty of personal security. But still the emotion in a modified and softened form will exist so long as an object, fearful and terrible in its nature, is made the object of contemplation.
In this life, time, and habit, and reflection, may cause emotions of fear to cease, even in the presence of a fearful object, as in the case of the supposed precipice. Continuing for a long time to look upon precisely the same object, and considering that there was and could be no danger, in the sense of uncertainty, and familiarizing the mind to this contemplation, might in time cause the sensible emotions of fear to cease. The same would be true of any other emotion, such as an emotion of love, or a sense of beauty, or deformity, &c. This would occur where the object contemplated presented no new attractions on the one hand, or repulsions or terrors on the other. But suppose the more the object was contemplated, the more it developed its beauties, its deformities, or its terrors to the mind. In this case, the emotions corresponding would never cease. This is precisely the case with the sanctions of moral law, with the wrath and the love of God, with the joys of heaven and the pains of hell. These objects will never lose their influence for the want of novelty. They will never cease to beget their correlated emotions, for the reason that they will be ever new in the sense of always presenting to the gaze of intelligent beings, more to desire on the one hand, and more to fear and dread on the other.
But again: we see that this objection is based upon a gross error in respect to the philosophy of moral government. Moral law exists with its sanctions as really in heaven as on earth, and its sanctions have in heaven the very influence that they ought to have on earth. It is as true in heaven as on earth, that the soul that sinneth shall die. Now, can the sanctions of law exert no influence in heaven? I suppose no reasonable person will doubt the certainty, and the known certainty of the perseverance of all saints there. But if they are certain that they shall not sin and fall, can they not be the subjects of fear in any sense? I answer, yes. They are naturally able to sin, and may be sometimes placed under circumstances where they are tempted to selfishness. Indeed, the very nature of mind renders it certain, that the saints will always have need of watchfulness against temptation and sin.
Now, it is the design of the sanctions of law in all worlds to produce hope on the one hand, and fear on the other; in holy beings the hope of reward, and the fear to sin lest they should perish. This hope and fear in a being duly influenced by them, is not selfishness. It is madness and desperate wickedness not to be influenced by them. Our reason affirms that we ought to be influenced by them, that our own salvation is of infinite value, and that our damnation were an infinite evil. It therefore affirms that we ought to secure the one and to avoid the other. This is law both on earth and in heaven. This we are not to do selfishly, that is, to seek our own salvation, or to avoid our own damnation, exclusively or only, but to seek to save as many as possible; to love our neighbour as ourselves, and ourselves as our neighbour. In all worlds the sanctions of law ought to have their influence, and with holy beings they have. Holy beings are really subjects of fear, to sin, and to be lost, and are the only beings who have the kind of fear which God requires, and which it is the design of the sanctions of law and of the gospel to inspire. What! are we to be told that a certainty of safety is wholly inconsistent with every kind and degree of fear? What, then, is the use of law in heaven? Must a man on earth or in heaven doubt whether he shall have eternal life, in order to leave room for the influence of moral law, and of hope, and of fear? or in order to leave play for the motives of moral government? There is room for the same fear in heaven that ought to be on earth. No one had a right to expect to violate the precept, and thereby incur the penalty of law. But every one was bound to fear to do so. The penalty was never designed on earth, any more than it is in heaven, to beget a slavish fear, or a fear that we shall sin and be damned; but only a fear to sin and be damned. A fear to sin and to be lost, will, to all eternity, no doubt, be a means of confirming holy beings in heaven. The law will be the same there as here. Free agency will be the same there as here. Perseverance in holiness will be a condition of continued salvation there as really as here. There may, and doubtless will be, temptations there as well as here. They will, therefore, need there substantially the same motives to keep them that they need and have here. There will there be laws and conditions of continued bliss as here. There will be the same place, and in kind, if not in degree, the same occasion for fear there that there is here. I say again, that the objection we are considering, overlooks both the true philosophy of mind, and of the influence of the sanctions of moral law.
The objection we are considering is based upon the assumption that warnings, exhortation to fear, &c., are inconsistent with the revealed certainty of the salvation of the saints. But does not the Bible furnish abundant instances of warning in cases where the result is revealed as certain? The case of Paul’s shipwreck is in point. This case has been once alluded to, but I recur to it for the sake of illustration in this place. God, by Paul, revealed the fact, that no life on board the ship should be lost. This he declared as a fact, without any revealed qualification or condition. But when the sailors, who alone knew how to manage the ship, were about to abandon her, Paul informs them that their abiding in the ship was a condition of their salvation from death. The means were really as certain as the end; yet the end was conditionated upon the means, and if the means failed, the end would fail. Therefore Paul appealed to their fears of death to secure them against neglecting the means of safety. He did not intend to excite in them a distrust of the promise of God, but only to apprise them of the conditional nature of the certainty of their safety which had been revealed to them, and thus cause them at once to fear to neglect the means, and to confide in the certainty of safety in the diligent use of them. But this is a case, be it understood, directly in point, and by itself affords a full answer to the objection under consideration. It is a case where a revealed certainty of the event was entirely consistent with warning and threatening. Nay, it is a case where the certainty, though real, was dependent upon the warning and threatening, and the consequent fear to neglect the means. This case is a full illustration of the revealed certainty of the ultimate salvation of the saints; and were there no other case in the Bible where warning and threatening are addressed to those whose safety is revealed, this case would be a full answer to the assertion, that warnings and threatenings are inconsistent with revealed certainty. Paul feared to have the means of safety neglected, but he did not fear that they really would be, because he knew that they would not.
To the pertinency of this case as an illustration, it is objected, that the prophet pronounced the destruction of Nineveh in forty days to be certain, as really as Paul in this case revealed the certainty of the safety of all on board the ship; therefore, it is contended that Paul did not intend to reveal the result as certain, because when a revelation was made respecting the destruction of Nineveh, in just as unqualified terms, the event showed that it was not certain. To this I reply, that in the case of Jonah, it is manifest from the whole narrative that neither Jonah nor the Ninevites understood the event as unconditionally certain. Jonah expressly assigned to God his knowledge of the uncertainty of the event, as an excuse for not delivering his message. So the people themselves understood, that the event might not be certain, as their conduct abundantly shows. The difference in the two cases is just this: one was a real and a revealed certainty, and the other was neither. Why then should this case be adduced as setting aside that of the shipwreck? But it is said, that no condition was revealed in the one case more than in the other. Now so far as the history is recorded, no mention is made in the case of Nineveh, that Jonah intimated that there was any condition upon which the destruction of the city could be avoided: yet it is plain, that both Jonah and the Ninevites understood the threatening to be conditional, in the sense of the events being uncertain. Jonah himself did not expect it with much certainty. But in the case of Paul, he expressly affirms, that he believed God that it should be as he had declared, that there should be the loss of no man’s life, and he encouraged them to believe the same thing. Paul understood the end to be certain, though he knew, and soon informed them, that the certainty was a moral one, and conditioned upon the diligent use of means. The two cases are by no means parallel. It is true that Nineveh would have been destroyed, had they not used the appropriate means to prevent it; and the same is true of the ship’s crew; and it is also true that, in both cases, it was really certain that the means would not be neglected; yet, in one case, the certainty was really understood to be revealed, and was believed in, and not in the other. Now observe, the point to be illustrated by reference to this case of shipwreck. It is just this: Can a man have any fear, and can there be ground and need of caution and fear, where there is a real and revealed, and believed or knowing certainty? The objection I am answering is, that, if the salvation of the saints is certain, and revealed as such, and is believed to be certain, there is then no ground of fear, and no necessity or room for warning, threatening, &c. But this case of shipwreck is one in which all these things meet.
(1.) The event was certain, and of course the conditions were sure to be fulfilled.
(2.) The certainty was revealed.
(3.) It was believed. Yet,
(4.) There was warning, and threatening, and fear to neglect the means. But these things did not all meet in the case of Jonah and the Ninevites. In this case,
(1.) It was not certain that the city would be destroyed.
(2.) It was not understood to be revealed as certain.
(3.) It was not believed to be certain.
Why, then, I ask again, should these cases be taken as parallels? Paul’s case is conclusive for the purpose for which it is cited, to wit, as being an instance in which there was:
(2.) Revealed certainty.
(3.) Believed certainty.
(4.) Threatening and warning.
(5.) Fear to neglect the means. It follows that threatenings, and warnings, and fears, are consistent with revealed and believed certainty. This strikes out the foundation of the objection.
* see distinction between moral and physical depravity, Lecture XXXVIII. II