The Independent New York, February 19, 1874
By President C. G. Finney.
First. Not until there is thorough brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit.
2d. Not until sin is crushed out of the heart and it has become thoroughly honest with God and man.
3d. Not until it is disposed to make a clean breast of wrong-doing; to make thorough confession and restitution to God and all injured parties, who, of course, have a right to our confession and restitution.
This confession and restitution, to the extent of our ability, is implied in becoming honest or penitent for sin. There is never genuine repentance where this disposition to confess and make restitution, to the extent of ability, is wanting.
Nothing short of this disposition is honesty, either with God or man. God knows this. Hence, he cannot forgive until he see a voluntary disposition in the soul to set itself right with God and with men; a disposition that sets itself humbly and resolutely to make confession and restitution, to the extent of ability, thoroughly and without delay.
If one has stolen, can he expect to be forgiven while he retains the stolen property? If one has slandered, can he expect to be forgiven while the calumny remains uncorrected? If one has committed a wrong of any kind, against God or against a neighbor, can he expect to be forgiven, while he neglects or refuses to make reparation, to the extent of his ability?
In the presence of the universe, could God ever justify the forgiveness of such a dishonest soul? Has he not said, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper”? “But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.”
But what is it to cover sin?
1st. To justify wrong-doing.
2d. To excuse or palliate it.
3d. to endeavor to conceal it.
4th. In anywise to play the hypocrite respecting it. Such, for example,
a, as denying selfish intention;
b, professing benevolent intention;
c, claiming that it was a mistake;
d, resorting to any subterfuge whatever.
This covering sin was strikingly illustrated in the Garden of Eden. The sinning pair first hid themselves among the trees of the Garden when they heard the voice of God. This was an endeavor to conceal. When questioned, Adam replied: “The woman which thou gavest me, to be with me, she gave me and I did eat.”
Here was an excuse that virtually reflected upon God. When the woman was questioned, she said: “The serpent beguiled me.” She attempted palliation by professing to have been deceived. Here was no genuine repentance. All was evasion and dishonesty from beginning to end. This was a covering of sin, and no wonder that they were turned out of the Garden and not forgiven and the tree of life guarded by a flaming sword. No tree of life accessible to them while they covered their sin.
This case was a solemn admonition. No one may approach and eat the fruit of the tree of life while covering his sin. How often sinners are invited and urged to come to Jesus whilst they cover their sins. This is a ruinous mistake. Jesus is the tree of life, and let no one think to avail himself of his intercession and righteousness until he is heartily disposed to make a clean breast of it, confess, and forsake every form and degree of sin.
But what is implied in acceptable confession?
a. Thorough repentance or brokenness of heart.
b. Confessing to the injured parties.
c. A thorough owning up and making a clean breast of the whole affair, without apology, excuse, or extenuation.
d. Restitution, to the extent of ability.
e. An honest recognition of the ill desert of sin and a hearty acceptance of the denunciations of God against it.
f. Consent to the justice of the divine law that has been violated, both in regard to its precept and its penalty.
g. An honest acceptance of the justice of the sentence of death which God has pronounced against sin.
h. A state of mind that honestly justifies both the law and the lawgiver, and takes a decided stand with God against self and subscribes to the justice of its own condemnation.
It is easy to see that this state of mind must be a condition of forgiveness. If God should forgive while his justice in condemning is not heartily recognized, he would thereby and therein condemn himself.
Again, it is plain that confession and restitution to injured parties must be a condition of forgiveness, else the injured parties would have cause of complaint. If one should steal your money or filch from you your good name, and God should forgive him, while he retains the wrong, would this be right? Would you not have cause of complaint against God?
Could an intelligent universe justify such a proceeding? It should always be remembered that God is honest; that he is always disposed to do right; that he will do so, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of his intelligent universe; that he has a character to sustain for integrity and impartiality; that he never will or can forgive sin where there is not such a genuine and honest repentance as will justify the act, when all the facts are revealed, in the solemn judgment.
Let no one, therefore, think that he is forgiven or expect to be forgiven who has not honestly complied with the conditions of forgiveness. Again, an acceptable confession implies the forsaking of sin. “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.” But forsaking sin implies confession and restitution. Let no one suppose the fallow ground of his soul is thoroughly broken up until he has humbled himself and fully complied with the conditions of forgiveness.
In laboring in revivals of religion, I have always insisted upon confession and restitution, to the extent of ability, as a condition of pardon. I have found that putting the probe to the bottom of the heart on this subject was essential to securing sound conversions and living converts.
Unless this is done the soul cannot appreciate the Gospel method of salvation by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus. But I have often been told that this doctrine of confession and restitution as a condition of salvation was a new doctrine, and that repentance and faith were the only conditions of Gospel salvation.
I have always replied that confession and restitution, to the extent of ability, are implied in true repentance; that faith in the atoning blood of Christ always implies a heart acceptance of the justice of the penalty denounced against sin and an utter rejection of all dishonest evasion, self-justification, or covering of sin whatever. But if this doctrine of confession and restitution to injured parties is an unheard-of doctrine in any quarter, there is dangerous and unfaithful teaching.
There is withholding fundamental truth. And here it is in point to inquire: Is there not a failure in public teaching on this subject? Could there be so much dishonesty in business, so many frauds and rings, such unscrupulous methods of getting rich, such lies, such slanders in politics, and so much wrong in the business and political world, such detraction, such sham, and hypocrisy in the social world, if the doctrine of confession to injured parties and restitution were faithfully insisted upon by Christians and Christian teachers?
Could men use such dishonest means to obtain wealth if they were constantly reminded that they could not keep it without losing their souls? that if they get property dishonestly it must be restored to the injured parties or they can never be forgiven? If they get and office or anything else, that of right belongs to another, by dishonest means, it will cost them their souls unless they make confession and restitution, to the extent of their ability.
Is it not plain that the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ is misunderstood and abused? Is there not some force in the objection of Universalists, Unitarians, and skeptics that the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ is demoralizing in its influence and tends to embolden men in sin? Surely, there is danger of failing to make a just impression upon this subject.
It should be ever insisted upon that Christ, the tree of life, is forever inaccessible to a dishonest soul; that Christ is not the minister of sin; that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord”: that men cannot get rich by dishonest means, retain these riches, and still go to Heaven; that men cannot obtain wealth by selfish speculations, stock and other gambling, and find favor with God, without confession and restitution.
That men cannot lie their way into an office, that they cannot in any way filch from a neighbor that which belongs to him, whether it be property or good name, retain the wrong, refuse to make confession and restitution, and still find favor with God through Jesus Christ.
This would be to make Christ the minister of sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper.” In view of this doctrine, is it any wonder that there is so little real spiritual prosperity, so little true peace of mind, so little power in prayer, so little Christian enjoyment, so little unction and power in laboring for souls, among the great mass of professed Christians?
But can we not well afford to break up our fallow ground? Is it not dangerous to neglect it? Is it not disgraceful to neglect it? Is it not an inconsistency of which professors of religion ought to be ashamed? Is it not injurious and discouraging to the ministry? While the fallow ground is not broken up, the seed is sown among thorns, and it is easy to see why so much labor is expended in vain upon a worldly church.
The fact is, we cannot afford to be hard-hearted. While hard-hearted we are inappreciative. In this state of mind we cannot understand and appreciate the love of God in Christ. The Gospel falls upon dull ears and inappreciative minds, nothing is well understood, and infinitely the most interesting truths in the universe do not appear to be real. We go on dreamily, blindly, and in false security. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, the end whereof is the way of death.”
Brethren, we can well afford to break up our fallow ground, to repent and forsake our sins, make due confession and restitution, for God has promised that if we do this we shall find mercy, we shall be forgiven, we shall have peace of mind, we shall have joy in the Holy Ghost, we shall be justified by Christ through faith, we shall have power with God in prayer, we shall have power with men in labor for their souls, we shall prepare the way of the Lord, and see revivals spreading among the impenitent.
If the churches in this land will take this matter in hand and do up this work thoroughly in and among themselves, by the Holy Ghost, they will be prepared to offer prevailing prayer, and see a real and great revival spreading over the land, soundly converting thousands of souls to Christ. But let not this work be done superficially. Let it not be at all neglected in any part.
Brethren in the ministry, let us press this subject till the churches have thoroughly broken up their fallow ground. There is no safety in promoting what we call a revival, and receiving thousands of converts into the churches, where the fallow ground in the heart of the church is not broken up.