I am reading the great revivalist, Charles Finney’s, lectures about revival. Finney lived and preached and prayed until his death in 1875, before which he led the Second Great Awakening, a revival that swept through America and saw hundreds of thousands come to know Christ. It has been said of Finney that just the sight of him would cause people to fall to their knees and repent to God for having been in the presence of such a holy man. His work continues to point people to Jesus today, including myself, as evidenced by the page dedicated on this blog to showcasing the pre-revival work he would require to be done, which changed my life when I did it myself.
In my reading last night I came upon a couple phrases I was unfamiliar with in large part because Finney is writing in the 19th century and the meanings of words often change. He was talking about the “love of complacency” and “disinterested benevolence” and in the context they both sounded like good things, though different. After Googling it I found a great article that explains all of it in great detail (and it’s worth reading!). At the risk of messing it up, Finney distinguishes between 2 types of love God has for us. One is a selfless love of “benevolence” which seeks to see the whole world saved. It’s the sort of love which compelled God to send His Son into the world. The other, however is a love God has reserved for those who walk in righteousness, who strive to walk holy, as He is holy. This is the love of “complacency” or, in 21st century language, “approval” and “friendship.” Jesus said, “You are my friends if you obey my commands” (John 15:14).
This distinction – between the general benevolence of God to all and the particular love of God towards some – rocked my world a few years ago and was the thing I fought against most in my transformation. My sin blinded me to God’s holiness for so many years that it became necessary, and easy, to believe the love of God was uniform and universal, in spite of my sin. I remember saying in an interview once, “If God has loved and saved me, and knowing the mess I am, then surely everyone must be loved and saved!” How I presumed upon God’s love! I was guilty of the charge Paul lays out in Romans 2:4ff…
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
I was silenced, shut-up, by God’s word. The only way out was for me to confess that I did not truly love God with the love of “complacency” but merely one of “benevolence.” I was not truly known by God as a friend, but only in a general sense, in the same way God loves all the world. When I confessed this – when the truth became clear to me – my heart’s cry then and still today is that I would be known and loved by God as a friend! And what a joy it is to know God as friend!
When you come to know this particular love of God reserved for His friends you know what it means to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh. You begin to see the difference between a walk that was enabled by God’s kindness, which was for the purpose of leading you to true repentance, and a walk that is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, which is reserved for the “children of God.” And this is not a spirit of fear, but one of adoption, by whom we are able to cry out “Daddy! Father!” (see Rom. 8:9, 13-17), and through Whom we are able to crucify the flesh, live free from the sin that has enslaved us, and be used by God as instruments of righteousness (see Rom. 6:5-14).
Below are the concluding remarks from the article I referenced above about Finney. I recommend reading it in it’s entirety, but here is a snippet:
It is the grand truth in the study of God, that “God is love”(1John 4:8). And, anyone who professes to know God, while walking disobediently, exhibits neither disinterested benevolence nor the love of complacency toward God or man. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not grievous” (5:3). The essential or fundamental difference between disinterested benevolence and the love of complacency, is that disinterested benevolence is owed to all without regard to character, i.e., “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life”(John 3:16), while the love of complacency is due only those who are holy or lovingly obedient, i.e., “He that hath My Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him”(14:21).
The danger of confusing these terms that Charles G. Finney labored his life to teach the Philadelphian Church of the 1800’s, is that:
(1) The Ungodly will claim that, if the God who is love died for the world, then all men will be universally saved, e.g., Universalism. But, that would be to neglect the paramount truth that only those who “believe on the LORD Jesus Christ” shall “be saved”(Acts 16:31), because that only is the “faith which worketh by love”(Galatians 5:6).
(2) The Backslidden will maintain that obedience to the Moral Law is not only unnecessary for salvation, and that, outright disobedience to the same Moral Law does not separate us from the love of God. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear”(Isaiah 59:2). It would be the same as if they advocated that it is unnecessary to love God with all your heart– as demanded by the Moral Law (Matthew 22:36-40)– in order to be saved, i.e., “But if any man love God, the same is known of Him”(1Corinthians 8:3). Further, they would be purposely obscuring the fact that “whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not”(1John 3:6), and that “if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth”(1:6). And,
(3) The Honest But Ignorant Saints will become so confused by an improper understanding of the love of God, that they will often find themselves falling back into sin, making little headway in their Christian walk, while finding their pace to be much like the Laodicean Church around them. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the Oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat”(Hebrews 5:12).