Delivered On Friday Evening, May 31, 1850
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, AMERICA,
At The Tabernacle, Moorfields.
“Now therefore, do not be mockers, lest your bonds be made strong; for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts, a destruction determined even upon the whole earth.” (Isaiah 28:22)
In speaking from these words, I propose to consider--
I. WHAT IS MOCKING?
II. SOME OF THE WAYS THAT PEOPLE MOCK GOD.
III. CALL ATTENTION TO SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF MOCKING GOD.
I. WHAT IS MOCKING?
The term to mock, scripturally, means to act hypocritically; to make false pretences or professions. We sometimes speak of having our hopes mocked, which means that our hopes are disappointed. To be a mocker is to be a hypocrite, to make false pretences, to lie. To mock God is to pretend to love and serve Him when we don’t; to act in a false manner, to be insincere and hypocritical in our professions, pretending to obey Him, pretending to love, serve, and worship Him, when we do not. Anything that amounts to insincerity is mockery. Anything that is only pretence, and does not represent the true state of your heart is mockery. The term, ‘to mock,’ means to dishonor. In this sense, it means that God is mocked by not being honored. As far as man is concerned, God is not truly dishonored. When the Bible says, “God is not mocked”, it really means that God cannot be dishonored, although individuals do things that would dishonor Him if He could be dishonored. I will now call your attention to--
II. SOME OF THE WAYS THAT PEOPLE MOCK GOD.
And here let me first say that if there is anything that is vitally important to us, it is that we truly understand what our true position is with God; whether we are or are not accepted by Him in the service that we render to Him. I must pass rapidly over these thoughts; and, therefore, I can’t do more than make suggestions, which I pray you will think over and study for yourselves.
1. We mock God when we enter the house of God claiming to be His servants, but we don’t have the true spirit of obedience, love, worship, and faith. Unless we are truly in an obedient state of mind, in the true spirit of devotion to His service, we mock Him by the very fact that we come into His house as worshippers. For example, what do we profess when we come to worship Him? It is very important that we understand what coming into God’s house and standing before Him as worshippers of God means. Why, in coming into God’s house you profess to be devoted to His interests, service, and glory; that in your heart, you are really God’s servant, and you come into His house to express what is in your heart. By this act, you claim to have an obedient spirit; that you love Him sincerely, have full confidence in Him, and submit to Him in the spirit of true worship.
Now, anyone who goes to the house of God without these feelings of humility, love, and obedience, is a mocker in the Biblical sense of the term. God asks you, “Who has required you to come and enter My courts without a true worshipping spirit, without the spirit of truth, real obedience, love, faith, repentance, devotion, and consecration to Me? Why have you come before Me as mere mockers, drawing near to Me with your lips, while your heart is far from Me?” Now, everyone who comes to the house of God as a worshipper professes, by his very act, that he possesses a spirit of devotion to God and a spirit of consecration to His service and glory.
2. Entering the house of God implies that either we already profess to be devoted to Him, or we came seeking how we can consecrate ourselves to Him and obey Him. The language of the real Christian is, “Let us go up to the house of God and ask what the Lord’s will is, so we may understand His will and do it. By the very act of coming to seek His will, we pledge ourselves to obey it when it is made known to us. If this is not true, what can it mean? Why do you visit God’s house? Let me ask you who say you are Christians, why do you come to God's house if it isn’t to learn His will that you might obey Him and do more to glorify Him? If this is not what’s on your mind, if this is not what you mean, then you are mockers. You are a hypocrite before God. Essentially, you are saying, “O God, I’m not coming to obey You, I’m not coming to seek Your will for my life so I can obey You. I’m only pretending to do this, for in my heart, I really don’t desire to obey Your will. I am pretending do what You want me to do.”
Suppose some of you here tonight fit this description. No one can deny that our intention is to meet to worship God, and the very fact that you came to such a meeting is surely a declaration that you want to be instructed in the will of the Lord, so you can obey Him and glorify His name. Now, isn’t this true? Why, yes it is! This is a meeting for God’s worship, for God to reveal His will to His people so they can obey it. Now, the very fact that you are all here must imply that you have pledged that when the Lord’s will is revealed, you will do it. The very fact that we come to God’s house implies that we come to worship God; that we appear before Him as obedient people determined in our hearts to do whatever He may tell us to do.
Now, let me ask, isn’t anything short of complying with the spirit of this pledge mocking God? Wouldn’t you feel mocked if others treated you the same way, if someone claimed they really liked you a lot, but as it turns out, they have no such feeling in their heart? Please understand, then, that all who meet to worship God, who are not willing in their heart to do whatever He commands them, are mockers. The more they are not in a right state of heart, the more they mock God, and all who come into such places and do not honestly intend to apply the truth and obey it themselves when they go out into the world, mock God. The very fact that they appear before Him implies that they mean to obey Him. If they don’t, they are mockers. Hear what the Lord said by the mouth of the prophet, “and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord’. So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32) These people wanted to make God believe that they planned to obey Him, and so they came out, sat before the prophet like people of God, listened attentively to His words, and professed to love and admire those words, but they would not do them.
Now, let me ask, what about us here tonight? Do we realize what our coming here means? Are we mocking God, or do we intend to redeem the pledge that we make to God here in this house?
3. Confessing sin without repentance is also mocking God. When people confess sin, they say they’re sorry that they ever committed sin. I suppose that every person in the act of confession says they’re sorry for sin. Surely, then, if there is such a thing as mocking God, it is this: confessing sin without repentance.
4. When people confess sin without forsaking their sins, they mock God. Who can doubt this?
5. We mock God by confessing sin and professing repentance for sin, without making restitution when we have done wrong. If we confess without repentance, without forsaking and without making restitution to those we have injured, of course we are mocking God in all of this. I know it is true that people are often quick to confess, but continue right on doing the same things anyway. Some people have a daily habit of confessing their sins, and then think that this is all they’re required to do. If you tell them that they are sinners and must seek repentance, they tell you, “But we confess our sins”! They confess that they are in a bad state of mind, that they don’t do what they’re supposed to do; that they do those things that they shouldn’t have done, and don’t do those things that they should do. They confess those things day after day and week after week, but never mean to forsake the sins that they confess they’re guilty of. Now, when people confess sin and don’t forsake it, and make restitution as far as they are able where they have done wrong, their confessions mock God. For what does confession mean? Repentance! What is repentance? Why, repentance is heart rejection of sin; and if our heart turns away from sin, our life must turn from sin, because our heart governs our external life. If our heart is right, our life will be right. By a necessary law of our being, this must be true. Now, where people repent of their sin, without forsaking sin and turning away from it, their repentance mocks God.
Now, from all this you can judge whether you are guilty of mocking God, whether you are hypocritical or not. In fact, you mock God if you confess sin and do not forsake and resist it, as we have seen. What are your views of sin in general? Do you confess sin in your closets? Do you confess your daily sins when you go to bed at night? If so, why do you do it? Do you intend to repent of your sins, or do you expect to continue to live just as you have lived? Do you confess your sins because you think doing it makes you safe? Now, all confessions of sin that do not come from the heart, from a penitent heart resolved on forsaking sin, are not only senseless, they are worse than senseless, much worse. In fact, they are mocking God.
6. All formal prayers that ask for things from mere custom mock God. Some people in their closets, if they are in the habit of closet prayer, will pray for things without thinking about what they say. They pray according to custom, they go around in circles, always asking for the same things without really thinking about it or knowing what they say. They get into the habit of going around in circles, saying the same things week after week and year after year. They have family worship, or an imitation of it. They keep up this custom, because they have a duty to perform. They think that it isn’t a good idea to neglect their prayers, as they call them. They never fail to have these so-called family devotions, but they pray without faith, without deep feeling, and without anything that should characterize prayer. It is all formal. Instead of coming from the depths of their heart, it’s only mere formal talk. Now, of course, conduct like this is mockery. People who act like this, instead of praying to God, shamefully mock Him. There is so much formality in the family worship that every member of the household can tell almost exactly what is going to be prayed for. Sometimes this same thing is seen in public assemblies also. Now, things like this mock God.
7. Again, let me say, all formal, general, insincere matters and stereotyped ways of doing things in public worship, that are done because they are accustomed to doing it, is mocking God. For example, congregations are in the habit of doing certain things in a certain order. Sing! Read! Pray! Sing! Preach! Sing! Dismiss! Now, this is all fine if these things are done in the proper spirit. But suppose a congregation falls into such a rut that they don’t enter into the spirit of the service, they mock God by their performance! For example, the minister reads the hymn and the people begin to sing; they are moved by the sound of the music, and as a result, they think that they are very religious. It is very common for people to think that they are very religious, because they become emotional when some mournful hymn is being sung. For many years before I was converted, I led the music in a public assembly. I often cried when singing; and frequently, my emotions were so deep that I used to take a self-righteous satisfaction in my feelings; but I was an unrepentant sinner and a mocker of God. This is common! Some people, who have been living in sin all day, and, having no plan to change, can sit down and sing God’s praises. Without truly being religious, and never having given their hearts to God at all, they will sing such lines as these--
“Had I a thousand hearts to give, Lord they should all be thine.”
Indeed! When you have not given Him the one heart you have! They will also sing--
"When I survey the wondrous cross..
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."
Who does not know that it is common for people to sing these hymns whose lives tell you that they aren’t devoted to God? And who will deny that this is mockery! Can there be a more solemn and horrible mockery than for a man with a wicked heart to sing such songs as these. Now, let me say, there is a lot of this in religious assemblies. And there is a lot of self-deception. I have often observed, in places where I have been since I have been in the ministry, that just in proportion as a congregation loses the spirit of true religion, the true spirit of prayer, the true spirit of zeal and devotion, they will spend their time singing. You call a prayer meeting to pray for sinners; but instead of praying, they will spend their time singing. They will sing as many long hymns as you want, but they pray very short and lifeless prayers. They will amuse themselves by singing hymns, because they can do that and yet go on in their worldly and sinful indulgences; but they don’t have the heart to pray. Repeatedly, I have known cases where meetings were called to pray for sinners, but those who met to pray spent most of their time singing. Instead of considering the guilt and danger of sinners, and beseeching the throne of God in their behalf, instead of calling mightily on God to grab a hold of them and save them, they spent their time singing long hymns. Indeed, it is universally true, that professing Christians will sing in proportion to their lack of spiritual life. Ask them to pray, and they would rather sing, and by so doing, they frequently deceive themselves. I have seen so much mocking God in singing that when I pick up my hymnbook, I’ve been afraid to read a hymn for the congregation to sing, lest they should mock God. When I have known the state they were in, and had reason to believe most of them were in a state of spiritual death, I asked, Can you honestly sing this? Can you dare you sing that? Shall we quench the Holy Ghost in our hearts, and drive Him from the assembly? Now, congregations very frequently, and professing Christians also, in singing, often grieve and quench the Holy Spirit of God. If the heart does not mean what the lips express, you mock God.
8. People often mock God at the communion table. What do they profess when they come to the communion table? Don’t they profess to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ? Don’t they profess by this act to pledge themselves to Him? And is this always the attitude that they bring to the communion table? Isn’t it true, that many formally come to the table of the Lord because they dare not stay away, and thus mock God. Suppose you come with enmity and malignity in your heart towards any of your brethren, or with an awareness of having oppressed and injured those whom you may employ, without having made restitution, don’t you mock God, and grieve the Holy Spirit? Yes, you do! Although this is one of the most exalted means of grace, people receiving communion with an improper state of mind and heart so often abuse it! Thus, they mock God, and bring leanness into their own souls.
9. People often mock God in claiming to give thanks for His mercies. How often is giving thanks simply a matter of form? Once, I remember having a note put into my hands by the deacon of a church where I was preaching, requesting me to return thanks for some person who had been ill. I found this was a common custom, for the request was partly in print. What was I to do? I did not know if this person was sincere; I did not know if he was a Christian. Must I tell God that this individual came to thank Him for His mercies when it might not be true? What could I do? Was I to do as I was asked because it was a custom? Was I to play the hypocrite in the presence of God and the congregation?
And yet, how often do ministers conform to this custom when there is reason to believe that the person for whom the thanks are requested has no gratitude in their heart at all. Now, it is true that a congregation may thank God themselves, although the individual for whom the thanks are returned does not mean it; nevertheless, I have quivered sometimes when such things have been thrown at me. I have been afraid to return thanks for individuals. I have asked myself, “How can I dare appear before God with something that is a mere matter of form or custom”? Now, I am not finding fault with people for returning thanks, for I think it is wise and proper to recognize the hand of God in everything. Everybody should do so, but let us beware lest we lie to the Holy Ghost, who requires truth in our inward parts, and hates that which does not come from the heart.
10. People often mock God when they publicly consecrate their children to Him in baptism, and especially with certain forms of consecration. Sponsors, who we often call godfathers and godmothers, pledge themselves before high heaven on behalf of children, that they will make sure they grow up as Christians, and perhaps never see them again. What awful and intolerable pretence is this to make before a heart-searching God! If those who do not adhere to these forms profess to bring their children to God and dedicate them to Him in baptism, and yet don’t realize the importance of the act, they are in danger of bringing on themselves and their children the punishment that God will inflict on those who mock Him.
11. All mere compliance with custom in private or public worship; to say and do things because they are customarily said and done, is mocking God.
12. Reciting the Lord's Prayer from beginning to end is often a mockery. I’m sure you are all aware of this! We now come to notice, very briefly--
III. SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF MOCKING GOD.
The Bible says, in the words of our scripture, “Now therefore, do not be mockers, lest your bonds be made strong”. What does this mean?
1. Mocking God grieves the Holy Spirit, and sears the conscience; and thus the bondage of sin becomes stronger and stronger. The heart slowly hardens by such a process. Why shouldn’t it? Why shouldn’t trifling with divine things fearfully harden the heart? When individuals accustom themselves to saying things without meaning them, the result is that they come to disbelieve in them altogether, and their hearts become hard and callous to the invitations of the Gospel.
2. And not only does the bondage of sin become strong, but their delusion becomes strong. Their minds become so darkened that they lose all sense of what is true, spiritual, and good concerning religion, the Bible, and everything else. If I had time I might share some facts on this subject, that I have observed, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m sure most of you have witnessed the dreadful results of formal religion, where hearts become hardened, and the mind becomes blind to all that is true. Things that would affect the ungodly do not affect them at all. For example, if you can get an infidel to go away by himself and pray, he will find it a very solemn and awful business to speak to God; and will be impressed ten times more than the man who has for years been mocking God by his formal religion, and pretending to pray all his life. Men become gospel-hardened by mocking God. They mock God until the truth of God no longer affects them. Their hearts have become so dead and their consciences so stupefied, that when God’s voice calls on men to repent, it goes right past them without affecting them in the least.
3. They will get into such a state, and their darkness becomes so great, that they think and profess that they are doing their duty, when they are only mocking God by their heartless formality. And, of course, the more such people multiply their works, the more are they harden in sin. Who doesn’t know this? Formalists are the most hardened people, because they mock God the most. It is always true, that the more they do things formally, the more they become hardened in sin before God.
A few remarks will close what I have to say.
Stereotyped forms tend to divert the mind from a true idea of religion. I have found that all formal worship must, from the very nature of formal worship, tend to make men formalists, and blind their minds to the true idea of the spirituality of religion. For example, what true idea of prayer does one have who reads his prayer from a book? What is prayer? Why, prayer is the language of the heart, coming to God to supply its needs; like a little child coming to her parents for something that she desires. The child comes to her parent and asks because she wants something, and knows where she can get what she wants. Now, suppose a child, when she wants a piece of bread, should read a prayer to her parent, without the word bread being mentioned in it; or if it was mentioned, it is mentioned at the end, she must read the entire prayer before she gets to it, and thus present her petition to her parent.
Prayer is the language of the heart addressed to God. It is the language of those who need something from God. Now, suppose prayer should be regarded in any other light. A person begins to use formal words that he calls prayer, because he thinks it is his duty. Why, he loses the true idea of prayer altogether. This is how people often lose all true idea of religion and spiritual worship. This is the way it was with the Jewish nation. They lost the true idea of religion in their mountain of forms and ceremonies.
Without great care, we can easily fall into the sin of insincerity. Be honest with God in your closet. I am convinced that much of the backsliding we witness, is caused by insincerity in private devotion. If anyone is not honest with God in private, he won’t be honest in public, and so his mind and soul will become ruined and alienated from God. It is only right and proper that every time we meet together for public worship, the minister should offer public prayer to God, but it should never be an insincere prayer, for if the minister lives near to God, as he should, he will always find plenty to say. Yes, more than he could say if he were to talk from morning until night. And if he doesn’t walk with God, he would be better off saying nothing at all, and not insult and grieve the Spirit of God by using language that is not dictated by the heart.
From what has been said, you can see how some leaders in religious services have become so excessively hardened. I have known some of these leaders so cold and callous, even in the midst of a revival, that the truth never touches them at all. Now, there is nothing that will so quickly blast and destroy the spirituality and prosperity of any Church, as leaders like these running the Church. May the Lord deliver us from such.
People should beware of anything formal in their family worship. I know that some people think forms are better than nothing in a family, but I don't believe it. I am confident that nothing tends so much to ruin a family. It will make the children despise religion, and become hardened to its influence.
My beloved brethren, how is it with you, you that profess to be Christians? Are you honest with God; does He know that you are honest? Do you confess that sometimes you are not, and do you ask what you should do when you do not feel that you are in the spirit of prayer? Why, begin right there, and tell God that you don’t have the spirit of prayer. At least it is true; and it is a place where you can begin. Maybe you don't feel right. Then tell God that. Are you not in the spirit of prayer? Tell Him that! If you want the Holy Spirit, tell Him that! If you have sinned, confess that! Be honest, and make no pretence whatever. Let sincerity be the habit of your life, and you will always have something to say to God; your love, faith, and devotion will be strengthened, and your soul blessed. If you are honest with God, you will always find Him honest with you!
Several years ago, I met a young man who was studying for the ministry. This young man, soon after he had completed his college course, became the subject of a very strong conviction that much of his religious profession had been nothing but a mockery. One night he went to bed, and after having put out the light and laid down in the bed, he was very much surprised to see the room re-lighted. He sat up in the bed and looked to see where the light came from. He perceived a person in the room looking very earnestly at him, standing at the foot of the bed. In a few moments, the whole light of the room concentrated itself into a single eye, and that eye was fixed intensely on him. He trembled violently, and was in a state of dreadful agony. The eye continued to stare at him, looking him through and through, searching his very thoughts. He never forgot this searching; it so completely subdued him, that he came to be one of the most holiest and devoted ministers I ever knew. One of the deacons wrote to me a short time ago, and said, “Mr. Hopkins is gone to heaven; we want someone to fill his place, but we can’t expect another Mr. Hopkins”. Now, he became what he was, because the Spirit searched him and revealed his heart to himself. Oh, that the Spirit would search every one of us! Let Him begin with me! Brethren, pray that my heart may be searched; that the hearts of all you ministers may be searched; that your own hearts may be searched. Pray that God may search us all, that we may be mercifully kept from mocking God, lest our bonds be made strong.