Moral Insanity
By Charles G. Finney

Edited for the modern reader by
L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.
Copyright 1996
All Rights Reserved

"The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live"
Ecclesiastes 9:3.


The Bible often ascribes one common heart or disposition to unconverted people. It always makes only two classes of the human race--saints and sinners. Saints are converted from their sin and have become God's real friends. Sinners remain His unconverted enemies. According to the Bible, therefore, the heart of all unrenewed people is the same in its general character.

In the days of Noah, God testified, "that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Observe, He speaks of the thought of their heart, as if they had one common heart--all alike in moral character. Likewise, by the Apostle Paul, God testifies that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). He does not testify of one person, or of a few, but of all who have a carnal mind. So in our text, the phraseology is expressive: "the heart of the sons of men is full of evil;" as if the sons of men had but one heart--all in common--and this one heart were "full of evil." You will notice this affirmation is not made of one or two people, nor of some people merely, but "of the sons of men," as if of them all.

The Meaning of Madness in Their Heart

What does God intend by affirming, "madness is in their heart while they live?"

This is the madness of insanity, not of anger. True, sometimes people are mad with anger, but this is not the sense of our text. The Bible, as well as customary speech, employs the term "madness" to express insanity. This is the sense here.

Insanity is of two kinds: of the head and of the heart. In the former, the intellect is disordered. In the latter, the will and voluntary powers are disordered.

Intellectual insanity destroys moral agency. The person who is intellectually insane is not, for the time, a moral agent. Moral responsibility is suspended because he cannot know his duty and he cannot choose responsibly to do or not do it. True, when a person makes himself temporarily insane, as by drunkenness, the courts are obliged to hold him responsible for his acts committed in that state. However, the guilt really attached to the voluntary act which created the insanity. A person who gets intoxicated by intelligently drinking what he knows is intoxicating, must be held responsible for his acts during the ensuing intoxication. The reason for this is that he can foresee the danger and can easily avoid it.

The general law is that as long as the intellect retains its usual power moral obligation remains unimpaired.

On the other hand, moral insanity is "will-madness." The person retains his intellectual powers unimpaired, but he sets his heart fully to do evil. He refuses to yield to the demands of his conscience. In practical ways, he discards the obligations of moral responsibility. He has the powers of free moral agency, but persistently abuses them. He has a reason which affirms obligation, but he refuses obedience to its affirmations. In this form of insanity, the reason remains unimpaired, but the heart deliberately disobeys.

The insanity spoken of in our test is moral--insanity of the heart. By the "heart" is meant the will--the voluntary power. While the person is intellectually sane, he acts as if he were intellectually insane.

It is important to point out some of the manifestations of this state of mind. Since the Bible affirms it to be a fact that sinners are mad in heart, we may naturally expect to see some manifestations of it. It is often striking to see how perfectly the Bible daguerreotypes human character. Has it done so in reference to this point? Let us see.

Who Are The Morally Insane

Those who, not being intellectually insane, yet ACT as if they were, are morally insane.

For example, those who are intellectually insane treat fiction as if it were reality, and reality as if it were fiction. They act as if truth were not truth, and as if falsehood were true. Everyone knows that insane people actually follow the wild dreams of their own fancy as if they were the most stern reality. They can scarcely be made to feel the force of anything truly real.

So those in their sins treat the realities of the spiritual world as if they were not real. They follow the most empty phantoms of this world as if they were stern realities.

They also act as if self were of supreme importance, and everything else of relatively no importance. Suppose you were to see a person acting this out in common life. He goes round day after day assuming that he is the Supreme God. In everyday practical ways he insists that everyone ought to have a supreme regard to his rights, and comparitively little or no regard for other people's rights. Now, if you saw a person saying this and acting it out, would you not account him either a blasphemer or insane?

Now observe this incredible fact: while wicked people talk sensibly and show they know better, they act as if all this were true--as if their own self-interest were more important than everything else in the universe, and that God's interests and rights were nothing in comparison. In many practical ways, every sinner does this. It is an essential element in all sin. Selfish people never regard the rights of anybody else, unless they are in some way linked with their own.

If wicked people really believed their own rights and interests were supreme in the universe, this would prove they were intellectually insane. We would hasten to shut them up in the nearest mad-house. When they show that they know better, yet act on this groundless assumption in the face of their better knowledge, we say, with the Bible, "madness is in their hearts while they live."

See how this madness is manifested in the sinner's relative estimate of time and eternity. His whole manner of life declares that in his view it is far more important to secure the good of time than of eternity. Yet, if a person should reason thus--should argue to prove and soberly assert it--you would know he was insane, and you would help him to the madhouse.

Now, suppose he does not say this and he knows it is not true. Yet, he constantly acts it out. He lives on the assumption of its truth. What then? Simply this--he is morally mad. Madness is in his heart.

This is the practice of everyone who lives in sin. You give the preference to time over eternity. You practically say, "O give me the joys of time. Why should I trouble myself yet about the trivial matters of eternity?"

In the same spirit, the sinner assumes that the body is more important than the soul. But if a person affirmed this and went around trying to prove it, you would know he was insane. If he were a friend of yours, how your heart would break for his sad misfortune--reason lost! If he knew better, yet practically lived as if it were so, you would say he is morally insane.

Suppose you see a person destroying his own property, not by accident or mistake, but deliberately. He is injuring his own health, as if he had no cure for his own interests. You might bring his case before a judge and sue out a commission of lunacy against him. Under this, his goods would be taken out of his own control and he would no longer be allowed to squander them. Yet, in spiritual things, the wicked deliberately act against their own dearest interests. Given money to get wisdom, they will not use it. Having the treasures of heaven placed within their reach, they do not try to secure them. With an infinite wealth of blessedness extended for the mere acceptance, they will not take it as a gift. Indeed! How plain it is. If people acted in temporal things they way they do in spiritual, everyone would pronounce them insane. They would say, "See; the man acts against his own interests in everything! Who can deny that he is insane? Certainly sane men never do this!"

But, in moral questions, the wicked seem to take the utmost pains to subvert their own interests. They make themselves insolvent forever! O, how they beggar their souls, when they might have had the riches of heaven.

The wicked endeavor to realize manifest impossibilities. For example, they try to make themselves happy in their sin and selfishness. Yet, they know they cannot do it. Ask them, and they will admit it is utterly impossible. Yet, in spite of this conviction, they keep up the effort perpetually. They keep trying, as if they expected eventually to achieve an obvious impossibility.

Now, in moral things, it may not strike you as especially strange, for it is exceedingly common. But suppose, in matters of the world, you were to see a person doing the same sort of thing. What would you think of him? For example, you see him working hard to build a very long ladder. You ask him what for. He says, "I am going to scale the moon." You see him expending his labor and money to get up a mammoth ladder with which to scale the moon! Would you not say, "He is certainly insane"? For, unless he were really insane, he would know it is an utter impossibility.

But, in spiritual things, people are all the time trying to achieve a result at least equally impossible--that of being happy in sin, happy with a mutiny among their own constitutional powers, happy with their heart at war against their reason and conscience. The pursuit of happiness in sin is as if a person were seeking to bless himself by mangling his own flesh, digging out his own eyes, knocking out his teeth. Yet, people as really know they cannot obtain happiness in sin and selfishness, as they know they cannot ensure health and comfort by mutilating their own flesh and tearing their own nerves in sunder. Doing thus madly what they know will always defeat and never ensure real happiness, they show themselves to be morally insane.

Another manifestation of intellectual insanity is loss of confidence in one's best friends. Often this is one of the first and most painful evidences of insanity. The poor man believes that his dearest friends are set to ruin him. No amount of evidence can persuade him to think they are his real friends.

Just so, sinners in their madness treat God this way. While they inwardly know He is their real friend, they practically treat Him as their worst enemy. No motives will persuade them to confide in Him as their friend. In fact, they treat Him as if He were the greatest liar in the universe. Incredible to tell, in practical ways they reverse the regard they owe God and Satan. They treat Satan as if he were God, and God as if He were Satan. They believe and obey Satan. They disown, dishonor, and disobey God. How strangely they reverse the order of things! They would enthrone Satan over the universe and give him the highest seat in heaven. The Almighty and holy God they would send to hell. They do not hesitate to surrender to Satan the place of power over their own hearts which is due to God only.

I have already noticed the fact that insane people treat their best friends as if they were their worst enemies, and that this is often the first proof of insanity. If a husband, he will have it that his dear wife is trying to poison him. I recollect the first case of real insanity I ever saw. For that reason, perhaps, it made a strong impression on my mind. I was riding on horseback and came near a house. I noticed a chamber window was open and I heard a most unearthly cry. As soon as I came near enough to catch the words, I heard a most wild, imploring voice, "Stranger, stranger, come here. Here is the great whore of Babylon. They are trying to kill me. They will kill me." I dismounted and went up to the house. There, I found a man shut up in a cage and complaining most bitterly about his wife. As I turned toward her I saw she looked sad, as if a load of grief lay heavy on her heart. A tear trembled in her eye. Alas, her dear husband was a maniac! At that moment, I first learned how the insane are prone to regard their best friends.

Now, sinners know better of God and their other real friends. Yet, they commonly treat Him in precisely this way. As though they went out in public and cried, "Hello, there, all of you. Be it known to you that God is an almighty tyrant! He is not fit to be trusted or loved!"

Everybody knows that sinners treat God this way practically. They regard the service of God, Christianity, as if it were inconsistent with their real and highest happiness. I have often met with sinners who seemed to think that every attempt to make them Christians was a scheme to take them in and sell them into slavery. By no means do they estimate Christianity as if it came forth from a God of love. Practically, they treat the Christian faith as if it would be their ruin. Yet, in all this, they act utterly against their own convictions. They know better. If they did not, their guilt would be exceedingly small compared with what it is.

Another remarkable manifestation of insanity is being greatly excited about trifles and apathetic about the most important matters in the universe. Suppose you see a person excited about straws and pebbles taking unwearied pains to gather them into heaps and store them away as treasures. Yet, when a fire breaks out around his dwelling and the village is in flames, he takes no notice of it. He feels no interest. Or, people may die on every side with the plague, but he takes no heed. Would you not say, "He must be insane"? But this is precisely true of sinners. They are almost infinitely excited about worldly good; straws and pebbles compared with God's proffered treasures. But, O, how apathetic about the most momentous events in the universe! The vast concerns of their souls scarcely stir up one earnest thought. If they did not know better, you would say, "Certainly, their reason is dethroned." But since they do know better, you cannot say less than, "They are morally insane; madness is in their heart while they live." P> The conduct of the unrepentant is the perfection of irrationality. When you see it as it is, you will get a more just and vivid idea of irrationality than you can get from any other source. You see this in the ends to which they devote themselves, and in the means which they employ to secure them. All is utterly unreasonable. An goal madly chosen, sought by means madly devised; this is the life-history of the masses who reject God. If this were the result of wrong intellectual judgments, we would say at once that the person had gone made.

Bedlam itself affords no higher evidence of intellectual insanity than every sinner does of moral. You may go to Columbus, Ohio, and visit every room occupied by the inmates of the Lunatic Asylum. You cannot find one insane person who gives higher evidence of intellectual insanity than every sinner does of moral. If bedlam itself furnishes evidence that its bedlamites are crazy, intellectually; so does every sinner that he is mad, morally.

Sinners act as if they were afraid they should be saved. Often they seem to be trying to make their salvation as difficult as possible. For example, they all know what Christ has said about the danger of riches and the difficulty of saving rich men. They have read from His lips, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." This they know. Yet, how many of them are in a mad haste to be rich! For this end, some are ready to sacrifice their conscience--some their health--all seem ready, deliberately, to sacrifice their souls! How could they more certainly ensure their own damnation! Thus, they regard damnation as if it were salvation, and salvation as if it were damnation. They rush upon damnation as if it were heaven, and flee salvation as if it were hell.

Is this exaggeration? No. This is only the simple truth. Sinners press down the way to hell as if it were the chief good of their existence, and shun the way to heaven as if it were the consummation of evil. If you are a sinner, this is your moral state. The picture gives only the naked facts of the case, without exaggeration.

Moral insanity is a state of unmingled wickedness. The special feature of it which makes it a guilty state is that it is altogether voluntary. It results not from the loss of reason, but from the abuse of reason. The will persists in acting against reason and conscience. In spite of the affirmations of reason, and reckless of the admonitions of conscience, the sinner presses on in his career of rebellion against God and goodness. In such voluntary wickedness there must be intrinsic guilt.

Besides, this action is often deliberate. People sin in their cool, deliberate moments, as well as in their excited moments. If they sin overtly and boldly in their excited moments they do not repent and change their position toward God in their deliberate moments. They virtually endorse the hasty purposes of their more excited hours. This heightens their guilt.

Again, the sinner's purposes are obstinate and unyielding. In ten thousand ways, God is bringing influences to bear on his mind to change his purposes, but usually in vain. This career of sin is in violation of all his obligations. Who does not know this? The sinner never acts from right motives--never yields to the sway of a sense of obligation--never practically recognizes his obligation to love his neighbor as himself or to honor the Lord his God. It is a total rejection of both God's law and Gospel. The law he will not obey; the Gospel of pardon he will not accept. He seems determined to brave the Omnipotence of Jehovah, and dare His vengeance. Is he not mad upon his idols? Is it saying too much when the Bible affirms, "Madness is in their heart while they live?"


Sinners strangely accuse saints of being mad and crazy. As soon as Christians begin to act as if the truth they believe is reality, the wicked cry out, "See, they are getting crazy." Yet those very sinners admit the Bible to be true, and admit those things which Christians believe as true to be really so. And, further still, they admit that those Christians are doing only what they ought to do, and only as themselves ought to act. Yet, they charge them with insanity. It is curious that even these sinners know these Christians are the only rational people on the earth. I can well recollect that I saw this plainly before my conversion. I knew then that Christians were the only people in the world who had any valid claim to be deemed sane.

If intellectual insanity is a shocking fact, how much more so is moral? I have referred to my first impressions at the sight of one who was intellectually insane, but a case of moral insanity ought to be deemed far more afflictive and astounding. Suppose the case of a Webster. His brain becomes softened. He is an idiot! There is not a man in all the land who would feel solemn. What! Daniel Webster, that great man, an idiot! How have the mighty fallen! What a horrible sight!

But how much more horrible to see him a moral idiot, to see a selfish heart run riot with the clear decisions of his gigantic intellect, to see his moral principles fading away before the demands of selfish ambition, to see such a man become a drunkard, a debauchee, a loafer. If this were to occur in a Daniel Webster, how impressively shocking! Intellectual idiocy is not to be named in the comparison!

Although some sinners may be externally fair, and may seem to be amiable in temper and character, yet every real sinner is actually insane. In view of all these solemnities of eternity, he insists on being controlled only by the things of time. With the powers of an angel, he does not aim above the low pursuits of a selfish heart. How must angels look on such a case! Eternity so vast, and its issues so dreadful, yet the sinner drives furiously on toward hell as if he were on the high road to heaven! And all this only because he is infatuated with the pleasures of sin for a season. At first glance, he seems to have mistaken hell for heaven; but, on closer examination, you see it is no real mistake of the intellect. He knows very well the difference between hell and heaven, but he is practically deluding himself under the impulses of his mad heart! The mournful fact is, he loves sin, and after that he will go! Alas, alas! So insane, he rushes greedily on his own damnation, just as though he were pursuing heaven!

We shudder at the thought that any of our friends are becoming idiotic or lunatic. But this is not half as bad as having one of them become wicked. Better have a whole family become idiotic than one of them become a hardened sinner. Indeed, the former, compared with the latter, is as nothing. For the idiot shall not always be so. When this mortal is laid in the grave, the soul may look out again in the free air of liberty, as if it had never been immured in a dark prison. The body, raised again, may bloom in eternal vigor and beauty. But, alas, moral insanity only waxes worse and worse forever! The root of this being not in a diseased brain, but in a diseased heart and soul. Death cannot cure it. The resurrection will only raise him to shame and everlasting contempt; and the eternal world will only give scope to his madness to rage on with augmented vigor and wider sweep forever.

Some are more afraid of being called insane than of being called wicked. Surely they show the fatal delusion that is on their hearts.

Intellectual insanity is only pitiable, not disgraceful. Moral insanity is unspeakably disgraceful. None need wonder that God said, "Some shall arise to shame and everlasting contempt."

Conversion to God is becoming morally sane. It consists in restoring the will and the affections to the just control of the intelligence, the reason, and the conscience, so as to put the person once more in harmony with himself--all his faculties adjusted to their true positions and proper functions.

Sometimes people who have been converted, but not well established, will backslide into moral insanity. Just as persons sometimes relapse into intellectual insanity, after being apparently quite restored. This latter situation is a sad case, and brings sorrow upon the hearts of friends. Yet, in no case can it be so sad as a case of backsliding into moral insanity.

An intellectual bedlam is a mournful place. How can the heart of any human sensibility contemplate such a scene without intense grief? Take note, as you pass through an asylum, the traces of intellectual ruin. There is a noble-looking woman, perfectly insane. There is a man of splendid mien and bearing--all in ruins! How awful! Then, if this be so, what a place is hell! These intellectual bedlams are awful. How much more the moral bedlam!

Suppose we go to Columbus and visit the Lunatic Ayslum. Go around to all its wards and study the case of each inmate. Then we go to Indiana, to New York, and so through all the asylums of each State. Then we visit London and its asylums, where we may find as many insane as in all our Union. Would not this be a mournful scene? Would you not cry out long before we had finished, "Enough! Enough! How can I bear these sights of mad men! How can I endure to behold such desolation!"

Suppose we go next to the great moral bedlam of the universe--to the hell of lost souls; for if men will make themselves mad, God must shut them up in one vast bedlam-cell. Why should He not? The well-being of His empire demands that all the moral insanity of His kingdom should be withdrawn from the society of the holy, and shut up alone and apart. There are those whose intellects are right, but whose hearts are all wrong. Ah, what a place must that be in which to spend one's eternity! The great moral mad-house of the universe!

Sometimes sinners here, aware of their own moral insanity, get glimpses of this fearful state. I recollect that, at one time, I got this idea that Christians are the only persons who can claim to be rational; and then I asked myself, "Why should I think so? Would it hurt me to obey God? Would it ruin my peace, or damage my prospects for either this life or the next? Why do I go on so?" I said to myself, "I can give no account of it, only that I am mad. All that I can say is that my heart is set on iniquity, and will not turn."

Alas, poor maniac! Not unfortunate, but wicked! How many of you know that this is your real case? If you are a young man, did your father think you were sane when he sent you to college? Ah, you were so intellectually, perhaps, but not morally. As to your moral nature and functions, all was utterly deranged. My dear young friend, does your own moral course commend itself to your conscience and your reason? If not, what are you but a moral maniac? Young man, young woman, must you in truth write yourselves down moral maniacs?

Finally, the subject shows the importance of not quenching the Spirit. This is God's agency for the cure of moral maniacs. If you put out His light from your souls, there remains to you only the blackness of darkness forever! A young man in Lane Seminary, just dying in his sins, cried, "Why did you not tell me there is such a thing as eternal damnation? Weld, why did not you tell me?" "I did." "Oh, I am going there--how can I die so? It's growing dark; bring in a light!" And so he passed away from this world of light and hope!

O sinner, take care that you do not put out the light which God has cast into your dark heart, lest, when you pass away it shall grow dark to your soul at midday--the opening into the blackness of darkness forever.

For permission to reprint please contact L.G. Parkhurst, Jr. at:

For more sermons by Charles G. Finney, see his "Principles Series"--Alphabetical Listing<
Compiled and edited by L. G. Parkhurst, Jr.
published by
Bethany House Publishers
6820 Auto Club Road
Minneapolis, MN 55438

Principles of Prayer, 1980: with German translation
Principles of Victory, 1981: with German and Korean translations
Principles of Liberty, 1983
Answers To Prayer, 1983: with Chinese and Danish translations
Principles of Holiness, 1984: used as textbook at Yale University
Principles of Union with Christ, 1985
Principles of Love, 1986
Principles of Sanctification, 1986
Principles of Devotion, 1987
Principles of Revival, 1987
Principles of Discipleship, 1988
Principles of Faith, 1988
Principles of Salvation, 1989
Principles of Christian Obedience, 1990
Principles of Consecration, 1990.

L. G. Parkhurst, Jr., Pastor
Bethel Congregational Church
P.O. Box 571
Edmond, Oklahoma 73083