The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)IV.
Different senses in which God purposes different events.
1. The great end of all his works and ways he must have purposed positively, that is, absolutely. This end, namely his own good and the highest good of the universe, he set his heart upon securing. This end he no doubt properly intended, or purposed to secure. This must have been his ultimate intention or purpose. This end was no doubt a direct object of choice.
2. God must no doubt also, in some sense, have purposed all the necessary means to this result. Such actions as tended naturally, or on account of their own nature, to this result, he must have purposed positively, in the sense that he delighted in them, and chose them because of their own nature, or of their natural relation to the great end he proposed to accomplish by them. Observe, the end was an ultimate end, delighted in and chosen for its own sake. This end was the highest good or well-being of himself and the universe of sentient existences. This has been sufficiently shown in former lectures; and besides it follows of necessity from the nature and attributes of God. If this were not so, he would be neither wise nor good. Since he delighted in and chose the end for its own sake or value, and purposed it with a positive purpose, he must also have chosen and delighted in the necessary means. He must have created the universe, both of matter and of mind, and established its laws, with direct reference to, and for the sake of, the end he purposed to accomplish. The end was valuable in itself, and chosen for that reason. The necessary means were as really valuable as the end which depended upon them. This value, though real, because of their tendency and natural results, is not ultimate, but relative; that is, they are not, in the same sense that the end is, valuable in themselves; but they being the necessary means to this end, are as really valuable as the end that depends upon them. Thus our necessary food is not valuable in itself, but is the necessary means of prolonging our lives. Therefore, though not an ultimate good, yet it is a real good of as great value, as the end that naturally depends upon it. The naturally necessary means of securing a valuable end we justly esteem as equally valuable with the end, although this value is not absolute but relative. We are so accustomed to set a value on the means, equal to the estimated importance of the end to which they sustain the relation of necessary means, that we come loosely to regard and to speak of them as valuable in themselves, when in fact their value is not absolute but relative.
God must have purposed to secure, so far as he wisely could, obedience to the laws of the universe, both physical and moral. These laws were established for the sake of the end to which they tended, and obedience to them must have been regarded by God as of real, though not ultimate, value, equal to that of the end, for the accomplishment of which they were ordained. He must have delighted in obedience to these laws for the sake of the end, and must have purposed to secure this obedience so far as he could in the nature of things; that is, in so far as he wisely could. Since moral law is a rule for the government of free moral agents, it is conceivable, that, in some cases, this law might be violated by the subjects of it, unless God resorted to means to prevent it, that might introduce an evil of greater magnitude than the violation of the law in the instances under consideration would be. It is conceivable, that, in some cases, God might be able so to overrule a violation of his laws, physical and moral, as upon the whole to secure a greater good than could be secured, by introducing such a change into the policy and measures of his administration, or so framing his administration, as to prevent altogether the violation of any law. God might, and no doubt does, prefer that every creature should, in the precise circumstances in which he is placed, obey all the laws of his being. But if, under these circumstances, voluntary agents will in any case disobey, their disobedience, though a real, may be a less evil than such a change in the administration of his government as would prevent the violation, would be. In this case, he might regard the violation as the less of two evils, and suffer it rather than change the arrangements of his government. He might sincerely deplore and abhor these violations of law, and yet might see it not wise to prevent them, because the measures necessary to prevent them might result in an evil of still greater magnitude. He might purpose to suffer these violations, and take the trouble to overrule them, so far as was possible, for the promotion of the end he had in view, rather than interpose for their prevention. These violations he might not have purposed in any other sense than that he foresaw them, and purposed not to prevent them, but on the contrary to suffer them to occur, and to overrule them for good, so far as this was practicable. These events, or violations of law, have no natural tendency to promote the highest well-being of God and of the universe, but have in themselves a directly opposite tendency. Nevertheless, God could so overrule them, as that these occurrences would be a less evil than that change would be that could have prevented them. Violations of law then, he might have purposed only to suffer, while obedience to law he might have designed to produce or secure.
3. We have seen, that God and men may have different motives in the same event, as in the case of the brethren of Joseph, already alluded to:–
Gen_45:4-6 : “And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land, and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest!”
As also in the case of the king of Assyria: Isa_10:5-7, Isa_10:12. “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. 6. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. 12. Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.”
Also, Joh_3:16 : “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.”
Act_2:23. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
These, and such like instances, show that wicked agents may, and often do, and when wicked, always do, entertain a very different reason for their conduct from what God entertains in suffering it. They have a selfish end in view, or do what they do for a selfish reason. God, on the contrary, has a benevolent end in view in not interposing to prevent their sin; that is, he hates their sin as tending in itself to destroy, or defeat the great end of benevolence. But foreseeing that the sin, notwithstanding its natural evil tendency, may be so overruled, as upon the whole to result in a less evil than the changes requisite to prevent it would, he benevolently prefers to suffer it rather than interpose to prevent it. He would, no doubt, prefer their perfect obedience, under the circumstances in which they are, but would sooner suffer them to sin, than so change the circumstances as to prevent it; the latter being, all things considered, the greater of two evils. God then always suffers his laws to be violated, because he cannot benevolently prevent it under the circumstances. He suffers it for benevolent reasons. But the sinner always has selfish reasons.
4. The Bible informs us, that God brings good out of evil, in the sense that he overrules sin to promote his own glory, and the good of being:– Psa_76:10. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.”
Rom_3:5, Rom_3:7 : “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) 7. For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I judged as a sinner? And not rather (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.”
Rom_5:20 : “Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
Rom_8:28 : “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
5. The Bible also informs us that God does not aim at producing sin in creation and providence; that is, that he does not purpose the existence of sin in such a sense as to design to secure and promote it, in the administration of his government. In other words still, sin is not the object of a positive purpose on the part of God. It exists only by sufferance, and not as a thing which naturally tends to secure his great end, and which therefore he values on that account and endeavours to promote, as he does obedience to the law.
Jer_7:9-10. “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not? And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?”
1Co_14:33 : “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
Jam_1:13-17 : “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man; But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Jam_3:14-17 : “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion, and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy.”
1Jo_2:16 : “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
Obedience to law is an object of positive purpose. God purposes to promote it, and uses means with that design. Sin occurs incidentally, so far as the purpose of God is concerned. It need not be, and doubtless is not, the object of positive design or purpose, but comes to pass because it cannot wisely be prevented. God uses means to promote obedience. But moral agents, in the exercise of their free agency, often disobey in spite of all the inducements to the contrary which God can wisely set before them. God never sets aside the freedom of moral agents to prevent their sinning, nor to secure their obedience. The Bible everywhere represents men as acting freely under the government and universal providence of God, and it represents sin as the result of, or as consisting in, an abuse of their freedom.
Gen_42:21 : “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.”
Exo_8:32 : “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.”
Exo_9:27 : “And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.”
Exo_10:16-17 : “Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and entreat the Lord your God, that he may take away from me this death only.”
Deu_30:19 : “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
Jos_24:15 : “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
2Sa_24:1, 2Sa_24:10. “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. 10. And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.”
Pro_1:10, Pro_1:29-31 : “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. 29. For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: 30. They would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof; 31. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.”
Pro_16:9 : “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.”
Pro_23:26 : “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.”
Son_1:4 : “Draw me, and we will run after thee. The king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee; we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.”
Isa_5:3 : “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.”
Hos_13:9 : “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.”
Mat_13:15 : “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
Mat_18:7 : “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”
Luk_22:22 : “And truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined; but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed.”
Luk_23:39 : “And one of the malefactors which were hanged, railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us.”
Joh_5:40 : “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”
Act_4:27 : “For of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together. 28. For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
Rom_2:15 : “Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another.”
Phi_2:12 : “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: 13. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
The following things appear to be true in respect to the purposes of God, as taught both by reason and revelation:–
(1.) That God’s purposes extend in some sense to all events.
(2.) That he positively purposes the highest good of being, as a whole, as his end.
(3.) That he has ordained wise and wholesome laws as the necessary means of securing this end.
(4.) That he positively purposes to secure obedience to these laws in so far as he wisely can, and uses means with this design.
(5.) That he does not positively purpose to secure disobedience to his laws in any case, and use means with that design; but that he only purposes to suffer violations of his law rather than prevent them, because he foresees that, by his overruling power, he can prevent the violation from resulting in so great an evil as the change necessary to prevent it would do. Or in other words, he sees that he can secure a greater good upon the whole, by suffering the violation under the circumstances in which it occurs, than he could by interposing to prevent it. This is not the same thing as to say, that sin is the necessary means of the greatest good. For should all moral agents perfectly obey, under the identical circumstances in which they disobey, this might, and doubtless would result in the highest possible good. But God, foreseeing that it were more conducive to the highest good of being to suffer some to sin, rather than so change the circumstances as to prevent it, purposed to suffer their sin, and overrule it for good; but he did not aim at producing it, and use means with that intent.
(6.) Obedience to law he directly purposes to secure.
(7.) Disobedience to law he never purposed or aimed to secure; but on the contrary purposed to prevent it, so far as he wisely could.
(8.) When he cannot wisely prevent it, he wisely suffers and overrules it, so as to render it, not a less evil than obedience would have been in the identical circumstances in which the disobedience occurs, but as a less evil than the change of circumstances necessary to prevent it would be.
V. God’s revealed will is never inconsistent with his secret purpose.
It has been common to represent sin as the necessary occasion, condition, or means of the greatest good, in such a sense, that upon the whole God secretly, but really prefers sin to holiness in every case where it exists; that while he has forbidden sin under all circumstances, upon pain of eternal death, yet, because it is the necessary occasion, condition, or means of the greatest good, God really prefers its existence to holiness in every instance in which it exists. It has been said, sin exists. God does not therefore prevent it. But he could and would prevent it, if he did not upon the whole prefer it to holiness, in the circumstances in which it occurs. Its existence, then, it has been said, is proof conclusive that God secretly prefers its existence to holiness, in every case in which it occurs. But this is a non sequitur. It does not follow from the existence of sin, that God prefers sin to holiness in the circumstances in which it occurs; but it may be, that he only prefers sin to such a change of circumstances as would prevent it. Suppose I require my son to do a certain thing. I know that he will do it, if I remain at home and see to it. But I know also, that if I go from home he will not do it. Now I might prefer that he should do as I command, and consider his disobedience as a great evil; still I might regard it as a less evil than for me to remain at home, and keep my eye upon him. I might have just reasons for supposing that, under the circumstances, a greater good could be secured upon the whole by my going from home, although his disobedience might be the consequence, than by remaining at home, and preventing his disobedience. Benevolence therefore might require me to go.
But should my son infer from my leaving him, under these circumstances, that I really, though secretly, preferred his disobedience to his obedience, under the identical circumstances in which I gave the command, would his inference be legitimate? No, indeed. All that he could justly infer from my leaving him, with the knowledge that he would disobey me if I did, would be, that although I regarded his disobedience as a great evil, yet I regarded remaining at home a greater.
Just so, it may be when sin exists. God is sincere in prohibiting it. He would greatly prefer that it should not exist. All that can be justly inferred from his not preventing it is, that, although he regards its existence as a great and real evil, yet upon the whole he regards it as a less evil, than would result from so great a change in the administration of his government as would prevent it. He is therefore entirely and infinitely sincere in requiring obedience, and in prohibiting disobedience, and his secret purpose is in strict keeping with his revealed will. Were the moral law universally obeyed, under the circumstances in which all moral agents exist, no one can say, that this would not be better for the universe, and more pleasing to God than disobedience is in the same circumstances. Nor is it fair to infer, that upon the whole, God must prefer sin to holiness, where it occurs, from the fact that he does not prevent it. As has been said, all that can justly be inferred from his not preventing it is, that under the circumstances he prefers not sin to holiness, but prefers to suffer the agent to sin and take the consequences, rather than introduce such changes in the policy and administration of his government as would prevent it. Or it may be said, that the present system is the best that infinite wisdom could devise and execute, not because of sin, but in spite of it, and notwithstanding sin is a real though incidental evil.
It is a palpable contradiction and an absurdity to affirm, that any being can sin, intending thereby to promote the greatest good. This will appear if we consider:
1. That it is admitted on all hands, that benevolence is virtue.
2. That benevolence consists in willing good, or the highest good of being as an end.
3. That it is duty to will both the end and the necessary means to promote it.
4. That right and benevolence are always at one, that is, that which is benevolent must always be right, and can in no case be wrong.
5. That consequently it can never be sin to choose the highest good of being, with all the necessary occasions, conditions, and means of promoting it.
6. It is impossible therefore for a being to sin, or to consent to sin, as an occasion, condition, or means, or designing thereby to promote the highest good of being; for this design would be virtue, and not sin. Whether all virtue consist in benevolence, or not, still it must be admitted, that all forms of virtue must be consistent with benevolence, unless it be admitted, that there can be a law of right inconsistent with, and opposed to, the law of benevolence. But this would be to admit, that two moral laws might be opposed to each other; which would be to admit, that a moral agent might be under an obligation to obey two opposing laws at the same time, which is a contradiction. Thus it appears, that there can be no law of right opposed to, or separate from, the law of benevolence. Benevolence and right must then always be as one. If this be so, it follows, that whatever benevolence demands, cannot be wrong, but must be right. But the law of benevolence demands, not only the choice of the highest good of being as an end, but also demands the choice of all the known necessary occasions, conditions, and means with a design to promote that end.
It is naturally impossible to sin, in using means designed and known to be necessary to the promotion of the end of benevolence. It is therefore naturally impossible to do evil, or to sin that good may come, or with the design to promote good thereby. To deny this, and to maintain, that a man can possibly sin in intending to promote the highest good of being, and in fulfilling the necessary conditions, and in using what he regards as the necessary means, is, I say again, to hold, that there is a law of right separate from, and opposed to, the law of benevolence;–which is, as before said, to hold, that two moral laws are opposed to each other, and require opposite courses of conduct in the same agent at the same time;–which is to hold, that there are two opposing laws of nature and of God at the same time;–which is to hold, that a moral agent may justly be required, on pain of eternal death, to choose, design, and act in opposite directions at the same time;–which is to hold, that it is his duty to sin and not to sin at the same time;–which is to hold, that a moral agent might sin in doing his duty, or in obeying moral law.
Let those who hold that right and benevolence may be opposed to each other, and that a moral agent can sin with a benevolent intention, see what their doctrine amounts to, and get out of the absurdity as best they can. The fact is, if willing the highest good of being is always virtuous, it must always be right to will all the necessary occasions, conditions, and means to that end. It is therefore a contradiction to say that sin can be among the necessary and intended occasions, conditions, and means; that is, that any one could sin intending thereby to promote the highest good.
But it is not pretended by those who hold this dogma, that sin sustains to the highest good the same relations that holiness does. Holiness has a natural tendency to promote the highest good; but the supposition now under consideration is, that sin is hateful in itself, and that it therefore must dissatisfy and disgust all moral agents, and that its natural tendency is to defeat the end of moral government, and to prevent rather than promote the highest good; but that God foresees that, notwithstanding its intrinsically odious and injurious nature, he can so overrule it as to make it the condition, occasion, or instrument of the highest good of himself and of his universe, and that for this reason he really upon the whole is pleased that it should occur, and prefers its existence, in every instance in which it does exist, to holiness in its stead. The supposition is, that sin is in its own nature infinitely odious and abominable to God, and perfectly odious to all holy moral agents, yet it is the occasion of calling into developement and exercise such emotions and feelings in God and in holy beings, and such modifications of benevolence, as do really more than compensate for all the disgust and painful emotions that result to holy beings, and for all the remorse, agony, despair, and endless suffering, that result to sinners.
It is not supposed by any one that I know of, that sin naturally tends to promote the highest good at all, but only that God can, and does, so overrule and counteract its natural tendency, as to make it the occasion or condition of a greater good, than holiness would be in its stead. Now in reply to this, I would say, that I pretend not to determine to what extent God can, and will, overrule and counteract the naturally evil and injurious tendency of sin. It surely is enough to say, that God prohibits it, and that it is impossible for creatures to know that sin is the necessary occasion, or condition, or means of the highest good.
‘If sin is known by God to be the necessary occasion, condition, or means of the highest good of himself and of the universe, whatever it may be in itself, yet viewed in its relations, it must be regarded by him as of infinite value, since it is the indispensable condition of infinite good.’ According to this theory, sin in every instance in which it exists, is and must be regarded by God as of infinitely greater value than holiness would be in its stead. He must then, upon the whole, have infinite complacency in it. But this leads me to attend to the principal arguments by which it is supposed this theory is maintained. It is said, for example:–
(1.) That the highest good of the universe of moral agents is conditionated upon the revelation of the attributes and character of God to them; that but for sin these attributes, at least some of them, could never have been revealed, inasmuch as without sin there would have been no occasion for their display or manifestation; that neither justice nor mercy, nor forbearance, nor self-denial, nor meekness, could have found the occasions of their exercise or manifestation, had sin never existed.
To this I reply, that sin has indeed furnished the occasion for a glorious manifestation of the moral perfections of God. From this we see that God’s perfections enable him greatly to overrule sin, and to bring good out of evil; but from this we are not authorized to infer, that God could not have revealed these attributes to his creatures without the existence of sin. Nor can we say, that these revelations would have been necessary to the highest perfection and happiness of the universe, had all moral agents perfectly and uniformly obeyed. When we consider what the moral attributes of God are, it is easy to see that there may be myriads of moral attributes in God of which no creature has, or ever will have, any knowledge; and the knowledge of which is not at all essential to the highest perfection and happiness of the universe of creatures. God’s moral attributes are only his benevolence, existing and contemplated in its various relations to the universe of beings. Benevolence in any being must possess as many attributes as there are possible relations under which it can be contemplated, and should their occasions arise, these attributes would stand forth in exercise. It is not at all probable, that all of the attributes of benevolence, either in the Creator or in creatures, have yet found the occasions of their exercise, nor, perhaps, will they ever. As new occasions rise to all eternity, benevolence will develope new and striking attributes, and manifest itself under endless forms and varieties of loveliness. There can be no such thing as exhausting its capabilities of developement.
In God benevolence is infinite. Creatures can never know all its attributes, nor approach any nearer to knowing all of them than they now are. For it is infinite, and there can be no end to its capabilities of developing in exercise new forms of beauty and loveliness. It is true, that God has taken occasion to show forth the glory of his benevolence through the existence of sin. He has seized the occasion, though mournful in itself, to manifest some of the attributes of his benevolence by the exercise of them. It is also true, that we cannot know how or by what means God could have revealed these attributes, if sin had not existed; and it is also true, that we cannot know that such a revelation was impossible without the existence of sin; nor that, but for sin, the revelation would have been necessary to the highest good of the universe.
God forbids sin, and requires universal holiness. He must be sincere in this. But sin exists. Shall we say that he secretly chooses that it should, and really, though secretly, prefers its existence to holiness, in the circumstances in which it occurs? Or shall we assume, that it is an evil, that God regards it as such, but that he cannot wisely prevent it; that is, to prevent it would introduce a still greater evil? It is an evil, and a great evil, but still the less of two evils; that is, to suffer it to occur, under the circumstances, is a less evil than such a change of circumstances, as would prevent it, would be. This is all we can justly infer from its existence. This leaves the sincerity of God unimpeached, and sustains his consistency, and the consistency and integrity of his law. The opposite supposition represents God and the law as infinitely deceitful.
(2.) It has been said, that the Bible sustains the supposition, that sin is the necessary means of the highest good. I trust the passages that have been quoted, disprove this saying.
(3.) It is said, that to represent sin as not the means of the highest good, and God as unable to prevent it, is to represent God as unable to accomplish all his will; whereas he says, he will do all his pleasure, and that nothing is too hard for him.
I answer: God pleases to do only what is naturally possible, and he is well pleased to do that and nothing more. This he is able to do. This he will do. This he does. This is all he claims to be able to do; and this is all, that in fact infinite wisdom and power can do.
(4.) But it is said, that if sin is an evil, and God can neither prevent nor overrule it, so as to make it a means of greater good than could be secured without it, he must be unhappy in view of this fact, because he cannot prevent it, and secure a higher good without it.
I answer: God neither desires nor wills to perform natural impossibilities. God is a reasonable being, and does not aim at nor desire impossibilities. He is well content to do as well as, in the nature of the case, is possible, and has no unreasonable regrets because he is not more than infinite, and that he cannot accomplish what is impossible to infinity itself. His good pleasure is, to secure all the good that is possible to infinity: with this he is infinitely well pleased.
Again: does not the objection, that the view of the subject here presented limits the divine power, lie with all its force against those who make this objection? To hold that sin is the necessary means or condition of the highest good, is to hold that God was unable to promote the highest good without resorting to such vile means as sin. Sin is an abomination in itself; and do not they, as really and as much limit the power of God, who maintain his inability to promote the highest good without it, as they do who hold, that he could not wisely so interfere with the free actions of moral agents as to prevent it? Sin exists. God abhors it. How is its existence to be accounted for? I suppose it to be an evil unavoidably incidental to that system of moral government which, notwithstanding the evil, was upon the whole the best that could be adopted. Others suppose, that sin is the necessary means or condition of the greatest good; and account for its existence in this way:–that is, they suppose that God admits or permits its existence as a necessary occasion, condition, or means of the highest good; that he was not able to secure the highest good without it. The two explanations of the admitted fact that sin exists, differ in this:–
One method of explanation holds, that sin is the necessary occasion, condition, or means of the highest good; and that God actually, upon the whole, prefers the existence of sin to holiness, in every instance in which it exists; because, in those circumstances, it is a condition or means of greater good than could have been secured by holiness in its stead. This theory represents God as unable to secure his end by other means, or upon other conditions, than sin. The other theory holds, that God really prefers holiness to sin in every instance in which it occurs; that he regards sin as an evil, but that while he regards it as an evil, he suffers its existence as a less evil than such a change in the administration of his government as would prevent it, would be. Both theories must admit, that in some sense God could not wisely prevent it. Explain the fact of its existence as you will, it must be admitted, that in some sense God was not able to prevent it, and secure his end.
If it be said, that God could neither wisely prevent it, nor so overrule it as to make it the means or condition of the highest good, he must be rendered unhappy by its existence; I reply, that this must be equally true upon the other hypothesis. Sin is hateful, and its consequences are a great evil. These consequences will be eternal and indefinitely great. God must disapprove these consequences. If sin is the necessary condition or means of the greatest good, must not God lament that he cannot secure the good without a resort to such loathsome, and such horrible means? If his inability wisely to prevent it will interfere with and diminish his happiness, must not the same be true of his inability to secure the highest good, without such means as will prove the eternal destruction of millions?
VI. Wisdom and benevolence of the purposes of God.
We have seen that God is both wise and benevolent. This is the doctrine both of reason and of revelation. The reason intuitively affirms that God is, and is perfect. The Bible assumes that he is, and declares that he is perfect. Both wisdom and benevolence must be attributes of the infinite and perfect God. These attributes enter into the reason’s idea of God. The reason could not recognize any being as God to whom these attributes did not belong. But if infinite wisdom and benevolence are moral attributes of God, it follows of course that all his designs or purposes are both perfectly wise and benevolent. God has chosen the best possible end, and pursues it in the use of the best practicable means. His purposes embrace the end and the means necessary to secure it, together with the best practicable disposal of the sin, which is the incidental result of his choosing this end and using these means; and they extend no further; they are all therefore perfectly wise and good.
VII. The immutability of the divine purposes.
We have seen that immutability is not only a natural, but also a moral attribute of God. The reason affirms, that the self-existent and infinitely perfect God is unchangeable in all his attributes. The ground of this affirmation it is not my purpose here to inquire into. It is sufficient here to say, what every one knows, that such is the affirmation of the reason. This is also everywhere assumed and taught in the Bible. God’s moral attributes are not immutable in the sense of necessity, but only in the sense of certainty. Although God is not necessarily benevolent, yet he is as immutably so, as if he were necessarily so. If his benevolence were necessary, it would not be virtuous, for the simple reason that it would not be free. But being free, its immutability renders it all the more praise-worthy.
VIII. The purposes of God are a ground of eternal and joyful confidence.
That is, they may reasonably be a source of eternal comfort, joy, and peace. Selfish beings will not of course rejoice in them, but benevolent beings will and must. If they are infinitely wise and good, and sure to be accomplished, they must form a rational ground of unfailing confidence and joy. God says:–
Isa_46:10 : “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”
Psa_33:11 : “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”
Pro_19:21 : “There are many devices in a man’s heart, nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”
Act_5:39 : “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
These, and many parallel passages are reasonably the source of perpetual confidence and joy to those who love God, and sympathize with him.
IX. The relation of God’s purposes to his prescience or foreknowledge.
We have seen that God is omniscient, that is, that he necessarily and eternally knows whatever is, or can be, an object of knowledge. His purposes must also be eternal and immutable, as we have seen. In the order of time, therefore, his purposes and his foreknowledge must be coeval, that is, they must be co-eternal.
But in the order of nature, God’s knowledge of what he could do, and what could be done, must have preceded his purposes: that is, he could not, so to speak, in the order of nature, have formed his purpose and made up his mind what to do, until he had considered what could be done, and what was best to be done. Until all possible ends, and ways, and means, were weighed and understood, it was of course impossible to make a selection, and settle upon the end with all the necessary means; and also settle upon the ways and means of overruling any evil, natural or moral, that might be seen to be unavoidably incidental to any system. Thus it appears, that, in the order of nature, fore-knowledge of what could be done, and what he could do, must have preceded the purpose to do. The purpose resulted from the prescience or fore-knowledge. He knew what he could do, before he decided what he would do. But, on the other hand, the purpose to do must, in the order of nature, have preceded the knowledge of what he should do, or of what would be done, or would come to pass as a result of his purpose. Viewed relatively to what he could do, and what could be done, the Divine prescience must in the order of nature have preceded the Divine purposes. But viewed relatively to what he would do, and what would be done, and would come to pass, the Divine purposes must, in the order of nature, have preceded the Divine prescience. But I say again, as fore-knowledge was necessarily eternal with God, his purposes must also have been eternal, and therefore, in the order of time, neither his prescience could have preceded his purposes, nor his purposes have preceded his prescience. They must have been contemporaneous and co-eternal.
X. God’s purposes are not inconsistent with, but demand the use of means both on his part, and on our part, to accomplish them.
The great end upon which he has set his heart necessarily depends upon the use of means, both moral and physical, to accomplish it. The highest well-being of the whole universe is his end. This end can be secured only by securing conformity to the laws of matter and of mind. Mind is influenced by motives, and hence moral and physical government are naturally necessary means of securing the great end proposed by the Divine mind.
Hence also results the necessity of a vast and complicated system of means and influences, such as we see spread around us on every hand. The history of the universe is but the history of creation, and of the means which God is using to secure his end, with their natural and incidental results. It has already been shown, that the Bible teaches that the purposes of God include and respect both means and ends. I will only add, that God’s purposes do not render any event, dependent upon the acts of a moral agent, necessarily certain, or certain with a certainty of necessity. Although, as was before said, all events are certain with some kind of certainty, and would be and must be, if they are ever to come to pass, whether God purposes them, or whether he fore-knows them or not; yet no event, depending upon the will of a free agent, is, or can be, certain with a certainty of necessity. The agent could by natural possibility do otherwise than he will do, or than God purposes to suffer him to do, or wills that he shall do. God’s purposes, let it be understood, are not a system of fatality. They leave every moral agent entirely free to choose and act freely. God knows infallibly how every creature will act, and has made all his arrangements accordingly, to overrule the wicked actions of moral agents on the one hand, and to produce or induce, the holy actions of others on the other hand. But be it remembered, that neither the Divine fore-knowledge nor the Divine purpose, in any instance, sets aside the free agency of the creature. He, in every instance, acts as freely and as responsibly, as if God neither knew nor purposed anything respecting his conduct, or his destiny.
God’s purposes extend to all events in some sense, as has been shown. They extend as really to the most common events of life as to the most rare. But in respect to the every day transactions of life, men are not wont to stumble, and cavil, and say, Why, if I am to live, I shall live, whatever I may do to destroy my health and life; and if I am to die, I cannot live, do what I will. No, in these events they will not throw off responsibility, and cast themselves upon the purposes of God; but on the contrary, they are as much engaged to secure the end they have in view, as if God neither knew nor purposed anything about it. Why then should they do as they often do, in regard to the salvation of their souls, cast off responsibility, and settle down in listless inactivity, as if the purposes of God in respect to salvation were but a system of iron fatality, from which there is no escape? Surely “madness is in their hearts while they live.” But let them understand, that, in thus doing, they sin against the Lord, and be sure their sin will find them out.