The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
In discussing this subject I shall endeavour to show,
I. WHAT I UNDERSTAND BY THE PURPOSES OF GOD.
II. NOTICE THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN PURPOSE AND DECREE.
III. SHOW THAT IN SOME SENSE THE PURPOSES OF GOD MUST EXTEND TO ALL EVENTS.
IV. STATE DIFFERENT SENSES IN WHICH GOD PURPOSES DIFFERENT EVENTS.
V. THAT GOD’S REVEALED WILL IS NEVER INCONSISTENT WITH HIS SECRET WILL OR PURPOSE.
VI. NOTICE THE WISDOM AND BENEVOLENCE OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES.
VII. SHOW THE IMMUTABILITY OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES.
VIII. THAT THE PURPOSES OF GOD ARE A GROUND OF ETERNAL AND JOYFUL CONFIDENCE.
IX. CONSIDER THE RELATION OF THE PURPOSES TO THE PRESCIENCE OR FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
X. SHOW THAT GOD’S PURPOSES ARE NOT INCONSISTENT WITH, BUT DEMAND THE USE OF MEANS, BOTH ON THE PART OF GOD AND ON OUR PART TO ACCOMPLISH THEM.
I. What I understand by the purposes of God.
Purposes, in this discussion, I shall use as synonymous with design, intention. The purposes of God must be ultimate and proximate. That is, God has and must have an ultimate end. He must purpose to accomplish something by his works and providence, which he regards as a good in itself, or as valuable to himself, and to being in general. This I call his ultimate end. That God has such an end or purpose, follows from the already established facts, that God is a moral agent, and that he is infinitely wise and good. For surely he could not be justly considered as either wise or good, had he no intrinsically valuable end which he aims to realize, by his works of creation and providence. His purpose to secure his great and ultimate end, I call his ultimate purpose. His proximate purposes respect the means by which he aims to secure his end. If he purposes to realize an end, he must of course purpose the necessary means for its accomplishment. The purposes that respect the means are what I call in this discussion, his proximate purposes.
II. Distinction between purpose and decree.
Purpose has just been defined, and the definition need not be repeated. The term decree is used in a variety of senses. It is much used in legal and governmental proceedings. When used in judicial or equitable proceedings, it is synonymous–
1. With judgment, decision, determination; and–
2. With order, direction, command.
When used in legislative proceedings, it is synonymous with ordinance, law, statute, enactment, command. The term is used in the Bible as synonymous–
(1.) With fore-ordination or determination, appointment.
Job_28:9, Job_28:26 : “He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. 26. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder.”
Psa_2:7 : “I will declare the decree, the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.”
Psa_148:6. “He hath also established them for ever and ever; he hath made a decree which shall not pass.”
Pro_8:29. “When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth.”
Jer_5:22. “Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree that it cannot pass it, and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?”
Dan_4:24. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king.”
(2.) It is used as synonymous with ordinance, statute, law.
Dan_6:7-8, Dan_6:26 : “All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. 8. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. 26. I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.”
This term has been generally used by theological writers as synonymous with fore-ordination, appointment. To decree, with these writers, is to appoint, ordain, establish, settle, fix, render certain. This class of writers also often confound decree with purpose, and use the word as meaning the same thing. They seldom, so far as I recollect, use the term decree as synonymous with law, enactment, command, &c.
I see no objection to using the term decree, in respect to a certain class of physical events, as synonymous with appointment, fore-ordination, fixing, rendering certain. But I think this use of it, applied, as it has been, to the actions of moral agents, is highly objectionable, and calculated to countenance the idea of fatality and necessity, in respect to the actions of men. It seems inadmissible to speak of God’s decreeing the free actions of moral agents, in the sense of fixing, settling, determining, fore-ordaining them as he fixes, settles, renders certain all physical events. The latter he has fixed or rendered certain by a law of necessity. The former, that is, free acts, although they may be, and are certain, yet they are not rendered so by a law of fate or necessity; or by an ordinance or decree that fixes them so, that it is not possible they should be otherwise.
In respect to the government of God, I prefer to use the term purpose, as I have said, to signify the design of God, both in respect to the end at which he aims, and the means he intends or purposes to use to accomplish it. The term decree I use as synonymous with command, law, or ordinance. The former I use as expressive of what God purposes or designs to do himself, and by his own agency, and also what he purposes or designs to accomplish by others. The latter I use as expressive of God’s will, command, or law. He regulates his own conduct and agency in accordance with the former, that is, with his purposes. He requires his creatures to conform to the latter, that is, to his decrees or laws. We shall see, in its proper place, that both his purposes and his actions are conformed to the spirit of his decrees, or laws; that is, that he is benevolent in his purposes and conduct, as he requires his creatures to be. I distinguish what God purposes or designs to accomplish by others, and what they design. God’s end or purpose is always benevolent. He always designs good. His creatures are often selfish, and their designs are often the direct opposite to the purpose of God, even in the same events. For example, see the following cases:–
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.”
Gen_50:19-20 : “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not; for I am in the place of God. But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
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, 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.”
Mar_15:9-10 : “But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the king of the Jews? (For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy).”
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.”
III. There must be some sense in which God’s purposes extend to all events.
1. This is evident from reason. His plan must, in some sense, include all actual events. He must foreknow all events by a law of necessity. This is implied in his omniscience. He must have matured and adopted his plan in view of, and with reference to, all events. He must have had some purpose or design respecting all events that he foresaw. All events transpire in consequence of his own creating agency; that is, they all result in some way directly or indirectly, either by his design or sufferance, from his own agency. He either designedly brings them to pass, or suffers them to come to pass without interposing to prevent them. He must have known that they would occur. He must have either positively designed that they should, or, knowing that they would result from the mistakes or selfishness of his creatures, negatively designed not to prevent them, or, he had no purpose or design about them. The last hypothesis is plainly impossible. He cannot be indifferent to any event. He knows all events, and must have some purpose or design respecting them.
2. The Bible abundantly represents God’s purposes as in some sense extending to all events. For example:
(1.) He is represented as perfectly wise in his works, and ways, and plan of creation and government:
Deu_32:4 : “He is the Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he.”
Psa_104:24 : “O Lord, how wonderful are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.”
Ecc_3:14 : “I know that whatsoever God doeth it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.”
If God is infinitely wise, he must have had a universal plan.
(2.) The Bible represents his purposes as universal and particular.
Job_14:5 : “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.”
Isa_14:26 : “This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.”
Act_17:26 : “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.”
Eph_1:11 : “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
(3.) It represents his purposes as in some sense extending both to natural evil, and to sin or moral evil.
Act_2:23 : “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
Act_4:27-28 : “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. For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
Act_13:29 : “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.”
1Pe_2:8 : “And a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed.”
Jud_1:4 : “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God, into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Rev_17:17 : “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”
(4.) It represents God’s purposes as both ultimate and proximate, or including means and ends.
Act_27:22-24, Act_27:30-31 : “And now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. 23. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve. 24. Saying, Fear not Paul, thou must be brought before Cæsar and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. 30. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
2Th_2:13 : “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.”
1Pe_1:2 : “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
(5.) The Bible represents God’s providence and agency as extending in some sense to all events; from which also we must infer the universality of his purposes:–
Psa_147:8-9, Psa_147:15-18 : “Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. 9. He giveth to the beast his food, and to young ravens which cry. 15. He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth; his word runneth very swiftly. 16. He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. 17. He casteth forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold? 18. He sendeth out his word and melteth them, he causeth his winds to blow, and the waters flow.”
Isa_26:12 : “Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us; for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.”
Isa_45:7 : “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.”
Dan_4:35 : “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
Amo_3:6 : “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
Mat_10:29 : “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”
Rom_11:36 : “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.”
Eph_1:11 : “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
Phi_2:13 : “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Heb_13:20-21 : “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”
Psa_104:14-15, Psa_104:21, Psa_104:27-28 : “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth; 15. And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. 21. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. 27. These wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. 28. That thou givest them they gather, thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.”
Mat_5:45 : “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Mat_6:26, Mat_6:28-30 : “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. 29. And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. 30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
(6.) The Bible also represents all creatures as dependent on the providence, and of course on the purposes of God.
Job_12:10 : “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”
Psa_87:7 : “As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.”
Jer_10:23 : “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
Jer_18:6 : “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”
Joh_15:5 : “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
Act_17:26-28 : “And hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. That they should seek the Lord, if happily they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are his offspring.”
2Co_3:5 : “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.”
(7.) The Bible also represents all creatures as preserved by the providence of God, from which also we must infer, that his purposes extend to them.
Neh_9:6 : “Thou, even thou, art Lord alone: thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.”
Job_7:20 : “I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou Preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?”
Job_10:12 : “Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.”
Job_34:14-15 : “If he set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath; All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.”
Psa_36:6 : “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep. O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.”
Psa_63:8 : “My soul followeth hard after thee; thy right hand upholdeth me.”
Psa_66:8-9 : “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard; Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.”
Psa_121:7 : “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.”
Heb_1:3 : “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
(8.) The Bible also represents the Lord, as, in some sense, and in some manner, influencing the hearts of men.
From this also we must infer, that his purposes, in some sense, extend to the moral actions of men.
Ezr_7:27 : “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.”
Pro_16:1, Pro_16:9 : “The preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. 9. A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps.”
Pro_21:1 : “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will.”
Isa_64:8 : “But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our Potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
Zec_12:1 : “The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.”
Act_16:14 : “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
Rom_9:20-21 : “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”
(9.) The Bible represents God as often, at least, controlling public sentiment.
Gen_39:21 : “But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”
Exo_3:21 : “And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.”
Dan_1:9 : “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.”
Act_7:9-10 : “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him. And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt, and all his house.”
From these passages we must infer, that the purposes of God extend to these events.
(10.) The Bible also represents the providence of God as extending to moral evils and delusions; from which again we must infer, that his purposes in some sense extend to them.
Exo_7:3 : “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.”
Exo_9:7 : “And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.”
Exo_10:1 : “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him.”
Exo_14:8, Exo_14:17 : “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel. 17. And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians.”
Deu_2:30 : “But Sihon king of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day.”
Jos_11:19-20 : “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Jdg_7:22 : “And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host.”
2Sa_24:1 : “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.”
1Ki_22:23 : “Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.”
Job_17:4 : “For thou hast hid their heart from understanding: therefore shalt thou not exalt them.”
Psa_105:25 : “He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.”
Psa_141:4 : “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.”
Isa_19:14 : “The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof: and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, as a drunken man staggereth in his vomit.”
Isa_29:10 : “For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers, hath he covered.”
Isa_44:18 : “They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”
Isa_45:7 : “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.”
Isa_63:17 : “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return, for thy servant’s sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.”
Eze_14:9 : “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet; and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”
Zec_8:10 : “For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in, because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his neighbour.”
Luk_10:21 : “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Joh_12:39-41 : “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.”
Rom_9:18 : “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Rom_11:7-8 : “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear), unto this day.”
2Th_2:10-12 : “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie; That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Rev_17:17 : “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”
These passages will show the general tenor of scripture upon this subject.