The Purposes of God
Charles G. Finney. "Systematic Theology"
Lecture 77 (1851) - Page 3 of 5 pages
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Part IV
Different senses in which God purposes different events

IV-1 The great end of all God's 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.

IV-2a 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 creatures.
  IV-2b 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
IV-2c 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.
  IV-2d 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
IV-2e 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.
  IV-2f 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
IV-2g 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.
 

IV-3 We have seen that God and men may have different motives in the same event...

 

  • Joseph said to 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 2 years hath the famine been in the land, and yet there are 5 years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest!" Gen 45.4-6
  • For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3.16
  • Him {Jesus} being delivered by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Acts 2.23
  {God said...} O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. 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.

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...

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.
Isa 10.5-7, Isa 10.12
IV-3a 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 lesser evil than the changes
  IV-3b requisite to prevent it would, He benevolently prefers to suffer it, rather than interpose to prevent it.

God 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.

IV-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...

 

  • Moreover, the law entered, that the offense might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Rom 5.20
  • We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. Rom 8.28
  • Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Psalm 76.0
 

    But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) ...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 3.5, 3.7

IV-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.

IV-5a 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 endeavors to promote, as He does obedience to the law.

 

  • 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 1.13-17
  • For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 1 Cor 14.33
  • 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. 1 John 2.16
 
  • 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? Jer 7.9-10
  • 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. Jam 3.14-17

IV-5b 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.

IV-5c 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.

IV-5d 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.

 

  • And Pharaoh hardened His heart at this time also, neither would He let the people go. Exod 8.32
  • 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. Exod 9.27
  • 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. Exod 10.16-17
 
  • They said, 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. Gen 42.21
  • {God said...} 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. Deu 30.19
  • 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. Josh 24.15
  • 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. 2 Sam 24.1, 24.10
  • My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not... For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof; Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. Prov 1.10, 1.29-31
 
  • A man's heart deviseth His way, but the Lord directeth His steps. Prov 16.9
  • My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. Prov 23.26
  • 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. Song 1.4
  • And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. Isa 5.3
  • O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. Hos 13.9
  • And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. John 5.40
  • 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. Mt 13.15
  • Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Mt 18.7
  • And truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined; but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed. Luke 22.22
  • And one of the malefactors which were hanged, railed on Him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. Luke 23.39
 
  • 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. Acts 4.27-28
  • 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. Rom 2.15
  • 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. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Philipp 2.12-13

IV-5e 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.
  • 6-In other words, God 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.
  • 7-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.
  • 8-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.
 
  • 9-Obedience to law God directly purposes to secure.
  • 10-Disobedience to law He never purposed or aimed to secure; but on the contrary purposed to prevent it, so far as He wisely could.
  • 11-When He cannot wisely prevent it, He wisely suffers and overrules it, so as to render it, not as 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.
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