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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:
"Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain" (Psalms 76:10).
"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" (Romans 3:5, 7).
"Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20).
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 endeavors to promote, as He does obedience to the law.
"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?" (Jere. 7:9-10).
"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" (James 1:13-17).
"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, and gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy" (James 3:14-17).
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.
"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" (Gen. 42:21).
"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" (Exodus 10:16-17).
"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" (Joshua 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. 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 Samuel 24:1, 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, 29-31).
"A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps" (Prov. 16:9).
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.
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 nevertheless sin is a real though incidental evil. It is a perceptible 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 consists 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 at 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.