Finney: The Motive for All of God’s Actions

Why does God do what He does? Is He aiming at something in all His actions? Is there a “good” at the end of His actions or is whatever He wills “good”? While this may sound rather picky, it does affect our view of God’s character. Charles Finney believes,

Lord Is GoodGod’s ultimate end, in all He does, or omits, is the highest well-being of Himself, and of the universe, and in all His acts and dispensations, His ultimate object is the promotion of this end. All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty. This intention or consecration to this intrinsically and infinitely valuable end is virtue, or holiness, in God and in all moral agents. God is infinitely and equally holy in all things because He does all things for the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being.

Theologians who promote the idea that the will of God is what is ultimate make a fatal error, according to Finney. Think carefully about his objection here:

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He could, by willing it, change the nature of virtue and vice, which is absurd.

If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He not only can change the nature of virtue and vice, but has a right to do so; for if there is nothing back of His will that is as binding upon Him as upon His creatures, He has a right, at any time, to make malevolence a virtue and benevolence a vice. For if His will is the ground of obligation, then His will creates right, and whatever He wills, or might will, is right simply and only because He so wills.

If the will of God be the foundation of moral obligation, we have no standard by which to judge of the moral character of His actions, and cannot know whether He is worthy of praise or blame.

Upon the supposition in question, were God a malevolent being, and did He require all His creatures to be selfish, and not benevolent, He would be just as virtuous and worthy of praise as now; for the supposition is that His sovereign will creates right, and of course, will as He might, that would be right, simply because He willed it.

I hope you followed the logic because I think it is an accurate assessment. God is not an arbitrary being whose will can make good evil and evil good. Instead, He chooses to do that which is the best for everyone in His created world. We never need to worry about His character; His aim is always to promote the highest good for each of us.

Lewis: God Didn’t Make a Toy World

C. S. Lewis 6Last Saturday, in my weekly C. S. Lewis post, I quoted him on the subject of free will. He had quite a lot to say on that doctrine, and I like what he has said. Therefore, I’m giving him a wide berth today by relating a passage from Mere Christianity that makes the point even more forcefully than the quote I used last week:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

. . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.

As grievous as sin is, ultimately it will be overshadowed by love when the Lord wraps up this current earthly existence and we move into a new phase. We can get glimpses of His love now, and those glimpses make it all worthwhile.

Finney: Humility, Prayer, & the Arm of God

In reading through Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures again, I was struck by how contemporary many of his statements are. Yes, he wrote this in the nineteenth century, but the application to what we are experiencing today is evident. See if you agree. In a section called “When a Revival May Be Expected,” he declares,

When the wickedness of the wicked grieves and humbles and distresses Christians. Sometimes Christians do not seem to mind anything about the wickedness around them. Or, if they do talk about it, it is in a cold and callous, and unfeeling way, as if they despaired of a reformation: they are disposed to scold sinners—not to feel the compassion of the Son of God for them. But sometimes the conduct of the wicked drives Christians to prayer, breaks them down, and makes them sorrowful and tender-hearted, so that they can weep day and night, and instead of scolding the wicked they pray earnestly for them. Then you may expect a revival.

I also found these words relevant to our situation today when sin is being sanctioned by the government:

The prevalence of wickedness is no evidence at all that there is not going to be a revival. That is often God’s time to work. . . . Often the first indication of a revival is that the devil gets up something new in opposition. This will invariably have one of two effects. It will either drive Christians to God, or it will drive them farther away from God, to some carnal policy or other that will only make things worse. . . .

I'm InIf Christians will only be humbled and pray, they shall soon see God’s naked arm in a revival of religion. I have known instances where a revival has broken in upon the ranks of the enemy, almost as suddenly as a clap of thunder, and scattered them, taken the ringleaders as trophies, and broken up their party in an instant.

Those comments should be an encouragement for those who are nearly in despair over the moral insanity of our times. Never forget that the Lord is more than willing to break in “upon the ranks of the enemy.” All too often, He’s waiting for us to believe He can do so.

The Gosnell Verdict

In a week of breaking news coming at us like a whirlwind, none is more important to me today than the verdict reached yesterday in the Kermit Gosnell trial. The jury did its duty, which was by no means a guarantee. Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, and a couple hundred other counts dealing with the breaking of Pennsylvania laws regarding late-term abortions and other matters.

We now come to the sentencing portion. Will he get the death penalty? Keep in mind that those three counts of first-degree murder were only the ones that were formally prosecuted. Gosnell has operated his “clinic” since the 1970s. His horrific practices—killing children after they were born—is something that has been going on for years. Frankly, this makes him one of the greatest mass murderers in American history.

Christians who shy away from endorsing the death penalty have a misunderstanding of Biblical justice. The New Testament doesn’t change the principle established in the Old. The most sacred gift God has given is the gift of life. When another human being takes away that gift arbitrarily, without any good reason, he has broken a barrier that God Himself set up. Civil government, in its job of meting out civil justice, has an obligation to take the lives of those who have crossed that line. This is not contradictory; there is a clear distinction between the murderous acts of individuals and the responsibility of governments to bring someone to account for those acts.

So, yes, I favor the death penalty in this case. There are no genuine mitigating circumstances. This man is monstrous, and an example needs to be set.

Some commentators yesterday surmised that this might change the course of the abortion discussion in America and make people less accepting of it, after having witnessed the barbarity of Gosnell’s practices. I hope so, but I’m not yet convinced. The Gosnell case can serve a valuable public service if we are open to learning from it, but never underestimate the desire of people to simply avoid the issue and continue on as before.

This also points to the moral dichotomy that exists in the minds of our citizens. On the one hand, we are disgusted and sickened by the infanticide portrayed via Gosnell; on the other hand, if those babies’ lives had been terminated prior to leaving the womb, many would find no problem at all with it.

The only difference between the life of the baby in the womb and the life of the baby recently emerged from the womb is only a matter of inches. Both lives are equally sacred. Both are innocent. Both deserve the protection of society.

Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 55 million American children have been slaughtered. This is truly one of the greatest holocausts in human history. War is horrible, but just compare the loss of American lives in all our wars with the number who have lost their lives through abortion. This pictorial illustration should make it clear:

So tell me, which one should concern us more?

If the jury decides on anything less than the death penalty for Gosnell, justice will have been short-circuited. Righteousness will have been diminished. What of mercy, you say? How merciful was Gosnell toward those innocent children? God extends mercy when man has a repentant heart. Gosnell is unbowed in his arrogance. He is a man with a seared conscience. He needs to serve as a testimony that this culture hasn’t turned its back completely on a clear understanding of good and evil.

I’m continually reminded of this short passage in the book of Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. . . ; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.

Evil has been clearly identified here. Darkness has been exposed. May the rights of the unborn be restored in our day.

Let Us Not Lose Heart

Sometimes when I ponder the state of our society, and the world in general, I wonder if there is any hope. Yes, I know that in the end, God wraps things up His way. The future is glorious for those who remain faithful to Him. But what I see around me would be depressing without that ultimate hope.

I’ve studied the writings of Whittaker Chambers for nearly thirty years now. His magisterial autobiography Witness is filled with poignant insights into the human condition without God. For instance, as he analyzed the state of the world in his lifetime, he was struck by the loss of his generation’s ability to see reality and know the difference between right and wrong. Has anything changed all that much? Here’s how he portrays it:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

I ask myself whether we are currently in that same state he so sadly describes. As a people, are we without faith or hope? Do we lack the kind of character necessary to remedy the ills of our nation? Do we even understand that we are suffering ills? Are we living in the realm of unreality, dying because we no longer care about right and wrong, good and evil? If so, the executioner waits to carry out the sentence on a deaf and senile people.

That all sounds so dismal. Yet there are times when I feel the way Chambers felt about his era. That feeling can lead people to despair, if they are without the life of God within. The only reason I won’t succumb to despair is because I know I’ve been called, as all Christians are, to shine the light of truth and hope into that moral void. Our task is to rescue the hopeless, and the more we rescue, the greater the possibility that our society can once again distinguish between good and evil.

One passage of Scripture fits perfectly here, from Galatians 6:7-9, where we’re told,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

That last sentence is a clarion call to continue doing what God has charged each one of us to do. If we remain faithful, He promises there will be a time to reap. Chambers’s perception of the world of 1925 does not have to be the world of our future if God’s people persevere.

C. S. Lewis: Evil in Our Day

Lewis, in the preface to his Screwtape Letters, provides a very interesting insight into where we are most likely to find evil in our day.

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even in concentration camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Happy New Year? Why Would We Think So?

On January 1st each year we fall into a pattern long emblazoned on our psyche of saying “Happy New Year!” I realize it’s mostly a hope that we hold out, expecting that things certainly have to be better this time around. But on what basis do we hold to such a hope? Is there a solid reason for hoping, or is this more a shadowy, wispy type of wishful thinking?

For me, on a personal level, I have what I consider to be a well-grounded hope. Having been salvaged from a life of despair and purposelessness by the grace of God, hope is real. Yes, I will be affected adversely by circumstances in the world around me—by culture rapidly losing its Biblical underpinnings and a government in the process of destroying basic American liberties—but even if the worst occurs, I will still have the faithful God who gives the promise of eternity in a much better place.

It’s our society on the whole that concerns me. What is happening right now that would give anyone a reason to hope that things will improve? As I noted above, the culture is changing for the worse and needs to be turned around for anything to get better. There are a lot of reasons for that change; some can be seen in this political cartoon’s depiction of our current situation:

The cartoonist used the image of the Newtown murders as one manifestation of how our culture has been debased. Then the media and the politicians come along and make matters even worse by blaming the wrong people. One newspaper decided to show a map of the homes of all those in its county who have legal gun permits. The goal, according to the paper, was to increase “awareness” of the gun problem. Excuse me, but the legal ownership of weapons is not the problem. Yet now those who have followed the law, and have always done so, are being targeted [the use of that word is intentional].

The other focus of news reports at the moment is the so-called fiscal cliff. Few, though, are the news outlets that are willing to expose the real issue: it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem. The media are in protection mode—ensuring that the One is not blamed. Of course, he has made blaming others into an art:

The next fiscal controversy will be the debt ceiling, which Obama seeks to have removed altogether. He wants the power to spend whatever he desires, without any constraints. The result would not be difficult to foresee:

And what of the loyal opposition? To what extent are Republicans willing to go to stand for sound principles, regardless of the political fallout? There is a segment of the party that mirrors the old Republican lack of vision that dominated pre-Reagan: never challenge the roots of the problem but just try to be a little more moderate than the Democrats:

That approach has always led to defeat.

So, I ask again—on what basis can we hold out hope that anything will improve this year?

In my view, the main reason we are where we are as a society is that the church of Jesus Christ has not fulfilled its obligations as the salt and light of a nation. There are a number of areas in which we have failed, but let me acknowledge three that are paramount:

  1. We have watered down the message of salvation in the desire to draw more people to the faith. A watered-down message leads to a weak faith, or no genuine faith at all.
  2. We have deviated, to some extent, from Biblical morality and do not grasp how Biblical principles apply to a proper understanding of the limitations on civil government, the primacy of the rule of law, and how economics really works.
  3. We have abandoned control of our children’s education and turned that task over to the government, thereby making the problems worse with each succeeding generation.

Those are the three areas I want to address the rest of this week.