Skeletons of a Course of
By Charles G. Finney
Moral Government.--No. 12.
Sanctions Of Gods Law.
First. God's law and Sanctions.
1. That sin or disobedience to the moral law, is attended with and results in misery, is a matter of consciousness.
2. That virtue or holiness is attended with and results in happiness, is also attested by consciousness.
3. Therefore that God's law has natural sanctions, both remuneratory and vindicatory, is a matter of fact.
4. That there are governmental sanctions added to the natural, must be true, or God in fact has no Government.
5. The Bible expressly and in every variety of form teaches that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
Second. The remuneratory sanctions of the law of God.
1. The happiness that is naturally and necessarily connected with and results from holiness or obedience.
2. The merited favour, protection, and blessing of God.
3. All the natural and governmental rewards of virtue.
Third. The perfection and duration of the remuneratory Sanctions of the Law of God.
l. The perfection of the natural reward is and must be proportioned to the perfection of virtue.
2. The duration of the remuneratory sanction must be equal to the duration of obedience. This cannot possibly be otherwise.
3. If the existence and virtue of man are immortal his happiness must be endless.
4. The Bible most unequivocally asserts the immortality both of the existence and virtue of the righteous, and also that their happiness shall be endless.
5. The very design and end of government make it necessary that governmental rewards should be as perfect and unending as virtue.
Fourth. The vindicatory sanctions of the law of God.
1. The misery naturally and necessarily connected with, and the result of disobedience to moral law. Here again let it be understood that moral law is nothing else than that rule of action which accords with the nature and relations of moral beings. Therefore the natural vindicatory sanction of the law of God is misery resulting from the violation of man's own moral nature.
2. The displeasure of God, the loss of his protection and governmental favour, together with that punishment which it is his duty to inflict upon the disobedient.
3. The rewards of holiness and the punishment of sin, are described in the Bible in figurative language. The rewards of virtue are called eternal life. The punishment of vice is called death. By life is intended, not only existence, but that happiness which makes life desirable. By death is intended, not annihilation, but that misery which renders existence an evil.
Fifth. The duration of the penal Sanctions of the Law of God.
Here the inquiry is, what kind of death is intended where death is denounced against the transgressor as the penalty of the law of God?
I. It is not merely natural death, for
1. This would in reality be no penalty at all. But it would be offering a reward to sin. If natural death is all that is intended, and if persons, as soon as they are naturally dead have suffered the penalty of the law, and their souls go immediately to heaven, the case stands thus: If your obedience is perfect and perpetual, you shall live in this world forever: but if you sin you shall die and go right to heaven. This would be hire, and salary, and not punishment.
2. If natural death be the penalty of God's law, the righteous who are forgiven, should not die a natural death.
3. If natural death be the penalty of God's law there is no such thing as forgiveness, but all must actually endure the penalty.
4. If natural death be the penalty, then infants and animals suffer this penalty as well as the most abandoned transgressors.
5. If natural death be the penalty it sustains no proportion whatever to the guilt of sin.
6. Natural death would be no adequate expression of the importance of the precept.
II. The penalty of God's law is not spiritual death.
1. Because spiritual death is a state of entire sinfulness.
2. To make a state of entire sinfulness the penalty of the law of God, would be to make the penalty and the breach of the precept identical.
3. It would be making God the author of sin, and would represent him as compelling the sinner to commit one sin as the punishment for another, as forcing him into a state of total depravity as the reward of his first transgression.
III. But the penal sanction of the law of God is eternal death or that state of suffering which is the natural and governmental result of sin or spiritual death.
Before I proceed to the proof of this, I will notice an objection which is often urged against the doctrine of eternal punishments. The objection is one, but it is stated in three different forms. This, and every other objection to the doctrine of endless punishment, with which I am acquainted, is leveled against the justice of such a governmental infliction.
1. It is said that endless punishment is unjust because life is so short that men do not live long enough in this world to commit so great a number of sins as to deserve endless punishment. To this I answer,
(1.) That it is founded in a ridiculous ignorance or disregard of a universal principle of government, viz: that one breach of the precept always incurs the penalty of the law, whatever that penalty is.
(2.) The length of time employed in committing a sin, has nothing to do with its blameworthiness or guilt. It is the design which constitutes the moral character of the action, and not the length of time required for its accomplishment.
(3.) This objection takes for granted that it is the number of sins and not the intrinsic guilt of sin that constitutes its blameworthiness, whereas it is the intrinsic desert or guilt of sin, as we shall soon see, that renders it deserving of endless punishment.
2. Another form of the objection is, that a finite creature cannot commit an infinite sin. But none but an infinite sin can deserve endless punishment: therefore endless punishments are unjust.
(1.) This objection takes for granted that man is so diminutive a creature, so much less than the Creator, that he cannot deserve his endless frown.
(2.) The fact is, the greater the distance between the creature and the creator, the more aggravated is the guilt of insult or rebellion in the creature. Which is the greatest crime, for a child to insult his playfellow or his parent? Which would involve the most guilt for a man to smite his neighbor and his equal, or his lawful sovereign?
(3.) The higher the ruler is exalted above the subject in his nature, character, and rightful authority, the greater is the guilt of transgression in the subject. Therefore the fact that man is so infinitely below his maker but enhances the guilt of his rebellion and renders him worthy of his endless frown.
3. A third form of the objection is, that sin is not an infinite evil, and therefore does not deserve endless punishment.
(1.) This objection may mean either that sin would not produce infinite mischief if unrestrained, or that it does not involve infinite guilt. It cannot mean the first, for it is agreed on all hands that misery must continue as long as sin does, and therefore that sin unrestrained would produce endless evil. The objection therefore must mean that sin does not involve infinite guilt. Observe then, the point at issue is, what is the intrinsic demerit or guilt of sin? What does all sin in its own nature deserve? They who deny the justice of endless punishment, manifestly consider the guilt of sin as a mere trifle. They who maintain the justice of endless punishment, consider sin as an evil of immeasurable magnitude, and as in its own nature deserving of endless punishment. Proof.
(2.) The guilt or blame worthiness of an action consists in its being the violation of an obligation. E.g.: Should a child refuse obedience to his father who has no natural or acquired claims upon his obedience, he would not be blameworthy. But should he refuse obedience to his parent who has both a natural and acquired claim to his obedience, this conduct would be blameworthy. This shows in what blameworthiness consists.
2. The guilt or blameworthiness of an action is equal to the amount of obligation, to do or omit that thing. We have just seen that the blameworthiness lies in its being the violation of an obligation. Hence the amount of blame worthiness must be equal to the amount of obligation. If a child refuse to obey his fellow, he contracts no guilt. If he refuse to obey his parent, he contracts a degree of guilt equal to the amount of his obligation to obey. Suppose that some one upon whom he is a thousand times as dependent as upon his parent, and who therefore has a thousand times higher claim upon his obedience than his parent has, should command him to do or omit a certain thing. Should he in this case disobey, his guilt would be a thousand times as great as when he disobeyed his parents. Now suppose that God, upon whom every moral being is not only perfectly but endlessly dependent, requires the creature to love him with all his heart; who does not see that his guilt in refusing obedience must be as great as his obligation to obey.
3. The amount of obligation may be estimated in three ways.
(1.) By the claims of the law-giver. God's claims upon the obedience of man are equal.
a. To their dependence upon him.
b. Their obligation to exercise benevolence towards him, is equal to the value of his happiness, which is infinite.
c. Their obligation to exercise complacency in him, is equal to the amount of this virtue. When we say that God is lovely, we mean that he deserves to be loved. When we say that he deserves to be loved, we mean that moral beings are under an obligation to love him. If they are under an obligation to love him for his loveliness, their obligation to love him is equal to his loveliness. By this it is not intended that they are under an obligation to love him with affections infinitely strong; but they are under infinite obligation to love him with all their powers, whatever they are. When the amount, then, of an obligation to love God is thus estimated, it is seen to be infinite. The guilt of disobedience must therefore be infinite, and punishment, to be equal to our demerit, or as nearly so as the nature of the case admits, must be endless.
(2.) A second method of estimating the amount of obligation to obey a law, is by ascertaining the value of the law, or the amount of interest secured by it. It has been more than once said, that happiness certainly and necessarily results from obedience to moral law. It should here be said that the happiness of God and of all moral beings results from, and is dependent upon their obedience to moral law. Moral law, then, is as valuable as the infinite and eternal happiness of God, and the endless welfare of all moral beings. Who will deny, then, that the importance of the law is infinite? But the amount of guilt involved in a breach of the precept is as great as the value of the precept. Therefore viewed in this light, the guilt of sin is infinite.
(3.) A third method of ascertaining the amount of obligation to obey a law is by ascertaining the natural tendency of disobedience to defeat those interests which the law is intended to protect and secure. Among the tendencies of sin, the following are most manifest:
a. To destroy the present happiness of the sinner.
b. To make him perpetually miserable.
c. Another tendency of sin is to perpetuate and aggravate itself
d. Sin is contagious. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted. Consequently the disobedience of one tends to beget disobedience in others. And sin, if not counteracted, tends as naturally to spread and become universal, as a contagious disease does.
e. Sin tends to total and universal selfishness.
f. It tends to universal damnation.
g. It tends to bring the authority of God into universal contempt.
h. It tends to overthrow all government, all happiness. And as all rebellion is aimed at the throne and the life of the sovereign, the natural tendency of sin is not only to annihilate the authority, but the very being of God. Thus, in this respect also, sin involves infinite guilt.
Having disposed of these objections leveled at the justice of eternal punishments, and having also established the fact that sin in its very nature, involves infinite blame worthiness or guilt, when viewed in any just point of light, I proceed to say:
4. That the law is infinitely unjust, if its penal sanctions are not endless. Law must be just in two respects.
(1.) The precept must be in accordance with the law of nature.
(2.) The penalty must be equal to the importance of the precept. That which has not these two peculiarities is not just, and therefore is not and cannot be law. Either, then, God has no law, or its penal sanctions are endless.
5. That the penal sanctions of the law of God are endless, is evident from the fact that a less penalty would not exhibit as high motives as the nature of the case admits, to restrain sin and promote virtue.
6. Natural justice demands that God should exhibit as high motives to secure obedience as the value of the law demands, and the nature of the case admits.
7. The justice, holiness, and benevolence of God demand that the penal sanctions of his law should be endless; and if they are not, God cannot be just, holy, or benevolent.
8. Unless the penal sanctions of the law of God are endless, they are virtually and really no penalty at all. If a man be threatened with punishment for one thousand, or ten thousand, or ten millions, or ten hundred millions of years, after which he is to come out, as a matter of justice, and go to heaven, there is beyond an absolute eternity of happiness. Now there is no sort of proportion between the longest finite period that can be named, or even conceived, and endless duration. If, therefore, limited punishment, ending in an eternity of heaven, be the penalty of God's law, the case stands thus: Be perfect, and you live here forever. Sin, and receive finite suffering, with an eternity of heaven. This would be, after all, offering reward to sin.
9. Death is eternal in its nature. The fact, therefore, that this figure is used to express the future punishment of the wicked affords a plain inference that it is endless.
10. The tendency of sin to perpetuate and aggravate itself, affords another strong inference that the sinfulness and misery of the wicked will be eternal.
11. The fact that punishment has no tendency to beget disinterested love in a selfish mind towards him who inflicts the punishment, also affords a strong presumption that future punishment will be eternal.
12. The law makes no provision for terminating future punishment.
13. Sin deserves endless punishment just as fully as it deserves any punishment at all. If, therefore, it is not forgiven, if it be punished at all with penal suffering, the punishment must be endless.
14. To deny the justice of eternal punishments, involves the same principle as a denial of the justice of any degree of punishment.
15 To deny the justice of endless punishment, is virtually to deny the fact of moral evil. But to deny this is to deny moral obligation. To deny moral obligation we must deny moral agency. But of both moral obligation and moral agency, we are absolutely conscious. Therefore it follows to a demonstration, not only that moral evil does exist, but that it deserves endless punishment.
16. The Bible in a great many ways represents the future punishment of the wicked as eternal. It expresses the duration of the future punishment of the wicked by the same terms, and in every way as forcibly as it expresses the duration of the future happiness of the righteous.
Obj. Will all sinners be punished alike in a future world?
Ans. Not in degree, but only in duration.