What Saith the Scripture?


Phila delphia > The Benevolence of God by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture XV
The Benevolence of God

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
December 6, 1843

Lecture XV.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--1 John 4:16: "God is love."

It is not my intention, in commenting upon these words, to prove them to be true, for I should consider myself poorly employed in attempting to prove the truth of any passage of Scripture. It is not so much the business of the minister of the gospel to defend the truths of the Bible, as it is to expound and illustrate them, as he finds them revealed, and to show their bearing on the relations and responsibilities of men. It would be easy for me to advance many arguments, drawn from the whole range of the created universe, to show that "God is love;" but this I shall not do at this time. I shall merely.

I. Show what is the meaning of the text.

II. State some things which must be true if "God is love."

I. What is the meaning of the words of the text.

II. State some things which must be true if "God is love."

This false notion arises from an ignorance of the fact that God exercises all the attributes of his character in every action, and therefore the different phases of his executive volitions, all have the same moral character, for his character belongs solely to his intention, and that results in all his acts, his mercy, justice, &c. His virtue lies back of his executive actions. It is only the flowing out of the vast fountain of benevolence within Himself.


1. We see why implicit faith and confidence in God is a duty. Faith would not, and could not be a duty, if God was not a God of love; a God of wisdom, in fine, just such a God as the scriptures say He is.

2. If "God is love," it follows that any thing inconsistent with perfect confidence in Him is infinitely wicked--hence,

3. Any thing like murmuring against his providences must be very sinful.

4. We see why universal and perfect obedience to God is a duty. If God were not love, obedience to Him would not be a duty. If his laws were not founded on benevolence, we should be under no obligation to obey them. But as God is love, and as his laws were framed with a benevolent intention, we are bound to obey Him, and a rejection of his laws is rebellion against the good of the universe.

5. Our subject gives us a clue to the correct interpretation of the Bible--we must make every thing contained in it, consistent with the perfect benevolence of God. The fact once announced that God is love, every thing in the scriptures must be explained by the light of that truth.

6. We have a key to explain the providences of God. We often hear people say, in a complaining way--"why did God do so and so? Why did He afflict me in such and such a manner?" Now the answer to such questions is obvious--it is because the laws of benevolence demand it. So of all the movements of divine providence, and grace, whether they occasion suffering or happiness, they are all put forth for one and the same reason, and that, because benevolence requires them.

7. The benevolence of God lays no foundation for the inference of universal salvation. It is no more reasonable to infer from the benevolence of God, that misery will not exist in a future world, than it would be to infer from the same premise, that there will be no more misery in this world--it would be just as reasonable to say that pain does not exist at all, as it would be to say that it will not exist to all eternity. But it is correct to say that it will have no power over the holy and the good in a future state. We stand on firm ground when we affirm this, but we have no authority from reason or revelation, for saying that great and incalculable evil will not exist in some part of the universe to all eternity.

8. To my own mind, a weighty objection to the second advent doctrines as now promulgated, is found in the fact that God is love. I cannot see how it could be consistent with the benevolence of God to destroy the world at the present time. So far as we know, and the fact is not disputed by any believer in the doctrines of Christianity, a great majority of those who have inhabited the earth, have gone to hell. Now God saw this from the beginning, and could He have benevolently ordained the destruction of the world under such circumstances? It is no answer to this argument, to say that "men are free, and can escape hell or not as they please, and therefore God is clear of their blood"--for suppose that there was but one world in the universe, and that God had peopled it with beings who would certainly be eternally miserable, grant if you please that their own agency had made them so--grant that God had done his best to prevent their misery--I ask would God have any right to make such a world? By no means, unless He should see that it would occasion sufficient happiness to Himself, to overbalance the misery of the creatures placed in such circumstances. Now what could be thought of the benevolence of God, if at the present time, under existing circumstances, He should destroy the world? We are to judge of the character of God, by his dealings with us. We are told but little of his doings in heaven--we are not told whether the sun, or the moon, or the stars are inhabited, therefore we must judge of the character of God by his doings here. Let us remember this, and let us remember that when God created the world, He had full knowledge of all that would result from its creation, and if, foreseeing that nine tenths of its inhabitants would be eternally miserable, that a vast majority of those who have peopled it would go to hell--if, I say, notwithstanding all this, He had determined to wipe the world out of existence now, when all or the most of the results have been evil, could we consider Him as a God of love? It is no answer to this question, to say that we do not know how much good God will accomplish in other parts of the universe, by the destruction of the earth at the present time. As I just said, we are to judge of the character of God by his dealings here, not by his actions in other parts of the universe. So far as we can judge, greater evil than good has thus far resulted from the creation of the world, and if it should now be swept out of the universe, could we suppose that it was created with a benevolent design? If God is love, how can it be that the great mass of men will be finally miserable?

9. The fact that God is a benevolent being, appears to me to be a most cogent argument in favor of the doctrine of a temporal millenium, the result of which will be the conversion of the majority of men. No other doctrine, so far as we can judge, is consistent with the benevolence of God. God tells us to reason with Him, and judge for ourselves of his character. Now let us do it. So much does the doctrine of a temporal millenium consist with the benevolence of God, that the mere announcement of the fact that He is love, seems to tell us with trumpet tongue, that He is yet moving on in this world with his great plans of benevolence--that He is going on from conquering to conquer, and that the time will yet come when all shall know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest. I love to dwell upon the character of God in this light. I love to think of Him, not merely as the creator of the universe, but as the great and good governor of all things, who can deign to put his mighty hand in to the base affairs of earth, and turn, and overturn, till his benevolent design in creating the earth is fully accomplished--till the majority of men come to be his obedient subjects, while those who are damned will be monuments to warn the universe of the dreadful effects of sin. What! shall God be defeated in his plans? Is it indeed true, as some assert, that the tendency of things on earth is to go backward? If it is how grievously was Christ mistaken, when He compared the kingdom of heaven "unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measure of meal till the whole was leavened." Some, forsooth, tell us that Christianity is dying out on earth, that the meal is killing the leaven, instead of the leaven leavening the lump. Now God forbid that the tendency of his government should be to retrocession. What! shall the God of the universe, the creator of all things, because the tide of earthly things is rolling back on Himself, and thwarting his mighty plans, crush the world, bury it in everlasting destruction, and send its teeming millions off to hell! Nay, if this be so, we are left to the dim light of inferring that for some inscrutable reason, God created such a world as this. I do not say, that God could not have a good reason for destroying the world at the present moment, but I do say, that if such a reason does exist, He would in some way have made it known to us. But when we open the Bible, we find the truth that God is love, standing out on every page, like the sun breaking through an ocean of storms, and by its light we can go through all the dark sayings of scriptures, and through the mysterious workings of Providence. It is a key with which we may unlock the designs of God, and learn that this world was created to aid in accomplishing the good of universal being, and that it will not be destroyed till its work is fully done.

10. If God is love, there is no favor too great for Him to bestow. No one need say that he is too insignificant a creature for God to bless, for He is ever ready to bestow the greatest blessings upon us all, whatever may be our condition as soon as He possibly can. He comes close up to our side, and takes every opportunity to do us good--we cannot open our mouths before He is ready to fill them. We need not starve, and wait for God to come to our relief, for He is ever close at hand. If He withholds spiritual blessings from us, we may infer that the difficulty lies with ourselves, not with Him.

Let me say to you, who are impenitent sinners, that if at last you make your bed in hell, you , and not God, will be to blame--and to you who profess to love the Lord, if you have not as much grace as you feel you need, if your experience of heavenly things is cold and barren, be assured that you, and not God, are in fault. He is continually crying in your ears, "all things are now ready, come ye in and sup with me." He is ever pressing upon you with all the weight of infinite love, seeking for some nook or corner in your hearts, where He may come in and fill you with all the fulness of his Son.


of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart

  1. Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE XII).

  2. Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit, but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).

  3. Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).

  4. Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).

  5. Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).

  6. Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  7. Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity, because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  8. Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect... it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  9. Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).

  10. Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  11. Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).


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