What Saith the Scripture?
God Not Pleased with the Death of the Wicked
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
from "The Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
June 20, 1849
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
Text.--Eze. 33:11: "Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"
In discussing these words it will be important to consider,
I. What the death spoken of is not.
II. What it is.
III. Why God has no pleasure in it.
IV. Why He does not prevent it.
V. The only possible way to escape it.
I. What the death spoken of is not.
II. What it is.
Positively, the death spoken of must be the opposite of the life here referred to. This life cannot be natural life, for all, both saint and sinner, are conceived of as being alike in natural life. Of course, the life must be salvation -- eternal life -- that blessedness which saints enjoy in the favor and love of God, begun here, prolonged forever hereafter. Now, if such be the life alluded to, the death, being in contrast with it, must be eternal death; the misery experienced by all God's enemies. As the life referred to here is not a mere state of existence, but a state of positive blessedness, so the death placed over against it, cannot be annihilation -- the natural opposite of mere existence -- but must be misery -- the natural opposite of blessedness.
These remarks must suffice on this point, it being one on which no rational doubt can exist.
III. Why has God no pleasure in the sinner's death?
A few days since you may recollect I preached a funeral sermon, to show that the death of saints is precious in God's sight. Their death is to Him an event of deep interest. But the sinner's death is not so. Here is death in which God has no pleasure. He gives us His own solemn word, nay more, His oath, that He takes no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked. We are now to consider why.
So with God in regard to the sinner's death. Since He is purely and perfectly benevolent, it is contrary to His character that He should find pleasure in the misery of His creatures. Love desires evermore the happiness of all beings, and is from its very nature disposed to secure the highest possible degree of it. God pities the self-ruined sinner; never rejoices in his dreadful doom, for its own sake.
Now it is plain that a God of love can have no pleasure in being brought into such a position as this. He took the greatest pleasure in bestowing good upon even the sinner, so long as He wisely could. It was His happiness to send His rain on the just and on the unjust; but when the dreaded hour at last came, and God as the great Executive Magistrate of the universe was compelled to cut down the guilty sinner and show His own eternal abhorrence of sin, then He could no longer show the sinner the least mercy. This removing the sinner beyond the range of mercy is a thing in which, considered by itself, God can have no pleasure. The same is true of all benevolent beings.
It is remarkable to see how earnestly God repels the slander upon Him of taking pleasure in the sinner's death. The Jews in Ezekiel's time went so far as to use the proverb -- "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The Most High solemnly rebukes His people for this slander; protests His own innocence of the implied charge, and finally closes with the explicit averment -- "For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth; wherefore turn yourselves and live ye." (Ezek. 18:2, 32)) So also in our text, He takes His solemn oath, and since He could swear by no greater, He swears by Himself. "As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Therefore let no sinner seek to throw the blame of his own ruin off from himself and upon his Maker. No slander could be more groundless and more foul.
In that world the sufferings of the wicked will be unmitigated. Here, although their depravity is great, nay, even total, yet so many restraints are upon them that many of them appear quite respectably among their fellow beings. They are induced to conform outwardly to the rules of good society. Consequently in this world they enjoy many comforts, and ordinarily they have an ample supply for their physical wants. The common pleasures of society, of earthly friendships and relationships, fall to their lot. Consequently they are by no means so miserable as they might be. Indeed they are often wont to think themselves quite happy. And they do doubtless have a sort of feverish enjoyment, poor enough at best, as the portion of the human soul, yet vastly unlike that dreadful state in which every source of enjoyment shall be utterly cut off. There shall be gnawing desire but no gratification; pressing want, but no supply, no employment but groans and sighs and such developments of their depravity as bring their own torturing punishment with them. If the Bible had said nothing about their case we might yet know that they must be purely and utterly miserable; for what source of happiness can remain to them in all the realms of nature, or in all the universe of God? Here they manage to get some good because God is sparing them to give them space to repent, and is trying them if so be He may subdue their hearts by His love; but when they have abused all this good till God can bestow it no longer, what shall remain then? When death shall have smitten their last pleasure, where are they!
IV. But it is time that we should ask, Why does not God prevent the death of the wicked? If He takes no pleasure in it, why should He suffer it to be?
But if a God of infinite wisdom and love might give existence to a race who could and should sin, then surely it is no marvel that He should punish them. Indeed the only marvel is that He should ever do otherwise than punish -- should ever pardon. Pardon, not punishment, is the strange thing. Revelation apart, who could ever infer rationally that God would pardon one sinner? From what data could man infer it? The wisest sinners that ever have lived have made the inference that God could save none. They have seen that God is a Moral Governor, and hence cannot be pleased with sinners. Hence they inferred, and most reasonably too, that He can save none. How could they have made any other rational inference without the aid of revelation?
To the same purport He says again -- "What could I have done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?" Does not this forcibly imply that God could not do more to secure holiness and save from hell than He actually had done? Now it should be well considered that what God could not do wisely to save sinners, He could not do at all without sinning. There is no middle course between acting wisely and sinning. For God to act otherwise than with wisdom must be wrong.
Now therefore if wisdom dictated the creation of the beings who would become wicked, God could not forbear to create, without personal sin, nay, could not forbear without absolute self-ruin! Do we think it a small matter that God should sin? Then we have not yet begun to take right views of the subject. For God to sin would be to lose His own self-respect -- destroy His own peace and blessedness -- unfit Himself either to enjoy His own character and works, or to govern His universe.
We should never lose sight of the great truth that God always acts considerately and wisely. If He creates moral agents who become sinners, He does it wisely, following evermore the dictates of His intelligence and of His benevolence. It is plain that God could not wisely abridge the liberty of moral agents, nor indeed could He save them even if He should, for the very idea of the salvation of a moral agent implies his own voluntary turning from sin. None but moral beings can have salvation from sin and from hell; the existence of moral beings involves a moral government over them, and over them as moral beings, which is the same thing as to say, that they must have the liberty of free voluntary action. If therefore God would have a moral government, He must let it have scope, and meet the results be they what they may. I do not mean that He must preclude Himself from throwing in moral influences to affect their action; but I do mean that their liberty of moral action must not be abridged. His interposing influences must evermore be of a moral and not of a physical or compulsory nature.
I have said that God acts wisely, and cannot act otherwise. I mean this in its fullest extent. It is always true. At every hour and moment of each sinner's existence God could truly say -- What could I have done more for thee that I have not done? The sinner may misapprehend the case, and may suppose that God might do, or might have done more; but God makes no mistakes; God never misapprehends the real facts of the case.
This view of the case is not only in accordance with the Bible, but it is inferred irresistibly from the known attributes of God. Some of you may ask -- How does it appear that God does as much as He can do for the good of each sinner? I answer -- we all know that God is a good and not a wicked being. He is moreover a moral agent, possessing attributes of mind and of heart, of which our own are a copy, for we are made in the image of God. Of course when we speak of God as a good being, we may, nay, we must reason by analogy drawn from other good beings. If we are good men, we shall of course seek to prevent all possible evil and produce all possible good. This is necessarily implied in our being good men.
Now what is implied in God's being good? That He consecrates Himself to the good of being. Goodness in God implies that He is all awake to prevent all the mischief He wisely can, and secure all the good He wisely can. He knows intuitively that if He is a moral agent as we are; if He has a conscience as we have; if He has moreover a good heart, He will evermore do all He wisely can both to prevent evil and produce good.
V. We may now see that the only possible way in which the sinner's death can
be avoided, is for the sinner himself to turn from his evil way and live.
The sinner need not look for God to change the policy of His government. He need not expect God to pardon sin without the sinner's repentance and the sinner's faith in Christ. He need not wait for some other name than that of Jesus given among men, whereby they may be saved, or for any other mode in which the sinner may avail himself of that name. God's government being what it is, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are natural and necessary means of the sinner's salvation. He might as well ask Jehovah to come down from His throne, as ask Him to do anything more or anything different from what He is doing to save sinners. The sinner, therefore, who would be saved, must meet Jehovah's own revealed conditions.
1. The goodness of God is really no encouragement to those who continue in sin. Hear the rebuke given by the Psalmist -- "Why boastest thou thyself in mischief. O mighty man! The goodness of God endureth continually." Why should you be proud of mischief? Know thou that God is good; and a good God is terrible to the wicked.
I am often amazed to hear persons talk as if the goodness of God afforded some security to those who live in sin. Some of you may be resting on this assumption. But how is this? If the goodness of God has hitherto prevented His using such means as have actually saved you from sin, how can you know but it may likewise prevent His saving you from hell? God has been good all along; but you are yet in sin. If His goodness has not stopped your sinning, how can you hope it will prevent your suffering? If His goodness has not availed to secure your conversion under the most favorable circumstances which even infinite love could arrange, how can you hope it will save you without your being converted? How can you venture on the assumption that God will recede from His ground, and since you will not come to His terms, He will come to yours? Suppose you that goodness and wisdom will ever do this?
It may be that you have not duly estimated the fact that God is immutable -- always good, and always having the same sort of goodness. If then His goodness has not prevented your sinning, and your suffering too, in this world; if all the efforts which goodness has been continually putting forth have hitherto failed, how can you infer that the same goodness may not fail hereafter? Especially when He assures you that now is the accepted time, and now His day of salvation? If His goodness cannot arrest you in your course of sin, in the most favoring hour, how can you hope it will arrest you from going straight down to hell? What can you find either in the Bible or out of the Bible to warrant such an inference as that of your salvation from the goodness of God?
One thing you may certainly know to be fact. God has been always as good as He is now, or as He ever will be. Yet He has created this world; it has fallen into sin; He has visited it with many and sore judgments and much suffering for its sins; has declared that He will send every sinner to hell who will not turn from his evil ways, and has done all He wisely could to make you believe it. And now, can you rationally infer from God's goodness, that you as a sinner have no hell to fear? Ah, no, sinner no. You are moving on fast through the only period of your existence in which salvation is possible; you cannot arrest your progress towards the grave; you can never change the course of God's government towards sinners. God is too good to suffer any sinner to triumph over justice, or to subvert His own throne.
2. The goodness of God is not the security of the impenitent sinner's salvation, but the guarantee of his damnation. Sinners know this. They are not afraid of God because they think Him wicked, but because they think Him good, and dread the consequences of His goodness. What sinner ever feared injustice from God? Not one. Their fear is that God will deal with them as they deserve. Not without reason is it that they fear His goodness and His justice. These are the very qualities in His character which they have to fear; just as they fear good men and the best men most, not because they are bad men, but because they are good men.
3. The death of the wicked is not inconsistent with God's happiness. I have heard persons say that they never could be happy even in heaven, if they knew that any of their own friends or relatives were in hell; and they seem to wonder how God can be happy while He knows that sinners are in hell. The reason why God will not be unhappy is that He will have the eternal consciousness of having Himself done right, and of not being in any sense or degree to blame for the death of the wicked. When the smoke of their torments shall go up forever and ever, His consciousness will forever affirm -- no blood of theirs is on My raiment. With this consciousness God need not be unhappy in the sinner's eternal death.
4. God will have the eternal consciousness of having laid Himself out to the utmost to save sinners. He knows that He has gone to the very verge of propriety, just as far as He wisely could, at every successive step in their course through a life of sin to their eternal death. What a satisfaction that must be to such a mind as His to be able to say -- "What could I have done more to My vineyard that I have not done" in it? It is no fault of Mine that when I looked for it to bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes, fit only for burning.
In this view of the case it is easy to see that God will be content with having done the best thing He could do. Conscious of this, He will be satisfied, and will have no occasion to wish that He had been more than infinite, or to regret in any respect that He has not done more or better than He has.
He will be well satisfied on the whole with all the results of all He has done. He will indeed see that the misery of the wicked is, as viewed in itself, a great and almost an infinite evil; but when all the results are considered, He will be satisfied. For, it should be considered, God had foreseen all these results. They do not break upon Him by surprise. He did not commence a plan with which He should be in its development, dissatisfied. He foresaw all the evils incidental to His plan -- all the sin and all the suffering consequent upon sinning. In full view of all, He asked Himself -- Shall I be satisfied with these results? He did not go forward without making up His mind that this course was, on the whole, altogether wise and good. Hence the evils which are to be developed in the sinner's death are not new to Him. They do not break forth suddenly upon Him so as to embarrass His movements and turn Him aside from His course. By no means. Right onward move His eternal counsels, as certain as His own existence. What infinite wisdom has devised, infinite power will execute. God never can lack the necessary firmness to do the very best thing in the best way.
These results, therefore, do not interfere at all with the happiness of God. The death of the sinner may be in itself a very great evil, and yet God sees that on the whole -- taking all results into view, He has the best of reasons to be satisfied with His own plan, and with all that He has Himself done in its execution. He will be satisfied with the results as a whole, although there may be things connected with it which are in themselves to be regretted.
Again, the death of the wicked will not be inconsistent with the happiness of heaven. Persons have often said, that they could not be happy in heaven, if they knew the wicked were in hell. Some of you may have thought so; but why? Are you a great deal better than God? Are you more benevolent or more wise than God is? Suppose you stand on the shore and you see a ship in the offing beating hard against a dreadful storm, and laden with precious human lives. You see their signals of distress; ah, you can even hear their shrieks and cries for help, and in your inmost soul you feel that you would save them all if you could. No doubt you would. God has the power to do it, but yet He lets the noble ship strike the breakers! You would have saved them; but are you therefore better than God? No; the reason why your course differs from God's course in the matter is, that you are not so good and not so wise as He. If you were as benevolent as He, you would act as He does.
But with your short vision of results, it would fill you with great anguish to see a ship's crew and passengers all dash upon the dreadful rocks and go to the bottom. Yet God can look calmly on, and trace the whole course of the dreadful calamity, satisfied that all shall be well in the end.
When saints reach heaven they will have more confidence in God than many people have now. They will see more than they do now, and will have indefinitely more confidence in the wisdom of what they cannot see. It will then appear plain to them that they have the same reason for being happy in all the results of moral government that God has. They will begin to see these results as they have never done before. With enlarged views they will see most clearly that God has done right, perfectly and infinitely right. O how their minds will be eternally solemnized by a view of hell! What a spectacle! What could make more solemn impressions of the fearfulness of sin, and of the firmness that prevails forever in the counsels of Jehovah! I have sometimes been greatly edified by seeing how Christians have borne the loss of friends dying in their sins. For a long time I could not understand this, and was greatly stumbled to conceive how Christians could be reconciled to such a trial. Is it stupidity, said I to myself, or is it unbelief? Subsequent reflection however, and observation, showed that it was neither. I saw how they might be happy in God, confiding in His wisdom and love. I no more suppose that heaven would be unhappy because of their vision of hell, than I suppose a virtuous community would be in seeing a man punished who was bent upon their ruin. Suppose there were in this community a man full of all mischief, a child of the devil, reckless of law and right, periling and even taking life, whenever excited passion maddened him to the deed; suppose this man seized, convicted, and shut up in the state's prison, or even suppose him to be hung: you see it and you say -- this is in itself a great evil, but in view of all the results, you would say, Amen. Better that the guilty wretch should suffer as he deserves, than that society should be broken up -- other lives be destroyed, and an evil vastly greater than one man's death be done.
Now if in this world you may be brought to acquiesce in condign punishment brought upon the guilty, how much more so in the future world! There we shall see that their case is hopeless -- that nothing more could be done wisely to save them -- that they forced their way down to hell in full view of Calvary, despite of the tenderest entreaties and the most affecting invitations; then we shall see that nothing remained but for God to shut them up in the state's prison of the universe!
Persons sometimes say-- O if my relatives, my husband or my children must go to hell, I never can be reconciled with God's doings, never, NEVER! I never can be happy in heaven myself and see them in hell! What! Do you say to God -- You may send anybody else's children to hell if you please, but spare mine! All this will have passed away if you ever reach heaven. There God's friends are my friends, and God's enemies are my enemies. I have only one question to ask there: Is he a friend of God, or is he an enemy? All these distinctions about self and self's friends, or self's children, will then have vanished forever away. Does that pious mother think now that she could not be happy to see her own son sent to hell? Once in heaven, or even once fitted for heaven, your soul will rest calmly in God, sinking down sweetly into His will, and rejoicing that He never does and never can do otherwise than right.
But we must revert to the exhortation in our text. God says to each sinner, "Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" Many sinners in this house have continued long in sin, expecting God to do something more than He has yet done, and indeed enough to save them; but will He? Do you know that He will? How do you know that He will? All this time while you have been waiting for Him, He has been waiting for you. He has come to you by all His servants, rising up early and sending them, saying, "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" This you will observe assumes that you are bent on your own death, and that you act as if you thought yourselves to have good reasons for choosing death. Your God asks to know what those reasons are. He tells you most solemnly that you need not die because He wants to have you, or because He has any pleasure at all in your death; nor because any one else -- unless it be Satan -- wants to have you die. No; if you have reasons they must be your own, and God asks you what they are. Now go home and ask yourself what they are. Press home to your own heart this question -- put to you by your Maker -- Why will ye die? Take your pen and write the reasons down, for you may have occasion enough to review them in the coming years and ages of your existence. Then write them down. I should like to know what they are, and it might be of use to yourself to study them more attentively than you have been wont to do. You will do well to write them all out fully, so that your own mind can measure them and weigh them and estimate soberly their real value. Won't you do this; do it seriously, in the stillness and solitude of your own chamber; write them all down; get upon your knees and spread them out before God. Say, Lord, Thou hast put this question to me -- Why wilt thou die?" Here is the answer. Lord, it is because Thou hast no mercy on sinners. It is because Thou hast done nothing to save me. Because I can't help going on in my sins. Because I can't repent and can't believe. * * * But stop, sinner, read this over again before God. Is there a word of truth in all you have written? Will it stand the test of even your own conscience? Will it bear to come before your Maker? Can it be of any use to you to "deny the Lord that bought you," and "make God a liar" to His very face -- in contempt of His own solemn oath?
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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