The Purposes of God
Charles G. Finney: "Systematic Theology"
Lecture 77 (1851) - Page 1 of 5 pages


In discussing The Purposes of God I shall endeavor to show...

  • Part I- What I understand by the purposes of God.
  • Part II- Notice the distinction between purpose and decree.
  • Part III- Show that in some sense the purposes of God must extend to all events.
  • Part IV- State different senses in which God purposes different events.
  • Part V- That God's revealed will is never inconsistent with His secret will or purpose.
  • Part VI- Notice the wisdom and benevolence of the divine purposes.
  • Part VII- Show the immutability of the divine purposes.
  • Part VIII- That the purposes of God are a ground of eternal and joyful confidence.
  • Part IX- Consider the relation of the purposes to the prescience or foreknowledge of God.
  • Part X- Show that God's purposes are not inconsistent with, but demand the use of means, both on the part of God and on our part to accomplish them.

Part I- What I understand by the purposes of God

In this discussion, I shall use "purposes" as synonymous with design, intention.

The purposes of God must be ultimate and proximate. That is, God has and must have an ultimate end. He must purpose to accomplish something by His works and providence, which He regards as a good in itself, or as valuable to Himself, and to being in general. This I call His
ultimate end.

That God has such an end or purpose, follows from the already established facts, that God is a moral agent, and that He is infinitely wise and good. For surely He could not be justly considered as either wise or good, had He no intrinsically valuable end which He aims to realize, by His works of creation and providence.

His purpose to secure His great and ultimate end, I call His
ultimate purpose.

His proximate purposes respect the means by which He aims to secure His end. If He purposes to realize an end, He must of course purpose the necessary means for its accomplishment. The purposes that respect the means are what I call in this discussion, His
proximate purposes.

Part II- Distinction between purpose and decree

Purpose has just been defined, and the definition need not be repeated.

The term decree is used in a variety of senses. It is much used in legal and governmental proceedings.

When used in judicial or equitable proceedings, "decree" is synonymous--

  • With judgment, decision, determination; and--
  • With order, direction, command.

When used in legislative proceedings, "decree" is synonymous with ordinance, law, statute, enactment, command.

"Decree" is used in the Bible in TWO principal ways...

II-1 "Decree" is used as synonymous with fore-ordination or determination, appointment.
  • He made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder. Job 28.26
  • I will declare the decree, the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Psalm 2.7
  • He hath also established them for ever and ever; He hath made a decree which shall not pass. Psalm 148.6.
  • When He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth. Prov 8.29
  • Fear ye not me? saith the Lord. Will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree that it cannot pass it, and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it? Jer 5.22
  • This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which is come upon my lord the king. Dan 4.24
II-2 "Decree" also is used as synonymous with ordinance, statute, law   All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counselors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, He shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Dan 6.7-8

I make a
decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end. Dan 6.26
A- "Decree" has been generally used by theological writers as synonymous with fore-ordination, appointment. To decree, with these writers, is to appoint, ordain, establish, settle, fix, render certain. This class of writers also often confound decree with purpose, and use the word as meaning the same thing. They seldom, so far as I recollect, use the term decree as synonymous with law, enactment, command, and so forth.

I see no objection to using the term decree, in respect to a certain class of physical events, as synonymous with appointment, fore-ordination, fixing, rendering certain. But I think this use of it, applied, as it has been, to the actions of moral agents, is highly objectionable, and calculated to countenance the idea of fatality and necessity, in respect to the actions of men.

B- It seems inadmissible to speak of God's decreeing the free actions of moral agents, in the sense of fixing, settling, determining, fore-ordaining them as He fixes, settles, renders certain all physical events.

  • The latter He has fixed or rendered certain by a law of necessity.
  • The former, that is, free acts, although they may be, and are certain, yet they are not rendered so by a law of fate or necessity; or by an ordinance or decree that fixes them so, that it is not possible they should be otherwise.

Purpose vs. Decree
C- In respect to the government of God...
I prefer to use the term
purpose, as I have said, to signify the design of God, both in respect to the end at which He aims, and the means He intends or purposes to use to accomplish it.

  • The term decree I use as synonymous with command, law, or ordinance.
  • I use purpose as expressive of what God purposes or designs to do Himself, and by His own agency, and also what He purposes or designs to accomplish by others.
  • I use decree as expressive of God's will, command, or law.
  D- God regulates His own conduct and agency in accordance with the former, that is, with His purposes.

God requires His creatures to conform to the latter, that is, to His decrees or laws.

We shall see, in its proper place, that both His purposes and His actions are conformed to the spirit of His decrees, or laws; that is, that He is benevolent in His purposes and conduct, as He requires His creatures to be.

E- I distinguish what God purposes or designs to accomplish by others, and what they design.

  • God's end or purpose is always benevolent. He always designs good.
  • God's creatures are often selfish, and their designs are often the direct opposite to the purpose of God, even in the same events.

For examples, see the verses quoted alongside, where God's purposes are contrasted with human purposes.

  Joseph said unto His brethren, Come near to me I pray you; and they came near. And He said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore, be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither {into slavery}; for God did send me before you, to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land, and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be plowing nor harvest.
Gen 45.4-6

Joseph said unto them, Fear not; for I am in the place of God. But as for you,
ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Gen 50.19-20

Him {Jesus} being delivered by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Acts 2.23

Part III- There must be some sense in which God's purposes extend to all events

There must be some sense in which God's purposes extend to all events.

This is evident from reason. His plan must, in some sense, include all actual events. He must foreknow all events by a law of necessity. This is implied in His omniscience. He must have matured and adopted His plan in view of, and with reference to, all events. He must have had some purpose or design respecting all events that He foresaw. All events transpire in consequence of His own creating agency; that is, they all result in some way directly or indirectly, either by His design or sufferance, from His own agency.
  He either designedly brings them to pass, or suffers them to come to pass without interposing to prevent them. He must have known that they would occur. He must have either positively designed that they should, or, knowing that they would result from the mistakes or selfishness of His creatures, negatively designed not to prevent them, or, He had no purpose or design about them.

The last hypothesis is plainly impossible. He cannot be indifferent to any event. He knows all events, and must have some purpose or design respecting them.

The Bible abundantly represents God's purposes as in some sense extending to all events. For example...

  • God is represented as perfectly wise in His works, and ways, and plan of creation and government.
  He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is He. Deu 32.4

O Lord, how wonderful are Thy works; in wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches. Psalm 104.24

I know that whatsoever God doeth it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him. Ecc 3.14

If God is infinitely wise, He must have had a universal plan...

  • III-1 The Bible represents God's purposes as universal and particular.
  • Seeing His days are determined, the number of His months are with thee; Thou hast appointed His bounds that He cannot pass. Job 14.5
  • This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. Isa 14.26
  • And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. Act 17.26
  • In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. Eph 1.11
  • III-2 The Bible represents God's purposes as in some sense extending both to natural evil, and to sin or moral evil.
  • Him {Jesus}, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Act 2.23
  • And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulcher. Act 13.29
  • And a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed. 1 Pet 2.8
  • For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation Jude 1.4a
  • For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. Rev 17.17
  • III-3 The Bible represents God's purposes as both ultimate and proximate, or including means and ends.
  • There shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve. Saying, Fear not Paul, Thou must be brought before Cæsar and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. As the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship... Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Acts 27.22-24, Acts 27.30-31
  • We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. 2 Thes 2.13
  • Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 1.2

  • III-4- The Bible represents God's providence and agency as extending in some sense to all events; from which also we must infer the universality of His purposes.


  • A- {God is He who...} covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast His food, and to young ravens which cry. He sendeth forth His commandment upon earth; His word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. He casteth forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sendeth out His word and melteth them, He causeth His winds to blow, and the waters flow. Psalm 147.8-9, Psalm 147.15-18
  • Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us; for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us. Isa 26.12
  • {God said...} I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things. Isa 45.7
  • B- All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou? Dan 4.35
  • Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos 3.6
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. Mt 10.29
  • For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things. Rom 11.36
  • In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.Eph 1.11
  • C- For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Philipp 2.13
  • Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Heb 13.20-21
  • He {God} causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make His face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. Psalm 104.14-15
  • D- That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mt 5.45
  • {Jesus said...} Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all His glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Mat 6.26, Mt 6.28-30

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