Lectures On Systematic Theology
By Charles G. Finney
1878 Edition
Edited by J.H. Fairchild

LECTURE 19: SANCTIONS OF MORAL LAW, NATURAL AND GOVERNMENTAL

In the discussion of this subject, I shall show:

What constitutes the sanctions of law.

1. The sanctions of law are the motives to obedience, the natural and the governmental consequences or results of obedience and of disobedience.

2. They are remuneratory, that is, they promise reward to obedience.

3. They are vindicatory, that is, they threaten the disobedient with punishment.

4. They are natural, that is, happiness is to some extent naturally connected with, and the necessary consequence of, obedience to moral law, and misery is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from, disobedience to moral law, or from acting contrary to the nature and relations of moral beings.

5. Sanctions are governmental. By governmental sanctions are intended:

(1.) The favor of the government as due to obedience.

(2.) A positive reward bestowed upon the obedient by government.

(3.) The displeasure of government towards the disobedient.

(4.) Direct punishment inflicted by the government as due to disobedience.

All happiness and misery resulting from obedience or disobedience, either natural, or from the favor, or frown of government, are to be regarded as constituting the sanctions of law.

In what light sanctions are to be regarded.

1. Sanctions are to be regarded as an expression of the benevolent regard of the lawgiver for his subjects: the motives which he exhibits to induce in the subjects the course of conduct that will secure their highest well-being.

2. They are to be regarded as an expression of his estimation of the justice, necessity, and value of the precept to the subjects of his government.

3. They are to be regarded as an expression of the amount or strength of his desire to secure the happiness of his subjects.

4. They are to be regarded as an expression of his opinion in respect to the desert of disobedience.

The natural sanctions are to be regarded as a demonstration of the justice, necessity and perfection of the precept.

By what rule sanctions ought to be graduated.

1. We have seen that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the well-being of God and of the universe, and conditionated upon the perception of its value; and,

2. That guilt is always to be measured by the perceived value of the end which moral beings ought to choose.

3. The sanctions of law should be graduated by the intrinsic merit and demerit of holiness and sin.

God's law has 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 but that of natural consequences.

5. The Bible expressly, and in every variety of form, teaches that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

The perfection and duration of the remuneratory sanctions of the law of God.

1. 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 men 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 reward should be as perfect and unending as virtue.

Penal inflictions under the government of God must be endless.

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?

1. 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 immediately 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, and the only 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.

2. 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 and perpetual rebellion, as the reward of his first transgression.

3. But the penal sanction of the law of God is endless death, or that state of endless suffering which is the natural and governmental result of sin or of spiritual death.

Before I proceed to the proof of this, I will notice an objection which is often urged against the doctrine of endless punishment. 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 that it is founded in 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. 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 the time required for its accomplishment. 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.

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. Which is the greater 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? The higher the ruler is exalted above the subject in his nature, character, and rightful authority, the greater is the obligation of the subject to will his good, to render to him obedience, and the greater is the guilt of the transgression in the subject. Therefore, the fact that man is so infinitely below his Maker, does but enhance the guilt of his rebellion, and render him all the more 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.

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, in its own nature, deserving of endless punishment. Proof:

Should a moral agent refuse to choose that as an ultimate end which is of no intrinsic value, he would thereby contract no guilt, because he would violate no obligation. But should he refuse to will the good of God and of his neighbor, he would violate an obligation, and of course contract guilt. This shows that guilt attaches to the violation of obligation, and that a thing is blameworthy because it is the violation of an obligation.

We have seen that sin is selfishness, that it consists in preferring self-gratification to the infinite interests of God and of the universe. We have also seen that obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of that good which moral agents ought to will to God and to the universe, and is equal to the affirmed value of that good. We have also seen that every moral agent, by a law of his own reason, necessarily affirms that God is infinite, and that the endless happiness and well-being of God and of the universe, is of infinite value. Hence it follows, that refusal to will this good is a violation of infinite or unlimited obligation, and, consequently involves unlimited guilt. It is as certain that the guilt of any sin is unlimited, as that obligation to will the good of God and of the universe is unlimited. To deny consistently that the guilt of sin is unlimited, it must be shown, that obligation to will good to God is unlimited. To maintain consistently this last, it must be shown, that moral agents have not the idea that God is infinite. Indeed, to deny that the guilt of sin is in any instance less than boundless, is as absurd as to deny the guilt of sin altogether.

Having shown that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe, that it is always equal to the soul's knowledge of the value of those interests, and having shown also, that every moral agent necessarily has the idea more or less clearly developed, that the value of those interests is infinite, it follows that the law is infinitely unjust, if its penal sanctions are not endless. Law must be just in two respects: the precept must be in accordance with the law of nature, and 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. 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. 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.

The tendency of sin to perpetuate and aggravate itself, affords another strong inference, that the sinfulness and misery of the wicked will be eternal.

The fact, that punishment has no tendency to originate disinterested love in a selfish mind towards him who inflicts the punishment, also affords a strong presumption, that future punishment will be eternal.

But let us examine this question in the light of revelation.

The Bible, in a great many ways, represents the future punishment of the wicked as eternal, and never once represents it otherwise. 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. I will here introduce, without comment, some passages of scripture confirmatory of this last remark. "The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish" (Prov. 10:28). "When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish; and the hope of unjust men perisheth" (Prov. 11:7). "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25:41, 42, 46). "And if thy hand offend thee, cut, it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43, 44). "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor; and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable" (Luke 3:17). "And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence" (Luke 16:26). "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). "And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:7-9). "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" (Jude:6, 7, 13). "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Rev. 14:9-11). "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). But there is scarcely any end to the multitude of passages that teach directly, or by inference, both the fact and the endlessness of the future punishment of the wicked.

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