THE CHARACTER OF GOD’S WILL

Chapter 4

There are abundant grounds for the opinion that God’s will is not mere omnipotent authority. He has omnipotent authority, but being moral, he must have regard for moral considerations in the exercise of that authority. In other words, God’s will, must be a moral will, and we have every reason to believe that it is a morally good will. Ample proofs of this may be produced. A few of them will be considered later.

To view God’s will as only omnipotent authority, exercised in an unlimited way, and without regard to moral consideration, is to cast a dark pall over life and to make it hemmed in by necessities on every side. It is, then, a joyless, hopeless round of compulsion, and we, the slaves of God’s stern determination. “With such a view, religion will be slavish, a dull, sullen resignation, or a painful, weary round of unwelcome duties and reluctant abstainings.” It will, in fact, be an unwholesome, unsatisfying religion devoid of all those qualities that make for human happiness. It can lighten no burdens, soothe no sorrows, assuage no grief, or bring the light of hope into no life. It will baffle hope, and render love toward God impossible. Such a view of God, and the religion that is based upon such a view, is not that view of God nor that religion revealed in the Bible.

The religion of the New Testament has, all through it, the pealing of joy-bells, the warmth of love, the brightness of hope, the peace and contentment of soul-rest, the delightful sense of harmony with all that is good in the universe. This is not, mere theory, nor a picture of the imagination, but, as millions have proved, it is capable of realization in daily life, in the practicality of personal experience. This fact has an important bearing upon the nature of God’s will, for the blessedness of the Christian life is the fruit of the operation of that will. To the Christian, therefore, God’s will is not a thing to be dreaded and feared, but that which is the ground of his hope, the source of his confidence, and the strength of his soul

His Will Not Inscrutable

In the Book of Job the question is asked, “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (chap. 11:7). To suppose, as some do, that we can know nothing of God’s will (if he has one for us) relating to our conduct or pertaining to our affairs, is to leave us in midnight darkness. As previously stated, we can and do know something of God’s will. It is not hidden in the depth of his ever-veiled majesty, nor is it known only in some distant region. It is known upon earth. Knowledge of it is not confined to a few sublime souls who dwell apart in a favored relation, souls who have found some special way of rising above their fellows and living on a plain unapproachable by the mass of mankind. Neither is it so obscure and uncertain and so enveloped in mystery that we shall ever be wandering and inquiring, but never ascertaining what it is. We are commanded: “Be ye hot unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17) Paul also speaks of being “filled with the knowledge of his will.” (Col. 1:9)

Since God is related to mankind in the moral sphere, it is but natural to suppose that he would reveal his will to man. And it is a well-known fact that those men who rise highest in the scale of moral being are those who suppose themselves to be cognizant of the will of God. So, when the Bible speaks of “having made known unto us the mystery of his will”. (Eph. 1:9) those who have most developed their moral sense and who would be most likely to know the will of God, if it were revealed, are the very ones who do suppose themselves to know it. To them this Scripture means an actual fact in their own experience, a fact testified to by their inner consciousness. It is as much a reality to them as any other fact that they know. While they do not believe that they have found out the Almighty to perfection, or that they know all the mystery of his will, yet they do know much of his will, especially as it relates to them. And this confidence that they know God’s will, is to them, the one great outstanding fact of their spiritual life---it is unquestionable based upon reality.

The Determining Factor

The scope and direction of God’s will is to be determined by his character. Character goes far toward determining purpose. If we know that a man’s character is good, we expect his purpose to be good. We expect the operations of his will to be a manifestation of his good character. We are told that man was created in the image of God. This does not relate to his physical image, for God has no physical image---he is a spirit. Man’s likeness to him, therefore, must be a mental and moral likeness. This signifies that man and God are both alike in the principles of their characters. So, when we know the principles of man’s character and its relation to his will, we know by analogy God’s character and its relation to his will.

Character results from the use of the will. If the will habitually acts in an evil manner, the character becomes harmonious with such actions. Therefore one’s nature may be said to consist of the attitude of his will, or to be the reflection of his will. Thus when God’s character is determined, the principle upon which his will operates is at the same time determined.

If God’s will were to be exercised wrongly, that is, according to wrong principles, his good character could not be maintained. He would no longer be what he is, for his character would be changed. He is not a tyrant, forcing his will upon us without regard to our rights or needs He is not whimsical, acting without principle, as some men act. He is not selfish, nor cruel, nor arbitrary. Therefore, none of these characteristics show themselves in the operations of his will. God is under obligation to himself to preserve his character, just as a man is under obligation to himself to preserve his character. Man injures himself if he does anything contrary to good character. So God will, and must will and act in harmony with his character. Thus he can do nothing contrary to his character.

God’s good character is represented in the Scriptures as the ground of the Christian’s faith in him, and also the ground of his actions. “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way” (Psa. 25:8). This shows that the hope, not only of the righteous, but of the wicked, lies in the fact that God is good and upright. There are two facts set forth in the foregoing text regarding the character of God. First, he is good; that is, he is kind, loving, sympathetic and merciful. Second, he is upright; that is, he is just, righteous, faithful and holy. These two characteristics of goodness and uprightness blend in his character and balance each other. They both have weight in determining what his will shall be and how it shall be exercised.

Men, sometimes, have been so strongly impressed with the thought of God’s uprightness, or righteousness, that they have lost sight of his goodness. The Puritans were an example of this. They were a stern, inflexible people, with an intense love of righteousness. They were very strict, sometimes even to harshness, and exacting in their religious and moral requirements. Their life lacked warmth and beauty many times, but they developed a moral fiber and sense of justice that has left its mark deep in the consciousness of succeeding generations.

At the present time, men have lost sight of the righteousness of God to a great extent. Much is being said about his love. His goodness and mercy are highly extolled. The idea that he will punish men for their wickedness is held to be contrary to his love. This unbalanced idea of God’s character leads to serious perversion of moral truth. It is making men lose sight of the principles of justice and right, and to lose their sense of ill-desert when at the same time they are guilty of misconduct. This causes them to have wrong ideas of the will of God, and makes him appear, as a consequence, a soft, good-natured, tolerant, indulgent being, practically devoid of moral sensibilities. God is both good and upright. He has all those attributes which goodness implies. At the same time he has all those attributes which belong to uprightness. He will not depart from uprightness to be good. He will not depart from goodness to exercise judgment. Therefore, his will acts with due regard both for goodness and uprightness---the two are never separated in their action upon his will.

We shall now refer to a few of his attributes and the relation of these attributes to his will. He declares that he is holy, saying, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” The operations of his will, which determine his activities and the quality of his will, are always holy. The reader has within his own mind, no doubt, a fairly clear idea of what holiness means when applied to God. It means moral perfection, purity of motive and action, and unselfish devotion to right. On the other hand, it signifies both passive and active opposition to all those things that are contrary to holiness. Since this is true, human sinfulness must ever be against God’s will and contrary to his purpose in the individual life. Therefore he can never excuse sin---he can never wink at it. Hence each sin must have its recompense. God is also the embodiment of truth, and for this reason he requires men to be truthful, sincere, honest, and loyal to the principles of truth in their characters and in their lives.

God is just. He is absolutely just; so the requirements of his will never do man injustice. He never requires what he ought not to require. He never lays upon us duties that are too great for our strength. He never exacts sacrifices that go beyond our ability to make. He never calls for service that is unreasonable. He will not act toward us in any way that infringes upon our moral rights, or any other rights. He will never condemn the righteous, nor approve the wicked. All the injustice of mankind meets his condemnation, and though he permits man freedom of will, even when man misuses it, there is, nevertheless, a meting out of justice in the end, the balancing and evening up of all things. All the inequalities of life will be compensated. God’s character and will at the last will be vindicated. His justice will shine out clearly, so that all men must eventually approve his course.

God is merciful. “His mercy endureth forever.” “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” So that all the tenderness and kindness that mankind needs are revealed in the goodness of God’s will toward them. When the angel hosts sang the praises of God on the night of the nativity, the burden of their chant was “glory to God” and “good will to men.” His goodness sends rain upon the just and upon the unjust, and loads us with the material blessings of the harvest. God is “loving” --- “God is love.” The will of the loving God must be good. He is faithful; he is long-suffering, and so his will is the manifestation of these qualities. He is reasonable; therefore, his actions are never arbitrary. Back of them all is a reason which justifies them. His reason may transcend human reason, but still be is reasonable, and ever acts on principle---never from whim or caprice.

Another of his qualities is dignity. There is a certain attitude of dignity that characterizes all true greatness. So there is a dignity about the actions and will of God that renders them worthy of his greatness. This fact is often lost by religious enthusiasts, who go to extremes of demonstration and do foolish and unseemly things, believing them to be the will of God. God never acts in an unseemly way, neither is it his will for his children to do so. There is a quiet dignity about the really Christ-like Christian, a dignity that has in it nothing of pride or superiority. That dignity precludes the practice of those things which are contrary to themselves. God’s dignity is the dignity of moral worth. The dignity of the Christian partakes of the nature of the dignity of God in kind, though, of course, not in degree. Every revelation of God’s will must be in harmony with the dignity of his person and character. When man understands the true import of his revelation, he is impressed with its loftiness and worthiness.

Since God’s character is very clearly revealed in the Scriptures and in human experience, we may, therefore, know the character of his will. We may be assured that if we may seek to know that will we can have the confidence that when we learn it, it will be for our best interests---for the exaltation and blessing of our lives---and in keeping it we shall find the fullest fruition of our highest hopes.