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Stephen Charnock on the Goodness and Severity of God

October 23, 2008


Fourthly, Punishment is not the primary intention of God. It is his goodness that he hath no mind to punish; and therefore he hath put a bar to evil by his prohibitions and threatenings, that he might prevent sin, and consequently any occasions of severity against his creature. The principal intention of God in his law was to encourage goodness, that he might reward it; and when, by the commission of evil, God is provoked to punish, and takes the sword into his hand, he doth not act against the nature of his goodness, but against the first intention of his goodness in his precepts, which was to reward. As a good judge principally intends, in the exercise of his office, to protect good men from violence, and maintain the honour of the laws; yet consequently to punish bad men, without which the protection of the good would not be secured, nor the honour of the law be supported. And a good judge, in the exercise of his office, doth principally intend the encouragement of the good, and wisheth there were no wickedness that might occasion punishment; and when he doth sentence a malefactor in order to the execution of him, he doth not act against the goodness of his nature, but pursuant to the duty of his place; but wisheth he had no occasion for such severity. Thus God seems to speak of himself: Isa. xxviii. 21, he calls the act of his wrath, his ‘strange work,’ his ‘strange act;’ a work not against his nature, as the governor of the world, but against his first intention as creator, which was to manifest his goodness. Therefore he moves with a slow pace in those acts, brings out his judgments with relentings of heart, and seems to cast out his thunderbolts with a trembling hand. ‘ He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men,’ Lam. iii. 33. And therefore he ‘delights not in the death of a sinner,’ Ezek. xxxiii. 11. Not in death as death, in punishment as punishment, but as it reduceth the suffering creature to the order of his precept, or reduceth him into order under his power, or reforms others who are spectators of the punishment upon a criminal of their own nature. God only hates the sin, not the sinner, if He desires only the destruction of the one, not the other. The nature of a man doth not displease him, because it is a work of his own goodness; but the nature of the sinner displeaseth him, because it is a work of the sinner’s own extravagance. Divine goodness pitcheth not its hatred primarily upon the sinner, but upon the sin; but since he cannot punish the sin without punishing the subject to which it cleaves, the sinner falls under his lash. Who ever regards a good judge as an enemy to the malefactor, but as an enemy to his crime, when he doth sentence and execute him?

Stephen Charnock, “God’s Goodness,” in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: James Nicole, 1864), 2:302.

[This is one of my favorite comments from Charnock, as it strikes at the very heart of all equal-ultimacy doctrines, whether supralapsarianism, symmetrical reprobation, or hypercalvinism.]

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