Is mankind an accident? Is sin a mistake? Was the "Fall" a disaster? ...

God's Purpose for Man

W. E. Orchard, 1927: There are apparently very few people to-day who have any conception of the vast, rich, majestic structure of Christian theology; for few have the time or capacity to read a sound and full exposition of the Faith, and the demand for sermons extending to not more than twenty minutes gives no time to declare the whole counsel of God, and only produces trivialities.

To open a theological treatise, such as the medieval Schoolmen [Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus] or the early Reformers [Martin Luther, Calvin, Zwingli] could produce, is to be impressed by its very size, comprehensiveness, and logicality, and it might at least be felt that there was something to be said for a religion which could produce such consistent thought and construct so vast a system. And this impression is deepened when it is recognized that the motive of this system is not the love of mere dialectic or speculation, but is an endeavor to show how the purpose of God in the salvation of the human race gives the only adequate explanation for existence, runs like an immanent purpose through all things, involves all life, and yet awaits the acceptance of the individual soul.

Whatever may be thought about the truth of Christian theology, in no other system are the vastness of the universe and the processes of history so brought to bear upon individual decision as the purpose for which the whole exists: it is not only extensive in its range, it concentrates all the forces of existence to extract from the soul a decision which shall put that vastness in its possession.

Seeing, however, that some souls will come under the sound of the Gospel but once; that for everyone there will be some occasion critical for its acceptance; and by every soul it will once be heard for the last time, there is necessity, sometimes at least, for making the whole system visible, and always for enough to press the point of personal decision.

There used to be a society which demanded of its evangelists that on every proclamation of the Gospel they had to mention the seven points which were believed to be essential. Although these were perhaps stated somewhat narrowly, and the effect of such a direction was bound to become somewhat mechanical, there was sound sense in the demand.

To-day, however, every doctrine has been questioned, so that in attempting to evade difficulties we fall into truism, vagueness, and platitudes. But when we remember that all modern inquiry is now focusing itself on one personal and insistent question: Why do I exist? if Christianity can answer that question, there ought to be a point of contact here between its whole system and the most pressing and personal inquiry of the modern mind.

The great difficulty, of course, is not only that of compression, without losing the force of its appeal and reducing the pressure of its vitality, but an enormous amount of time has to be spent in refuting counter-arguments and removing objections. Apart from this being a lengthy task and of its raising as many questions as it answers, sometimes, at any rate, it would be a better answer to every possible objection to try to state the system as a whole.

Sometimes in private interviews with those inquiring about the truth, or seeking the answer to intellectual difficulties, when it becomes apparent that no real progress is being made, time is short, and it is likely that the inquirer, disappointed, will be seen no more, I have felt moved to say: "I know that I have not persuaded you, and I have given you no clear and convincing argument on the points that have been raised, but before you go, without stopping to defend, explain, or justify, I am going to state to you what I believe to be absolutely true about God's purpose for you, which then I must leave to you to accept or reject; I must do this in discharge of my commission and conviction, in the hope that it may remain in your memory and be considered when your need makes you more open to understand and accept it." It is something like that I want to do now.

The eternal purpose of God has been revealed

I. This was to create a society of souls that should form the body of Christ.

(a) This purpose was always in the mind of God.

It was not an idea that came into His mind at a certain time; the Word of God, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, was and is that idea, He being the perfect image of God, the personification of all God's thoughts; so that, in Him from all eternity, all that has ever come to be was already present, not only in thought, but with the purpose of realization, the explanation and potency of all actual and future existence.

To bring into existence a society of souls is to give to those ideas a life of their own, in which, bonded together through personal fellowship in union with Christ, these souls should reflect the glory of God in such a way that they shall rejoice in the light and love of God with that same joy which is the very life of the Godhead.

It is a movement, therefore, to externalize the thoughts of God in a multitude of personal experiences. So great is the bliss of God, and so great is the love of God, that He would have others enjoy His existence and share His nature.

(b) The realization of this eternal purpose in others demands that immense and mighty output of energy known as creation.

It includes, first, the forming of the ultimate basis which we call time and space; it means bringing into existence that wonderful store of energy which contains within itself the possibilities of material construction, the higher combinations of organic life, and the supreme possibilities of mind, with its consummation in myriads of personal, conscious souls, welded into one organic society, at once their ground and their end. The vastness of time and space, which we are gradually discovering to be immensely greater than once was thought, the linking up of the whole material, organic, mental, and spiritual life in one coordinated and reciprocating scheme, only enhances the value that must be set upon the conscious, mental life, to which alone this scheme becomes visible, and by which alone it can be valued.

The bringing of such souls into conscious, corporate, and satisfying communion with God is the only worthy end of existence, and alone explains the expenditure of such enormous power, the patience of such sustained processes, the long historical development necessary to enable the mind to understand the value of existence, to become aware of its ultimate purpose, and to realize that purpose in personal union with God and our fellows.

(c) In this scheme man stands distinct, unique, and consummate.

Greater than the material world, on which he depends for a foothold, the organic world, on which he depends for food, and the animal world, which has contributed towards his physical frame, man is nevertheless created as an imperfect being, because he is created capable of further development. [So the Fall is not a fall from perfection to imperfection, but a fall from imperfection into sin. Redemption is not to make us "as good as imperfect Adam originally was", but to make us "as good as the perfect God is".]

Here he is differentiated from another type of being, namely, the angelic order. Although created perfect, spiritual beings of pure, unhindered intelligence, capable of beholding the glory of God, at which they are thrilled to inexhaustible and ceaseless praise, and although higher than man in power, the angels are destined to be outstripped by him in nature, and indeed are only created in order to serve man by their material and spiritual ministrations [Heb. 1:13-14]. Man is created a little lower than the angels [Heb.2:7], unable to behold God as He is, but only indirectly, or through some condescending theophany [appearance of God]; but he is possessed of a craving to see the face of God, to be like Him, and to enter into personal and spiritual union with Him.

It is this end, higher than that which any angel can attain or even desire, which necessitated man being created imperfect and unfinished; for ultimate, personal union with God could only be possible with man's own decision.

Man is therefore made in a condition in which his destiny can be slowly disclosed to him; slowly it must be, lest its ultimate height should seem for him too high, and he should at once refuse it as impossible. While he is given a soul that desires God and can never be satisfied with anything else, he is given powers of decision concerning himself which are absolute, and can be made irrevocable when he has reached a sufficient knowledge to know all the consequences of such a decision.

He is given a body, not to clog this process, but in order to temper the revelation as he can receive it; his physical senses providing a veil against the exceeding brightness of the glory of God, which at last he is to behold and will be invited to share.

Further, his body, by its constitution, prevents him from descending to a lower stage, and so becoming unaware of God's purpose; the cravings of the body being themselves unsatisfiable, and so bringing into relief the higher satisfactions of the soul as the only final satisfactions even for the body.

The animals, whose evolution may have contributed to his physical constitution, remain to remind him of his own difference from them, and the disaster that would overtake him if, possessing these cravings, he were to sink to an animal level; the beasts warning him against the dangers of falling, the angels setting a standard beyond which he himself may rise.

2. This purpose of creation is not allowed to be hindered by sin.

(a) The creation of these perfect angelic beings led to a fall.

It is, in the nature of the case, impossible that a being could be perfect without being free, and even for the angelic order it was necessary that they should be given a choice, even if it had to be swift, instantaneous, and irreparable, as with their perfect endowment of intelligence it could be.

Soon [?] after the angels were created, the supreme among them, the Archangel Lucifer, rebelled against his condition [Isa. 14, Ezek. 28], probably because he was not equal to God; and perhaps because man was to be made higher than himself. With those of the angelic host who decided with him, he was immediately banished from the presence of God [not yet totally, see Job 1], which had become to him intolerable; the decision, both of the angels who maintained their first estate and of those who fell from it, being by its nature final; the sight of God's glory together with the gift of freedom entailing such a decision and fixing it for ever. This was the first tragedy of creation.

But the purpose of God was not to be deterred by this tragedy; His justice allowed to the angels the freedom of their decision, but it was His wisdom that, despite this, His purpose should not be abandoned.

(b) Man being created with freedom and yet with an imperfect nature made a further fall possible.

Not only is the possibility of a wrong decision inherent in that very gift of freedom which is necessary if man is to accept a destiny that by its very character demands his free choice; but God foresaw what man's decision would actually be. Man's decision was liable to be perverted by temptation on the part of the fallen angels, who out of envy and malice might attempt to deflect man from his destiny by making specious promises that it could be reached independently of the purpose of God -, thus at once firing his heart with an ambition to be divine, and instigating it to rebel against the Divine means for achieving it, so reproducing their own fall: the fall of man being partly a refusal to rise to God's purpose, and partly an attempt to snatch at only half of it.

Divine foreknowledge does not necessitate human sin; neither does man's being created imperfect, nor the possession of a body which he shares with the animals compel him to sin; and never is man merely deceived by the specious promises of diabolical temptation.

Why man should have sinned, and why, although man now inherits a tendency to sin, he goes on sinning, we shall never explain; for sin is essentially an irrational act, and therefore inexplicable. For man's sin is not simply disobedience to his Creator's purpose, since in his present condition his Creator's will for him is often unknown; but it is always a sin against his own reason: either by denying the verdict of reason which points to the Divine origin of the universe, the ultimate destiny of his soul, and the freedom of his choice; or by allowing bodily cravings to rebel against reason and demand unreasonable satisfaction, when they themselves became a danger to the body's constitution.

But whatever be the ultimate mystery of sin and the guilt it lays upon us all, not only that it was possible, but that it would certainly take place, God foresaw; but His Eternal Purpose was not to be inhibited by that possibility or that actuality: first, because His purposes are not to be hindered by anything outside Himself, which would be the abandonment of His Godhead; and secondly, because the resources of Godhead are such that He is not only able to overcome sin and reverse the Fall, but actually to use it to make His purposes known and to hasten their fulfillment.

(c) Although sin has brought such suffering and misery to the universe, and has had such far-reaching effects, this does not deter the Divine Wisdom from completing the Divine purpose.

Sin has involved the whole creation; this not only through the mental blindness and weakened will of man, but in the purpose to which man is now directing his life according to his own will.

To make nature serve him was the original intention; man also has been given almost unlimited powers of improving nature, and of making new combinations of natural forces that otherwise would never have come into existence; but at the same time he can pervert these powers to selfishness and destruction.

The very working of the external world may have been rendered less perfect by the conflict between the good and the evil angels, so that all kinds of natural catastrophes happen which may have formed no part of the original plan.

The animal world also shares in the Fall; partly through the influence of the evil spirits, and partly through man's bad example, their instincts are perverted to cruelty by preying upon one another, and development now takes monstrous forms and produces unbalanced multiplication.

Worse than this is the increasing temptation to sin provided by sinful example, by man's bringing into existence a diseased and perverted posterity, and above all, the cruelty, both mental and physical, which he is constantly perpetrating upon his fellows; until it is possible for man to look back upon the history of the world and see in it such deluge of blood and tears that he goes on to make this a count against the goodness of the Creator, curses God for His own gift of freedom, and wishes that he had never existed, thus bringing upon himself a further hopelessness and the depression of despair.

The terrible story is not yet ended, the awful conflict between good and evil is not yet decided nor, so far as this earth is concerned, is it predictable; nevertheless, not only was all this foreseen by God, but the Eternal purpose is still maintained, because God is able to use all that has happened as the very means by which that purpose can be attained.

Although the Fall need not have happened, the fact that it was not only possible, but foreseen, was woven into His Eternal plan, the very Fall being used of God to drive man beyond the state of his original [naive] innocence, in which he had communion with God, and making him desire something further still, namely, that which the Eternal Son has always had with the Eternal Father, a union of perfect love.

3. To attain the Divine purpose the Incarnation of the Son of God was undertaken in order to reveal man's predestined image.

(a) Not only is the nature of God revealed beyond all possibility of doubt by the appearance in our world of the Son, who is the image of the Father; but the Son also reveals the image in which we were made, namely the original purpose stamped upon us, which was to become also ours through our free choice, thus making us like God.

The Incarnation of the Son of God opens more to man than was originally possible to him as created; for not only can man now see God in the Incarnate Son, and enjoy that communion to which Christ freely invites all men, even the most sinful, but He teaches men how they may become like God. This is, however, what man does not altogether want; therefore the appearance of the Son of God in our midst has a most extraordinary result, precipitates a great conflict, and forces sin to disclose its real nature.

The original desire for God, implanted in the mind of man, burns afresh as man now beholds the nature of God in the person of the Incarnate Son, and his desire for God is immensely increased.

At the same time all the forces of evil, natural, human, and diabolic, gather together to resist this desire, with the result that the Son of God is not only rejected, but His death is determined upon, carried out with every species of insult and cruelty, with the motive not only of ending His earthly career and of covering the Divine appeal with shame, but of destroying the Divine Love, thus making a complete end of God.

This comes to an issue not only as an historic fact in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which has branded human history with its supreme and unforgettable crime, but the Crucifixion only bodied forth the interior motive and ultimate aim of sin, namely, the resistance of the Divine voice, the rejection of the Divine destiny, and the attempt at destroying the action of God's Spirit within us.

(b) The consequences of this consummate sin are, however, turned to the fulfillment of God's purpose.

All man's sins have wakened in him a certain consciousness of guilt and a certain reaction of remorse; but this final sin of crucifying the Son of God produces in his own nature an immense reaction, as murder of any kind always does, and opens the way to repentance. But by accepting the Cross, and by His Resurrection, Christ shows man that He absolutely forgives this chiefest of sins, and therefore all man's lesser sins; but He also shows that Love cannot be destroyed.

The result is that when anyone recognizes and admits that he has really crucified the Son of God, and goes on to recognize that the Son of God was willing to be crucified for him, by this accepted sacrifice the nature of God, which is love, stands revealed, and man's own nature is so drawn to that, that he can hardly forbear loving such love. If this love, which springs up quite naturally, is yielded to, it is bound to carry the soul farther, and at length unite it to Jesus Christ in such a close, personal and spiritual way that it makes the soul a member of Christ's Body, and by that means introduces that soul into a corporate communion which makes possible its entrance into the interior life of Deity, bestowing upon it all the love, all the glory, and all the joy which Christ eternally has with the Father.

(c) This redemption flows out to embrace all humanity.

There is enough love and power manifested in the Cross to persuade the greatest sinner of forgiveness, and, if he yields to its power, to lead him to entire sanctification and final union with God. As each soul comes to know this is the meaning of existence, he inevitably makes it known to others, either by the proclamation of the Gospel or the influence of his example. But this action upon others only gives point to a redeeming purpose that has been in operation ever since sin entered the world.

What we call the historical evolution of man, the development of human society, the increase of knowledge, beauty, and goodness, have always been due to a redeeming purpose ministered interiorly in every soul, and immanently through all society, by the incessant working of the Holy Spirit. And why the sin of man has never had the results upon individual souls, or upon society, which it really ought to have had, is because it has been constantly countered by this redemptive process.

The whole of the moral and secular progress which, despite sin, has also marked the history of man, is due entirely to the action of that redeeming love which broke forth into more compelling revelation and more effective power in the Cross of Christ; and that redeeming love will always go on, whatever man does. So that souls who in this world refuse the forgiveness and grace offered in Christ nevertheless partake of the benefits of a world that has been redeemed and a civilization which is in process of Christianization.

And even though their decision may be one of rejection, at length as final as that of the fallen angels whose company they may elect to be their own, the redemption wrought by Christ will make an enormous difference even to their condition. Deprived of the vision of God, and the end of their destiny perverted, they will nevertheless not reach the conditions they would have created for themselves if it had not been for the Sacrifice made on their behalf by Christ.

This purpose has to be accepted by the individual soul

I. This individual choice is essential to the realization of the purpose.

(a) "To see God as He is" can be granted to no soul without its consent.

A sufficient vision of God will be granted to all men with or without their consent; but to remain regarding that vision, or to hide away from it, must be their decision. Communion with God must first be offered to man apart from his choice, but each soul must choose whether that communion shall be consummated in complete and eternal union. No union between the soul and God can be possible without a high degree of consciousness having been reached, and that demands, at least, the full knowledge of what God offers to us, a choice that is absolutely free, and an understanding of what is entailed.

Nothing will be done to destroy our freedom of choice. All the pressure of God's presence upon the soul, the presentation of His truth to the mind, the offer of salvation, the disclosing of His glory, all must stop short of coercion, because coercion would destroy the very purpose that is proposed. At the same time, there must come a time when man is able to use his freedom with such perfect knowledge that he can make a choice that shall be irrevocable.

Therefore all God's revelation of Himself to man works up, first, through a craving for God implanted in the heart, then the bringing of the knowledge of God to bear upon his mind, and the pressing upon his soul the attraction of sanctity, until if man assents at every step and so far, at length God discloses Himself in His glory, and in that instant the spirit of man is presented with the final choice, and will then gladly surrender the power of further choice [? - this sequence of choices shows that throughout all eternity the soul will always choose for God], and be thus united to his Creator in eternal love.

(b) The power to make this choice marks man's greatness.

The very fact that God has given this freedom, that God will never force it, and yet that man can use his freedom to fix his purpose for ever, is the measure of the immense greatness bestowed upon man and purposed for him.

If we shrink from the responsibility that this choice puts upon us, the rejection of responsibility would only take us back to something lower; if sometimes we wish that the grace of God were invincible, again that would surrender the very greatness that He has in mind for us; the highest gift He could bestow on us is the freedom to determine our own destiny. And just as the goal of all physical evolution is the development of conscious personality, so all spiritual evolution is designed to confront every conscious personality with the infinite Person of God, that the great decision may be freely, fully, and finally made: either to rise to God's glory or reject His purposes for us.

The ascent can only be made by God's grace, the descent will be entirely man's responsibility. That grace will never be withheld from those who desire to ascend; and that freedom will never be withheld from those who determine to descend.

2. The purpose is for all the human race, the acceptance must be individual.

(a) The purpose of God is the salvation not only of every individual soul, but of humanity as a whole: that is, not only separate personalities, but that whole system of social relationships on which the development of our personalities depends. Therefore man is saved by being incorporated into the family of God, the fellowship of faith, the body of Christ, and the communion of saints. As this corporate redeemed humanity grows, in extent, unity, and holiness, so is the rest of humanity prepared for incorporation: for humanity is potentially the body of Christ.

But as this reintegration of humanity is progressing, so it brings into light a further revelation and presses it upon individual souls, who in turn are brought to a position of greater responsibility, which, if they accept, again helps to influence all humanity; a reciprocating influence of greater power and richer content thus being automatically set up.

(b) There is no escaping this developing responsibility. As humanity as a whole depends for its freedom on those who give themselves to fight the battles of liberty, so redeemed humanity depends for its sanctification upon those who consecrate themselves for others' sakes. Thus we are not only dowered [endowed] with the power of choosing our own salvation, we are dowered with the responsibility of influencing other people's destiny too.

Our influence upon others does not go so far as to make the issue whether other souls are saved or lost depend upon us; that responsibility no one can assume for others or escape for himself; but we may hasten or retard the time at which souls may decide upon God's purpose for them; we can prepare souls to receive the fuller light; we can help in the sanctification of humanity. The nature of our choice and the fullness of our acceptance carry with them therefore the earthly happiness of countless souls, and will influence all the future of history.

(c) History will be allowed to go on until the highest possibility of corporate redemption is reached.

This is generally spoken of as the making up of God's elect; this means that a certain sufficient number of souls, known only to God, must be united and sanctified that they may be worthy to constitute the body of Christ, each so reflecting the glory of God that the body as a whole may receive enough of the joy and blessedness of God to fulfil His purpose, justify existence, and make reparation for sin and all its consequences. [2 Peter 3:9, etc.]

Individual souls will reach different heights of personal sanctity; and from them, those who are beneath them will perceive more of God than they themselves could directly behold. When the general sanctification shall have reached something commensurate to the stature of Christ, then human history will have fulfilled its purpose, no more souls will be created [as humans], [human] time will come to an end, and God will be all in all.

3. A critical issue therefore faces the individual soul.

(a) Everything must depend upon your decision.

In addition to the fact that God is, and all that He has revealed in the Incarnation and wrought by the Crucifixion; despite the witness of the Church and the work of grace, there must still be your decision. There is no grace that will carry you into the kingdom of heaven without your assent. It may need only a very simple and feeble assent to begin your co-operation, but on that there wait the eternal purpose of God, all the forces of history, and all the grace of Christ.

To shirk this decision would mean that you are unwilling to accept the purpose of God, which is that your salvation shall be your own decision; and at every stage of its perfection that decision must be repeated. No doubt there is some critical point at which each soul passes in either direction, never to turn back; where that critical point is no one knows, for some decisions may be reversed. But [those who wish to participate in the "better resurrection" Heb. 11:35, the "first resurrection", Rev. 20:4-5], it is here in this life that the final decision is made; though only beyond this life will it be revealed what that decision has been.

For although souls may never have known the Gospel at all, or never have had Christ presented to them in any clear or critical way, there are decisions being made every day that are implicitly decisions of faith or unbelief: decisions that must affect our eternal destiny; and there must come a time when these accumulate, so that direction in one way or the other is finally determined. [See "Is God merciful enough to allow us A Second Chance?"].

But as long as one is able to hear the Gospel and understand what it means, the possibility of deciding to accept God's purpose is still open.

(b) No one can force the critical hour upon anyone else.

If the preacher of the Gospel could do this, it would make preaching quite intolerable. The preacher can only say what he knows to be true. He can only discharge his commission, declare the counsel of God, and leave the secrets of all decisions to the soul and its Creator. But it is, of course, possible that, as a result of any clear proclamation of the Gospel, great decisions will be made that will be determinative one way or the other.

You may at this very moment decide that you will try to be better, or that you will confess Jesus Christ, or that you will join the Church, or that you will say your prayers more carefully, or that you will use the sacraments; but it is quite possible that the great hour for you has arrived; behind this passing moment there lie the whole of creation's power, the force of evolution, the influences of history, the witness of religion, the testimony of the Church, the prayers of the saints, and beyond it all the Eternal Purpose and the Everlasting Love. At some time or other all these things will bring you to the point where you must make the decision whether or not the purpose of God shall be your purpose too.

(c) It is obvious that such a decision must be eternal.

Whenever the whole purpose of God is made known to you in such wise that your mind recognizes that it is true, then your heart must decide whether it loves that purpose, and the will whether it will accept it; and the moment this is clearly seen and freely accepted, or freely rejected, the decision must be final because there is nothing else to be said, there is no other motive to appeal to.

And yet we can seek to make known the whole counsel of God to every man, in every possible manner, without fear, knowing that the clearer it is made the more likely it will be that the purpose of God will be chosen.

"I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

And so I now declare unto you that all things, that have ever been, exist for your sake, and that existence was granted you in order that you might embrace the eternal purpose of God, which is that you should [become a part of His family and] know, serve, love, and enjoy Him for ever. The acceptance of this will make your life here, despite sin and sorrow, hardship and hindrance, full of joy and power, and, if maintained, will bring you to everlasting bliss in union with God. That will infinitely justify creation; it is the only explanation of existence, the only worthy end of life; it will alone bring satisfaction to your soul; it is the consummation for which humanity was made.

A sermon by William Edwin Orchard, Minister of the King's Weigh House Church, Duke Street, London, 1927

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