The justification of the “Ends” and the “Means” as Considered in Reference to Moral Rule

Written by John Owen (1616 –1683)

In a moral sense, when the action and the end are to be measured or considered in reference to a moral rule…

scales-key-bible…or law prescribed to the agent, then the means are the deserving or meritorious cause of the end; as, if Adam had continued in his innocency, and done all things according to the law given unto him, the end procured thereby had been a blessed life to eternity; or as now, the end of any sinful act is death, the curse of the law.

When the means are considered only in their natural relation, then they are the instrumentally efficient cause of the end. So Joab intending the death of Abner, “he smote him with his spear under the fifth rib, that he died,” 2 Sam. iii. 27. And when Benaiah, by the command of Solomon, fell upon Shimei the wounds he gave him were the efficient of his death, 1 Kings ii. 46. In which regard there is no difference between the murdering of an innocent man and the executing of an offender; but as they are under a moral consideration, their ends follow their deservings, in respect of conformity to the rule, and so there is χάσμα μέγα between them.

The former consideration, by reason of the defect and perverseness of some agents (for otherwise these things are coincident), holds out a twofold end of things, — first, of the work, and, secondly, of the workman; of the act and the agent: for when the means assigned for the attaining of any end are not proportioned unto it, nor, fitted for it, according to that rule which the agent is to work by, then it cannot be but that he must aim at one thing and another follow, in respect of the morality of the work.

So Adam is enticed into a desire to be like God; this now he makes his aim, which to effect he eats the forbidden fruit, and that contracts a guilt which he aimed not at. But when the agent acts aright, and as it should do, — when it aims at an end that is proper to it, belonging to its proper perfection and condition, and worketh by such means as are fit and suitable to the end proposed, — the end of the work and the workman are one and the same; as when Abel intended the worship of the Lord, he offered a sacrifice through faith, acceptable unto him; or as a man, desiring salvation through Christ, applieth himself to get an interest in him. Now, the sole reason of this diversity is, that secondary agents, such as men are, have an end set and appointed to their actions by Him which giveth them an external rule or law to work by, which shall always attend them in their working, whether they will or no. God only, whose will and good pleasure is the sole rule of all those works which outwardly are of him, can never deviate in his actions, nor have any end attend or follow his acts not precisely by him intended.

Again; the end of every free agent is either that which he effecteth, or that for whose sake he doth effect it. When a man builds a house to let to hire, that which he effecteth is the building of a house; that which moveth him to do it is love of gain. The physician cures the patient, and is moved to it by his reward. The end which Judas aimed at in his going to the priests, bargaining with them, conducting the soldiers to the garden, kissing Christ, was the betraying of his Master; but the end for whose sake the whole undertaking was set on foot was the obtaining of the thirty pieces of silver: “What will ye give me, and I will do it?” The end which God effected by the death of Christ was the satisfaction of his justice: the end for whose sake he did it was either supreme, or his own glory; or subordinate, ours with him.

Moreover, the means are of two sorts: First, Such as have a true goodness in themselves without reference to any farther kind; though not so considered as we use them for means. No means, as a means is considered as good in itself, but only as conducible to a farther end; it is repugnant to the nature of means, as such, to be considered as good in themselves. Study is in itself the most noble employment of the soul; but, aiming at wisdom or knowledge, we consider it as good only inasmuch as it conducteth to that end, otherwise as “a weariness of the flesh,” Eccl. xii. 12. Secondly, Such as have no good at all in any kind, as in themselves considered, but merely as conducing to that end which they are fit to attain.  They receive all their goodness (which is but relative) from that whereunto they are appointted, in themselves no way desirable; as the cutting off a leg or an arm for the preservation of life, taking a bitter potion for health’s sake, throwing corn and lading into the sea to prevent shipwreck. Of which nature is the death of Christ, as we shall afterward declare. 


Taken from, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Owen (1616 – 24 August 1683) was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford.  He was briefly a member of parliament for the University, sitting in the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 to 1655.

During his eight years of official Oxford life Owen showed himself a firm disciplinarian, thorough in his methods, though, as John Locke testifies, the Aristotelian traditions in education underwent no change. With Philip Nye he unmasked the popular astrologer, William Lilly, and in spite of his share in condemning two Quakeresses to be whipped for disturbing the peace, his rule was not intolerant. Anglican services were conducted here and there, and at Christ Church itself the Anglican chaplain remained in the college. While little encouragement was given to a spirit of free inquiry, Puritanism at Oxford was not simply an attempt to force education and culture into “the leaden moulds of Calvinistic theology.” Owen, unlike many of his contemporaries, was more interested in the New Testament than in the Old. During his Oxford years he wrote Justitia Divina (1653), an exposition of the dogma that God cannot forgive sin without an atonement; Communion with God (1657), Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance (1654), his final attack on Arminianism; Vindiciae Evangelicae, a treatise written by order of the Council of State against Socinianism as expounded by John Biddle; On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), an introspective and analytic work; Schism (1657), one of the most readable of all his writings; Of Temptation (1658), an attempt to recall Puritanism to its cardinal spiritual attitude from the jarring anarchy of sectarianism and the pharisaism which had followed on popularity and threatened to destroy the early simplicity.

In October 1653 he was one of several ministers whom Cromwell summoned to a consultation as to church union. In December, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Oxford University. In the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 he sat, for a short time, as the sole member of parliament for Oxford University, and, with Baxter, was placed on the committee for settling the “fundamentals” necessary for the toleration promised in the Instrument of Government. In the same year he was chairman of a committee on Scottish Church affairs. He was, too, one of the Triers, and appears to have behaved with kindness and moderation in that capacity. As vice-chancellor he acted with readiness and spirit when a Royalist rising in Wiltshire broke out in 1655; his adherence to Cromwell, however, was by no means slavish, for he drew up, at the request of Desborough and Pride, a petition against his receiving the kingship. Thus, when Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as chancellor, Owen lost his vice-chancellorship. In 1658 he took a leading part in the conference of Independents which drew up the Savoy Declaration (the doctrinal standard of Congregationalism which was based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith).

In 1669, Owen wrote a spirited remonstrance to the Congregationalists in New England, who, under the influence of Presbyterianism, had shown themselves persecutors. At home, too, he was busy in the same cause. In 1670 Samuel Parker’s Ecclesiastical Polity attacked the Nonconformists with clumsy intolerance. Owen answered him (Truth and Innocence Vindicated); Parker replied offensively. Then Andrew Marvell finally disposed of Parker with banter and satire in The Rehearsal Transposed. Owen himself produced a tract On the Trinity (1669), and Christian Love and Peace (1672).

On the revival of the Conventicle Acts in 1670, Owen was appointed to draw up a paper of reasons which was submitted to the House of Lords in protest. In this or the following year Harvard College invited him to become its president; he received similar invitations from some of the Dutch universities. When King Charles II issued his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, Owen drew up an address of thanks; Owen was one of the first preachers at the weekly lectures which the Independents and Presbyterians jointly held at Princes’ Hall in Broad Street. He was respected by many of the nobility, and during 1674 both King Charles II and his brother King James II assured him of their good wishes to the dissenters. Charles gave him 1000 guineas to relieve those on whom the severe laws had pressed, and he was able to procure the release of John Bunyan, whose preaching he admired.