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The Mainspring of Moral Action

by Tom Stewart

December 21, 1999

Love is the mainspring or Foundation of Moral Obligation-- why man should act as he ought. "37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt Love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the First and Great Commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt Love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two Commandments hang all the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). All that can be good about human action is briefly summarized in the word Love. "And now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity [Love], these three; but the greatest of these is Charity [Love]" (1Corinthians 13:13). Love has many human connotations, but it is the foundational reason why man should do as he ought. "For this is the Love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not grievous [burdensome, i.e., impossible]" (1John 5:3). Too often, man has chosen to reject the highest good of God and of all moral beings, i.e., rejecting Benevolence or Love toward God and man, and choosing instead to selfishly seek his own interests-- disregarding man, but most especially, rejecting God. "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21).

The Eternal God
"created man in His Own image" (Genesis 1:27), elevating man above the Animal Kingdom, and making him capable of acting in a Benevolent or selfish way. "I call Heaven and Earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Angels, also, have this God-given capacity of moral agency, in that the angels, who were the "morning stars" (Job 38:7), conspired with Lucifer against the Almighty, and a "third part of the stars of Heaven" (Revelation 12:4) fell, becoming the demons or "evil angels" (Psalm 78:49). The presence of sin and holiness in the universe indicates that God providentially presides over a Moral Government, with man as His rebellious or obedient subjects. "And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a Name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (Revelation 19:16).

Philosophers have long discussed why man acts as he does, often reducing man to the role of a sensual beast or elevating him to be a god, but God Only Wise (Romans 16:27) knows why He created man.
"[Jesus] needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man" (John 2:25). God Himself acts as a Moral Agent, choosing His Own actions-- certainly unlike any mere creature or machine. "The LORD did not set His Love upon you [Israel], nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people" (Deuteronomy 7:7). But, the Creator is the Moral Governor of the Universe, seeing that "all power [authority] is given unto Me [Christ] in Heaven and in Earth" (Matthew 28:18), and that He directs or hinders, rewards or punishes all moral action, as evidenced by His conduct toward man. "I charge thee therefore before God, and the LORD Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the quick [living] and the dead at His Appearing and His Kingdom" (2Timothy 4:1).

Argumentative philosophizers have unjustly accused the Almighty of selfishness, in that God seeks the highest good of His Own Being, consulting only Himself for His actions.
"Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being His counsellor hath taught Him?" (Isaiah 40:13). But, what right does mere man have to call God to account for His actions? "4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the Earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. 5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?" (Job 38:4-5). It just so happens that the highest good of God's Being is man's highest good, for who would dispute that God, in seeking His own happiness, did wrongly or inappropriately in choosing to make an Atonement for the sins of mankind? "For God so Loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life" (John 3:16). Certainly, there was nothing good in man that caused God to suffer and die on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins. "But God commendeth His Love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). It must be entirely an act of choosing His Own happiness that He atoned for our sins. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross" (Hebrews 12:2).

Likewise, our obedience to the Gospel, i.e.,
"repent ye, and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), renders to us the eternal benefit and reward of Salvation, Sanctification, and Glorification, yet Christ still "insists that it is not virtue in which the reward is the motive to the action" (from Charles G. Finney's "Skeletons of a Course of Theological Lectures" [1840], Lecture 23 "Moral Government", a.k.a "Finney's Lectures on Theology" or "The Heart of Truth"). The LORD Jesus insisted that the hypocrites would not both receive their satisfaction for their sanctimonious conduct before men and their prayers answered. "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward" (Matthew 6:5). In other words, prayer from the hypocrite is not virtuous, because they truly, only seek the reward of man and not of God. "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43). But, when any man truly chooses to do as he ought, to "repent" and "believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), then he may truly receive the temporal blessings of the present, as well as, the eternal blessings of the hereafter. "According as His Divine Power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto Life and Godliness [both here and hereafter], through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2Peter 1:3). Again, Love must be the Foundation of our Moral Obligation toward the Gospel of our LORD Jesus Christ. "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our LORD Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).

As this Church Age draws to a conclusion, we are witnessing a degeneration of man's submission to God and His Moral Law.
"Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2Timothy 3:13). This lawlessness indicates that wicked men are merely acting in concert with their "father the devil" (John 8:44), who is waiting for the Restraining Influence of the Holy Spirit Indwelt Saints to be removed at the Pre-Tribulational Rapture (2Thessalonians 2:7). Satan, the Antichrist, and unregenerate men act upon this principle of selfishness or self-seeking as the guiding light for their existence. "31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (Matthew 6:31-32). In contrast, those who are trusting in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ will not engage in such self-seeking, but they seek the wealth and edification of others. "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (1Corinthians 10:24). This principle, the opposite of selfishness, is the Love or Benevolence that characterizes all those who seek "first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).

May the
"Love of God" be "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). And, may the spirit of self-love and self-seeking be banished from this planet-- "world without end" (Isaiah 45:17).


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Tom Stewart

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