||delphia > Lectures on SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Charles G. Finney (page 2 of 11)
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
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Table of Contents
LECTURE VIII. -- Foundation of Moral Obligation. False Theories.
The philosophy which teaches that moral order is the foundation of moral obligation
. . The theory that maintains that the nature and relations of moral beings is the
true foundation of moral obligation . . The theory that teaches that moral obligation
is founded in the idea of duty . . That philosophy which teaches the complexity of
the foundation of moral obligation
LECTURE IX. -- Foundation of Obligation.
Another form of the theory that affirms the complexity of the foundation of moral
obligation; complex however only in a certain sense
LECTURE X. -- Foundation of Obligation.
The intrinsic absurdity of various theories
LECTURE XII. -- Foundation of Moral Obligation.
Practical Bearings of the Different Theories.
The theory that regards the sovereign will of God as the foundation of moral
obligation . . The theory of the selfish school . . The natural and necessary results
LECTURE XIII. -- Practical Bearings and Tendency
The philosophy which teaches that the divine goodness or moral excellence is
the foundation of moral obligation . . The theory which teaches that moral order
is the foundation of moral obligation . . The practical bearings of the theory that
moral obligation is founded in the nature and relations of moral agents . . The theory
which teaches that the idea of duty is the foundation of moral obligation . . The
complexity of the foundation of moral obligation . . The practical bearings of what
is regarded as the true theory of the foundation of moral obligation, viz. that the
highest well-being of God and of the universe is the sole foundation of moral obligation
LECTURE XIV. -- Moral Government--Continued.
What constitutes obedience to moral law . . Obedience cannot be partial in the
sense that the subject ever does or can partly obey and partly disobey at the same
time . . Can the will at the same time make opposite choices? . . The choice of an
ultimate end is, and must be, the supreme preference of the mind . . An intelligent
choice must respect ends or means . . No choice whatever can be made inconsistent
with the present choice of an ultimate end . . Inquiry respecting the strength or
intensity of the choice . . The law does not require the constant and most intense
action of the will . . An intention cannot be right and honest in kind, and deficient
in the degree of intensity . . Examination of the philosophy of the question, whether
sin and holiness consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices or intentions
. . Objections to the foregoing philosophy considered . . This philosophy examined
in the light of the scriptures
LECTURE XV. -- Moral Government--Continued.
In what sense we have seen that obedience to moral law cannot be partial . .
In what sense obedience to moral law can be partial . . The government of God accepts
nothing as virtue but obedience to the law of God . . There can be no rule of duty
but moral law . . Nothing can be virtue or true religion but obedience to the moral
law . . Nothing can be virtue that is not just what the moral law demands. That is,
nothing short of what it requires can be in any sense virtue . . Uses of the term
justification . . Fundamentally important inquiries respecting this subject . . Remarks
LECTURE XVI. -- Moral Government--Continued.
What constitutes obedience to moral law . . Just rules of legal interpretation
. . That actual knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation shown from scripture
. . In the light of the above rules, inquire what is not implied in entire obedience
to the law of God
This lecture was typed in by Eugene Detweiler.
LECTURE VIII. Back to Top
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
- 6. THEORY OF MORAL ORDER.
7. THEORY OF NATURE AND RELATIONS.
8. THEORY THAT THE IDEA OF DUTY IS THE FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
9. COMPLEX THEORY.
- 6. I now come to consider the philosophy which teaches that moral order is the
foundation of moral obligation.
- But what is moral order? The advocates of this theory define it to be identical
with the fit, proper, suitable. It is, then, according to them, synonymous with the
right. Moral order must be, in their view, either identical with law or with virtue.
It must be either an idea of the fit, the right, the proper, the suitable, which
is the same as objective right; or it must consist in conformity of the will to this
idea or law, which is virtue. It has been repeatedly shown that right, whether objective
or subjective, cannot by any possibility be the end at which a moral agent ought
to aim, and to which he ought to consecrate himself. If moral order be not synonymous
with right in one of these senses, I do not know what it is; and all that I can say
is, that if it be not identical with the highest well-being of God and of the universe,
it cannot be the end at which moral agents ought to aim, and cannot be the foundation
of moral obligation. But if by moral order, as the phraseology of some would seem
to indicate, be meant that state of the universe in which all law is universally
obeyed, and, as a consequence, a state of universal well-being, this theory is only
another name for the true one. It is the same as willing the highest well-being of
the universe with the conditions and means thereof.
Or if it be meant, as other phraseology would seem to indicate, that moral order
is a state of things in which either all law is obeyed, or in which the disobedient
are punished for the sake of promoting the public good;-- if this be what is meant
by moral order-- it is only another name for the true theory. Willing moral order
is only willing the highest good of the universe for its own sake, with the condition
and means thereof.
But if by moral order be meant the fit, suitable, in the sense of law, physical or
moral, it is absurd to represent moral order as the foundation of moral obligation.
If moral order is the ground of obligation, it is identical with the object of ultimate
choice. Does God require us to love moral order for its own sake? Is this identical
with loving God and our neighbour? "Thou shalt will moral order with all thy
heart, and with all thy soul!" Is this the meaning of the moral law? If this
theory is right, benevolence is sin. It is not living to the right end.
- 7. I will next consider the theory that maintains that the nature and relations
of moral beings are the true foundation of moral obligation.
- (1.) The advocates of this theory confound the conditions of moral obligation
with the foundation of obligation. The nature and relations of moral agents to each
other, and to the universe, are conditions of their obligation to will the good of
being, but not the foundation of the obligation. What! the nature and relations of
moral beings the foundation of their obligation to choose an ultimate end. Then this
end must be their nature and relations. This is absurd. Their nature and relations,
being what they are, their highest well-being is known to them to be of infinite
and intrinsic value. But it is and must be the intrinsic value of the end, and not
their nature and relations, that imposes obligation to will the highest good of the
universe as an ultimate end.
(2.) If their nature and relations be the ground of obligation, then their nature
and relations are the great object of ultimate choice, and should be willed for their
own sakes, and not for the sake of any good resulting from their natures and relations.
For, be it remembered, the ground of obligation to put forth ultimate choice must
be identical with the object of this choice, which object imposes obligation by virtue
of its own nature.
(3.) The natures and relations of moral beings are a condition of obligation to fulfil
to each other certain duties. For example, the relation of parent and child is a
condition of obligation to endeavour to promote each other's particular well-being,
to govern and provide for, on the part of the parent, and to obey, &c., on the
part of the child. But the intrinsic value of the good to be sought by both parent
and child must be the ground, and their relation only the condition, of those particular
forms of obligation. So in every possible case. Relations can never be a ground of
obligation to choose unless the relations be the object of the choice. The various
duties of life are executive and not ultimate acts. Obligation to perform them is
founded in the intrinsic nature of the good resulting from their performance. The
various relations of life are only conditions of obligation to promote particular
forms of good, and the good of particular individuals.
If this theory is true, benevolence is sin. Why do not its advocates see this?
Writers upon this subject are often falling into the mistake of confounding the conditions
with the foundation of moral obligation. Moral agency is a condition, but not the
foundation of obligation. Light, or the knowledge of the intrinsically valuable to
being, is a condition, but not the foundation of moral obligation. The intrinsically
valuable is the foundation of the obligation; and light, or the perception of the
intrinsically valuable, is only a condition of the obligation. So the nature and
relations of moral beings is a condition of their obligation to will each other's
good, and so is light, or a knowledge of the intrinsic value of their blessedness;
but the intrinsic value is alone the foundation of the obligation. It is, therefore,
a great mistake to affirm "that the known nature and relations of moral agents
is the true foundation of moral obligation."
- 8. The next theory that demands attention is that which teaches that moral obligation
is founded in the idea of duty.
- According to this philosophy, the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, is
duty. He must in all things "aim at doing his duty." Or, in other words,
he must always have respect to his obligation, and aim at discharging it.
Then disinterested benevolence is, and must be, sin. It is not living to the right
It is plain that this theory is only another form of stating the rightarian theory.
By aiming, intending, to do duty, we must understand the advocates of this theory
to mean the adoption of a resolution or maxim, by which to regulate their lives--
the formation of a resolve to obey God-- to serve God-- to do at all times what appears
to be right-- to meet the demands of conscience-- to obey the law-- to discharge
obligation, &c. I have expressed the thing intended in all these ways because
it is common to hear this theory expressed in all these terms, and in others like
them. Especially in giving instruction to inquiring sinners, nothing is more common
than for those who profess to be spiritual guides to assume the truth of this philosophy,
and give instructions accordingly. These philosophers, or theologians, will say to
sinners: Make up your mind to serve the Lord; resolve to do your whole duty, and
do it at all times; resolve to obey God in all things-- to keep all his commandments;
resolve to deny yourselves-- to forsake all sin-- to love the Lord with all your
heart and your neighbour as yourself. They often represent regeneration as consisting
in this resolution or purpose.
Such-like phraseology, which is very common and almost universal among rightarian
philosophers, demonstrates that they regard virtue or obedience to God as consisting
in the adoption of a maxim of life. With them, duty is the great idea to be realized.
All these modes of expression mean the same thing, and amount to just Kant's morality,
which he admits does not necessarily imply religion, namely; "act upon a maxim
at all times fit for law universal," and to Cousin's, which is the same thing,
namely, "will the right for the sake of the right." Now I cannot but regard
this philosophy on the one hand, and utilitarianism on the other, as equally wide
from the truth, and as lying at the foundation of much of the spurious religion with
which the church and the world are cursed. Utilitarianism begets one type of selfishness,
which it calls religion, and this philosophy begets another, in some respects more
specious, but not a whit the less selfish, God-dishonouring and soul-destroying.
The nearest that this philosophy can be said to approach either to true morality
or religion, is, that if the one who forms the resolution understood himself he would
resolve to become truly moral instead of really becoming so. But this is in fact
an absurdity and an impossibility, and the resolution-maker does not understand what
he is about, when he supposes himself to be forming or cherishing a resolution to
do his duty. Observe: he intends to do his duty. But to do his duty is to form and
cherish an ultimate intention. To intend to do his duty is merely to intend to intend.
But this is not doing his duty, as will be shown. He intends to serve God, but this
is not serving God, as will also be shown. Whatever he intends, he is neither truly
moral nor religious, until he really intends the same end that God does; and this
is not to do his duty, nor to do right, nor to comply with obligation, nor to keep
a conscience void of offence, nor to deny himself, nor any such-like things. God
aims at, and intends, the highest well-being of himself and the universe, as an ultimate
end, and this is doing his duty. It is not resolving or intending to do his duty,
but is doing it. It is not resolving to do right for the sake of the right, but it
is doing right. It is not resolving to serve himself and the universe, but is actually
rendering that service. It is not resolving to obey the moral law, but is actually
obeying it. It is not resolving to love, but actually loving his neighbour as himself.
It is not, in other words, resolving to be benevolent, but is being so. It is not
resolving to deny self, but is actually denying self.
A man may resolve to serve God without any just idea of what it is to serve him.
If he had the idea of what the law of God requires him to choose, clearly before
his mind-- if he perceived that to serve God, was nothing less than to consecrate
himself to the same end to which God consecrates himself, to love God with all his
heart and his neighbour as himself, that is, to will or choose the highest well-being
of God and of the universe, as an ultimate end-- to devote all his being, substance,
time, and influence to this end;--I say, if this idea were clearly before his mind,
he would not talk of resolving to consecrate himself to God--resolving to do his
duty, to do right--to serve God--to keep a conscience void of offence, and such-like
things. He would see that such resolutions were totally absurd and a mere evasion
of the claims of God. It has been repeatedly shown, that all virtue resolves itself
into the intending of an ultimate end, or of the highest well-being of God and the
universe. This is true morality, and nothing else is. This is identical with that
love to God and man which the law of God requires. This then is duty. This is serving
God. This is keeping a conscience void of offence. This is right, and nothing else
is. But to intend or resolve to do this is only to intend to intend, instead of at
once intending what God requires. It is resolving to love God and his neighbour,
instead of really loving him; choosing to choose the highest well-being of God and
of the universe, instead of really choosing it. Now this is totally absurd, and when
examined to the bottom will be seen to be nothing else than a most perverse postponement
of duty and a most God-provoking evasion of his claims. To intend to do duty is gross
nonsense. To do duty is to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves,
that is, to choose, will, intend the highest well-being of God and our neighbour
for its own sake. To intend to do duty, to aim at doing duty, at doing right, at
discharging obligation, &c. is to intend to intend, to choose to choose, and
such-like nonsense. Moral obligation respects the ultimate intention. It requires
that the intrinsically valuable to being shall be willed for its own sake. To comply
with moral obligation is not to intend or aim at this compliance as an end, but to
will, choose, intend that which moral law or moral obligation requires me to intend,
namely, the highest good of being. To intend obedience to law is not obedience to
law, for the reason that obedience is not that which the law requires me to intend.
To aim at discharging obligation is not discharging it, just for the reason that
I am under no obligation to intend this as an end. Nay, it is totally absurd and
nonsensical to talk of resolving, aiming, intending to do duty--to serve the Lord,
&c. &c. All such resolutions imply an entire overlooking of that in which
true religion consists. Such resolutions and intentions from their very nature must
respect outward actions in which is no moral character, and not the ultimate intention,
in which all virtue and vice consist. A man may resolve or intend to do this or that.
But to intend to intend an ultimate end, or to intend to choose it for its intrinsic
value, instead of willing and at once intending or choosing that end, is grossly
absurd, self-contradictory, and naturally impossible. Therefore this philosophy does
not give a true definition and account of virtue. It is self-evident that it does
not conceive rightly of it. And it cannot be that those who give such instructions,
or those who receive and comply with them, have the true idea of religion in their
minds. Such teaching is radically false, and such a philosophy leads only to bewilder,
and dazzles to blind.
It is one thing for a man who actually loves God with all his heart and his neighbour
as himself, to resolve to regulate all his outward life by the law of God, and a
totally different thing to intend to love God or to intend his highest glory and
well-being. Resolutions may respect outward action, but it is totally absurd to intend
or resolve to form an ultimate intention. But be it remembered, that morality and
religion do not belong to outward action, but to ultimate intentions. It is amazing
and afflicting to witness the alarming extent to which spurious philosophy has corrupted
and is corrupting the church of God. Kant and Cousin and Coleridge have adopted a
phraseology, and manifestly have conceived in idea, a philosophy subversive of all
true love to God and man, and teach a religion of maxims and resolutions instead
of a religion of love. It is a philosophy, as we shall see in a future lecture, which
teaches that the moral law or law of right, is entirely distinct from and may be
opposite to the law of benevolence or love. The fact is, this philosophy conceives
of duty and right as belonging to mere outward action. This must be, for it cannot
be confused enough to talk of resolving or intending to form an ultimate intention.
Let but the truth of this philosophy be assumed in giving instructions to the anxious
sinner, and it will immediately dry off his tears, and in all probability lead him
to settle down in a religion of resolutions instead of a religion of love. Indeed
this philosophy will immediately dry off, (if I may be allowed the expression,) the
most genuine and powerful revival of religion, and run it down into a mere revival
of a heartless, Christless, loveless philosophy. It is much easier to persuade anxious
sinners to resolve to do their duty, to resolve to love God, than it is to persuade
them really to do their duty, and really to love God with all their heart and with
all their soul, and their neighbour as themselves.
- 9. We now come to the consideration of that philosophy which teaches the complexity
of the foundation of moral obligation.
- This theory maintains that there are several distinct grounds of moral obligation;
that the highest good of being is only one of the grounds of moral obligation, while
right, moral order, the nature and relations of moral agents, merit and demerit,
truth, duty, and many such like things, are distinct grounds of moral obligation;
that these are not merely conditions of moral obligation, but that each one of them
can by itself impose moral obligation. The advocates of this theory, perceiving its
inconsistency with the doctrine that moral obligation respects the ultimate choice
or intention only, seem disposed to relinquish the position that obligation respects
strictly only the choice of an ultimate end, and to maintain that moral obligation
respects the ultimate action of the will. By ultimate action of the will they mean,
if I understand them, the will's treatment of every thing according to its intrinsic
nature and character; that is, treating every thing, or taking that attitude in respect
to every thing known to the mind, that is exactly suited to what it is in and of
itself. For example, right ought to be regarded and treated by the will as right,
because it is right. Truth ought to be regarded and treated as truth for its own
sake, virtue as virtue, merit as merit, demerit as demerit, the useful as useful,
the beautiful as beautiful, the good or valuable as valuable, each for its own sake;
that in each case the action of the will is ultimate, in the sense that its action
terminates on these objects as ultimates; in other words, that all those actions
of the will are ultimates that treat things according to their nature and character,
or according to what they are in and of themselves.--See Moral Philosophy. Now in
respect to this theory I would inquire:--
(1.) What is intended by the will's treating a thing, or taking that attitude in
respect to it that is suited to its nature and character? Are there any other actions
of will than volitions, choice, preference, intention,--are not all the actions of
the will comprehended in these? If there are any other actions than these, are they
intelligent actions? If so, what are those actions of will that consist neither in
the choice of ends nor means, nor in volitions or efforts to secure an end? Can there
be intelligent acts of will that neither respect ends nor means? Can there be moral
acts of will when there is no choice or intention? If there is choice or intention,
must not these respect an end or means? What then can be meant by ultimate action
of will as distinguished from ultimate choice or intention? Can there be choice without
there is an object of choice? If there is an object of choice, must not this object
be chosen either as an end or as a means? If as an ultimate end, how does this differ
from ultimate intention? If as a means, how can this be regarded as an ultimate action
of the will? What can be intended by actions of will that are not acts of choice
nor volition? I can conceive of no other. But if all acts of will must of necessity
consist in willing or nilling, that is in choosing or refusing, which is the same
as willing one way or another, in respect to all objects of choice apprehended by
the mind, how can there be any intelligent act of the will that does not consist
in, or that may not and must not, in its last analysis be resolvable into, and be
properly considered as the choice of an end, or of means, or in executive efforts
to secure an end? Can moral law require any other action of will than choice and
volition? What other actions of will are possible to us? Whatever moral law does
require, it must and can only require choices and volitions. It can only require
us to choose ends or means. It cannot require us to choose as an ultimate end any
thing that is not intrinsically worthy of choice--nor as a means any thing that does
not sustain that relation.
(2.) Secondly, let us examine this theory in the light of the revealed law of God.
The whole law is fulfilled in one word--love.
Now we have seen that the will of God cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.
Moral obligation must be founded in the nature of that which moral law requires us
to choose. Unless there be something in the nature of that which moral law require
us to will that renders it worthy or deserving of choice, we can be under no obligation
to will or choose it. It is admitted that the love required by the law of God must
consist in an act of the will, and not in mere emotions. Now, does this love, willing,
choice, embrace several distinct ultimates? If so, how can they all be expressed
in one word--love? Observe, the law requires only love to God and our neighbour as
an ultimate. This love or willing must respect and terminate on God and our neighbour.
The law says nothing about willing right for the sake of the right, or truth for
the sake of the truth, or beauty for the sake of beauty, or virtue for the sake of
virtue, or moral order for its own sake, or the nature and relations of moral agents
for their own sake; nor is, nor can any such thing be implied in the command to love
God and our neighbour. All these and innumerable other things are, and must be, conditions
and means of the highest well-being of God and our neighbour. As such, the law may,
and doubtless does, in requiring us to will the highest well-being of God and our
neighbour as an ultimate end, require us to will all these as the necessary conditions
and means. The end which the revealed law requires us to will is undeniably simple
as opposed to complex. It requires only love to God and our neighbour. One word expresses
the whole of moral obligation. Now certainly this word cannot have a complex signification
in such a sense as to include several distinct and ultimate objects of love, or of
choice. This love is to terminate on God and our neighbour, and not on abstractions,
nor on inanimate and insentient existences. I protest against any philosophy that
contradicts the revealed law of God, and that teaches that anything else than God
and our neighbour is to be loved for its own sake, or that anything else is to be
chosen as an ultimate end than the highest well-being of God and our neighbour. In
other words, I utterly object to any philosophy that makes anything obligatory upon
a moral agent that is not expressed or implied in perfect good will to God, and to
the universe of sentient existences. "To the word and to the testimony; if any
philosophy agree not therewith, it is because there is no light in it." The
revealed law of God knows but one ground or foundation of moral obligation. It requires
but one thing, and that is just that attitude of the will toward God and our neighbour
that accords with the intrinsic value of their highest well-being; that God's moral
worth shall be willed as of infinite value, as a condition of his own well-being,
and that his actual and perfect blessedness shall be willed for its own sake, and
because, or upon condition, that he is worthy; that our neighbour's moral worth shall
be willed as an indispensable condition of his blessedness, and that if our neighbour
is worthy of happiness, his actual and highest happiness shall be willed. The fact
is, that all ultimate acts of will must consist in ultimate choices and intentions,
and the revealed law requires that our ultimate choice, intention, should terminate
on the good of God and our neighbour, thus making the foundation of moral obligation
simple, moral action simple, and all true morality to be summed up in one word--love.
It is impossible, with our eye upon the revealed law, to make more than one foundation
of moral obligation; and it is utterly inadmissible to subvert this foundation by
any philosophisings whatever. This law knows but one end which moral agents are under
obligation to seek, and sets at nought all so-called ultimate actions of will that
do not terminate on the good of God and our neighbour. The ultimate choice with the
choice of all the conditions and means of the highest well-being of God and the universe,
is all that the revealed law recognizes as coming within the pale of its legislation.
It requires nothing more and nothing less.
But there is another form of the complex theory of moral obligation that I must notice
before I dismiss this subject. In the examination of it I shall be obliged to repeat
some things which have been in substance said before. Indeed, there has been so much
confusion upon the subject of the nature of virtue, or of the foundation of moral
obligation, as to render it indispensable in the examination of the various false
theories and in removing objections to the true one, frequently to repeat the same
thought in different connections. This I have found to be unavoidable, if I would
render the subject at all intelligible to the common reader.
This lecture was typed in by Eugene Detweiler.
LECTURE IX. Back
FOUNDATION OF OBLIGATION.
- 9. COMPLEX THEORY continued.
- I PASS NOW to the consideration of another form of the theory that affirms the
complexity of the foundation of moral obligation; complex, however, only in a certain
This philosophy admits and maintains that the good, that is, the valuable to being,
is the only ground of moral obligation, and that in every possible case the valuable
to being, or the good, must be intended as an end, as a condition of the intention
being virtuous. In this respect it maintains that the foundation of moral obligation
is simple, a unit. But it also maintains that there are several ultimate goods or
several ultimates or things which are intrinsically good or valuable in themselves,
and are therefore to be chosen for their own sake, or as an ultimate end; that to
choose either of these as an ultimate end, or for its own sake, is virtue.
It admits that happiness or blessedness is a good, and should be willed for its own
sake, or as an ultimate end, but it maintains that virtue is an ultimate good; that
right is an ultimate good; that the just and the true are ultimate goods; in short,
that the realization of the ideas of the reason, or the carrying out into concrete
existence any idea of the reason, is an ultimate good. For instance: there were in
the Divine Mind from eternity certain ideas of the good or valuable; the right, the
just, the beautiful, the true, the useful, the holy. The realization of these ideas
of the divine reason, according to this theory, was the end which God aimed at or
intended in creation; he aimed at their realization as ultimates or for their own
sake, and regarded the concrete realization of every one of these ideas as a separate
and ultimate good: and so certain as God is virtuous, so certain it is, says this
theory, that an intention to realize these ideas for their own sake, or for the sake
of the realization, is virtue. Therefore the intention on our part to realize these
ideas for the sake of the realization is virtue. Then the foundation of moral obligation
is complex in the sense that to will either the good or valuable, the right, the
true, the just, the virtuous, the beautiful, the useful, &c., for its own sake,
or as an ultimate end, is virtue; that there is more than one virtuous ultimate choice
or intention. Thus any one of several distinct things may be intended as an ultimate
end with equal propriety and with equal virtuousness. The soul may at one moment
be wholly consecrated to one end, that is, to one ultimate good, and sometimes to
another, that is, sometimes it may will one good, and sometimes another good, as
an ultimate end, and still be equally virtuous.
In the discussion of this subject I will,
(1.) State the exact question to be discussed.
(2.) Define the different senses of the term good.
(3.) Show in what sense of the term good it can be an ultimate.
(4.) That satisfaction or enjoyment is the only ultimate good.
(1.) The exact question. It is this: In what does the supreme and ultimate good consist?
(2.) The different senses of the term good.
(a.) Good may be natural or moral. Natural good is synonymous with valuable.
Moral good is synonymous with virtue. Moral good is in a certain sense a natural
good, that is, it is valuable as a means of natural good; but the advocates of this
theory affirm that moral good is valuable in itself.
(b.) Good may be absolute and relative. Absolute good is that which is intrinsically
valuable. Relative good is that which is valuable as a means. It is not valuable
in itself, but valuable because it sustains to absolute good the relation of a means
to an end. Absolute good may also be a relative good, that is, it may tend to perpetuate
and augment itself.
(c.) Good may also be ultimate. Ultimate good is that intrinsically valuable or absolute
good in which all relative good, whether natural or moral, terminates. It is that
absolute good to which all relative good sustains the relation of a means or condition.
(3.) In what sense of the term good it can be an ultimate.
(a.) Not in the sense of moral good or virtue. This has been so often shown that
it needs not to be repeated here. I will only say that virtue belongs to intention.
It is impossible that intention should be an ultimate. The thing intended must be
the ultimate of the intention. We have seen that to make virtue an ultimate, the
intention must terminate on itself, or on a quality of itself, which is absurd.
(b.) Good cannot be an ultimate in the sense of relative good. To suppose that it
could, were to suppose a contradiction; for relative good is not intrinsically valuable,
but only valuable on account of its relations.
(c.) Good can be an ultimate only in the sense of the natural and absolute, that
is, that only can be an ultimate good which is naturally and intrinsically valuable
to sentient being. And we shall soon inquire whether anything can be intrinsically
valuable to them but enjoyment, mental satisfaction, or blessedness.
I come now to state the point upon which issue is taken, to wit:--
(4.) That enjoyment, blessedness, or mental satisfaction, is the only ultimate good.
(a.) It has been before remarked, and should be repeated here, that the intrinsically
valuable must not only belong to, and be inseparable from, sentient beings, but that
the ultimate or intrinsic absolute good of moral agents must consist in a state of
mind. It must be something to be found in the field of consciousness. Nothing can
be affirmed by a moral agent to be an intrinsic, absolute, ultimate good, but a state
of mind. Take away mind, and what can be a good per se; or, what can be a good in
(b.) Again, it should be said that the ultimate and absolute good can not
consist in a choice or in a voluntary state of mind. The thing chosen is, and must
be, the ultimate of the choice. Choice can never be chosen as an ultimate end. Benevolence
then, or the love required by the law, can never be the ultimate and absolute good.
It is admitted that blessedness, enjoyment, mental satisfaction, is a good, an absolute
and ultimate good. This is a first truth of reason. All men assume it. All men seek
enjoyment either selfishly or disinterestedly, that is, they seek their own good
supremely, or the general good of being. That it is the only absolute and ultimate
good, is also a first truth. But for this there could be no activity--no motive to
action--no object of choice. Enjoyment is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact
the result of existence and of action. It results to God from his existence, his
attributes, his activity, and his virtue, by a law of necessity. His powers are so
correlated that blessedness cannot but be the state of his mind, as resulting from
the exercise of his attributes and the right activity of his will. Happiness, or
enjoyment results, both naturally and governmentally, from obedience to law both
physical and moral. This shows that government is not an end, but a means. It also
shows that the end is blessedness, and the means obedience to law.
The ultimate and absolute good, in the sense of the intrinsically valuable, cannot
be identical with moral law. Moral law, as we have seen, is an idea of the reason.
Moral law and moral government, must propose some end to be secured by means of law.
Law cannot be its own end. It cannot require the subject to seek itself, as an ultimate
end. This were absurd. The moral law is nothing else than the reason's idea, or conception
of that course of willing and acting, that is fit, proper, suitable to, and demanded
by the nature, relations, necessities, and circumstances of moral agents. Their nature,
relations, circumstances, and wants being perceived, the reason necessarily affirms,
that they ought to propose to themselves a certain end, and to consecrate themselves
to the promotion of this end, for its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value. This
end cannot be law itself. The law is a simple and pure idea of the reason, and can
never be in itself the supreme, intrinsic, absolute, and ultimate good.
Nor can obedience, or the course of acting or willing required by the law, be the
ultimate end aimed at by the law or the lawgiver. The law requires action in reference
to an end, or that an end should be willed; but the willing, and the end to be willed,
cannot be identical. The action required, and the end to which it is to be directed,
cannot be the same. To affirm that it can, is absurd. It is to affirm, that obedience
to law is the ultimate end proposed by law or government. The obedience is one thing,
the end to be secured by obedience, is and must be another. Obedience must be a means
or condition; and that which law and obedience are intended to secure, is and must
be the ultimate end of obedience. The law, or the lawgiver, aims to promote the highest
good, or blessedness of the universe. This must be the end of moral law and moral
government. Law and obedience must be the means or conditions of this end. It is
absurd to deny this. To deny this is to deny the very nature of moral law, and to
lose sight of the true and only end of moral government. Nothing can be moral law,
and nothing can be moral government, that does not propose the highest good of moral
beings as its ultimate end. But if this is the end of law, and the end of government,
it must be the end to be aimed at, or intended, by the ruler and the subject. And
this end must be the foundation of moral obligation. The end proposed to be secured,
must be intrinsically valuable, or that would not be moral law that proposed to secure
it. The end must be good or valuable, per se, or there can be no moral law requiring
it to be sought or chosen as an ultimate end, nor any obligation to choose it as
an ultimate end.
The sanctions of government or of law, in the widest sense of the term, must be the
ultimate of obedience and the end of government. The sanctions of moral government
must be the ultimate good and evil. That is, they must promise and threaten that
which is, in its own nature, an ultimate good or evil. Virtue must consist in the
impartial choice of that as an end which is proffered as the reward of virtue. This
is, and must be, the ultimate good. Sin consists in choosing that which defeats or
sets aside this end, or in selfishness.
But what is intended by the right, the just, the true, &c., being ultimate goods
and ends to be chosen for their own sake? These may be objective or subjective. Objective
right, truth, justice, &c., are mere ideas, and cannot be good or valuable in
themselves. Subjective right, truth, justice, &c., are synonymous with righteousness,
truthfulness, and justness. These are virtue. They consist in an active state of
the will, and resolve themselves into choice, intention. But we have repeatedly seen
that intention can neither be an end nor a good in itself, in the sense of intrinsically
Again: Constituted as moral agents are, it is a matter of consciousness that
the concrete realization of the ideas of right, and truth, and justice, of beauty,
of fitness, of moral order, and, in short, of all that class of ideas, is indispensable
as the condition and means of their highest well-being, and that enjoyment or mental
satisfaction is the result of realizing in the concrete those ideas. This enjoyment
or satisfaction then is and must be the end or ultimate upon which the intention
of God must have terminated, and upon which ours must terminate as an end or ultimate.
Again: The enjoyment resulting to God from the concrete realization of his
own ideas must be infinite. He must therefore have intended it as the supreme good.
It is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact the supremely valuable.
Again: If there is more than one ultimate good, the mind must regard them
all as one, or sometimes be consecrated to one and sometimes to another--sometimes
wholly consecrated to the beautiful, sometimes to the just, and then again to the
right, then to the useful, to the true, &c. But it may be asked, Of what value
is the beautiful, aside from the enjoyment it affords to sentient existences? It
meets a demand of our being, and hence affords satisfaction. But for this in what
sense could it be regarded as good? The idea of the useful, again, cannot be an idea
of an ultimate end, for utility implies that something is valuable in itself to which
the useful sustains the relation of a means and is useful only for that reason.
Of what value is the true, the right, the just, &c., aside from the pleasure
or mental satisfaction resulting from them to sentient existences? Of what value
were all the rest of the universe, were there no sentient existences to enjoy it?
Suppose, again, that everything else in the universe existed just as it does, except
mental satisfaction or enjoyment, and that there were absolutely no enjoyment of
any kind in anything any more than there is in a block of granite, of what value
would it all be? and to what, or to whom, would it be valuable? Mind, without susceptibility
of enjoyment, could neither know nor be the subject of good nor evil, any more than
a slab of marble. Truth in that case could no more be a good to mind than mind could
be a good to truth; light would no more be a good to the eye, than the eye a good
to light. Nothing in the universe could give or receive the least satisfaction or
dissatisfaction. Neither natural nor moral fitness nor unfitness could excite the
least emotion or mental satisfaction. A block of marble might just as well be the
subject of good as anything else, upon such a supposition.
Again: It is obvious that all creation, where law is obeyed, tends to one
end, and that end is happiness or enjoyment. This demonstrates that enjoyment was
the end at which God aimed in creation.
Again: It is evident that God is endeavouring to realize all the other ideas
of his reason for the sake of, and as a means of, realizing that of the valuable
to being. This, as a matter of fact, is the result of realizing in the concrete all
those ideas. This must then have been the end intended.
But again: The Bible knows of but one ultimate good. This, as has been said,
the moral law has for ever settled. The highest well-being of God and the universe
is the only end required by the law. Creation proposes but one end. Physical and
moral government propose but one end. The Bible knows but one end, as we have just
seen. The law and the gospel propose the good of being only as the end of virtuous
intention. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbour as thyself."
Here is the whole duty of man. But here is nothing of choosing, willing, loving,
truth, justice, right, utility, or beauty, as an ultimate end for their own sakes.
The fact is, there are innumerable relative goods, or conditions, or means of enjoyment,
but only one ultimate good. Disinterested benevolence to God and man is the whole
of virtue, and every modification of virtue resolves itself in the last analysis
into this. If this is so, well-being in the sense of enjoyment must be the only ultimate
good. But well-being, in the complex sense of the term, is made up of enjoyment and
the means and sources or conditions of enjoyment. Conformity to law universal, must
be the condition and enjoyment; the ultimate end, strictly and properly speaking.
It is nonsense to object that, if enjoyment or mental satisfaction be the only ground
of moral obligation, we should be indifferent as to the means. This objection assumes
that in seeking an end for its intrinsic value, we must be indifferent as to the
way in which we obtain that end. That is, whether it be obtained in a manner possible
or impossible, right or wrong. It overlooks the fact that from the laws of our own
being it is impossible for us to will the end without willing also the indispensable,
and therefore the appropriate, means: and also that we cannot possibly regard any
other conditions or means of the happiness of moral agents as possible, and therefore
as appropriate or right, but holiness and universal conformity to the law of our
being. Enjoyment or mental satisfaction results from having the different demands
of our being met. One demand of the reason and conscience of a moral agent is that
happiness should be conditionated upon holiness. It is therefore naturally impossible
for a moral agent to be satisfied with the happiness or enjoyment of moral agents
except upon the condition of their holiness.
But this class of philosophers insist that all the archetypes of the ideas of the
reason are necessarily regarded by us as good in themselves. For example: I have
the idea of beauty. I behold a rose. The perception of this archetype of the idea
of beauty gives me instantaneous pleasure. Now it is said, that this archetype is
necessarily regarded by me as a good. I have pleasure in the presence and perception
of it, and as often as I call it to remembrance. This pleasure, it is said, demonstrates
that it is a good to me; and this good is in the very nature of the object, and must
be regarded as a good in itself. To this I answer, that the presence of the rose
is a good to me, but not an ultimate good. It is only a means or source of pleasure
or happiness to me. The rose is not a good in itself. If there were no eyes to see
it and no olfactories to smell it, to whom could it be a good? But in what sense
can it be a good except in the sense that it gives satisfaction to the beholder?
The satisfaction, and not the rose, is and must be the ultimate good. But it is inquired,
Do not I desire the rose for its own sake? I answer, Yes; you desire it for its own
sake, but you do not, cannot choose it for its own sake, but to gratify the desire.
The desires all terminate on their respective objects. The desire for food terminates
on food; thirst terminates on drink, &c. These things are so correlated to these
appetites that they are desired for their own sakes. But they are not and cannot
be chosen for their own sakes or as an ultimate end. They are, and must be, regarded
and chosen as the means of gratifying their respective desires. To choose them simply
in obedience to the desire were selfishness. But the gratification is a good and
a part of universal good. The reason, therefore, urges and demands that they should
be chosen as a means of good to myself. When thus chosen in obedience to the law
of the intelligence, and no more stress is laid upon the gratification than in proportion
to its relative value, and when no stress is laid upon it simply because it is my
own gratification, the choice is holy. The perception of the archetypes of the various
ideas of the reason will, in most instances, produce enjoyment. These archetypes,
or, which is the same thing, the concrete realization of these ideas, is regarded
by the mind as a good, but not as an ultimate good. The ultimate good is the satisfaction
derived from the perception of them.
The perception of moral or physical beauty gives me satisfaction. Now moral and physical
beauty are regarded by me as good, but not as ultimate good. They are relative good
only. Were it not for the pleasure they give me, I could not in any way connect with
them the idea of good. Suppose no such thing as mental satisfaction existed, that
neither the perception of virtue nor of natural beauty, nor of any thing else, could
produce the least emotion, or feeling, or satisfaction of any kind. In this case,
a rose would no more be regarded as a good, than the most deformed object in existence.
All things would be equally indifferent to such a mind. There would be the idea and
its archetype, both in existence and exactly answering to each other. But what then?
The archetype of the perfection of beauty would no more be a good, to such a mind,
than would the archetype of the perfection of deformity. The mental eye might perceive
order, beauty, physical and moral, or any thing else; but these things would no more
be a good to the intellect that perceived them than their opposites. The idea of
good or of the valuable could not in such a case exist, consequently virtue, or moral
beauty, could not exist. The idea of good, or of the valuable, must exist before
virtue can exist. It is and must be the developement of the idea of the valuable,
that developes the idea of moral obligation, of right and wrong, and consequently,
that makes virtue possible. The mind must perceive an object of choice that is regarded
as intrinsically valuable, before it can have the idea of moral obligation to choose
it as an end. This object of choice cannot be virtue or moral beauty, for this would
be to have the idea of virtue or of moral beauty before the idea of moral obligation,
or of right and wrong. This were a contradiction. The mind must have the idea of
some ultimate good, the choice of which would be virtue, or concerning which the
reason affirms moral obligation, before the idea of virtue, or of right or wrong,
can exist. The developement of the idea of the valuable, or of an ultimate good must
precede the possibility of virtue or of the idea of virtue, of moral obligation,
or of right and wrong. It is absurd to say that virtue is regarded as an ultimate
good, when in fact the very idea of virtue does not and cannot exist until a good
is presented, in view of which, the mind affirms moral obligation to will it for
its own sake, and also affirms that the choice of it for that reason would be virtue.
The reason why virtue and moral excellence or worth, have been supposed to be a good
in themselves, and intrinsically and absolutely valuable, is, that the mind necessarily
regards them with satisfaction. They meet a demand of the reason and conscience;
they are the archetypes of the ideas of the reason, and are therefore naturally and
necessarily regarded with satisfaction, just as when we behold natural beauty, we
necessarily enjoy it. We naturally experience a mental satisfaction in the contemplation
of beauty, and this is true, whether the beauty be physical or moral. Both meet a
demand of our nature, and therefore we experience satisfaction in their contemplation.
Now it has been said, that this satisfaction is itself proof that we pronounced the
beauty a good in itself. But ultimate good must, as we have said, consist in a state
of mind. But neither physical nor moral beauty is a state of mind. Apart from the
satisfaction produced by their contemplation, to whom or to what can they be a good?
Take physical beauty for example, apart from every beholder, to whom or to what is
it a good? Is it a good to itself? But, it cannot be a subject of good. It must be
a good, only as, and because, it meets a demand of our being, and produces satisfaction
in its contemplation. It is a relative good. The satisfaction experienced by contemplating
it, is an ultimate good. It is only a condition of ultimate good.
So virtue or holiness is morally beautiful. Moral worth or excellence is morally
beautiful. Beauty is an attribute or element of holiness, virtue, and of moral worth,
or right character. But the beauty is not identical with holiness or moral worth,
any more than the beauty of a rose, and the rose are identical. The rose is beautiful.
Beauty is one of its attributes. So virtue is morally beautiful. Beauty is one of
its attributes. But in neither case is the beauty a state of mind, and, therefore,
it cannot be an ultimate good. The contemplation of either, and of both, naturally
begets mental satisfaction, because of the relation of the archetype to the idea
of our reason. We are so constituted, that beholding the archetypes of certain ideas
of our reason, produces mental satisfaction. Not because we affirm the archetypes
to be good in themselves; for often, as in the case of physical beauty, this cannot
be, but because these archetypes meet a demand of our nature. They meet this demand,
and thus produce satisfaction. This satisfaction is an ultimate good, but that which
produces it is only a relative good. Apart from the satisfaction produced by the
contemplation of moral worth, of what value can it be? Can the worthiness of good,
or the moral beauty, be the end proposed by the lawgiver? Or must we not rather,
seek to secure moral worth in moral agents, for the sake of the good in which it
results? If neither the subject of moral excellence or worth, nor any one else, experienced
the least satisfaction in contemplating it--if it did not so meet a demand of our
being, or of any being, as to afford the least satisfaction to any sentient existence,
to whom or to what would it be a good? If it meets a demand of the nature of a moral
agent, it must produce satisfaction. It does meet a demand of our being, and therefore
produces satisfaction to the intelligence, the conscience, the sensibility. It is
therefore necessarily pronounced by us to be a good.
We are apt to say, that moral worth is an ultimate good; but it is only a relative
good. It meets a demand of our being, and thus produces satisfaction. This satisfaction
is the ultimate good of being. At the very moment we pronounce it a good in itself,
it is only because we experience such a satisfaction in contemplating it. At the
very time we erroneously say, that we consider it a good in itself, wholly independent
of its results, we only say so, the more positively, because we are so gratified
at the time, by thinking of it. It is its experienced results, that is the ground
of the affirmation.
It cannot be too distinctly understood, that right character, moral worth, good desert,
meritoriousness, cannot be, or consist in, a state of mind, and, therefore, it is
impossible that it should be an ultimate good or intrinsically valuable. By right
character, moral worth, good desert, meritoriousness, &c., as distinguished from
virtue, we can mean nothing more than that it is fit and proper, and suitable to
the nature and relation of things, that a virtuous person should be blessed. The
intelligence is gratified when this character is perceived to exist. This perception
produces intellectual satisfaction. This satisfaction is a good in itself. But that
which produces this satisfaction, is in no proper sense a good in itself. Were it
not for the fact that it meets a demand of the intelligence, and thus produces satisfaction,
it could not so much as be thought of, as a good in itself, any more than anything
else that is a pure conception of the reason, such, for instance, as a mathematical
This lecture was typed in by Eugene Detweiler.
LECTURE X. Back
FOUNDATION OF OBLIGATION.
V. POINT OUT THE INTRINSIC ABSURDITY OF THE VARIOUS CONFLICTING THEORIES.
The discussion under this head has been in a great measure anticipated, as we have
proceeded in the examination of the theories to which we have attended. But before
I dismiss this subject, I will, in accordance with a former suggestion, notice some
more instances in which the conditions have been confounded with, and mistaken for,
the ground of obligation, which has resulted in much confusion and absurdity. The
instances which I shall mention are all to be found in the same author (Mahan's Moral
Philosophy), whose rightarian views we have examined. He fully admits, and often
affirms, that, strictly speaking, ultimate intentions alone are moral actions. That
an ultimate intention must necessarily, and always, find the ground of its obligation
exclusively in its object, and in nothing not intrinsic in its object. This he postulates
and affirms, as critically as possible. Yet, strange to tell, he goes on to affirm
the following, as exclusive grounds of obligation. For the sake of perspicuity I
will state his various propositions without quoting them, as to do so would occupy
too much space.
- 1. Strictly speaking, ultimate intentions alone are moral actions. (Ibid. pp.
- 2. Ultimate intentions consist in choosing an object for its own sake, or for
what is intrinsic in that object, and for no reason not intrinsic in it. (Ibid. pp.
- 3. Ultimate intentions must find their reasons, or the grounds of obligation,
exclusively in their objects. (Ibid. pp. 55, 56.)
- 4. The foundation of obligation must universally be intrinsic in the object of
choice. (Ibid., pp. 56, 81, 85.) This is his fundamental position. Thus far we agree.
- 5. Foundation of obligation, is not only what is intrinsic, but also in the relations
of its object. (Ibid. pp. 85, 142.) But this contradicts the last assertion.
- 6. All obligation is founded exclusively in the relations of our being to another.
(Ibid., pp. 23, 143.) Here, a mere condition of obligation, to fulfil to those around
us certain forms of duty, is confounded with, and even asserted to be, the sole ground
of obligation. We have seen in a former lecture, that the various relations of life,
are only conditions of certain forms of obligation, while the good connected with
the performance of these duties, is the ground of all such forms of obligation. Here
he again contradicts No. 4.
- 7. Again, he asserts that the affirmation of obligation by the moral faculty,
is the ground of obligation. (Ibid. p. 23.) Here again a condition is asserted to
be the ground of obligation. The affirmation of obligation by the reason is, no doubt,
a sine quà non of the obligation, but it cannot be the ground of it. What,
has the moral faculty no reason for affirming obligation to choose the good of being,
but the affirmation itself? Is the affirmation of obligation to choose, identical
with the object of that choice? Another contradiction of No. 4.
- 8. Again, he says, the foundation of obligation is found exclusively in
the relation of choice to its object. (Ibid. pp. 79, 86.) Here again a condition
is confounded with, and asserted to be, the exclusive ground of obligation. Contradiction
again of No. 4.
- 9. Again, he says that the foundation of obligation is found exclusively
in the character of the choice itself. (Ibid. pp. 76.) But the character of the choice
is determined by the object on which it terminates. The nature of the object must
create obligation to choose it for its own sake, or the choice of it is not right.
Here, it is plain, that a condition is again asserted to be the universal ground
of obligation. Were it not right to choose an object, for its own sake, the choice
of it would have no right character, and there could be no obligation. But it is
as absurd as possible to make the character of the choice the ground of the obligation.
This also contradicts No. 4.
- 10. Again, he affirms, that the idea of duty is the exclusive ground of
obligation. This theory we have before examined. Here it is plain, that a condition
is made the exclusive ground of obligation. If we had not the idea of duty, we, of
course, should not have the idea of obligation, for, in fact, these ideas are identical:
but it is totally absurd to say that this idea is the ground of obligation. This
also contradicts No. 4.
- 11. Again, he asserts, that the relation of intrinsic fitness, existing
between choice and its object, is the exclusive ground of obligation. (Ibid. p. 86.)
This theory we have examined, as that of the rightarian. All I need say here is,
that this is another instance in which a condition is made the sole ground of obligation.
Did not this relation exist, the obligation could not exist, but it is impossible,
as has been shown, that the relation should be the ground of this obligation. This
also contradicts No. 4. He says, again--
- 12. That obligation is sometimes founded, exclusively, in the moral character
of the being to whom we are under obligation. (Ibid. p. 86.) To this theory we have
alluded; I only remark here, that this is another instance of confounding a condition
with the ground of certain forms of obligation. This we have seen in the preceding
pages. This contradicts No. 4.
- 13. That the ground of obligation is found, partly in the nature of choice, partly
in the nature of the object, and partly in the relation of fitness existing between
choice and its object. (Ibid. pp. 106, 107, 108.) Here, again, a condition is made
the universal ground of obligation. Were not choice what it is, and good what it
is, and did not the relation of fitness exist between choice and its object, obligation
could not exist. But, we have seen, that it is impossible that anything but the intrinsic
nature of the good should be the ground of the obligation. This contradicts No. 4.
- 14. Again, he affirms, that the ground of obligation is identical with
the reason, or consideration, in view of which the intellect affirms obligation:
but this cannot be true. The vast majority of cases, in which we are conscious of
affirming obligation, respect executive acts, or volitions, and in nearly all such
cases the consideration in the immediate view of the mind, when it affirms the obligation,
is some other than the ultimate reason, or ground of the obligation, and which is
only a condition of obligation in that particular form. For example, the revealed
will of God, the utility of the act, as preaching the gospel, or the rightness of
the act, either of these may be, and often is, the reason immediately before the
mind, and the reason thought of at the time, the question of duty is settled and
the affirmation of obligation to perform an act of benevolence is made. But who does
not know, and admit, that neither of the above reasons can be the ground of obligation
to will or to do good? The writer who makes the assertion we are examining, has elsewhere
and often affirmed that, in all acts of benevolence, or of willing the good of being,
the intrinsic nature of the good is the ground of the obligation. It is absurd to
deny this, as we have abundantly seen. The facts are these: we necessarily assume
our obligation to will, and do good for its own sake. This is a necessarily-assumed
and omnipresent truth with every moral agent. We go forth with this assumption in
our minds; we therefore only need to know that any act, or course of action on our
part, is demanded to promote the highest good; and we therefore, and in view thereof,
affirm obligation to perform that act, or to pursue that course of action. Suppose
a young man to be inquiring after the path of duty in regard to his future course
of life; he seeks to know the will of God respecting it; he inquires after the probabilities
of greater or less usefulness. If he can get clear light upon either of these points,
he regards the question as settled. He has now ascertained what is right, and affirms
his obligation accordingly. Now, should you ask him what had settled his convictions,
and in view of what considerations he has affirmed his obligation, to preach the
gospel, for example, he would naturally refer either to the will of God, to the utility
of that course of life, or, perhaps, to the rightness of it. But would he, in thus
doing, assign, or even suppose himself to assign, the fundamental reason or ground
of the obligation? No, indeed, he cannot but know that the good to be secured by
this course of life, is the ground of the obligation to pursue it; that but for the
intrinsic value of the good, such a course of life would not be useful. But for the
intrinsic value of the good, God would not will that he should pursue that course
of life; that but for the intrinsic value of the good, such a course would not be
right. God's willing that he should preach the gospel; the utility of this course
of life, and of course its rightness, all depend upon the intrinsic value of the
good, to which this course of life sustains the relation of a means. The will of
God, the useful tendency, or the rightness of the course, might either or all of
them be thought of as reasons in view of which the obligation was affirmed, while
it is self-evident that neither of them can be the ground of the obligation. In regard
to executive acts, or the use of means to secure good, we almost never decide what
is duty by reference to, or in view of, the fundamental reason, or ground of obligation
which invariably must be the intrinsic nature of the good, but only in view of a
mere condition of the obligation. Whenever the will of God reveals the path of usefulness,
it reveals the path of right and of duty, and is a condition of the obligation in
the sense that, without such revelation, we should not know what course to pursue
to secure the highest good. The utility of any course of executive acts is a condition
of its rightness, and, of course, of obligation to pursue that course. The ultimate
reason, or ground of obligation to will and do good, is, and must be, in the mind,
and must have its influence in the decision of every question of duty; but this is
not generally the reason thought of, when the affirmed obligation respects executive
acts merely. I say, the intrinsic nature of the ultimate end, for the sake of which
the executive acts are demanded, must be in the mind as the ground of the obligation,
and as the condition of the affirmation of the obligation to put forth executive
acts to secure that end, although this fundamental reason is not in the immediate
view of the mind, as the object of conscious attentions at the time. We necessarily
assume our obligation to will good for its own sake; all our inquiries after diverse
forms of obligation, respect ways, and means, and conditions, of securing the highest
good. Whatever reveals to us the best ways and means, reveals the path of duty. We
always affirm those best ways and means to be the right course of action, and assign
the utility, or the rightness, or the will of God, which has required, and thus revealed
them, as the reasons in view of which we have decided upon the path of duty. But,
in no such case do we ever intend to assign the ultimate reason, or ground, of the
obligation; and if we did, we should be under an evident mistake. In every affirmation
of obligation, we do, without noticing it, assume the first truths of reason--our
own liberty or ability; that every event must have a cause; that the good of universal
being ought to be chosen and promoted because of its intrinsic value; that whatever
sustains to that good the relation of a necessary means, ought to be chosen for the
sake of the good; that God's revealed will always discloses the best ways and means
of securing the highest good, and therefore reveals universal law. These first truths
are at the bottom of the mind in all affirmations of obligation, and are, universally,
conditions of the affirmation of obligation. But these assumptions, or first truths,
are not, in general, the truths immediately thought of when obligation to put forth
executive acts is affirmed. It is, therefore, a great mistake to say that whatever
consideration is in the immediate view of the mind at the time, is the ground of
- 15. With respect to obligation to will the good of being, he asserts--
- (1.) That happiness is the only ultimate good. (Ibid. pp. 114, 115.)
(2.) That all obligation to will good, in any form, is founded exclusively in the
intrinsic value or nature of the good. (Ibid. p. 97.) To this I agree.
(3.) Again, he asserts repeatedly, that susceptibility of good is the sole
ground of obligation to will good to a being. (Ibid. pp. 106, 107, 115, 116, 122.)
Here, again, it is plain that a mere condition is asserted to be the universal ground
of obligation to will good. Were there no susceptibility of good, we should be under
no obligation to will good to a being, but susceptibility for good is of itself no
better reason for willing good than evil to a being. If susceptibility were a ground
of obligation, then a susceptibility of evil would be a ground of obligation to will
evil. This has been abundantly shown. This contradicts Nos. 4 and 2.
(4.) Again: holiness, he asserts, is a ground of obligation to will good to
its possessor. (Ibid. pp. 102, 107.) We have seen that holiness is only a condition
of obligation, in the form of willing the actual enjoyment of good by a particular
individual, while in every possible instance, the nature of the good, and not the
character of the individual, is the ground of the obligation. This contradicts Nos.
4 and 2.
(5.) He affirms that holiness is never a ground of obligation to will good to any
being; and that so far as willing the good of any being is concerned, our obligation
is the same, whatever the character may be. (Ibid. p. 111.) This as flatly as possible
contradicts what he elsewhere affirms. The several positions of this writer contradict
his fundamental position, and also each other, as flatly as possible. They are but
a tissue of absurdities.
Some writers have held that the moral perfection of moral agents is the great end
of creation, and that to which all such agents ought to consecrate themselves, and
of course that the intrinsic nature of moral perfection is the ground of obligation.
To this I reply,
It is true that the mind of a moral agent cannot rest and be satisfied short of moral
perfection. When that state is attained by any mind, so far as respects its own present
state, that mind is satisfied, but the satisfaction, and not the moral perfection,
is the ultimate good. Moral perfection results in happiness, or mental satisfaction,
and this satisfaction is and must be the ultimate good.
Observe, I do not say that our own happiness is the great end at which we ought to
aim, or that the intrinsic value of our own enjoyment is the ground of obligation.
But I do say that the highest good, or blessedness of the universe, is the ultimate
good, and its nature or intrinsic value is the ground of obligation.
This lecture was typed in by Eugene Detweiler.
LECTURE XI. Back
I HAVE NOW examined, I believe, all the various theories of the ground of obligation.
I have still further to remark upon the practical influence of these various theories,
for the purpose of showing the fundamental importance of a right understanding of
this question. The question lies at the very foundation of all morality and religion.
A mistake here is fatal to any consistent system either of moral philosophy or theology.
But before I dismiss this part of the subject, I must sum up the foregoing discussion,
and place, in a distinct light, the points of universal agreement among those who
have agitated this question, and then state a few plain corrolaries that must follow
from such premises. I think I may say that all parties will, and do, agree in the
following particulars. These have been named before, but I briefly recapitulate in
this summing up. The points of agreement, which I now need to mention, are only these--
1. Moral obligation respects moral actions only.
2. Involuntary states of mind are not, strictly speaking, moral actions.
3. Intentions alone are, strictly speaking, moral actions.
4. Still more strictly, ultimate intentions alone are moral actions.
5. An ultimate choice or intention is the choice of an object for its own sake, or
for what is intrinsic in the nature of the object, and for nothing which is not intrinsic
in such object.
6. The true foundation of obligation to choose an object of ultimate choice is that
in the nature of the object, for the sake of which the reason affirms obligation
to choose it.
7. Ultimate choice or intention is alone right or wrong, per se, and all executive
acts are right or wrong as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention.
Now, in the above premises we are agreed. It would seem that a moderate degree of
logical consistency ought to make us at one in our conclusions. Let us proceed carefully,
and see if we cannot detect the logical error that brings us to such diverse conclusions.
From the above premises it must follow--
- 1. That the utility of ultimate choice cannot be a foundation of obligation to
choose, for this would be to transfer the ground of obligation from what is intrinsic
in the object chosen to the useful tendency of the choice itself. As I have said,
utility is a condition of obligation to put forth an executive act, but can never
be a foundation of obligation, for the utility of the choice is not a reason found
exclusively, or at all, in the object of choice.
- 2. From the above premises it also follows, that the moral character of the choice
cannot be a foundation of obligation to choose, for this reason is not intrinsic
in the object of choice. To affirm that the character of choice is the ground of
obligation to choose, is to transfer the ground of obligation to choose, from the
object chosen to the character of the choice itself; but this is a contradiction
of the premises.
- 3. The relation of one being to another cannot be the ground of obligation to
will good to that other, for the ground of obligation to will good to another must
be the intrinsic nature of the good, and not the relations of one being to another.
Relations may be conditions of obligation to seek to promote the good of particular
individuals; but in every case the nature of the good is the ground of the obligation.
- 4. Neither the relation of utility, nor that of moral fitness or right, as existing
between choice and its object, can be a ground of obligation, for both these relations
depend, for their very existence, upon the intrinsic importance of the object of
choice; and besides, neither of these relations is intrinsic in the object of choice,
which, according to the premises, it must be to be a ground of obligation.
- 5. The relative importance or value of an object of choice, can never be a ground
of obligation to choose that object, for its relative importance is not intrinsic
in the object. The relative importance, or value, of an object may be a condition
of obligation to choose it, as a condition of securing an intrinsically valuable
object, to which it sustains the relation of a means, but it is a contradiction of
the premises to affirm that the relations of an object can be a ground of obligation
to choose that object.
- 6. The idea of duty cannot be a ground of obligation; this idea is a condition,
but never a foundation, of obligation, for this idea is not intrinsic in the object
which we affirm it our duty to choose.
- 7. The perception of certain relations existing between individuals cannot be
a ground, although it is a condition of obligation, to fulfil to them certain duties.
Neither the relation itself nor the perception of the relation, is intrinsic in that
which we affirm ourselves to be under obligation to will or do to them; of course,
neither of them can be a ground of obligation.
- 8. The affirmation of obligation by the reason, cannot be a ground, though it
is a condition of obligation. The obligation is affirmed, upon the ground of the
intrinsic importance of the object, and not in view of the affirmation itself.
- 9. The sovereign will of God, is never the foundation, though it often is a condition,
of certain forms of obligation. Did we know the intrinsic or relative value of an
object, we should be under obligation to choose it, whether God required it or not.
- The revealed will of God is always a condition of obligation, whenever such revelation
is indispensable to our understanding the intrinsic or relative importance of any
object of choice. The will of God is not intrinsic in the object, which he commands
us to will, and of course cannot, according to the premises, be a ground of obligation.
- 10. The moral excellence of a being can never be a foundation of obligation to
will his good, for his character is not intrinsic in the good we ought to will to
him. The intrinsic value of that good must be the ground of the obligation, and his
good character only a condition of obligation to will his enjoyment of good in particular.
- 11. Good character can never be a ground of obligation to choose anything which
is not itself; for the reasons of ultimate choice must, according to the premises,
be found exclusively in the object of choice. Therefore, if character is a ground
of obligation to put forth an ultimate choice, it must be the object of that choice.
- 12. Right can never be a ground of obligation, unless right be itself the object
which we are under obligation to choose for its own sake.
- 13. Susceptibility for good can never be a ground, though it is a condition,
of obligation to will good to a being. The susceptibility is not intrinsic in the
good which we ought to will, and therefore cannot be a ground of obligation.
- 14. It also follows from the foregoing premises that no one thing can be a ground
of obligation to choose any other thing, as an ultimate; for the reasons for choosing
anything, as an ultimate, must be found in itself, and in nothing extraneous to itself.
- 15. From the admitted fact, that none but ultimate choice or intention is right
or wrong per se, and that all executive volitions, or acts, derive their character
from the ultimate intention to which they owe their existence, it follows:--
- (a.) That if executive volitions are put forth with the intention to secure
an intrinsically valuable end, they are right; otherwise, they are wrong.
(b.) It also follows, that obligation to put forth executive acts is conditioned,
not founded, upon the assumed utility of such acts. Again--
(c.) It also follows, of course, that all outward acts are right or wrong, as they
proceed from a right or wrong intention.
(d.) It also follows that the rightness of any executive volition or outward act
depends upon the supposed and intended utility of that volition, or act. Then utility
must be assumed as a condition of obligation to put them forth, and, of course, their
intended utility is a condition of their being right.
(e.) It also follows that, whenever we decide it to be duty to put forth any outward
act whatever, irrespective of its supposed utility, and because we think it right,
we deceive ourselves, for it is impossible that outward acts or volitions, which
from their nature are always executive, should be either obligatory or right, irrespective
of their assumed utility, or tendency to promote an intrinsically valuable end.
(f.) Not only must all such acts be supposed to have this tendency, but they must
proceed from an intention, to secure the end for its own sake, as conditions of their
(g.) It follows also, that it is a gross error to affirm the rightness of an executive
act, as a reason for putting it forth, even assuming that its tendency is to do evil
rather than good. With this assumption no executive act can possibly be right. When
God has required certain executive acts, we know that they do tend to secure the
highest good, and that, if put forth to secure that good, they are right. But in
no case, where God has not revealed the path of duty, as it respects executive acts,
or courses of life, are we to decide upon such questions in view of the rightness,
irrespective of the good tendency of such acts or courses of life; for their rightness
depends upon their assumed good tendency.
Objection. 1. But to this doctrine it has been objected, that it amounts to
the papal dogma, that the end sanctifies the means. I will give the objection and
my reply.--See Appendix. Reply to the Princeton Review.
Objection. 2. That if the highest good, or well-being of God and of the universe,
be the sole foundation of moral obligation, it follows that we are not under obligation
to will anything except this end, with the necessary conditions and means thereof.
That everything but this end, which we are bound to will, must be willed as a means
to this end, or because of its tendency to promote this end. And this, it is said,
is the doctrine of utility.
To this I answer--
The doctrine of utility is, that the foundation of the obligation to will both the
end and the means is the tendency of the willing to promote the end. But this is
absurd. The doctrine of these discourses is not, as utilitarians say, that the foundation
of the obligation to will the end or the means is the tendency of the willing to
promote that end, but that the foundation of the obligation to will both the end
and the means, is the intrinsic value of end. And the condition of the obligation
to will the means is the perceived tendency of the means to promote the end.
Again, the objection that this doctrine is identical with that of the utilitarian
is urged in the following form:--
"The theory of Professor Finney, in its logical consequences, necessarily lands
us in the doctrine of utility, and can lead to no other results. The affirmation
of obligation, as all admit, pertains exclusively to the intelligence. The intelligence,
according to Professor Finney, esteems nothing whatever as worthy of regard for its
own sake, but happiness, or the good of being. Nothing else is esteemed by it, for
its own sake, but exclusively as 'a condition or a means to this end.' Now, if the
intelligence does not regard an intention for any other reason than as a condition
or a means, in other words, if for no other reason does it care whether such acts
do or do not exist at all, how can it require or prohibit such acts for any other
reason? If the intelligence does require or prohibit intentions for no other reasons
than as a condition or a means of happiness, this is the doctrine of utility, as
maintained by all its advocates." (Mahan's Moral Philosophy, pp. 98, 99.)
To this I reply, 1. That I do not hold that the intelligence demands the choice of
an ultimate end, as a condition or a means of securing this end, but exactly the
reverse of this. I hold that the intelligence does "care" whether ultimate
choice or intention exists, for an entirely different reason, than as a condition
or means of securing the end chosen. My doctrine is, and this objector has often
asserted the same, that the intelligence demands the choice of an ultimate end for
its own sake, and not because the choice tends to secure the end. What does this
objector mean? Only so far back as the next page he says, in a distinct head:--"The
advocates of this (his own) theory agree with Professor Finney in the doctrine that
the good of being is an ultimate reason for ultimate intentions of a certain class,
to wit, all intentions included in the words, willing the good of being." (Ibid.
p. 97.) Thus he expressly asserts that I hold, and that he agrees with me, that the
good of being is an ultimate reason for all ultimate intentions included in the words,
willing the good of being. Now, what a marvel, that on the next page, he should state
as an objection, that I hold that the reason does not demand the choice of the good
of being for its own sake, but only as a condition of securing the good. We agree
that an ultimate reason, is a ground of obligation, and that the nature of the good
renders it obligatory to choose it for its own sake; and yet this objector strangely
assumes, and asserts, that the nature of the good does not impose obligation to choose
it for its own sake, and that there is no reason for choosing it, but either the
rightness or the utility of the choice itself. This is passing strange. Why the choice
is neither right nor useful, only as the end chosen is intrinsically valuable, and
for this value demands choice. He says, "Whenever an object is present to the
mind, which, on account of what is intrinsic in the object itself, necessitates the
will to act, two or more distinct and opposite acts are always possible relatively
to such object. That act, and that act only can be right, which corresponds with
the apprehended intrinsic character of the object." (Ibid. p. 98.)
Now, just fifteen lines below, he states that there is no reason whatever for choosing
an object, but the intrinsic nature or the utility of the choice itself. Marvellous.
What, almost at the same breath, affirm that no choice, but that which consists in
choosing an object for its own sake, can be right, and yet that no object should
be chosen for its own sake, and that the intelligence can assign no reason whatever,
for the choice of an object, except the rightness or utility of the choice itself.
Now, he insists, that if I deny that the rightness of the choice is the ground of
the obligation to choose the good of being, I must hold that the utility of the choice
is the ground of the obligation, since, as he says, there can be no other reasons
for the choice. Thus I am, he thinks, convicted of utilitarianism!!
But he still says, (Ibid. pp. 100, 101.) "In consistency with the fundamental
principles of this theory, we can never account for the difference which he himself
makes, and must make, between ultimate intentions and subordinate executive volitions.
Both alike, as we have seen above, are, according to his theory, esteemed and regarded
by the intelligence, for no other reasons than as a condition or a means of happiness.
Yet he asserts that the obligation to put forth ultimate intentions is affirmed without
any reference whatever to their being apprehended as a condition or a means of happiness;
while the affirmation of obligation to put forth executive acts is conditioned wholly
upon their being perceived to be such a condition or means. Now how can the intelligence
make any such difference between objects esteemed and regarded, as far as anything
intrinsic in the objects themselves is concerned, as absolutely alike?" (Ibid.
pp. 100, 101.)
To this I reply, that the forms of obligation to put forth an ultimate and an executive
act, are widely different. The intelligence demands that the good be chosen for its
own sake, and this choice is not to be put forth as an executive act, or with design,
to secure its object. Obligation to put forth ultimate choice is, therefore, not
conditioned upon the supposed utility of the choice. But an executive act is to be
put forth with design to secure its ends, and therefore obligation to put forth such
acts is conditioned upon their supposed utility, or tendency to secure their end.
There is, then, a plain difference between obligation to put forth ultimate and executive
acts. What difficulty is there, then, in reconciling this distinction with my views,
stated in these lectures?
Objection. 3. It is said "that if the sole foundation of moral obligation
be the highest good of universal being, all obligation pertaining to God would respect
his susceptibilities and the means necessary to this result. When we have willed
God's highest well-being with the means necessary to that result, we have fulfilled
all our duty to him."
To this I reply; certainly, when we have willed the highest well-being of God and
of the universe with the necessary conditions and means thereof, we have done our
whole duty to him: for this is loving him with all our heart, and our neighbour as
ourselves. Willing the highest well-being of God, and of the universe, implies worship,
obedience, and the performance of every duty, as executive acts. The necessary conditions
of the highest well-being of the universe are, that every moral being should be perfectly
virtuous, and that every demand of the intelligence and of the whole being of God
and of the universe of creatures be perfectly met, so that universal mind shall be
in a state of perfect and universal satisfaction. To will this is all that the law
of God does or can require.
Objection. 4. It is objected, "That if this be the sole foundation of
moral obligation, it follows, that if all the good now in existence were connected
with sin, and all the misery connected with holiness, we should be just as well satisfied
as we now are."
I answer: this objection is based upon an impossible supposition, and therefore good
for nothing. That happiness should be connected with sin, and holiness with misery,
is impossible, without a reversal of the powers and laws of moral agency. If our
being were so changed that happiness were naturally connected with sin, and misery
with holiness, there would, of necessity, be a corresponding change in the law of
nature, or of moral law: in which case, we should be as well satisfied as we now
are. But no such change is possible, and the supposition is inadmissible. But it
has been demanded,--
"Why does not our constitution demand happiness irrespective of holiness? and
why is holiness as a condition of actual blessedness an unalterable demand of our
intelligence? Why can neither be satisfied with mere happiness, irrespective of the
conditions on which it exists, as far as moral agents are concerned? Simply and exclusively,
because both alike regard something else for its own sake besides happiness."
(Ibid. p. 104.)
The exact point of this argument is this: our nature demands that holiness should
exist in connection with happiness, and sin with misery: now, does not this fact
prove that we necessarily regard holiness as valuable in itself, or as an object
to be chosen for its own sake? I answer, no. It only proves that holiness is regarded
as right in itself, and therefore as the fit condition and means of happiness. But
it does not prove, that we regard holiness as an object to be chosen for its own
sake, or as an ultimate, for this would involve an absurdity. Holiness, or righteousness,
is only the moral quality of choice. It is impossible that the quality of a choice
should be the object of the choice. Besides, this quality of righteousness, or holiness,
is created by the fact, that the choice terminates on some intrinsically valuable
thing besides the choice itself. Thus, if our reason did affirm that holiness ought
to be chosen for its own sake, it would affirm an absurdity and a contradiction.
Should it be still asked, why our nature affirms that that which is right in itself
is the fit condition of happiness, I answer, certainly not because we necessarily
regard holiness, or that which is right in itself, as an object of ultimate choice
or intention, for this, as we have just seen, involves an absurdity. The true and
only answer to the question just supposed is, that such is our nature, as constituted
by the Creator, that it necessarily affirms as it does, and no other reason need
or can be given. The difficulty with the objector is, that he confounds right with
good, and insists that what is right in itself is as really an object of ultimate
choice, as that which is a good in itself. But this cannot be true. What is right?
Why, according to this objector, it is the relation of intrinsic fitness that exists
between choice and an object intrinsically worthy of choice. This relation of fitness,
or rightness, is not and cannot be the object of the choice. The intrinsic nature
or value of the object creates this relation of rightness or fitness between the
choice and the object. But this rightness is not, cannot be, an object of ultimate
choice. When will writers cease to confound what is right in itself with what is
a good in itself, and cease to regard the intrinsically right, and the intrinsically
valuable, as equally objects of ultimate choice? The thing is impossible and absurd.
Objection. 5. But it is said, that a moral agent may sometimes be under obligation
to will evil instead of good to others. I answer:--
It can never be the duty of a moral agent to will evil to any being for its own sake,
or as an ultimate end. The character and governmental relations of a being may be
such that it may be duty to will his punishment to promote the public good. But in
this case good is the end willed, and misery only a means. So it may be the duty
of a moral agent to will the temporal misery of even a holy being to promote the
public interests. Such was the case with the sufferings of Christ. The Father willed
his temporary misery to promote the public good. But in all cases when it is duty
to will misery, it is only as a means or condition of good to the public, or to the
individual, and not as an ultimate end.
Objection. 6. It has been said, "I find an unanswerable argument against
this theory, also, in the relations of the universal intelligence to the moral government
of God. All men do, as a matter of fact, reason from the connection between holiness
and happiness, and sin and misery, under that government, to the moral character
of God. In the scriptures, also, the same principle is continually appealed to. If
the connection was a necessary one, and not dependent upon the divine will, it would
present no more evidence of the divine rectitude, than the principle that every event
has a cause, and all that is said in the scriptures about God's establishing this
connection, would be false. Virtue and vice are in their own nature absolute, and
would be what they now are, did not the connection under consideration exist."
(Ibid. p. 109.)
(1.) This objection is based upon the absurd assumption, that moral law would remain
the same, though the nature of moral agents were so changed that benevolence should
naturally and necessarily produce misery, and selfishness produce happiness. But
this is absurd. Moral law is, and must be, the law of nature. If the natures of moral
agents were changed, there must of necessity be a corresponding change of the law.
Virtue and vice are fixed and unchangeable only because moral agency is so.
(2.) The objection assumes that moral agents might have been so created as to affirm
their obligation to be benevolent, though it were a fact that benevolence is necessarily
connected with misery, and selfishness with happiness. But such a reversal of the
nature would necessarily either destroy moral agency, and consequently moral law,
or it would reverse the nature of virtue and vice. This objection overlooks, and
indeed contradicts, the nature, both of moral agency and moral law.
(3.) We infer the goodness of God from the present constitution of things, not because
God could possibly have created moral agents, and imposed on them the duty of benevolence,
although benevolence had been necessarily connected with misery, and selfishness
with happiness; for no such thing is, or was, possible. But we infer his benevolence
from the fact, that he has created moral agents, and subjected them to moral law,
and thus procured an indefinite amount of good, when he might have abstained from
such a work. His choice was between creating moral agents and not creating, and not
between creating moral agents with a nature such as they now have, or creating them
moral agents, and putting them under the same law they now have, but with a nature
the reverse of what they now have. This last were absurd, and naturally impossible.
Yet this objection is based upon the assumption that it was possible.
Objection. 7. It is said, that if any moral act can be conceived of which
has not the element of willing the good of being in it, this theory is false. As
an instance of such an act, it is insisted that revealed veracity as really imposes
obligation to treat a veracious being as worthy of confidence, as susceptibility
for happiness imposes obligation to will the happiness of such a being.
To this I reply,--
(1.) That it is a contradiction to say, that veracity should be the ground of an
obligation to choose anything whatever but the veracity itself as an ultimate object,
or for its own sake; for, be it remembered, the identical object, whose nature and
intrinsic value imposes obligation, must be the object chosen for its own sake. This
veracity imposes obligation to--what? Choose his veracity for its own sake? Is this
what he is worthy of? O no, he is worthy of confidence. Then to treat him as worthy
of confidence is not to will his veracity for its own sake, but to confide in him.
But why confide in him? Let us hear this author himself answer this question:--
"There are forms of real good to moral agents, obligation to confer which rests
exclusively upon moral character. That I should, for example, be regarded and treated
by moral agents around me as worthy of confidence, is one of the fundamental necessities
of my nature. On what condition or grounds can I require them to render me this good?
Not on the ground that it is a good in itself to me. Such fact makes no appeal whatever
to the conscience relatively to the good of which I am speaking. There is one and
only one consideration that can, by any possibility, reach the conscience on this
subject, to wit, revealed trust-worthiness. No claim to confidence can be sustained
on any other ground whatever." (Ibid. pp. 107, 108.)
Indeed, but how perfectly manifest is it that here a condition is confounded with,
or rather mistaken for, the ground of obligation. This writer started with the assertion
that confiding in a being had not "the element of willing good in it."
But here he asserts that confidence is a good to him, which we are bound to confer,
and asserts that the ground of the obligation to confer this good, is not the intrinsic
value of the good, but his revealed veracity. Here then, it is admitted, that to
confide in a being has "the element of willing good in it." So the objection
with which he started is given up, so far as to admit that this confidence is only
a particular form of "good willing," and the only question remaining here
is, whether the nature of the good, or the revealed veracity, is the ground of the
obligation "to confer this form of good." This question has been answered
already. Why "confer" good rather than evil upon him? Why, because good
is good and evil is evil. The intrinsic value of the good is the ground, and his
veracity only a condition, of obligation to will his particular and actual enjoyment
of good. He says, "no claim to confidence can be sustained on any other ground
than that of revealed veracity." I answer, that no such claim can be sustained
except upon condition of revealed veracity. But if this confidence is the conferring
of a good upon the individual, it is absurd to say that we are bound to confer this
good, not because it is of value to him, but solely because of his veracity. Thus,
this objector has replied to his own objection.
But let us put this objection in the strongest form, and suppose it to be asserted
that revealed veracity always necessitates an act of confidence, or its opposite,
and that we necessarily affirm obligation to put forth an act of confidence in revealed
veracity, entirely irrespective of this confidence, or this veracity, sustaining
any relation whatever to the good of any being in existence. Let us examine this.
We often overlook the assumptions and certain knowledges which are in our own minds,
and upon which we make certain affirmations. For example, in every effort we affirm
ourselves under obligation to make, to secure the good of being, we assume our moral
agency and the intrinsic value of the good to being; and generally these assumptions
are not thought of, when we make such affirmations of obligation. But they are in
the mind: their presence then, is the condition of our making the affirmation of
obligation, although they are not noticed, nor thought of at the time. Now let us
see if the affirmation of obligation to put forth an act of confidence, in view of
revealed truth or revealed veracity, is not conditioned upon the assumption that
the revealed truth or veracity, and consequently confidence in it, does sustain some
relation to, and is a condition of, the highest good of being. Suppose, for example,
that I assume that a truth, or a veracity, sustains no possible relation to the good
of any being in existence, and that I regard the truth or the veracity revealed,
as relating wholly and only, to complete abstractions, sustaining no relation whatever
to the good or ill of any being; would such a truth, or such a veracity, either necessitate
action, when revealed to the mind, or would the intellect affirm obligation to act
in view of it? I say, no. Nor could the intelligence so much as conceive of obligation
to act in this case. It could neither see nor assume any possible reason for action.
The mind in this case must be, and remain, in a state of entire indifference to such
a truth and such veracity. Although the fact may be overlooked, in the sense of not
thought of, yet it is a fact, that obligation to confide in truth and in revealed
veracity is affirmed by reason of the assumption which lies in the intellect, as
a first truth, that to confide in, or to be influenced by, truth and veracity, is
a condition of the highest good of being, and the value of the good is assumed as
the ground, and the relation of the truth and the veracity, and of the confidence
as the condition of the obligation. Faith, or confidence in an act, as distinguished
from an attribute, of benevolence, is a subordinate and not an ultimate choice. God
has so constituted the mind of moral agents, that they know, by a necessary law of
the intelligence, that truth is a demand of their intellectual, as really as food
is of their physical nature; that truth is the natural aliment of the mind, and that
conformity of heart and life to it is the indispensable condition of our highest
well-being. With this intuitive knowledge in the mind, it naturally affirms its obligations
to confide in revealed veracity and truth. But suppose the mind to be entirely destitute
of the conception that truth, or confidence in truth, sustained any relation whatever
to the good of any being;--suppose truth was to the mind a mere abstraction, with
no practical relations, any more than a point in space, or a mathematical line; it
seems plain that no conception of obligation to confide in it, or to act in view
of it, could possibly exist in this case. If this is so, it follows that obligation
to confide in truth, or in revealed veracity, is conditioned upon its assumed relations
to the good of being. And if this is so, the good to which truth sustains the relation
of a means, must be the ground, and the relation only the condition, of the obligation.
But to silence all debate, the objector appeals to the universal consciousness:--
"I now adduce against the theory of Professor Finney, and in favour of the opposite
theory, the direct and positive testimony of universal consciousness. Let us suppose,
for example, that the character of God, as possessed of absolute omniscience, and
veracity, is before the mind, on the one hand, and his capacity for infinite happiness,
on the other. I put it to the consciousness of every intelligent being, whether God's
character for knowledge and veracity does not present reasons just as ultimate for
esteeming and treating him as worthy, instead of unworthy of confidence, as his susceptibilities
for happiness do for willing his blessedness, instead of putting forth contradictory
acts?"-- Moral Philosophy, p. 106.
Yes, I answer. But why does not this objector see that susceptibility for happiness
is not the ground, but only a condition, of obligation to will the happiness of a
being. Susceptibility for happiness, is in itself, no better reason for willing happiness,
than susceptibility for misery is for willing misery. It is the nature of happiness
that constitutes the ground, while susceptibility for happiness is only a condition
of the obligation to will it, to any being. Without the susceptibility happiness
were impossible, and hence there could be no obligation. But, the susceptibility
existing, we are, upon this condition, under obligation to will the happiness of
such a being for its own sake. The writer who makes this objection, has repeatedly
fallen into the strange error of assuming and affirming that susceptibility for happiness
is a ground of obligation to will happiness, and here he reiterates the assertion,
and lays great stress upon it, and appeals to the universal consciousness in support
of the proposition, that "revealed veracity presents reasons just as ultimate,
for esteeming and treating a veracious being as worthy of confidence, as susceptibilities
for good do for willing good." Yes, I say again: but neither of these presents
ultimate reasons, and, of course, neither of them is a ground of obligation. Why
does not this writer see that, according to his own most solemn definition of an
ultimate act, this esteeming and treating a veracious being as worthy of confidence,
cannot be ultimate acts? According to his own repeated showing, if veracity be a
ground of obligation, that obligation must be to choose veracity for its own sake.
But he says, the obligation is to esteem and treat him as worthy of confidence, and
that this is "a real good which we are bound to render to him." What, the
whole point and force of the objection is that this esteeming and treating are moral
acts, that have no relation to the good of any being. This is strange. But stranger
still, his veracity is not only a condition, but the ground, of obligation to render
this good to him. We are to will his good, or to do him good, or to render to him
the good which our confidence is to him, not because it is of any value to him, but
because he is truthful.
It is perfectly plain that vast confusion reigns in the mind of that writer upon
this subject, and that this objection is only a reiteration of the theory that moral
excellence is a ground of obligation, which we have seen to be false.
This lecture was typed in by Mike Miller.
LECTURE XII. Back to Top
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
VI. LASTLY, SHOW THE PRACTICAL TENDENCY OF THE VARIOUS THEORIES.
It has already been observed that this is a highly practical question, and one of
surpassing interest and importance. I have gone through the discussion and examination
of the several principal theories, for the purpose of preparing the way to expose
the practical results of those various theories, and to show that they legitimately
result in some of the most soul-destroying errors that cripple the church and curse
the world. I have slightly touched already upon this subject, but so slightly, however,
as to forbid its being left until we have looked more stedfastly, and thoroughly,
- 1. I will begin with the theory that regards the sovereign will of God as the
foundation of moral obligation.
- One legitimate and necessary result of this theory is, a totally erroneous conception
both of the character of God, and of the nature and design of his government. If
God's will is the foundation of moral obligation, it follows that he is an arbitrary
sovereign. He is not under law himself, and he has no rule by which to regulate his
conduct, nor by which either himself or any other being can judge of his moral character.
Indeed, unless he is subject to law, or is a subject of moral obligation, he has
and can have, no moral character; for moral character always and necessarily implies
moral law and moral obligation. If God's will is not itself under the law of his
infinite reason, or, in other words, if it is not conformed to the law imposed upon
it by his intelligence, then his will is and must be arbitrary in the worst sense,
that is, in the sense of having no regard to reason, or to the nature and relations
of moral agents. But if his will is under the law of his reason, if he acts from
principle, or has good and benevolent reasons for his conduct, then his will is not
the foundation of moral obligation, but those reasons that lie revealed in the divine
intelligence, in view of which it affirms moral obligation, or that he ought to will
in conformity with those reasons. In other words, if the intrinsic value of his own
well-being and that of the universe be the foundation of moral obligation; if his
reason affirms his obligation to choose this as his ultimate end, and to consecrate
his infinite energies to the realization of it; and if his will is conformed to this
law, it follows,--
(1.) That his will is not the foundation of moral obligation.
(2.) That he has infinitely good and wise reasons for what he wills, says, and does.
(3.) That he is not arbitrary, but always acts in conformity with right principles,
and for reasons that will, when universally known, compel the respect and even admiration
of every intelligent being in the universe.
(4.) That he has a moral character, and is infinitely virtuous.
(5.) That he must respect himself.
(6.) That he must possess a happiness intelligent in kind, and infinite in degree.
(7.) That creation, providential and moral government, are the necessary means to
an infinitely wise and good end, and that existing evils are only unavoidably incidental
to this infinitely wise and benevolent arrangement, and, although great, are indefinitely
the less of two evils. That is, they are an evil indefinitely less than no creation
and no government would have been, or than a different arrangement and government
would have been. It is conceivable, that a plan of administration might have been
adopted that would have prevented the present evils; but if we admit that God has
been governed by reason in the selection of the end he has in view, and in the use
of means for its accomplishment, it will follow that the evils are less than would
have existed under any other plan of administration; or at least, that the present
system, with all its evils, is the best that infinite wisdom and love could adopt.
(8). These incidental evils, therefore, do not at all detract from the evidence of
the wisdom and goodness of God; for in all these things he is not acting from caprice,
or malice, or an arbitrary sovereignty, but is acting in conformity with the law
of his infinite intelligence, and of course has infinitely good and weighty reasons
for what he does and suffers to be done--reasons so good and so weighty, that he
could not do otherwise without violating the law of his own intelligence, and therefore
committing infinite sin.
(9.) It follows also that there is ground for perfect confidence, love, and submission
to his divine will in all things. That is: if his will is not arbitrary, but conformed
to the law of his infinite intelligence, then it is obligatory, as our rule of action,
because it reveals infallibly what is in accordance with infinite intelligence. We
may always be entirely safe in obeying all the divine requirements, and in submitting
to all his dispensations, however mysterious, being assured that they are perfectly
wise and good. Not only are we safe in doing so, but we are under infinite obligation
to do so; not because his arbitrary will imposes obligation, but because it reveals
to us infallibly the end we ought to choose, and the indispensable means of securing
it. His will is law, not in the sense of its originating and imposing obligation
of its own arbitrary sovereignty, but in the sense of its being a revelation of both
the end we ought to seek, and the means by which the end can be secured. Indeed this
is the only proper idea of law. It does not in any case of itself impose obligation,
but is only a revelation of obligation. Law is a condition, but not the foundation
of obligation. The will of God is a condition of obligation, only so far as it is
indispensable to our knowledge of the end we ought to seek, and the means by which
this end is to be secured. Where these are known, there is obligation, whether God
has revealed his will or not.
The foregoing, and many other important truths, little less important than those
already mentioned, and too numerous to be now distinctly noticed, follow from the
fact that the good of being, and not the arbitrary will of God, is the foundation
of moral obligation. But no one of them is or can be true, if his will be the foundation
of obligation. Nor can any one, who consistently holds or believes that his will
is the foundation of obligation, hold or believe any of the foregoing truths, nor
indeed hold or believe any truth of the law or gospel. Nay, he cannot, if he be at
all consistent, have even a correct conception of one truth of God's moral government.
Let us see if he can.
(1.) Can he believe that God's will is wise and good, unless he admits and
believes that it is subject to the law of his intelligence. Certainly he cannot;
and to affirm that he can is a palpable contradiction. But if he admits that the
divine will is governed by the law of the divine intelligence, this is denying that
his will is the foundation of moral obligation. If he consistently holds that the
divine will is the foundation of moral obligation, he must either deny that his will
is any evidence of what is wise and good, or maintain the absurdity, that whatever
God wills is wise and good, simply for the reason that God wills it, that if he willed
the directly opposite of what he does, it would be equally wise and good. But this
is an absurdity palpable enough to confound any one who has reason and moral agency.
(2.) If he consistently holds and believes that God's sovereign will is the
foundation of moral obligation, he cannot regard him as having any moral character,
for the reason, that there is no standard by which to judge of his willing and acting;
for, by the supposition, he has no intelligent rule of action, and, therefore, can
have no moral character, as he is not a moral agent, and can himself have no idea
of the moral character of his own actions; for, in fact, upon the supposition in
question, they have none. Any one, therefore, who holds that God is not a subject
of moral law, imposed on him by his own reason, but, on the contrary, that his sovereign
will is the foundation of moral obligation, must, if consistent, deny that he has
moral character; and he must deny that God is an intelligent being, or else admit
that he is infinitely wicked for not conforming his will to the law of his intelligence;
and for not being guided by his infinite reason, instead of setting up an arbitrary
sovereignty of will.
(3.) He who holds that God's sovereign will is the foundation of moral obligation,
instead of being a revelation of obligation, if he be at all consistent, can neither
have nor assign any good reason either for confidence in him, or submission to him.
If God has no good and wise reasons for what he commands, why should we obey him?
If he has no good and wise reasons for what he does, why should we submit to him?
Will it be answered, that if we refuse, we do it at our peril, and, therefore, it
is wise to do so, even if he has no good reasons for what he does and requires? To
this I answer that it is impossible, upon the supposition in question, either to
obey or submit to God with the heart. If we can see no good reasons, but, on the
other hand, are assured there are no good and wise reasons for the divine commands
and conduct, it is rendered for ever naturally impossible, from the laws of our nature,
to render anything more than feigned obedience and submission. Whenever we do not
understand the reason for a divine requirement, or of a dispensation of divine Providence,
the condition of heart-obedience to the one and submission to the other, is the assumption,
that he has good and wise reasons for both. But assume the contrary, to wit, that
he has no good and wise reasons for either, and you render heart-obedience, confidence,
and submission impossible. It is perfectly plain, therefore, that he who consistently
holds the theory in question, can neither conceive rightly of God, nor of anything
respecting his law, gospel, or government, moral or providential. It is impossible
for him to have an intelligent piety. His religion, if he have any, must be sheer
superstition, inasmuch as he neither knows the true God, nor the true reason why
he should love, believe, obey, or submit to him. In short, he neither knows, nor,
if consistent, can know, anything of the nature of true religion, and has not so
much as a right conception of what constitutes virtue.
But do not understand me as affirming, that none who profess to hold the theory in
question have any true knowledge of God, or any true religion. No, they are happily
so purely theorists on this subject, and so happily inconsistent with themselves,
as to have, after all, a practical judgment in favour of the truth. They do not see
the logical consequences of their theory, and of course do not embrace them, and
this happy inconsistency is an indispensable condition of their salvation. There
is no end to the absurdities to which this theory legitimately conducts us, as might
be abundantly shown. But enough has been said, I trust, to put you on your guard
against entertaining fundamentally false notions of God and of his government, and,
consequently, of what constitutes true love, faith, obedience, and submission to
(4.) Another pernicious consequence of this theory is, that those who hold
it will of course give false directions to inquiring sinners. Indeed, if they be
ministers, the whole strain of their instructions must be false. They must, if consistent,
not only represent God to their hearers as an absolute and arbitrary sovereign, but
they must represent religion as consisting in submission to arbitrary sovereignty.
If sinners inquire what they must do to be saved, such teachers must answer in substance,
that they must cast themselves on the sovereignty of a God whose law is solely an
expression of his arbitrary will, and whose every requirement and purpose is founded
in his arbitrary sovereignty. This is the God whom they must love, in whom they must
believe, and whom they must serve with a willing mind. How infinitely different such
instructions are from those that would be given by one who knew the truth. Such an
one would represent God to an inquirer as infinitely reasonable in all his requirements,
and in all his ways. He would represent the sovereignty of God as consisting, not
in arbitrary will, but in benevolence or love, directed by infinite knowledge in
the promotion of the highest good of being. He would represent his law, not as the
expression of his arbitrary will, but as having its foundation in the self-existent
nature of God, and in the nature of moral agents; as being the very rule which is
agreeable to the nature and relations of moral agents; that its requisitions are
not arbitrary, but that the very thing, and only that, is required which is in the
nature of things indispensable to the highest well-being of moral agents; that God's
will does not originate obligation by any arbitrary fiat, but, on the contrary, that
he requires what he does, because it is obligatory in the nature of things; that
his requirement does not create right, but that he requires only that which is naturally
and of necessity right. These and many such like things would irresistibly commend
the character of God to the human intelligence, as worthy to be trusted, and as a
being to whom submission is infallibly safe and infinitely reasonable.
But let the advocates of the theory under consideration but consistently press this
theory upon the human intelligence, and the more they do so, the less reason can
it perceive either for submitting to, or for trusting in, God. The fact is, the idea
of arbitrary sovereignty is shocking and revolting, not only to the human heart,
whether unregenerate or regenerate, but also to the human intelligence. Religion,
based upon such a view of God's character and government, must be sheer superstition
or gross fanaticism.
- 2. I will next glance at the legitimate results of the theory of the selfish
- This theory teaches that our own interest is the foundation of moral obligation.
In conversing with a distinguished defender of this philosophy, I requested the theorist
to define moral obligation, and this was the definition given: "It is the obligation
of a moral agent to seek his own happiness." Upon the practical bearing of this
theory I remark,--
(1.) It tends directly and inevitably to the confirmation and despotism of sin in
the soul. All sin, as we shall hereafter see, resolves itself into a spirit of self-seeking,
or into a disposition to seek good to self, and upon condition of its relations to
self, and not impartially and disinterestedly. This philosophy represents this spirit
of self-seeking as virtue, and only requires that in our efforts to secure our own
happiness, we should not interfere with the rights of others in seeking theirs. But
here it may be asked, when these philosophers insist that virtue consists in willing
our own happiness, and that, in seeking it, we are bound to have respect to the right
and happiness of others, do they mean that we are to have a positive, or merely a
negative regard to the rights and happiness of others? If they mean that we are to
have a positive regard to others' rights and happiness, what is that but giving up
their theory, and holding the true one, to wit, that the happiness of each one shall
be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, for its own sake? That is, that we
should be disinterestedly benevolent? But if they mean that we are to regard our
neighbour's happiness negatively, that is, merely in not hindering it, what is this
but the most absurd thing conceivable? What! I need not care positively for my neighbour's
happiness, I need not will it as a good in itself, and for its own value, and yet
I must take care not to hinder it. But why? Why, because it is intrinsically as valuable
as my own. Now, if this is assigning any good reason why I ought not to hinder it,
it is just because it is assigning a good reason why I ought positively and disinterestedly
to will it; which is the same thing as the true theory. But if this is not a sufficient
reason to impose obligation, positively and disinterestedly, to will it, it can never
impose obligation to avoid hindering it, and I may then pursue my own happiness in
my own way without the slightest regard to that of any other.
(2.) If this theory be true, sinful and holy beings are precisely alike, so far as
ultimate intention is concerned, in which we have seen all moral character consists.
They have precisely the same end in view, and the difference lies exclusively in
the means they make use of to promote their own happiness. That sinners are seeking
their own happiness, is a truth of consciousness to them. If moral agents are under
obligation to seek their own happiness as the supreme end of life, it follows, that
holy beings do so. So that holy and sinful beings are precisely alike, so far as
the end for which they live is concerned; the only difference being, as has been
observed, in the different means they make use of to promote this end. But observe,
no reason can be assigned, in accordance with this philosophy, why they use different
means, only that they differ in judgment in respect to them; for, let it be remembered,
that this philosophy denies that we are bound to have a positive and disinterested
regard to our neighbour's interest; and, of course, no benevolent considerations
prevent the holy from using the same means as do the wicked. Where, therefore, is
the difference in their character, although they do use this diversity of means?
I say again, there is none. If this difference be not ascribed to disinterested benevolence
in one, and to selfishness in the other, there really is and can be no difference
in character between them. According to this theory nothing is right in itself, but
the intention to promote my own happiness; and anything is right or wrong as it is
intended to promote this result or otherwise. For let it be borne in mind that, if
moral obligation respects strictly the ultimate intention only, it follows that ultimate
intention alone is right or wrong in itself, and all other things are right or wrong
as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This must be true. Further,
if my own happiness be the foundation of my moral obligation, it follows that this
is the ultimate end at which I ought to aim, and that nothing is right or wrong in
itself, in me, but this intention or its opposite; and furthermore, that everything
else must be right or wrong in me as it proceeds from this, or from an opposite intention.
I may do, and upon the supposition of the truth of this theory, I am bound to do,
whatever will, in my estimation, promote my own happiness, and that, not because
of its intrinsic value as a part of universal good, but because it is my own. To
seek it as a part of universal happiness, and not because it is my own, would be
to act on the true theory, or the theory of disinterested benevolence; which this
(3.) Upon this theory I am not to love God supremely, and my neighbour as myself.
If I love God and my neighbour, it is to be only as a means of promoting my own happiness,
which is not loving them, but loving myself, supremely.
(4.) This theory teaches radical error in respect both to the character and government
of God; and the consistent defenders of it cannot but hold fundamentally false views
in respect to what constitutes holiness or virtue, either in God or man. They do
not and cannot know the difference between virtue and vice. In short, all their views
of religion cannot but be radically false and absurd.
(5.) The teachers of this theory must fatally mislead all who consistently follow
out their instructions. In preaching they must, if consistent, appeal wholly to hope
and fear, instead of addressing the heart through the intelligence. All their instructions
must tend to confirm selfishness. All the motives they present, if consistent, tend
only to stir up a zeal within them to secure their own happiness. If they pray, it
will only be to implore the help of God to accomplish their selfish ends.
Indeed, it is impossible that this theory should not blind its advocates to the fundamental
truths of morality and religion, and it is hardly conceivable that one could more
efficiently serve the devil than by the inculcation of such a philosophy as this.
- 3. Let us in the next place look into the natural and, if its advocates are consistent,
necessary results of utilitarianism.
- This theory, you know, teaches that the utility of an action or of a choice,
renders it obligatory. That is, I am bound to will good, not for the intrinsic value
of the good; but because willing good tends to produce good--to choose an end, not
because of the intrinsic value of the end, but because the willing of it tends to
secure it. The absurdity of this theory has been sufficiently exposed. It only remains
to notice its legitimate practical results.
(1.) It naturally, and, I may say, necessarily diverts the attention from that in
which all morality consists, namely, the ultimate intention. Indeed, it seems that
the abettors of this scheme must have in mind only outward action, or at most executive
volitions, when they assert, that the tendency of an action is the reason of the
obligation to put it forth. It seems impossible that they should assert that the
reason for choosing an ultimate end should or could be the tendency of choice to
secure it. This is so palpable a contradiction, that it is difficult to believe that
they have ultimate intention in mind when they make the assertion. An ultimate end
is ever chosen for its intrinsic value, and not because choice tends to secure it.
How, then, is it possible for them to hold that the tendency of choice to secure
an ultimate end is the reason of an obligation to make that choice? But if they have
not their eye upon ultimate intention, when they speak of moral obligation, they
are discoursing of that which is strictly without the pale of morality. I said in
a former lecture, that the obligation to put forth volitions or outward actions to
secure an ultimate end, must be conditionated upon the perceived tendency of such
volitions and actions to secure that end, but while this tendency is the condition
of the obligation to executive volition, or outward action, the obligation is founded
in the intrinsic value of the end to secure which such volitions tend. So that utilitarianism
gives a radically false account of the reason of moral obligation. A consistent utilitarian
therefore cannot conceive rightly of the nature of morality or virtue. He cannot
consistently hold that virtue consists in willing the highest well-being of God and
of the universe as an ultimate end or for its own sake, but must, on the contrary,
confine his ideas of moral obligation to volitions and outward actions, in which
there is strictly no morality, and withal assign an entirely false reason for these,
to wit, their tendency to secure an end, rather than the value of the end which they
tend to secure.
This is the proper place to speak of the doctrine of expediency, a doctrine strenuously
maintained by utilitarians, and as strenuously opposed by rightarians. It is this,
that whatever is expedient is right, for the reason, that the expediency of an action
or measure is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that action, or adopt
that measure. It is easy to see that this is just equivalent to saying, that the
utility of an action or measure is the reason of the obligation to put forth that
action or adopt that measure. But, as we have seen, utility, tendency, expediency,
is only a condition of the obligation, to put forth outward action or executive volition,
but never the foundation of the obligation,--that always being the intrinsic value
of the end to which the volition, action, or measure, sustains the relation of a
means. I do not wonder that rightarians object to this, although I do wonder at the
reason which, if consistent, they must assign for this obligation, to wit, that any
action or volition, (ultimate intention excepted,) can be right or wrong in itself,
irrespective of its expediency or utility. This is absurd enough, and flatly contradicts
the doctrine of rightarians themselves, that moral obligation strictly belongs only
to ultimate intention. If moral obligation belongs only to ultimate intention, then
nothing but ultimate intention can be right or wrong in itself. And every thing else,
that is, all executive volitions and outward actions must be right or wrong, (in
the only sense in which moral character can be predicated of them,) as they proceed
from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This is the only form in which rightarians
can consistently admit the doctrine of expediency, viz., that it relates exclusively
to executive volitions and outward actions. And this they can admit only upon the
assumption, that executive volitions and outward actions have strictly no moral character
in themselves, but are right or wrong only as, and because, they proceed necessarily
from a right or wrong ultimate intention. All schools that hold this doctrine, to
wit, that moral obligation respects the ultimate intention only, must, if consistent,
deny that any thing can be either right or wrong per se, but ultimate intention.
Further, they must maintain, that utility, expediency, or tendency to promote the
ultimate end upon which ultimate intention terminates, is always a condition of the
obligation to put forth those volitions and actions that sustain to this end the
relation of means. And still further, they must maintain, that the obligation to
use those means must be founded in the value of the end, and not in the tendency
of the means to secure it; for unless the end be intrinsically valuable, the tendency
of means to secure it can impose no obligation to use them. Tendency, utility, expediency,
then, are only conditions of the obligation to use any given means, but never the
foundation of obligation. An action or executive volition is not obligatory, as utilitarians
say, because, and for the reason, that it is useful or expedient, but merely upon
condition that it is so. The obligation in respect to outward action is always founded
in the value of the end to which this action sustains the relation of a means, and
the obligation is conditionated upon the perceived tendency of the means to secure
that end. Expediency can never have respect to the choice of an ultimate end, or
to that in which moral character consists, to wit, ultimate intention. The end is
to be chosen for its own sake. Ultimate intention is right or wrong in itself, and
no questions of utility, expediency, or tendency, have any thing to do with the obligation
to put forth ultimate intention, there being only one ultimate reason for this, namely,
the intrinsic value of the end itself. It is true, then, that whatever is expedient
is right, not for that reason, but only upon that condition. The inquiry then, is
it expedient? in respect to outward action, is always proper; for upon this condition
does obligation to outward action turn. But in respect to ultimate intention, or
the choice of an ultimate end, an inquiry into the expediency of this choice or intention
is never proper, the obligation being founded alone upon the perceived and intrinsic
value of the end, and the obligation being without any condition whatever, except
the possession of the powers of moral agency, with the perception of the end upon
which intention ought to terminate, namely, the good of universal being. But the
mistake of the utilitarian, that expediency is the foundation of moral obligation,
is fundamental, for, in fact, it cannot be so in any case whatever. I have said,
and here repeat, that all schools that hold that moral obligation respects ultimate
intention only, must, if consistent, maintain that perceived utility, expediency,
&c., is a condition of obligation to put forth any outward action, or, which
is the same thing, to use any means to secure the end of benevolence. Therefore,
in practice or in daily life, the true doctrine of expediency must of necessity have
a place. The railers against expediency, therefore, know not what they say nor whereof
they affirm. It is, however, impossible to proceed in practice upon the utilitarian
philosophy. This teaches that the tendency of an action to secure good, and not the
intrinsic value of the good, is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that
action. But this is too absurd for practice. For, unless the intrinsic value of the
end be assumed as the foundation of the obligation to choose it, it is impossible
to affirm obligation to put forth an action to secure that end. The folly and the
danger of utilitarianism is, that it overlooks the true foundation of moral obligation,
and consequently the true nature of virtue or holiness. A consistent utilitarian
cannot conceive rightly of either.
The teachings of a consistent utilitarian must of necessity abound with pernicious
error. Instead of representing virtue as consisting in disinterested benevolence,
or in the consecration of the soul to the highest good of being in general, for its
own sake, it must represent it as consisting wholly in using means to promote good:--that
is, as consisting wholly in executing volitions and outward actions, which, strictly
speaking, have no moral character in them. Thus consistent utilitarianism inculcates
fundamentally false ideas of the nature of virtue. Of course it must teach equally
erroneous ideas respecting the character of God--the spirit and the meaning of his
law--the nature of repentance--of sin--of regeneration--and, in short, of every practical
doctrine of the Bible.
This lecture was typed in by Mike Miller.
LECTURE XIII. Back to Top
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
PRACTICAL BEARINGS OF DIFFERENT THEORIES.
- 4. Practical bearings and tendency of rightarianism.
- It will be recollected that this philosophy teaches that right is the foundation
of moral obligation. With its advocates, virtue consists in willing the right for
the sake of the right, instead of willing the good for the sake of the good, or,
more strictly, in willing the good for the sake of the right, and not for the sake
of the good; or, as we have seen, the foundation of obligation consists in the relation
of intrinsic fitness existing between the choice and the good. The right is the ultimate
end to be aimed at in all things, instead of the highest good of being for its own
sake. From such a theory the following consequences must flow. I speak only of consistent
(1.) The law of benevolence undeniably requires the good of being to be willed for
its own sake. But this theory is directly opposed to this, and maintains that the
good should be chosen because it is right, and not because of the nature of the good.
It overlooks the fact, that the choice of the good would not be right, did not the
nature of the good create the obligation to choose it for its own sake, and consequently
originate the relation of fitness or rightness between the choice and the good.
But if the rightarian theory is true, there is a law of right entirely distinct from,
and opposed to, the law of love or benevolence. The advocates of this theory often
assume, perhaps unwittingly, the existence of such a law. They speak of multitudes
of things as being right or wrong in themselves, entirely independent of the law
of benevolence. Nay, they go so far as to affirm it conceivable that doing right
might necessarily tend to, and result in, universal misery; and that, in such a case,
we should be under obligation to do right, or will right, or intend right, although
universal misery should be the necessary result. This assumes and affirms that right
has no necessary relation to willing the highest good of being for its own sake,
or, what is the same thing, that the law of right is not only distinct from the law
of benevolence, but is directly opposed to it; that a moral agent may be under obligation
to will as an ultimate end that which he knows will and must, by a law of necessity,
promote and secure universal misery. Rightarians sternly maintain that right would
be right, and that virtue would be virtue, although this result were a necessary
consequence. What is this but maintaining that moral law may require moral agents
to set their hearts upon and consecrate themselves to that which is necessarily subversive
of the well-being of the entire universe? And what is this but assuming that that
may be moral law that requires a course of willing and acting entirely inconsistent
with the nature and relations of moral agents? Thus virtue and benevolence not only
may be different but opposite things; of course, according to this, benevolence may
be sin. This is not only opposed to our reason, but a more capital or mischievous
error in morals or philosophy can hardly be conceived.
Nothing is or can be right, as an ultimate choice, but benevolence. Nothing is or
can be moral law but that which requires that course of willing and acting that tends
to secure the highest well-being of God and the universe. Nothing can be moral law
but that which requires that the highest well-being of God and of the universe should
be chosen as an ultimate end. If benevolence is right, this must be self-evident.
Rightarianism overlooks and misrepresents the very nature of moral law. Let any one
contemplate the grossness of the absurdity that maintains, that moral law may require
a course of willing that necessarily results in universal and perfect misery. What
then, it may be asked, has moral law to do with the nature and relations of moral
agents, except to mock, insult, and trample them under foot? Moral law is, and must
be, the law of nature, that is, suited to the nature and relations of moral agents.
But can that law be suited to the nature and relations of moral agents that requires
a course of action necessarily resulting in universal misery? Rightarianism then,
not only overlooks, but flatly contradicts, the very nature of moral law, and sets
up a law of right in direct opposition to the law of nature.
(2.) This philosophy tends naturally to fanaticism. Conceiving as it does of right
as distinct from, and often opposed to, benevolence, it scoffs or rails at the idea
of inquiring what the highest good evidently demands. It insists that such and such
things are right or wrong in themselves, entirely irrespective of what the highest
good demands. Having thus in mind a law of right distinct from, and perhaps, opposed
to benevolence, what frightful conduct may not this philosophy lead to? This is indeed
the law of fanaticism. The tendency of this philosophy is illustrated in the spirit
of many reformers, who are bitterly contending for the right, which, after all, is
to do nobody any good.
(3.) This philosophy teaches a false morality and a false religion. It exalts right
above God, and represents virtue as consisting in the love of right instead of the
love of God. It exhorts men to will the right for the sake of the right, instead
of the good of being for the sake of the good, or for the sake of being. It teaches
us to inquire, How shall I do right? instead of, How shall I do good? What is right?
instead of, What will most promote the good of the universe? Now that which is most
promotive of the highest good of being, is right. To intend the highest well-being
of God and of the universe, is right. To use the necessary means to promote this
end, is right; and whatever in the use of means or in outward action is right, is
so for this reason, namely, that it is designed to promote the highest well-being
of God and of the universe. To ascertain, then, what is right, we must inquire, not
into a mere abstraction, but what is intended. Or if we would know what is duty,
or what would be right in us, we must understand that to intend the highest well-being
of the universe as an end, is right and duty; and that in practice every thing is
duty or right that is honestly intended to secure this. Thus and thus only can we
ascertain what is right in intention, and what is right in the outward life. But
rightarianism points out an opposite course. It says: Will the right for the sake
of the right, that is, as an end; and in respect to means, inquire not what is manifestly
for the highest good of being, for with this you have nothing to do; your business
is to will the right for the sake of the right. If you inquire how you are to know
what is right, it does not direct you to the law of benevolence as the only standard,
but it directs you to an abstract idea of right, as an ultimate rule, having no regard
to the law of benevolence or love. It tells you that right is right, because it is
right; and not that right is conformity to the law of benevolence, and right for
this reason. The truth is that subjective right, or right in practice, is only a
quality of disinterested benevolence. But the philosophy in question denies this,
and holds that, so far from being a quality of benevolence, it must consist in willing
the good for the sake of the right. Now certainly such teaching is radically false,
and subversive of all sound morality and true religion.
(4.) As we have formerly seen, this philosophy does not represent virtue as consisting
in the love of God, or of Christ, or our neighbour. Consistency must require the
abettors of this scheme to give fundamentally false instructions to inquiring sinners.
Instead of representing God and all holy beings as devoted to the public good, and
instead of exhorting sinners to love God and their neighbour, this philosophy must
represent God and holy beings as consecrated to right for the sake of the right;
and must exhort sinners, who ask what they shall do to be saved, to will the right
for the sake of the right, to love the right, to deify right, and fall down and worship
it. There is much of this false morality and religion in the world and in the church.
Infidels are great sticklers for this religion, and often exhibit as much of it as
do some rightarian professors of religion. It is a severe, stern, loveless, Godless,
Christless philosophy, and nothing but happy inconsistency prevents its advocates
from manifesting it in this light to the world. I have already, in a former lecture,
shown that this theory is identical with that which represents the idea of duty as
the foundation of moral obligation, and that it gives the same instructions to inquiring
sinners. It exhorts them to resolve to do duty, to resolve to serve the Lord, to
make up their minds at all times to do right, to resolve to give their hearts to
God, to resolve to conform in all things to right, &c. The absurdity and danger
of such instructions were sufficiently exposed in the lecture referred to. (See Lecture
VIII. 8.) The law of right, when conceived of as distinct from, or opposed to, the
law of benevolence, is a perfect strait-jacket, an iron collar, a snare of death.
This philosophy represents all war, all slavery, and many things as wrong per se,
without insisting upon such a definition of those things as necessarily implies selfishness.
Any thing whatever is wrong in itself that includes and implies selfishness, and
nothing else is or can be. All war waged for selfish purposes is wrong per se. But
war waged for benevolent purposes, or war required by the law of benevolence, and
engaged in with a benevolent design, is neither wrong in itself, nor wrong in any
proper sense. All holding men in bondage from selfish motives is wrong in itself,
but holding men in bondage in obedience to the law of benevolence is not wrong but
right. And so it is with every thing else. Therefore, where it is insisted that all
war and all slavery, or any thing else is wrong in itself, such a definition of things
must be insisted on as necessarily implies selfishness. But consistent rightarianism
will insist that all war, all slavery, and all of many other things, is wrong in
itself, without regard to its being a violation of the law of benevolence. This is
consistent with such philosophy, but it is most false and absurd in fact. Indeed,
any philosophy that assumes the existence of a law of right distinct from, and possibly
opposed to, the law of benevolence, must teach many doctrines at war with both reason
and revelation. It sets men in chase of a philosophical abstraction as the supreme
end of life, instead of the concrete reality of the highest well-being of God and
the universe. It preys upon the human soul, and turns into solid iron all the tender
sensibilities of our being. Do but contemplate a human being supremely devoted to
an abstraction, as the end of human life. He wills the right for the sake of the
right. Or, more strictly, he wills the good of being, not from any regard to being,
but because of the relation of intrinsic fitness or rightness existing between choice
and its object. For this he lives, and moves, and has his being. What sort of religion
is this? I wish not to be understood as holding, or insinuating, that professed rightarians
universally, or even generally, pursue their theory to its legitimate boundary, and
that they manifest the spirit that it naturally begets. No. I am most happy in acknowledging
that with many, and perhaps with most of them, it is so purely a theory, that they
are not greatly influenced by it in practice. Many of them I regard as the excellent
of the earth, and I am happy to count them among my dearest and most valued friends.
But I speak of the philosophy, with its natural results when embraced, not merely
as a theory, but when adopted by the heart as the rule of life. It is only in such
cases that its natural and legitimate fruits appear. Only let it be borne in mind
that right is conformity to moral law, that moral law is the law of nature, or the
law founded in the nature and relations of moral agents, the law that requires just
that course of willing and action that tends naturally to secure the highest well-being
of all moral agents, that requires this course of willing and acting for the sake
of the end in which it naturally and governmentally results--and requires that this
end shall be aimed at or intended by all moral agents as the supreme good and the
only ultimate end of life;--I say, only let these truths be borne in mind, and you
will never talk of a right, or a virtue, or a law, obedience to which necessarily
results in universal misery; nor will you conceive that such a thing is possible.
- 5. The philosophy that comes next under review is that which teaches that the
divine goodness, or moral excellence, is the foundation of moral obligation.
- The practical tendency of this philosophy is to inculcate and develope a false
idea of what constitutes virtue. It inevitably leads its advocates to regard religion
as consisting in a mere feeling of complacency in God. It overlooks, and, if consistent,
must overlook the fact that all true morality and religion consist in benevolence,
or in willing the highest well-being of God and the universe as an ultimate end.
It must represent true religion either as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or as
consisting in willing the goodness or benevolence of God as an end; either of which
is radical error. This scheme does not, and cannot, rightly represent either the
character of God, or the nature and spirit of his law and government. In teaching,
it presents the benevolence of God, not as an inducement to benevolence in us, that
is, not as a means of leading us to consider and adopt the same end of life to which
God is consecrated, but as being the end to which we are to consecrate ourselves.
It holds forth the goodness of God, not for the sake of setting the great end he
has in view strongly before us, and inducing us to become like him in consecrating
ourselves to the same end, to wit, the highest good of being; but it absurdly insists
that his goodness is the foundation of our obligation, which is the same thing as
to insist that we are to make his goodness the ultimate end of life, instead of that
end at which God aims, and aiming at which constitutes his virtue. Instead of representing
the benevolence of God as clearly revealing our obligation to be benevolent, it represents
his benevolence as being the foundation of obligation. Obligation to what? Not to
will good, certainly; for it is a gross contradiction, as we have repeatedly seen,
to say that I am under obligation to will good to God, as an ultimate end, or for
its own sake, yet not for this reason, but because God is good. This philosophy,
if consistent, must present the goodness of God as a means of awakening emotions
of complacency in God, and not for the purpose of making us benevolent, for it does
not regard religion as consisting in benevolence, but in a love to God for his goodness,
which can be nothing else than a feeling of complacency. But this is radical error.
The practical bearings of this theory are well illustrated in the arguments used
to support it, as stated and refuted when examining its claims in a former lecture.
The fact is, it misrepresents the character, law, and government of God, and, of
necessity, the nature of true religion. It harps perpetually on the goodness of God
as the sole reason for loving him, which demonstrates that benevolence does not,
and consistently cannot, enter into its idea of virtue or true religion.
There is, no doubt, a vast amount of spurious, selfish religion in the world growing
out of this philosophy. Many love God because they regard him as loving them, as
being their benefactor and particular friend. They are grateful for favours bestowed
on self. But they forget the philosophy and theology of Christ, who said; "If
ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? Do not even sinners love those that
love them?" They seem to have no idea of a religion of disinterested benevolence.
Many of those who hold this view regard religion as consisting in involuntary emotions
and affections, and seem disposed to love God in proportion as they imagine him to
regard them as his especial favourites. They regard his fancied partiality to them
as an instance of particular goodness in him. They want to feel emotions of complacency
in God, in view of his particular regard to them, rather than to sympathize with
his universal benevolence.
- 6. The next theory to be noticed is that which teaches that moral order is the
foundation of moral obligation.
- The practical objection to this theory is, that it presents a totally wrong end
as the great object of life. According to the teachings of this school, moral order
is that intrinsically valuable end at which all moral agents ought to aim, and to
which they are bound to consecrate themselves. If by moral order the highest good
of being is intended, this philosophy is only another name for the true one. But
if, as I suppose is the fact, by moral order no such thing as the highest good of
God and the universe is intended, then the theory is false, and cannot teach other
than pernicious error. It must misrepresent God, his law and government, and of course
must hold radically false views in respect to the nature of holiness and sin. It
holds up an abstraction as the end of life, and exalts moral order above all that
is called God. It teaches that men ought to love moral order with all the heart,
and with all the soul. But the theory is sheer nonsense, as was shown in its place.
Its practical bearing is only to bewilder and confuse the mind. The idea that benevolence
is true religion, can have no practical influence on a mind that has consistently
embraced this theory of moral order. Any philosophy that obscures this idea of benevolence,
and confuses the mind in respect to the true end of life, is fatal to virtue and
Again: The theory must overlook or deny the fact that moral obligation respects
the ultimate intention; for it seems impossible that any one possessing reason can
suppose, that moral order can be the end to which moral beings ought to consecrate
themselves. The absurdity of the theory itself was sufficiently exposed in a former
lecture. Its practical bearings and tendency are only to introduce confusion into
all our ideas of moral law and moral government.
- 7. We next come to the theory that moral obligation is founded in the nature
and relations of moral agents.
- The first objection to this theory is, that it confounds the conditions of moral
obligation with its foundation. The nature and relations of moral beings are certainly
conditions of their obligation to will each other's good. But it is absolutely childish
to affirm that the obligation to will each other's good is not founded in the value
of the good, but in the nature and relations of moral beings. But for the intrinsic
value of their good, their nature and relations would be no reason at all why they
should will good rather than evil to each other. To represent the nature and relations
of moral agents as the foundation of moral obligation, is to mystify and misrepresent
the whole subject of moral law, moral government, moral obligation, the nature of
sin and holiness, and produce confusion in all our thoughts on moral subjects. What
but grossest error can find a lodgment in that mind that consistently regards the
nature and relations of moral beings as the foundation of moral obligation? If this
be the true theory, then the nature and relations of moral agents is the ultimate
end to which moral agents are bound to consecrate themselves. Their nature and relations
is the intrinsically valuable end which we are bound to choose for its own sake.
This is absurd. But if this philosophy misrepresents the foundation of moral obligation,
it can consistently teach absolutely nothing but error on the whole subject of morals
and religion. If it mistakes the end to be intended by moral agents, it errs on the
fundamental principle of all morals and religion. As all true morality and true religion
consist exclusively in willing the right end, if this end be mistaken, the error
is fatal. It is, then, no light thing to hold that moral obligation is founded in
the nature and relations of moral beings. Such statements are a great deal worse
than nonsense--they are radical error on the most important subject in the world.
What consistency can there be in the views of one who holds this theory? What ideas
must he have of moral law, and of everything else connected with practical theology?
Instead of willing the highest good of God and of being, he must hold himself under
obligation to will the nature and relations of moral beings as an ultimate end.
- 8. The next theory in order is that which teaches that the idea of duty is the
foundation of moral obligation.
- But as I sufficiently exposed the tendency and practical bearings of this theory
in a former lecture, I will not repeat here, but pass to the consideration of another
- 9. The complexity of the foundation of moral obligation.
- In respect to the practical bearings of this theory, I remark,--
(1.) The reason that induces choice is the real object chosen. If, for example, the
value of an object induce the choice of that object, the valuable is the real object
chosen. If the rightness of a choice of an object induce choice, then the right is
the real object chosen. If the virtuousness of an object induce choice, then virtue
is the real object chosen.
(2.) Whatever really influences the mind in choosing must be an object chosen. Thus
if the mind have various reasons for a choice, it will choose various ends or objects.
(3.) If the foundation of moral obligation be not a unit, moral action or intention
cannot be simple. If anything else than the intrinsically valuable to being is, or
can be, the foundation of moral obligation, then this thing, whatever it is, is to
be chosen for its own sake. If right, justice, truth, virtue, or anything else is
to be chosen as an end, then just so much regard must be had to them, as their nature
and importance demand. If the good or valuable to being be an ultimate good, and
truth, and justice, and virtue are also to be chosen each for its own sake, here
we meet with this difficulty, namely, that the good or valuable is one end to be
chosen, and right another, and virtue another, and truth another, and justice another,
and the beautiful another, and so on. Now if this be so, moral obligation cannot
be a unit, nor can moral action be simple. If there be more ultimate considerations
than one that ought to have influence in deciding choice, the choice is not right,
unless each consideration that ought to have weight, really has the influence due
to it in deciding choice. If each consideration has not its due regard, the choice
certainly is not what it ought to be. In other words, all the things that ought to
be chosen for their own sakes are not chosen. Indeed, it is self-evident that, if
there is complexity in the ultimate end or end to be chosen, there must be the same
complexity in the choice, or the choice is not what it ought to be; and if several
considerations ought to influence ultimate choice, then there are so many distinct
ultimate ends. If this is so, then each of them must have its due regard in every
case of virtuous intention. But who then could ever tell whether he allowed to each
exactly the relative influence it ought to have? This would confound and stultify
the whole subject of moral obligation. This theory virtually and flatly contradicts
the law of God and the repeated declaration that love to God and our neighbour is
the whole of virtue. What! does God say that all the law is fulfilled in one word--love,
that is, love to God and our neighbour? and shall a Christian philosopher overlook
this, and insist that we ought to love not only God and our neighbour, but to will
the right, and the true, and the just, and the beautiful, and multitudes of such
like things for their own sake? The law of God makes and know only one ultimate end,
and shall this philosophy be allowed to confuse us by teaching that there are many
ultimate ends, that we ought to will each for its own sake?
- 10. Lastly, I come to the consideration of the practical bearings of what I regard
as the true theory of the foundation of moral obligation, namely, that the intrinsic
nature and value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe is the sole
foundation of moral obligation.
- Upon this philosophy I remark--
1. That if this be true, the whole subject of moral obligation is perfectly simple
and intelligible; so plain, indeed, that "the wayfaring man, though a fool,
cannot err therein."
(1.) Upon this theory, moral obligation respects the choice of an ultimate end.
(2.) This end is a clear, simple unit.
(3.) It is necessarily known to every moral agent.
(4.) The choice of this end is the whole of virtue.
(5.) It is impossible to sin while this end is sincerely intended with all the heart
and with all the soul.
(6.) Upon this theory, every moral agent knows in every possible instance what is
right, and can never mistake his real duty.
We may state it thus--
His duty is to will this end with all the known conditions and means thereof. Intending
this end with a single eye, and doing what appears to him, with all the light he
can obtain, to be in the highest degree calculated to secure this end, he really
does his duty. If in this case he is mistaken in regard to what is the best means
of securing this end, still, with a benevolent intention, he does not sin. He has
done right, for he has intended as he ought, and acted outwardly as he thought was
the path of duty, under the best light he could obtain. This, then, was his duty.
He did not mistake his duty; because it was duty to intend as he intended, and under
the circumstances, to act as he acted. How else should he have acted?
(7.) This ultimate intention is right, and nothing else is right, more or less.
(8.) Right and wrong respect ultimate intention only, and are always the same. Right
can be predicated only of good will, and wrong only of selfishness. These are fixed
and permanent. If a moral agent can know what end he aims at or lives for, he can
know, and cannot but know, at all times, whether he is right or wrong. All that upon
this theory a moral agent needs to be certain of is, whether he lives for the right
end, and this, if at all honest, or if dishonest, he really cannot but know. If he
would ask, what is right or what is duty at any time, he need not wait for a reply.
It is right for him to intend the highest good of being as an end. If he honestly
does this, he cannot mistake his duty, for in doing this he really performs the whole
of duty. With this honest intention, it is impossible that he should not use the
means to promote this end, according to the best light he has; and this is right.
A single eye to the highest good of God and the universe, is the whole of morality,
strictly considered; and, upon this theory, moral law, moral government, moral obligation,
virtue, vice, and the whole subject of morals and religion are the perfection of
simplicity. If this theory be true, no honest mind ever mistook the path of duty.
To intend the highest good of being is right and is duty. No mind is honest that
is not steadily pursuing this end. But in the honest pursuit of this end there can
be no sin, no mistaking the path of duty. That is and must be the path of duty that
really appears to a benevolent mind to be so. That is, it must be his duty to act
in conformity with his honest convictions. This is duty, this is right. So, upon
this theory, no one who is truly honest in pursuing the highest good of being, ever
did or can mistake his duty in any such sense as to commit sin. I have spoken with
great plainness, and perhaps with some severity, of the several systems of error,
as I cannot but regard them upon the most fundamental and important of subjects;
not certainly from any want of love to those who hold them, but from a concern, long
cherished and growing upon me, for the honour of truth and for the good of being.
Should any of you ever take the trouble to look into this subject, in its length
and breadth, and read the various systems, and take the trouble to trace out their
practical results, as actually developed in the opinions and practices of men, you
certainly would not be at a loss to account for the theological and philosophical
fogs that so bewilder the world. How can it be otherwise, while such confusion of
opinion prevails upon the fundamental question of morals and religion?
How is it, that there is so much profession and so little real practical benevolence
in the world? Multitudes of professed Christians seem to have no conception that
benevolence constitutes true religion; that nothing else does; and that selfishness
is sin, and totally incompatible with religion. They live on in their self-indulgences,
and dream of heaven. This could not be, if the true idea of religion, as consisting
in sympathy with the benevolence of God, was fully developed in their minds.
I need not dwell upon the practical bearings of the other theories, which I have
examined; what I have said may suffice, as an illustration of the importance of being
well-established in this fundamental truth. It is affecting to see what conceptions
multitudes entertain in regard to the real spirit and meaning of the law and gospel
of God, and, consequently, of the nature of holiness.
In dismissing this subject, I would remark, that any system of moral philosophy that
does not correctly define a moral action, and the real ground of obligation, must
be fundamentally defective. Nay, if consistent, it must be highly pernicious and
dangerous. But let moral action be clearly and correctly defined, let the true ground
of obligation be clearly and correctly stated; and let both these be kept constantly
in view, and such a system would be of incalculable value. It would be throughout
intelligible, and force conviction upon every intelligent reader. But I am not aware
that any such system exists. So far as I know, they are all faulty, either in their
definition of a moral action, and do not fasten the eye upon the ultimate intention,
and keep it there as being the seat of moral character, and that from which the character
of all our actions is derived; or they soon forget this, and treat mere executive
acts as right or wrong, without reference to the ultimate intention. I believe they
have all failed in not clearly defining the true ground of obligation, and, consequently,
are faulty in their definition of virtue. It is truly wonderful, that those who hold
with President Edwards, that virtue consists in disinterested benevolence, should
also insist that right is the ground of obligation. This is a contradiction. If right
be the true ground of obligation, then benevolence can never be right. Benevolence
consists in willing the good of being for the sake of the good; in consecration to
the good of being in general, for its own sake. But if right be the ground of obligation,
it is universally duty to will right instead of the good of being as an end.
According to this theory, benevolence is sin. It is consecration to the wrong end.
Nay, if any other theory than the one I have endeavoured to maintain be the true
one, then disinterested benevolence is sin. But if the benevolence theory be the
true one, then conformity to every other theory is sin. It is undeniable, that virtue
must belong to the ultimate intention or choice of the end of life. The character
must be as the end is for which a moral agent lives. The inquiry, then, must be fundamental,
What is the right end of life? A mistake here is fatal to virtue.
This lecture was typed in by Mike Miller.
LECTURE XIV. Back to Top
I. IN WHAT SENSE OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW CANNOT BE PARTIAL.
In discussing this question I must--
1. Show what constitutes obedience to moral law.
2. That obedience cannot be partial in the sense that the subject ever does, or can,
partly obey, and partly disobey, at the same time.
- 1. What constitutes obedience to moral law.
- We have seen in former lectures, that disinterested benevolence is all that the
spirit of moral law requires, that is, that the love which it requires to God and
our neighbour is good-willing, willing the highest good, or well-being of God, and
of being in general, as an end, or for its own sake; that this willing is a consecration
of all the powers, so far as they are under the control of the will, to this end.
Entire consecration to this end must of course constitute obedience to the moral
law. The next question is: Can consecration to this end be real, and yet partial
in the sense of not being entire, for the time being? This conducts us to the second
- 2. That obedience cannot be partial in the sense that the subject ever does,
or can, partly obey, and partly disobey, at the same time.
- 1. That is, consecration, to be real, must be, for the time being, entire and
universal. It will be seen, that this discussion respects the simplicity of moral
action, that is whether the choices of the will that have any degree of conformity
to moral law, are always, and necessarily, wholly conformed, or wholly disconformed
to it. There are two distinct branches to this inquiry.
(1.) The one is, Can the will at the same time make opposite choices? Can it choose
the highest good of being as an ultimate end, and at the same time choose any other
ultimate end, or make any choices whatever, inconsistent with this ultimate choice?
(2.) The second branch of this inquiry respects the strength or intensity of the
choice. Suppose but one ultimate choice can exist at the same time, may not that
choice be less efficient and intense than it ought to be?
Let us take up these two inquires in their order.
(1.) Can the will at the same time choose opposite and conflicting ultimate
ends? While one ultimate end is chosen can the will choose anything inconsistent
with this end? In reply to the first branch of this inquiry I observe,--
(a.) That the choice of an ultimate end is, and must be, the supreme preference
of the mind. Sin is the supreme preference of self-gratification. Holiness is the
supreme preference of the good of being. Can then two supreme preferences co-exist
in the same mind? It is plainly impossible to make opposite choices at the same time,
that is, to choose opposite and conflicting ultimate ends.
(b.) All intelligent choice, as has been formerly shown, must respect ends or means.
Choice is synonymous with intention. If there is a choice or intention, of necessity
something must be chosen or intended. This something must be chosen for its own sake,
or as an end, or for the sake of something else to which it sustains the relation
of a means. To deny this were to deny that the choice is intelligent. But we are
speaking of no other than intelligent choice, or the choice of a moral agent.
(c.) This conducts us to the inevitable conclusion--that no choice whatever can be
made inconsistent with the present choice of an ultimate end. The mind cannot choose
one ultimate end, and choose at the same time another ultimate end. But if this cannot
be, it is plain that it cannot choose one ultimate end, and at the same time, while
in the exercise of that choice, choose the means to secure some other ultimate end,
which other end is not chosen. But if all choice must necessarily respect ends or
means, and if the mind can choose but one ultimate end at a time, it follows that,
while in the exercise of one choice, or while in the choice of one ultimate end,
the mind cannot choose, for the time being, anything inconsistent with that choice.
The mind, in the choice of an ultimate end, is shut up to the necessity of willing
the means to accomplish that end; and before it can possibly will means to secure
any other ultimate end, it must change its choice of an end. If, for example, the
soul choose the highest will-being of God and the universe as an ultimate end, it
cannot while it continues to choose that end, use or choose the means to effect any
other end. It cannot, while this choice continues, choose self-gratification, or
anything else, as an ultimate end, nor can it put forth any volition whatever known
to be inconsistent with this end. Nay, it can put forth no intelligent volition whatever
that is not designed to secure this end. The only possible choice inconsistent with
this end is the choice of another ultimate end. When this is done, other means can
be used or chosen, and not before. This, then, is plain, to wit, that obedience to
moral law cannot be partial, in the sense either that the mind can choose two opposite
ultimate ends at the same time, or that it can choose one ultimate end, and at the
same time use or choose means to secure any other ultimate end. It "cannot serve
God and mammon." It cannot will the good of being as an ultimate end, and at
the same time will self-gratification as an ultimate end. In other words, it cannot
be selfish and benevolent at the same time. It cannot choose as an ultimate end the
highest good of being, and at the same time choose to gratify self as an ultimate
end. Until self-gratification is chosen as an end, the mind cannot will the means
of self-gratification. This disposes of the first branch of the inquiry.
(2.) The second branch of the inquiry respects the strength or intensity of the choice.
May not the choice of an end be real and yet have less than the required strength
or intensity? The inquiry resolves itself into this: can the mind honestly intend
or choose an ultimate end, and yet not choose it with all the strength or intensity
which is required, or with which it ought to choose it? Now what degree of strength
is demanded? By what criterion is this question to be settled? It cannot be that
the degree of intensity required is equal to the real value of the end chosen, for
this is infinite. The value of the highest well-being of God and the universe is
infinite. But a finite being cannot be under obligation to exert infinite strength.
The law requires him only to exert his own strength. But does he, or may he, not
choose the right end, but with less than all his strength? All his strength lies
in his will; the question, therefore, is, may he not will it honestly, and yet at
the same time withhold a part of the strength of his will? No one can presume that
the choice can be acceptable unless it be honest. Can it be honest, and yet less
intense and energetic than it ought to be?
We have seen in a former lecture that the perception of an end is a condition of
moral obligation to choose that end. I now remark that, as light in respect to the
end is the condition of the obligation, so the degree of obligation cannot exceed
the degree of light. That is, the mind must apprehend the valuable as a condition
of the obligation to will it. The degree of the obligation must be just equal to
the mind's honest estimate of the value of the end. The degree of the obligation
must vary as the light varies. This is the doctrine of the Bible and of reason. If
this is so, it follows that the mind is honest when, and only when, it devotes its
strength to the end in view, with an intensity just proportioned to its present light,
or estimate of the value of that end.
We have seen that the mind cannot will anything inconsistent with a present ultimate
choice. If, therefore, the end is not chosen with an energy and intensity equal to
the present light, it cannot be because a part of the strength is employed in some
other choice. If all the strength is not given to this object, it must be because
some part of it is voluntarily withholden. That is, I choose the end, but not with
all my strength, or I choose the end, but choose not to choose it with all my strength.
Is this an honest choice, provided the end appears to me to be worthy of all my strength?
Certainly it is not honest.
But again: it is absurd to affirm that I choose an ultimate end, and yet do
not consecrate to it all my strength. The choice of any ultimate end implies that
that is the thing, and the only thing, for which we live and act; that we aim at,
and live for nothing else, for the time being. Now what is intended by the assertion,
that I may honestly choose an ultimate end, and yet with less strength or intensity
than I ought? Is it intended that I can honestly choose an ultimate end, and yet
not at every moment keep my will upon the strain, and will at every moment with the
utmost possible intensity? If this be the meaning, I grant that it may be so. But
I at the same time contend, that the law of God does not require that the will, or
any other faculty, should be at every moment upon the strain, and the whole strength
exerted at every moment. If it does, it is manifest that even Christ did not obey
it. I insist that the moral law requires nothing more than honesty of intention,
and assumes that honesty of intention will and must secure just that degree of intensity
which, from time to time, the mind in its best judgment sees to be demanded. The
Bible everywhere assumes that sincerity or honesty of intention is moral perfection;
that it is obedience to the law. The terms sincerity and perfection in scripture
language are synonymous. Uprightness, sincerity, holiness, honesty, perfection, are
words of the same meaning in Bible language.
2. Again: it seems to be intuitively certain that if the mind chooses its
ultimate end, it must in the very act of choice consecrate all its time, and strength,
and being, to that end; and at every moment, while the choice remains, choose and
act with an intensity in precise conformity with its ability and the best light it
has. The intensity of the choice, and the strenuousness of its efforts to secure
the end chosen, must, if the intention be sincere, correspond with the view which
the soul has of the importance of the end chosen. It does not seem possible that
the choice or intention should be real and honest unless this is so. To will at every
moment with the utmost strength and intensity is not only impossible, but, were it
possible to do so, could not be in accordance with the soul's convictions of duty.
The irresistible judgment of the mind is, that the intensity of its action should
not exceed the bound of endurance; that the energies of both soul and body should
be so husbanded, as to be able to accomplish the most good upon the whole, and not
in a given moment.
But to return to the question:--does the law of God require simply uprightness of
intention? or does it require not only uprightness, but also a certain degree of
intensity in the intention? Is it satisfied with simple sincerity or uprightness
of intention, or does it require that the highest possible intensity of choice shall
exist at every moment? When it requires that we should love God with all the heart,
with all the soul, with all the mind, and with all the strength, does it mean that
all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, shall be consecrated to this end, and be
used up, from moment to moment, and from hour to hour, according to the best judgment
which the mind can form of the necessity and expediency of strenuousness of effort?
or does it mean that all the faculties of soul and body shall be at every moment
on the strain to the uttermost? Does it mean that the whole being is to be consecrated
to, and used up for, God with the best economy of which the soul is capable? or does
it require that the whole being be not only consecrated to God, but be used up without
any regard to economy, and without the soul's exercising any judgment or discretion
in the case? In other words, is the law of God the law of reason, or of folly? Is
it intelligible and just in its demands? or is it perfectly unintelligible and unjust?
Is it a law suited to the nature, relations, and circumstances, of moral agents?
or has it no regard to them? If it has no regard to either, is it, can it be, moral
law, and impose moral obligation? It seems to me that the law of God requires that
all our power, and strength, and being, be honestly and continually consecrated to
God, and held, not in a state of the utmost tension, but that the strength shall
be expended and employed in exact accordance with the mind's honest judgment of what
is at every moment the best economy for God. If this be not the meaning and the spirit
of the law, it cannot be law, for it could be neither intelligible nor just. Nothing
else can be a law of nature. What! does, or can the command, "Thou shalt love
the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, and
with all thy strength," require that every particle of my strength, and every
faculty of my being, shall be in a state of the utmost possible tension? How long
could my strength hold out, or my being last, under such a pressure as this? What
reason, or justice, or utility, or equity, or wisdom, could there be in such a commandment
as this? Would this be suited to my nature and relations? That the law does not require
the constant and most intense action of the will, I argue for the following reasons:--
(1.) No creature in heaven or earth could possibly know whether he ever for a single
moment obeyed it. How could he know that no more tension could possibly be endured?
(2.) Such a requirement would be unreasonable, inasmuch as such a state of mind would
(3.) Such a state of constant tension and strain of the faculties could be of no
(4.) It would be uneconomical. More good could be effected by a husbanding of the
(5.) Christ certainly obeyed the moral law, and yet nothing is more evident than
that his faculties were not always on the strain.
(6.) Every one knows that the intensity of the will's action depends and must depend
upon the clearness with which the value of the object chosen is perceived. It is
perfectly absurd to suppose that the will should, or possibly can act at all times
with the same degree of intensity. As the mind's apprehensions of truth vary, the
intensity of the will's action must vary, or it does not act rationally, and consequently
not virtuously. The intensity of the actions of the will, ought to vary as light
varies, and if it does not, the mind is not honest. If honest, it must vary as light
and ability vary.
That an intention cannot be right and honest in kind and deficient in the degree
of intensity, I argue--
From the fact that it is absurd to talk of an intention right in kind, while it is
deficient in intensity. What does rightness in kind mean? Does it mean simply that
the intention terminates on the proper object? But is this the right kind of intention,
when only the proper object is chosen, while there is a voluntary withholding of
the required energy of choice? Is this, can this, be an honest intention? If so,
what is meant by an honest intention? Is it honest, can it be honest, voluntarily
to withhold from God and the universe what we perceive to be their due? and what
we are conscious we might render? It is a contradiction to call this honest. In what
sense then may, or can, an intention be acceptable in kind, while deficient in degree?
Certainly in no sense, unless known and voluntary dishonesty can be acceptable. But
again let me ask, what is intended by an intention being deficient in degree of intensity?
If this deficiency be a sinful deficiency, it must be a known deficiency. That is,
the subject of it must know at the time that his intention is in point of intensity
less than it ought to be, or that he wills with less energy than he ought; or, in
other words, that the energy of the choice does not equal, or is not agreeable to,
his own estimate of the value of the end chosen. But this implies an absurdity. Suppose
I choose an end, that is, I choose a thing solely on account of its own intrinsic
value. It is for its value that I choose it. I choose it for its value, but not according
to its value. My perception of its value led me to choose it; and yet, while I choose
it for that reason, I voluntarily withhold that degree of intensity which I know
is demanded by my own estimate of the value of the thing which I choose! This is
a manifest absurdity and contradiction. If I choose a thing for its value, this implies
that I choose it according to my estimate of its value. Happiness, for example, is
a good in itself. Now, suppose I will its existence impartially, that is, solely
on account of its intrinsic value; now, does not this imply that every degree of
happiness must be willed according to its real or relative value? Can I will it impartially,
for its own sake, for and only for its intrinsic value, and yet not prefer a greater
to a less amount of happiness? This is impossible. Willing it on account of its intrinsic
value implies willing it according to my estimate of its intrinsic value. So, it
must be that an intention cannot be sincere, honest, and acceptable in kind, while
it is sinfully deficient in degree. I will introduce here with some alteration and
addition what I have elsewhere stated upon this subject. I quote from my letter in
the Oberlin Evangelist upon the following proposition:--
Moral character is always wholly right or wholly wrong, and never partly right and
partly wrong at the same time.
"I must again remind you of that in which moral character consists, and occupy
a few moments in repeating what I have already said, that moral character belongs
solely to the ultimate intention of the mind, or to choice, as distinguished from
volition. The law of God requires supreme disinterested benevolence; and all holiness,
in the last analysis, resolves itself into some modification of supreme, disinterested
benevolence, or good-willing. Benevolence, or good-willing, is synonymous with good-intending,
or intending good. Now, the true spirit of the requirement of the moral law is this--that
every moral being shall choose every interest according to its value as perceived
by the mind. This is holiness. It is exercising supreme love or good-will to God,
and equal love or good-will to our neighbour."
This is a choice or intention, as distinguished from a volition. It is also an ultimate
intention, as distinguished from a proximate intention.
Choice is the selection of an ultimate end. Volition is produced by choice, and is
the effort of the will to accomplish the end chosen. An ultimate object of choice,
is that which is intended or chosen for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, and
not something chosen or intended as a means to accomplish some other and higher end.
A proximate end is that which is chosen or intended, not as an ultimate end, but
as a means to an ultimate end. If I choose an end, I, of course, put forth those
volitions which are requisite to the accomplishment of that end. Holiness, or virtue,
consists in the supreme ultimate intention, choice, or willing of the highest well-being
of God and the highest good of his kingdom. Nothing else than this is virtue or holiness.
As holiness consists in ultimate intention, so does sin. And as holiness consists
in choosing the highest well-being of God and the good of the universe, for its own
sake, or as the supreme ultimate end of pursuit; so sin consists in willing, with
a supreme choice or intention, self-gratification and self-interest. Preferring a
less to a greater good, because it is our own, is selfishness. All selfishness consists
in a supreme ultimate intention. By an ultimate intention, as I have said, is intended
that which is chosen for its own sake as an end, and not as a means to some other
end. Whenever a moral being prefers or chooses his own gratification, or his own
interest, in preference to a higher good, because it is his own, he chooses it as
an end, for its own sake, and as an ultimate end; not designing it as a means of
promoting any other and higher end, nor because it is a part of universal good. Every
sin, then, consists in an act of will. It consists in preferring self-gratification,
or self-interest, to the authority of God, the glory of God, and the good of the
universe. It is, therefore, and must be, a supreme ultimate choice, or intention.
Sin and holiness, then, both consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices,
or intentions, and cannot, by any possibility, co-exist.
But for the sake of entering more at large into the discussion of this question,
- Examine a little in detail the philosophy of the question, and--
- Bring the philosophy into the light of the Bible.
- And in discussing the philosophy of the question, I would observe, that five
suppositions may be made, and so far as I can see, only five, in respect to this
- It may be supposed, that selfishness and benevolence can co-exist in the same
- It may be supposed, that the same act or choice may have a complex character,
on account of complexity in the motives which induce it.
- It may be supposed, that an act or choice may be right, or holy in kind, but
deficient in intensity or degree. Or--
- That the will, or heart, may be right, while the affections, or emotions,
are wrong. Or--
- That there may be a ruling, latent, actually existing, holy preference, or
intention, co-existing with opposing volitions.
- Now, unless one of these suppositions is true, it must follow that moral character
is either wholly right or wholly wrong, and never partly right and partly wrong at
the same time.
And now to the examination.
(a.) It may be supposed, that selfishness and benevolence can co-exist in the same
It has been shown that selfishness and benevolence are supreme, ultimate, and opposite
choices, or intentions. They cannot, therefore, by any possibility, co-exist in the
(b.) The next supposition is, that the same act or choice may have a complex character,
on account of complexity in the motives. On this let me say:--
(1.) Motives are objective or subjective. An objective motive is that thing
external to the mind that induces choice or intention. Subjective motive is the intention
(2.) Character, therefore, does not belong to the objective motive, or to
that thing which the mind chooses; but moral character is confined to the subjective
motive, which is synonymous with choice or intention. Thus we say a man is to be
judged by his motives, meaning that his character is as his intention is. Multitudes
of objective motives or considerations, may have concurred directly or indirectly
in their influence, to induce choice or intention; but the intention or subjective
motive is always necessarily simple and indivisible. In other words, moral character
consists in the choice of an ultimate end, and this end is to be chosen for its own
sake, else it is not an ultimate end. If the end chosen be the highest well-being
of God and the good of the universe--if it be the willing or intending to promote
and treat every interest in the universe, according to its perceived relative value,
it is a right, a holy motive, or intention. If it be anything else, it is sinful.
Now, whatever complexity there may have been in the considerations that led the way
to this choice or intention, it is self-evident that the intention must be one, simple,
(3.) Whatever complexity there might have been in those considerations that
prepared the way to the settling down upon this intention, the mind in a virtuous
choice has, and can have, but one ultimate reason for its choice, and that is the
intrinsic value of the thing chosen. The highest well-being of God, the good of the
universe, and every good according to its perceived relative value, must be chosen
for one, and only one reason, and that is the intrinsic value of the good which is
chosen for its own sake. If chosen for any other reason, the choice is not virtuous.
It is absurd to say, that a thing is good and valuable in itself, but may be rightly
chosen, not for that but for some other reason--that God's highest well-being and
the happiness of the universe are an infinite good in themselves, but are not to
be chosen for that reason, and on their own account, but for some other reason. Holiness,
then, must always consist in singleness of eye or intention. It must consist in the
supreme disinterested choice, willing, or intending the good of God and of the universe,
for its own sake. In this intention there cannot be any complexity. If there were,
it would not be holy, but sinful. It is, therefore, sheer nonsense to say, that one
and the same choice may have a complex character, on account of complexity of motive.
For that motive in which moral character consists, is the supreme ultimate intention,
or choice. This choice, or intention, must consist in the choice of a thing as an
end, and for its own sake. The supposition, then, that the same choice or intention
may have a complex character, on account of complexity in the motives, is wholly
If it be still urged, that the intention or subjective motive may be complex--that
several things may be included in the intention, and be aimed at by the mind--and
that it may, therefore, be partly holy and partly sinful--I reply:--
(4.) If by this it be meant that several things may be aimed at or intended
by the mind at the same time, I inquire what things?--It is true, that the supreme,
disinterested choice of the highest good of being, may include the intention to use
all the necessary means. It may also include the intention to promote every interest
in the universe, according to its perceived relative value. These are all properly
included in one intention; but this implies no such complexity in the subjective
motive, as to include both sin and holiness.
(5.) If by complexity of intention is meant, that it may be partly disinterestedly
benevolent, and partly selfish, which it must be to be partly holy and partly sinful,
I reply, that this supposition is absurd. It has been shown that selfishness and
benevolence consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices or intentions. To
suppose, then, that an intention can be both holy and sinful, is to suppose that
it may include two supreme, opposite, and ultimate choices or intentions, at the
same time; in other words, that I may supremely and disinterestedly intend to regard
and promote every interest in the universe, according to its perceived relative value,
for its own sake; and at the same time, may supremely regard my own self-interest
and self-gratification, and in some things supremely intend to promote my selfish
interests, in opposition to the interests of the universe and the commands of God.
But this is naturally impossible. An ultimate intention, then, may be complex in
the sense, that it may include the design to promote every perceived interest, according
to its relative value; but it cannot, by any possibility, be complex in the sense
that it includes selfishness and benevolence, or holiness and sin.
3. The third supposition is, that holiness may be right, or pure in kind, but deficient
in degree. On this, I remark:--
(1.) We have seen that moral character consists in the ultimate intention.
(2.) The supposition, therefore, must be, that the intention may be right, or pure
in kind, but deficient in the degree of its strength.
(3.) Our intention is to be tried by the law of God, both in respect to its kind
(4.) The law of God requires us to will, or intend the promotion of every interest
in the universe, according to its perceived relative value, for its own sake; in
other words, that all our powers shall be supremely and disinterestedly devoted to
the glory of God, and the good of the universe.
(5.) This cannot mean, that any faculty shall at every moment be kept upon the strain,
or in a state of utmost tension, for this would be inconsistent with natural ability.
It would be to require a natural impossibility, and therefore be unjust.
(6.) It cannot mean that at all times, and on all subjects, the same degree of exertion
shall be made; for the best possible discharge of duty does not always require the
same degree or intensity of mental or corporeal exertion.
(7.) The law cannot, justly or possibly, require more, than that the whole being
shall be consecrated to God--that we shall fully and honestly will or intend the
promotion of every interest, according to its perceived relative value, and according
to the extent of our ability.
(8.) Now the strength or intensity of the intention must, and ought, of necessity,
to depend upon the degree of our knowledge or light in regard to any object of choice.
If our obligation is not to be graduated by the light we possess, then it would follow,
that we may be under obligation to exceed our natural ability, which cannot be.
(9.) The importance which we attach to objects of choice, and consequently the degree
of ardour or intenseness of the intention, must depend upon the clearness or obscurity
of our views, of the real or relative value of the objects of choice.
(10.) Our obligation cannot be measured by the views which God has of the importance
of those objects of choice. It is a well-settled and generally-admitted truth, that
increased light increases responsibility, or moral obligation. No creature is bound
to will any thing with the intenseness or degree of strength with which God wills
it, for the plain reason, that no creature sees its importance or real value, as
He does. If our obligation were to be graduated by God's knowledge of the real value
of objects, we could never obey the moral law, either in this world or the world
to come, nor could any being but God ever, by any possibility, meet its demands.
(11.) Nor can our obligation be measured by the views or knowledge which angels may
have of the intrinsic or relative value of the glory of God, the worth of souls,
and the good of the universe.
(12.) Nor can the obligation of a heathen be measured by the knowledge and light
of a Christian.
(13.) Nor the obligation of a child by the knowledge of a man.
(14.) The fact is, that the obligation of every moral being must be graduated by
(15.) If, therefore, his intention be equal in its intensity to his views or knowledge
of the real or relative value of different objects, it is right. It is up to the
full measure of his obligation; and if his own honest judgment is not to be made
the measure of his obligation, then his obligation can exceed what he is able to
know; which contradicts the true nature of moral law, and is, therefore, false.
(16.) If conscious honesty of intention, both as it respects the kind and degree
of intention, according to the degree of light possessed, be not entire obedience
to moral law, then there is no being in heaven or earth, who can know himself to
be entirely obedient; for all that any being can possibly know upon this subject
is, that he honestly wills or intends, in accordance with the dictates of his reason,
or the judgment which he has of the real or relative value of the object chosen.
(17.) If something more than this can be required, then a law can be binding farther
than it is prescribed, or so published that it may be known, which is contradictory
to natural justice, and absurd.
(18.) No moral being can possibly blame or charge himself with any default, when
he is conscious of honestly intending, willing, or choosing, and acting, according
to the best light he has; for in this case he obeys the law, as he understands it,
and, of course, cannot conceive himself to be condemned by the law.
(19.) Good-willing, or intending is, in respect to God, to be at all times supreme,
and in respect to other beings, it is to be in proportion to the relative value of
their happiness, as perceived by the mind. This is always to be the intention. The
volitions, or efforts of the will to promote these objects, may vary, and ought to
vary indefinitely in their intensity, in proportion to the particular duty to which,
for the time being, we are called.
(20.) But further, we have seen that virtue consists in willing every good according
to its perceived relative value, and that nothing short of this is virtue. But this
is perfect virtue for the time being. In other words, virtue and moral perfection,
in respect to a given act, or state of the will, are synonymous terms. Virtue is
holiness. Holiness is uprightness. Uprightness is that which is just what, under
the circumstances, it should be; and nothing else is virtue, holiness, or uprightness.
Virtue, holiness, uprightness, moral perfection--when we apply these terms to any
given state of the will--are synonymous. To talk, therefore, of a virtue, holiness,
uprightness, justice--right in kind, but deficient in degree--is to talk sheer nonsense.
It is the same absurdity as to talk of sinful holiness, an unjust justice, a wrong
rightness, an impure purity, an imperfect perfection, a disobedient obedience.
(21.) The fact is, virtue, holiness, uprightness, &c., signify a definite thing,
and never anything else than conformity to the law of God. That which is not entirely
conformed to the law of God is not holiness. This must be true in philosophy, and
the Bible affirms the same thing. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet
offend in one point, he is guilty of all." The spirit of this text as clearly
and as fully assumes and affirms the doctrine under consideration, as if it had been
uttered with that design alone.
(22.) God has no right to call that holy which is defective in degree.
(23.) Unless every perceived interest is, for the time being, willed or intended
according to its relative value, there is no virtue. Where this intention exists,
there can be no sin.
4. The next supposition is, that the will, or heart, may be right, while the affections
or emotions are wrong. Upon this I remark:
(1.) That this supposition overlooks the very thing in which moral character consists.
It has been shown that moral character consists in the supreme ultimate intention
of the mind, and that this supreme, disinterested benevolence, good-willing, or intention,
is the whole of virtue. Now this intention originates volitions. It directs the attention
of the mind, and, therefore, produces thoughts, emotions, or affections. It also,
through volition, produces bodily action. But moral character does not lie in outward
actions, the movements of the arm, nor in the volition that moves the muscles; for
that volition terminates upon the action itself. I will to move my arm, and my arm
must move by a law of necessity. Moral character belongs solely to the intention
that produced the volition, that moved the muscles, to the performance of the outward
act. So intention produces the volition that directs the attention of the mind to
a given object. Attention, by a natural necessity, produces thought, affection, or
emotion. Now thought, affection, or emotion, are all connected with volition, by
a natural necessity; that is--if the attention is directed to an object, corresponding
thoughts and emotions must exist, as a matter of course. Moral character no more
lies in emotion, than in outward action. It does not lie in thought, or attention.
It does not lie in the specific volition that directed the attention; but in that
intention, or design of the mind, that produced the volition, which directed the
attention, which, again, produced the thought, which, again, produced the emotion.
Now the supposition, that the intention may be right, while the emotions or feelings
of the mind may be wrong, is the same as to say, that outward action may be wrong,
while the intention is right. The fact is, that moral character is, and must be,
as the intention is. If any feeling or outward action is inconsistent with the existing
ultimate intention, it must be so in spite of the agent. But if any outward action
or state of feeling exists, in opposition to the intention or choice of the mind,
it cannot, by any possibility, have moral character. Whatever is beyond the control
of a moral agent, he cannot be responsible for. Whatever he cannot control by intention,
he cannot control at all. Everything for which he can possibly be responsible, resolves
itself into his intentions. His whole character, therefore, is, and must be, as his
intention is. If, therefore, temptations, from whatever quarter they may come, produce
emotions within him inconsistent with his intention, and which he cannot control,
he cannot be responsible for them.
(2.) As a matter of fact, although emotions, contrary to his intentions, may, by
circumstances beyond his control, be brought to exist in his mind; yet, by willing
to divert the attention of the mind from the objects that produce them, they can
ordinarily be banished from the mind. If this is done as soon as in the nature of
the case it can be, there is no sin. If it is not done as soon as in the nature of
the case it can be, then it is absolutely certain that the intention is not what
it ought to be. The intention is to devote the whole being to the service of God
and the good of the universe, and of course to avoid every thought, affection, and
emotion, inconsistent with this. While this intention exists, it is certain that
if any object be thrust upon the attention which excites thoughts and emotions inconsistent
with our supreme ultimate intention, the attention of the mind will be instantly
diverted from those objects, and the hated emotion hushed, if this is possible. For,
while the intention exists, corresponding volitions must exist. There cannot, therefore,
be a right state of heart or intention, while the emotions, or affections, of the
mind are sinful. For emotions are in themselves in no case sinful, and when they
exist against the will, through the force of temptation, the soul is not responsible
for their existence. And, as I said, the supposition overlooks that in which moral
character consists, and makes it to consist in that over which the law does not properly
legislate; for love, or benevolence, is the fulfilling of the law.
But here it may be said, that the law not only requires benevolence, or good-willing,
but requires a certain kind of emotions, just as it requires the performance of certain
outward actions, and that therefore there may be a right intention where there is
a deficiency, either in kind or degree, of right emotion: To this I answer:--
Outward actions are required of men, only because they are connected with intention,
by a natural necessity. And no outward action is ever required of us, unless it can
be produced by intending and aiming to do it. If the effect does not follow our honest
endeavours, because of any antagonistic influence, opposed to our exertions, which
we cannot overcome, we have, by our intention, complied with the spirit of the law,
and are not to blame that the outward effect does not take place. Just so with emotions.
All we have power to do, is, to direct the attention of the mind to those objects
calculated to secure a given state of emotion. If, from any exhaustion of the sensibility,
or from any other cause beyond our control, the emotions do not arise which the consideration
of that subject is calculated to produce, we are no more responsible for the absence
or weakness of the emotion, than we should be for the want of power or weakness of
motion in our muscles, when we willed to move them, provided that weakness was involuntary
and beyond our control. The fact is, we cannot be blameworthy for not feeling or
doing that which we cannot do or feel by intending it. If the intention then is what
it ought to be for the time being, nothing can be morally wrong.
5. The last supposition is, that a latent preference, or right intention, may co-exist
with opposing or sinful volitions. Upon this I remark:--
That I have formerly supposed that this could be true, but am now convinced that
it cannot be true; for the following reasons:
(1.) Observe, the supposition is, that the intention or ruling preference may be
right--may really exist as an active and virtuous state of mind, while, at the same
time, volition may exist inconsistent with it.
(2.) Now what is a right intention? I answer: Nothing short of this--willing, choosing,
or intending the highest good of God and of the universe, and to promote this at
every moment, to the extent of our ability. In other words--right intention is supreme,
disinterested benevolence. Now what are the elements which enter into this right
(a.) The choice or willing of every interest according to its perceived intrinsic
(b.) To devote our entire being, now and for ever, to this end. This is right intention.
Now the question is, can this intention co-exist with a volition inconsistent with
it? Volition implies the choice of something, for some reason. If it be the choice
of whatever can promote this supremely benevolent end, and for that reason, the volition
is consistent with the intention; but if it be the choice of something perceived
to be inconsistent with this end, and for a selfish reason, then the volition is
inconsistent with the supposed intention. But the question is, do the volition and
intention co-exist? According to the supposition, the will chooses, or wills, something,
for a selfish reason, or something perceived to be inconsistent with supreme, disinterested
benevolence. Now it is plainly impossible, that this choice can take place while
the opposite intention exists. For this selfish volition is, according to the supposition,
sinful or selfish; that is, something is chosen for its own sake, which is inconsistent
with disinterested benevolence. But here the intention is ultimate. It terminates
upon the object chosen for its own sake. To suppose, then, that benevolence still
remains in exercise, and that a volition co-exists with it that is sinful, involves
the absurdity of supposing, that selfishness and benevolence can co-exist in the
same mind, or that the will can choose, or will, with a supreme preference or choice,
two opposites at the same time. This is plainly impossible. Suppose I intend to go
to the city of New York as soon as I possibly can. Now, if, on my way, I will to
loiter needlessly a moment, I necessarily relinquish one indispensable element of
my intention. In willing to loiter, or turn aside to some other object for a day,
or an hour, I must, of necessity, relinquish the intention of going as soon as I
possibly can. I may not design finally to relinquish my journey, but I must of necessity
relinquish the intention of going as soon as I can. Now, virtue consists in intending
to do all the good I possibly can, or in willing the glory of God and the good of
the universe, and intending to promote them to the extent of my ability. Nothing
short of this is virtue. If at any time, I will something perceived to be inconsistent
with this intention, I must, for the time being, relinquish the intention, as it
must indispensably exist in my mind, in order to be virtue. I may not come to the
resolution, that I will never serve God any more, but I must of necessity relinquish,
for the time being, the intention of doing my utmost to glorify God, if at any time
I put forth a selfish volition. For a selfish volition implies a selfish intention.
I cannot put forth a volition intended to secure an end until I have chosen the end.
Therefore, a holy intention cannot co-exist with a selfish volition.
It must be, therefore, that in every sinful choice, the will of a holy being must
necessarily drop the exercise of supreme, benevolent intention, and pass into an
opposite state of choice; that is, the agent must cease, for the time being, to exercise
benevolence, and make a selfish choice. For, be it understood, that volition is the
choice of a means to an end; and of course a selfish volition implies a selfish choice
of an end.
Having briefly examined the several suppositions that can be made in regard to the
mixed character of actions, I will now answer a few objections; after which, I will
bring this philosophy, as briefly as possible, into the light of the Bible.
Objection. Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?
1. Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident.
2. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned. He must incur the penalty of the law of
God. If he does not, it must be because the law of God is abrogated. But if the law
of God be abrogated, he has no rule of duty; consequently, can neither be holy nor
sinful. If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that, with
respect to the Christian, the penalty is for ever set aside, or abrogated, I reply--that
to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is
no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer
than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true.
3. When the Christian sins, he must repent, and "do his first works," or
he will perish.
4. Until he repents he cannot be forgiven. In these respects, then, the sinning Christian
and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground.
5. In two important respects the sinning Christian differs widely from the unconverted
(1.) In his relations to God. A Christian is a child of God. A sinning Christian
is a disobedient child of God. An unconverted sinner is a child of the devil. A Christian
sustains a covenant relation to God; such a covenant relation as to secure to him
that discipline which tends to reclaim and bring him back, if he wanders away from
God. "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they
break my statutes and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression
with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will
I not utterly take from him nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will
I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips." Ps. lxxxix. 30-34.
(2.) The sinning Christian differs from the unconverted man, in the state of his
sensibility. In whatever way it takes place, every Christian knows that the state
of his sensibility in respect to the things of God, has undergone a great change.
Now it is true, that moral character does not lie in the sensibility, nor in the
will's obeying the sensibility. Nevertheless our consciousness teaches us, that our
feelings have great power in promoting wrong choice on the one hand, and in removing
obstacles to right choice on the other. In every Christian's mind there is, therefore,
a foundation laid for appeals to the sensibilities of the soul, that gives truth
a decided advantage over the will. And multitudes of things in the experience of
every Christian, give truth a more decided advantage over his will, through the intelligence,
than is the case with unconverted sinners.
Objection. Can a man be born again, and then be unborn? I answer:
1. If there were anything impossible in this, then perseverance would be no virtue.
2. None will maintain, that there is anything naturally impossible in this, except
it be those who hold to physical regeneration.
3. If regeneration consist in a change in the ruling preference of the mind, or in
the ultimate intention, as we shall see it does, it is plain, that an individual
can be born again, and afterwards cease to be virtuous.
4. That a Christian is able to apostatize, is evident, from the many warnings addressed
to Christians in the Bible.
5. A Christian may certainly fall into sin and unbelief, and afterwards be renewed,
both to repentance and faith.
Objection. Can there be no such thing as weak faith, weak love, and weak repentance?
1. If you mean comparatively weak, I say, yes. But if you mean weak, in such a sense
as to be sinful, I say, no. Faith, repentance, love, and every Christian grace, properly
so called, does and must consist in an act of will, and resolve itself into some
modification of supreme, disinterested benevolence. I shall, in a future lecture,
have occasion to show the philosophical nature of faith. Let it suffice here to say,
that faith necessarily depends upon the clearness or obscurity of the intellectual
apprehensions of truth. Faith, to be real or virtuous, must embrace whatever of truth
is apprehended by the intelligence for the time being.
2. Various causes may operate to divert the intelligence from the objects of faith,
or to cause the mind to perceive but few of them, and those in comparative obscurity.
3. Faith may be weak, and will certainly necessarily be weak in such cases, in proportion
to the obscurity of the views. And yet, if the will or heart confides so far as it
apprehends the truth, which it must do to be virtuous at all, faith cannot be weak
in such a sense as to be sinful; for if a man confides so far as he apprehends or
perceives the truth, so far as faith is concerned he is doing his whole duty.
4. Faith may be weak in the sense, that it often intermits and gives place to unbelief.
Faith is confidence, and unbelief is the withholding of confidence. It is the rejection
of truth perceived. Faith is the reception of truth perceived. Faith and unbelief,
then, are opposite states of choice, and can by no possibility co-exist.
5. Faith may be weak in respect to its objects. The disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ
knew so little of him, were so filled with ignorance and the prejudices of education,
as to have very weak faith in respect to the Messiahship, power, and divinity of
their Master. He speaks of them as having but little confidence, and yet it does
not appear that they did not implicitly trust him, so far as they understood him.
And although through ignorance, their faith was weak, yet there is no evidence, that
when they had any faith at all they did not confide in whatever of truth they apprehended.
Objection. But did not the disciples pray, "Increase our faith?" I answer,--
Yes. And by this they must have intended to pray for instruction; for what else could
they mean? Unless a man means this, when he prays for faith, he does not know what
he prays for. Christ produces faith by enlightening the mind. When we pray for faith
we pray for light. And faith, to be real faith at all, must be equal to the light
we have. If apprehended truth be not implicitly received and confided in, there is
no faith, but unbelief. If it be, faith is what it ought to be, wholly unmixed with
Objection. But did not one say to our Lord, "Lord, I believe, help thou my
unbelief;" thus implying, that he was in the exercise both of faith and unbelief
at the same time? I answer, yes, but--
1. This was not inspiration.
2. It is not certain that he had any faith at all.
3. If he had, and prayed understandingly, he meant nothing more than to ask for an
increase of faith, or for such a degree of light as to remove his doubts in respect
to the divine power of Christ.
Objection. Again, it is objected that this philosophy contradicts Christian experience.
To this I reply,
That it is absurd to appeal from reason and the Bible to empirical consciousness
which must be the appeal in this case. Reason and the Bible plainly attest the truth
of the theory here advocated. What experience is then to be appealed to, to set their
testimony aside? Why, Christian experience, it is replied. But what is Christian
experience? How shall we learn what it is? Why surely by appealing to reason and
the Bible. But these declare that if a man offend in one point, he does and must
for the time being violate the spirit of the whole law. Nothing is or can be more
express than is the testimony of both reason and revelation upon this subject. Here,
then, we have the unequivocal decision of the only court of competent jurisdiction
in the case, and shall we befool ourselves by appealing from this tribunal to the
court of empirical consciousness? Of what does that take cognizance? Why, of what
actually passes in the mind; that is, of its mental states. These we are conscious
of as facts. But we call these states Christian experience. How do we ascertain that
they are in accordance with the law and gospel of God? Why only by an appeal to reason
and the Bible. Here, then, we are driven back to the court from which we had before
appealed, whose judgment is always the same.
Objection. But it is said, this theory seems to be true in philosophy, that is,
the intelligence seems to affirm it, but it is not true in fact.
Answer: If the intelligence affirms it, it must be true, or reason deceives us. But
if the reason deceives in this, it may also in other things. If it fails us here,
it fails us on the most important of all questions. If reason gives false testimony,
we can never know truth from error upon any moral subject. We certainly can never
know what religion is or is not, if the testimony of reason can be set aside. If
the reason cannot be safely appealed to, how are we to know what the Bible means?
for it is the faculty by which we get at the truth of the oracles of God?
These are the principal objections to the philosophical view I have taken of the
simplicity of moral action, that occur to my mind. I will now briefly advert to the
consistency of this philosophy with the scriptures.
- 1. The Bible every where seems to assume the simplicity of moral action. Christ
expressly informed his disciples, that they could not serve God and mammon. Now by
this he did not mean, that a man could not serve God at one time and mammon at another;
but that he could not serve both at the same time. The philosophy that makes it possible
for persons to be partly holy and partly sinful at the same time, does make it possible
to serve God and mammon at the same time, and thus flatly contradicts the assertion
of our Saviour.
- 2. James has expressly settled this philosophy, by saying, that "Whosoever
shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
Here he must mean to assert, that one sin involves a breach of the whole spirit of
the law, and is, therefore, inconsistent with any degree of holiness existing with
it. Also, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries? either a vine, figs? so can no
fountain both yield salt-water and fresh," James iii. 11, 12. In this passage
he clearly affirms the simplicity of moral action; for by the "the same place"
he evidently means, the same time, and what he says is equivalent to saying, that
a man cannot be holy and sinful at the same time.
- 3. Christ has expressly taught, that nothing is regeneration, or virtue, but
entire obedience, or the renunciation of all selfishness. "Except a man forsake
all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
- 4. The manner in which the precepts and threatenings of the Bible are usually
given, show that nothing is regarded as obedience, or virtue, but doing exactly that
which God commands.
- 5. The common philosophy, that maintains the co-existence of both sin and holiness
in the mind, at the same time, is virtually Antinomianism. It is a rejection of the
law of God as the standard of duty. It maintains, that something is holiness which
is less than supreme disinterested benevolence, or the devotion, for the time, of
the whole being to God. Now any philosophy that makes regeneration, or holiness,
consist in any thing less than just that measure of obedience which the law of God
requires, is Antinomianism. It is a letting down, a rejection of the law of God.
- 6. The very idea of sin and holiness co-existing in the same mind, is an absurd
philosophy, contrary to scripture and common sense. It is an overlooking of that
in which holiness consists. Holiness is obedience to the law of God, and nothing
else is. By obedience, I mean entire obedience, or just that which the law requires.
Any thing else than that which the law requires is not obedience and is not holiness.
To maintain that it is, is to abrogate the law.
- I might go to great lengths in the examination of scripture testimony, but it
cannot be necessary, or in these lectures expedient. I must close this lecture, with
a few inferences and remarks.
1. It has been supposed by some, that the simplicity of moral action, has been resorted
to as a theory, by the advocates of entire sanctification in this life, as the only
consistent method of carrying out their principle. To this I reply:--
(1.) That this theory is held in common, both by those who hold and those who deny
the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life.
(2.) The truth of the doctrine of entire sanctification does not depend at all upon
this philosophical theory for its support; but may be established by Bible testimony,
whatever the philosophy of holiness may be.
2. Growth in grace consists in two things:--
(1.) In the stability or permanency of holy, ultimate intention.
(2.) In intensity or strength. As knowledge increases, Christians will naturally
grow in grace, in both these respects.
3. The theory of the mixed character of moral actions, is an eminently dangerous
theory, as it leads its advocates to suppose, that in their acts of rebellion there
is something holy, or, more strictly, that there is some holiness in them, while
they are in the known commission of sin.
It is dangerous, because it leads its advocates to place the standard of conversion,
or regeneration, exceedingly low; to make regeneration, repentance, true love to
God, faith, &c., consistent with the known or conscious commission of present
sin. This must be a highly dangerous philosophy. The fact is, that regeneration,
or holiness, under any form, is quite another thing than it is supposed to be, by
those who maintain the philosophy of the mixed character of moral action.
4. There can scarcely be a more dangerous error than to say, that while we are conscious
of present sin, we are or can be in a state acceptable to God.
5. The false philosophy of many leads them to adopt a phraseology inconsistent with
truth; and to speak as if they were guilty of present sin, when in fact they are
not, but are in a state of acceptance with God.
6. It is erroneous to say that Christians sin in their most holy exercises, and it
is as injurious and dangerous as it is false. The fact is, holiness is holiness,
and it is really nonsense to speak of a holiness that consists with sin.
7. The tendency of this philosophy is to quiet in their delusions those whose consciences
accuse them of present sin, as if this could be true, and they, notwithstanding,
in a state of acceptance with God.
This lecture was typed in by Terry A. Deckard.
LECTURE XV. Back
I. IN WHAT SENSE OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW CAN BE PARTIAL.
II. THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD ACCEPTS NOTHING AS VIRTUE BUT OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
I. IN WHAT SENSE OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW CAN BE PARTIAL.
In discussing this subject I must--
1. Remind you of the sense in which it has been shown that obedience cannot be
2. Show the sense in which it can be partial.
- 1. In what sense we have seen that obedience to Moral Law cannot be partial.
- (1.) Not in the sense that a moral agent can at the same time be selfish and
benevolent. That is, a moral agent cannot choose as an ultimate end the highest well-being
of God and of the universe, and, at the same time choose an opposite end, namely
his own gratification. In other words, he cannot love God supremely and his neighbour
as himself, and at the same time love himself supremely, and prefer his own gratification
to the good of God and his neighbour. These two things, we have seen, cannot be.
(2.) We have seen, that a moral agent cannot honestly choose the well-being of God
and the universe, as an ultimate end, that is, for and on account of its intrinsic
value, and yet withhold the degree of intensity of choice, which he sees the value
of the end demands, and which he is able to render. In other words, he cannot be
honest in knowingly and intentionally withholding from God and man their dues. That
is, he cannot be honestly dishonest.
(3.) We have seen, that honesty of intention implies the esteeming and treating of
every being and thing, known to the mind according to its nature and relations, and
every interest, according to its estimated relative importance, and our ability to
(4.) We have seen that neither of the following suppositions can be true.
(a.) It cannot be true, that an act or choice may have a complex character, on account
of complexity in the motives that induce it.
(b.) It cannot be true, that the will or heart may be right, while the emotions and
affections are wrong, in the sense of sinful.
(c.) It cannot be true, that a ruling, latent, but actually existing, holy preference
or intention, may co-exist with opposing volitions.
These things, we have seen, cannot be; and, therefore, that the following is true,
to wit, that obedience to moral law cannot be partial, in the sense that a moral
agent can partly obey, and partly disobey, at the same time; that he cannot be both
holy and unholy in the same act; that he cannot at the same time serve both God and
mammon. This certainly is the doctrine both of natural and revealed theology. This
summing up of what was taught in the last lecture, conducts us to the second inquiry,
- 2. In what sense obedience to moral law can be partial.
- And here I would observe, that the only sense in which obedience to moral law
can be partial is, that obedience may be intermittent. That is, the subject may sometimes
obey, and at other times disobey. He may at one time be selfish, or will his own
gratification, because it is his own, and without regard to the well-being of God
and his neighbour, and at another time will the highest well-being of God and the
universe, as an end, and his own good only in proportion to its relative value. These
are opposite choices, or ultimate intentions. The one is holy; the other is sinful.
One is obedience, entire obedience, to the law of God; the other is disobedience,
entire disobedience, to that law. These, for aught we can see, may succeed each other
an indefinite number of times, but co-exist they plainly cannot.
II. The government of God accepts nothing as virtue but obedience to the law
But it may be asked, Why state this proposition? Was this truth ever called in question?
I answer, that the truth of this proposition, though apparently so self-evident,
that to raise the question may reasonably excite astonishment, is generally denied.
Indeed, probably nine-tenths of the nominal church deny it. They tenaciously hold
sentiments that are entirely contrary to it, and amount to a direct denial of it.
They maintain that there is much true virtue in the world, and yet that there is
no one who ever for a moment obeys the law of God; that all Christians are virtuous,
and that they are truly religious, and yet not one on earth obeys the moral law of
God; in short, that God accepts as virtue that which, in every instance, comes short
of obedience to his law. And yet it is generally asserted in their articles of faith,
that obedience to moral law is the only proper evidence of a change of heart. With
this sentiment in their creed, they will brand as a heretic, or as a hypocrite, any
one who professes to obey the law; and maintain that men may be, and act pious, and
eminently so, who do not obey the law of God. This sentiment, which every one knows
to be generally held by those who are styled orthodox Christians, must assume that
there is some rule of right, or of duty, besides the moral law; or that virtue, or
true religion, does not imply obedience to any law. In this discussion I shall,--
1. Attempt to show that there can be no rule of right or duty but the moral law;
2. That nothing can be virtue, or true religion, but obedience to this law, and that
the government of God acknowledges nothing else as virtue or true religion.
- 1. There can be no rule of duty but the moral law. (See Lecture II, Exclusiveness.)
- Upon this proposition I remark,--
(1.) That the moral law, as we have seen, is nothing else than the law of nature,
or that rule of action which is founded, not in the will of God, but in the nature
and relations of moral agents. It prescribes the course of action which is agreeable
or suitable to our nature and relations. It is unalterably right to act in conformity
with our nature and relations. To deny this, is palpably absurd and contradictory.
But if this is right, nothing else can be right. If this course is obligatory upon
us, by virtue of our nature and relations, no other course can possibly be obligatory
upon us. To act in conformity with our nature and relations, must be right, and nothing,
either more or less, can be right. If these are not truths of intuition, then there
are no such truths.
(2.) God has never proclaimed any other rule of duty, and should he do it, it could
not be obligatory. The moral law did not originate in his arbitrary will. He did
not create it, nor can he alter it, or introduce any other rule of right among moral
agents. Can God make anything else right than to love him with all the heart, and
our neighbour as ourselves? Surely not. Some have strangely dreamed that the law
of faith has superseded the moral law. But we shall see that moral law is not made
void, but is established by the law of faith. True faith, from its very nature, always
implies love or obedience to the moral law; and love or obedience to the moral law
always implies faith. As has been said on a former occasion, no being can create
law. Nothing is, or can be, obligatory on a moral agent, but the course of conduct
suited to his nature and relations. No being can set aside the obligation to do this.
Nor can any being render anything more than this obligatory. Indeed, there cannot
possibly be any other rule of duty than the moral law. There can be no other standard
with which to compare our actions, and in the light of which to decide their moral
character. This brings us to the consideration of the second proposition, namely,--
- 2. That nothing can be virtue or true religion but obedience to the moral law.
- By this two things are intended:--
(1.) That every modification of true virtue is only obedience to moral law.
(2.) That nothing can be virtue, but just that which the moral law requires.
That every modification of true virtue is only obedience to moral law, will appear,
if we consider,--
(a.) That virtue is identical with true religion:
(b.) That true religion cannot properly consist in anything else, than the love to
God and man, enjoined by the moral law:
(c.) That the Bible expressly recognizes love as the fulfilling of the law, and as
expressly denies, that anything else is acceptable to God.
"Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." "Though I speak with
the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding
brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand
all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to
feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity (love),
it profiteth me nothing." (1 Cor. xiii.)
Love is repeatedly recognized in the Bible, not only as constituting true religion,
but as being the whole of religion. Every form of true religion is only a form of
love or benevolence.
Repentance consists in the turning of the soul from a state of selfishness to benevolence,
from disobedience to God's law, to obedience to it.
Faith is the receiving of, or confiding in, embracing, loving, truth and the God
of truth. It is only a modification of love to God and Christ. Every Christian grace
or virtue, as we shall more fully see when we come to consider them in detail, is
only a modification of love. God is love. Every modification of virtue and holiness
in God is only love, or the state of mind which moral law requires alike of him and
of us. Benevolence is the whole of virtue in God, and in all holy beings. Justice,
truthfulness, and every moral attribute, is only benevolence viewed in particular
Nothing can be virtue that is not just what the moral law demands. That is, nothing
short of what it requires can be, in any proper sense, virtue.
- A common idea seems to be, that a kind of obedience is rendered to God
by Christians which is true religion, and which, on Christ's account, is accepted
of God, which after all comes indefinitely short of full or entire obedience at any
moment; that the gospel has somehow brought men, that is, Christians, into such relations,
that God really accepts from them an imperfect obedience, something far below what
his law requires; that Christians are accepted and justified while they render at
best but a partial obedience, and while they sin more or less at every moment. Now
this appears to me, to be as radical an error as can well be taught. The subject
naturally branches out into two distinct inquiries:--
(1.) Is it possible for a moral agent partly to obey, and partly to disobey, the
moral law at the same time?
(2.) Can God in any sense, justify one who does not yield a present and full obedience
to the moral law?
The first of these questions has been fully discussed in the preceding lecture. We
think that it has been shown, that obedience to the moral law cannot be partial,
in the sense that the subject can partly obey, and partly disobey, at the same time.
We will now attend to the second question, namely,--
Can God, in any sense, justify one who does not yield a present and full obedience
to the moral law? Or, in other words, Can he accept anything as virtue or obedience,
which is not, for the time being, full obedience, or all that the law requires?
The term justification is used in two senses.
(a.) In the sense of pronouncing the subject blameless:
(b.) In the sense of pardon, acceptance, and treating one who has sinned, as if he
had not sinned.
It is in this last sense, that the advocates of this theory hold, that Christians
are justified, that is, that they are pardoned, and accepted, and treated as just,
though at every moment sinning, by coming short of rendering that obedience which
the moral law demands. They do not pretend that they are justified at any moment
by the law, for that at every moment condemns them for present sin; but that they
are justified by grace, not in the sense that they are made really and personally
righteous by grace, but that grace pardons and accepts, and in this sense justifies
them when they are in the present commission of an indefinite amount of sin; that
grace accounts them righteous while, in fact, they are continually sinning; that
they are fully pardoned and acquitted, while at the same moment committing sin, by
coming entirely and perpetually short of the obedience which, under the circumstances,
the law of God requires. While voluntarily withholding full obedience, their partial
obedience is accepted, and the sin of withholding full obedience is forgiven. God
accepts what the sinner has a mind to give, and forgives what he voluntarily withholds.
This is no caricature. It is, if I understand them, precisely what many hold. In
considering this subject, I wish to propose for discussion the following inquiries,
as of fundamental importance.
(1.) If a present partial obedience can be accepted, how great a part may be withholden
and we be accepted?
(2.) If we are forgiven, while voluntarily withholding a part of that which would
constitute full obedience, are we not forgiven sin of which we do not repent, and
forgiven, while in the act of committing the sin for which we are forgiven?
(3.) What good can result to the sinner, to God, or to the universe from forgiving
impenitence, or sin which is persisted in?
(4.) Has God a right to pardon present sin, and of course sin unrepented of?
(5.) Have we a right to ask him to forgive present sin, while unrepented of?
(6.) Must not confession of present sin, and of course sin unrepented of, be base
(7.) Does the Bible recognize or proclaim the pardon of sin, under such circumstances?
(8.) Does the Bible recognize any justification in sin?
(9.) Can there be such a thing as partial repentance of sin? That is, does not repentance
imply present full obedience to the law of God?
(10.) Must not that be a gross error, that represents God as pardoning and justifying
a sinner in the present voluntary commission of sin?
(11.) Can there be any other than a voluntary sin?
(12.) Must not present sin be sin unrepented of?
Let us now attend to these questions in their order.
(1.) How much sin may we commit, or how much may we, at every moment, come short
of full obedience to the law of God, and yet be accepted and justified?
This must be an inquiry of infinite importance. If we may wilfully withhold a part
of our hearts from God, and yet be accepted, how great a part may we withhold? If
we may love God with less than all our hearts, and our neighbour less than ourselves,
and be accepted, how much less than supreme love to God, and equal love to our neighbour,
will be accepted?
Shall we be told, that the least degree of true love to God and our neighbour will
be accepted? But what is true love to God and our neighbour? This is the point of
inquiry. Is that true love which is not what is required? If the least degree of
love to God will be accepted, then we may love ourselves more than we love God, and
yet be accepted. We may love God a little, and ourselves much, and still be in a
state of acceptance with God. We may love God a little, and our neighbour a little,
and ourselves more than we love God and all our neighbours, and yet be in a justified
state. Or shall we be told that God must be loved supremely? But what is intended
by this? Is supreme love a loving with all the heart? But this is full and not partial
obedience; yet the latter is the thing about which we are inquiring. Or is supreme
love, not love with all the heart, but simply a higher degree of love than we exercise
toward any other being? But how much greater must it be? Barely a little? How are
we to measure it? In what scale are we to weigh, or by what standard are we to measure,
our love, so as to know whether we love God a little more than any other being? But
how much are we to love our neighbour, in order to our being accepted? If we may
love him a little less than ourselves, how much less, and still be justified? These
are certainly questions of vital importance. But such questions look like trifling.
Yet why should they? If the theory I am examining be true, these questions must not
only be asked, but they must admit of a satisfactory answer. The advocates of the
theory in question are bound to answer them. And if they cannot, it is only because
their theory is false. Is it possible that their theory should be true, and yet no
one be able to answer such vital questions as these just proposed? If a partial obedience
can be accepted, it is a momentous question, how partial, or how complete must that
obedience be? I say again, that this is a question of agonizing interest. God forbid
that we should be left in the dark here.
But let us look at the second question.
(2.) If we are forgiven while voluntarily withholding a part of that which would
constitute full obedience, are we not forgiven sin of which we do not repent, and
forgiven while in the act of committing the sin for which we are forgiven?
The theory in question is that Christians never, at any time, in this world, yield
a full obedience to the divine law; that they always withhold a part of their hearts
from the Lord, and yet, while in the very act of committing this abominable sin of
voluntarily defrauding God and their neighbour, God accepts their persons and their
services, fully forgives and justifies them. What is this, but pardoning present
and pertinacious rebellion! Receiving to favour a God-defrauding wretch! Forgiving
a sin unrepented of and detestably persevered in? Yes, this must be, if it be true
that Christians are justified without present full obedience. That surely must be
a doctrine of devils, that represents God as receiving to favour a rebel who has
one hand filled with weapons against his throne.
(3.) But what good can result to God, or the sinner, or to the universe, by thus
pardoning and justifying an unsanctified soul? Can God be honoured by such a proceeding?
Will the holy universe respect, fear, and honour God for such a proceeding? Does
it, can it, commend itself to the intelligence of the universe?
Will pardon and justification save the sinner, while he yet continues to withhold
a part, at least, of his heart from God, while he still cleaves to a part of his
sins? Can heaven be edified, or hell confounded, and its cavils silenced, by such
a method of justification?
(4.) But again: Has God a right to pardon sin unrepented of?
Some may feel shocked at the question, and may insist that this is a question which
we have no right to agitate. But let me inquire: Has God, as a moral governor, a
right to act arbitrarily? Is there not some course of conduct which is suitable to
him? Has he not given us intelligence on purpose that we may be able to see and judge
of the propriety of his public acts? Does he not invite and require scrutiny? Why
has he required an atonement for sin, and why has he required repentance at all?
Who does not know that no executive magistrate has a right to pardon sin unrepented
of? The lowest terms upon which any ruler can exercise mercy, are repentance, or,
which is the same thing, a return to obedience. Who ever heard, in any government,
of a rebel's being pardoned, while he only renounced a part of his rebellion? To
pardon him while any part of his rebellion is persevered in, were to sanction by
a public act that which is lacking in his repentance. It were to pronounce a public
justification of his refusal to render full obedience.
(5.) But have we a right to ask forgiveness while we persevere in the sin of withholding
a part of our heart from him?
God has no right to forgive us, and we have no right to desire him to forgive us,
while we keep back any part of the condition of forgiveness. While we persist in
defrauding God and our neighbour, we cannot profess penitence and ask forgiveness
without gross hypocrisy. And shall God forgive us while we cannot, without hypocrisy,
even profess repentance? To ask for pardon, while we do not repent and cease from
sin, is a gross insult to God.
(Note: (6.) appears to have been omitted)
(7.) But does the Bible recognize the pardon of present sin, and while unrepented
Let the passage be found, if it can be, where sin is represented as pardoned or pardonable,
unless repented of and fully forsaken. No such passage can be found. The opposite
of this always stands revealed expressly or impliedly, on every page of divine inspiration.
(8.) Does the Bible anywhere recognize a justification in sin?
Where is such a passage to be found? Does not the law condemn sin, in every degree
of it? Does it not unalterably condemn the sinner in whose heart the vile abomination
is found? If a soul can sin, and yet not be condemned, then it must be because the
law is abrogated, for surely, if the law still remains in force, it must condemn
all sin. James most unequivocally teaches this: "If any man keep the whole law,
and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." What is this, but asserting,
that if there could be a partial obedience, it would be unavailing, since the law
would condemn for any degree of sin; that partial obedience, did it exist, would
not be regarded as acceptable obedience at all? The doctrine, that a partial obedience,
in the sense that the law is not at any time fully obeyed, is accepted of God, is
sheer antinomianism. What! a sinner justified while indulging in rebellion against
But it has been generally held in the church, that a sinner must intend fully to
obey the law, as a condition of justification; that, in his purpose and intention,
he must forsake all sin; that nothing short of perfection of aim or intention can
be accepted of God. Now, what is intended by this language? We have seen in former
lectures, that moral character belongs properly only to the intention. If, then,
perfection of intention be an indispensable condition of justification, what is this,
but an admission, after all, that full present obedience is a condition of justification?
But this is what we hold, and they deny. What then can they mean? It is of importance
to ascertain what is intended by the assertion, repeated by them thousands of times,
that a sinner cannot be justified but upon condition, that he fully purposes and
intends to abandon all sin, and to live without sin; unless he seriously intends
to render full obedience to all the commands of God. Intends to obey the law! What
constitutes obedience to the law? Why, love, good-willing, good-intending. Intending
to obey the law is intending to intend, willing to will, choosing to choose! This
What then is the state of mind which is, and must be, the condition of justification?
Not merely an intention to obey, for this is only an intending to intend, but intending
what the law requires to be intended, to wit, the highest well-being of God and of
the universe. Fully intending this, and not fully intending to intend this, is the
condition of justification. But fully intending this is full present obedience to
But again: it is absurd to say that a man can intend fully to obey the law,
unless he actually fully intends what the law requires him to intend. The law requires
him fully to intend the highest well-being of God and of the universe. And unless
he intends this, it is absurd to say that he can intend full obedience to the law;
that he intends to live without sin. The supposition is, that he is now sinning,
that is, for nothing else is sin, voluntarily withholding from God and man their
due. He chooses, wills, and intends this, and yet the supposition is, that at the
same time he chooses, wills, intends, fully to obey the law. What is this but the
ridiculous assertion, that he at the same time intends full obedience to the law,
and intends not fully to obey, but only to obey in part, voluntarily withholding
from God and man their dues.
But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him?
Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed.
That he cannot be justified by the law, while there is a particle of sin in him,
is too plain to need proof. But can he be pardoned and accepted, and then justified,
in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.
For the law, unless it be repealed, and antinomianism be true, continues to condemn
him while there is any degree of sin in him. It is a contradiction to say, that he
can both be pardoned, and at the same time condemned. But if he is all the time coming
short of full obedience, there never is a moment in which the law is not uttering
its curses against him. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things
that are written in the book of the law to do them." The fact is, there never
has been, and there never can be, any such thing as sin without condemnation. "Beloved,
if our own heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart;" that, is, he much
more condemns us. "But if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence
towards God." God cannot repeal the law. It is not founded in his arbitrary
will. It is as unalterable and unrepealable as his own nature. God can never repeal
nor alter it. He can, for Christ's sake, dispense with the execution of the penalty,
when the subject has returned to full present obedience to the precept, but in no
other case, and upon no other possible conditions. To affirm that he can, is to affirm
that God can alter the immutable and eternal principles of moral law and moral government.
(9.) The next inquiry is, can there be such a thing as a partial repentance of
sin? That is, does not true repentance imply a return to present full obedience to
the law of God?
In considering this question, I will state, briefly--
(i.) What repentance is not.
(ii.) What it is.
(iii.) What is not implied in it.
(iv.) What is.
I shall in this place only state these points briefly, leaving their full consideration
to their appropriate place in this course of instruction.
(i.) What repentance is not.
(a.) It is not a phenomenon of the intelligence. It does not consist in conviction
of sin, nor in any intellectual views of sin whatever.
(b.) It is not a phenomenon of the sensibility. It does not consist in a feeling
of regret, or remorse, or of sorrow of any kind or degree. It is not a feeling of
(ii.) What it is.
The primary signification of the word rendered repentance is, to reflect, to think
again, but more particularly to change the mind in conformity with a second thought,
or in accordance with a more rational and intelligent view of the subject. To repent
is to change the choice, purpose, intention. It is to choose a new end,--to begin
a new life,--to turn from self-seeking to seeking the highest good of being,--to
turn from selfishness to disinterested benevolence,--from a state of disobedience
to a state of obedience.
(iii.) What is not implied in it.
(a.) It does not imply the remembrance of all past sin. This would be implied
if repentance consisted, as some seem to suppose, in sorrowing over every particular
sin. But as repentance consists in returning or turning to God, from the spirit of
self-seeking and self-pleasing to the spirit of seeking the highest well-being of
God and the universe, no such thing as the remembrance of all past sin is implied
(b.) It does not imply a continual sorrowing for past sin; for past sin is
not, cannot be, ought not to be, the subject of continual thought.
(iv.) What is implied in it.
(a.) An understanding of the nature of sin, as consisting in the spirit of
self-seeking, or in selfishness. This is implied, as a condition upon which repentance
can be exercised, but it does not constitute repentance. Repentance is the voluntary
turning which follows the intellectual illumination or understanding of the nature
(b.) A turning from this state to a state of consecration to God and the good
of the universe.
(c.) Sorrow for past sin when it is remembered. This, and the following particulars,
are implied in repentance as necessarily following from it.
(d.) Universal, outward reformation.
(e.) Emotions of hatred of sin.
(f.) Emotions of self-loathing on account of sin.
Certainly, if repentance means and implies anything, it does imply a thorough reformation
of heart and life. A reformation of heart consists in turning from selfishness to
benevolence. We have seen in a former lecture, that selfishness and benevolence cannot
co-exist, at the same time, in the same mind. They are the supreme choice of opposite
ends. These ends cannot both be chosen at the same time. To talk of partial repentance
as a possible thing is to talk nonsense. It is to overlook the very nature of repentance.
What! a man both turn away from, and hold on to sin at the same time? Serve God and
mammon at one and the same time! It is impossible. This impossibility is affirmed
both by reason and by Christ.
(10.) The tenth inquiry is; must not that be a gross error that represents God
as pardoning and justifying a sinner in the present wilful commission of sin? I answer,
(i.) Because it is antinomianism, than which there is scarcely any form of
error more God-dishonouring.
(ii.) Because it represents God as doing what he has no right to do, and,
therefore, as doing what he cannot do, without sinning himself.
(iii.) Because it represents Christ as the minister of sin, and as justifying
his people in their sins, instead of saving them from their sins.
(iv.) Because it represents God as making void, instead of establishing the
law through faith.
(v.) Because it is a prolific source of delusion, leading multitudes to think
themselves justified, while living in known sin. But perhaps it will be objected,
that the sin of those who render but a partial obedience, and whom God pardons and
accepts, is not a voluntary sin. This leads to the tenth inquiry:--
(11.) Can there be any other than voluntary sin?
What is sin? Sin is a transgression of the law. The law requires benevolence, good-willing.
Sin is not a mere negation, or a not willing, but consists in willing self-gratification.
It is a willing contrary to the commandment of God. Sin, as well as holiness, consists
in choosing, willing, intending. Sin must be voluntary; that is, it must be intelligent
and voluntary. It consists in willing, and it is nonsense to deny that sin is voluntary.
The fact is, there is either no sin, or there is voluntary sin. Benevolence is willing
the good of being in general, as an end, and, of course, implies the rejection of
self-gratification, as an end. So sin is the choice of self-gratification, as an
end, and necessarily implies the rejection of the good of being in general, as an
end. Sin and holiness, naturally and necessarily, exclude each other. They are eternal
opposites and antagonists. Neither can consist with the presence of the other in
the heart. They consist in the active state of the will, and there can be no sin
or holiness that does not consist in choice.
(12.) Must not present sin be sin unrepented of?
Yes, it is impossible for one to repent of present sin. To affirm that present sin
is repented of, is to affirm a contradiction. It is overlooking both the nature of
sin, and the nature of repentance. Sin is selfish willing; repentance is turning
from selfish to benevolent willing. These two states of will, as has just been said,
cannot possibly co-exist. Whoever, then, is at present falling short of full obedience
to the law of God, is voluntarily sinning against God, and is impenitent. It is nonsense
to say, that he is partly penitent and partly impenitent; that he is penitent so
far as he obeys, and impenitent so far as he disobeys. This really seems to be the
loose idea of many, that a man can be partly penitent, and partly impenitent at the
same time. This idea, doubtless, is founded on the mistake, that repentance consists
in sorrow for sin, or is a phenomenon of the sensibility. But we have seen that repentance
consists in a change of ultimate intention,--a change in the choice of an end,--a
turning from selfishness to supreme disinterested benevolence. It is, therefore,
plainly impossible for one to be partly penitent, and partly impenitent at the same
time; inasmuch as penitence and impenitence consist in supreme opposite choices.
So then it is plain, that nothing is accepted as virtue under the government of God,
but present full obedience to his law.
- 1. If what has been said is true, we see that the church has fallen into a great
and ruinous mistake, in supposing that a state of present sinlessness is a very rare,
if not an impossible, attainment in this life. If the doctrine of this lecture be
true, it follows that the very beginning of true religion in the soul, implies the
renunciation of all sin. Sin ceases where holiness begins. Now, how great and ruinous
must that error be, that teaches us to hope for heaven, while living in conscious
sin; to look upon a sinless state, as not to be expected in this world; that it is
a dangerous error to expect to stop sinning, even for an hour or a moment, in this
world; and yet to hope for heaven! And how unreasonable must that state of mind be,
that can brand as heretics those who teach, that God justifies no one, but upon condition
of present sinlessness!*
- *Their present sinlessness is not the ground, but only a sine quà non,
of gospel justification.--See Lecture LVI, subject, "Justification."
- 2. How great and ruinous the error, that justification is conditionated upon
a faith that does not purify the heart of the believer; that one may be in a state
of justification who lives in the constant commission of more or less sin. This error
has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world.
- 3. We see that, if a righteous man forsake his righteousness, and die in his
sin, he must sink to hell.
- 4. We see, that whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must
repent and do his first works, or be lost.
This lecture was typed in by Terry A. Deckard.
LECTURE XVI. Back to Top
WHAT IS NOT IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
I. I will state briefly what constitutes obedience.
II. What is not implied in it.
I. What constitutes obedience to moral law.
We have seen, that all the law requires is summarily expressed in the single word,
love; that this word is synonymous with benevolence; that benevolence consists in
the choice of the highest well-being of God and of the universe, as an end, or for
its own sake; that this choice is an ultimate intention. In short, we have seen,
that good-will to being in general is obedience to the moral law. Now the question
before us is, what is not implied in this good-will, or in this benevolent ultimate
intention? I will here introduce, with some alteration, what I have formerly said
upon this subject.
Since the law of God, as revealed in the Bible, is the standard, and the only standard,
by which the question in regard to what is not, and what is, implied in entire sanctification,
is to be decided, it is of fundamental importance, that we understand what is, and
what is not, implied in entire obedience to this law. It must be apparent to all,
that this inquiry is of prime importance. To settle this question is one of the main
things to be attended to in this discussion. The doctrine of the entire sanctification
of believers in this life can never be satisfactorily settled until it is understood.
And it cannot be understood, until it is known what is, and what is not, implied
in it. Our judgment of our own state, or of the state of others, can never be relied
upon, till these inquiries are settled. Nothing is more clear than that, in the present
vague unsettled views of the church upon this question, no individual could set up
a claim of having attained this state, without being a stumbling-block to the church.
Christ was perfect, and yet so erroneous were the notions of the Jews, in regard
to what constituted perfection, that they thought him possessed with a devil, instead
of being holy, as he claimed to be. It certainly is impossible, that a person should
profess to render entire obedience to the moral law, without being a stumbling-block
to himself and to others, unless he and they clearly understand what is not, and
what is, implied in it. I will state then, what is not implied in entire obedience
to the moral law, as I understand it. The law, as epitomized by Christ, "Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all
thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself,"--I understand
to lay down the whole duty of man to God, and to his fellow creatures. Now, the questions
are, what is not, and what is, implied in perfect obedience to this law? Vague notions,
in regard to the proper answer to be given to these questions, seem to me to have
been the origin of much error. To settle these questions, it is indispensable that
we have distinctly before our minds just rules of legal interpretation. I will, therefore,
lay down some first principles, in regard to the interpretation of law, in the light
of which, I think, we may safely proceed to settle these questions.
- RULE 1. Whatever is inconsistent with natural justice is not, and cannot be,
- RULE 2. Whatever is inconsistent with the nature and relations of moral beings,
is contrary to natural justice, and, therefore, cannot be moral law.
- RULE 3. That which requires more than man has natural ability to perform, is
inconsistent with his nature and relations, and, therefore, is inconsistent with
natural justice, and, of course, is not moral law.
- RULE 4. Moral law, then, must always be so understood and interpreted, as to
consist with the nature of the subjects, and their relations to each other and to
the lawgiver. Any interpretation that makes the law to require more than is consistent
with the nature and relations of moral beings, is the same as to declare that it
is not law. No authority in heaven or on earth can make that law, or obligatory upon
moral agents, which is inconsistent with their nature and relations.
- RULE 5. Moral law must always be so interpreted as to cover the whole ground
of natural right or justice. It must be so understood and explained, as to require
all that is right in itself, and, therefore, immutably and unalterably right.
- RULE 6. Moral law must be so interpreted, as not to require any thing more than
is consistent with natural justice, or with the nature and relations of moral beings.
- RULE 7. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to imply the possession of
any attributes, or strength, or perfection of attributes which the subject does not
possess. Take for illustration the second commandment, "Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself." Now the simple meaning of this commandment seems to be,
that we are to regard and treat every person and interest according to its relative
value. We are not to understand this commandment as expressly or by implication,
requiring us to know, in all cases, the exact relative value of every person and
thing in the universe; for this would imply our possession of the attribute of omniscience.
No mind, short of an omniscient one, can have this knowledge. The commandment, then,
must be so understood, as only to require us to judge with candour of the relative
value of different interests, and to treat them according to their value, and our
ability to promote their good, so far as we understand it. I repeat the rule, therefore;
moral law is never to be so interpreted as to imply the possession of any attribute,
or any strength and perfection of attributes, which the subject does not possess.
- RULE 8. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to require that which is naturally
impossible in our circumstances. Example:--The first commandment, "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," &c., is not to be so interpreted,
as to require us to make God the constant and sole object of our attention, thought,
and affection; for this would not only be plainly impossible in our circumstances,
but manifestly contrary to our duty.
- RULE 9. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to make one requirement inconsistent
with another. Example: if the first commandment be so interpreted as to require us
to make God the only object of thought, affection, and attention, then we cannot
obey the second commandment which requires us to love our neighbour. And if the first
commandment is to be so understood, that every faculty and power is to be directed
solely and exclusively, to the contemplation and love of God, then love to all other
beings is prohibited, and the second commandment is set aside. I repeat the rule,
therefore; commandments are not to be so interpreted, as to conflict with each other.
- RULE 10. A law requiring perpetual benevolence must be so construed, as to consist
with, and require, all the appropriate and essential modifications of this principle,
under every circumstance; such as justice, mercy, anger at sin and sinners, and a
special and complacent regard to those who are virtuous.
- RULE 11. Moral law must be so interpreted, as that its claims shall always be
restricted to the voluntary powers, in such a sense, that the right action of the
will shall be regarded as fulfilling the spirit of the law, whether the desired outward
action, or inward emotion, follow or not. If there be a willing mind, that is, if
the will or heart is right, it is and must, in justice, be accepted as obedience
to the spirit of moral law. For whatever does not follow the action of the will,
by a law of necessity, is naturally impossible to us, and, therefore, not obligatory.
To attempt to legislate directly over the involuntary powers, would be inconsistent
with natural justice. You may as well attempt to legislate over the beating of the
heart, as directly over any involuntary mental actions.
- RULE 12. In morals, actual knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation. The
maxim, "ignorantia legis non excusat" (ignorance of the law excuses no
one), applies in morals to but a very limited extent. That actual knowledge is indispensable
to moral obligation, will appear--
- (1.) From the following scriptures;
James iv. 17: "Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not,
to him it is sin." Luke xii. 47, 48: "And that servant, which knew his
lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be
beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes,
shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall
be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."
John ix. 41: "Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind ye should have no sin;
but now ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth." In the first and second
chapters of the epistle to the Romans, the apostle reasons at large on this subject.
He convicts the heathen of sin, upon the ground that they violate their own consciences,
and do not live according to the light they have.
(2.) The principle is everywhere recognized in the Bible, that an increase of knowledge
increases obligation. This impliedly, but plainly, recognizes the principle that
knowledge is indispensable to, and commensurate with, obligation. In sins of ignorance,
the sin lies in the state of heart that neglects or refuses to be informed, but not
in the neglect of what is unknown. A man may be guilty of present or past neglect
to ascertain the truth. Here his ignorance is sin, or rather, the state of heart
that induces ignorance, is sin. The heathen are culpable for not living up to the
light of nature; but are under no obligation to embrace Christianity, until they
have the opportunity to do so.
- RULE 13. Moral law is to be so interpreted, as to be consistent with physical
law. In other words, the application of moral law to human beings, must recognize
man as he is, as both a corporeal and an intellectual being; and must never be so
interpreted as that obedience to it would violate the laws of the physical constitution,
and prove the destruction of the body.
- RULE 14. Moral law is to be so interpreted as to recognize all the attributes
and circumstances of both body and soul. In the application of the law of God to
human beings, we are to regard their powers and attributes as they really are, and
not as they are not.
- RULE 15. Moral law is to be so interpreted as to restrict its obligation to the
actions, and not to extend them to the nature or constitution of moral beings. Law
must not be understood as extending its legislation to the nature, or requiring a
man to possess certain attributes, but as prescribing a rule of action, suited to
the attributes he at present possesses. It is not the existence or possession of
certain attributes which the law requires, or that these attributes should be in
a certain state of perfection; but the right use of all these attributes as they
are, is what the law is to be interpreted as requiring.
- RULE 16. It should be always understood, that the obedience of the heart to any
law, implies, and includes general faith, or confidence in the lawgiver; but no law
should be so construed as to require faith in what the intellect does not perceive.
A man may be under obligation to perceive what he does not; that is, it may be his
duty to inquire after and ascertain the truth. But obligation to believe with the
heart, does not attach until the intellect obtains perception of the things to be
- Now, in the light of these rules let us proceed to inquire:--
II. What is not implied in entire obedience to the law of God.
- 1. Entire obedience does not imply any change in the substance of the soul or
body; for this the law does not require; and it would not be obligatory if it did,
because the requirement would be inconsistent with natural justice, and, therefore,
not law. Entire obedience is the entire consecration of the powers, as they are,
to God. It does not imply any change in them, but simply the right use of them.
- 2. It does not imply the annihilation of any constitutional traits of character,
such as constitutional ardour or impetuosity. There is nothing, certainly, in the
law of God that requires such constitutional traits to be annihilated, but simply
that they should be rightly directed in their exercise.
- 3. It does not imply the annihilation of any of the constitutional appetites,
or susceptibilities. It seems to be supposed by some, that the constitutional appetites
and susceptibilities, are in themselves sinful, and that a state of entire conformity
to the law of God implies their entire annihilation. And I have often been astonished
at the fact, that those who array themselves against the doctrine of entire conformity
to the law of God in this life, assume the sinfulness of the constitution of man.
And I have been not a little surprised to find, that some persons who, I had supposed,
were far enough from embracing the doctrine of physical moral depravity, were, after
all, resorting to this assumption, in order to set aside the doctrine of entire sanctification
in this life. But let us appeal to the law. Does the law any where, expressly or
impliedly, condemn the constitution of man, or require the annihilation of any thing
that is properly a part of the constitution itself? Does it require the annihilation
of the appetite for food, or is it satisfied merely with regulating its indulgence?
In short, does the law of God any where require any thing more than the consecration
of all the powers, appetites, and susceptibilities of body and mind to the service
- 4. Entire obedience does not imply the annihilation of natural affection, or
natural resentment. By natural affection I mean, that certain persons may be naturally
pleasing to us. Christ appears to have had a natural affection for John. By natural
resentment I mean, that, from the laws of our being, we must resent or feel opposed
to injustice or ill-treatment. Not that a disposition to retaliate or revenge ourselves
is consistent with the law of God. But perfect obedience to the law of God does not
imply that we should have no sense of injury and injustice, when we are abused. God
has this, and ought to have it, and so has every moral being. To love your neighbour
as yourself, does not imply, that if he injure you, you should feel no sense of the
injury or injustice, but that you should love him and do him good, notwithstanding
his injurious treatment.
- 5. It does not imply any unhealthy degree of excitement of the mind. Rule 13
lays down the principle that moral law is to be so interpreted as to be consistent
with physical law. God's laws certainly do not clash with each other. And the moral
law cannot require such a state of constant mental excitement as will destroy the
physical constitution. It cannot require any more mental excitement than is consistent
with all the laws, attributes, and circumstances of both soul and body, as stated
in Rule 14.
- 6. It does not imply that any organ or faculty is to be at all times exerted
to the full measure of its capacity. This would soon exhaust and destroy any and
every organ of the body. Whatever may be true of the mind, when separated from the
body, it is certain, while it acts through a material organ, that a constant state
of excitement is impossible. When the mind is strongly excited, there is of necessity
a great determination of blood to the brain. A high degree of excitement cannot long
continue, without producing inflammation of the brain, and consequent insanity. And
the law of God does not require any degree of emotion, or mental excitement, inconsistent
with life and health. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not appear to have been in a state
of continual mental excitement. When he and his disciples had been in a great excitement
for a time, they would turn aside, "and rest a while."
- Who that has ever philosophized on this subject, does not know that the high
degree of excitement which is sometimes witnessed in revivals of religion, must necessarily
be short, or that the people must become deranged? It seems sometimes to be indispensable
that a high degree of excitement should prevail for a time, to arrest public and
individual attention, and draw off people from other pursuits, to attend to the concerns
of their souls. But if any suppose that this high degree of excitement is either
necessary or desirable, or possible to be long continued, they have not well considered
the matter. And here is one grand mistake of the church. They have supposed that
the revival consists mostly in this state of excited emotion, rather than in conformity
of the human will to the law of God. Hence, when the reasons for much excitement
have ceased, and the public mind begins to grow more calm, they begin immediately
to say, that the revival is on the decline; when, in fact, with much less excited
emotion, there may be vastly more real religion in the community.
Excitement is often important and indispensable, but the vigorous actings of the
will are infinitely more important. And this state of mind may exist in the absence
of highly excited emotions.
- 7. Nor does it imply that the same degree of emotion, volition, or intellectual
effort, is at all times required. All volitions do not need the same strength. They
cannot have equal strength, because they are not produced by equally influential
reasons. Should a man put forth as strong a volition to pick up an apple, as to extinguish
the flames of a burning house? Should a mother, watching over her sleeping nursling,
when all is quiet and secure, put forth as powerful volitions, as might be required
to snatch it from the devouring flames? Now, suppose that she were equally devoted
to God, in watching her sleeping babe, and in rescuing it from the jaws of death.
Her holiness would not consist in the fact, that she exercised equally strong volitions,
in both cases; but that in both cases the volition was equal to the accomplishment
of the thing required to be done. So that persons may be entirely holy, and yet continually
varying in the strength of their affections, emotions, or volitions, according to
their circumstances, the state of their physical system, and the business in which
they are engaged.
- All the powers of body and mind are to be held at the service and disposal of
God. Just so much of physical, intellectual, and moral energy are to be expended
in the performance of duty, as the nature and the circumstances of the case require.
And nothing is further from the truth than that the law of God requires a constant,
intense state of emotion and mental action, on any and every subject alike.
- 8. Entire obedience does not imply that God is to be at all times the direct
object of attention and affection. This is not only impossible in the nature of the
case, but would render it impossible for us to think of or love our neighbour as
ourselves: Rule 9.
- The law of God requires the supreme love of the heart. By this is meant that
the mind's supreme preference should be of God--that God should be the great object
of its supreme regard. But this state of mind is perfectly consistent with our engaging
in any of the necessary business of life--giving to that business that attention,
and exercising about it all those affections and emotions, which its nature and importance
If a man love God supremely, and engage in any business for the promotion of his
glory, if his eye be single, his affections and conduct, so far as they have any
moral character, are entirely holy when necessarily engaged in the right transaction
of his business, although, for the time being, neither his thoughts nor affections
are upon God; just as a man, who is intensely devoted to his family, may be acting
consistently with his supreme affection, and rendering them the most important and
perfect service, while he does not think of them at all. It is said, in my lecture
on the text, "Make to yourself a new heart, and a new spirit:"--"The
moral heart is the mind's supreme preference. The natural, or fleshy, heart propels
the blood through all the physical system. Now there is a striking analogy between
this and the moral heart. And the analogy consists in this, that as the natural heart,
by its pulsations, diffuses life through the physical system, so the moral heart,
or the supreme governing preference, or ultimate intention of the mind, is that which
gives life and character to man's moral actions. For example, suppose that I am engaged
in teaching mathematics; in this, my ultimate intention is to glorify God in this
particular calling. Now, in demonstrating some of its intricate propositions, I am
obliged, for hours together, to give the entire attention of my mind to that object.
While my mind is thus intensely employed in one particular business, it is impossible
that I should have any thoughts directly about God, or should exercise any direct
affections, or emotions, or volitions, towards him. Yet if, in this particular calling,
all selfishness is excluded, and my supreme design is to glorify God, my mind is
in a state of entire obedience, even though, for the time being, I do not think of
It should be understood, that while the supreme preference or intention of the mind
has such efficiency, as to exclude all selfishness, and to call forth just that strength
of volition, thought, affection, and emotion, that is requisite to the right discharge
of any duty, to which the mind may be called, the heart is in a right state. And
this must always be the case while the intention is really honest, as was shown on
a former occasion. By a suitable degree of thought and feeling, to the right discharge
of duty, I mean just that intensity of thought, and energy of action, that the nature
and importance of the particular duty, to which, for the time being, I am called,
demand, in my honest estimation.
In making this statement, I take it for granted, that the brain, together with all
the circumstances of the constitution are such that the requisite amount of thought,
feeling, &c., are possible. If the physical constitution be in such a state of
exhaustion, as to be unable to put forth that amount of exertion which the nature
of the case might otherwise demand, even in this case, the languid efforts, though
far below the importance of the subject, would be all that the law of God requires.
Whoever, therefore, supposes that a state of entire obedience implies a state of
entire abstraction of mind from everything but God, labours under a grievous mistake.
Such a state of mind is as inconsistent with duty, as it is impossible, while we
are in the flesh.
The fact is, that the language and spirit of the law have been and generally are,
grossly misunderstood, and interpreted to mean what they never did, or can, mean,
consistently with natural justice. Many a mind has been thrown open to the assaults
of Satan, and kept in a state of continual bondage and condemnation, because God
was not, at all times, the direct object of thought, affection, and emotion; and
because the mind was not kept in a state of perfect tension, and excited to the utmost
at every moment.
- 9. Nor does it imply a state of continual calmness of mind. Christ was not in
a state of continual calmness. The deep peace of his mind was never broken up, but
the surface or emotions of his mind were often in a state of great excitement, and
at other times, in a state of great calmness. And here let me refer to Christ, as
we have his history in the Bible, in illustration of the positions I have already
taken. For example, Christ had all the constitutional appetites and susceptibilities
of human nature. Had it been otherwise, he could not have been "tempted in all
points like as we are;" nor could he have been tempted in any point as we are,
any further than he possessed a constitution similar to our own. Christ also manifested
natural affection for his mother and for other friends. He also showed that he had
a sense of injury and injustice, and exercised a suitable resentment when he was
injured and persecuted. He was not always in a state of great excitement. He appears
to have had his seasons of excitement and of calm--of labour and rest--of joy and
sorrow, like other good men. Some persons have spoken of entire obedience to the
law, as implying a state of uniform and universal calmness, and as if every kind
and degree of excited feeling, except the feeling of love to God, were inconsistent
with this state. But Christ often manifested a great degree of excitement when reproving
the enemies of God. In short, his history would lead to the conclusion that his calmness
and excitement were various, according to the circumstances of the case. And although
he was sometimes so pointed and severe in his reproof, as to be accused of being
possessed of a devil, yet his emotions and feelings were only those that were called
for, and suited to the occasion.
- 10. Nor does it imply a state of continual sweetness of mind, without any indignation
or holy anger at sin and sinners.
- Anger at sin is only a modification of love to being in general. A sense of justice,
or a disposition to have the wicked punished for the benefit of the government, is
only another of the modifications of love. And such dispositions are essential to
the existence of love, where the circumstances call for their exercise. It is said
of Christ, that he was angry. He often manifested anger and holy indignation. "God
is angry with the wicked every day." And holiness, or a state of obedience,
instead of being inconsistent with, always implies, the existence of anger, whenever
circumstances occur which demand its exercise. Rule 10.
- 11. It does not imply a state of mind that is all compassion, and no sense of
justice. Compassion is only one of the modifications of love. Justice, or willing
the execution of law and the punishment of sin, is another of its modifications.
God, and Christ, and all holy beings, exercise all those dispositions that constitute
the different modifications of love, under every possible circumstance.
- 12. It does not imply that we should love or hate all men alike, irrespective
of their value, circumstances, and relations. One being may have a greater capacity
for well-being, and be of much more importance to the universe, than another. Impartiality
and the law of love require us not to regard all beings and things alike, but all
beings and things according to their nature, relations, circumstances, and value.
- 13. Nor does it imply a perfect knowledge of all our relations. Rule 7.
- Now such an interpretation of the law as would make it necessary, in order to
yield obedience, for us to understand all our relations, would imply in us the possession
of the attribute of omniscience; for certainly there is not a being in the universe
to whom we do not sustain some relation. And a knowledge of all these relations plainly
implies infinite knowledge. It is plain that the law of God cannot require any such
thing as this; and that entire obedience to the law of God, therefore, implies no
- 14. Nor does it imply perfect knowledge on any subject. Perfect knowledge on
any subject, implies a perfect knowledge of its nature, relations, bearings, and
tendencies. Now, as every single thing in the universe sustains some relation to,
and has some bearing upon, every other thing, there can be no such thing as perfect
knowledge on any one subject, that does not embrace universal or infinite knowledge.
- 15. Nor does it imply freedom from mistake on any subject whatever. It is maintained
by some that the grace of the gospel pledges to every man perfect knowledge, or at
least such knowledge as to exempt him from any mistake. I cannot stop here to debate
this question, but would merely say, the law does not expressly or impliedly require
infallibility of judgment in us. It only requires us to make the best use we can
of all the light we have.
- 16. Nor does entire obedience imply the knowledge of the exact relative value
of different interests. I have already said, in illustrating Rule 7, that the second
commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," does not imply
that we should, in every instance, understand exactly the relative value and importance
of every interest. This plainly cannot be required, unless it be assumed that we
- 17. It does not imply the same degree of knowledge that we might have possessed,
had we always improved our time in its acquisition. The law cannot require us to
love God or man, as well as we might have been able to love them, had we always improved
all our time in obtaining all the knowledge we could, in regard to their nature,
character, and interests. If this were implied in the requisition of the law, there
is not a saint on earth or in heaven that does, or ever can perfectly obey. What
is lost in this respect is lost, and past neglect can never be so remedied, that
we shall ever be able to make up in our acquisitions of knowledge what we have lost.
It will no doubt be true to all eternity, that we shall have less knowledge than
we might have possessed, had we filled up all our time in its acquisition. We do
not, cannot, nor shall we ever be able to, love God as well as we might have loved
him, had we always applied our minds to the acquisition of knowledge respecting him.
And if entire obedience is to be understood as implying that we love God as much
as we should, had we all the knowledge we might have had, then I repeat it, there
is not a saint on earth or in heaven, nor ever will be, that is entirely obedient.
- 18. It does not imply the same amount of service that we might have rendered,
had we never sinned. The law of God does not imply or suppose, that our powers are
in a perfect state; that our strength of body or mind is what it would have been,
had we never sinned. But it simply requires us to use what strength we have. The
very wording of the law is proof conclusive, that it extends its demand only to the
full amount of what strength we have. And this is true of every moral being, however
great or small.
- The most perfect developement and improvement of our powers, must depend upon
the most perfect use of them. And every departure from their perfect use, is a diminishing
of their highest developement, and a curtailing of their capabilities to serve God
in the highest and best manner. All sin then does just so much towards crippling
and curtailing the powers of body and mind, and rendering them, by just so much,
incapable of performing the service they might otherwise have rendered.
To this view of the subject it has been objected, that Christ taught an opposite
doctrine, in the case of the woman who washed his feet with her tears, when he said,
"To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much." But can it be that Christ
intended to be understood as teaching, that the more we sin the greater will be our
love, and our ultimate virtue? If this be so, I do not see why it does not follow
that the more sin in this life, the better, if so be that we are forgiven. If our
virtue is really to be improved by our sins, I see not why it would not be good economy
both for God and man, to sin as much as we can while in this world. Certainly, Christ
meant to lay down no such principle as this. He undoubtedly meant to teach, that
a person who was truly sensible of the greatness of his sins, would exercise more
of the love of gratitude than would be exercised by one who had a less affecting
sense of ill-desert.
- 19. Entire obedience does not imply the same degree of faith that might have
been exercised but for our ignorance and past sin.
- We cannot believe anything about God of which we have neither evidence nor knowledge.
Our faith must therefore be limited by our intellectual perceptions of truth. The
heathen are not under obligation to believe in Christ, and thousands of other things
of which they have no knowledge. Perfection in a heathen would imply much less faith
than in a Christian. Perfection in an adult would imply much more and greater faith
than in a child. And perfection in an angel would imply much greater faith than in
a man, just in proportion as he knows more of God than man does. Let it be always
understood, that entire obedience to God never implies that which is naturally impossible.
It is naturally impossible for us to believe that of which we have no knowledge.
Entire obedience implies, in this respect, nothing more than the heart's faith or
confidence in all the truth that is perceived by the intellect.
- 20. Nor does it imply the conversion of all men in answer to our prayers. It
has been maintained by some, that entire obedience implies the offering of prevailing
prayer for the conversion of all men. To this I reply,--
- (1.) Then Christ did not obey, for he offered no such prayer.
(2.) The law of God makes no such demand, either expressly or impliedly.
(3.) We have no right to believe that all men will be converted in answer to our
prayers, unless we have an express or implied promise to that effect.
(4.) As, therefore, there is no such promise, we are under no obligation to offer
such prayer. Nor does the non-conversion of the world imply, that there are no saints
in the world who fully obey God's law.
- 21. It does not imply the conversion of any one for whom there is not an express
or implied promise in the word of God. The fact that Judas was not converted in answer
to Christ's prayer, does not prove that Christ did not fully obey.
- 22. Nor does it imply that all those things which are expressly or impliedly
promised, will be granted in answer to our prayers; or, in other words, that we should
pray in faith for them, if we are ignorant of the existence or application of those
promises. A state of perfect love implies the discharge of all known duty. And nothing
strictly speaking can be duty, of which the mind has no knowledge. It cannot, therefore,
be our duty to believe a promise of which we are entirely ignorant, or the application
of which to any specific object we do not understand.
- If there is sin in such a case as this, it lies in the fact, that the soul neglects
to know what it ought to know. But it should always be understood that the sin lies
in this neglect to know, and not in the neglect of that of which we have no knowledge.
Entire obedience is inconsistent with any present neglect to know the truth; for
such neglect is sin. But it is not inconsistent with our failing to do that of which
we have no knowledge. James says: "He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not,
to him it is sin." "If ye were blind," says Christ, "ye should
have no sin, but because ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth."
- 23. Entire obedience to the divine law does not imply, that others will of course
regard our state of mind, and our outward life, as entirely conformed to the law.
- It was insisted and positively believed by the Jews, that Jesus Christ was possessed
of a wicked, instead of a holy spirit. Such were their notions of holiness, that
they no doubt supposed him to be actuated by any other than the Spirit of God. They
especially supposed so on account of his opposition to the current orthodoxy, and
to the ungodliness of the religious teachers of the day. Now, who does not see, that
when the church is, in a great measure, conformed to the world, a spirit of holiness
in any man would certainly lead him to aim the sharpest rebukes at the spirit and
life of those in this state, whether in high or low places? And who does not see,
that this would naturally result in his being accused of possessing a wicked spirit?
And who does not know, that where a religious teacher finds himself under the necessity
of attacking a false orthodoxy, he will certainly be hunted, almost as a beast of
prey, by the religious teachers of his day, whose authority, influence, and orthodoxy
are thus assailed?
The most violent opposition that I have ever seen manifested to any person, has been
manifested by members of the church, and even by some ministers of the gospel, towards
those who, I believe, were among the most holy persons I ever knew. I have been shocked,
and wounded beyond expression, at the almost fiendish opposition to such persons
which I have witnessed. I have several times of late observed, that writers in newspapers
were calling for examples of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, or, which
is the same thing, of entire obedience to the law of God. Now I would humbly inquire,
of what use is it to point the church to examples, so long as they do not know what
is, and what is not, implied in entire obedience to moral law? I would ask, are the
church agreed among themselves in regard to what constitutes this state? Are any
considerable number of ministers agreed among themselves, as to what is implied in
a state of entire obedience to the law of God? The church and the ministry are in
a great measure in the dark on this subject. Why then call for examples? No man can
profess to render this obedience, without being sure to be set at nought as a hypocrite
or a self-deceiver.
- 24. Nor does it imply exemption from sorrow or mental suffering.
- It was not so with Christ. Nor is it inconsistent with our sorrowing for our
own past sins, and sorrowing that we have not now the health, and vigour, and knowledge,
and love, that we might have had, if we had sinned less; or sorrow for those around
us--sorrow in view of human sinfulness, or suffering. These are all consistent with
a state of joyful love to God and man, and indeed are the natural results of it.
- 25. Nor is it inconsistent with our living in human society--with mingling in
the scenes, and engaging in the affairs of this world, as some have supposed. Hence
the absurd and ridiculous notions of papists in retiring to monasteries, and convents--in
taking the veil, and, as they say, retiring to a life of devotion. Now I suppose
this state of voluntary exclusion from human society, to be utterly inconsistent
with any degree of holiness, and a manifest violation of the law of love to our neighbour.
- 26. Nor does it imply moroseness of temper and manners. Nothing is further from
the truth than this. It is said of Xavier, than whom, perhaps, few holier men have
ever lived, that "he was so cheerful as often to be accused of being gay."
Cheerfulness is certainly the result of holy love. And entire obedience no more implies
moroseness in this world than it does in heaven.
- In all the discussions I have seen upon the subject of Christian holiness, writers
seldom or never raise the distinct inquiry: What does obedience to the law of God
imply, and what does it not imply? Instead of bringing everything to this test, they
seem to lose sight of it. On the one hand, they include things that the law of God
never required of man in his present state. Thus they lay a stumbling-block and a
snare for the saints, to keep them in perpetual bondage, supposing that this is the
way to keep them humble, to place the standard entirely above their reach. Or, on
the other hand, they really abrogate the law, so as to make it no longer binding.
Or they so fritter away what is really implied in it, as to leave nothing in its
requirements, but a sickly, whimsical, inefficient sentimentalism, or perfectionism,
which in its manifestations and results, appears to me to be anything but that which
the law of God requires.
- 27. It does not imply that we always or ever aim at, or intend to do our duty.
That is, it does not imply that the intention always, or ever, terminates on duty
as an ultimate end.
- It is our duty to aim at or intend the highest well-being of God and the universe,
as an ultimate end, or for its own sake. This is the infinitely valuable end at which
we are at all times to aim. It is our duty to aim at this. While we aim at this,
we do our duty, but to aim at duty is not doing duty. To intend to do our duty is
failing to do our duty. We do not, in this case, intend the thing which it is our
duty to intend. Our duty is to intend the good of being. But to intend to do our
duty, is only to intend to intend.
- 28. Nor does it imply that we always think at the time of its being duty, or
of our moral obligation to intend the good of being. This obligation is a first truth,
and is always and necessarily assumed by every moral agent, and this assumption or
knowledge is a condition of his moral agency. But it is not at all essential to virtue
or true obedience to the moral law, that moral obligation should at all times be
present to the thoughts as an object of attention. The thing that we are bound to
intend is the highest good of God, and of being in general. The good, the valuable,
must be before the mind. This must be intended. We are under moral obligation to
intend this. But we are not under moral obligation to intend moral obligation, or
to intend to fulfil moral obligation, as an ultimate end. Our obligation is a first
truth, and necessarily assumed by us at all times, whether it is an object of attention
or not, just as causality or liberty is.
- 29. Nor does it imply that the rightness or moral character of benevolence is,
at all times, the object of the mind's attention. We may intend the glory of God
and the good of our neighbour, without at all times thinking of the moral character
of this intention. But the intention is not the less virtuous on this account. The
mind unconsciously, but necessarily, assumes the rightness of benevolence, or of
willing the good of being, just as it assumes other first truths, without being distinctly
conscious of the assumption. First truths are those truths that are universally and
necessarily known to every moral agent, and that are, therefore, always and necessarily
assumed by him, whatever his theory may be. Among them, are the law of causality--the
freedom of moral agents--the intrinsic value of happiness or blessedness--moral obligation
to will it for or because of its intrinsic value--the infinite value of God's well-being,
and moral obligation to will it on that account--that to will the good of being is
duty, and to comply with moral obligation is right--that selfishness is wrong. These
and many such like truths are among the class of first truths of reason. They are
always and necessarily taken along with every moral agent, at every moment of his
moral agency. They live in his mind as intuitions or assumptions of his reason. He
always and necessarily affirms their truth, whether he thinks of them, that is, whether
he is conscious of the assumption, or not. It is not, therefore, at all essential
to obedience to the law of God, that we should at all times have before our minds
the virtuousness or moral character of benevolence.
- 30. Nor does obedience to the moral law imply, that the law itself should be,
at all times, the object of thought, or of the mind's attention. The law lies developed
in the reason of every moral agent in the form of an idea. It is the idea of that
choice or intention which every moral agent is bound to exercise. In other words,
the law, as a rule of duty, is a subjective idea always and necessarily developed
in the mind of every moral agent. This idea he always and necessarily takes along
with him, and he is always and necessarily a law to himself. Nevertheless, this law
or idea, is not always the object of the mind's attention and thought. A moral agent
may exercise good-will or love to God and man, without at the time being conscious
of thinking, that this love is required of him by the moral law. Nay, if I am not
mistaken, the benevolent mind generally exercises benevolence so spontaneously as
not, for much of the time, even to think that this love to God is required of him.
But this state of mind is not the less virtuous on this account. If the infinite
value of God's well-being and of his infinite goodness constrains me to love him
with all my heart, can any one suppose that this is regarded by him as the less virtuous,
because I did not wait to reflect, that God commanded me to love him, and that it
was my duty to do so?
- The thing upon which the intention must or ought to terminate is the good of
being, and not the law that requires me to will it. When I will that end, I will
the right end, and this willing is virtue, whether the law be so much as thought
of or not. Should it be said that I may will that end for a wrong reason, and, therefore,
thus willing it is not virtue; that unless I will it because of my obligation, and
intend obedience to moral law, or to God, it is not virtue; I answer, that the objection
involves an absurdity and a contradiction. I cannot will the good of God and of being
as an ultimate end, for a wrong reason. The reason of the choice and the end chosen
are identical, so that if I will the good of being, as an ultimate end, I will it
for the right reason.
Again: to will the good of being, not for its intrinsic value, but because
God commands it, and because I am under a moral obligation to will it, is not to
will it as an ultimate end. It is willing the will of God, or moral obligation, as
an ultimate end, and not the good of being, as an ultimate end. This willing would
not be obedience to the moral law.
Again: It is absurd and a contradiction to say, that I can love God, that
is, will his good out of regard to his authority, rather than out of regard to the
intrinsic value of his well-being. It is impossible to will God's good as an end,
out of regard to his authority. This is to make his authority the end chosen, for
the reason of a choice is identical with the end chosen. Therefore, to will anything
for the reason that God requires it, is to will God's requirement as an ultimate
end. I cannot, therefore, love God with any acceptable love, primarily, because he
commands it. God never expected to induce his creatures to love him, or to will his
good, by commanding them to do so. "The law," says the apostle, "was
not made for a righteous man, but for sinners." If it be asked, then, "Wherefore
serveth the law?" I answer--
(1.) That the obligation to will good to God exists antecedently to his requiring
(2.) He requires it because it is naturally obligatory.
(3.) It is impossible that he, being benevolent, should not will that we should be
(4.) His expressed will is only the promulgation of the law of nature. It is rather
declaratory than dictatorial.
(5.) It is a vindication or illustration of his righteousness.
(6.) It sanctions and rewards love. It cannot, as a mere authority, beget love, but
it can encourage and reward it.
(7.) It can fix the attention on the end commanded, and thus lead to a fuller understanding
of the value of that end. In this way, it may convert the soul.
(8.) It can convince of sin, in case of disobedience.
(9.) It holds before the mind the standard by which it is to judge itself, and by
which it is to be judged.
But let it be kept in constant remembrance, that to aim at keeping the law as an
ultimate end is not keeping it. It is a legal righteousness, and not love.
- 31. Obedience to the moral law does not imply, that the mind always, or at any
time, intends the right for the sake of the right. This has been so fully shown in
a former lecture, that it need not be repeated here.
- 32. Nor does it imply, that the benevolent mind always so much as thinks of the
rightness of good willing. I surely may will the highest well-being of God and of
men as an end, or from a regard to its intrinsic value, and not at the time, or at
least at all times, be conscious of having any reference to the rightness of this
love. It is, however, none the less virtuous on this account. I behold the infinite
value of the well-being of God, and the infinite value of the immortal soul of my
neighbour. My soul is fired with the view. I instantly consecrate my whole being
to this end, and perhaps do not so much as think, at the time, either of moral obligation,
or of the rightness of the choice. I choose the end with a single eye to its intrinsic
value. Will any one say that this is not virtue?--that this is not true and real
obedience to the law of God?
- 33. Obedience to the moral law does not imply that we should practically treat
all interests that are of equal value according to their value. For example, the
precept, "Love thy neighbour as thyself," cannot mean that I am to take
equal care of my own soul, and the soul of every other human being. This were impossible.
Nor does it mean that I should take the same care and oversight of my own, and of
all the families of the earth. Nor that I should divide what little of property,
or time, or talent I have, equally among all mankind. This were--
- (1.) Impossible.
(2.) Uneconomical for the universe. More good will result to the universe by each
individual's giving his attention particularly to the promotion of those interests
that are within his reach, and that are so under his influence that he possesses
particular advantages for promoting them. Every interest is to be esteemed according
to its relative value; but our efforts to promote particular interests should depend
upon our relations and capacity to promote them. Some interests of great value we
may be under no obligation to promote, for the reason that we have no ability to
promote them, while we may be under obligation to promote interests of vastly less
value, for the reason, that we are able to promote them. We are to aim at promoting
those interests that we can most surely and extensively promote, but always in a
manner that shall not interfere with others promoting other interests, according
to their relative value. Every man is bound to promote his own, and the salvation
of his family, not because they belong to self, but because they are valuable in
themselves, and because they are particularly committed to him, as being directly
within his reach. This is a principle everywhere assumed in the government of God,
and I wish it to be distinctly borne in mind, as we proceed in our investigations,
as it will, on the one hand, prevent misapprehension, and, on the other, avoid the
necessity of circumlocution, when we wish to express the same idea; the true intent
and meaning of the moral law, no doubt, is, that every interest or good known to
a moral being shall be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, and that, in our
efforts to promote good, we are to aim at securing the greatest practicable amount,
and to bestow our efforts where, and as it appears from our circumstances and relations,
we can accomplish the greatest good. This ordinarily can be done, beyond all question,
only by each one attending to the promotion of those particular interests which are
most within the reach of his influence.
Introduction ---New Window
LECTURES 1-7 of page 1
LECTURES 8-16 of page 2 (this page)
LECTURES 17-30 of page 3 ---New Window
LECTURES 31-38 of page 4 ---New Window
LECTURES 39-47 of page 5 ---New Window
LECTURES 48-57 of page 6 ---New Window
LECTURES 58-67 of page 7 ---New Window
LECTURES 68-74 of page 8 ---New Window
LECTURES 75-80 of page 9 ---New Window
LECTURES 81-83 of page 10 ---New Window
APPENDIX on page 11 ---New Window
RELATED STUDY AIDS:
Section Sub-Index for Finney: Voices