||delphia > Lectures on SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Charles G. Finney (page 3 of 11)
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
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Table of Contents
LECTURE XVII. -- Moral Government--Continued.
What is implied in obedience to the moral law . . Call attention to certain facts
in mental philosophy, as they are revealed in consciousness . . Point out the attributes
of that love which constitutes obedience to the law of God . . Voluntariness . .
Liberty . . Intelligence . . Virtuousness . . Disinterestedness . . Impartiality
. . Universality
LECTURE XVIII. -- Attributes of Love.
Efficiency . . Penitence . . Faith . . Complacency
LECTURE XIX. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Opposition to Sin . . Compassion
LECTURE XX. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Mercy . . Justice . . Veracity
LECTURE XXI. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Patience . . Meekness . . Long-suffering . . Humility
LECTURE XXII. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Self-denial . . Condescension . . Candour . . Stability . . Kindness . . Severity
LECTURE XXIII. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Holiness, or Purity . . Modesty . . Sobriety . . Sincerity . . Zeal . . Unity
. . Simplicity
LECTURE XXIV. -- Attributes of Love--Continued.
Gratitude . . Wisdom . . Grace . . Economy
LECTURE XXV. -- Moral Government.
Revert to some points that have been settled . . Show what disobedience to moral
law cannot consist in . . What disobedience to moral law must consist in
LECTURE XXVI. -- Moral Government.
What constitutes disobedience . . What is not implied in disobedience to the
law of God
LECTURE XXVII. -- Attributes of Selfishness.
What constitutes disobedience to moral law . . What is implied in disobedience
to moral law . . Attributes of Selfishness. Voluntariness . . Liberty . . Intelligence
. . Unreasonableness . . Interestedness . . Partiality . . Impenitence . . Unbelief
LECTURE XXVIII. -- Attributes of Selfishness--Continued.
Efficiency . . Opposition to benevolence or to virtue . . Cruelty . . Injustice
LECTURE XXIX. -- Attributes of Selfishness--Continued.
Oppression . . Hostility . . Unmercifulness . . Falsehood, or lying . . Pride
LECTURE XXX. -- Attributes of Selfishness--Continued.
Enmity . . Madness . . Impatience . . Intemperance . . Moral recklessness . .
This lecture was typed in by Spencer Rawlins.
LECTURE XVII. Back to Top
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE MORAL LAW.
It has been shown that the sum and spirit of the whole law is properly expressed
in one word--love. It has also been shown, that this love is benevolence or good
willing; that it consists in choosing the highest good of God and of universal being
for its own intrinsic value, in a spirit of entire consecration to this as the ultimate
end of existence. Although the whole law is fulfilled in one word--love, yet there
are many things implied in the state of mind expressed by this term. It is, therefore,
indispensable to a right understanding of this subject, that we inquire into the
characteristics or attributes of this love. We must keep steadily in mind certain
truths of mental philosophy. I will, therefore--
I. Call attention to certain facts in mental philosophy which are revealed to
us in consciousness: and--
II. Point out the attributes of that love which constitutes obedience to the law
of God; and, as I proceed, call attention to those states of the intelligence and
of the sensibility, and also to the course of outward conduct implied in the existence
of this love in any mind, implied in it as necessarily resulting from it, as an effect
does from its cause.
I. Call attention again to certain facts in mental philosophy as they are revealed
- 1. Moral agents possess intellect, or the faculty of knowledge.
- 2. They also possess sensibility, or sensitivity, or in other words, the faculty
or susceptibility of feeling.
- 3. They also possess will or the power of choosing or refusing in every case
of moral obligation.
- 4. These primary faculties are so correlated to each other, that the intellect
or the sensibility may control the will, or the will may, in a certain sense, control
them. That is, the mind is free to choose in accordance with the demands of the intellect
which is the law-giving faculty, or with the desires and impulses of the sensibility,
or to control and direct them both. The will can directly control the attention of
the intellect, and consequently its perceptions, thoughts, &c. It can indirectly
control the states of the sensibility, or feeling faculty, by controlling the perceptions
and thoughts of the intellect. We also know from consciousness, as was shown in a
former lecture, that the voluntary muscles of the body are directly controlled by
the will, and that the law which obliges the attention, the feelings, and the actions
of the body to obey the decisions of the will, is physical law, or the law of necessity.
The attention of the intellect and the outward actions are controlled directly, and
the feelings indirectly, by the decisions of the will. The will can either command
or obey. It can suffer itself to be enslaved by the impulses of the sensibility,
or it can assert its sovereignty and control them. The will is not influenced by
either the intellect or the sensibility, by the law of necessity or force; so that
the will can always resist either the demands of the intelligence, or the impulses
of the sensibility. But while they cannot lord it over the will, through the agency
of any law of force, the will has the aid of the law of necessity or force by which
to control them.
- Again: We are conscious of affirming to ourselves our obligation to obey
the law of the intellect rather than the impulses of the sensibility; that to act
virtuously we must act rationally, or intelligently, and not give ourselves up to
the blind impulses of our feelings.
Now, inasmuch as the love required by the moral law consists in choice, willing,
intention, as before repeatedly shown; and inasmuch as choice, willing, intending,
controls the states of the intellect and the outward actions directly, by a law of
necessity, and by the same law controls the feelings or states of the sensibility
indirectly, it follows that certain states of the intellect and of the sensibility,
and also certain outward actions, must be implied in the existence of the love which
the law of God requires. I say, implied in it, not as making a part of it, but as
necessarily resulting from it. The thoughts, opinions, judgments, feelings, and outward
actions must be moulded and modified by the state of the heart or will.
Here it is important to remark, that, in common language, the same word is often
used to express either an action or attitude of the will, or a state of the sensibility,
or both. This is true of all the terms that represent what are called the Christian
graces or virtues, or those various modifications of virtue of which Christians are
conscious, and which appear in their life and temper. Of this truth we shall be constantly
reminded as we proceed in our investigations, for we shall find illustrations of
it at every step of our progress.
Before I proceed to point out the attributes of benevolence, it is important to remark,
that all the moral attributes of God and of all holy beings, are only attributes
of benevolence. Benevolence is a term that comprehensively expresses them all. God
is love. This term expresses comprehensively God's whole moral character. This love,
as we have repeatedly seen, is benevolence. Benevolence is good-willing, or the choice
of the highest good of God and the universe, as an end. But from this comprehensive
statement, accurate though it be, we are apt to receive very inadequate conceptions
of what really belongs to, as implied in, benevolence. To say that love is the fulfilling
of the whole law; that benevolence is the whole of true religion; that the whole
duty of man to God and his neighbour, is expressed in one word, love--these statements,
though true, are so comprehensive as to need with all minds much amplification and
explanation. Many things are implied in love or benevolence. By this is intended,
that benevolence needs to be viewed under various aspects and in various relations,
and its nature considered in the various relations in which it is called to act.
Benevolence is an ultimate intention, or the choice of an ultimate end. But if we
suppose that this is all that is implied in benevolence, we shall egregiously err.
Unless we inquire into the nature of the end which benevolence chooses, and the means
by which it seeks to accomplish that end, we shall understand but little of the import
of the word benevolence. Benevolence has many attributes or characteristics. These
must all harmonize in the selection of its end, and in its efforts to realize it.
By this is intended that benevolence is not a blind, but the most intelligent, choice.
It is the choice of the best possible end in obedience to the demand of the reason
and of God, and implies the choice of the best possible means to secure this end.
Both the end and the means are chosen in obedience to the law of God, and of reason.
An attribute is a permanent quality of a thing. The attributes of benevolence are
those permanent qualities which belong to its very nature. Benevolence is not blind,
but intelligent choice. It is the choice of the highest well-being of moral agents.
It seeks this end by means suited to the nature of moral agents. Hence wisdom, justice,
mercy, truth, holiness, and many other attributes, as we shall see, are essential
elements, or attributes, of benevolence. To understand what true benevolence is,
we must inquire into its attributes. Not everything that is called love has at all
the nature of benevolence. Nor has all that is called benevolence any title to that
appellation. There are various kinds of love. Natural affection is called love. The
affection that exists between the sexes is also called love. Our preference of certain
kinds of diet is called love. Hence we say we love fruit, vegetables, meat, milk,
&c. Benevolence is also called love, and is the kind of love, beyond all question,
required by the law of God. But there is more than one state of mind that is called
benevolence. There is a constitutional or phrenological benevolence, which is often
mistaken for, and confounded with, the benevolence which constitutes virtue. This
so called benevolence is in truth only an imposing form of selfishness; nevertheless
it is called benevolence. Many of its manifestations are like those of true benevolence.
Care, therefore, should be taken, in giving religious instruction, to distinguish
accurately between them. Benevolence, let it be remembered, is the obedience of the
will to the law of reason and of God. It is willing good as an end, for its own sake,
and not to gratify self. Selfishness consists in the obedience of the will to the
impulses of the sensibility. It is a spirit of self-gratification. The will seeks
to gratify the desires and propensities, for the pleasure of the gratification. Self-gratification
is sought as an end, and as the supreme end. It is preferred to the claims of God
and the good of being. Phrenological, or constitutional benevolence, is only obedience
to the impulse of the sensibility--a yielding to a feeling of compassion. It is only
an effort to gratify a desire. It is, therefore, as really selfishness, as is an
effort to gratify any constitutional desire whatever.
It is impossible to get a just idea of what constitutes obedience to the divine law,
and what is implied in it, without considering attentively the various attributes
or aspects of benevolence, properly so called. Upon this discussion we are about
to enter. But before I commence the enumeration and definition of these attributes,
it is important further to remark, that the moral attributes of God, as revealed
in his works, providence, and word, throw much light upon the subject before us.
Also the many precepts of the Bible, and the developements of benevolence therein
revealed, will assist us much, as we proceed in our inquiries upon this important
subject. As the Bible expressly affirms that love comprehends the whole character
of God--that it is the whole that the law requires of man--that the end of the commandment
is charity or love--we may be assured that every form of true virtue is only a modification
of love or benevolence, that is, that every state of mind required by the Bible,
and recognized as virtue, is, in its last analysis, resolvable into love or benevolence.
In other words, every virtue is only benevolence viewed under certain aspects, or
in certain relations. In other words still, it is only one of the elements, peculiarities,
characteristics, or attributes of benevolence. This is true of God's moral attributes.
They are, as has been said, only attributes of benevolence. They are only the essential
qualities that belong to the very nature of benevolence which are manifested and
brought into activity wherever benevolence is brought into certain circumstances
and relations. Benevolence is just, merciful, &c. Such is its nature, that in
appropriate circumstances these qualities, together with many others, will manifest
themselves in executive acts.* This is and must be true of every holy being.
*A recent writer has spoken contemptuously of "being," as he calls it,
"sophisticated into believing, or rather saying, that faith is love, justice
is love, humility is love." I would earnestly recommend to that and kindred
writers, the study of the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthians. They will
there find a specimen of what they please to call sophistry. If it is "sophistry,"
or "excessive generalization," as other writers seem to regard it, to represent
love as possessing the attributes which comprise the various forms of virtue, it
surely is the "generalization" and "sophistry" of inspiration.
Generalization was the great peculiarity of Christ's preaching. His epitomizing all
the commandments of God, and resolving the whole of obedience into love, is an illustration
of this, and in no other way could he have exposed the delusion of those who obeyed
the letter, but overlooked and outraged the spirit of the divine commandments. The
same was true of the apostles, and so it is of every preacher of the gospel. Every
outward act is only the expression of an inward voluntary state of mind. To understand
ourselves or others, we must conceive clearly of the true spirit of moral law, and
of heart-obedience to it.
II. I will now proceed to point out the attributes of that love which constitutes
obedience to the law of God.
As I proceed I will call attention to the states of the intellect and of the sensibility,
and also to the courses of outward conduct implied in the existence of this love
in any mind--implied in its existence as necessarily resulting from it by the law
of cause and effect. These attributes are--
- 1. Voluntariness. That is to say, it is a phenomenon of the will. There is a
state of the sensibility often expressed by the term love. Love may, and often does
exist, as every one knows, in the form of a mere feeling or emotion. The term is
often used to express the emotion of fondness or attachment, as distinct from a voluntary
state of mind, or a choice of the will. This emotion or feeling, as we are all aware,
is purely an involuntary state of mind. Because it is a phenomenon of the sensibility,
and of course a passive state of mind, it has in itself no moral character. The law
of God requires voluntary love or good-will, as has been repeatedly shown. This love
consists in choice, intention. It is choosing the highest well-being of God and the
universe of sentient beings as an end. Of course voluntariness must be one of its
characteristics. The word benevolence expresses this idea.
- If it consist in choice, if it be a phenomenon of the will, it must control the
thoughts and states of the sensibility, as well as the outward action. This love,
then, not only consists in a state of consecration to God and the universe, but also
implies deep emotions of love to God and man. Though a phenomenon of the will, it
implies the existence of all those feelings of love and affection to God and man,
that necessarily result from the consecration of the heart or will to their highest
well-being. It also implies all that outward course of life that necessarily flows
from a state of will consecrated to this end. Let it be borne in mind, that where
these feelings do not arise in the sensibility, and where this course of life is
not, there the true love or voluntary consecration to God and the universe required
by the law, is not. Those follow from this by a law of necessity. Those, that is,
feelings or emotions of love, and a correct outward life, may exist without this
voluntary love, as I shall have occasion to show in its proper place; but this love
cannot exist without those, as they follow from it by a law of necessity. These emotions
will vary in their strength, as constitution and circumstances vary, but exist they
must, in some sensible degree, whenever the will is in a benevolent attitude.
- 2. Liberty is an attribute of this love. The mind is free and spontaneous in
its exercise. It makes this choice when it has the power at every moment to choose
self-gratification as an end. Of this every moral agent is conscious. It is a free,
and therefore a responsible, choice.
- 3. Intelligence. That is, the mind makes choice of this end intelligently. It
not only knows what it chooses, and why it chooses, but also that it chooses in accordance
with the dictates of the intellect, and the law of God; that the end is worthy of
being chosen, and that for this reason the intellect demands that it should be chosen;
and also, that for its own intrinsic value it is chosen.
- Because voluntariness, liberty, and intelligence are natural attributes of this
love, therefore, the following are its moral attributes.
- 4. Virtue is an attribute of it. Virtue is a term that expresses the moral character
of benevolence; it is moral rightness. Moral rightness is moral perfection, righteousness,
or uprightness. The term marks or designates its relation to moral law, and expresses
its conformity to it.
- In the exercise of this love or choice, the mind is conscious of uprightness,
or of being conformed to moral law or moral obligation. In other words, it is conscious
of being virtuous or holy; of being like God; of loving what ought to be loved, and
of consecration to the right end.
Because this choice is in accordance with the demands of the intellect, therefore,
the mind in its exercise, is conscious of the approbation of that power of the intellect
which we call conscience. The conscience must approve this love, choice, or intention.
Again: Because the conscience approves of this choice, therefore, there is
and must be a corresponding state of the sensibility. There is and must be in the
sensibility a feeling of happiness or satisfaction, a feeling of complacency or delight
in the love that is in the heart or will. This love, then, always produces self-approbation
in the conscience, and a felt satisfaction in the sensibility, and these feelings
are often very acute and joyous, insomuch that the soul, in the exercise of this
love of the heart, is sometimes led to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
This state of mind does not always and necessarily amount to joy. Much depends in
this respect on the clearness of the intellectual views, upon the state of the sensibility,
and upon the manifestation of Divine approbation to the soul. But where peace, or
approbation of conscience, and consequently a peaceful state of the sensibility are
not, this love is not. They are connected with it by a law of necessity, and must
of course appear on the field of consciousness where this love exists. These, then,
are implied in the love that constitutes obedience to the law of God. Conscious peace
of mind, and conscious joy in God must be where true love to God exists.
- 5. Disinterestedness is another attribute of this love. By disinterestedness,
it is not intended that the mind takes no interest in the object loved, for it does
take a supreme interest in it. But this term expresses the mind's choice of an end
for its own sake, and not merely upon condition that the good belongs to self. This
love is disinterested in the sense that the highest well-being of God and the universe
is chosen, not upon condition of its relation to self, but for its own intrinsic
and infinite value. It is this attribute particularly that distinguishes this love
from selfish love. Selfish love makes the relation of good to self the condition
of choosing it. The good of God and of the universe, if chosen at all, is only chosen
as a means or condition of promoting the highest good of self. But this love does
not make good to self its end; but good to God and being in general, is its end.
- As disinterestedness is an attribute of this love it does not seek its own, but
the good of others. "Charity (love) seeketh not her own." It grasps in
its comprehensive embrace the good of being in general, and of course, of necessity,
secures a corresponding outward life and inward feeling. The intellect will be employed
in devising ways and means for the promotion of its end. The sensibility will be
tremblingly alive to the good of all and of each, will rejoice in the good of others
as in its own, and will grieve at the misery of others as in its own. It "will
rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." There will
not, cannot be envy at the prosperity of others, but unfeigned joy, joy as real and
often as exquisite as in its own prosperity. Benevolence enjoys everybody's good
things, while selfishness is too envious at the good things of others even to enjoy
its own. There is a Divine economy in benevolence. Each benevolent soul not only
enjoys his own good things, but also enjoys the good things of all others so far
as he knows their happiness. He drinks at the river of God's pleasure. He not only
rejoices in doing good to others, but also in beholding their enjoyment of good things.
He joys in God's joy and in the joy of angels and of saints. He also rejoices in
the good things of all sentient existences. He is happy in beholding the pleasure
of the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea. He sympathizes
with all joy and all suffering known to him; nor is his sympathy with the suffering
of others a feeling of unmingled pain. It is a real luxury to sympathize in the woes
of others. He would not be without this sympathy. It so accords with his sense of
propriety and fitness, that, mingled with the painful emotion, there is a sweet feeling
of self-approbation; so that a benevolent sympathy with the woes of others is by
no means inconsistent with happiness, and with perfect happiness. God has this sympathy.
He often expresses and otherwise manifests it. There is, indeed, a mysterious and
an exquisite luxury in sharing the woes of others. God and angels, and all holy beings
know what it is. Where this result of love is not manifested, there love itself is
not. Envy at the prosperity, influence, or good of others, the absence of sensible
joy in view of the good enjoyed by others, and of sympathy with the sufferings of
others, prove conclusively that this love does not exist. There is an expansiveness,
an ampleness of embrace, a universality, and a Divine disinterestedness in this love,
that necessarily manifests itself in the liberal devising of liberal things for Zion,
and in the copious outpourings of the floods of sympathetic feeling, both in joys
and sorrows, when suitable occasions present themselves before the mind.
- 6. Impartiality is another attribute of this love. By this term is not intended,
that the mind is indifferent to the character of him who is happy or miserable; that
it would be as well pleased to see the wicked as the righteous eternally and perfectly
blessed. But it is intended that, other things being equal, it is the intrinsic value
of their well-being which is alone regarded by the mind. Other things being equal,
it matters not to whom the good belongs. It is no respecter of persons. The good
of being is its end, and it seeks to promote every interest according to its relative
value. Selfish love is partial. It seeks to promote self-interest first, and secondarily
those interests that sustain such a relation to self as will at least indirectly
promote the gratification of self. Selfish love has its favourites, its prejudices,
unreasonable and ridiculous. Colour, family, nation, and many other things of like
nature, modify it. But benevolence knows neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor
free, white nor black, Barbarian, Scythian, European, Asiatic, African, nor American,
but accounts all men as men, and by virtue of their common manhood, calls every man
a brother, and seeks the interest of all and of each. Impartiality, being an attribute
of this love, will of course manifest itself in the outward life and in the temper
and spirit of its subject. This love can have no fellowship with those absurd and
ridiculous prejudices that are so often rife among nominal Christians. Nor will it
cherish them for a moment in the sensibility of him who exercises it. Benevolence
recognizes no privileged classes on the one hand, nor proscribed classes on the other.
It secures in the sensibility an utter loathing of those discriminations, so odiously
manifested and boasted of, and which are founded exclusively in a selfish state of
the will. The fact that a man is a man, and not that he is of our party, of our complexion,
or of our town, state, or nation--that he is a creature of God, that he is capable
of virtue and happiness, these are the considerations that are seized upon by this
divinely impartial love. It is the intrinsic value of his interests, and not that
they are the interests of one connected with self, that the benevolent mind regards.
- But here it is important to repeat the remark, that the economy of benevolence
demands, that where two interests are, in themselves considered, of equal value,
in order to secure the greatest amount of good, each one should bestow his efforts
where they can be bestowed to the greatest advantage. For example: every man sustains
such relations that he can accomplish more good by seeking to promote the interest
and happiness of certain persons rather than of others: his family, his kindred,
his companions, his immediate neighbours, and those to whom, in the providence of
God, he sustains such relations as to give him access to them, and influence over
them. It is not unreasonable, it is not partial, but reasonable and impartial, to
bestow our efforts more directly upon them. Therefore, while benevolence regards
every interest according to its relative value, it reasonably puts forth its efforts
in the direction where there is a prospect of accomplishing the most good. This,
I say, is not partiality, but impartiality; for, be it understood, it is not the
particular persons to whom good can be done, but the amount of good that can be accomplished,
that directs the efforts of benevolence. It is not because my family is my own, nor
because their well-being is, of course, more valuable in itself than that of my neighbours'
families, but because my relations afford me higher facilities for doing them good,
I am under particular obligation to aim first at promoting their good. Hence the
apostle says: "If any man provide not for his own, especially for those of his
own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Strictly
speaking, benevolence esteems every known good according to its intrinsic and relative
value; but practically treats every interest according to the perceived probability
of securing on the whole the highest amount of good. This is a truth of great practical
importance. It is developed in the experience and observation of every day and hour.
It is manifest in the conduct of God and of Christ, of apostles and martyrs. It is
everywhere assumed in the precepts of the Bible, and everywhere manifested in the
history of benevolent effort. Let it be understood, then, that impartiality, as an
attribute of benevolence, does not imply that its effort to do good will not be modified
by relations and circumstances. But, on the contrary, this attribute implies, that
the efforts to secure the great end of benevolence, to wit, the greatest amount of
good to God and the universe, will be modified by those relations and circumstances
that afford the highest advantages for doing good.
The impartiality of benevolence causes it always to lay supreme stress upon God's
interests, because his well-being is of infinite value, and of course benevolence
must be supreme to him. Benevolence, being impartial love, of course accounts God's
interests and well-being, as of infinitely greater value than the aggregate of all
other interests. Benevolence regards our neighbour's interests as our own, simply
because they are in their intrinsic value as our own. Benevolence, therefore, is
always supreme to God and equal to man.
- 7. Universality is another attribute of this love. Benevolence chooses the highest
good of being in general. It excludes none from its regard; but on the contrary embosoms
all in its ample embrace. But by this it is not intended, that it practically seeks
to promote the good of every individual. It would if it could; but it seeks the highest
practicable amount of good. The interest of every individual is estimated according
to its intrinsic value, whatever the circumstances or character of each may be. But
character and relations may and must modify the manifestations of benevolence, or
its efforts in seeking to promote this end. A wicked character, and governmental
relations and consideration, may forbid benevolence to seek the good of some. Nay,
they may demand that positive misery shall be inflicted on some, as a warning to
others to beware of their destructive ways. By universality, as an attribute of benevolence,
is intended, that good-will is truly exercised towards all sentient beings, whatever
their character and relations may be; and that, when the higher good of the greater
number does not forbid it, the happiness of all and of each will be pursued with
a degree of stress equal to their relative value, and the prospect of securing each
interest. Enemies as well as friends, strangers and foreigners as well as relations
and immediate neighbours will be enfolded in its sweet embrace. It is the state of
mind required by Christ in the truly divine precept, "I say unto you, Love your
enemies, pray for them that hate you, and do good unto them that despitefully use
and persecute you." This attribute of benevolence is gloriously conspicuous
in the character of God. His love to sinners alone accounts for their being to-day
out of perdition. His aiming to secure the highest good of the greatest number, is
illustrated by the display of his glorious justice in the punishment of the wicked.
His universal care for all ranks and conditions of sentient beings manifested in
his works and providence, beautifully and gloriously illustrates the truth, that
"his tender mercies are over all his works."
- It is easy to see that universality must be a modification or attribute of true
benevolence. It consists in good-willing, that is, in choosing the highest good of
being as such, and for its own sake. Of course it must, to be consistent with itself,
seek the good of all and of each, so far as the good of each is consistent with the
greatest good upon the whole. Benevolence not only wills and seeks the good of moral
beings, but also the good of every sentient existence, from the minutest animalcule
to the highest order of beings. It of course produces a state of the sensibility
tremblingly alive to all happiness and to all pain. It is pained at the agony of
an insect, and rejoices in its joy. God does this, and all holy beings do this. Where
this sympathy with the joys and sorrows of universal being is not, there benevolence
is not. Observe, good is its end; where this is promoted by the proper means, the
feelings are gratified. Where evil is witnessed, the benevolent spirit deeply and
This lecture was typed in by Spencer Rawlins.
LECTURE XVIII. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 8. Efficiency is another attribute or characteristic of benevolence. Benevolence
consists in choice, intention. Now we know from consciousness that choice or intention
constitutes the mind's deepest source or power of action. If I honestly intend a
thing, I cannot but make efforts to accomplish that which I intend, provided that
I believe the thing possible. If I choose an end, this choice must and will energize
to secure its end. When benevolence is the supreme choice, preference, or intention
of the soul, it is plainly impossible that it should not produce efforts to secure
its end. It must cease to exist, or manifest itself in exertions to secure its end,
as soon as, and whenever the intelligence deems it wise to do so. If the will has
yielded to the intelligence in the choice of an end, it will certainly obey the intelligence
in pursuit of that end. Choice, intention, is the cause of all the outward activity
of moral agents. They have all chosen some end, either their own gratification, or
the highest good of being; and all the busy bustle of this world's teeming population,
is nothing else than choice or intention seeking to compass its end.
- Efficiency, therefore, is an attribute of benevolent intention. It must, it will,
it does energize in God, in angels, in saints on earth and in heaven. It was this
attribute of benevolence, that led God to give his only begotten Son, and that led
the Son to give himself, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life."
If love is efficient in producing outward action, and efficient in producing inward
feelings; it is efficient to wake up the intellect, and set the world of thought
in action to devise ways and means for realizing its end. It wields all the infinite
natural attributes of God. It is the mainspring that moves all heaven. It is the
mighty power that is heaving the mass of mind, and rocking the moral world like a
smothered volcano. Look to the heavens above. It was benevolence that hung them out.
It is benevolence that sustains those mighty rolling orbs in their courses. It was
good-will endeavouring to realize its end that at first put forth creative power.
The same power, for the same reason, still energizes, and will continue to energize
for the realization of its end, so long as God is benevolent. And O! what a glorious
thought, that infinite benevolence is wielding, and will for ever wield, infinite
natural attributes for the promotion of good. No mind but an infinite one can begin
to conceive of the amount of good that Jehovah will secure. O blessed, glorious thought!
But it is, it must be a reality, as surely as God and the universe exist. It is no
vain imagination; it is one of the most certain, as well as the most glorious, truths
in the universe. Mountains of granite are but vapour in comparison with it. But will
the truly benevolent on earth and in heaven sympathize with God? The power that energizes
in him, energizes in them. One principle animates and moves them all, and that principle
is love, good-will to universal being. Well may our souls cry out, Amen, go on, God-speed
the work; let this mighty power heave and wield universal mind, until all the ills
of earth shall be put away, and until all that can be made holy are clothed in the
garments of everlasting gladness.
Since benevolence is necessarily, from its very nature, active and efficient in putting
forth efforts to secure its end, and since its end is the highest good of being,
it follows that all who are truly religious will, and must, from the very nature
of true religion, be active in endeavouring to promote the good of being. While effort
is possible to a Christian, it is as natural to him as his breath. He has within
him the very main-spring of activity, a heart set on the promotion of the highest
good of universal being. While he has life and activity at all, it will, and it must,
be directed to this end. Let this never be forgotten. An idle, an inactive, inefficient
Christian is a misnomer. Religion is an essentially active principle, and when and
while it exists, it must exercise and manifest itself. It is not merely good desire,
but it is good-willing. Men may have desires, and hope and live on them, without
making efforts to realize their desires. They may desire without action. If their
will is active, their life must be. If they really choose an ultimate end, this choice
must manifest itself. The sinner does and must manifest his selfish choice, and so
likewise must the saint manifest his benevolence.
- 9. Penitence must be a characteristic of benevolence, in one who has been a sinner.
Penitence, as we have briefly said, and shall more fully illustrate hereafter, is
not a phenomenon of the sensibility, but of the will. Every form of virtue must,
of necessity, be a phenomenon of the will, and not of the intellect, or of the sensibility
alone. This word is commonly used also to designate a certain phenomenon of the sensibility,
to wit, sorrow for sin. This sorrow, though called penitence, is not penitence regarded
as a virtue. Evangelical penitence consists in a peculiar attitude of the will toward
our own past sins. It is the will's continued rejection of, and opposition to, our
past sins--the will's aversion to them. This rejection, opposition, and aversion,
is penitence, and is always a peculiarity in the history of those benevolent minds
that have been sinners. This change in the will, most deeply and permanently affects
the sensibility. It will keep the intelligence thoroughly awake to the nature, character,
and tendencies of sin, to its unspeakable guilt, and to all its intrinsic odiousness.
This will, of course, break up the fountains of the great deep of feeling; the sensibility
will often pour forth a torrent of sorrow in view of past sin; and all its loathing
and indignation will be kindled against it when it is beheld. This attribute of benevolence
will secure confession and restitution, that is, these must necessarily follow from
genuine repentance. If the soul forsakes sin, it will of course make all possible
reparation, where it has done an injury. Benevolence seeks the good of all, of course
it will and must seek to repair whatever injury it has inflicted on any.
- Repentance will, and must, secure a God-justifying and self-condemning spirit.
It will take all shame and all blame to self, and fully acquit God of blame. This
deep self-abasement is always and necessarily a characteristic of the true penitent;
where this is not, true repentance is not.
It should, however, be here remarked, that feelings of self-loathing, of self-abasement,
and of abhorrence of sin, depend upon the view which the intelligence gains of the
nature, and guilt, and aggravation of sin. In a sensible and manifested degree, it
will always exist when the will has honestly turned or repented; but this feeling
I have described gains strength as the soul, from time to time, gains a deeper insight
into the nature, guilt, and tendencies of sin. It is probable that repentance, as
an emotion, will always gain strength, not only in this world but in heaven. Can
it be that the saints can in heaven reflect upon their past abuse of the Saviour,
and not feel their sorrow stirred within them? Nor will this diminish their happiness.
Godly sorrow is not unhappiness. There is a luxury in the exercise. Remorse cannot
be known in heaven, but godly sorrow, I think, must exist among the saints for ever.
However this may be in heaven, it certainly is implied in repentance on earth. This
attribute must, and will, secure an outward life conformed to the law of love. There
may be an outward morality without benevolence, but there cannot be benevolence without
corresponding purity of outward life.
- 10. Another characteristic or attribute of benevolence is Faith. Evangelical
faith is by no means, as some have supposed, a phenomenon of the intelligence. The
term, however, is often used to express states both of the sensibility and of the
intellect. Conviction, or a strong perception of truth, such as banishes doubt, is,
in common language, called faith or belief, and this without any reference to the
state of the will, whether it embraces or resists the truth perceived. But, certainly,
this conviction cannot be evangelical faith. In this belief, there is no virtue;
it is essentially but the faith of devils. The term is often used, in common language,
to express a mere feeling of assurance, or confidence. Faith, to be a virtue, must
be a phenomenon of the will. It must be an attribute of benevolence or love. Faith,
as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that inclines it to trust in veracity
and truth as the necessary condition of securing the good of being. It is a first
truth, that truth, and obedience to truth, are conditions of the good of being. Hence,
in the very act of becoming benevolent, the will embraces and commits itself to truth.
The reason also affirms the veracity of God. Hence, in becoming benevolent, the mind
commits itself to the veracity of God. Benevolence, be it remembered, is an intelligent
choice, in obedience to the law of God. Of course its very nature implies confidence
in God. Such is its nature that it will, of course, embrace and be influenced by
the revealed will of God, and receive this revealed will as law, in all its efforts
to secure its end. This quality reveals itself in specific acts. There is an important
distinction between faith, as an attribute of benevolence, and faith as a volition,
or special act. The first is the cause of the last. Faith, as an attribute, is a
quality that belongs to the nature of benevolence. This quality reveals itself in
particular acts, or in embracing and committing itself to the testimony and will
of God, in resting in the promises and declarations of God, and in the word and work
of Christ. It trusts in God, this is its nature. As has been said, in the very act
of becoming benevolent, the mind commits itself to truth, and to the God of truth.
It obeys the law of the intellect in the act of choosing the good of being, as an
ultimate end. The intellect affirms the veracity of God, and the relations of this
veracity and of truth to the good of being. Hence confidence in God belongs to the
very nature of benevolence. As confidence in God is an attribute of benevolence,
it will, of course, employ the intellect to ascertain the truth and will of God,
and put forth appropriate expressions of confidence, in specific acts, as new truths
shall be discovered. Particular acts of confidence in God, or in others, or in particular
truths, are executive acts, and efforts to secure the end of benevolence. It also
implies that state of the sensibility which is called faith. Both the state of the
intellect and the state of the sensibility just expressed are implied in faith, though
neither of them makes any part of it. Faith always begets a realizing state of the
sensibility. The intellect sees the truth clearly, and the sensibility feels it deeply,
in proportion to the strength of the intellectual perception. But the clearest possible
perception, and the deepest possible felt assurance of the truth, may consist with
a state of the utmost opposition of the will to truth. But this cannot be trust,
confidence, faith. The damned in hell, no doubt, see the truth clearly, and have
a feeling of the utmost assurance of the truth of Christianity, but they have no
- Faith, then, must certainly be a phenomenon of the will, and must be a modification,
or attribute, of benevolence. It is good-will or benevolence considered in its relations
to the truth of God. It is good-will to God, manifested by confiding in his veracity
and faithfulness. It cannot be too distinctly borne in mind, that every modification
or phase of virtue is only benevolence, existing in certain relations, or good will
to God and the universe, manifesting itself in the various circumstances and relations
in which it is called to act.
- 11. Complacency in holiness or moral excellence, is another attribute of benevolence.
This consists in benevolence contemplated in its relations to holy beings.
- This term also expresses both a state of the intelligence and of the sensibility.
Moral agents are so constituted, that they necessarily approve of moral worth or
excellence; and when even sinners behold right character, or moral goodness, they
are compelled to respect and approve it, by a law of their intelligence. This they
not unfrequently regard as evidence of goodness in themselves. But this is doubtless
just as common in hell as is it on earth. The veriest sinners on earth or in hell,
have, by the unalterable constitution of their nature, the necessity imposed upon
them, of paying intellectual homage to moral excellence. When a moral agent is intensely
contemplating moral excellence, and his intellectual approbation is emphatically
pronounced, the natural, and often the necessary result, is a corresponding feeling
of complacency or delight in the sensibility. But this being altogether an involuntary
state of mind, has no moral character. Complacency, as a phenomenon of will, consists
in willing the highest actual blessedness of the holy being in particular, as a good
in itself, and upon condition of his moral excellence.
This attribute of benevolence is the cause of a complacent state of the sensibility.
It is true, that feelings of complacency may exist, when complacency of will does
not exist. But complacency of feeling surely will exist, when complacency of will
exists. Complacency of will implies complacency of conscience, or the approbation
of the intelligence. When there is a complacency of intelligence and of will, there
must follow, of course, complacency of the sensibility.
It is highly worthy of observation here, that this complacency of feeling is that
which is generally termed love to God and to the saints, in the common language of
Christians, and often in the popular language of the Bible. It is a vivid and pleasant
state of the sensibility, and very noticeable by consciousness, of course. Indeed,
it is perhaps the general usage now to call this phenomenon of the sensibility, love,
and for want of just discrimination, to speak of it as constituting religion. Many
seem to suppose that this feeling of delight in, and fondness for, God, is the love
required by the moral law. They are conscious of not being voluntary in it, as well
they may be. They judge of their religious state, not by the end for which they live,
that is, by their choice or intention, but by their emotions. If they find themselves
strongly exercised with emotions of love to God, they look upon themselves as in
a state well-pleasing to God. But if their feelings or emotions of love are not active,
they of course judge themselves to have little or no religion. It is remarkable to
what extent religion is regarded as a phenomenon of the sensibility, and as consisting
in mere feelings. So common is it, indeed, that almost uniformly, when professed
Christians speak of their religion, they speak of their feelings, or the state of
their sensibility, instead of speaking of their conscious consecration to God, and
the good of being.
It is also somewhat common for them to speak of their views of Christ, and of truth,
in a manner that shows, that they regard the states of the intellect as constituting
a part, at least, of their religion. It is of great importance that just views should
prevail among Christians upon this momentous subject. Virtue, or religion, as has
been repeatedly said, must be a phenomenon of the will. The attribute of benevolence
which we are considering, that is, complacency of will in God, is the most common
light in which the scriptures present it, and also the most common form in which
it lies revealed on the field of consciousness. The scriptures often assign the goodness
of God as a reason for loving him, and Christians are conscious of having much regard
to his goodness in their love to him; I mean in their good-will to him. They will
good to him, and ascribe all praise and glory to him, upon the condition that he
deserves it. Of this they are conscious. Now, as was shown in a former lecture, in
their love or good will to God, they do not regard his goodness as the fundamental
reason for willing good to him. Although his goodness is that, which, at the time,
most strongly impresses their minds, yet it must be that the intrinsic value of his
well-being is assumed, and had in view by them, or they would no sooner will good
than evil to him. In willing his good they must assume its intrinsic value to him,
as the fundamental reason for willing it; and his goodness as a secondary reason
or condition; but they are conscious of being much influenced in willing his good
in particular, by a regard to his goodness. Should you ask the Christian why he loved
God, or why he exercised good-will to him, he would probably reply, it is because
God is good. But, suppose he should be further asked, why he willed good rather than
evil to God; he would say, because good is good or valuable to him. Or, if he returned
the same answer as before, to wit, because God is good, he would give this answer,
only because he could think it impossible for any one not to assume and to know,
that good is willed instead of evil, because of its intrinsic value. The fact is,
the intrinsic value of well-being is necessarily taken along with the mind, and always
assumed by it, as a first truth. When a virtuous being is perceived, this first truth
being spontaneously and necessarily assumed, the mind thinks only of the secondary
reason or condition, or the virtue of the being in willing good to him.
The philosophy of the heart's complacency in God may be illustrated by many familiar
examples. For instance: the law of causality is a first truth. Every one knows it.
Every one assumes it, and must assume it. No one ever did or can practically deny
it. Now, I have some important end to accomplish. In looking around for means to
accomplish my end, I discover a certain means which I am sure will accomplish it.
It is the tendency of this to accomplish my end, that my mind is principally affected
with at the time. Should I be asked, why I choose this, I should naturally answer,
because of its utility or tendency; and I should be conscious that this reason was
upon the field of consciousness. But it is perfectly plain, that the fundamental
reason for this choice, and one which was assumed, and had in fact the prime and
fundamental influence in producing the choice, was the intrinsic value of the end
to which the thing chosen sustained the relation of a means. Take another illustration:
That happiness is intrinsically valuable, is a first truth. Every body knows and
assumes it as such. Now, I behold a virtuous character; assuming the first truth,
that happiness is intrinsically valuable, I affirm irresistibly that he deserves
happiness, and that it is my duty to will his happiness in particular. Now, in this
case, the affirmation, that he deserves happiness, and that I ought to will it, is
based upon the assumption that happiness is intrinsically valuable. The thing with
which I am immediately conscious of being affected, and which necessitated the affirmation
of the obligation to will his particular good, and which induced me to will it, was
the perception of his goodness or desert of happiness. Nevertheless, it is certain
that I did assume, and was fundamentally influenced, both in my affirmation of obligation,
and in my choice, by the first truth, that happiness is intrinsically valuable. I
assumed it, and was influenced by it, though unconscious of it. And this is generally
true of first truths. They are so universally and so necessarily assumed in practice,
that we lose the direct consciousness of being influenced by them. Myriads of illustrations
of this are arising all around us. We do really love God, that is, exercise good-will
to him. Of this we are strongly conscious. We are also conscious of willing his actual
blessedness upon conditions that he is good. This reason we naturally assign to ourselves
and to others. But in this we may overlook the fact, that there is still another,
and a deeper, and a more fundamental reason assumed for willing his good, to wit,
its intrinsic value. And this reason is so fundamental, that we should irresistibly
affirm our obligation to will his good, upon the bare perception of his susceptibility
of happiness, wholly irrespective of his character.*
*Let the foregoing be read in connection with the lecture on the Moral Excellence
of God being the Foundation of Obligation.
Before I dismiss this subject, I must advert again to the subject of complacent love,
as a phenomenon of the sensibility, and also as a phenomenon of the intellect. If
I mistake not, there are sad mistakes, and gross and ruinous delusions, entertained
by many upon this subject. The intellect, of necessity, perfectly approves of the
character of God where it is apprehended. The intellect is so correlated to the sensibility,
that, where it perceives in a strong light the divine excellence, or the excellence
of the divine law, the sensibility is affected by the perception of the intellect,
as a thing of course and of necessity, so that emotions of complacency and delight
in the law, and in the divine character, may and often do glow and burn in the sensibility,
while the will or heart is unaffected. The will remains in a selfish choice, while
the intellect and the sensibility are strongly impressed with the perception of the
Divine excellence. This state of the intellect and the sensibility are, no doubt,
often mistaken for true religion. We have undoubted illustrations of this in the
Bible, and similar cases of it in common life. "Yet they seek me daily, and
delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the
ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight
in approaching to God." Isaiah lviii. 2. "And, lo, thou art unto them as
a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument:
for they hear thy words, but they do them not." Ezek. xxxiii. 32.
Nothing is of greater importance, than for ever to understand, that religion is always
and necessarily a phenomenon of the will; that it always and necessarily produces
outward action and inward feeling; that, on account of the correlation of the intellect
and sensibility, almost any and every variety of feeling may exist in the mind, as
produced by the perceptions of the intellect, whatever the state of the will may
be; that unless we are conscious of good-will, or of consecration to God and the
good of being--unless we are conscious of living for this end, it avails us nothing,
whatever our views and feelings may be.
And also, it behoves us to consider that, although these views and feelings may exist
while the heart is wrong, they will certainly exist when the heart is right; that
there may be feeling, and deep feeling, when the heart is in a selfish attitude,
yet, that there will and must be deep emotion and strenuous action, when the heart
is right. Let it be remembered, that complacency, as a phenomenon of the will, is
always a striking characteristic of true love to God; that the mind is affected and
consciously influenced, in willing the actual and infinite blessedness of God, by
a regard to his goodness. The goodness of God is not, as has been repeatedly shown,
the fundamental reason for the good will, but it is one reason or a condition, both
of the possibility of willing, and of the obligation to will, his blessedness in
particular. It assigns to itself and to others, his goodness as the reason for willing
his good, rather than the intrinsic value of good; because this last is so universally,
and so necessarily assumed, that it thinks not of mentioning it, taking it always
for granted, that this will, and must be understood.
This lecture was typed in by Jim Boyd.
LECTURE XIX. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN ENTIRE OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 12. Opposition to sin is another attribute or characteristic of true love to
- This attribute is simply benevolence contemplated in its relations to sin. This
attribute certainly is implied in the very essence and nature of benevolence. Benevolence
is good-willing, or willing the highest good of being as an end. Now there is nothing
in the universe more destructive of this good than sin. Benevolence cannot do otherwise
than be for ever opposed to sin, as that abominable thing which it necessarily hates.
It is absurd and a contradiction to affirm, that benevolence is not opposed to sin.
God is love or benevolence. He must, therefore, be the unalterable opponent of sin--of
all sin, in every form and degree.
But there is a state, both of the intellect and of the sensibility, that is often
mistaken for the opposition of the will to sin. Opposition to all sin is, and must
be, a phenomenon of the will, and on that ground alone it becomes virtue. But it
often exists also as a phenomenon of the intellect, and likewise of the sensibility.
The intellect cannot contemplate sin without disapprobation. This disapprobation
is often mistaken for opposition of heart, or of will. When the intellect strongly
disapproves of, and denounces sin, there is naturally and necessarily a corresponding
feeling of opposition to it in the sensibility, and emotion of loathing, of hatred,
of abhorrence. This is often mistaken for opposition of the will, or heart. This
is manifest from the fact, that often the most notorious sinners manifest strong
indignation in view of oppression, injustice, falsehood, and many other forms of
sin. This phenomenon of the sensibility and of the intellect, as I said, is often
mistaken for a virtuous opposition to sin, which it cannot be unless it involve an
act of the will.
But let it be remembered, that virtuous opposition to sin, is a characteristic of
love to God and man, or of benevolence. This opposition to sin cannot possibly co-exist
with any degree of sin in the heart. That is, this opposition cannot co-exist with
a sinful choice. The will cannot, at the same time, be opposed to sin and commit
sin. This is impossible, and the supposition involves a contradiction. Opposition
to sin as a phenomenon of the intellect, or of the sensibility, may exist; in other
words, the intellect may strongly disapprove of sin, and the sensibility may feel
strongly opposed to certain forms of it, while, at the same time, the will may cleave
to self-indulgence in other forms. This fact, no doubt, accounts for the common mistake,
that we can, at the same time, exercise a virtuous opposition to sin, and still continue
to commit it.
Many are, no doubt, labouring under this fatal delusion. They are conscious, not
only of an intellectual disapprobation of sin in certain forms, but also, at times,
of strong feelings of opposition to it. And yet they are also conscious of continuing
to commit it. They, therefore, conclude, that they have a principle of holiness in
them, and also a principle of sin, that they are partly holy and partly sinful, at
the same time. Their opposition of intellect and of feeling, they suppose to be a
holy opposition, when, no doubt, it is just as common in hell, and even more so than
it is on earth, for the reason that sin is more naked there than it generally is
But now the inquiry may arise, how is it that both the intellect and the sensibility
are opposed to it, and yet that it is persevered in? What reason can the mind have
for a sinful choice, when urged to it neither by the intellect nor the sensibility?
The philosophy of this phenomenon needs explanation. Let us attend to it.
I am a moral agent. My intellect necessarily disapproves of sin. My sensibility is
so correlated to my intellect, that it sympathizes with it, or is affected by its
perceptions and its judgments. I contemplate sin. I necessarily disapprove of it,
and condemn it. This affects my sensibility. I loathe and abhor it. I nevertheless
commit it. Now how is this to be accounted for? The usual method is by ascribing
it to a depravity in the will itself, a lapsed or corrupted state of the faculty,
so that it perversely chooses sin for its own sake. Although disapproved by the intellect,
and loathed by the sensibility, yet such, it is said, is the inherent depravity of
the will, that it pertinaciously cleaves to sin notwithstanding, and will continue
to do so, until that faculty is renewed by the Holy Spirit, and a holy bias or inclination
is impressed upon the will itself.
But here is a gross mistake. In order to see the truth upon this subject, it is of
indispensable importance to inquire what sin is.
It is admitted on all hands, that selfishness is sin. Comparatively few seem to understand
that selfishness is the whole of sin, and that every form of sin may be resolved
into selfishness, just as every form of virtue may be resolved into benevolence.
It is not my purpose now to show that selfishness is the whole of sin. It is sufficient
for the present to take the admission, that selfishness is sin. But what is selfishness?
It is the choice of self-gratification as an end. It is the preference of our own
gratification to the highest good of universal being. Self-gratification is the supreme
end of selfishness. This choice is sinful. That is, the moral quality of this selfish
choice is sin. Now, in no case, is or can sin be chosen for its own sake, or as an
end. Whenever any thing is chosen to gratify self, it is not chosen because the choice
is sinful, but notwithstanding it is sinful. It is not the sinfulness of the choice
upon which the choice fixes, as an end, or for its own sake, but it is the gratification
to be afforded by the thing chosen. For example: theft is sinful. But the will, in
an act of theft, does not aim at and terminate on the sinfulness of theft, but upon
the gain or gratification expected from the stolen object. Drunkenness is sinful,
but the inebriate does not intend or choose the sinfulness, for its own sake, or
as an end. He does not choose strong drink because the choice is sinful, but notwithstanding
it is so. We choose the gratification, but not the sin, as an end. To choose the
gratification as an end is sinful, but it is not the sin that is the object of choice.
Our mother Eve ate the forbidden fruit. This eating was sinful. But the thing that
she chose or intended, was not the sinfulness of eating, but the gratification expected
from the fruit. It is not, it cannot in any case be true, that sin is chosen as an
end, or for its own sake. Sin is only the quality of selfishness. Selfishness is
the choice, not of sin as an end, or for its own sake, but of self-gratification;
and this choice of self-gratification as an end is sinful. That is, the moral quality
of the choice is sin. To say that sin is, or can be, chosen for its own sake, is
untrue and absurd. It is the same as saying that a choice can terminate on an element,
quality, or attribute, of itself; that the thing chosen is really an element of the
choice itself. This is absurd.
But it is said, that sinners are sometimes conscious of choosing sin for its own
sake, or because it is sin; that they possess such a malicious state of mind, that
they love sin for its own sake; that they "roll sin as a sweet morsel under
their tongue;" that "they eat up the sins of God's people as they eat bread;"
that is, that they love their own sins and the sins of others, as they do their necessary
food, and choose it for that reason, or just as they do their food. That they not
only sin themselves with greediness, but also have pleasure in them that do the same.
Now all this may be true, yet it does not at all disprove the position which I have
taken, namely, that sin never is, and never can be chosen as an end, or for its own
sake. Sin may be sought and loved as a means, but never as an end. The choice of
food will illustrate this. Food is never chosen as an ultimate end: it never can
be so chosen. It is always as a means. It is the gratification, or the utility of
it, in some point of view, that constitutes the reason for choosing it. Gratification
is always the end for which a selfish man eats. It may not be merely the present
pleasure of eating which he alone or principally seeks. But, nevertheless, if a selfish
man, he has his own gratification in view as an end. It may be that it is not so
much a present, as a remote gratification he has in view. Thus he may choose food
to give him health and strength to pursue some distant gratification, the acquisition
of wealth, or something else that will gratify him.
It may happen that a sinner may get into a state of rebellion against God and the
universe, of so frightful a character, that he shall take pleasure in willing, and
in doing, and saying, things that are sinful, just because they are sinful and displeasing
to God and to holy beings. But, even in this case, sin is not chosen as an end, but
as a means of gratifying this malicious feeling. It is, after all, self-gratification
that is chosen as an end, and not sin. Sin is the means, and self-gratification is
Now we are prepared to understand how it is that both the intellect and sensibility
can often be opposed to sin, and yet the will cleave to the indulgence. An inebriate
is contemplating the moral character of drunkenness. He instantly and necessarily
condemns the abomination. His sensibility sympathizes with the intellect. He loathes
the sinfulness of drinking strong drink, and himself on account of it. He is ashamed,
and were it possible, he would spit in his own face. Now, in this state, it would
surely be absurd to suppose that he could choose sin, the sin of drinking, as an
end, or for its own sake. This would be choosing it for an impossible reason, and
not for no reason. But still he may choose to continue his drink, not because it
is sinful, but notwithstanding it is so. For while the intellect condemns the sin
of drinking strong drink, and the sensibility loathes the sinfulness of the indulgence,
nevertheless there still exists so strong an appetite, not for the sin, but for the
liquor, that the will seeks the gratification, notwithstanding the sinfulness of
So it is, and so it must be, in every case where sin is committed in the face of
the remonstrances of the intellect and the loathing of the sensibility. The sensibility
loathes the sinfulness, but more strongly desires the thing the choice of which is
sinful. The will in a selfish being yields to the strongest impulse of the sensibility,
and the end chosen is, in no case, the sinfulness of the act, but the self-gratification.
Those who suppose this opposition of the intellect, or of the sensibility, to be
a holy principle, are fatally deluded. It is this kind of opposition to sin, that
often manifests itself among wicked men, and that leads them to take credit for goodness
or virtue, not an atom of which do they possess. They will not believe themselves
to be morally and totally depraved, while they are conscious of so much hostility
to sin within them. But they should understand, that this opposition is not of the
will, or they could not go on in sin; that it is purely an involuntary state of mind,
and has no moral character whatever. Let it be ever remembered, then, that a virtuous
opposition to sin is always and necessarily an attribute of benevolence, a phenomenon
of the will; and that it is naturally impossible, that this opposition of will should
co-exist with the commission of sin.
As this opposition to sin is plainly implied in, and is an essential attribute of,
benevolence, or true love to God, it follows, that obedience to the law of God cannot
be partial, in the sense that we both love God and sin as the same time.
- 13. Compassion for the miserable is also an attribute of benevolence, or of pure
love to God and man. This is benevolence viewed in its relations to misery and to
- There is a compassion also which is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It may,
and does often exist in the form of an emotion. But this emotion being involuntary,
has no moral character in itself. The compassion which is a virtue, and which is
required of us as a duty, is a phenomenon of the will, and is of course an attribute
of benevolence. Benevolence, as has been often said, is good willing, or willing
the highest happiness and well-being of God and the universe for its own sake, or
as an end. It is impossible, therefore, from its own nature, that compassion for
the miserable should not be one of its attributes. Compassion of will to misery is
the choice or wish that it might not exist. Benevolence wills that happiness should
exist for its own sake. It must therefore, wish that misery might not exist. This
attribute or peculiarity of benevolence consists in wishing the happiness of the
miserable. Benevolence, simply considered, is willing the good or happiness of being
in general. Compassion of will is a willing particularly that the miserable should
Compassion of sensibility is simply a felling of pity in view of misery. As has been
said, it is not a virtue. It is only a desire, but not willing; consequently does
not benefit its object. It is the state of mind of which James speaks:--James ii.
15, 16: "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one
of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye
give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?"
This kind of compassion may evidently co-exist with selfishness. But compassion of
heart or will cannot; for it consists in willing the happiness of the miserable for
its own sake, and of course impartially. It will, and from its very nature must,
deny self to promote its end, whenever it wisely can, that is, when it is seen to
be demanded by the highest general good. Circumstances may exist that render it unwise
to express this compassion by actually extending relief to the miserable. Such circumstances
forbid that God should extend relief to the lost in hell. But for their character
and governmental relations, God's compassion would no doubt make immediate effort
for their relief.
Many circumstances may exist in which, although compassion would hasten to the relief
of its object, yet, on the whole, the misery that exists is regarded as the less
of two evils, and therefore, the wisdom of benevolence forbids it to put forth exertions
to save its object.
But it is of the last importance to distinguish carefully between compassion, as
a phenomenon of the sensibility, or as a mere feeling, and compassion considered
as a phenomenon of the will. This, be it remembered, is the only form of virtuous
compassion. Many, who, from the laws of their mental constitution, feel quickly and
deeply, often take credit to themselves for being compassionate, while they seldom
do much for the downtrodden and the miserable. Their compassion is a mere feeling.
It says, "Be ye warmed and clothed," but does not that for them which is
needful. It is this particular attribute of benevolence that was so conspicuous in
the life of Howard, Wilberforce, and many other Christian philanthropists.
It should be said, before I leave the consideration of this attribute, that the will
is often influenced by the feeling of compassion. In this case, the mind is no less
selfish in seeking to promote the relief and happiness of its object, than it is
in any other form of selfishness. In such cases, self-gratification is the end sought,
and the relief of the suffering is only a means. Pity is stirred, and the sensibility
is deeply pained and excited by the contemplation of misery. The will is influenced
by this feeling, and makes efforts to relieve the painful emotion on the one hand,
and to gratify the desire to see the sufferer happy on the other. This is only an
imposing form of selfishness. We, no doubt, often witness displays of the kind of
self-gratification. The happiness of the miserable is not in this case sought as
an end, or for its own sake, but as a means of gratifying our own feelings. This
is not obedience of will to the law of the intellect, but obedience to the impulse
of the sensibility. It is not a rational and intelligent compassion, but just such
compassion as we often see mere animals exercise. They will risk, and even lay down,
their lives, to give relief to one of their number, or to a man who is in misery.
In them this has no moral character. Having no reason, it is not sin for them to
obey their sensibility, nay, this is a law of their being. This they cannot but do.
For them, then, to seek their own gratification as an end is not sin. But man has
reason; he is bound to obey it. He should will and seek the relief and the happiness
of the miserable, for its own sake, or for its intrinsic value. When he seeks if
for no higher reason than to gratify his feelings, he denies his humanity. He seeks
it, not out of regard to the sufferer, but in self-defence, or to relieve his own
pain, and to gratify his own desires. This in him is sin.
Many, therefore, who take to themselves much credit for benevolence, are, after all,
only in the exercise of this imposing form of selfishness. They take credit for holiness,
when their holiness is only sin. What is especially worthy of notice here, is, that
this class of persons appear to themselves and others, to be all the more virtuous,
by how much more manifestly and exclusively they are led on by the impulse of feeling.
They are conscious of feeling deeply, of being most sincere and earnest in obeying
their feelings. Every body who knows them can also see, that they feel deeply, and
are influenced by the strength of their feelings, rather than by their intellect.
Now, so gross is the darkness of most persons upon this subject, that they award
praise to themselves and to others, just in proportion as they are sure, that they
are actuated by the depth of their feelings, rather than by their sober judgment.
But I must not leave this subject without observing, that when compassion exists
as a phenomenon of the will, it will certainly also exist as a feeling of the sensibility.
A man of a compassionate heart will also be a man of compassionate sensibility. He
will feel and he will act. Nevertheless, his actions will not be the effect of his
feelings, but will be the result of his sober judgment. Three classes of persons
suppose themselves, and are generally supposed by others, to be truly compassionate.
The one class exhibit much feeling of compassion; but their compassion does not influence
their will, hence they do not act for the relief of suffering. These content themselves
with mere desires and tears. They say, Be ye warmed and clothed, but give not the
needed relief. Another class feel deeply, and give up to their feelings. Of course
they are active and energetic in the relief of suffering. But being governed by feeling,
instead of being influenced by their intellect, they are not virtuous, but selfish.
Their compassion is only an imposing form of selfishness. A third class feel deeply,
but are not governed by blind impulses of feeling. They take a rational view of the
subject, act wisely and energetically. They obey their reason. Their feelings do
not lead them, neither do they seek to gratify their feelings. But these last are
truly virtuous, and altogether the most happy of the three. Their feelings are all
the more gratified by how much less they aim at the gratification. They obey their
intellect, and, therefore, have the double satisfaction of the applause of conscience,
while their feelings are also fully gratified by seeing their compassionate desire
This lecture was typed in by Mike and Julie Clark.
LECTURE XX. Back
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 14. Mercy is also an attribute of benevolence. This term expresses a state of
feeling, and represents a phenomenon of the sensibility. Mercy is often understood
to be synonymous with compassion, but then it is not rightly understood.
- Mercy, considered as a phenomenon of the will, is a disposition to pardon crime.
Such is the nature of benevolence, that it will seek the good even of those who deserve
evil, when this can be wisely done. It is "ready to forgive," to seek the
good of the evil and unthankful, and to pardon when there is repentance. It is good-will
viewed in relation to one who deserves punishment. Mercy, considered as a feeling
or phenomenon of the sensibility, is a desire for the pardon or good of one who deserves
punishment. It is only a feeling, a desire; of course it is involuntary, and has,
in itself, no moral character.
Mercy will, of course, manifest itself in action, and in effort to pardon, or to
procure a pardon, unless the attribute of wisdom prevent. It may be unwise to pardon,
or to seek the pardon of a guilty one. In such cases, as all the attributes of benevolence
must necessarily harmonize, no effort will be made to realize its end.
It was this attribute of benevolence, modified and limited in its exercise by wisdom
and justice, that energized in providing the means, and in opening the way, for the
pardon of our guilty race.
As wisdom and justice are also attributes of benevolence, mercy can never manifest
itself by efforts to secure its end, except in a manner and upon conditions that
do not set aside justice and wisdom. No one attribute of benevolence is or can be
exercised at the expense of another, or in opposition to it. The moral attributes
of God, as has been said, are only attributes of benevolence, for benevolence comprehends
and expresses the whole of them. From the term benevolence we learn, that the end
upon which it fixes is good. And we must infer, too, from the term itself, that the
means are unobjectionable; because it is absurd to suppose that good would be chosen
because it is good, and yet that the mind that makes this choice should not hesitate
to use objectionable and injurious means to obtain its end. This would be a contradiction,
to will good for its own sake, or out of regard to its intrinsic value, and then
choose injurious means to accomplish this end. This cannot be. The mind that can
fix upon the highest well-being of God and the universe as an end, can never consent
to use efforts for the accomplishment of this end, that are seen to be inconsistent
with it, that is, that tend to prevent the highest good of being.
Mercy, I have said, is the readiness of benevolence to pardon the guilty. But this
attribute cannot go out in exercise but upon conditions that consist with the other
attributes of benevolence. Mercy viewed by itself would pardon without repentance
or condition; would pardon without reference to public justice. But viewed in connection
with the other attributes of benevolence, we learn that, although a real attribute
of benevolence, yet it is not and cannot be exercised, without the fulfilment of
those conditions that will secure the consent of all the other attributes of benevolence.
This truth is beautifully taught and illustrated in the doctrine and fact of atonement,
as we shall see. Indeed, without consideration of the various attributes of benevolence,
we are necessarily all in the dark, and in confusion, in respect to the character
and government of God; the spirit and meaning of his law; the spirit and meaning
of the gospel; our own spiritual state, and the developements of character around
us. Without an acquaintance with the attributes of love or benevolence, we shall
not fail to be perplexed--to find apparent discrepancies in the Bible and in the
divine administration--and in the manifestation of Christian character, both as revealed
in the Bible, and as exhibited in common life. For example: how universalists have
stumbled for want of consideration upon the subject! God is love! Well, without considering
the attributes of this love, they infer that if God is love, he cannot hate sin and
sinners. If he is merciful, he cannot punish sinners in hell, &c. Unitarians
have stumbled in the same way. God is merciful, that is, disposed to pardon sin.
Well, then, what need of an atonement? If merciful, he can and will pardon upon repentance
without atonement. But we may inquire, if he is merciful, why not pardon without
repentance? If his mercy alone is to be taken in to view, that is, simply a disposition
to pardon, that by itself would not wait for repentance. But if repentance is and
must be, a condition of the exercise of mercy, may there not be, nay, must there
not be, other conditions of its exercise? If wisdom and public justice are also attributes
of benevolence, and conditionate the exercise of mercy, and forbid that it should
be exercised but upon condition of repentance, why may they not, nay, why must they
not, equally conditionate its exercise upon such a satisfaction of public justice,
as would secure as full and as deep a respect for the law, as the execution of its
penalty would do? In other words, if wisdom and justice be attributes of benevolence,
and conditionate the exercise of mercy upon repentance, why may and must they not
also conditionate its exercise upon the fact of an atonement? As mercy is an attribute
of benevolence, it will naturally and inevitably direct the attention of the intellect
to devising ways and means to render the exercise of mercy consistent with the other
attributes of benevolence. It will employ the intelligence in devising means to secure
the repentance of the sinner, and to remove all the obstacles out of the way of its
free and full exercise. It will also secure the state of feeling which is also called
mercy, or compassion. Hence it is certain, that mercy will secure efforts to procure
the repentance and pardon of sinners. It will secure a deep yearning in the sensibility
over them, and energetic action to accomplish its end, that is, to secure their repentance
and pardon. This attribute of benevolence led the Father to give his only-begotten
and well-beloved Son, and it led the Son to give himself to die, to secure the repentance
and pardon of sinners. It is this attribute of benevolence that leads the Holy Spirit
to make such mighty and protracted efforts to secure the repentance of sinners. It
is also this attribute that energized the prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and
in saints of every age, to secure the conversion of the lost in sin. It is an amiable
attribute. All its sympathies are sweet, and tender, and kind as heaven.
- 15. Justice is another attribute of benevolence.
- This term also expresses a state or phenomenon of the sensibility. As an attribute
of benevolence, it is the opposite of mercy, when viewed in its relations to crime.
It consists in a disposition to treat every moral agent according to his intrinsic
desert or merit. In its relations to crime, the criminal, and the public, it consists
in a tendency to punish according to law. Mercy would pardon--justice would punish
for the public good.
Justice, as a feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, is a feeling that the guilty
deserves punishment, and a desire that he may be punished. This is an involuntary
feeling, and has no moral character. It is often strongly excited, and is frequently
the cause of mobs and popular commotions. When it takes the control of the will,
as it often does with sinners, it leads to what is popularly called lynching, and
a resort to those summary methods of executing vengeance which are so appalling.
I have said that the mere desire has no moral character. But when the will is governed
by this desire, and yields itself up to seek its gratification, this state of will
is selfishness under one of its most odious and frightful forms. Under the providence
of God, however, this form of selfishness, like every other in its turn, is overruled
for good, like earthquakes, tornadoes, pestilence, and war, to purify the moral elements
of society, and scourge away those moral nuisances with which communities are sometimes
infested. Even war itself is often but an instance and an illustration of this.
Justice, as an attribute of benevolence, is virtue, and exhibits itself in the execution
of the penalties of law, and in support of public order, and in various other ways
for the well-being of mankind.
There are several modifications of this attribute. That is, it may and must be viewed
under various aspects, and in various relations. One of these is public justice.
This is a regard to the public interests, and secures a due administration of law
for the public good. It will in no case suffer the execution of the penalty to be
set aside, unless something be done to support the authority of the law and of the
lawgiver. It also secures the due administration of rewards, and looks narrowly after
the public interests, always insisting that the greater interest shall prevail over
the lesser; that private interest shall never set aside or prejudice a public one
of greater value. Public justice is modified in its exercise by the attribute of
mercy. It conditionates the exercise of mercy, and mercy conditionates its exercise.
Mercy cannot, consistently with this attribute, extend a pardon but upon conditions
of repentance, and an equivalent being rendered to the government. So, on the other
hand, justice is conditionated by mercy, and cannot, consistently with that attribute,
proceed to take vengeance when the highest good does not require it, and when punishment
can be dispensed with without public loss. Thus these attributes mutually limit each
other's exercise, and render the whole character of benevolence perfect, symmetrical,
Justice is reckoned among the sterner attributes of benevolence; but it is indispensable
to the filling up of the entire circle of moral perfections. Although solemn and
awful, and sometimes inexpressibly terrific in its exercise, it is nevertheless one
of the glorious modifications and manifestations of benevolence. Benevolence without
justice would be anything but morally lovely and perfect. Nay, it could not be benevolence.
This attribute of benevolence appears conspicuous in the character of God as revealed
in his law, in his gospel, and sometimes as indicated most impressively by his providence.
It is also conspicuous in the history of inspired men. The Psalms abound with expressions
of this attribute. We find many prayers for the punishment of the wicked. Samuel
hewed Agag in pieces; and David's writings abound in expressions that show, that
this attribute was strongly developed in his mind; and the circumstances under which
he was placed, often rendered it proper to express and manifest in various ways the
spirit of this attribute. Many have stumbled at such prayers, expressions, and manifestations
as are here alluded to. But this is for want of due consideration. They have supposed
that such exhibitions were inconsistent with a right spirit. Oh, they say, how unevangelical!
How un-Christ-like! How inconsistent with the sweet and heavenly spirit of Christ
and of the gospel! But this is all a mistake. These prayers were dictated by the
Spirit of Christ. Such exhibitions are only the manifestations of one of the essential
attributes of benevolence. Those sinners deserved to die. It was for the greatest
good that they should be made a public example. This the spirit of inspiration knew,
and such prayers, under such circumstances, are only an expression of the mind and
will of God. They are truly the spirit of justice pronouncing sentence upon them.
These prayers and such-like things found in the Bible, are no vindication of the
spirit of fanaticism and denunciation that so often have taken shelter under them.
As well might fanatics burn cities and lay waste countries, and seek to justify themselves
by an appeal to the destruction of the old world by flood, and the destruction of
the cities of the plain by fire and brimstone.
Retributive justice is another modification of this attribute. This consists in a
disposition to visit the offender with that punishment which he deserves, because
it is fit and proper that a moral agent should be dealt with according to his deeds.
In a future lecture I shall enlarge upon this modification of justice.
Another modification of this attribute is commercial justice. This consists in willing
exact equivalents, and uprightness in business and all secular transactions.
There are some other modifications of this attribute, but the foregoing may suffice
to illustrate sufficiently the various departments over which this attribute presides.
This attribute, though stern in its spirit and manifestations, is nevertheless one
of prime importance in all governments by moral agents, whether human or divine.
Indeed, without it government could not exist. It is vain for certain philosophers
to think to disparage this attribute, and to dispense with it altogether in the administration
of government. They will, if they try the experiment, find to their cost and confusion,
that no one attribute of benevolence can say to another, "I have no need of
thee." In short, let any one attribute of benevolence be destroyed or overlooked,
and you have destroyed its perfection, its beauty, its harmony, its propriety, its
glory. You have, in fact, destroyed benevolence; it is no longer benevolence, but
a sickly, and inefficient, and limping sentimentalism, that has no God, no virtue,
no beauty, nor form, nor comeliness in it, that when we see it we should desire it.
This attribute stands by, nay, it executes law. It aims to secure commercial honesty.
It aims to secure public and private integrity and tranquillity. It says to violence,
disorder, and injustice, Peace, be still, and there must be a great calm. We see
the evidence and the illustrations of this attribute in the thunderings of Sinai,
and in the agony of Calvary. We hear it in the wail of a world when the fountains
of the great deep were broken up, and when the windows of heaven were opened, and
the floods descended, and the population of a globe were swallowed up. We see its
manifestations in the descending torrent that swept over the cities of the plain;
and lastly, we shall forever see its bright, but awful and glorious displays, in
the dark and curling folds of that pillar of smoke of the torment of the damned,
that ascends up before God for ever and ever.
Many seem to be afraid to contemplate justice as an attribute of benevolence. Any
manifestations of it among men, causes them to recoil and shudder as if they saw
a demon. But let it have its place in the glorious circle of moral attributes; it
must have--it will have--it cannot be otherwise. Whenever any policy of government
is adopted, in family or state, that excludes the exercise of this attribute, all
must be failure, defeat, and ruin.
Again: Justice being an attribute of benevolence, will prevent the punishment
of the finally impenitent from diminishing the happiness of God and of holy beings.
They will never delight in misery for its own sake; but they will take pleasure in
the administration of justice. So that when the smoke of the torment of the damned
comes up in the sight of heaven, they will, as they are represented, shout "Alleluia!
the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth;" "Just and righteous are thy ways, thou
King of saints!"
Before I pass from the consideration of this topic, I must not omit to insist, that
where true benevolence is, there must be exact commercial justice, or business honesty
and integrity. This is as certain as that benevolence exists. The rendering of exact
equivalents, or the intention to do so, must be a characteristic of a truly benevolent
mind. Impulsive benevolence may exist; that is, phrenological or constitutional benevolence,
falsely so called, may exist to any extent, and yet justice not exist. The mind may
be much and very often carried away by the impulse of feeling, so that a man may
at times have the appearance of true benevolence, while the same individual is selfish
in business, and overreaching in all his commercial relations. This has been a wonder
and an enigma to many, but the case is a plain one. The difficulty is, the man is
not just, that is, not truly benevolent. His benevolence is only an imposing species
of selfishness. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." His benevolence
results from feeling, and is not true benevolence.
Again: Where benevolence is, the golden rule will surely be observed. "Whatsoever
ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." The justice of benevolence
cannot fail to secure conformity to this rule. Benevolence is a just state of the
will. It is a willing justly. It must then, by a law of necessity, secure just conduct.
If the heart is just, the life must be.
This attribute of benevolence must secure its possessor against every species and
degree of injustice; he cannot be unjust to his neighbour's reputation, his person,
his property, his soul, his body, nor indeed be unjust in any respect to man or God.
It will and must secure confession and restitution, in every case of remembered wrong,
so far as this is practicable. It should be distinctly understood, that a benevolent
or a truly religious man cannot be unjust. He may indeed appear to be so to others;
but he cannot be truly religious or benevolent, and unjust at the same time. If he
appears to be so in any instance, he is not and cannot be really so, if he is at
the time in a benevolent state of mind. The attributes of selfishness, as we shall
see in the proper place, are the direct opposite of those of benevolence. The two
states of mind are as contrary as heaven and hell, and can no more co-exist in the
same mind, than a thing can be and not be at the same time. I said, that if a man
truly, in the exercise of benevolence, appears to be unjust in any thing, he is only
so in appearance, and not in fact. Observe; I am speaking of one who is really at
the time in a benevolent state of mind. He may mistake, and do that which would be
unjust, did he see it differently and intend differently. Justice and injustice belong
to the intention. No outward act can in itself be either just or unjust. To say that
a man, in the exercise of a truly benevolent intention, can at the same time be unjust,
is the same absurdity as to say, that he can intend justly and unjustly at the same
time, and in regard to the same thing; which is a contradiction. It must all along
be borne in mind, that benevolence is one identical thing, to wit, good-will, willing
for its own sake the highest good of being, and every known good according to its
relative value. Consequently, it is impossible that justice should not be an attribute
of such a choice. Justice consists in regarding and treating, or rather in willing,
every thing just agreeably to its nature, or intrinsic and relative value and relations.
To say, therefore, that present benevolence admits of any degree of present injustice,
is to affirm a palpable contradiction. A just man is a sanctified man, is a perfect
man, in the sense that he is at present in an upright state.
- 16. Veracity is another attribute of benevolence.
- Veracity, as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that adheres to truth.
In the very act of becoming benevolent, the mind embraces truth, or the reality of
things. Then veracity must be one of the qualities of benevolence. Veracity is truthfulness.
It is the conformity of the will to the reality of things. Truth in statement is
conformity of statement to the reality of things. Truth in action is action conformed
to the nature and relations of things. Truthfulness is a disposition to conform to
the reality of things. It is willing in accordance with the reality of things. It
is willing the right end by the right means. It is willing the intrinsically valuable
as an end, and the relatively valuable as a means. In short, it is the willing of
every thing according to the reality or facts in the case.
Veracity, then, must be an attribute of benevolence. It is, like all the attributes,
only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect or relation. It cannot be distinguished
from benevolence, for it is not distinct from it, but only a phase or form of benevolence.
The universe is so constituted that if every thing proceeded and were conducted and
willed according to its nature and relations, the highest possible good must result.
Veracity seeks the good as an end, and truth as a means to secure this end. It wills
the good, and that it shall be secured only by means of truth. It wills truth in
the end, and truth in the means. The end is truly valuable, and chosen for that reason.
The means are truth, and truth is the only appropriate or possible means.
Truthfulness of heart begets, of course, a state of the sensibility which we call
the love of truth. It is a feeling of pleasure that spontaneously arises in the sensibility
of one whose heart is truthful, in contemplating truth; this feeling is not virtue,
it is rather a part of the reward of truthfulness of heart.
Veracity, as a phenomenon of the will, is also often called, and properly called,
a love of the truth. It is a willing in accordance with objective truth. This is
virtue, and is an attribute of benevolence. Veracity, as an attribute of the divine
benevolence, is the condition of confidence in Him as a moral governor. Both the
physical and moral laws of the universe evince, and are instances and illustrations
of the truthfulness of God. Falsehood, in the sense of lying, is naturally regarded
by a moral agent with disapprobation, disgust, and abhorrence. Veracity is as necessarily
regarded by him with approbation, and, if the will be benevolent, with pleasure.
We necessarily take pleasure in contemplating objective truth, as it lies in idea
on the field of consciousness. We also take pleasure in the perception and contemplation
of truthfulness, in the concrete realization of the idea of truth. Veracity is morally
beautiful. We are pleased with it just as we are with natural beauty, by law of necessity,
when the necessary conditions are fulfilled. This attribute of benevolence secures
it against every attempt to promote the ultimate good of being by means of falsehood.
True benevolence will no more, can no more, resort to falsehood as a means of promoting
good, than it can contradict or deny itself. The intelligence affirms, that the highest
ultimate good can be secured only by a strict adherence to truth. The mind cannot
be satisfied with anything else. Indeed, to suppose the contrary is to suppose a
contradiction. It is the same absurdity as to suppose, that the highest good could
be secured only by the violation and setting aside of the nature and relations of
things. Since the intellect affirms this unalterable relation of truth to the highest
ultimate good, benevolence, or that attribute of benevolence which we denominate
veracity or love of the truth, can no more consent to falsehood, than it can consent
to relinquish the highest good of being as an end. Therefore, every resort to falsehood,
every pious fraud, falsely so called, presents only a specious but real instance
of selfishness. A moral agent cannot lie for God; that is, he cannot tell a sinful
falsehood, thinking and intending thereby to please God. He knows, by intuition,
that God cannot be pleased or truly served by a resort to lying. There is a great
difference between concealing or withholding the truth for benevolent purposes, and
telling a wilful falsehood. An innocent persecuted and pursued man, has taken shelter
under my roof from one who pursued him to shed his blood. His pursuer comes and inquires
after him. I am not under obligation to declare to him the fact that he is in my
house. I may, and indeed ought to withhold the truth in this instance, for the wretch
has no right to know it. The public and highest good demands that he should not know
it. He only desires to know it for selfish and bloody purposes. But in this case
I should not feel or judge myself at liberty to state a known falsehood. I could
not think that this would ultimately conduce to the highest good. The person might
go away deceived, or under the impression that his victim was not there. But he could
not accuse me of telling him a lie. He might have drawn his own inference from my
refusing to give the desired information. But even to secure my own life or the life
of my friend, I am not at liberty to tell a lie. If it be said that lying implies
telling a falsehood for selfish purposes, and that, therefore, it is not lying to
tell a falsehood for benevolent purposes, I reply, that our nature is such that we
can no more state a wilful falsehood with a benevolent intention, that we can commit
a sin with a benevolent intention. We necessarily regard falsehood as inconsistent
with the highest good of being, just as we regard sin as inconsistent with the highest
good of being, or just as we regard holiness and truthfulness as the indispensable
condition of the highest good of being. The correlation of the will and the intellect
forbids the mistake that wilful falsehood is, or can be, the means or condition of
the highest good. Universal veracity, then, will always characterize a truly benevolent
man. While he is truly benevolent, he is, he must be, faithful, truthful. So far
as his knowledge goes, his statements may be depended upon with as much safety as
the statements of an angel. Veracity is necessarily an attribute of benevolence in
all beings. No liar has, or can have, a particle of true virtue or benevolence in
This lecture was typed in by Mr. & Mrs. Michael Clark.
LECTURE XXI. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
- 17. Patience is another attribute of benevolence.
- This term is frequently used to express a phenomenon of the sensibility. When
thus used, it designates a calm and unruffled state of the sensibility or feelings,
under circumstances that tend to excite anger or impatience of feeling. The calmness
of the sensibility, or patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility, is purely an
involuntary state of mind, and although it is a pleasing and amiable manifestation,
yet it is not properly virtue. It may be, and often is, an effect of patience as
a phenomenon of the will, and therefore an effect of virtue. But it is not itself
virtue. This amiable temper, may and often does, proceed from constitutional temperament,
and from circumstances and habits.
Patience as a virtue must be a voluntary state of mind. It must be an attribute of
love or benevolence; for all virtue, as we have seen, and as the Bible teaches, is
resolvable into love or benevolence. The Greek term, upomone, so often rendered patience
in the New Testament, means perseverance under trials, continuance, bearing up under
afflictions or privations, steadfastness of purpose in despite of obstacles. The
word may be used in a good or in a bad sense. Thus a selfish man may patiently, that
is, perseveringly pursue his end, and may bear up under much opposition to his course.
This is patience as an attribute of selfishness, and patience in a bad sense of the
term. Patience in the good sense, or in the sense in which I am considering it, is
an attribute of benevolence. It is the quality of constancy, a fixedness, a bearing
up under trials, afflictions, crosses, persecutions, or discouragements. This must
be an attribute of benevolence. Whenever patience ceases, when it holds out no longer,
when discouragement prevails, and the will relinquishes its end, benevolence ceases,
as a matter of course.
Patience as a phenomenon of the will, tends to patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility.
That is, the quality of fixedness and steadfastness in the intention naturally tends
to keep down and allay impatience of temper. As, however, the states of the sensibility
are not directly under the control of the will, there may be irritable or impatient
feelings, when the heart remains steadfast. Facts or falsehoods may be suggested
to the mind which may, in despite of the will, produce a ruffling of the sensibility,
even when the heart remains patient. The only way in which a temptation, for it is
only a temptation while the will abides firm to its purpose, I say, the only way
in which a temptation of this kind can be disposed of, is by diverting the attention
from that view of the subject that creates the disturbance in the sensibility. I
should have said before, that although the will controls the feelings by a law of
necessity, yet, as it does not do so directly, but indirectly, it may and does often
happen, that feelings corresponding to the state of the will do not exist in the
sensibility. Nay, for a time, a state of the sensibility may exist which is the opposite
of the state of the will. From this source arise many, and indeed most, of our temptations.
We could never be properly tried or tempted at all, if the feelings must always,
by a law of necessity, correspond with the state of the will. Sin consists in willing
to gratify our feelings or constitutional impulses, in opposition to the law of our
reason. But if these desires and impulses could never exist in opposition to the
law of reason, and, consequently, in opposition to a present holy choice, then a
holy being could not be tempted. He could have no motive or occasion to sin. If our
mother Eve could have had no feelings of desire in opposition to the state of her
will, she never could have desired the forbidden fruit, and of course would not have
sinned. I wish now, then, to state distinctly what I should have said before, that
the state or choice of the will does not necessarily so control the feelings, desires,
or emotions, that these may never be strongly excited by Satan or by circumstances,
in opposition to the will, and thus become powerful temptations to seek their gratification,
instead of seeking the highest good of being. Feelings, the gratification of which
would be opposed to every attribute of benevolence, may at times co-exist with benevolence,
and be a temptation to selfishness; but opposing acts of will cannot co-exist with
benevolence. All that can be truly said is, that as the will has an indirect control
of the feelings, desires, appetites, passions, &c., it can suppress any class
of feelings when they arise, by diverting the attention from their causes, or by
taking into consideration such views and facts as will calm or change the state of
the sensibility. Irritable feelings, or what is commonly called impatience, may be
directly caused by ill health, irritable nerves, and by many things over which the
will has no direct control. But this is not impatience in the sense of sin. If these
feelings are not suffered to influence the will; if the will abides in patience;
if such feelings are not cherished, and are not suffered to shake the integrity of
the will; they are not sin. That is, the will does not consent to them, but the contrary.
They are only temptations. If they are allowed to control the will, to break forth
in words and actions, then there is sin; but the sin does not consist in the feelings,
but in the consent of the will, to gratify them. Thus, the apostle says, "Be
ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." That is, if
anger arise in the feelings and sensibility, do not sin by suffering it to control
your will. Do not cherish the feeling, and let not the sun go down upon it. For this
cherishing it is sin. When it is cherished, the will consents and broods over the
cause of it; this is sin. But if it be not cherished, it is not sin.
That the outward actions will correspond with the states and actions of the will,
provided no physical obstacle be opposed to them, is a universal truth. But that
feelings and desires cannot exist contrary to the states or decisions of my will,
is not true. If this were a universal truth, temptation, as I have said, could not
exist. The outward actions will be as the will is, always; the feelings generally.
Feelings corresponding to the choice of the will, will be the rule, and opposing
feelings the exception. But these exceptions may and do exist in perfectly holy beings.
They existed in Eve before she consented to sin, and had she resisted them, she had
not sinned. They doubtless existed in Christ, or he could not have been tempted in
all points like as we are. If there be no desires or impulses of the sensibility
contrary to the state of the will, there is not properly any temptation. The desire
or impulse must appear on the field of consciousness before it is a motive to action,
and of course before it is a temptation to self-indulgence. Just as certainly then
as a holy being may be tempted, and not sin, just so certain it is that emotions
of any kind, or of any strength, may exist in the sensibility without sin. If they
are not indulged, if the will does not consent to them, and to their indulgence or
gratification, the soul is not the less virtuous for their presence. Patience as
a phenomenon of the will must strengthen and gird itself under such circumstances,
so that patience of will may be, and if it exist at all, must be, in exact proportion
to the impatience of the sensibility. The more impatience of sensibility there is,
the more patience of will there must be, or virtue will cease altogether. So that
it is not always true, that virtue is strongest when the sensibility is most calm,
placid, and patient. When Christ passed through his greatest conflicts, his virtue
as a man was undoubtedly most intense. When in his agony in the garden, so great
was the anguish of his sensibility, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood.
This, he says, was the hour of the prince of darkness. This was his great trial.
But did he sin? No, indeed. But why? Was he calm and placid as a summer's evening?
As far from it as possible.
Patience, then, as an attribute of benevolence, consists, not in placid feeling,
but in perseverance under trials and states of the sensibility that tend to selfishness.
This is only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect. It is benevolence under circumstances
of discouragement, of trial, or temptation. "This is the patience of the saints."
Before dismissing the subject of patience as an emotion, I would observe that, the
steadfastness of the heart tends so strongly to secure patience, that if an opposite
state of the sensibility is more than of momentary duration, there is strong presumption
that the heart is not steadfast in love. The first risings of it will produce an
immediate effort to suppress it. If it continues, this is evidence that the attention
is allowed to dwell upon the cause of it. This shows that the will is in some sense
If it so far influences the will as to manifest itself in impatient words and actions,
there must be a yielding of the will. Patience, as an attribute of benevolence is
overcome. If the sensibility were perfectly and directly under the control of the
will, the least degree of impatience would imply sin. But as it is not directly,
but indirectly under the control of the will, momentary impatience of feeling, when
it does not at all influence the will, and when it is not at all indulged, is not
sure evidence of a sinful state of the will. It should always be borne in mind, that
neither patience nor impatience, in the form of mere feeling, existing for any length
of time, and in any degree, is in itself either holy on the one hand, or sinful on
the other. All that can be said of these states of the sensibility is, that they
indicate, as a general thing, the attitude of the will. When the will is for a long
time steadfast in its patience, the result is great equanimity of temper, and great
patience of feeling. This comes to be a law of the sensibility, insomuch that very
advanced saints may, and doubtless do, experience the most entire patience of feeling
for many years together. This does not constitute their holiness, but is a sweet
fruit of it. It is to be regarded rather in the light of a reward of holiness, than
as holiness itself.
- 18. Another attribute of benevolence is Meekness.
- Meekness, considered as a virtue, is a phenomenon of the will. This term also
expresses a state of the sensibility. When used to designate a phenomenon of the
sensibility, it is nearly synonymous with patience. It designates a sweet and forbearing
temper under provocation. Meekness, a phenomenon of the will, and as an attribute
of benevolence, is the opposite both of resistance to injury and of retaliation.
It is properly and strictly forbearance under injurious treatment. This certainly
is an attribute of God, as our existence and our being out of hell plainly demonstrate.
Christ said of himself that he was "meek and lowly in heart;" and this
surely was no vain boast. How admirably, and how incessantly did this attribute of
his love manifest itself! The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a prophecy exhibiting
this attribute in a most affecting light. Indeed, scarcely any feature of the character
of God and of Christ is more strikingly exhibited than this. It must evidently be
an attribute of benevolence. Benevolence is good-will to all beings. We are naturally
forbearing toward those whose good we honestly and diligently seek. If our hearts
are set upon doing them good, we shall naturally exercise great forbearance toward
them. God has greatly commended his forbearance to us, in that, while we were yet
his enemies, he forbore to punish us, and gave his Son to die for us. Forbearance
is a sweet and amiable attribute. How affectingly it displayed itself in the hall
of Pilate, and on the cross. "He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a
sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."
This attribute has in this world abundant opportunity to develope and display itself
in the saints. There are daily occasions for the exercise of this form of virtue.
Indeed, all the attributes of benevolence are called into frequent exercise in this
school of discipline. This is indeed a suitable world in which to train God's children,
to develope and strengthen every modification of holiness. This attribute must always
appear where benevolence exists, and wherever there is an occasion for its exercise.
It is delightful to contemplate the perfection and glory of that love which constitutes
obedience to the law of God. As occasions arise, we behold it developing one attribute
after another, and there may be many of its attributes and modifications of which
we have as yet no idea whatever. Circumstances will call them into exercise. It is
probable, if not certain, that the attributes of benevolence were very imperfectly
known in heaven previous to the existence of sin in the universe, and that but for
sin many of these attributes would never have been manifested in exercise. But the
existence of sin, great as the evil is, has afforded an opportunity for benevolence
to manifest its beautiful phases, and to develope its sweet attributes in a most
enchanting manner. Thus the divine economy of benevolence brings good out of so great
A hasty and unforbearing spirit is always demonstrative evidence of a want of benevolence,
or true religion. Meekness is, and must be, a peculiar characteristic of the saints
in this world, where there is so much provocation. Christ frequently and strongly
enforced the obligation to forbearance. "But I say unto you that ye resist not
evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy
cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."
- 19. Long-suffering is another attribute of benevolence.
- This attribute is hardly distinguishable from meekness or forbearance. It seems
to be an intense form of forbearance; or it is forbearance exercised long and under
great suffering from persecution and unreasonable opposition. God's forbearance is
lengthened out to long-suffering. Christ's forbearance, also, was and is often put
to the severest trial, and is lengthened out to most affecting long-suffering. This
is an intense state or form of benevolence, when it is most sorely tried, and, as
it were, put upon the rack. The prophets, and Christ, and the apostles, the martyrs,
and primitive saints, and many in different ages of the church, have given forth
a glorious specimen and illustration of this sweet attribute of love. But for the
existence of sin, however, it is probable and perhaps certain, that no being but
God could have had an idea of its existence. The same, no doubt, may be said of many
of the attributes of divine love. God has intended to exhibit strongly this attribute
in himself, and in all his saints and angels. The introduction of sin, excuseless
and abominable as it is, has given occasion for a most thorough developement, and
a most affecting manifestation of this attribute of love. It is a sweet, a heavenly
attribute. It is most opposite to the spirit and maxims of this world. It is the
very contrast of the law and the spirit of honour, as it appears in this world. The
law of honour says, If you receive an injury or an insult, resent it sharply, and
retaliate it fully. This gentle spirit says, If you receive many insults and injuries,
do not resent them, nor retaliate, but bear and forbear even to long-suffering. "If
thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink."
- 20. Humility is another modification or attribute of love.
- This term seems often to be used to express a sense of unworthiness, of guilt,
of ignorance, and of nothingness, to express a feeling of ill-desert. It seems to
be used in common language to express sometimes a state of the intelligence, when
it seems to indicate a clear perception of our guilt. When used to designate a state
of the sensibility, it represents those feelings of shame and unworthiness, of ignorance,
and of nothingness, of which those are most deeply conscious who have been enlightened
by the Holy Spirit, in respect to their true character.
But as a phenomenon of the will, and as an attribute of love, it consists in a willingness
to be known and appreciated according to our real character. Humility, as a phenomenon
either of the sensibility or of the intelligence, may co-exist with great pride of
heart. Pride is a disposition to exalt self, to get above others, to hide our defects,
and to pass for more than we are. Deep conviction of sin, and deep feelings of shame,
of ignorance, and of desert of hell, may co-exist with a great unwillingness to confess
and be known just as we are, and to be appreciated just according to what our real
character has been and is. There is no virtue in such humility. But humility, considered
as a virtue, consists in the consent of the will to be known, to confess, and to
take our proper place in the scale of being. It is that peculiarity of love that
wills the good of being so disinterestedly, as to will to pass for no other than
we really are. This is an honest, a sweet, and amiable feature of love. It must perhaps,
be peculiar to those who have sinned. It is only love acting under or in a certain
relation, or in reference to a peculiar set of circumstances. It would, under the
same circumstances, develope and manifest itself in all truly benevolent minds. This
attribute will render confession of sin to God and man natural, and even make it
a luxury. It is easy to see that, but for this attribute, the saints could not be
happy in heaven. God has promised to bring into judgment every work and every secret
thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Now while pride exists, it would
greatly pain the soul to have all the character known. So that, unless this attribute
really belongs to the saints, they would be ashamed at the judgment, and filled with
confusion even in heaven itself. But this sweet attribute will secure them against
that shame and confusion of face that would otherwise render heaven itself a hell
to them. They will be perfectly willing and happy to be known and estimated according
to their characters. This attribute will secure in all the saints on earth that confession
of faults one to another, which is so often enjoined in the Bible. By this it is
not intended, that Christians always think it wise and necessary to make confession
of all their secret sins to man. But it is intended, that they will confess to those
whom they have injured, and to all to whom benevolence demands that they should confess.
This attribute secures its possessor against spiritual pride, against ambition to
get above others. It is a modest and unassuming state of mind.
This lecture was typed in by Dara Kachel.
LECTURE XXII. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 21. Self-denial is another attribute of love.
- If we love any being better than ourselves, we of course deny ourselves when
our own interests come in competition with his. Love is good-will. If I will good
to others more than to myself, it is absurd to say that I shall not deny myself when
my own inclinations conflict with their good.
Now the love required by the law of God, we have repeatedly seen to be good will,
or willing the highest good of being for its own sake, or as an end.
As the interests of self are not at all regarded because they belong to self, but
only according to their relative value, it must be certain, that self-denial for
the sake of promoting the higher interests of God and of the universe, is and must
be a peculiarity or attribute of love.
But again. The very idea of disinterested benevolence, and there is no other
true benevolence, implies the abandonment of the spirit of self-seeking, or of selfishness.
It is impossible to become benevolent, without ceasing to be selfish. In other words,
perfect self-denial is implied in beginning to be benevolent. Self-indulgence ceases
where benevolence begins. This must be. Benevolence is the consecration of our powers
to the highest good of being in general as an end. This is utterly inconsistent with
consecration to self-interest or self-gratification. Selfishness makes good to self
the end of every choice. Benevolence makes good to being in general the end of every
choice. Benevolence, then, implies complete self-denial. That is, it implies that
nothing is chosen merely because it belongs to self, but only because of its relative
value, and in proportion to it.
I said there was no true benevolence, but disinterested benevolence; no true love,
but disinterested love. There is such a thing as interested love or benevolence.
That is, the good of others is willed, though not as an end, or for its intrinsic
value to them, but as a means of our own happiness, or because of its relative value
to us. Thus a man might will the good of his family, or of his neighbourhood, or
country, or of anybody, or anything that sustained such relations to self as to involve
his own interests. When the ultimate reason of his willing good to others is, that
his own may be promoted, this is selfishness. It is making good to self his end.
This a sinner may do toward God, toward the church, and toward the interests of religion
in general. This is what I call interested benevolence. It is willing good as an
end only to self, and to all others only as a means of promoting our own good.
But again: when the will is governed by mere feeling in willing the good of
others, this is only the spirit of self-indulgence, and is only interested benevolence.
For example: the feeling of compassion is strongly excited by the presence of misery.
The feeling is intense, and constitutes, like all the feelings, a strong impulse
or motive to the will to consent to its gratification. For the time being, this impulse
is stronger than the feeling of avarice, or any other feeling. I yield to it, and
then give all the money I have to relieve the sufferer. I even take my clothes from
my back, and give them to him. Now in this case, I am just as selfish as if I had
sold my clothes to gratify my appetite for strong drink. The gratification of my
feelings was my end. This is one of the most specious and most delusive forms of
Again: when one makes his own salvation the end of prayer, of almsgiving,
and of all his religious duties, this is only selfishness and not true religion,
however much he may abound in them. This is only interested benevolence, or benevolence
Again: from the very nature of true benevolence, it is impossible that every
interest should not be regarded according to its relative value. When another interest
is seen by me to be more valuable in itself, or of more value to God and the universe
than my own, and when I see that, by denying myself, I can promote it, it is certain,
if I am benevolent, that I shall do it. I cannot fail to do it, without failing to
be benevolent. Two things in this case must be apprehended by the mind.
(1.) That the interest is either intrinsically or relatively more valuable than my
(2.) That, by denying myself, I can promote or secure a greater good to being, than
I sacrifice of my own. When these two conditions are fulfilled, it is impossible
that I should remain benevolent, unless I deny myself, and seek the higher good.
Benevolence is an honest and disinterested consecration of the whole being to the
highest good of God and of the universe. The benevolent man will, therefore, and
must, honestly weigh each interest as it is perceived in the balance of his own best
judgment, and will always give the preference to the higher interest, provided he
believes, that he can by endeavour, and by self-denial secure it.
That self-denial is an attribute of the divine love, is manifested most gloriously
and affectingly in God's gift of his Son to die for men. This attribute was also
most conspicuously manifested by Christ, in denying himself, and taking up his cross,
and suffering for his enemies. Observe. It was not for friends that Christ gave himself.
It was not unfortunate but innocent sufferers for whom God gave his Son, or for whom
he gave himself. It was for enemies. It was not that he might make slaves of them
that he gave his Son, nor from any selfish consideration whatever, but because he
foresaw that, by making this sacrifice himself, he could secure to the universe a
greater good than he should sacrifice. It was this attribute of benevolence that
caused him to give his Son to suffer so much. It was disinterested benevolence alone
that led him to deny himself, for the sake of a greater good to the universe. Now
observe: this sacrifice would not have been made, unless it had been regarded by
God as the less of two natural evils. That is, the sufferings of Christ, great and
overwhelming as they were, were considered as an evil of less magnitude than the
eternal sufferings of sinners. This induced him to make the sacrifice, although for
his enemies. It mattered not whether for friends or for enemies, if so be he could,
by making a less sacrifice, secure a greater good to them. When I come to consider
the economy of benevolence, I may enlarge upon this topic.
Let it be understood, that a self-indulgent spirit is never, and can never be, consistent
with benevolence. No form of self-indulgence, properly so called, can exist where
true benevolence exists. The fact is, self-denial must be, and universally is, wherever
benevolence reigns. Christ has expressly made whole-hearted self-denial a condition
of discipleship; which is the same thing as to affirm, that it is an essential attribute
of holiness or love; that there cannot be the beginning of true virtue without it.
Again: much that passes for self-denial is only a specious form of self-indulgence.
The penances and self-mortifications, as they are falsely called, of the superstitious,
what are they after all but a self-indulgent spirit? A popish priest abstains from
marriage to obtain the honour, and emoluments, and the influence of the priestly
office here, and eternal glory hereafter. A nun takes the veil, and a monk immures
himself in a monastery; a hermit forsakes human society, and shuts himself up in
a cave; a devotee makes a pilgrimage to Mecca, and a martyr goes to the stake. Now
if these things are done with an ultimate reference to their own glory and happiness,
although apparently instances of great self-denial, yet they are, in fact, only a
spirit of self-indulgence and self-seeking. They are only following the strongest
desire of good to self. They are obviously instances of choosing good to self, as
the supreme and final end.
There are many mistakes upon this subject. For example; it is common for persons
to deny self in one form, for the sake of gratifying self in another form. In one
man avarice is the ruling passion. He will labour hard, rise early, and sit up late,
eat the bread of carefulness, and deny himself even the necessaries of life, for
the sake of accumulating wealth. Every one can see, that this is denying self in
one form merely for the sake of gratifying self in another form. Yet this man will
complain bitterly of the self-indulgent spirit manifested by others, their extravagance
and want of piety.
One man will deny all his bodily appetites and passions for the sake of a reputation
with men. This is also an instance of the same kind. Another will give the fruit
of his body for the sin of his soul; will sacrifice everything else to obtain an
eternal inheritance, and be just as selfish as the man who sacrifices to the things
of time his soul and all the riches of eternity.
But it should be remarked, that this attribute of benevolence does and must secure
the subjugation of all the propensities. It must, either suddenly or gradually, so
far subdue and quiet them, that their imperious clamour must cease. They will, as
it were, be slain, either suddenly or gradually, so that the sensibility will become,
in a great measure, dead to those objects that so often and so easily excited it.
It is a law of the sensibility--of all the desires and passions, that their indulgence
developes and strengthens them, and their denial suppresses them. Benevolence consists
in a refusal to gratify the sensibility, and in obeying the reason. Therefore it
must be true, that this denial of the propensities will greatly suppress them; while
the indulgence of the intellect and of the conscience will greatly develope them.
Thus selfishness tends to stultify, while benevolence tends greatly to strengthen
- 22. Condescension is another attribute of love.
- This attribute consists in a tendency to descend to the poor, the ignorant, or
the vile, for the purpose of securing their good. It is a tendency to seek the good
of those whom Providence has placed in any respect below us, by stooping, descending,
coming down to them for this purpose. It is a peculiar form of self-denial. God the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, manifest infinite condescension in efforts to
secure the well-being of sinners, even the most vile and degraded. This attribute
is called by Christ lowliness of heart. God is said to humble himself, that is, to
condescend when he beholds the things that are done in heaven. This is true, for
every creature is, and must for ever be, infinitely below Him in every respect. But
how much greater must that condescension be, that comes down to earth, and even to
the lowest and most degraded of earth's inhabitants, for purposes of benevolence.
This is a lovely modification of benevolence. It seems to be entirely above the gross
conceptions of infidelity. Condescension seems to be regarded by most people, and
especially by infidels, as rather a weakness than a virtue. Sceptics clothe their
imaginary God with attributes in many respects the opposite of true virtue. They
think it entirely beneath the dignity of God to come down even to notice, and much
more to interfere with, the concerns of men. But hear the word of the Lord: "Thus
saith the High and Lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell
in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
And again, "Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne and the earth is my
footstool, where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my
rest? For all those things hath my hand made, and all those things have been, saith
the Lord. But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite
spirit, and that trembleth at my word." Thus the Bible represents God as clothed
with condescension as with a cloak.
This is manifestly an attribute both of benevolence and of true greatness. The natural
perfections of God appear all the more wonderful, when we consider, that he can and
does know and contemplate and control, not only the highest, but the lowest of all
his creatures; that he is just as able to attend to every want and every creature,
as if this were the sole object of attention with him. So his moral attributes appear
all the more lovely and engaging when we consider that his "tender mercies are
over all his works," "that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without
him;" that he condescends to number the very hairs on the heads of his servants,
and that not one of them can fall without him. When we consider that no creature
is too low, too filthy, or too degraded for him to condescend to,--this places his
character in a most ravishing light. Benevolence is good-will to all beings. Of course
one of its characteristics must be condescension to those who are below us. This
in God is manifestly infinite. He is infinitely above all creatures. For him to hold
communion with them is infinite condescension.
This is an attribute essentially belonging to benevolence or love in all benevolent
beings. With the lowest of moral beings it may have no other developement, than in
its relations to sentient existences below the rank of moral agents, for the reason,
that there are no moral agents below them to whom they can stoop. God's condescension
stoops to all ranks of sentient existences. This is also true with every benevolent
mind, as to all inferiors. It seeks the good of being in general, and never thinks
any being too low to have his interests attended to and cared for, according to their
relative value. Benevolence cannot possibly retain its own essential nature, and
yet be above any degree of condescension that can effect the greatest good. Benevolence
does not, cannot know any thing of that loftiness of spirit that considers it too
degrading to stoop any where, or to any being whose interests need to be, and can
be, promoted by such condescension. Benevolence has its end, and it cannot but seek
this, and it does not, cannot think anything below it that is demanded to secure
that end. O the shame, the infinite folly and madness of pride, and every form of
selfishness! How infinitely unlike God it is! Christ could condescend to be born
in a manger; to be brought up in humble life; to be poorer than the fox of the desert,
or the fowls of heaven; to associate with fishermen; to mingle with and seek the
good of all classes; to be despised in life, and die between two thieves on the cross.
His benevolence "endured the cross and despised the shame." He was "meek
and lowly in heart." The Lord of heaven and earth is as much more lowly in heart
than any of his creatures, as he is above them in his infinity. He can stoop to any
thing but to commit sin. He can stoop infinitely low.
- 23. Candour is another attribute of benevolence.
- Candour is a disposition to treat every subject with fairness and honesty; to
examine and weigh all the evidence in the case, and decide according to testimony.
It is a state of mind which is the opposite of prejudice. Prejudice is pre-judgment.
It is a decision made up with but partial information. It is not a mere opinion.
It is a committal of the will.
Candour is that quality of benevolence that holds the intellect open to conviction.
It is that state of the will in which all the light is sought upon all questions,
that can be obtained. Benevolence is an impartial, a disinterested choice of the
highest good of being--not of some of them,--not of self--but of being in general.
It inquires not to whom an interest belongs, but what is its intrinsic and relative
value, and what is the best means of promoting it. Selfishness, as we shall see,
is never candid. It never can be candid. It is contrary to its very nature. Benevolence
can not but be candid. It has no reasons for being otherwise. Its eye is single.
It seeks to know all truth for the sake of doing it. It has no by-ends, no self-will
or self-interest to consult. It is not seeking to please or profit self. It is not
seeking the interest of some favourite. No, it is impartial, and must be candid.
It should always be borne in mind, that where there is prejudice, benevolence is
not, cannot be. There is not, cannot be such a thing as honest prejudice. There may
be an honest mistake for want of light, but this is not prejudice. If there be a
mistake, and it be honest, there will be, and must be, a readiness to receive light
to correct the mistake. But where the will is committed, and there is not candour
to receive evidence, there is, and there must be, selfishness. Few forms of sin are
more odious and revolting than prejudice. Candour is an amiable and a lovely attribute
of benevolence. It is captivating to behold it. To see a man where his own interest
is deeply concerned, exhibit entire candour, is to witness a charming exhibition
of the spirit of love. What can be more abhorrent to benevolence than the prejudices
which are sometimes manifested, by professedly good men, against other men. They
seem unwilling to believe any thing good of those against whom they are prejudiced.
The great zeal for what they regard as orthodoxy, is often nothing more nor less
than most revolting prejudice. This is often too manifest to require proof. Every
one can see, in many cases, that this zeal is not a benevolent, but a selfish one.
- 24. Stability is another attribute of benevolence. This love is not a mere feeling
or emotion, that effervesces for a moment, and then cools down and disappears. But
it is choice, not a mere volition which accomplishes its object, and then rests.
It is the choice of an end, a supreme end. It is an intelligent choice--the most
intelligent choice that can be made. It is considerate choice--none so much so; a
deliberate choice; a reasonable choice, which will always commend itself to the highest
perceptions and intuitions of the intellect. It is intelligent and impartial, and
universal consecration to an end, above all others the most important and captivating
in its influence. Now, stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this.
By stability, it is not intended that the choice may not be changed. Nor that it
never is changed; but that when the attributes of the choice are considered, it appears
as if stability, as opposed to instability, must be an attribute of this choice.
It is a new birth, a new nature, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. These and
such like are the representations of scripture. Are these representations of an evanescent
state? The beginning of benevolence in the soul--this choice is represented as the
death of sin, as a burial, a being planted, a crucifixion of the old man, and many
such like things. Are these representations of what we so often see among professed
Christians? Nay, verily. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guarantee
of its stability. We might reasonably suppose, that any other choice would be relinquished
sooner than this; that any other state of mind would fail sooner than benevolence.
It is vain to reply to this, that facts prove the contrary to be true. I answer,
what facts? Who can prove them to be facts? Shall we appeal to the apparent facts
in the instability of many professors of religion; or shall we appeal, to the very
nature of the choice, and to the scriptures? To these doubtless. So far as philosophy
can go, we might defy the world to produce an instance of choice which has so many
chances for stability. The representations of scripture are such as I have mentioned
above. What then shall we conclude of those effervescing professors of religion,
who are soon hot and soon cold; whose religion is a spasm; "whose goodness is
as the morning cloud and the early dew, which goeth away?" Why, we must conclude,
that they never had the root of the matter in them. That they are not dead to sin
and to the world, we see. That they are not new creatures, that they have not the
spirit of Christ, that they do not keep his commandments, we see. What then shall
we conclude, but this, that they are stony ground-hearers?
- 25. Kindness is another attribute of love.
- The original word rendered kindness is sometimes rendered gentleness. This term
designates that quality of benevolence that begets a gentleness and kindness of outward
demeanour towards those around us. Benevolence is good-will. It must possess the
attribute of kindness or gentleness toward its object. Love seeks to make others
happy. It cannot be otherwise, than that the beloved object should be treated kindly
and gently, unless circumstances and character demand a different treatment. A deportment
regardless of the sensibilities of those around us, indicates a decidedly and detestably
selfish state of mind. Love always manifests a tender regard for the feelings and
well-being of its object; and as benevolence is universal love, it will and must
manifest the attribute of gentleness and kindness toward all, except in those cases
where either the good of the individual, or of the public, shall demand a different
treatment. In such cases it will be love, and only love, that leads to different
treatment; and in no case will benevolence treat any, even the worst of beings, more
severely than is demanded by the highest good. Benevolence does every thing for one
reason; it has but one end, and that is the highest good of being in general. It
will and must treat all kindly, unless the public good demands a different course.
But it punishes, when it does punish, for the same reason that it forgives, when
it does forgive. It gives life, and takes it away; it gives health and sickness,
poverty and riches; it smiles and frowns; it blesses and curses, and does, and says,
and omits, gives and withholds every thing for one and the same reason, to wit, the
promotion of the highest good of being. It will be gentle or severe, as occasions
arise which demand either of these exhibitions. Kindness is its rule, and severity
is its exception. Both, however, as we shall soon see, are equally and necessarily
attributes of benevolence.
The gentleness and kindness of God and of Christ are strikingly manifested in providence
and in grace. Christ is called a lamb, no doubt because of the gentleness and kindness
of his character. He is called the good shepherd, and represented as gently leading
his flock, and carrying the lambs in his bosom. Many such affecting representations
are made of him in the Bible, and he often makes the same manifestations in his actual
treatment, not only of his servants, but also of his enemies. Who has not witnessed
this? and who cannot testify to this attribute of his character, as having been a
thousand times affectingly manifested in his own history? Who can call to mind the
dealings of his Heavenly Father without being deeply penetrated with the remembrances,
not only of his kindness, but of his loving kindness, and tender mercy, and of its
exceeding greatness? There is a multitude of tender representations in the Bible,
which are all verified in the experience of every saint. "As the eagle stirreth
up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them,
beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange
god with him." This lovely attribute will and must always appear where benevolence
is. It is important, however, to remark, that constitutional temperament will often
greatly modify the expression of it. "Charity is kind,"--this is one of
its attributes; yet, as I just said, its manifestations will be modified by constitution,
education, &c. A manifest absence of it, in cases where it would be appropriate,
is sad evidence that benevolence is wanting.
- 26. Severity is another attribute of benevolence. "Behold," says the
apostle, "the goodness and severity of God." They greatly err who suppose
that benevolence is all softness under all circumstances. Severity is not cruelty,
but is love manifesting strictness, rigour, purity, when occasion demands. Love is
universal good-will, or willing the highest good of being in general. When, therefore,
any one, or any number, so conduct themselves as to interfere with and endanger the
public good, severity is just as natural, and as necessary to benevolence, as kindness
and forbearance, under other circumstances. Christ is not only a lamb, but a lion.
He is not only gentle as mercy, but stern as justice; not only yielding as the tender
bowels of mercy, but as inflexibly stern as infinite purity and justice. He exhibits
the one attribute or the other, as occasion demands. At one time we hear him praying
for his murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
At another time we hear him say, by the pen of the apostle, "If any man love
not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed." At another time we hear him,
in the person of the Psalmist, praying for vengeance on his enemies: "Reproach
hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness, and I looked for some to take pity,
but there was none, and for my comforters, but I found none. They gave me gall for
my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Let their table become a
snare before them, and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become
a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not, and make their loins continually
to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold
upon them. Let their habitation be desolate, and let none dwell in their tents. Add
iniquity (punishment) to their iniquity, and let them not come into thy righteousness.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous."
Many such like passages might be quoted from the records of inspiration, as the breathings
of the Spirit of the God of love.
- Now, it is perfectly manifest, that good-will to the universe of being implies
opposition to whatever tends to prevent the highest good. Benevolence is, and must
be, severe, in a good sense, toward incorrigible sinners, like those against whom
Christ prays in the psalm just quoted.
The term severity is used sometimes in a good, and sometimes in a bad, sense. When
used in a bad sense, it designates an unreasonable state of mind, and of course,
a selfish state. It then represents a state which is the opposite of benevolence.
But when used in a good sense, as it is when applied to God and Christ, and when
spoken of as an attribute of benevolence, it designates the sternness, firmness,
purity, and justice of love, acting for the public good in cases where sin exists,
and where the public interests are at stake. In such circumstances, if severity were
not developed as an attribute of benevolence, it would demonstrate that benevolence
could not be the whole of virtue, even if it could be virtue at all. The intelligence
of every moral being would affirm, in such circumstances, that if severity did not
appear, something was wanting to make the character perfect, that is, to make the
character answerable to the emergency.
It is truly wonderful to witness the tendency among men to fasten upon some one attribute
of benevolence, and overlook the rest. They, perhaps, have been affected particularly
by the manifestation of some one attribute, which leads them to represent the character
of God as all summed up in that attribute. But this is fatally to err, and fatally
to misrepresent God. God is represented in the Bible as being slow to anger, and
of tender mercy; as being very pitiful; long-suffering; abundant in goodness and
truth; keeping mercy for thousands; forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; but
also visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and that will by no
means clear the guilty; and as being angry with the wicked every day. These are by
no means contradictory representations. They only express the different qualities
of benevolence, and represent it as manifesting itself under different circumstances,
and in different relations. These are just the attributes that we can see must belong
to benevolence, and just what it ought to be, and must be, when these occasions arise.
Good-will to the universe ought to be, and must be, in a good sense, severe where
the public weal demands it, as it often does. It is one of the most shallow of dreams,
that the Divine character is all softness and sweetness, in all its manifestations
and in all circumstances. Sin has "enkindled a fire in the Divine anger that
shall set on fire the foundations of the mountains, and shall burn to the lowest
hell." Severity is also always, and necessarily, an attribute of benevolence
in good angels, and in good men. When occasions arise that plainly demand it, this
attribute must be developed and manifested, or benevolence must cease. It is, indeed,
impossible that good-will to the whole should not manifest severity and indignation
to the part which should rebel against the interests of the whole. Benevolence will
seek the good of all, so long as there is hope. It will bear and forbear, and be
patient, kind, meek even to long-suffering, while there is not a manifestation of
incorrigible wickedness. But where there is, the lamb is laid aside, and the lion
is developed; and his "wrathful anger" is as awful as his tender mercies
are affecting. Innumerable instances of this are on record in this world's history.
Why, then, should we seek to represent God's character as all made up of one attribute?
It is, indeed, all comprehensively expressed in one word, love. But it should be
for ever remembered, that this is a word of vast import, and that this love possesses,
and, as occasions arise, developes and manifests, a great variety of attributes;
all harmonious, and perfect, and glorious. This attribute always developes itself
in the character of holy men, when occasions occur that demand it. Behold the severity
of Peter in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. Witness the rebuke administered by
Paul to Peter, when the latter dissembled and endangered the purity of the church.
Witness also his severity in the case of Elymas the sorcerer; and hear him say to
the Galatians, "I would that they who trouble you were even cut off,"--and
many such like things in the conduct and spirit of holy men. Now, I know that such
exhibitions are sometimes regarded as un-Christlike, as legal, and not evangelical.
But they are evangelical. These are only manifestations of an essential attribute
of benevolence, as every one must see, who will consider the matter. It very often
happens that such manifestations, whatever the occasions may be, are denounced as
the manifestations of a wicked spirit, as anger, and as sinful anger. Indeed, it
seems to be assumed by many, that every kind and degree of anger is sinful, as a
matter of course. But so far is all of this from the truth, that occasions often,
or at least sometimes arise, that call for such manifestations; and to be any otherwise
than indignant, to manifest any other than indignation and severity, were to be and
manifest anything but that which is demanded by the occasion.
I know that this truth is liable, in a selfish world, to abuse. But I know also that
it is a truth of revelation; and God has not withheld it for fear of its being abused.
It is a truth of reason, and commends itself to the intuitions of every mind. It
is a truth abundantly manifested in the moral and providential government of God.
Let it not be denied nor concealed; but let no one abuse and pervert it.
This lecture was typed in by Daniel F. Smith.
LECTURE XXIII. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 27. Holiness is another attribute of benevolence.
- This term is used in the Bible, as synonymous with moral purity. In a ceremonial
sense it is applied to both persons and things; to make holy and to sanctify are
the same thing. To sanctify and to consecrate, or set apart to a sacred use, are
identical. Many things were, in this sense, sanctified, or made holy, under the Jewish
economy. The term holiness may, in a general sense, be applied to anything whatever
which is set apart to a sacred use. It may be applied to the whole being of a moral
agent, who is set apart to the service of God.
As an attribute of benevolence, it denotes that quality which leads it to seek to
promote the happiness of moral agents, by means of conformity to moral law.
As a moral attribute of God, it is that peculiarity of his benevolence which secures
it against all efforts to obtain its end by other means than those that are morally
and perfectly pure. His benevolence aims to secure the happiness of the universe
of moral agents, by means of moral law and moral government, and of conformity to
his own subjective idea of right.
In other words, holiness in God is that quality of his love that secures its universal
conformity, in all its efforts and manifestations, to the Divine idea of right, as
it lies in eternal developement in the Infinite Reason. This idea is moral law. It
is sometimes used to express the moral quality, or character of his benevolence generally,
or to express the moral character of the Godhead.
It sometimes seems to designate an attribute, and sometimes a quality of all his
Holiness is, doubtless, a characteristic, or quality of each and all of his moral
attributes. They will harmonize in this, that no one of them can consent to do otherwise
than conform to the law of moral purity, as developed and revealed in the Divine
That holiness is an attribute of God is everywhere assumed, and frequently asserted
in the Bible. If an attribute of God, it must be an attribute of love; for God is
love. This attribute is celebrated in heaven as one of those aspects of the divine
character that give ineffable delight. Isaiah saw the seraphim standing around the
throne of Jehovah, and crying one to another, "Holy! holy! holy!" John
also had a vision of the worship of heaven, and says "They rest not day nor
night, saying, Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty." When Isaiah beheld the
holiness of Jehovah, he cried out "Woe is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean
lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen
the King, the Lord of hosts!" God's holiness is infinite, and it is no wonder
that a perception of it should thus affect the prophet.
Finite holiness must forever feel itself awed in the presence of infinite holiness.
Job says, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye
seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." There is
no comparing finite with infinite. The time will never come when creatures can with
open face contemplate the infinite holiness of Jehovah without being like persons
overcome with a harmony too intensely delightful to be calmly borne. Heaven seems
not able to endure it without breaking forth into strains of inexpressible rapture.
The expressions of Isaiah and Job do not necessarily imply that, at the time they
were in a sinful state, but their expressions no doubt related to whatever of sin
they had at any time been guilty of. In the light of Jehovah's holiness they saw
the comparative pollution of their character, taken as a whole. This view will always,
doubtless, much affect the saints.
This must be, and yet in another sense they may be, and are, as holy, in their measure
as He is. They may be as perfectly conformed to what light or truth they have, as
he is. This is doubtless what Christ intended when he said, "Be ye perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The meaning is, that they
should live to the same end, and be as entirely consecrated to it as he is. This
they must be, to be truly virtuous or holy in any degree. But when they are so, a
full view of the holiness of God would confound and overwhelm them. If any one doubts
this, he has not considered the matter in a proper light. He has not lifted up his
thoughts, as he needs to do, to the contemplation of infinite holiness. No creature,
however benevolent, can witness the divine benevolence without being overwhelmed
with a clear vision of it. This is no doubt true of every attribute of the divine
love. However perfect creature-virtue may be, it is finite, and, brought into the
light of the attributes of infinite virtue, it will appear like the dimmest star
in the presence of the sun, lost in the blaze of his glory. Let the most just man
on earth or in heaven witness, and have a clear apprehension of, the infinite justice
of Jehovah, and it would no doubt fill him with unutterable awe. So, could the most
merciful saint on earth, or in heaven, have a clear perception of the divine mercy
in its fulness, it would swallow up all thought and imagination, and, no doubt, overwhelm
him. And so also of every attribute of God. Oh! when we speak of the attributes of
Jehovah, we often do not know what we say. Should God unveil himself to us, or bodies
would instantly perish. "No man," says he, "can see my face and live."
When Moses prayed, "Show me thy glory," God condescendingly hid him in
the cleft of a rock, and covering him with his hand, he passed by, and let Moses
see only his back parts, informing him that he could not behold his face, that is,
his unveiled glories, and live.
Holiness, or moral harmony of character is, then, an essential attribute of disinterested
love. It must be so from the laws of our being, and from the very nature of benevolence.
In man it manifests itself in great purity of conversation and deportment, in a great
loathing of all impurity of flesh and spirit. Let no man profess piety who has not
this attribute developed. The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks
to make its object happy only by making him holy. It manifests the greatest abhorrence
of sin and all uncleanness. In creatures it pants, and doubtless ever will pant and
struggle, toward infinite purity or holiness. It will never find a resting place
in such a sense as to desire to ascend no higher. As it perceives more and more of
the fulness and infinity of God's holiness, it will no doubt pant and struggle to
ascend the eternal heights where God sits in light too intense for the strongest
vision of the highest cherub.
Holiness of heart or of will, produces a desire or feeling of purity in the sensibility.
The feelings become exceedingly alive to the beauty of holiness and to the hatefulness
and deformity of all spiritual, and even physical impurity. This is called the love
of holiness. The sensibility becomes, ravished with the great loveliness of holiness,
and unutterably disgusted with the opposite. The least impurity of conversation or
of action exceedingly shocks one who is holy. Impure thoughts, if suggested to the
mind of a holy being, are instantly felt to be exceedingly offensive and painful.
The soul heaves and struggles to cast them out as the most loathsome abominations.
- 28. Modesty is another attribute of love.
- This may exist either as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or of the will, or
As a phenomenon of the sensibility, it consists in a feeling of delicacy, or shrinking
from whatever is impure, unchaste; or from all boasting, vanity, or egotism; a feeling
like retiring from public observation, and especially from public applause. It is
a feeling of self-diffidence, and is the opposite of self-esteem and self-complacency.
It takes on, as a mere feeling, a great variety of types; and when it controls the
will, often gives its subject a very lovely and charming exterior. But when this
is only a phenomenon of the sensibility, and manifests itself only as this feeling
takes control of the will, it does not rise to the dignity of virtue, but is only
a specious and delusive form of selfishness. It appears lovely because it is the
counterfeit of a sweet and charming form of virtue.
As a phenomenon of the will, and as an attribute of benevolence, it is that quality
which preserves it from ostentation and display, and disposes it to pursue an opposite
course. It is nearly allied to humility. It is a state of heart the opposite of an
egotistical spirit. It seeks not personal applause or distinction. It is the unostentatious
characteristic of benevolence. "Love seeketh not its own, is not puffed up,
doth not behave itself unseemly." Benevolence seeketh not its own profit, not
its own honour. It seeks the good of being, with a single eye, and it is no part
of its design to set off self to advantage. Hence modesty is one of its lovely characteristics.
It manifests itself very much as the feeling of modesty manifests itself, when it
takes control of the will, so that often it is difficult to distinguish modesty as
a virtue, or as an attribute of religion, from the modesty of feeling which is a
peculiarity of the constitution of some, and which comes to control the will.
True piety is always modest. It is unassuming, unostentatious, anti-egotistical,
content to seek with a single eye its object--the highest good of being. In this
work it seeks not public notice or applause. It finds a luxury in doing good, no
matter how unobserved. If at any time it seeks to be known, it must be entirely disinterested
in this. It is not the person, but the act that it exhibits, and that only for the
sake of example. It seeks to be known only to make "manifest that its deeds
are wrought in God," and to stimulate and encourage others to good works. Modesty
as a virtue shrinks from self-display, from trumpeting its own deeds. It is prone
to "esteem others better than self;" to give the preference to others,
and hold self in very moderate estimation. It aims not to exhibit self, but God and
Christ. After Paul had said, "I laboured more abundantly than they all;"
he adds, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
This form of virtue is sometimes conspicuous in men and women whom the providence
of God has placed in high stations, so that they are exposed to the public gaze.
They seem never to aim at the exhibition or exaltation of self; they never appear
flattered by applause, nor to be disheartened by censure and abuse. Having this attribute
largely developed, they pursue their way, totally regardless both of the praise and
the censure of men. Like Paul, they can say, "With me it is a very small thing
that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment." It seeks only to commend
itself to God, and to the consciences of men.
- 29. Sobriety is another attribute of benevolence.
- Sobriety, as a virtue, is the opposite of levity. There is, as every one knows,
a remarkable difference in the constitutional temperament of different persons, in
regard to levity and sobriety, considered as tendencies of the sensibility. Sobriety,
considered as a constitutional peculiarity, when existing in an excessive degree,
is often attributable to a diseased state of the organs of life, and is then not
unfrequently termed hypochondriasis. In other instances, it seems not to result from,
or to indicate, ill health, but is a peculiarity not to be accounted for by any philosophy
Sobriety, as a phenomenon of the sensibility, often results from conviction of sin
and fear of punishment, and from worldly troubles, and, indeed, from a multitude
But sobriety, considered as a virtue, and as a characteristic or attribute of benevolence,
consists in that solemn earnestness which indicates an honest intention to pursue
to the utmost the highest good of being.
Sobriety is not synonymous with moroseness. It is not a sour, fault-finding, censorious
spirit. Neither is it inconsistent with cheerfulness--I mean the cheerfulness of
love. It is the contrast of levity, and not of cheerfulness. It has no heart for
levity and folly. It cannot brook the spirit of gossip and of giggling. Sober earnestness
is one of the essential attributes of love to God and souls. It cannot fail to manifest
this characteristic, because benevolence supremely values its object. It meets with
many obstacles in attempting to secure it. It too deeply prizes the good of being,
and sees too plainly how much is to be done, to have any time or inclination for
levity and folly. God is always serious and in earnest. Christ was always serious
and in earnest. Trifling is an abomination to God, and equally so to true and enlightened
But let it never be forgotten that sobriety, as an attribute of benevolence, has
nothing in it of the nature of moroseness and peevishness. It is not melancholy.
It is not sorrowfulness. It is not despondency. It is a sober, honest, earnest, intense
state of choice or of good will. It is not an affected, but a perfectly natural and
serious, earnestness. Benevolence is in earnest, and it appears to be so by a law
of its own nature. It can laugh and weep for the same reason, and at the same time.
It can do either without levity on the one hand, and without moroseness, melancholy,
or discouragement, on the other. Abraham fell on his face and laughed, when God promised
him a son by Sarah. But it was not levity. It was benevolence rejoicing in the promise
of a faithful God.
We should always be careful to distinguish between sobriety as a mere feeling, and
the sobriety of the heart. The former is often easily dissipated, and succeeded by
trifling and levity. The latter is stable as benevolence itself, because it is one
of its essential attributes. A trifling Christian is a contradiction. It is as absurd
as to speak of a light and foolish benevolence. These are of a piece with a sinful
holiness. Benevolence has, and must have, its changeless attributes. Some of them
are manifest only on particular occasions that develope them. Others are manifest
on all occasions, because every occasion calls them into exercise. This attribute
is one of that class. Benevolence must be seriously in earnest on all occasions.
The benevolent soul may and will rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those
who weep. He may be always cheerful in faith and in hope, yet he always has too great
business on hand, to have a heart for trifling or for folly.
- 30. Sincerity is another attribute of benevolence.
- Sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy. The terms sincerity and perfection seem,
as used in the Bible, to be nearly synonymous. Sincerity, as an attribute of benevolence,
implies whole-hearted honesty, singleness of aim, true uprightness of purpose. Where
this attribute is, there is a consciousness of its presence. The soul is satisfied
that it is really and truly whole-hearted. It cannot but respect its own honesty
of intention and of purpose. It has not to affect sincerity--it has it. When the
soul has this attribute developed, it is as deeply conscious of whole-heartedness,
as of its own existence. It is honest. It is earnest. It is deeply sincere. It knows
it, and never thinks of being suspected of insincerity, and of course has no reason
This also is one of those attributes of benevolence that are manifest on all occasions.
There is a manifestation of sincerity that carries conviction along with it, in the
spirit and deportment of the truly benevolent man. It is exceedingly difficult so
to counterfeit it that the deception shall not be seen. The very attempt to counterfeit
sincerity will manifest hypocrisy to the discerning mind. There is a cant, a put-on
seriousness, a hollow, shallow long-facedness, that reveals a want of sincerity;
and the more pains men take to cover up insincerity, the more surely it reveals itself.
There is a simplicity, an unguardedness, a transparency, a right up and down frankness,
an open-heartedness in such sincerity, that at once commends it and gives it power.
It tells the whole story, and carries with it, on its very face, the demonstration
of its honesty. Sincerity is its own passport, its own letter of commendation. It
is as transparent as light, as honest as justice, as kind as mercy, and as faithful
as truth. It is all lovely and praiseworthy. It needs no hoods nor gowns, nor canonicals,
nor ceremonials, to set it off; it stands on its own foundation. It walks abroad
unsuspecting, and generally unsuspected of, hypocrisy. It lives in open day-light
and courts no concealment. It inhabits love as its dwelling place; and where benevolence
is, there is its rest.
- 31. Another attribute of benevolence is Zeal. Zeal is not always a phenomenon
of the will; for the term often expresses an effervescing state of the sensibility.
It often expresses enthusiasm in the mere form of excited feeling. It is also often
an attribute of selfishness. The term expresses intensity in the pursuit of an object,
whether used of the will or of the emotions, whether designating a characteristic
of selfishness or of benevolence. Benevolence is an intense action of the will, or
an intense state of choice. The intensity is not uniform, but varies with varying
perceptions of the intellect. When the intellectual apprehensions of truth are clear,
when the Holy Spirit shines on the soul, the actings of the will become proportionably
intense. This must be, or benevolence must cease altogether. Benevolence is the honest
choice of the highest good of being, and, of course, it has no sinister or bye-ends
to prevent it from laying just that degree of stress upon the good of being, which
its importance seems to demand. Benevolence consists in yielding the will up unreservedly
to the demands of the intelligence, when the intelligence is enlightened as to the
ground of moral obligation. Nothing else is benevolence. Hence it follows, that the
intensity of benevolence will, and must, vary with varying light. When the light
of God shines strongly upon the soul, there is often consuming intensity in the action
of the will, and the soul can adopt the language of Christ, "The zeal of thy
house hath eaten me up."
- In its lowest estate, benevolence is zealous. That is, the intellectual perceptions
never sink so low as to leave benevolence to become like a stagnant pool. It must
be a fountain, flowing forth. It is never lazy, never sluggish, never inactive. It
is aggressive in its nature. It is essential activity in itself. It consists in choice,
the supreme choice of an end--and in consecration to that end. Zeal, therefore, must
be one of its essential attributes. A lazy benevolence is a misnomer. In a world
where sin is, benevolence must be aggressive. In such a world it cannot be conservative.
It must be reformatory. This is its essential nature. In such a world as this, a
conservative, anti-reform benevolence is sheer selfishness. To baptize anti-reform
and conservatism with the name Christianity, is to steal a robe of light to cover
the black shoulders of a fiend. Zeal, the zeal of benevolence, will not, cannot rest
while sin is in the world. God is represented as clothed with zeal as with a cloak;
and after making some of his exceeding great and precious promises, he concludes
by saying, "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."
- 32. Unity is another attribute of benevolence.
- Benevolence or love has but one end. It consists in one choice, one ultimate
intention. It is always one and indivisible. It possesses may attributes or characteristics;
but they are all only so many phases of one principle. Every modification of virtue,
actual or conceivable, may be, and must be, resolvable into love, for in fact, it
is only a modification of love or benevolence. It is easy to see, that an honest
choice of the highest good of being as an end, will sufficiently and fully account
for every form in which virtue has appeared, or ever can appear. The love or good-will
of God is a unit. He has but one end. All he does is for one and the same reason.
So it is, and must be, with love or benevolence in all beings. God's conduct is all
equally good and equally praiseworthy.
(1.) Because he always has one intention.
(2.) Because he always has the same degree of light.
With creatures this light varies, and consequently they, although benevolent, are
not always equally praiseworthy. Their virtue increases as their light increases,
and must for ever do so, if they continue benevolent. But their end is always one
and the same. In this respect their virtue never varies, while their benevolence
continues. They have the same end with God.
It is of great importance that the unity of virtue should be understood, else that
which really constitutes its essence is overlooked. If it be supposed, that there
can be various sorts of virtue, this is a fatal mistake; the fact is, virtue consists
in whole-hearted consecration to one end, and that end is, as it ought to be, and
must be, the highest well-being of God and of the universe. This, and nothing else,
more nor less, is virtue. It is one and identical in all moral agents, in all worlds,
and to all eternity. It can never be changed. It can never consist in anything else.
God, if he is himself unchangeable, could not alter its nature, nor one of its essential
attributes. The inquiry, and the only inquiry is, for what end do I live? To what
end am I consecrated? Not merely, how do I feel, and what is my outward deportment?
These may indicate the state of my will. But these cannot settle the question. If
a man knows anything, it must be that he knows what his supreme intention is. That
is, if he considers at all, and looks at the grand aim of his mind, he cannot fail
to see, whether he is really living for God and the universe, or for himself apart.
If God is love, his virtue or love must be itself a unit. If all the law is fulfilled
in one word; if love is the fulfilling of the law; then all virtue must resolve itself
into love; and this unity is, and must be, an attribute of benevolence.
- 33. Simplicity is another attribute of benevolence.
- By simplicity is intended singleness without mixture. It has, and can have, but
one simple end. It does not, and cannot, mingle with selfishness. It is simple or
single in its aim. It is, and must be, simple or single in all its efforts to secure
its end. It does not, cannot, attempt to serve God and mammon. But, as I have dwelt
at length upon this view of the subject in a former lecture, I need not enlarge upon
This lecture was typed in by Daniel F. Smith.
LECTURE XXIV. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
- 34. Gratitude is another characteristic of love.
- This term also designates a state of the sensibility, or a mere feeling of being
obliged to another, or benefited by him. This feeling includes an emotion of love
and attachment to the benefactor who has shown us favour. It also includes a feeling
of obligation, and of readiness to make such returns as we are able, to the being
who has shown us favour. But, as a mere feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility,
gratitude has no moral character. It may exist in the sensibility of one who is entirely
selfish. For selfish persons love to be obliged, and love those who love to oblige
them, and can feel grateful for favours shown to themselves, and desire or wish to
make a return.
Gratitude, as a virtue, is only a modification or an attribute of benevolence or
of good-will. It is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to acknowledge a
favour, and to make suitable returns; to will and endeavour to promote the particular
good of a benefactor. It always assumes of course the intrinsic value of the good
willed, as the fundamental reason for willing it. But it always has particular reference
to the relation of benefactor, as a secondary or additional reason for willing good
to him in particular. This relation cannot be the foundation of the obligation to
love or will the good of any being in the universe; for the obligation to will his
good would exist, if this relation did not exist, and even if the relation of persecutor
existed in its stead. But gratitude, always assuming the existence of the fundamental
reason, to wit, the intrinsic value of the well-being of its object for its own sake,
has, as I have just said, particular reference to the relation of benefactor; so
particular reference to it, that, if asked why he loved or willed the good of that
individual, he would naturally assign this relation as a reason. He would, as has
been formerly shown, assign this as the reason, not because it is, or can be, or
ought to be, the fundamental reason, much less the exclusive one, but because the
other reason lies in the mind as a first truth, and is not so much noticed on the
field of consciousness at the time, as the secondary reason, to wit, the relation
just referred to.
This attribute of benevolence may never have occasion for its exercise in the Divine
mind. No one can sustain to him the relation of benefactor. Yet, in his mind, it
may, and no doubt does, exist in the form of good-will to those who are benefactors
of others, and for that reason: just as finite minds ought to be affected by that
relation. He has even gone much farther than this, and has been pleased to say, that
good done to our fellowmen he will graciously consider and reward as good done to
himself. This identification of good done to his creatures with good done to him
and for his glory, raises benevolence to the highest conceivable point of dignity
That love will ever have an opportunity to develope all its attributes, and manifest
all its loveliness, and take on every possible peculiarity, is more than we can know.
Its loveliness can never be known nor conceived of by finite minds, except so far
as occasions develope its charming attributes. Our love of gratitude to God finds
abundant occasions of developement in all finite minds, and especially among sinners
of our race. Our ill-desert is so infinite, and God's goodness, mercy, and long-suffering
are so infinite, and so graciously manifested to us, that if we have any attribute
of benevolence largely developed, it must be that of gratitude. Gratitude to God
will manifest itself in a spirit of thanksgiving, and in a most tender and anxious
regard to his feelings, his wishes, and all his commandments. A grateful soul will
naturally raise the question on all occasions, Will this or that please God? There
will be a constant endeavour of the grateful soul to please him. This must be; it
is the natural and inevitable result of gratitude. It should be always borne in mind,
that gratitude is good-will, modified by the relation of benefactor. It is not a
mere feeling of thankfulness, but will always awaken that feeling. It is a living,
energizing attribute of benevolence, and will and must manifest itself in corresponding
feeling and action.
It should also be borne in mind, that a selfish feeling of gratitude or thankfulness
often exists, and imposes upon its subject, and often upon those who witness its
manifestations. It conceals its selfish foundation and character, and passes in this
world for virtue; but it is not. I well recollect weeping with gratitude to God years
previous to my conversion. The same kind of feeling is often, no doubt, mistaken
for evangelical gratitude.
Benevolence is an all-comprehending, impartial principle. The benevolent soul regards
all interests as his own, and all beings as parts of himself, in such a sense, as
to feel obligations of gratitude for favours bestowed on others as well as on himself.
Gratitude, as an attribute of benevolence, recognizes God as a benefactor to self
in bestowing favours on others. Benevolence, regarding all interests as our own,
acknowledges the favours bestowed upon any and upon all. It will thank God for favours
bestowed upon the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and for "opening
his hand and supplying the wants of every living thing."
- 35. Wisdom is another attribute of benevolence.
- Wisdom is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to be directed by knowledge.
Its manifestation in life and action is that of love directed by discretion, evidently
for this reason, that hereby it becomes more efficient for good. Wisdom, therefore,
must mingle with benevolence, and take the directions of its zeal and activity. It
chooses the best and most valuable end, and the most appropriate means of obtaining
it. It is like all the other attributes, only benevolence viewed in a certain relation,
or only a particular aspect of it.
Wisdom is a term that expresses the perfectly intelligent character of love. It represents
it as not a blind and unintelligent choice, but as being guided only by the highest
intelligence. This attribute, like all the others, is perfect in God, in an infinitely
higher sense than in any creature. It must be perfect in creatures, in such a sense
as to be sinless; but can in them never be perfect, in such a sense as to admit of
The manifold displays of the divine wisdom in creation, providence, and grace, are
enough, when duly considered, to overwhelm a finite mind. An inspired apostle could
celebrate this attribute in such a strain as this: "O the depths of the riches
both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and
his ways past finding out." The wisdom of the saints appears in their choice
of an end. They choose invariably the same end that God does, but do not, for want
of knowledge, always use the best means. This, however, is not a sinful defect in
them, provided they act according to the best light they have or can obtain.
Wisdom is a term that is often and justly used to express true religion, and to distinguish
it from everything else; it expresses both benevolence, or good-will, and the intelligent
character of that choice, that is, that the choice is dictated by the intelligence,
as distinguished from selfish choice, or choice occasioned by the mere impulses of
- 36. Grace is another attribute of benevolence.
- Grace is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to bestow gratuitous favour,
that is, favour on the undeserving and on the ill-deserving.
Grace is not synonymous with mercy. It is a term of broader meaning.
Mercy is a disposition to forgive the guilty. Grace expresses not only a willingness
to pardon, or exempt from penalty, but to bestow other favours of a positive character.
Mercy might pardon; but unless great grace were bestowed, our pardon would by no
means secure our salvation.
Grace does not wait for merit as a condition of bestowing favour. It causes its sun
to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends its rain on the just and the unjust.
Grace in the saints manifests itself in acts of beneficence to the most unworthy,
as well as to the deserving. It seeks to do good to all, whether meritorious or not.
It seeks to do good from a love to being. It rejoices in opportunities to bestow
its gratuities upon all classes that need them. To grace, necessity or want is the
great consideration. When we come to God, his grace is delighted with the opportunity
to supply our wants. The grace of God is a vast ocean without shore, or bound, or
bottom. It is infinite. It is an ever overflowing stream of beneficence. Its streams
go forth to make glad the universe. All creatures are objects of his grace to a greater
or less extent. All are not objects of his saving grace, but all are, or have been,
the recipients of his bounty. Every sinner that is kept out of hell, is sustained
every moment by grace. Every thing that any one receives who has ever sinned, which
is better than hell, is received of grace.
Repentance is a condition of the exercise of mercy; but grace is exercised in a thousand
forms, without any reference to character. Indeed, the very term expresses good-will
to the undeserving and ill-deserving. Surely it must have been a gracious disposition,
deep and infinite, that devised and executed the plan of salvation for sinners of
our race. A sympathy with the grace of God must manifest itself in strenuous and
self-denying efforts to secure, to the greatest possible number, the benefits of
this salvation. A gracious heart in man will leap forth to declare the infinite riches
of the grace of God, in the ears of a dying world. No man certainly has or can have
a sympathy with Christ who will or can hesitate to do his utmost to carry the gospel,
and apply his grace, to a perishing world. What! shall the gracious disposition of
Christ prepare the way, prepare the feast; and can they have any sympathy with him,
who can hesitate to go or send to invite the starving poor? If Christ both lived
and died to redeem men, is it a great thing for us to live to serve them? No, indeed:
he only has the spirit of Christ who would not merely live, but also die for them.
- 37. Economy is another attribute of benevolence.
- This term expresses that peculiarity of benevolence that makes the best use,
and the most that can be made, of every thing to promote the public good. This attribute
appears at every step in the works and government of God. It is truly wonderful to
see how every thing is made to conduce to one end; and nothing exists or can exist
in the universe, which God will not overrule to some good account. Even "the
wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain."
A most divine economy is every where manifest in the works and ways of God. If he
is love, we might expect this. Nay, if he is love, it is impossible that this should
not be. He lives only for one end. All things were created, and are ruled or overruled
by him. All things, then, must, directly or indirectly, work together for good. He
will secure some benefit from every thing. Nothing has occurred, or will occur, or
can ever occur to all eternity, that will not in some way be used to promote the
good of being. Even sin and punishment will not be without their use. God has created
nothing, nor has he suffered anything to occur, in vain. Sin, inexcusable and ruinous
as it is, if left to work out its natural results, is not without its use. And God
will take care to glorify himself in sinners, whether they consent or not. He says,
"He has created all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil."
That is, he created no man wicked, but he created those who have become wicked. He
created them not for the sake of punishing them, but knowing that they would become
incorrigible sinners, he designed to punish them, and by making them a public example,
render them useful to his government. He created them, not because he delighted in
their punishment for its own sake, but that he might make their deserved punishment
useful to the universe. In this sense, it may be truly said, that he created them
for the day of evil. Foreseeing that they would become incorrigible sinners, he designed,
when he created them, to make them a public example.
God's glorious economy in overruling all events for the public benefit, is affectingly
displayed in the fact, that all things are made to work together for good to them
who love God. All beings, saints and sinners, good and evil angels, sin and holiness;
in short, there is not a being nor an event in the universe, that is not all used
up for the promotion of the highest good. Whether men intend it or not, God intends
it. If men do not design it, no thanks to them, what every use God may make of them.
He will give them, as he says, according to their endeavours or intentions; but he
will take care to use them in one way or another for his glory. If men will consent
to live and die for his glory and the good of being, well; they shall have their
reward. But if they will not consent, he will take care to dispose of them for the
public benefit. He will make the best use of them he can. If they are willing and
obedient, if they sympathize with him in promoting the good of the universe, well.
But if not, he can make them a public example, and make the influence of their punishment
useful to his kingdom. Nothing shall be lost, in the sense that God will not make
it answer some useful purpose. No, not even sin with all its deformities and guilt,
and blasphemy with all its desolating tendencies, shall be suffered to exist in vain.
It will be made useful in innumerable ways. But no thanks to the sinner; he means
no such thing, as that his sin shall thus be made useful. He is set upon his own
gratification, regardless of consequences. Nothing is further from his heart than
to do good, and glorify God. But God has his eye upon him; has laid his plans in
view of his foreseen wickedness; and so surely as Jehovah lives, so surely shall
the sinner, in one way or another, be used up for the glory of God, and the highest
good of being.
Economy is necessarily an attribute of benevolence in all minds. The very nature
of benevolence shows that it must be so. It is consecration to the highest good of
being. It has no other end. Now all choice must respect means or ends. Benevolence
has but one end; and all its activity, every volition that it puts forth, must be
to secure that end. The intellect will be used to devise means to promote that end.
The whole life and activity of a benevolent being is, and must be, a life of strenuous
economy for the promotion of the one great end of benevolence. Extravagance, self-indulgence,
waste, are necessarily foreign to love. Everything is devoted to one end. Everything
is scrupulously and wisely directed to secure the highest good of God and being in
general. This is, this must be, the universal and undeviating aim of every mind,
just so far as it is truly benevolent. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him
There are many other attributes of benevolence that might be enumerated and enlarged
upon, all of which are implied in entire obedience to the law of God. Enough has
been said, I hope, to fix attention strongly upon the fact, that every modification
of virtue, actual, conceivable, or possible, is only either an attribute or manifestation
of benevolence; and where benevolence is, there all virtue is, and must be, and every
form in which virtue does or can exist, must develope itself as its occasions shall
This lecture was typed in by Daniel F. Smith.
LECTURE XXV. Back to Top
WHAT CONSTITUTES DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
In discussing this question, I will,
I. Revert to some points that have been settled.
II. Show what disobedience to the moral law cannot consist in.
III. What it must consist in.
I. Revert to some points that have been settled.
- 1. That moral law requires love or benevolence, and that this is the sum of its
- 2. That benevolence is good-will to being in general. In other words, that it
consists in the impartial choice of the good of being, as an end, or for its own
- 3. That obedience to moral law is a unit, or that it invariably consists in disinterested
benevolence. That consecration to the highest good of being, is virtue, and comprehensive
of the whole of virtue.
- 4. That feeling and outward action are only results of ultimate intention, and
in themselves are neither virtue nor vice.
- 5. That all choice and volition must terminate upon some object, and that this
object must be chosen as an end, or as a means.
- 6. That the choice of anything as a means to an end is, in fact, only carrying
into execution the ultimate choice, or the choice of an end.
- 7. That the mind must have chosen an end, or it cannot choose the means. That
is, the choice of means implies the previous choice of an end.
- 8. That moral character belongs to the ultimate intention only, or to the choice
of an end.
- 9. That virtue, or obedience to moral law, consists in choosing in accordance
with the demands of the intellect, in opposition to following the feelings, desires,
or impulses of the sensibility.
- 10. That whatever is chosen for its own sake, and not as a means to an end, is
and must be chosen as an end.
- 11. That the mind must always have an end in view, or it cannot choose at all.
That is, as has been said, the will must have an object of choice, and this object
must be regarded as an end, or as a means.
- 12. That the fundamental reason for choosing an end, and the end chosen, are
identical. That is, the fundamental reason of the obligation to choose a thing, must
be found in the nature of the thing itself, and this reason is the end or thing chosen.
For example: if the intrinsic value of a thing be the foundation of the obligation
to choose it, the intrinsically valuable is the end or thing chosen.
II. Show in what disobedience to moral law cannot consist.
- 1. It cannot consist in malevolence, or in the choice of evil or misery as an
ultimate end. This will appear, if we consider,--
- (1.) That the choice of an end implies the choice of it, not for no reason, but
for a reason, and for its own intrinsic value, or because the mind prizes it on its
own account. But moral agents are so constituted, that they cannot regard misery
as intrinsically valuable. They cannot, therefore, choose it as an ultimate end,
nor prize it on its own account.
(2.) To will misery as an ultimate end, would imply the choice of universal misery,
and every degree of it, according to its relative amount.
(3.) The choice of universal misery as an end, implies the choice of all the means
necessary to that end.
(4.) The end chosen is identical with the reason for choosing it. To say that a thing
can be chosen without any reason, is to say that nothing is chosen, or that there
is no object of choice, or that there is actually no choice. Misery may be chosen
to assert our own sovereignty; but this were to choose self-gratification, and not
misery, as an ultimate end. To choose misery as an ultimate end, is to choose it,
not to assert my own sovereignty, nor for any other reason than because it is misery.
(5.) To choose an end is not to choose without any reason, as has been said, but
for some reason.
(6.) To choose misery as an end, is to choose it for the reason that it is misery,
and that misery is preferred to happiness, for its own sake, which is absurd. Such
a supposition overlooks the very nature of choice.
(7.) To will misery as a means is possible, but this is not malevolence, but might
be either benevolence or selfishness.
(8.) The constitution of moral beings renders malevolence, or the willing of misery
for its own sake, impossible. Therefore disobedience to moral law cannot consist
- 2. Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in the constitution of soul or body.
The law does not command us to have a certain constitution, nor forbid us to have
the constitution with which we came into being.
- 3. It cannot consist in any unavoidable state, either of the sensibility or of
the intelligence; for these, as we have seen, are involuntary, and are dependent
upon the actings of the will.
- 4. It cannot consist in outward actions, independent of the design with which
they are put forth, for these, we have seen are controlled by the actions of the
will, and, therefore, can have no moral character in themselves.
- 5. It cannot consist in inaction: for total inaction is to a moral agent impossible.
Moral agents are necessarily active. That is, they cannot exist as moral agents without
choice. They must, by a law of necessity, choose either in accordance with, or in
opposition to, the law of God. They are free to choose in either direction, but they
are not free to abstain from choice altogether. Choose they must. The possession
of free-will, and the perception of opposing objects of choice, either exciting desire,
or developing the rational affirmation of obligation to choose, render choice one
way or the other inevitable. The law directs how they ought to choose. If they do
not choose thus, it must be because they choose otherwise, and not because they do
not choose at all.
- 6. It cannot consist in the choice of moral evil, or sin, as an ultimate end.
Sin is but an element or attribute of choice or intention, or it is intention itself.
If it be intention itself, then to make sin an end of intention, would be to make
intention or choice terminate on itself, and the sinner must choose his own choice,
or intend his own intention as an end: this is absurd.
- If sin is but an element or attribute of choice or intention, then to suppose
the sinner to choose it as an end, were to make choice or intention terminate on
an element or attribute of itself, to suppose him to choose as an end an element
of his own choice. This also is absurd and a contradiction.
The nature of a moral being forbids that he should choose sin for its own sake. He
may choose those things the choosing of which is sinful, but it is not the sinfulness
of the choice upon which the intention terminates. This is naturally impossible.
Sin may be chosen as a means of gratifying a malicious feeling, but this is not choosing
it as an end, but as a means. Malevolence, strictly speaking, is in itself impossible
to a moral agent. That is, the choice of moral or natural evil for its own sake,
contradicts the nature of moral agents, and the nature of ultimate choice, and is
therefore impossible. In common language we may charge them with malevolence; but,
strictly speaking, the evil is not the end, but the gratification of the malicious
feeling of the selfish being is the end.
- 7. Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in self-love. Self-love is simply
the constitutional desire of happiness. It is altogether an involuntary state. It
has, as a desire, no moral character, any more than has the desire of food. It is
no more sinful to desire happiness, and properly to seek it, than it is wrong to
desire food, and properly to seek that.
III. What disobedience to moral law must consist in.
- 1. It must consist in choice or ultimate intention, for moral character belongs
strictly only to ultimate intention.
- 2. As all choice must terminate on an end, or on means, and as the means cannot
be chosen until the end is chosen, and but for its sake, it follows that disobedience
to the moral law must consist in the choice of some end, or ends, inconsistent with
- 3. We have seen that misery, or natural evil, cannot be chosen as an end by a
moral agent. So this cannot be the end chosen.
- 4. We have seen also that moral evil, or sin, cannot be chosen as an ultimate
- 5. Disobedience to God's law must consist in the choice of self-gratification
as an end. In other words, it must consist essentially in committing the will, and
through the will committing the whole being, to the indulgence of self-love, as the
supreme and ultimate end of life. This is selfishness. In other words, it is seeking
to gratify the desire of personal good, in a manner prohibited by the law of God.
- It consists in choosing self-gratification as an end, or for its own sake, instead
of choosing, in accordance with the law of the reason and of God, the highest well-being
of God and of the universe as an ultimate end. In other words still, sin or disobedience
to the moral law, consists in the consecration of the heart and life to the gratification
of the constitutional and artificial desires, rather than in obedience to the law
of the intelligence. Or, once more, sin consists in being governed by impulses of
the sensibility, instead of being governed by the law of God, as it lies revealed
in the reason.
That this is sin, and the whole of sin, viewed in its germinating principles, will
appear, if we consider:--
1. That this state of mind, or this choice is the "carnal mind," or the
minding of the flesh, which the apostle affirms to be "enmity against God."
2. It is the universal representation of scripture, that sin consists in the spirit
3. This spirit of self-seeking is always in the Bible represented as the contrast
or opposite of disinterested benevolence, or the love which the law requires. "Ephraim
bringeth forth fruit to himself," is the sum of God's charges against sinners.
4. Selfishness is always spoken of in terms of reprobation in the Bible.
5. It is known by every moral agent to be sinful.
6. It is, in fact, the end which all unregenerate men pursue, and the only end they
7. When we come to the consideration of the attributes of selfishness, it will be
seen that every form of sin, not only may, but must resolve itself into selfishness,
just as we have seen that every form of virtue does and must resolve itself into
love or benevolence.
8. From the laws of its constitution, the mind is shut up to the necessity of choosing
that, as an ultimate end, which is regarded by the mind as intrinsically good or
valuable in itself. This is the very idea of choosing an end, to wit, something chosen
for its own sake, or for what it is in and of itself, or, because it is regarded
by the mind as intrinsically valuable to self, or to being in general, or to both.
9. The gratification or happiness of being is necessarily regarded by the mind as
a good in itself, or as intrinsically valuable.
10. Nothing else is or can be regarded as valuable in itself, or finally, but the
good of being.
11. Moral agents are, therefore, shut up to the necessity of willing the good of
being, either partially or impartially, either good to self, or good to being in
general. Nothing else can possibly be chosen as an end or for its own sake. Willing
the good of being impartially, as we have seen, is virtue. To will it partially is
to will it, not for its own sake, except upon condition of its relation to self.
That is, it is to will good to self. In other words, it is to will the gratification
of self as an end, in opposition to willing the good of universal being as an end,
and every good, or the good of every being, according to its intrinsic value.
12. But may not one will the good of a part of being as an end, or for the sake of
the intrinsic value of their good? This would not be benevolence, for that, as we
have seen, must consist in willing good for its own sake, and implies the willing
of every good, and of the highest good of universal being. It would not be selfishness,
as it would not be willing good to, or the gratification of, self. It would be sin,
for it would be the partial love or choice of good. It would be loving some of my
neighbours, but not all of them. It would, therefore, be sin, but not selfishness.
If this can be, then there is such a thing possible, whether actual or not, as sin
that does not consist in selfishness. But let us examine whether this supposition
would not resolve itself into selfishness.
To say that I choose good for its own sake, or because it is valuable to being, that
is, in obedience to the law of my reason, and of God, implies that I choose all possible
good, and every good according to its relative value. If, then, a being chooses his
own good, or the good of any being as an ultimate end, in obedience to the law of
reason, it must be that he chooses, for the same reason, the highest possible good
of all sentient being.
The partial choice of good implies the choice of it, not merely for its own sake,
but upon condition of its relations to self, or to certain particular persons. Its
relations conditionate the choice. When its relations to self conditionate the choice,
so that it is chosen, not for its intrinsic value, irrespective of its relations,
but for its relations to self, this is selfishness. It is the partial choice of good.
If I choose the good of others besides myself, and choose good because of its relations
to them, it must be either--
1. Because I love their persons with the love of fondness, and will their good for
that reason, that is, to gratify my affection for them, which is selfishness; or--
2. Because of their relations to me, so that good to them is in some way a good to
me, which also is selfishness; or--
3. Upon condition that they are worthy, which is benevolence; for if I will good
to a being upon condition that he is worthy, I must value the good for its own sake,
and will it particularly to him, because he deserves it. This is benevolence, and
not the partial choice of good, because it is obeying the law of my reason. If I
will the good of any being, or number of beings, it must be for some reason. I must
will it as an end, or as a means. If I will it as an end, it must be the universal
or impartial choice of good. If I will it as a means, it must be as a means to some
end. The end cannot be their good for its own sake, for this would be willing it
as an end, and not as a means. If I will it as a means, it must be as a means of
my own gratification.
Again: If I will the good of any number of beings, I must do it in obedience
to the law either of my intelligence and of God, or of my sensibility. But, if I
will in obedience to the law of my intelligence, it must be the choice of the highest
good of universal being. But if I will in obedience to the law or impulse of my sensibility,
it must be to gratify my feelings or desires. This is selfishness.
Again: As the will must either follow the law of the reason and of God, or
the impulses of the sensibility, it follows that moral agents are shut up to the
necessity of being selfish or benevolent, and that there is no third way, because
there is no third medium, through which any object of choice, can be presented. The
mind can absolutely know nothing as an object of choice, that is not recommended
by one of these faculties. Selfishness, then, and benevolence, are the only two alternatives.
Therefore, disobedience to the moral law must essentially consist in selfishness,
and in selfishness alone.
It has been said, that a moral agent may will the good of others for its own sake,
and yet not will the good of all. That is, that he may will the good of some for
its intrinsic value, and yet not will universal good. But this is absurd. To make
the valuable the object of choice for its own sake, without respect to any conditions
or relations, is the same as to will all possible and universal good: that is, the
one necessarily implies and includes the other. It has been asserted, for example,
that an infidel abolitionist may be conscious of willing and seeking the good of
the slave for its own sake, or disinterestedly, and yet not exercise universal benevolence.
I reply, he deceives himself, just as a man would, who would say, he chooses fruit
for its own sake. The fact is, he is conscious of desiring fruit for its own sake.
But he does not and cannot choose it for its own sake. He chooses it in obedience
to his desire, that is, to gratify his desire. So it is, and must be, with the infidel
abolitionist. It cannot be that he chooses the good of the slave in obedience to
the law of his intelligence and of God; for if he did, his benevolence would be universal.
It must be, then, that he chooses the good of the slave, because he desires it, or
to gratify a constitutional desire. Men naturally desire their own happiness, and
the happiness of others: this is constitutional. But when, in obedience to these
desires, they will their own or others' happiness, they seek to gratify their sensibility
or desires: this is selfishness.
Let it be remembered, then, that sin is a unit, and always and necessarily consists
in selfish ultimate intention, and in nothing else. This intention is sin; and thus
we see that every phase of sin resolves itself into selfishness. This will appear
more and more, as we proceed to unfold the subject of moral depravity.
This lecture was typed in by Daniel F. Smith.
LECTURE XXVI. Back to Top
WHAT IS NOT IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
In this discussion, I will
I. State briefly what constitutes disobedience.
II. Show what is not implied in it.
I. What constitutes disobedience.
We have seen that all sin or disobedience to moral law is a unit, and that it consists
in selfishness, or in the choice of self-gratification as an end; in other words,
that it consists in committing the will to the impulses of the sensibility, to the
desires, emotions, feelings, and passions, instead of committing it to the good of
being in general, in obedience to the law of the reason, or to the law of God as
it is revealed in the reason. Selfishness is the intention to gratify self as an
end. It is the preference of self-interest to other and higher interests.
II. What is not implied in disobedience to the law of God.
- 1. It does not necessarily imply an intention to do wrong. The thing intended
in selfishness is to gratify self as an end. This is wrong; but it is not necessary
to its being wrong, that the wrongness should be aimed at or intended. There may
be a state of malicious feeling in a moral agent that would be gratified by the commission
of sin. A sinner may have knowingly and intentionally made war upon God and man,
and this may have induced a state of the sensibility so hostile to God, as that the
sinner has a malicious desire to offend and abuse God, to violate his law, and trample
upon his authority. This state of feeling may take the control of the will, and he
may deliberately intend to violate the law and to do what God hates, for the purpose
of gratifying this feeling. This, however, it will be seen, is not malevolence, or
willing either natural or moral evil, for its own sake, but as a means of self-gratification.
It is selfishness, and not malevolence.
- But in the vast majority of instances, where the law is violated and sin committed,
the wrong of the doing is no part of the sinner's aim or intention. He intends to
gratify himself at all events. This intention is wrong. But it is not an intention
to do wrong, nor is the wrong in any case the end upon which the intention terminates.
There is a great mistake often entertained upon this subject. Many seem to think
that they do not sin unless they intend to sin. The important truth, that sin belongs
only to the ultimate intention, than which nothing is more true or more important,
has been perverted in this manner. It has been assumed by some that they had not
done wrong, nor intended wrong, because they were conscious that the wrong was not
the end at which they aimed. "I did not intend the wrong," say they, "and
therefore I did not sin." Now here is a fatal mistake, and a total perversion
of the great and important truth, that sin and holiness belong only to the ultimate
- 2. Disobedience to the moral law does not imply that wrong, or sin, or in other
words, disobedience is ever intended as an end, or for its own sake. Gross mistakes
have been fallen into upon this subject. Sinners have been represented as loving
sin, and as choosing it for its own sake. They have also been represented as having
a natural and constitutional craving or appetite for sin, such as carnivorous animals
have for flesh. Now, if this craving existed, still it would not prove that sin is
sought or intended for its own sake. I have a constitutional desire for food and
drink. My desires terminate on these objects, that is, they are desired for their
own sake. But they never are, and never can be chosen for their own sake, or as an
end. They are chosen as a means of gratifying the desire, or may be chosen as a means
of glorifying God, or both. Just so, if it were true that sinners have a constitutional
appetency for sin, the sin would be desired for its own sake, or as an end, but could
never be chosen except as a means of self-gratification.
- But again. It is not true that sinners have a constitutional appetency
and craving for sin. They have a constitutional appetite or desire for a great many
things around them. They crave food, and drink, and knowledge. So did our first parents;
and when these desires were strongly excited, they were a powerful temptation to
prohibited indulgence. Eve craved the fruit, and the knowledge which she supposed
she might attain by partaking of it. These desires led her to seek their indulgence
in a prohibited manner. She desired and craved the food and the knowledge, and not
the sin of eating. So, all sinners have constitutional and artificial appetites and
desires enough. But not one of them is a craving for sin, unless it be the exception
already named, when the mind has come into such relations to God, as to have a malicious
satisfaction in abusing him. But this is not natural to man, and if it ever exists,
is only brought about by rejecting great light, and inducing a most terrible perversion
of the sensibility. But such cases are extremely rare; whereas, it has been strangely
and absurdly maintained that all sinners, in consequence of the fall of Adam, have
a sinful constitution, or one that craves sin, as it craves food and drink. This
is false in fact, and absurd in philosophy, and wholly inconsistent with scripture,
as we shall see, when we make moral depravity the special subject of attention. The
facts are these: men have constitutional desires, appetites, and passions. These
are not sinful in themselves; they all terminate on their respective objects. Selfishness,
or sin, consists in choosing the gratification of these desires as an end, or in
preferring their gratification to other and higher interests. This choice or intention
is sinful. But, as I have said, sin is not the object intended, but self-gratification
is the end intended.
Again: that disobedience to the law of God does not imply the choice of sin,
or the wrong for its own sake, has been shown in a former lecture. But I must so
far repeat as to say, that it is impossible that sin should be chosen as an end.
Sin belongs to the ultimate intention. It either consists in, and is identical with,
selfish intention, or it is the moral element or attribute of that intention. If
it be identical with it, then to intend sin as an end, or for its own sake, were
to intend my own intention as an end. If sin be but the moral element, quality, or
attribute of the intention, then to intend sin as an end, I must intend an attribute
of my intention as an end. Either alternative is absurd and impossible.
- 3. Disobedience to moral law does not imply, that the wrongness or sinfulness
of the intention, is so much as thought of at the time the intention is formed. The
sin not only need not be intended, but it is not essential to sin, that the moral
character of the intention be at all taken into consideration, or so much as thought
of at the time the intention is formed. The sinner ought to will the good of being.
This he knows, and if he be a moral agent, which is implied in his being a sinner,
he cannot but assume this as a first truth, that he ought to will the good of being
in general, and not his own gratification, as an end. This truth he always and necessarily
takes with him, in the form of an assumption of a universal truth. He knows, and
cannot but know, that he ought to will the good of God and of the universe, as an
end, instead of willing his own good as an end. Now, this being necessarily assumed
by him as a first truth, it is no more essential to sin, that he should think at
the time that a particular intention is or would be sinful, than it is essential
to murder, that the law of causality should be distinctly before the mind, as an
object of attention, when the murderer aims the fatal weapon at his victim. Murder
consists in a selfish intention to kill a human being. I point a pistol at my neighbour's
head with an intention to gratify a spirit of revenge or of avarice, or some such
desire, by taking his life. I am, however, so exasperated, or so intent on self-gratification,
as not to think of the law of God, or of God himself, or of my obligation to do otherwise.
Now, am I hereby justified? No, indeed. I no more think of that law of causality
which alone will secure the effect at which I aim, than I do of my obligation, and
of the moral character of my intention. Nevertheless, I assume, and cannot but assume,
those first truths at the moment of my intention. The first truths of reason are
those, as has been repeatedly said, that are necessarily known and assumed by all
moral agents. Among these truths are those of causality, moral obligation, right,
wrong, human free agency, &c. Now, whether I think of these truths or not at
every moment, I cannot but assume their truth at all times. In every endeavour to
do anything, I assume the truth of causality, and generally without being conscious
of any such assumption. I also assume the truth of my own free agency, and equally
without being conscious of the assumption. I also assume that happiness is a good,
for I am aiming to realize it to myself. I assume that it is valuable to myself,
and cannot but assume that it is equally valuable to others. I cannot but assume
also, that it ought to be chosen because of its intrinsic value, and that it ought
to be chosen impartially, that is, that the good of each should be chosen according
to its relative or intrinsic value. This is assuming my obligation to will it as
an end, and is also assuming the rightness of such willing, and the wrongness of
- Now every moral agent does, and must, and this fact constitutes him a moral agent,
assume all these, and divers other truths, at every moment of his moral agency. He
assumes them all, one as really and as much as the other, and they are all assumed
as first truths; and in the great majority of instances, the mind is not more taken
up with the consciousness of the assumption, or with attending to those truths, as
a subject of thought, than it is with the first truths, that space exists and is
infinite, that duration exists and is infinite. It is of the highest importance,
that this should be distinctly understood--that sin does not imply, that the moral
character of an act or intention should be distinctly before the mind, at the time
of its commission. Indeed, it is perfectly common for sinners to act thoughtlessly,
as they say, that is, without reflecting upon the moral character of their intentions.
But hereby they are not justified. Indeed, this very fact is often but an evidence
and an instance of extreme depravity. Think you than an angel could sin thoughtlessly?
Could he form a selfish intention without reflection, or thinking of its wickedness?
Sinners, in sinning thoughtlessly, give the highest evidence of their desperate voluntary
depravity. A sinner may become so hardened, and his conscience so stupified, that
he may go on from day to day without thinking of God, of moral obligation, of right
or wrong; and yet his sin and his guilt are real. He does and must know, and assume
all these truths at every step, just as he assumes his own existence, the law of
causality, his own liberty or free agency, &c. None of these need to be made
the object of the mind's attention: they are known and need not to be learned. They
are first truths, and we cannot act at all without assuming them. They are in the
- 4. Disobedience to moral law does not necessarily imply an outwardly immoral
life. A sinner may outwardly conform to every precept of the Bible, from selfish
motives, or with a selfish intention, to gratify himself, to secure his own reputation
here, and even his salvation hereafter. This is sin; but it is not outward immorality,
but, on the contrary, is outward morality.
- 5. Disobedience to moral law does not necessarily imply feelings of enmity to
God or to man. The will may be set upon self-indulgence, and yet as the sinner does
not apprehend God's indignation against him, and his opposition to him, on that account,
he may have no hard feelings, or feelings of hatred to God. Should God reveal to
him his abhorrence of him on account of his sins, his determination to punish him
for them, the holy sovereignty with which he will dispose of him; in this case, the
sinner might, and probably would, feel deeply malicious and revengeful feelings towards
God. But sin does not consist in these feelings, nor necessarily imply them.
- 6. Sin, or disobedience to moral law, does not imply, in any instance, a sinful
nature; or a constitution in itself sinful. Adam and Eve sinned. Holy angels sinned.
Certainly in their case, sin or disobedience, did not imply a sinful nature or constitution.
Adam and Eve, certainly, and holy angels also, must have sinned by yielding to temptation.
The constitutional desire being excited by the perception of their correlated objects,
they consented to prefer their own gratification to obedience to God, in other words,
to make their gratification an end. This was their sin. But in this there was no
sin in their constitutions, and no other tendency to sin than this, that these desires,
when strongly excited, are a temptation to unlawful indulgence.
- It has been strangely and absurdly assumed, that sin in action implies a sinful
nature. But this is contrary to fact and to sound philosophy, as well as contrary
to the Bible, which we shall see in its proper place.
As it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with every sinner. There is not, there cannot
be, sin in the nature of the constitution. But there are constitutional appetites
and passions, and when these are strongly excited, they are a strong temptation or
inducement to the will, to seek their gratification as an ultimate end. This, as
I have said, is sin, and nothing else is or can be sin. It is selfishness. Under
its appropriate head, I shall show that the nature or constitution of sinners has
become physically depraved or diseased, and that as a consequence, the appetites
and passions are more easily excited, and are more clamorous and despotic in their
demands; and that, therefore, the constitution of man in its present state, tends
more strongly than it otherwise would do, to sin. But to affirm that the constitution
is in itself sinful, is worse than nonsense; it is contradicting God's own definition
of sin. It is to stultify the whole question of morality and religion. But this we
shall more fully see in a future lecture.
This lecture was typed in by Daniel F. Smith.
LECTURE XXVII. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
In the discussion of this question, I must--
I. Remind you of what constitutes disobedience to moral law.
II. Show what is implied in it.
I. What constitutes disobedience to moral law?
- 1. We have seen that disobedience to moral law consists always in selfishness.
- 2. Selfishness consists in the ultimate choice of our own gratification.
- 3. An ultimate choice is the choice of an end, or the choice of something for
its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value.
- 4. The choice of our own gratification as an ultimate end, is the preference
of our own gratification, not merely because gratification is a good, but because,
and upon condition, that it is our own gratification, or a good to self.
- 5. Selfishness chooses and cares for good only upon condition that it belongs
to self. It is not the gratification of being in general, but self-gratification
upon which selfishness terminates. It is a good because it belongs to self, or is
chosen upon that condition. But when it is affirmed, that selfishness is sin, and
the whole of sin, we are in danger of misconceiving the vast import of the word,
and of taking a very narrow and superficial and inadequate view of the subject. It
is, therefore, indispensable to raise and push the inquiry,--What is implied in selfishness?
What are its characteristics and essential elements? What modifications or attributes
does it develope and manifest, under the various circumstances in which in the providence
of God it is placed? It consists in the committal of the will to the gratification
of desire. The apostle calls it "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of
the mind." What must be implied in the state of mind which consists in the committal
of the whole being to the gratification of self as an end? What must be the effect
upon the desires themselves, to be thus indulged? What must be the effect upon the
intellect, to have its high demands trampled under foot? What must be the developements
of it in the outward life? What must be the effect upon the temper and spirit, to
have self-indulgence the law of the soul? This leads to the investigation of the
point before us, namely--
II. What is implied in disobedience to moral law?
The inquiry, it will be seen, naturally divides itself into two branches. The first
respects the moral character of selfishness, the second respects the attributes of
selfishness. We will attend to these two inquiries in their order, and--
- 1. What is implied in the fact, that selfishness is a breach of moral law? Why
is selfishness blameworthy? Why is not a spirit of self-seeking in mere animals or
brute beasts, as much a breach of moral law as is the same spirit in man? If this
spirit of self-seeking in man is sin, what is implied in this fact? In other words,
what conditions are necessary to render a spirit of self-seeking a breach of moral
law? These conditions, whatever they are, must be implied in disobedience to moral
law. This brings us to the direct consideration of the things that belong to the
first branch of our inquiry.
- (1.) Disobedience to moral law implies the possession of the powers of moral
agency. These have been so often enumerated as to render any enlargement upon this
point unnecessary, except to say, that it is impossible for any but a moral agent
to violate moral law. Mere animals may do that which the moral law prohibits in moral
agents. But the moral law does not legislate over them; therefore, those things in
them are not sin, not a violation of moral law.
(2.) It implies knowledge of the end which a moral agent is bound to choose. We have
seen that the moral law requires love, and that this love is benevolence, and that
benevolence is the disinterested and impartial choice of the highest good of God
and of being in general, as an end. Now it follows, that this end must be apprehended,
before we can possibly choose it. Therefore, obligation to choose it implies the
perception or knowledge of it. Disobedience to moral law, then, implies the developement
in the reason of the idea of the good or valuable to being. A being therefore who
has not reason, or the ideas of whose reason on moral subjects are not at all developed,
cannot violate the law of God; for over such the moral law does not extend its claims.
(3.) It implies the developement of the correlatives of the ideas of the good or
the valuable, to wit, the ideas of moral obligation to will or choose it for the
sake of its intrinsic value, and also the ideas of right and wrong. When the idea
of the valuable to being is once developed, the mind is so constituted, that it cannot
but instantly or simultaneously affirm its obligation to will it as an end, and every
good according to its perceived relative value.
(4.) Disobedience, &c., also implies the developement of the correlative of the
ideas of right and wrong, namely: the ideas of praise or blame-worthiness, or of
merit and demerit. This idea, that is, the idea of moral character, is the correlative
of that of right and wrong, in such a sense, that the idea of right and wrong necessitates
and implies the idea of moral character, or of praise and blame-worthiness. When
these conditions are fulfilled, and not till then, does the spirit of self-seeking,
or the choice of our own gratification as an end, become sin, or constitute a breach
of moral law. It will follow, that no beings are subjects of moral government, and
capable of disobedience to moral law, but such as are moral agents, that is, such
as possess both the powers of moral agency, and have these powers in such a state
of developement and integrity, as to render obedience possible. It will follow, that
neither the brute animals nor idiots, nor lunatics, nor somnambulists, nor indeed
any being who is not rational and free, can disobey the moral law.
- 2. We come now to the second branch of the inquiry, namely: What is implied in
selfishness, what are its attributes, and what states of the sensibility, and what
outward developements, are implied in selfishness. This, it will be seen, brings
us to the immensely interesting and important task of contrasting selfishness with
benevolence. Formerly we considered the attributes of benevolence, and also what
states of the sensibility and of the intellect, and also what outward actions, were
implied in it, as necessarily resulting from it. We are now to take the same course
with selfishness: and--
- (1.) Voluntariness is an attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness has often been confounded with mere desire. But these things are by no
means identical. Desire is constitutional. It is a phenomenon of the sensibility.
It is a purely involuntary state of mind, and can in itself produce no action, nor
can it, in itself, have moral character. Selfishness is a phenomenon of the will,
and consists in committing the will to the gratification of the desires. The desire
itself is not selfishness, but submitting the will to be governed by the desires,
is selfishness. It should be understood, that no kind of mere desire, and no strength
of mere desire, constitutes selfishness. Selfishness commences when the will yields
to the desire, and seeks to obey it, in opposition to the law of the intelligence.
It matters not what kind of desire it is; if it is the desire that governs the will,
this is selfishness. It must be the will in a state of committal to the gratification
of the desire.
(2.) Liberty is another attribute of selfishness.
That is, the choice of self-gratification is not necessitated by desire. But the
will is always free to choose in opposition to desire. This every moral agent is
as conscious of as of his own existence. The desire is not free, but the choice to
gratify it is and must be free. There is a sense, as I shall have occasion to show,
in which slavery is an attribute of selfishness, but not in the sense that the will
chooses, by a law of necessity, to gratify desire. Liberty, in the sense of ability
to make an opposite choice, must ever remain an attribute of selfishness, while selfishness
continues to be a sin, or while it continues to sustain any relation to moral law.
(3.) Intelligence is another attribute of selfishness.
By this it is not intended, that intelligence is an attribute or phenomenon of will,
nor that the choice of self-gratification is in accordance with the demands of the
intellect. But it is intended, that the choice is made with the knowledge of the
moral character that will be involved in it. The mind knows its obligation to make
an opposite choice. It is not a mistake. It is not a choice made in ignorance of
moral obligation to choose the highest good of being, as an end, in opposition to
self-gratification. It is an intelligent choice in the sense, that it is a known
resistance of the demands of the intellect. It is a known rejection of its claims.
It is a known setting up of self-gratification, and preferring it to all higher interests.
(4.) Unreasonableness is another attribute of selfishness.
By this it is intended, that the selfish choice is in direct opposition to the demands
of the reason. The reason was given to rule, that is, to affirm obligation, and thus
announce the law of God. It affirms law and moral obligation. Obedience to moral
law, as it is revealed in the reason, is virtue. Obedience to the sensibility in
opposition to the reason, is sin. Selfishness consists in this. It is a dethroning
of reason from the seat of government, and an enthroning of blind desire in opposition
to it. Selfishness is always and necessarily unreasonable. It is a denial of that
divine attribute that allies man to God, makes him capable of virtue, and is a sinking
him to the level of a brute. It is a denial of his manhood, of his rational nature.
It is a contempt of the voice of God within him, and a deliberate trampling down
the sovereignty of his own intellect. Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason,
and would dethrone the divine, and place mere blind lust upon the throne of the universe.
The very definition of selfishness implies that unreasonableness is one of its attributes.
Selfishness consists in the will's yielding itself to the impulses of the sensibility,
in opposition to the demands of the intelligence. Therefore, every act or choice
of the will is necessarily altogether unreasonable. The sinner, while he continues
such, never says nor does one thing that is in accordance with right reason. Hence
the Bible says, that "madness is in their heart while they live." They
have made an unreasonable choice of an end, and all their choices of means to secure
their end are only a carrying out of their ultimate choice. They are, every one of
them, put forth to secure an end contrary to reason. Therefore, no sinner who has
never been converted, has, even in a single instance, chosen otherwise than in direct
opposition to reason.
They are not merely sometimes unreasonable, but uniformly, and, while they remain
selfish, necessarily so. The very first time that a sinner acts or wills reasonably,
is when he turns to God, or repents and becomes a Christian. This is the first instance
in which he practically acknowledges that he has reason. All previous to this, every
one of the actions of his will and of his life, is a practical denial of his manhood,
of his rational nature, of his obligation to God or his neighbour. We sometimes hear
impenitent sinners spoken of as being unreasonable, in such a manner as to imply
that all sinners are not so. But this only favours the delusion of sinners by leaving
them to suppose that they are not all of them, at all times, altogether unreasonable.
But the fact is, that there is not, and there never can be, in earth or hell, one
impenitent sinner who, in any instance, acts otherwise than in direct and palpable
opposition to his reason.
It had, therefore, been infinitely better for sinners if they had never been endowed
with reason. They do not merely act without consulting their reason, but in stout
and determined opposition to it.
Again: They act as directly in opposition to it as they possibly can. They
not only oppose it, but they oppose it as much, in as aggravated a manner, as possible.
What can be more directly and aggravatedly opposed to reason than the choice which
the sinner makes of an end? Reason was given him to direct him in regard to the choice
of the great end of life. It gives him the idea of the eternal and the infinite.
It spreads out before him the interests of God and of the universe as of absolutely
infinite value. It affirms their value, and the infinite obligation of the sinner
to consecrate himself to these interests; and it promises him endless rewards if
he will do so. On the contrary, it lays before him the consequences of refusal. It
thunders in his ear the terrible sanctions of the law. It points him to the coming
doom that awaits his refusal to comply with its demands. But behold, in the face
of all this, the sinner, unhesitatingly, in the face of these affirmations, demands,
and threatenings, turns away and consecrates himself to the gratification of his
desires with the certainty that he could not do greater despite to his own nature
than in this most mad, most preposterous, most blasphemous choice. Why do not sinners
consider that it is impossible for them to offer a greater insult to God, who gave
them reason, or more truly and deeply to shame and degrade themselves, than they
do in their beastly selfishness? Total, universal, and shameless unreasonableness,
is the universal characteristic of every selfish mind.
(5.) Interestedness is another attribute of selfishness.
By interestedness is meant self-interestedness. It is not the disinterested choice
of good, that is, it is not the choice of the good of being in general as an end,
but it is the choice of self-good, of good to self. Its relation to self is the condition
of the choice of this good. But for its being the good of self, it would not be chosen.
The fundamental reason, or that which should induce choice, to wit, the intrinsic
value of good, is rejected as insufficient; and the secondary reason, namely, its
relation to self, is the condition of determining the will in this direction. This
is really making self-good the supreme end. In other words, it is making self-gratification
the end. Nothing is practically regarded as worthy of choice, except as it sustains
to self the relation of a means of self-gratification.
This attribute of selfishness secures a corresponding state of the sensibility. The
sensibility, under this indulgence, attains to a monstrous developement, either generally,
or in some particular directions. Selfishness is the committal of the will to the
indulgence of the propensities. But from this it by no means follows, that all of
the propensities will be indiscriminately indulged, and thereby greatly developed.
Sometimes one propensity, and sometimes another, has the greatest natural strength,
and thereby gains the ascendancy in the control of the will. Sometimes circumstances
tend more strongly to the developement of one appetite or passion than another. Whatever
propensity is most indulged, will gain the greatest developement. The propensities
cannot all be indulged at once, for they are often opposed to each other. But they
may all be indulged and developed in their turn. For example, the licentious propensities,
and various other propensities, cannot be indulged consistently with the simultaneous
indulgence of the avaricious propensities, the desire of reputation and of ultimate
happiness. Each of these, and even all the propensities, may come in for a share,
and in some instances may gain so equal a share of indulgence, as upon the whole
to be about equally developed. But in general, either from constitutional temperament,
or from circumstances, some one or more of the propensities will gain so uniform
a control of the will, as to occasion its monstrous developement. It may be the love
of reputation; and then there will be at least a public decent exterior, more or
less strict, according to the state of morals in the society in which the individual
dwells. If it be amativeness that gains the ascendency over the other propensities,
licentiousness will be the result. If it be alimentiveness, then gluttony and Epicurism
will be the result. The result of selfishness must be, to develope in general, or
in particular, the propensities of the sensibility, and to beget a corresponding
exterior. If avarice take the control of the will, we have the haggard and ragged
miser. All the other propensities wither under the reign of this detestable one.
Where the love of knowledge prevails, we have the scholar, the philosopher, the man
of learning. This is one of the most decent and respectable forms of selfishness,
but is nevertheless as absolutely selfishness as any other form. When compassion,
as a feeling, prevails, we have, as a result, the philanthropist, and often the reformer;
not the reformer in a virtuous sense, but the selfish reformer. Where love of kindred
prevails, we often have the kind husband, the affectionate father, mother, brother,
sister, and so on. These are the amiable sinners, especially among their own kindred.
When the love of country prevails, we have the patriot, the statesman, and the soldier.
This picture might be drawn at full length, but with these traits I must leave you
to fill up the outline. I would only add, that several of these forms of selfishness
so nearly resemble certain forms of virtue, as often to be confounded with them,
and mistaken for them. Indeed, so far as the outward life is concerned, they are
right, in the letter, but as they do not proceed from disinterestedly benevolent
intention, they are only specious forms of selfishness.
(6.) Partiality is another attribute of selfishness. It consists in giving the preference
to certain interests, on account of their being either directly the interests of
self, or so connected with self-interest as to be preferred on that account. It matters
not, whether the interest to which the preference is given be of greater or of less
value, if so be it is preferred, not for the reason of its greater value, but because
of its relation to self. In some instances the practical preference may justly be
given to a less interest, on account of its sustaining such a relation to us that
we can secure it, when the greater interest could not be secured by us. If the reason
of the preference, in such case, be, not that it is self-interest, but an interest
that can be secured while the greater cannot, the preference is a just one, and not
partiality. My family, for example, sustain such relations to me, that I can more
readily and surely secure their interests, than I can those of my neighbour, or of
a stranger. For this reason I am under obligation to give the practical preference
to the interests of my own family, not because they are my own, nor because their
interests sustain such a relation to my own, but because I can more readily secure
their interests than those of any other family.
The question in such a case turns upon the amount I am able to secure, and not on
their intrinsic value merely. It is a general truth, that we can secure more readily
and certainly the interests of those to whom we sustain certain relations; and, therefore,
God and reason point out these interests as particular objects of our attention and
effort. This is not partiality but impartiality. It is treating interests as they
should be treated.
But selfishness is always partial. If it gives any interest whatever the preference,
it is because of its relation to self. It always, and, continuing to be selfishness,
necessarily, lays the greatest stress upon, and gives the preference to, those interests
the promotion of which will gratify self.
Here care should be taken to avoid delusion. Oftentimes selfishness appears to be
very disinterested and very impartial. For example: here is a man whose compassion,
as a mere feeling or state of the sensibility, is greatly developed. He meets a beggar,
an object that strongly excites his ruling passion. He empties his pockets, and even
takes off his coat and gives it to him, and in his paroxysm he will divide his all
with him, or even give him all. Now this would generally pass for most undoubted
virtue, as a rare and impressive instance of moral goodness. But there is no virtue,
no benevolence in it. It is the mere yielding of the will to the control of feeling,
and has nothing in it of the nature of virtue. Innumerable examples of this might
be adduced, as illustrations of this truth. It is only an instance and an illustration
of selfishness. It is the will seeking to gratify the feeling of compassion, which
for the time is the strongest desire.
We constitutionally desire not only our own happiness, but also that of men in general,
when their happiness in no way conflicts with our own. Hence selfish men will often
manifest a deep interest in the welfare of those, whose welfare will not interfere
with their own. Now, should the will be yielded up to the gratification of this desire,
this would often be regarded as virtue. For example: a few years since much interest
and feeling were excited in this country by the cause and sufferings of the Greeks,
in their struggle for liberty; and since in the cause of the Poles. A spirit of enthusiasm
appeared, and many were ready to give and do almost anything for the cause of liberty.
They gave up their will to the gratification of this excited state of feeling. This,
they may have supposed, was virtue; but it was not, nor was there a semblance of
virtue about it, when it is once understood, that virtue consists in yielding the
will to the law of the intelligence, and not to the impulse of excited feelings.
Some writers have fallen into the strange mistake of making virtue to consist in
seeking the gratification of certain desires, because, as they say, these desires
are virtuous. They make some of the desires selfish, and some benevolent. To yield
the will to the control of the selfish propensities is sin; to yield the will to
the control of the benevolent desires, such as the desire of my neighbour's happiness
and of the public happiness, is virtue, because these are good desires, while the
selfish desires are evil. Is not this the doctrine taught by Bishop Butler? Now this
is, and has been, a very common view of virtue and vice. But it is fundamentally
erroneous. None of the constitutional desires are good or evil in themselves; they
are all alike involuntary, and all alike terminate on their correlated objects. To
yield the will to the control of any one of them, no matter which, is sin; it is
following a blind feeling, desire, or impulse of the sensibility, instead of yielding
to the demands of the intelligence, as the law affirming power. To will the good
of my neighbour, or of my country, and of God, because of the intrinsic value of
those interests, that is, to will them as an end, and in obedience to the law of
the reason, is virtue; but to will them to gratify a constitutional but blind desire,
is selfishness and sin. The desires terminate on their respective objects, but the
will, in this case, seeks the objects, not for their own sake, but because they are
desired, that is, to gratify the desires. This is choosing them, not as an end, but
as a means of self-gratification. This is making self-gratification the end after
all. This must be a universal truth, when a thing is chosen merely in obedience to
desire. The benevolence of these writers is sheer selfishness, and their virtue is
The choice of any thing whatever, because it is desired, irrespective of the demands
of the reason, is selfishness and sin. It matters not what it is. The very statement,
that I choose a thing because I desire it, is only another form of saying, that I
choose it for my own sake, or for the sake of appeasing the desire, and not on account
of its own intrinsic value. All such choice is always and necessarily partial. It
is giving one interest the preference over another, not because of its perceived
intrinsic and superior value, but because it is an object of desire. If I yield to
mere desire in any case, it must be to gratify the desire. This is, and in the case
supposed must be, the end for which the choice is made. To deny this is to deny that
the will seeks the object because it is desired. Partiality consists in giving one
thing the preference over another for no good reason. That is, not because the intelligence
demands this preference, but because the sensibility demands it. Partiality is therefore
always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.
(7.) Impenitence is another modification of selfishness. Perhaps it is more proper
to say, that impenitence is only another name for selfishness. Penitence, or repentance,
is the turning of the heart from selfishness to benevolence. Impenitence is the heart's
cleaving to the commission of sin under light, or under the pressure of affirmed
obligation or, more properly, cleaving to that, the willing and doing of which is
sin. But this we shall more fully see in another place.
(8.) Unbelief is another modification or attribute of selfishness. Unbelief is not
a mere negation, or the mere absence of faith. Faith, as an attribute of benevolence,
is that quality which commits it to truth and to the God of truth, to veracity as
a condition of securing its end. Unbelief, as an attribute of selfishness, is that
quality that withholds confidence, and refuses to trust in God, or to commit itself
to truth. Faith, as an attribute of benevolence, is the quality, in the nature of
benevolence, that causes it to commit itself to truth in specific executive acts.
This attribute of benevolence causes it to commit the life and the whole being to
be moulded and influenced by truth. Unbelief, as an attribute of selfishness, is
that quality that causes it to withhold specific acts of confidence in God and in
truth. It is saying--I will take care of my own interests and let God take care of
his. "Who is God that I should serve him? and what profit should I have, if
I pray unto Him?" It is that in selfishness which is the ground of the refusal
to commit ourselves to the guidance of God, and which leads us to trust in our own
guidance. It is self-trust, self-dependence; and what is this but selfishness and
our own self-seeking? Christ says to the Jews, "How can ye believe which seek
honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" This
assumes that unbelief is a modification of selfishness; that their regard to their
reputation with men, rendered faith, while that self-seeking spirit was indulged,
impossible. They withheld confidence in Christ, because it would cost them their
reputation with men to believe. So every sinner, who ever heard the gospel and has
not embraced it, withholds confidence from Christ, because it will cost self too
much to yield this confidence. This is true in every case of unbelief. Confidence
is withheld, because to yield it involves and implies the denying of ourselves all
ungodliness and every worldly lust. Christ requires the abandonment of every form
and degree of selfishness. To believe is to receive with the heart Christ's instruction
and requirements; to trust in them,--to commit our whole being to be moulded by them.
Unbelief, then, is only a selfish withholding of this confidence, this committal.
The fact is, that faith implies and consists in the renunciation of selfishness;
and unbelief is only selfishness, contemplated in its relation to Christ and his
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE XXVIII. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
(9.) Efficiency is another attribute of selfishness.
Desire never produces action until it influences the will. It has no efficiency or
causality in itself. It cannot, without the concurrence of the will, command the
attention of the intellect, or move a muscle of the body. The whole causality of
the mind resides in the will. In it resides the power of accomplishment.
Again: the whole efficiency of the mind, as it respects accomplishment, resides
in the choice of an end, or in the ultimate intention. All action of the will, or
all willing, must consist in choosing either an end, or the means of accomplishing
an end. If there is choice, something is chosen. That something is chosen for some
reason. To deny this is a denial that any thing is chosen. The ultimate reason for
the choice and the thing chosen, are identical. This we have repeatedly seen.
Again: we have seen that the means cannot be chosen until the end is chosen.
The choice of the end is distinct from the volitions or endeavours of the mind to
secure the end. But although the choice of an end is not identical with the subordinate
choices and volitions to secure the end, yet it necessitates them. The choice once
made, secures or necessitates the executive volitions to secure the end. By this
it is not intended that the mind is not free to relinquish its end, and of course
to relinquish the use of the means to accomplish it; but only that, while the choice
or intention remains, the choice of the end by the will is efficient in producing
volitions to realize the end. This is true both of benevolence and selfishness. They
are both choices of an end, and are necessarily efficient in producing the use of
the means to realize this end. They are choices of opposite ends, and, of course,
will produce their respective results.
The Bible represents sinners as having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease
from sin; that while the will is committed to the indulgence of the propensities,
they cannot cease from the indulgence. There is no way, therefore, for the sinner
to escape from the commission of sin, but to cease to be selfish. While selfishness
continues, you may change the form of outward manifestation, you may deny one appetite
or desire for the sake of indulging another; but it is and must be sin still. The
desire to escape hell, and to obtain heaven may become the strongest, in which case,
selfishness will take on a most sanctimonious type. But if the will is following
desire, it is selfishness still; and all your religious duties, as you call them,
are only selfishness robed in the stolen habiliments of loving obedience to God.
Be it remembered, then, that selfishness is, and must be, efficient in producing
its effects. It is cause: the effect must follow. The whole life and activity of
sinners is founded in it. It constitutes their life, or rather their spiritual death.
They are dead in trespasses and in sins. It is in vain for them to dream of doing
anything good, until they relinquish their selfishness. While this continues, they
cannot act at all, except as they use the means to accomplish a selfish end. It is
impossible, while the will remains committed to a selfish end, or to the promotion
of self-interest or self-gratification, that it should use the means to promote a
benevolent end. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease
from outward sin. Indeed, if the end be changed, many of the same acts which were
before sinful will become holy. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner
does, is selfish. Whether he eats, or drinks, or labours, or preaches, or, in short,
whatever he does, is to promote some form of self-interest. The end being wrong,
all is, and must be, wrong.
But let the end be changed; let benevolence take the place of selfishness, and all
is right. With this end in view the mind is absolutely incapable of doing anything
or of choosing anything, except as a means of promoting the good of the universe.
I wish to impress this truth deeply upon the mind, and, therefore, give the substance
of the preceding remarks in the form of definite propositions.
i. All action consists in, or results from, choice.
ii. All choice must respect or consist in the choice of an end or of means.
The mind is incapable of choosing unless it has an object of choice, and that object
must be regarded by the mind either as an end or as a means.
iii. The mind can have but one ultimate end at the same time.
iv. It cannot choose the means until it has chosen the end.
v. It cannot choose one end and use means to accomplish another, at the same
vi. Therefore, while the will is benevolent or committed to the glory of God
and the good of being, it cannot use the means of self-gratification in a selfish
sense, or, in other words, it cannot put forth selfish volitions.
vii. When the will is committed to self-indulgence it cannot use the means
designed to glorify God and promote the good of men as an end. This is impossible.
viii. The carnal heart or mind cannot but sin; "it is not subject to
the law of God, neither indeed can be," because it is "enmity against God."
ix. The new or regenerate heart cannot sin. It is benevolence, love to God
and man. This cannot sin. These are both ultimate choices or intentions. They are
from their own nature efficient, each excluding the other, and each securing, for
the time being, the exclusive use of means to promote its end. To deny this, is the
same as to maintain either that the will can, at the same time, choose two opposite
ends, or that it can choose one end only, but, at the same time, choose the means
to accomplish another end, not yet chosen. Now either alternative is absurd. Then
holiness and sin can never co-exist in the same mind, at the same time. Each, as
has been said, for the time being, necessarily excludes the other. Selfishness and
benevolence co-exist in the same mind! A greater absurdity and a more gross contradiction
was never conceived or expressed. No one for a moment ever supposed that selfishness
and benevolence could co-exist in the same mind, who had clearly defined ideas of
what they are. When desire is mistaken on the one hand for benevolence, and on the
other for selfishness, the mistake is natural, that selfishness and benevolence can
co-exist in the same mind. But as soon as it is seen, that benevolence and selfishness
are supreme ultimate opposite choices, the affirmation is instantaneous and irresistible,
that they can neither co-exist, nor can one use means to promote the other. While
benevolence remains, the mind's whole activity springs from it as from a fountain.
This is the philosophy of Christ. "Either make the tree good, and his fruit
good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known
by his fruit. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good
things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things."
Matt. xii. 33, 35. "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. "For
a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth
good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather
figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure
of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil
treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance
of the heart his mouth speaketh." Luke vi. 43-45.
(10.) Opposition to benevolence, or to virtue, or to holiness and true religion,
is one of the attributes of selfishness; this quality belongs to the nature of selfishness.
Selfishness is not, in its relations to benevolence, a mere negation. It cannot be.
It is the choice of self-gratification as the supreme and ultimate end of life. While
the will is committed to this end, and benevolence, or a mind committed to an opposite
end, is contemplated, the will cannot remain in a state of indifference to benevolence.
It must either yield its preference of self-indulgence, or resist the benevolence
which the intellect perceives. The will cannot remain in the exercise of this selfish
choice, without as it were bracing and girding itself against that virtue, which
it does not imitate. If it does not imitate it, it must be because it refuses to
do so. The intellect does, and must, strongly urge the will to imitate benevolence,
and to seek the same end. The will must yield or resist, and the resistance must
be more or less resolute and determined, as the demands of the intellect are more
or less emphatic. This resistance to benevolence or to the demands of the intellect
in view of it, is what the Bible calls, hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will,
under the light and the presence of true religion and the admitted claims of benevolence.
This opposition to benevolence or true religion, must be developed in specific action,
whenever the mind apprehends true religion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Not
only must this opposition be developed, or selfishness abandoned, under such circumstances,
but it must increase as true religion displays more and more of its loveliness. As
the light from the radiant sun of benevolence is poured more and more upon the darkness
of selfishness, the opposition of this principle of action must of necessity manifest
itself in the same proportion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Thus selfishness
remaining under light, must manifest more and more opposition, just in proportion
as light increases, and the soul has less the colour of an apology for its opposition.
This peculiarity of selfishness has always been manifested just in proportion as
it has been brought into the light of true religion. This accounts for all the opposition
that has been made to true religion since the world began. It also proves that where
there are impenitent sinners, and they retain their impenitence, and manifest no
hostility to the religion which they witness, that there is something defective in
the professed piety which they behold; or at least they do not contemplate all the
attributes of a true piety. It also proves, that persecution will always exist where
much true religion is manifested to those who hold fast their selfishness.
It is indeed true, that selfishness and benevolence are just as much opposed to each
other, and just as much and as necessarily at war with each other, as God and Satan,
as heaven and hell. There can never be a truce between them; they are essential and
eternal opposites. They are not merely opposites, but they are opposite efficient
causes. They are essential activities. They are the two, and the only two, great
antagonistic principles in the universe of mind. Each is heaving and energizing like
an earthquake to realize its end. A war of mutual and uncompromising extermination
necessarily exists between them. Neither can be in the presence of the other, without
repulsion and opposition. Each puts forth all its energy to subdue and overcome the
other; and already selfishness has shed an ocean of the blood of saints, as well
as the precious blood of the Prince of life. There is not a more gross and injurious
mistake, than to suppose that selfishness ever, under any circumstances, becomes
reconciled to benevolence. The supposition is absurd and contradictory; since for
selfishness to become reconciled to benevolence, were the same thing as for selfishness
to become benevolence. Selfishness may change the mode of attack or of its opposition,
but its real opposition it can never change, while it retains its own nature and
continues to be selfishness.
This opposition of the heart to benevolence often begets deep opposition of feeling.
The opposition of the will engages the intellect in fabricating excuses, and cavils,
and lies, and refuges, and often greatly perverts the thoughts, and excites the most
bitter feelings imaginable toward God and toward the saints. Selfishness will strive
to justify its opposition, and to shield itself against the reproaches of conscience,
and will resort to every possible expedient to cover up its real hostility to holiness.
It will pretend that it is not holiness, but sin that it opposes. But the fact is,
it is not sin but holiness to which it stands for ever opposed. The opposition of
feeling is only developed when the heart is brought into a strong light, and makes
deep and strong resistance. In such cases, the sensibility sometimes boils over with
feelings of bitter opposition to God, and Christ, and all good.
The question is often asked, May not this opposition exist in the sensibility, and
those feelings of hostility to God exist, when the heart is in a truly benevolent
state? To this inquiry, I would reply: If it can, it must be produced by infernal
or some other influence that misrepresents God, and places his character before the
mind in a false light. Blasphemous thoughts may be suggested, and, as it were, injected
into the mind. These thoughts may have their natural effect in the sensibility, and
feelings of bitterness and hostility may exist without the consent of the will. The
will may all the while be endeavouring to repel these suggestions, and divert the
attention from such thoughts, yet Satan may continue to hurl his fiery darts, and
the soul may be racked with torture under the poison of hell, which seems to be taking
effect in the sensibility. The mind, at such times, seems to itself to be filled,
so far as feeling is concerned, with all the bitterness of hell. And so it is, and
yet it may be, that in all this there is no selfishness. If the will holds fast its
integrity; if it holds out in the struggle, and where God is maligned and misrepresented
by the infernal suggestions, it says with Job, "Although he slay me, yet will
I trust in him." However sharp the conflict in such cases, we can look back
and say, "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us." In such
cases it is the selfishness of Satan, and not our own selfishness, that kindled up
those fires of hell in our sensibility. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation;
for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life."
(11.) Cruelty is another attribute of selfishness.
This term is often used to designate a state of the sensibility. It then represents
that state of feeling which has a barbarous or savage pleasure in the misery of others.
Cruelty, as a phenomenon of the will, or as an attribute of selfishness, consists,
first, in a reckless disregard of the well-being of God and the universe, and secondly,
in persevering in a course that must ruin the souls of the subjects of it, and, so
far as they have influence, ruin the souls of others. What should we think of a man
who was so intent on securing some petty gratification, that he would not give the
alarm if a city were on fire, and the sleeping citizens in imminent danger of perishing
in the flames? Suppose that sooner than deny himself some momentary gratification,
he would jeopard many lives. Should we not call this cruelty? Now there are many
forms of cruelty. Because sinners are not always brought into circumstances where
they exercise certain forms of it, they flatter themselves that they are not cruel.
But selfishness is always and necessarily cruel--cruel to the soul and highest interests
of the subject of it; cruel to the souls of others in neglecting to care and act
for their salvation; cruel to God, in abusing him in ten thousand ways; cruel to
the whole universe. If we should be shocked at the cruelty of him who should see
his neighbour's house on fire, and the family asleep, and neglect to give them warning,
because too self-indulgent to rise from his bed, what shall we say of the cruelty
of one, who shall see his neighbour's soul in peril of eternal death, and yet neglect
to give him warning?
Sinners are apt to possess very good dispositions, as they express it. They suppose
they are the reverse of being cruel. They possess tender feelings, are often very
compassionate in their feelings toward those who are sick and in distress, and who
are in circumstances of any affliction. They are ready to do many things for them.
Such persons would be shocked, should they be called cruel. And many professors would
take their part, and consider them abused. Whatever else, it would be said, is an
attribute of their character, surely cruelty is not. Now, it is true that there are
certain forms of cruelty with which such persons are not chargeable. But this is
only because God has so moulded their constitution, that they are not delighted with
the misery of their fellow men. However, there is no virtue in their not being gratified
at the sight of suffering, nor in their painstaking to prevent it while they continue
selfish. They follow the impulses of their feelings, and if their temperament were
such that it would gratify them to inflict misery on others; if this were the strongest
tendency of their sensibility; their selfishness would instantly take on that type.
But though cruelty, in all its forms, is not common to all selfish persons, it is
still true that some form of cruelty is practised by every sinner. God says, "The
tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." The fact that they live in sin, that
they set an example of selfishness, that they do nothing for their own souls, nor
for the souls of others; these are really most atrocious forms of cruelty, and infinitely
exceed all those comparatively petty forms that relate to the miseries of men in
(12.) Injustice is another attribute of selfishness.
Justice, as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that disposes it to regard
and treat every being and interest with exact equity.
Injustice is the opposite of this. It is that quality of selfishness which disposes
it to treat the persons and interests of others inequitably, and a disposition to
give the preference to self-interest, regardless of the relative value of the interests.
The nature of selfishness demonstrates, that injustice is always and necessarily
one of its attributes, and one that is universally and constantly manifested.
There is the utmost injustice in the end chosen. It is the practical preference of
a petty self-interest over infinite interests. This is injustice as great as possible.
This is universal injustice to God and man. It is the most palpable and most flagrant
piece of injustice possible to every being in the universe. Not one known by him
to exist who has not reason to bring against him the charge of most flagrant and
shocking injustice. This injustice extends to every act and to every moment of life.
He is never, in the least degree, just to any being in the universe. Nay, he is perfectly
unjust. He cares nothing for the rights of others as such; and never, even in appearance,
regards them except for selfish reasons. This, then, is, and can be, only the appearance
of regarding them, while in fact, no right of any being in the universe is, or can
be, respected by a selfish mind, any further than in appearance. To deny this, is
to deny his selfishness. He performs no act whatever but for one reason, that is,
to promote his own gratification. This is his end. For the realization of this end
every effort is made, and every individual act and volition put forth. Remaining
selfish, it is impossible that he should act at all, but with reference directly
or indirectly to this end. But this end has been chosen, and must be pursued, if
pursued at all, in the most palpable and outrageous violation of the rights of God
and of every creature in the universe. Justice demands that he should devote himself
to the promotion of the highest good of God and the universe, that he should love
God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. Every sinner is openly, an
universally, and as perfectly unjust as possible, at every moment of his impenitence.
It should, therefore, always be understood, that no sinner at any time is at all
just to any being in the universe. All his paying of his debts, and all his apparent
fairness and justice, are only a specious form of selfishness. He has, and, if a
sinner, it is impossible that he should not have, some selfish reason for all he
does, is, says, or omits. His entire activity is selfishness, and, while he remains
impenitent, it is impossible for him to think, or act, or will, or do, or be, or
say, anything more or less than he judges expedient to promote his own interests.
He is not just. He cannot be just, nor begin in any instance, or in the least degree,
to be truly just, either to God or man, until he begins life anew, gives God his
heart, and consecrates his entire being to the promotion of the good of universal
being. This, all this, justice demands. There is no beginning to be just, unless
the sinner begins here. Begin and be just in the choice of the great end of life,
and then you cannot but be just in the use of means. But be unjust in the choice
of an end, and it is impossible for you, in any instance, to be otherwise than totally
unjust in the use of means. In this case your entire activity is, and can be, nothing
else than a tissue of the most abominable injustice.
The only reason why every sinner does not openly and daily practise every species
of outward commercial injustice, is, that he is so circumstanced that, upon the whole,
he judges it not for his interest to practise this injustice. This is the reason
universally, and no thanks to any sinner for abstaining, in any instance, from any
kind or degree of injustice in practice, for he is only restrained and kept from
it by selfish considerations. That is, he is too selfish to do it. His selfishness,
and not the love of God or man, prevents.
He may be prevented by a constitutional or phrenological conscientiousness, or sense
of justice. But this is only a feeling of the sensibility, and, if restrained only
by this, he is just as absolutely selfish as if he had stolen a horse in obedience
to acquisitiveness. God so tempers the constitution as to restrain men, that is,
that one form of selfishness shall prevail over and curb another. Approbativeness
is, in most persons, so large, that a desire to be applauded by their fellow-men
so modifies the developements of their selfishness, that it takes on a type of outward
decency and appearance of justice. But this is no less selfishness than if it took
on altogether a different type.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE XXIX. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
(13.) Oppression is another attribute of selfishness.
Oppression is the spirit of slaveholding. It is that quality of selfishness that
disposes it, in practice, to deprive others of their rights. It is in the nature
of selfishness to do this for the purpose of contributing to our own interest or
gratification. To define it comprehensively: it is the disposition, inherent in the
very nature of selfishness, to enslave God and all the universe; to make them all
give up their interest, and happiness, and glory, and seek and live for ours. It
is a willingness that all beings should live to and for us; that all interests should
bend and be sacrificed to ours. It is a practical denial of all rights but our own,
and a practical setting up of the claim that all beings are ours, our goods, and
chattels, our property. It is a spirit that aims at making all beings serve us, and
all interests subserve our own.
This must be an attribute of selfishness. Self-interest is the ultimate end; and
such is the nature of the selfish choice of this end that the whole life, and activity,
and aim, and effort, is to secure this end without any disinterested regard to the
right, or personal liberty, of any being in existence. The sinner, while he remains
such, has absolutely no other end in view, and no other ultimate motive in any thing
he does. Selfishness, or self-gratification, under some form, is the reason for every
volition, action, and omission. For this end alone he lives, and moves, and has his
being. This being his only end, it is impossible that oppression should not be an
attribute of his intention. The whole of oppression is included in the choice of
this end of life. Nothing can be more oppressive to the whole universe than for a
being to set up his own interest as the sole good, and account all other interests
as of no value, except as they contribute to his own. This is the perfection of oppression,
and it matters not what particular course it takes to secure its end. They are all
equally oppressive. If he does not seek the good of others for its own sake, but
simply as a means of securing his own, it matters not at all, so far as his character
is concerned, whether he pamper and fatten his slaves, or whether he starve them,
whether he work them hard or let them lounge, whether he lets them go naked, or arrays
them in costly attire. All is done for one and but one ultimate reason, and that
is to promote self-interest, and not at all for the intrinsic value of any interest
but that of self. If such an one prays to God, it is because he is unable to command
and govern Him by authority, and not at all out of any true regard to the rights,
or character, or relations of God. He desires and solicits God's services, just because
he cannot get them by force. God's interests and rights are practically treated as
of no value by every sinner in the universe. They care nothing for God, except to
enslave him; that is to make him serve them without any service in return. They have
no design to live to and for him, but that he should live to and for them. They regard
all other beings just in the same manner. If there is, in any instance, the semblance,
of a regard to their interest for its own sake, it is only a semblance, and not a
reality. It is not, and it cannot be, a reality. The assertion, that it is any thing
more than hypocritical pretence, is absurd, and contradicts the supposition that
he is a sinner, or selfish.
There are innumerable specious forms of oppression, that, to a superficial observer,
appear very like a regard to the real interest of the oppressed for its own sake.
It may be gratifying to pride, to ambition, or to some other feeling of a slaveholder,
to see his slaves well fed, well clad, full fleshed, cheerful, contented, attached
to their master. For the same reason he might feed his dog, provide him a warm kennel,
and an ornament his neck with a brazen collar. He might show a similar affection
to his horse and his swine. But what is the reason of all this? Only to gratify himself.
God has so moulded his constitution, that it would give him pain to whip his slave,
or his dog, or his horse, or to see them hungry or neglected. It would trouble his
conscience, and endanger his peace and his soul. There may often be the appearance
of virtue in a slaveholder and in slaveholding; but it can absolutely be only an
appearance. If it be properly slaveholding, it is and must be oppression; it is and
must be selfishness. Can it be that slaveholding is designed to promote the good
of the slave for its own sake? But this could not be slaveholding.
Should an individual be held to service for his own benefit; should the law of benevolence
really demand it; this could no more be the crime of slaveholding and oppression,
than it is murder or any other crime. It would not be selfishness, but benevolence,
and therefore no crime at all, but virtue. But selfishness embodies and includes
every element of oppression. Its end, its means, and its every breath, form but an
incessant denial of all rights but those of self. All sinners are oppressors and
slaveholders in heart and in fact. They practise continual oppression, and nothing
else. They make God serve them without wages, and, as He says, "they make him
to serve with their sins." God, all men, and all things and events are, as far
as possible, made to serve them without the return of the least disinterested regard
to their interests. Disinterested regard! Why the very terms contradict the supposition
that he is a sinner. He has, he can have, in no instance, any other than selfish
aims in appearing to care for any one's interest for its own sake.
All unconverted abolitionists are slaveholders in heart, and, so far as possible,
in life. There is not one of them who would not enslave every slave at the south,
and his master too, and all at the north, and the whole universe, and God himself,
so far as he could. Indeed, he does it in spirit, and, remaining selfish, he cannot
but aim to enslave all beings, make them as far as possible contribute to his interest
and pleasure, without the least disinterested regard to their interest, in return.
Oppression is an essential attribute of selfishness, and always developes itself
according to circumstances. When it has power and inclination, it uses the chain
and the whip. When it has not power, it resorts to other means of securing the services
of others without disinterested return. Sometimes it supplicates; but this is only
because it is regarded as necessary or expedient. It is oppression under whatever
form it assumes. It is in fact a denial of all rights but those of self, and a practical
claiming of God and of all beings and events as ours. It is, to all intents, the
chattel principle universally applied. So that all sinners are both slaves and slaveholders;
in heart and endeavour, they enslave God and all men; and other sinners, in heart
and endeavour, enslave them. Every sinner is endeavouring, in heart, to appropriate
to himself all good.
(14.) Hostility, open or secret, is another attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness is a spirit of strife. It is opposed to peace or amity. Selfishness,
on the very face of it, is a declaration of war with all beings. It is setting up
self-interest in opposition to all other interests. It is a deliberate intention,
prompting to an attempt to seize upon, and subordinate, all interests to our own.
It is impossible that there should not be a state of perpetual hostility between
a selfish being and all benevolent beings. They are mutually and necessarily opposed
to each other. The benevolent are seeking the universal good, and the selfish are
seeking their own gratification without the least voluntary regard to any interest
but that of self. Here is opposition and war, of course and of necessity.
But it is no less true, that every selfish being is at war with every other selfish
being. Each is seeking, and is fully consecrated to, his own interest, and is at
the same time denying all rights but his own. Here is, and must be, strife and hostility.
There is no use in talking of putting away slavery or war from earth, while selfishness
is in it; for they both inhere in the very nature of selfishness; and every selfish
being is, in spirit and principle, an oppressor, a slaveholder, a tyrant, a warrior,
a duellist, a pirate, and all that is implied in making war upon all beings. This
is no railing accusation, but sober verity. The forms of war and of oppression may
be modified indefinitely. The bloody sword may be sheathed. The manacle and the lash
may be laid aside, and a more refined mode of oppression and of war may be carried
on; but oppression and war must continue under some form so long as selfishness continues.
It is impossible that it should not. Nor will the more refined and specious, and,
if you please, baptized forms of oppression and war, that may succeed those now practised,
involve less guilt, or be less displeasing to God than the present. No, indeed. As
light increases, and compels selfishness to lay aside the sword, and bury the manacle
and the whip, and profess the religion of Christ, the guilt of selfishness increases
every moment. The form of manifestation is changed, compelled by increasing light
and advancing civilization and Christianization. Oppression and war, although so
much changed in form, are not at all abandoned in spirit. Nay, they are only strengthened
by increasing light. Nor can it be told with certainty, whether the more refined
modifications of oppression and war that may succeed, will upon the whole be a less
evil to mankind. Guilt will certainly increase as light increases. Sin abounds, and
becomes exceeding sinful, just in proportion as the light of truth is poured upon
the selfish mind.
Do you ask, then, what shall we do? Shall we do nothing, but let things go on as
they are? I answer, No, by no means. Do, if possible, ten times more than ever to
put away these and all the evils that are under the sun. But aim, not only at outward
reforms, but also at the annihilation of selfishness; and when you succeed in reforming
the heart, the life cannot but be reformed. Put away selfishness, and oppression
and war are no more. But engage in bringing about any other reform, and you are but
building dams of sand. Selfishness will force for itself a channel; and who can say,
that its desolations may not be more fearful and calamitous, in this new modification,
than before? Attempting to reform selfishness, and teach it better manners, is like
damming up the waters of the Mississippi. It will only, surely, overflow its banks,
and change its channel, and carry devastation and death in its course. I am aware,
that many will regard this as heresy. But God seeth not as man seeth. Man looketh
on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart. All the wars and filthiness
of heathenism God winks at, as comparatively a light thing when put into the scale
against the most refined form of intelligent but heartless Christianity that ever
But to return. Let it be for ever understood, that selfishness is at war with all
nations and with all beings. It has no element of peace in it, any further than all
beings, and all interests, are yielded to the gratification of self. This is its
essential, its unalterable, nature. This attribute cannot cease while selfishness
All selfish men, who are advocates of peace principles, are necessarily hypocrites.
They say, and do not. They preach, but do not practise. Peace is on their lips, but
war is in their hearts. They proclaim peace and good-will to men, while, under their
stolen robe of peace, they conceal their poisoned implements of war against God and
the universe. This is, this must be. I am anxious to make the impression, and lodge
it deep in your inmost hearts, so that you shall always practically hold, and teach,
and regard, this as a fundamental truth, both of natural and revealed religion, that
a selfish man, be he who he may, instead of being a Christian, a man of peace, and
a servant of the Prince of peace, is, in heart, in character, in spirit, in fact,
a rebel, an enemy, a warrior, truly and in fact at war with God and with all beings.
(15.) Unmercifulness is another attribute of selfishness.
Mercy is an attribute of benevolence; and, as such, has been defined to be that quality
that disposes it to pardon crime. It will, and must, manifest itself in efforts to
secure the conditions upon which crime can be reasonably forgiven, if such conditions
can be secured. Unmercifulness is that attribute of selfishness that indisposes it
to forgive sin; and, of course, it manifests itself, either by resisting efforts
to secure its forgiveness, or by treating such efforts with coldness or contempt.
The manner in which sinners treat the plan of salvation, the atonement of Christ,
the means used by God the Saviour to bring about the pardon of sin, demonstrates
that their tender mercies are cruelty. The apostle charges them with being "implacable,
unmerciful." Their opposition to the gospel, to revivals of religion, and to
all the exhibitions of his mercy which he has made to our world, show that unmercifulness
is an attribute of their character.
Sinners generally profess to be the friends of mercy. They, with their lips, extol
the mercy of God. But how do they treat it? Do they embrace it? Do they honour it
as something which they favour? Do they hold it forth to all men as worthy of all
acceptation? Or do they wage an unrelenting war with it? How did they treat Christ
when he came on his errand of mercy? They brought forth the appalling demonstration,
that unmercifulness is an essential attribute of their character. They persecuted
unto death the very impersonation and embodiment of mercy. And this same attribute
of selfishness has always manifested itself under some form, whenever a developement
and an exhibition of mercy has been made. Let the blood of prophets and apostles,
the blood of millions of martyrs--and above all, let the blood of the God of mercy
speak. What is their united testimony? Why, this--that the perfection of unmercifulness
is one of the essential and eternal attributes of selfishness.
Whenever, therefore, a selfish being appears to be of a merciful disposition, it
is, it can be, only in appearance. His feelings may be sensitive, and he may sometimes,
nay often, or always yield to them, but this is only selfishness. The reason, and
the only reason why every sinner does not exhibit every appalling form of unmercifulness
and cruelty is, that God has so tempered his sensibility, and so surrounded him with
influences as to modify the manifestation of selfishness, and to develope other attributes
more prominently than this. Unmerciful he is, and unmerciful he must be, while he
remains in sin. To represent him as other than an unmerciful wretch, were to misrepresent
him. No matter who it is. That delicate female, who would faint at the sight of blood,
if she is a sinner, she is spurning and scorning the mercy of God. She lets others
go down to hell unpardoned, without an effort to secure their pardon. Shall she be
represented as other than unmerciful? No language can describe the hardness of her
heart. See! the cup of salvation is presented to her lips by a Saviour's bleeding
hand. She, nevertheless, dashes it from her, and tramples its contents beneath her
feet. It passes from lip to lip; but she offers no prayer that it may be accepted;
or if she does, it is only the prayer of a hypocrite, while she rejects it herself.
No, with all her delicacy, her tender mercies are utter cruelty. With her own hands
she crucifies the Son of God afresh, and would put him to open shame! O monstrous!
A woman murdering the Saviour of the world! Her hands and garments all stained with
blood! And call her merciful! O shame, where is thy blush?
(16.) Falsehood, or lying, is another attribute of selfishness.
Falsehood may be objective or subjective. Objective falsehood is that which stands
opposed to truth. Subjective falsehood is a heart conformed to error and to objective
falsehood. Subjective falsehood is a state of mind, or an attribute of selfishness.
It is the will in the attitude of resisting truth, and embracing error and lies.
This is always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness consists in the choice of an end opposed to all truth, and cannot but
proceed to the realization of that end, in conformity with error or falsehood, instead
of truth. If at any time it seize upon objective truth, as it often does, it is with
a false intention. It is with an intention at war with the truth, the nature, and
the relations of things.
If any sinner, at any time, and under any circumstances, tell the truth, it is for
a selfish reason; it is to compass a false end. He has a lie in his heart, and a
lie in his right hand. He stands upon falsehood. He lives for it, and if he does
not uniformly and openly falsify the truth, it is because objective truth is consistent
with subjective falsehood. His heart is false, as false as it can be. It has embraced
and sold itself to the greatest lie in the universe. The selfish man has practically
proclaimed that his good is the supreme good; nay, that there is no other good but
his own; that there are no other rights but his own, that all are bound to serve
him, and that all interests are to yield to his. Now all this, as I said, is the
greatest falsehood that ever was or can be. Yet this is the solemn practical declaration
of every sinner. His choice affirms that God has no rights, that he ought not to
be loved and obeyed, that he has no right to govern the universe, but that God and
all beings ought to obey and serve the sinner. Can there be a greater, a more shameless
falsehood than all this? And shall such an one pretend to regard the truth? Nay,
verily. The very pretence is only an instance and an illustration of the truth, that
falsehood is an essential element of his character.
If every sinner on earth does not openly and at all times falsify the truth, it is
not because of the truthfulness of his heart, but for some purely selfish reason.
This must be. His heart is utterly false. It is impossible that, remaining a sinner,
he should have any true regard to the truth. He is a liar in his heart; this is an
essential and an eternal attribute of his character. It is true that his intellect
condemns falsehood and justifies truth, and that oftentimes through the intellect,
a deep impression is or may be made on his sensibility in favour of the truth; but
if the heart is unchanged, it holds on to lies, and perseveres in the practical proclamation
of the greatest lies in the universe, to wit, that God ought not to be trusted; that
Christ is not worthy of confidence; that one's own interest is the supreme good;
and that all interests ought to be accounted of less value than one's own.
(17.) Pride is another attribute of selfishness.
Pride is a disposition to exalt self above others, to get out of one's proper place
in the scale of being, and to climb up over the heads of our equals or superiors.
Pride is a species of injustice, on the one hand, and is nearly allied to ambition
on the other. It is not a term of so extensive an import as either injustice or ambition.
It sustains to each of them a near relation, but is not identical with either. It
is a kind of self-praise, self-worship, self-flattery, self-adulation, a spirit of
self-consequence, of self-importance. It is a tendency to exalt, not merely one's
own interest, but one's person above others, and above God, and above all other beings.
A proud being supremely regards himself. He worships and can worship no one but self.
He does not, and remaining selfish, he cannot, practically admit that there is any
one so good and worthy as himself. He aims at conferring supreme favour upon himself,
and, practically, admits no claim of any being in the universe to any good or interest,
that will interfere with his own. He can stoop to give preference to the interest,
the reputation, the authority of no one, no, not of God himself, except outwardly
and in appearance. His inward language is, "Who is Jehovah, that I should bow
down to him?" It is impossible that a selfish soul should be humble. Sinners
are represented in the Bible as proud, as "flattering themselves in their own
Pride is not a vice distinct from selfishness, but is only a modification of selfishness.
Selfishness is the root, or stock, in which every form of sin inheres. This it is
important to show. Selfishness has been scarcely regarded by many as a vice, much
less as constituting the whole of vice; consequently, when selfishness has been most
apparent, it has been supposed and assumed that there might be along with it many
forms of virtue. It is for this reason that I make this attempt to show what are
the essential elements of selfishness. It has been supposed that selfishness might
exist in any heart without implying every form of sin; that a man might be selfish
and yet not proud. In short, it has been overlooked, that, where selfishness is,
there must be every form of sin; that where there is one form of selfishness manifested,
it is virtually a breach of every commandment of God, and implies, in fact, the real
existence of every possible form of sin and abomination in the heart. My object is
fully to develope the great truth that where selfishness is, there must be, in a
state either of developement or of undevelopement, every form of sin that exists
in earth or hell; that all sin is a unit, and consists of some form of selfishness;
and that where this is, all sin virtually is and must be.
The only reason that pride, as a form of selfishness, does not appear in all sinners,
in the most disgusting forms, is only this, that their constitutional temperament,
and providential circumstances, are such as to give a more prominent developement
to some other attribute of selfishness. It is important to remark, that where any
one form of unqualified sin exists, there selfishness must exist, and there of course
every form of sin must exist, at least in embryo, and waiting only for circumstances
to develope it. When, therefore, you see any form of sin, know assuredly that selfishness,
the root, is there; and expect nothing else, if selfishness continues, than to see
developed, one after another, every form of sin as the occasion shall present itself.
Selfishness is a volcano, sometimes smothered, but which must have vent. The providence
of God cannot but present occasions upon which its lavatides will burst forth and
carry desolation before them.
That all these forms of sin exist, has been known and admitted. But it does not appear
to me, that the philosophy of sin has been duly considered by many. It is important
that we should get at the fundamental or generic form of sin, that form which includes
and implies all others, or, more properly, which constitutes the whole of sin. Such
is selfishness. "Let it be written with the point of a diamond and engraved
in the rock for ever," that it may be known, that where selfishness is, there
every precept of the law is violated, there is the whole of sin. Its guilt and ill
desert must depend upon the light with which the selfish mind is surrounded. But
sin, the whole of sin, is there. Such is the very nature of selfishness that it only
needs the providential occasions, and to be left without restraint, and it will show
itself to have embodied, in embryo, every form of iniquity.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE XXX. Back to Top
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
(18.) Enmity against God is also an attribute of selfishness.
Enmity is hatred. Hatred may exist either as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or
as a state or attitude of the will. Of course I am now to speak of enmity of heart
or will. It is selfishness viewed in its relations to God. That selfishness is enmity
against God will appear--
(i.) From the Bible. The apostle Paul expressly says that "the carnal
mind (minding the flesh) is enmity against God." It is fully evident that the
apostle, by the carnal mind, means obeying the propensities or gratifying the desires.
But this, as I have defined it, is selfishness.
(ii.) Selfishness is directly opposed to the will of God as expressed in his
law. That requires benevolence. Selfishness is its opposite, and therefore enmity
against the Lawgiver.
(iii.) Selfishness is as hostile to God's government as it can be. It is directly
opposed to every law, and principle, and measure of his government.
(iv.) Selfishness is opposition to God's existence. Opposition to a government,
is opposition to the will of the governor. It is opposition to his existence in that
capacity. It is, and must be, enmity against the existence of the ruler, as such.
Selfishness must be enmity against the existence of God's government, and as he does
and must sustain the relation of Sovereign Ruler, selfishness must be enmity against
his being. Selfishness will brook no restraint in respect to securing its end. There
is nothing in the universe it will not sacrifice to self. This is true, or it is
not selfishness. If then God's happiness, or government, or being, come into competition
with it, they must be sacrificed, were it possible for selfishness to affect it.
(v.) But God is the uncompromising enemy of selfishness. It is the abominable
thing his soul hateth. He is more in the way of selfishness than all other beings.
The opposition of selfishness to him is, and must be, supreme and perfect.
(vi.) That selfishness is mortal enmity against God, is not left to conjecture,
nor to a mere deduction or inference. God once took to himself human nature, and
brought Divine benevolence into conflict with human selfishness. Men could not brook
his presence upon earth, and they rested not until they had murdered him.
(vii.) Again: selfishness is supreme enmity against God. That is, it
is more opposed to God than to all other beings.
(a.) This must be, because God is more opposed to it, and more directly and
eternally in its way. Selfishness must be relinquished, or put itself in supreme
opposition to God.
(b.) Enmity against any body or thing besides God can be overcome more easily
than against him. All earthly enmities can be overcome by kindness, and change of
circumstances; but what kindness, what change of circumstances, can change the human
heart, can overcome the selfishness or enmity to God that reigns there?
(viii.) Selfishness offers all manner and every possible degree of resistance
to God. It disregards God's commands. It contemns his authority. It spurns his mercy.
It outrages his feelings. It provokes his forbearance. Selfishness, in short, is
the universal antagonist and adversary of God. It can no more be reconciled to God
or subject to his law, than it can cease to be selfishness.
(19.) Madness is another attribute of selfishness.
Madness is used sometimes to mean anger, sometimes to mean intellectual insanity,
and sometimes to mean moral insanity. I speak of it now in the last sense.
Moral insanity is not insanity of the intellect, but of the heart. Insanity of the
intellect destroys, for the time being, moral agency and accountability. Moral insanity
is a state in which the intellectual powers are not deranged, but the heart refuses
to be controlled by the law of the intellect, and acts unreasonably, as if the intellect
were deranged. That madness or moral insanity is an attribute of selfishness, is
(i.) From the Bible. "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and
madness is in their heart while they live."--Eccles. ix. 3.
(ii.) It has been shown that sinners, or selfish persons, act in every instance,
in direct opposition to right reason. Indeed, nothing can be plainer than the moral
insanity of every selfish soul. He chooses to seek his own interest as an end, and,
in so doing, prefers a straw to a universe. But not only so: he does this with the
certain knowledge, that in this way he can never secure his own highest interest.
What an infinitely insane course that must be, first to prefer his own petty gratification
to the infinite interests of God and of the universe, and secondly, to do this with
the knowledge, that in this way nothing can be ultimately gained even to self; and
that, if the course is persisted in, it must result in endless evil to self, the
very thing which is supremely dreaded! Sin is the greatest mystery, and the greatest
absurdity, and the greatest contradiction, in the universe.
But madness is an essential element or attribute of selfishness. All sinners, without
any exception, are and must be morally mad. Their choice of an end is madness. It
is infinitely unreasonable. Their pursuit of it is madness persisted in. Their treatment
of everything that opposes their course is madness. All, all is madness--infinite.
This world is a moral bedlam, an insane hospital, where sinners are under regimen.
If they can be cured, well: if not, they must be confined in the mad-house of the
universe for eternity.
The only reason why sinners do not perceive their own and each other's madness is,
that they are all mad together; and their madness is all of one type. Hence they
imagine that they are sane, and pronounce Christians mad. This is no wonder. What
other conclusion can they come to, unless they can discover that they are mad?
But let it not be forgotten, that their madness is of the heart, and not of the intellect.
It is voluntary and not unavoidable. If it were unavoidable, it would involve no
guilt. But it is a choice made and persisted in, while in the integrity of their
intellectual powers, and, therefore, they are without excuse.
Most sinners are supposed to act rationally on many subjects. But this is an evident
mistake. They do everything for the same ultimate reason, and are as wholly irrational
in one thing as another. There is nothing in their whole history and life, not an
individual thing, that is not entirely and infinitely unreasonable. The choice of
the end is madness; the choice of means is madness; all, all is madness and desperation
of spirit. They no doubt appear so to angels, and so they do to saints; and were
it not so common and familiar a sight, their conduct would fill the saints and angels
with utter amazement and horror.
(20.) Impatience is another attribute of selfishness.
This term expresses both a state of the sensibility and of the will. Impatience is
a resistance of providence. When this term is used to express a state of the sensibility,
it designates fretfulness, ill temper, anger, in the form of emotion. It is an unsubmissive
and rebellious state of feeling, in regard to those trials that occur under the administration
of the providential government of God.
When the term is used to express a state of the will, it designates an attitude of
resistance to God's providential dispensations. Selfishness has no faith in God,
no confidence in his wisdom and goodness; and being set upon self-gratification,
is continually exposed to disappointment. God is infinitely wise and benevolent.
He also exercises a universal providence. He is conducting everything with reference
to the greatest good of the whole universe. He, of course, will often interfere with
the selfish projects of those who are pursuing an opposite end to that which he pursues.
They will, of course, be subject to almost continual disappointment under the providence
of One, who disposes of all events in accordance with a design at war with their
own. It is impossible that the schemes of selfishness, under such a government, should
not frequently be blown to the winds, and that the selfish person, whoever he may
be, should not be the subject of incessant disappointments, vexations, and trials.
Self-will cannot but be impatient under a benevolent government. Selfishness would
of course have everything so disposed as to favour self-interest and self-gratification.
But infinite wisdom and benevolence cannot accommodate themselves to this state of
mind. The result must be a constant rasping and collision between the selfish soul
and the providence of God. Selfishness must cease to be selfishness, before the result
can be otherwise.
A selfish state of will must, of course, not only sustain crosses and disappointments,
but must also produce a feverish and fretful state of feeling, in relation to the
trials incident to life. Nothing but deep sympathy with God, and that confidence
in his wisdom and goodness, and universal providence, that annihilates self-will,
and produces universal and unqualified submission to him, can prevent impatience.
Impatience is always a form of selfishness. It is resistance to God. It is self-will,
arraying itself against whatever thwarts or opposes its gratification. Selfishness
must, of course, either be gratified or displeased. It should always be understood,
that when trials produce impatience of heart, the will is in a selfish attitude.
The trials of this life are designed to develope a submissive, confiding, and patient
state of mind. A selfish spirit is represented in the Bible as being, under the providence
of God, like "a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke," restive, self-willed,
impatient, and rebellious.
When selfishness or self-will is subdued, and benevolence is in exercise, we are
in a state not to feel disappointments, trials, and crosses. Having no way or will
of our own about anything, and having deep sympathy with, and confidence in God,
we cannot be disappointed in any such sense, as to vex the spirit and break the peace
of the soul.
The fact is, that selfishness must be abandoned, or there is, there can be no peace
for us. "There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God." "The wicked
are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt."
An impressive figure this to represent the continually agitated state in which a
selfish mind must be, under a perfectly benevolent providence. Selfishness demands
partiality in providence that will favour self. But divine benevolence will not bend
to its inclinations. This must produce resistance and fretting, or selfishness must
be abandoned. Let it then be borne in mind, that impatience is an attribute of selfishness,
and will always be developed under crosses and trials.
Selfishness will, of course, be patient while providence favours its schemes, but
when crosses come, then the peace of the soul is broken.
(21.) Intemperance is also a form or attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness is self-indulgence not sanctioned by the reason. It consists in the committal
of the will to the indulgence of the propensities. Of course some one, or more, of
the propensities must have taken the control of the will. Generally, there is some
ruling passion or propensity, the influence of which becomes overshadowing, and overrules
the will for its own gratification. Sometimes it is acquisitiveness or avarice, the
love of gain; sometimes alimentiveness or Epicurianism; sometimes it is amativeness
or sexual love; sometimes philoprogenitiveness or the love of our own children; sometimes
self-esteem or a feeling of confidence in self; sometimes one and sometimes another
of the great variety of the propensities, is so largely developed, as to be the ruling
tyrant, that lords it over the will and over all the other propensities. It matters
not which of the propensities, or whether their united influence gains the mastery
of the will: whenever the will is subject to them, this is selfishness. It is the
Intemperance consists in the undue or unlawful indulgence of any propensity. It is,
therefore, an essential element or attribute of selfishness. All selfishness is intemperance:
of course it is an unlawful indulgence of the propensities. Intemperance has as many
forms as there are constitutional and artificial appetites to gratify. A selfish
mind cannot be temperate. If one or more of the propensities is restrained, it is
only restrained for the sake of the undue and unlawful indulgence of another. Sometimes
the tendencies are intellectual, and the bodily appetites are denied, for the sake
of gratifying the love of study. But this is no less intemperance and selfishness,
than the gratification of amativeness or alimentiveness. Selfishness is always, and
necessarily, intemperate. It does not always or generally develope every from of
intemperance in the outward life, but a spirit of self-indulgence must manifest itself
in the intemperate gratification of some one or more of the propensities.
Some develope self-indulgence most prominently in the form of intemperance in eating;
others in sleeping; others in lounging and idleness; others are gossipers; others
love exercise, and indulge that propensity; others study and impair health, and induce
derangement, or seriously impair the nervous system. Indeed, there is no end to the
forms which intemperance assumes, arising from the fact of the great number of propensities
natural and artificial, that in their turn seek and obtain indulgence.
It should be always borne in mind, that any form of self-indulgence, properly so
called, is equally an instance of selfishness and wholly inconsistent with any degree
of virtue in the heart. But it may be asked, are we to have no regard whatever to
our tastes, appetites, and propensities? I answer, we are to have no such regard
to them, as to make their gratification the end for which we live, even for a moment.
But there is a kind of regard to them which is lawful, and therefore, a virtue. For
example: I am on a journey for the service and glory of God. Two ways are before
me. One affords nothing to regale the senses; the other conducts me through variegated
scenery, sublime mountain passes, deep ravines; beside bubbling brooks, and meandering
rivulets; through beds of gayest flowers and woods of richest foliage: through aromatic
groves and forests vocal with feathered songsters. The two paths are equal in distance,
and in all respects that have a bearing upon the business I have in hand. Now, reason
dictates and demands, that I should take the path that is most agreeable and suggestive
of useful thoughts. But this is not being governed by the propensities, but by the
reason. It is its voice which I hear and to which I listen, when I take the sunny
path. The delights of this path are a real good. As such they are not to be despised
or neglected. But if taking this path would embarrass and hinder the end of my journey,
I am not to sacrifice the greater public good for a less one of my own. I must not
be guided by my feelings, but by my reason and honest judgment in this and in every
case of duty. God has not given us propensities to be our masters and to rule us,
but to be our servants and to minister to our enjoyment, when we obey the biddings
of reason and of God. They are given to render duty pleasant, and as a reward of
virtue; to make the ways of wisdom pleasurable. The propensities are not, therefore,
to be despised, nor is their annihilation to be desired. Nor is it true that their
gratification is always selfish, but when their gratification is sanctioned and demanded
by the intellect, as in the case just supposed, and in myriads of other cases that
occur, the gratification is not a sin but a virtue. It is not selfishness, but benevolence.
But let it be remembered, that the indulgence must not be sought in obedience to
the propensity itself, but in obedience to the law of reason and of God. When reason
and the will of God are not only not consulted, but even violated, it must be selfishness.
Intemperance, as a sin, does not consist in the outward act of indulgence, but in
the inward disposition. A dyspeptic who can eat but just enough to sustain life,
may be an enormous glutton at heart. He may have a disposition, that is, he may not
only desire, but he may be willing, to eat all before him, but for the pain indulgence
occasions him. But this is only the spirit of self-indulgence. He denies himself
the amount of food he craves in order to gratify a stronger propensity, to wit, the
dread of pain. So a man who was never intoxicated in his life, may be guilty of the
crime of drunkenness every day. He may be prevented from drinking to inebriation
only by a regard to reputation or health, or by an avaricious disposition. It is
only because he is prevented by the greater power of some other propensity. If a
man is in such a state of mind that he would indulge all his propensities without
restraint, were it not that it is impossible, on account of the indulgence of some
being inconsistent with the indulgence of the others, he is just as guilty as if
he did indulge them all. For example: he has a disposition, that is a will, to accumulate
property. He is avaricious in heart. He also has a strong tendency to luxury, to
licentiousness, and prodigality. The indulgence of these propensities is inconsistent
with the indulgence of avarice. But for this contrariety, he would in his state of
mind indulge them all. He wishes to do so, but it is impossible. Now he is really
guilty of all those forms of vice, and just as blameworthy as if he indulged in them.
Again: that selfishness is the aggregate of all sin, and that he who is selfish,
is actually chargeable with breaking the whole law, and of every form of iniquity,
will appear, if we consider,
(i.) That it is the committal of the will to self-indulgence; and of course--
(ii.) No one propensity would be denied but for the indulgence of another.
(iii.) But if no better reason than this exists for denying any propensity,
then the selfish man is chargeable, in the sight of God, with actually in heart gratifying
(iv.) And this conducts to the plain conclusion, that a selfish man is full
of sin, and actually in heart guilty of every possible or conceivable abomination.
(v.) "He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery
with her already in his heart." He may not have committed the outward act for
want of opportunity, or for the reason, that the indulgence is inconsistent with
the love of reputation or fear of disgrace, or with some other propensity. Nevertheless,
he is in heart guilty of the deed.
Intemperance, as a crime, is a state of mind. It is the attitude of the will. It
is an attribute of selfishness. It consists in the choice or disposition to gratify
the propensities regardless of the law of benevolence. This is intemperance; and
so far as the mind is considered, it is the whole of it. Now, inasmuch as the will
is committed to self-indulgence, and nothing but the contrariety there is between
the propensities prevents the unlimited indulgence of them all, it follows, that
every selfish person, or in other words every sinner, is chargeable in the sight
of God with every species of intemperance, actual or conceivable. His lusts have
the reign. They conduct him whithersoever they list. He has sold himself to self-indulgence.
If there is any form of self-indulgence that is not actually developed in him, no
thanks to him. The providence of God has restrained the outward indulgence, while
there has been in him a readiness to perpetrate any sin and every sin, from which
he was not deterred by some overpowering fear of consequences.
(22.) Moral recklessness is another attribute of selfishness. Moral recklessness
is carelessness, or a state of mind that seeks to gratify self, regardless of ultimate
consequences. It is a spirit of infatuation, a rushing upon ruin heedless of what
may be the final issue.
This is one of the most prominent attributes of selfishness. It is universally prominent
and manifest. What can be more manifest, and striking, and astonishing, than the
recklessness of every sinner? Self-indulgence is his motto; and the only appearance
of consideration and moderation about him is, that he is careful to deny one propensity
for the sake, and only for the sake, of indulging another. This consideration is
only a selfish one. It relates wholly to self-interest, and not at all to the good
of being in general. He hesitates not whether he shall indulge himself, but sometimes
hesitates and ponders, and deliberates in respect to the particular propensity to
be indulged or denied. He is at all times perfectly reckless as it respects self-indulgence
in some form. This is settled. Whenever he hesitates about any given course, it is
because of the strength of the self-indulgent spirit, and with design upon the whole
to realize the greatest amount of self-indulgence. When sinners hesitate about remaining
in sin and think of giving up self-indulgence, it is only certain forms of sin that
they contemplate relinquishing. They consider what they shall lose to themselves
by continuing in sin, and what they shall gain to themselves by relinquishing sin
and turning to God. It is a question of loss and gain with them. They have no idea
of giving up every form of selfishness; nor do they consider that until they do,
they are at every moment violating the whole law, whatever interest of self they
may be plotting to secure, whether the interest be temporal or eternal, physical
or spiritual. In respect to the denial or indulgence of one or another of the propensities,
they may, and indeed cannot but be considerate consistently with selfishness. But
in respect to duty; in respect to the commands and threatenings of God; in respect
to every moral consideration, they are entirely and universally reckless. And when
they appear not to be so, but to be thoughtful and considerate, it is only selfishness
plotting its own indulgence and calculating its chances of loss and gain. Indeed,
it would appear, when we take into consideration the known consequences of every
form of selfishness, and the sinner's pertinacious cleaving to self-indulgence in
the face of such considerations, that every sinner is appallingly reckless, and that
it may be said that his recklessness is infinite.
(23.) Unity is another attribute of selfishness.
By unity is intended that selfishness, and consequently all sin, is a unit. That
is, there are not various kinds of sin, nor various kinds of selfishness, nor, strictly
speaking, are there various forms of selfishness. Selfishness is always one and but
one thing. It has but one, and not diverse ultimate ends. The indulgence of one appetite
or passion, or another, does not imply different ultimate ends or forms of selfishness,
strictly speaking. It is only one choice, or the choice of one end, and the different
forms are only the use of different means to accomplish this one end. Strictly speaking,
there is but one form of virtue; and when we speak of various forms, we speak in
accommodation to the general notions of mankind. Virtue, as we have before seen,
is a unit. It always consists in ultimate intention; and this ultimate intention
is always one and the same. It is the choice of the highest well-being of God and
of the universe as an end. This intention never changes its form, and all the efforts
which the mind makes to realize this end, and which we loosely call different forms
of virtue, are after all only the one unchanged and unchangeable, uncompounded and
indivisible intention, energizing to realize its one great end. Just so with selfishness.
It is one choice, or the choice of one and only one end, to wit, self-gratification
or self-indulgence. All the various, and ever-varying shifts, and turns, and modes
of indulgence, which make up the entire history of the sinner, imply no complexity
in the form or substance of his choice. All are resorted to for one and only one
reason. They are only this one uncompounded and uncompoundable, this never varying
choice of self-indulgence, energizing and using various means to realize its one
simple end. The reason why the idea is so common, and why the phraseology of men
implies that there are really various forms of sin and of holiness, is, that they
unwittingly lose sight of that in which sin and holiness alone consist, and conceive
of them as belonging to the outward act, or to the causative volition put forth by
the intention to secure its end. Let it but always be remembered, that holiness and
sin are but the moral attributes of selfishness and benevolence, and that they are
each the choice of one end, and only one; and the delusion that there are various
forms and kinds of sin and holiness will vanish for ever.
Holiness is holiness, in form and essence one and indivisible. It is the moral element
or quality of disinterested benevolence. Sin is sin, in form and essence one and
indivisible; and is the moral attribute of selfishness, or of the choice of self-indulgence
as the end of life. This conducts us to the real meaning of those scriptures which
assert "that all the law is fulfilled in one word, love," that this is
the whole of virtue, and comprises all that we loosely call the different virtues,
or different forms of virtue. And it also explains this, "Whosoever shall keep
the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." That is, offending
in one point implies the real commission of all sin. It implies, and is, selfishness,
and this is the whole of sin. It is of the greatest importance, that religious teachers
should understand this, and no longer conceive of sin as original and actual; as
sins of heart and sins of life; as sins of omission and commission; as sins of licentiousness
and gluttony, intemperance and the like. Now such notions and such phraseology may
do for those who are unable, or have no opportunity, to look deeper into the philosophy
of moral government; but it is time that the veil were taken away, and both sin and
holiness laid open to the public gaze.
Let it not be inferred, that because there is but one form or kind of sin, or of
holiness, strictly speaking, that therefore all sin is equally blameworthy, and that
all holiness is equally praiseworthy. This does not follow, as we shall see under
its proper head. Neither let it be called a contradiction, that I have so often spoken,
and shall so often speak, of the different forms of sin and of holiness. All this
is convenient, and, as I judge, indispensable in preparing the way, and to conduct
the mind to the true conception and apprehension of this great and fundamental truth;
fundamental, in the sense, that it lies at the foundation of all truly clear and
just conceptions of either holiness or sin. They are both units, and eternal and
necessary opposites and antagonists. They can never dwell together or coalesce, any
more than heaven and hell can be wedded to each other.
Introduction ---New Window
LECTURES 1-7 of page 1
LECTURES 8-16 of page 2 ---New Window
LECTURES 17-30 of page 3 (this page)
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