||delphia > Lectures on SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY Appendix by Charles G. Finney (page 11 of 11)
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
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APPENDIX on page 11
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APPENDIX: Reply to "Princeton Biblical Repertory" . .
Reply to Dr. Duffield
This was typed in by John, Terri and Aaron Clark.
BY PROF. C. G. FINNEY,
of THE REVIEW OF FINNEY'S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY,
PUBLISHED IN THE "BIBLICAL REPERTORY," PRINCETON, N. J., JUNE, 1847.
This review is so very miscellaneous in its character, that to reply to it in extenso,
were but little less than to re-write the volume reviewed. Every one familiar with
the work criticised by the reviewer, will perceive upon an attentive perusal that
the reviewer had not made himself well acquainted with the work in question; and
that, almost without an exception, a complete answer to his objections might be quoted
verbatim from the work itself. I have read and re-read his review, and every time
with increasing wonder that the reviewer could pass over, so apparently without reading
or consideration, the full and complete answer to nearly all his objections which
is found in the book he was reviewing.
This consideration has led me seriously to question the propriety of replying at
all to his remarks, since to do so in the best manner, would be little more than
to quote page after page from the work reviewed.
There is nothing new or unexpected in the review, except it be some of his admissions,
and it is upon the whole just what might be expected from that school, and probably
the best that can come from that quarter.
Were it allowable, I should publish the above named article entire. But since this
is not the case, I must content myself with making such quotations as will fairly
exhibit the writer's views of the work in question, and with a brief reply to his
The great object of the reviewer seems to have been to fasten upon new school men
what he esteems to be the errors of Oberlin, and to sustain the peculiarities of
old schoolism. Hence I am not flattered by his so fully endorsing and eulogizing
my logic, because it was essential to his purpose to show, that my conclusions follow
by a rigorous logic, from what he supposes to be the two fundamental errors of new
He however admits the great, and even fundamental importance of the principles and
conclusions of the work, if they are true.
He assumes, as we shall see, the old school dogma of original sin or constitutional
moral depravity, and the head and front of the offending of my work is, that it denies
and disproves that doctrine, with its consequences.
The reviewer refuses to argue the questions at issue, but says, "We promised
not to discuss Mr. Finney's principles. We propose to rely upon the reductio ad absurdum,
and make his doctrines the refutation of his principles."
In several instances he misapprehends my meaning, and of course misrepresents me.
This he also does by quoting and applying passages out of their proper connexion.
But I do not complain of intentional misrepresentation. I can easily perceive, that
with his views, those misapprehensions and consequent misrepresentations of my views
His admissions have greatly narrowed the field of debate. I am happy that this is
so; for I hate the spirit, and dread even the form of controversy. In the compass
of a reply to his review I cannot follow the reviewer through the whole train of
his miscellaneous remarks, nor is it proper that I should. Our readers would not
thereby be edified. I care not for masteries. If I know my heart, I am willing and
anxious to have the errors of the work under consideration detected and exposed,
if errors there be in it. As the interests of truth are concerned only with the discussion
and settlement of the main positions of the work and their legitimate consequences,
I shall content myself with the examination of these.
The reviewer has taken a most extraordinary course. He sat down to review a book
of which he says:--
- "The work is therefore in a high degree logical. It is as hard to read as
Euclid. Nothing can be omitted; nothing passed over slightly. The unhappy reader
once committed to a perusal is obliged to go on, sentence by sentence, through the
long concatenation. There is not one resting place: not one lapse into amplification
or declamation, from the beginning to the close. It is like one of those spiral staircases,
which lead to the top of some high tower without a landing from the base to the summit;
which, if a man has once ascended, he resolves never to do the like again. The author
begins with certain postulates, or what he calls first truths of reason, and these
he traces out with singular clearness and strength to their legitimate conclusions.
We do not see that there is a break or a defective link in the whole chain. If you
grant his principles, you have already granted his conclusions."
The same in substance he repeats elsewhere. Now, what course does this reviewer
take in the review before us? Does he take issue upon the premises from which he
admits that the conclusions irresistibly follow? Does he meet argument with argument?
Does he attempt by argument to show that either the premises, or the conclusions
of the book before him; are unsound? O, no indeed. This were a painful and hopeless
task. He therefore assumes the correctness of the peculiarities of what is called
old schoolism; to wit, constitutional sinfulness, physical divine influence, physical
regeneration, natural inability; that the sovereign will of God is the foundation
of moral obligation; that moral obligation does not imply ability; that moral obligation
extends beyond the sphere of moral agency to the substance of the soul and body,
and that therefore these can be and are sinful in every faculty and part; that the
involuntary states of the intellect and the sensibility are virtuous in a higher
degree than benevolence or good-will to being is;--I say he assumes the correctness
of these and sundry other similar dogmas; and finding that the conclusions in the
work before him conflict with these, he most conveniently appeals to the prejudices
of all who sympathize with him in those views, and without one sentence of argument,
condemns the work because if its conclusions. He says, p. 257:--
- "We promised, however, not to discuss Mr. Finney's principles. We propose
to reply on the reductio ad absurdum, and make his doctrines the refutation of his
Again, he says, p. 263:--
- "We consider this a fair refutation. If the principle that obligation is
limited by ability, leads to the conclusion that moral character is confined to intention,
and that again to the conclusion that when the intention is right, nothing can be
morally wrong, then the principle is false. Even if we could not detect its fallacy,
we should know it could not be true."
He relies altogether upon the absurdity of the conclusions to refute the premises.
And has he shown that the conclusions are absurd? No, indeed; but he has all along
assumed this upon the strength of his own preconceived opinions and prejudices, and
those of his readers. A summary and most short-hand method, truly, of disposing of
the opinions and arguments of an opponent! They contradict our theory; therefore
they must be absurd. The argument when reduced to a logical formula would stand thus:
Whatever is inconsistent with old schoolism must be absurd; the book under review
is inconsistent with old schoolism; therefore its doctrines and conclusions are absurd.
He has not thus stated the argument in form; but, as every reader may see for himself,
he has done the same thing in substance. Now suppose I should do the same thing in
reply, or suppose I had done the same thing in the book under consideration; how
much would our readers be edified? It is very natural for such men as the editors
of the New England Puritan and the New York Observer, and that class of men who sympathize
with the reviewer, to inform their readers that the reviewer has used up the book
in question. But stay. Men are not all of this mind. Many would like to be better
informed, and to see the premises on which the argument in the work rests, grappled
with and overthrown by argument, or in some legitimate way disposed of, before they
can suffer the mere say-so, or the prejudices of any school, to settle the weighty
questions in debate.
I am well aware, that the peculiarities of old schoolism will not bear reasoning
upon. Who, by any process of reasoning, or by any affirmation, or by any deduction
of the intelligence whatever, could arrive at the positions comprising the peculiarities
of the school above named? Who, in the use of his reason, could affirm for example,
that men deserve the wrath and curse of God for ever, for inheriting (of course without
their knowledge or consent,) a nature from Adam wholly sinful, in every faculty of
soul and body; or that a man is under infinite obligation to do what he never possessed
any more ability to do, than to create a world; and, that he deserves the wrath and
curse of God for ever, for not performing natural impossibilities; that he deserves
eternal damnation for not being regenerated, when his regeneration is a thing in
which he is entirely passive; a work of God, as wholly and exclusively as the work
of creation; and a work which he has no more power to effect, than he has to re-create
himself? What has either reason or reasoning to do with such dogmas as these, which
make up the peculiarities of old schoolism, but to deny and spurn them? Nothing,
surely. But since these are the points assumed by the writer, no wonder that he refuses
to reason, or to take issue with either the premises or the conclusions. That will
never do. He must appeal to prejudice, and professedly to the Bible, while he only
assumes that the Bible sustains his positions, without so much as examining one text!
This to be sure is a summary way of disposing of all the great questions between
But another peculiarity of this writer is, that he admits that the conclusions follow
with irresistible logic from the premises, without knowing what the premises are.
At first he appears to have been much confused in his mind, and on page 250 he says--
- "As it would be impossible to discuss the various questions presented in
such a work as this, within the compass of a review, we propose to do no more than
to state the principles which Mr. Finney assumes, and show that they legitimately
lead to his conclusions. In other words, we wish to show that his conclusions are
the best refutation of his premises. Our task would be much easier than it is, if
there were any one radical principle to which his several axioms could be reduced,
and from which the whole system could be evolved, but this is not the case. No one
principle includes all the others, nor leads to all the conclusions here deduced;
nor do the conclusions admit of being classed, and some referred to one principle
and some to another, because the same conclusions often follow with equal certainty
from different premises. We despair therefore of giving anything like unity to our
exhibition of Mr. Finney's system, but we shall try not to do him injustice. We regard
him as a most important labourer in the cause of truth. Principles which have been
long current in this country, and which multitudes hold without seeing half their
consequences, he has had the strength of intellect and will, to trace out to their
legitimate conclusions, and has thus shown the borderers that there is no neutral
ground; that they must either go forward to Oberlin, or back to the common faith
In this paragraph he sees not, plainly, what the premises are, from which he had
before said, that my conclusions irresistibly follow. But soon after his vision clears
up a little, and he says, at the bottom of the same page:--
- "We are not sure that all Mr. Finney's doctrines may not be traced to two
fundamental principles; namely, that obligation is limited by ability; and that satisfaction,
happiness, blessedness, is the only ultimate good, the only thing intrinsically valuable."
Here he is not sure that he has not discovered the premises, from which, he had
asserted, before he saw them, that my conclusions followed irresistibly.
On page 258 it appears, that he had finally come to be assured that he had discovered
the premises upon which the logical conclusions of the book were based. And lo! these
principles, instead of being manifold, as he had represented them, are discovered
to be but two in number. Thus, after writing twenty pages of his review, and nearly
one half of the whole, he finally begins to understand the work he is reviewing;
and behold, instead of its being a wilderness of premises and conclusions that mock
all systematic discussion and examination, the conclusions are based, as he at last
discovers, upon two fundamental positions. Now, what does he do? Does he, since now
he has found the clue, lay aside what he had written, and close in with, or attempt
to refute, either the premises or the conclusions? Oh, no; but, as has been said,
he assumes the truth of an opposite scheme of doctrine, and then comes to the grave
conclusion that the premises in the work are false, because they are opposed to what
he calls the common and the long established views of Christians.
But what are the two principles upon which he has discovered the whole work to rest,
and from which he so fully admits the whole train of conclusions to follow? We will
hear him again, page 258:--
- "The two principles to which all the important doctrines contained in this
work may be traced are, first, that obligation is limited by ability; and secondly,
that enjoyment, satisfaction, or happiness, is the only ultimate good which is to
be chosen for its own sake."
This, to be sure, is most extraordinary. He begins by discovering and affirming
the logical conclusiveness of the whole work; that the conclusions follow from the
premises; but soon he despairs of finding the definite premises upon which the conclusions
are based. Then he is not sure but the conclusions may be traced to two premises,
and at length he is sure of this. How he could set out with the affirmation that
the conclusions followed from the premises--that there was not a defective link in
the whole chain of argument--that to admit the premises is to grant the conclusions,
while at the same time he had not discovered the premises, is hard to say.
But what does he do with the two principles or premises in question? Why, he undertakes
to show, partly by garbled quotations from the work before him, and partly by his
own logic, that the conclusions of the book do follow from the premises; then relies
upon the manifest absurdity of the conclusions, as a sufficient refutation of the
I now proceed to a brief statement of the points upon which it appears from his admissions
that we are agreed.
We have just seen what he regards as my two fundamental principles.
Again he says, page 258:--
- "If these principles are correct, then it follows: first, that moral obligation,
or the demands of the moral law can relate to nothing but intention, or the choice
of an ultimate end. If that is right, all is right. The law can demand nothing more.
That this is a fair sequence from the above principles is plain, as appears from
the following statement of the case. The law can demand nothing but what is within
the power of a moral agent. The power of such an agent extends no further than to
the acts of the will. All acts of the will are either choices of an end, or volitions
designed to attain that end: the latter of course having no moral character, except
as they derive it from the nature of the end in view of the mind. Therefore all moral
character attaches properly to the intention, or ultimate choice which the agent
Again he says, page 253:--
- "1. Mr. Finney obviously uses the word will in its strict and limited sense.
Every one is aware that the word is often used for every thing in the mind not included
under the category of the understanding. In this sense all mental affections, such
as being pleased or displeased, liking and disliking, preferring, and so on, are
acts of will. In its strict and proper sense, it is the power of self-determination,
the faculty by which we decide our own acts. This is the sense in which the word
is uniformly and correctly used in the work before us.
2. Mr. Finney is further correct in confining causality to the will, that is, in
saying that our ability extends no farther that to voluntary acts. We have no direct
control over our mental states beyond the sphere of the will. We can decide on our
bodily acts, and on the course of our thoughts, but we cannot govern our emotions
and affections by direct acts of volition. We cannot feel as we will.
3. In confounding liberty and ability, or in asserting their identity, Mr. Finney,
as remarked on a preceding page, passes beyond the limits of first truths, and asserts
that to be an axiom which the common consciousness of men denies to be truth.
4. The fallacy of which he is guilty is very obvious. He transfers a maxim which
is an axiom in one department, to another in which it has no legitimate force. It
is a first truth that a man without eyes cannot be under an obligation to see, or
a man without ears to hear. No blind man ever felt remorse for not seeing, nor any
deaf man for not hearing. Within the sphere, therefore, of physical impossibilities,
the maxim that obligation is limited by ability, is undoubtedly true."
Again he says, page 243:--
- "It is a conceded point that man is a free agent. The author therefore is
authorized to lay down as one of his axioms, that liberty is essential to moral agency."
From these quotations it is manifest that we agree:--
- 1. That the conclusions contained, in the work reviewed, legitimately and irresistibly
follow from the premises.
- 2. We also agree, that men are moral agents.
- 3. We also agree, that liberty of will is a condition of moral agency.
- 4. We also agree, that moral agency is a condition of moral obligation.
- 5. We also agree, that so far as acts of will are concerned, liberty of will
implies ability of will to obey God. In other words, so far as acts of will are concerned,
we agree that men have ability, and that with respect to voluntary acts, obligation
is limited by ability. This is fully admitted.
- The foregoing, and many other sayings in this review, render it evident that
the writer holds, and therefore that we agree, that my first premise, to wit, that
moral obligation is limited by ability, is true, so far as acts of will are concerned.
- 6. The foregoing quotations also show that we are agreed, that all causality
resides in the will; that whatever a man can accomplish directly or indirectly by
willing, is possible to him; and whatever he cannot thus accomplish, is to him a
- 7. We also agree, as the foregoing quotations show, that the states of the intellect
and of the sensibility, are passive or involuntary states of mind.
- 8. We further agree, that muscular action, together with the attention of the
intellect, is under the direct control of the will.
- 9. We also agree, that the states of the sensibility, or the desires, appetites,
passions, and feelings, are only under the indirect control of the will.
- 10. We therefore further agree, that in so far as any action or state of mind
is under either the direct or indirect control of the will; or, which is the same
thing, whatever is possible to man, that may be justly required of him.
- 11. We also agree, that in so far as thoughts, actions, or feelings, are under
the direct or indirect control of the will, they are proper objects of command, and
of praise and blame.
- 12. We also further agree, that, strictly speaking, the moral character of acts
and states of mind that proceed directly or indirectly from acts of will, belongs
to, or resides in, the intention that directly or indirectly caused them.
- 13. We also fully agree, that all acts of will consist in choice and volition;
that is, in the choice of an end, and volition or executive efforts to secure that
- 14. We also agree, that in so far as acts of will are concerned, moral obligation
and moral character, strictly belong only to the ultimate intention; and that volitions,
designed to secure the end intended, derive their character from the nature of the
end. His language is, page 258:--
- "All the acts of will are either choices of an end, or volitions designed
to attain that end; the latter of course having no moral character, except as they
derive it from the nature of the end in view of the mind. Therefore, moral character
attaches properly to the intention, or ultimate choice which the agent forms."
I wish the reader to mark and ponder well these admissions, and to examine the quotations
in which they are made, and see if he fully makes these admissions, together with
those that follow. I desire this, because I shall soon call the attention of the
reader to the remarkable dilemma in which his admissions have placed him.
- 15. We also further agree, that a physical inability is a bar to, or inconsistent
with, moral obligation. He says--
- "He transfers a maxim which is an axiom in one department, to another in
which it has no force. It is a first truth, that a man without eyes cannot be under
an obligation to see, or a man without ears to hear. No blind man ever felt remorse
for not seeing, nor any deaf man for not hearing. Within the sphere, therefore, of
physical impossibilities, the maxim that obligation is limited by ability is undoubtedly
Let the reader mark well this admission.
- 16. In so far as acts of will are concerned, we also agree, in the simplicity
of moral action; that acts of will must in their own nature be for the time being,
either wholly right or wholly wrong. This is one conclusion which I deduce from the
premises in question, and which he admits to follow from them.
- 17. We also agree, that if moral obligation be limited by ability, it follows
that moral obligation and moral character must strictly belong only to acts of will,
and not, strictly speaking, to outward acts, or any involuntary feelings or states
of mind. These have moral character only in a qualified sense, as proceeding from
the intention, and receive character, so far as they have character, from that intention.
Thus, from his admissions it appears, that in respect to what he calls the first
of my fundamental principles, we differ only in this, to wit: he affirms, and I deny,
that moral obligation extends beyond the sphere of moral agency, to that state of
the constitution which he calls sinful, and to those states of mind that lie wholly
beyond, either the direct or indirect control of the will. Observe, we are fully
agreed as touching everything that lies within either the direct or indirect control
of the will. Our disagreement, then, in respect to what he calls my first principle,
respects only those states of mind over which the will has no direct or indirect
Now, reader, observe: he fully admits:
1. That all causality resides in the will, and that therefore, whatever cannot be
accomplished either directly or indirectly by willing, is impossible to man. He fully
2. That whatever comes within the sphere of physical impossibility is without the
pale of moral obligation, that is, that a physical impossibility or inability, is
a bar to, or inconsistent with moral obligation.
The real and only point of difference between us in respect to the first great principle
in question, resolves itself into this: WHAT IS A PHYSICAL INABILITY?
This writer and his school admit and maintain, that the inability of men to obey
God, is a proper inability of nature or constitution; and that it consists in a nature
that is wholly sinful, in ever faculty and part of soul and body. This I call a proper
physical inability, and therefore I insist, that did such an inability exist, it
would be a bar to moral obligation.
This writer will not call this a physical inability, although he insists that it
is a real inability of nature. He must, to save his orthodoxy, maintain that this
is a real constitutional or natural inability, but for the same reason he must deny
that it is a physical inability; to avoid the charge of denying moral obligation.
But how is the question between us here to be decided? The question, and the only
question thus far between us is, What is a proper physical inability? Webster's primary
definition of physical is, "Pertaining to nature or natural productions, or
to material things as opposed to things moral or imaginary."
This writer assumes that a physical inability must be a material inability. "A
man without eyes is under no obligation to see," &c. This he admits. But
he says, "it is no less obviously true that an inability which has its origin
in sin, which consists in what is sinful, and relates to moral action, is perfectly
consistent with continued obligation." But what is this sinful inability, that
consists in sin, that relates to, (not that consists in) moral action? Why, it is
that which lies wholly beyond, both the direct and indirect control of the will--in
a sinful nature, in a constitution wholly sinful in every faculty, and part, of soul
But this inability is not physical! it is a proper inability of nature or constitution;
it extends to both the substance of the soul and body, and yet we are to believe
that it is not physical! But why is it not physical? Why, because if physical, it
would be a bar to moral obligation. But this must not be admitted. If I am born without
eyes, I am under no obligation to see. Why? Because I am unnaturally or physically
unable to see. It is to me naturally impossible. But if I am born without any ability
to obey God, with a constitution that renders it impossible for me to love and obey
him, I am still under obligation in respect to those things to which this inability
extends. Why? Because it is not a physical inability. If the inability consists in
a defect in the material organism, that is simply the instrument of the mind, it
is a bar to moral obligation to perform those acts which are thus rendered naturally
impossible. But if the inability belong to the constitution, or substance of the
mind, and an inability with which I came into being as real and as absolute an inability
as the bodily one just referred to, still, I am under infinite obligation to perform
those acts to which this inability extends. Why! Because this is not a physical inability!
Here then, I take issue with this writer, and maintain that this is a proper physical
inability. It is natural. It is constitutional. It belongs to the substance of both
soul and body, both being wholly defiled, and sinful in ever faculty and part. It
is an inability lying wholly without the pale of moral agency, and beyond either
the direct or indirect control of the will. A man can no more overcome it by willing,
than he can create for himself eyes or ears by willing. Why, then, I ask, should
the want of eyes and ears be a bar to moral obligation to see or hear, any more than
an utter constitutional inability to obey God should be a bar to obligation to obey
him? There neither is nor can be a reason. They are both a proper natural or physical
inability, and alike a bar to moral obligation. I therefore deny that moral obligation
extends to any act or state, either of soul or body, that lies wholly beyond, both
the direct and indirect control of the will, so that it is naturally impossible for
the agent to be, or do it.
He says, page 253:--
- "Mr. Finney is further correct, in confining causality to the will, that
is, in saying that our ability extends no further than to voluntary acts."
Again, page 243, he says:--
- "It is a conceded point that man is a free agent. The author therefore is
authorized to lay down as one of his axioms, that liberty is essential to moral agency."
From these two quotations it appears, that a man has ability so far as the sphere
of moral agency extends. Moral agency implies free agency. Free agency implies liberty
of will. Liberty of will implies ability of will, according to him. His inability,
then, lies beyond the pale of moral agency.
In support of his position he assumes, that both the instinctive judgments of all
men, and the Bible affirm, that there is moral obligation where there is a conscious
inability. This I deny, and maintain, that neither reason, the instinctive judgments
of men, nor the Bible, affirm moral obligation of any act or state of mind that lies
wholly beyond the direct or indirect control of the will. Both reason and revelation
hold men responsible for all voluntary and intelligent acts, and also for all states
of mind that lie within the direct or indirect control of will; but no other. Men
are conscious that their will is free, and that for its acts they are responsible;
also that their outward life, and most of their inward feelings are under the direct
or indirect control of their will, and for this reason alone do they affirm, or even
conceive, that moral obligation extends to them. That they have this consciousness
is certain, and that this is a sufficient ground of the affirmation of moral obligation
in respect to them, cannot be denied. Now, it must not be assumed, that reason or
revelation affirms obligation, in respect to anything whatever that lies wholly beyond
the direct or indirect control of the will. He complains that I assume, that moral
obligation does not and cannot extend beyond moral agency, or which is the same thing,
beyond the acts of will, and those acts and states which lie within its direct or
Now, before I close my remarks upon this point, let me request my readers to mark
and understand distinctly the exact difference between this writer and myself, upon
the subject of ability. For here, let it be observed, is the real point of divergence
between the Old and the New School in theology. What this writer calls my other fundamental
principle I have shown is not fundamental, but that it follows irresistibly from
this. Observe, then, that this writer fully admits, that in so far as acts of will
are concerned, and those acts and states of mind, that lie either within the direct
or indirect control of the will, men have ability. This he repeatedly admits, and
assumes. He says, as the foregoing quotations show, that the assumption, that obligation
is limited by ability, implies that obligation is limited to acts of will, because
ability is limited to acts of will. He also holds, that the will is the executive
faculty, and that which we can directly or indirectly do by willing, we have ability
to do. But the thing of which he complains is, that I assume, that moral obligation
cannot extend beyond those acts, and mental states, that lie wholly beyond the will's
direct or indirect control. He insists, that obligation extends into the region of
absolute impossibility. He admits that it cannot extend into the region of physical
impossibility, but holds, that it can, and does extend to natural impossibilities;
that men are under obligation to be and do what they have never possessed any ability
to be and do, what they can never accomplish directly or indirectly by willing. This
I deny, and on the contrary hold, that obligation implies ability, in the sense that
it is possible for man to be all that he is under obligation to be; that by willing,
he can directly or indirectly do all that God requires him to do; that, strictly
speaking, the willing is the doing required by God; and that "if there be first
a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to
what he hath not." This is the expressed, and everywhere assumed doctrine of
the Bible. This writer admits, that, "I ought, therefore I can, is a doctrine
of philosophers." But he insists, that the common people say, "I ought
to be able, but I am not."
This theological writer does not hesitate to appeal from a doctrine of philosophy
to the loose language of the common people. But I deny, that even the common people,
or any moral agents whatever, hold themselves morally bound to perform natural impossibilities.
Now, this is the exact point between us. He affirms, that men are under moral obligation
to perform natural impossibilities. This I deny. He holds, that both the Bible, and
the instinctive judgments of men affirm and assume, that men are under obligation
to perform natural impossibilities. This again I deny. On the other hand I maintain,
that both reason and revelation affirm and assume, that what man ought to do, is
possible to him. He admits that it must be physically possible. I insist, that a
proper natural or constitutional impossibility, is a physical impossibility, and
that it can absolutely be nothing else than a physical impossibility. But I will
not contend for the word. It is the thing upon which I insist. I do insist, that
a proper inability of nature is a bar to moral obligation; that obligation always
implies possibility. This he admits in reference to acts of will. He also admits
it in reference to physical acts, or acts that depend on the material organism. But
he denies it in reference to mental acts and states. I insist, that this is an absurd
distinction. What! admit that a physical, in the sense of a bodily inability is a
bar to obligation, but maintain, that an absolute inability of mind, and one too
with which we came into being, is no bar to obligation! If a man is born with a deformed,
or defective body, it is a bar to obligation, in respect to all actions to which
the body is incapable. But if born with a deformed, a morally defective, and a sinful
mind, that renders obedience a natural impossibility, this is no bar to moral obligation.
It is preposterous to argue such a question. If there be a self-evident truth in
the universe, this must be one, that a proper natural inability of mind, is as real
and as absolute a bar to obligation as an inability of body.
It is vain to affirm, that the inability in this case is a sinful one; that it consists
in a nature that is wholly defiled or sinful, in every faculty and part of soul or
body. I deny that there is any proper inability, that is, in the sense of natural
impossibility. And if there were, I deny that this inability could be sinful in the
sense of being the fault of him who inherits it; therefore I maintain that, if such
an impossibility existed, it would be an effectual bar to moral obligation.
I must now attend to the disposal he has made of the first premise, which is, that
moral obligation is limited by ability. He says, if moral obligation is limited by
ability, it follows, "that the law can demand nothing but what is within the
power of the moral agent. The power of such an agent extends no further than to acts
of the will. All the acts of the will are either choices of an end, or volitions
designed to attain that end, the latter of course having no moral character, except
as they derive it from the nature of the end in view of the mind. Therefore, all
moral character attaches properly to the intention, or ultimate choice which the
agent forms." He then proceeds to quote from the work he is reviewing, and gives
the quotation in capitals, page 259:--
- "Let it be borne in mind, that if moral obligation respects strictly the
ultimate intention only, it follows that ultimate intention alone is right or wrong
in itself, and all other things are right or wrong as they proceed from a right or
wrong ultimate intention."
Upon this he immediately and triumphantly exclaims:
- "How strangely does this sound like the doctrine, the end sanctifies the
means! Every thing depends on the intention; if that is right, all is right. We fear
Mr. Finney has not recently read Pascal's Provincial Letters: a better book for distribution
at Oberlin, we should be at a loss to select."
After quoting a page or two, exposing the absurdities of the Jesuits in maintaining
that the end sanctifies the means, he says:
- "How does Mr. Finney's doctrine differ from theirs? On p. 134, he says,
in the passage just quoted, 'let it be borne in mind [it is a matter once plain and
important] that if moral obligation respects strictly the ultimate intention only,
it follows that ultimate intention alone is right or wrong in itself, and all other
things are right or wrong as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention.'
The only difference here arises from the insertion of the word 'ultimate.' But we
cannot see that this makes any real difference in the doctrine itself. Both parties,
(i.e. the Jesuits and Mr. Finney,) agree, that the intention must be right, and if
that is right, everything which proceeds from it is right. The former say, that the
honour and welfare of the church is the proper object of intention, Mr. Finney says,
the highest good of being is the only proper object. The latter, however, may include
the former, and the Jesuit may well say, that in intending the welfare of the church
he intends the glory of God, and the highest good of the universe. In any event,
the whole poison of the doctrine lies in the principle, common to both, viz: That
whatever proceeds from a right intention is right. If this is so, then the end sanctifies
the means; and it is right to do evil that good may come; which is Paul's reductio
"We consider this a fair refutation. If the principle that obligation is limited
by ability, leads to the conclusion that moral character is confined to intention;
and that again to the conclusion, that where the intention is right nothing can be
morally wrong, then the principle is false."
So then, it appears to himself and to many of his readers, no doubt, that the first
and fundamental position of the work before him is refuted. The doctrine of ability
has fallen. New School theology is no more. But stay, not so fast. Let us look at
this a little. We will inquire--
(1.) Whether this same objection does not lie with all its force against this reviewer
himself, and against every school of philosophy, theology, morals, law and equity
in Christendom? whether it does not lie alike against reason, revelation, and common
sense? This reviewer calls the doctrine, that moral character belongs to the ultimate
intention, Mr. Finney's doctrine. But how came this to be Mr. Finney's doctrine?
Let us hear the reviewer upon the subject of his own views. In remarking on the
subject of ability he says, p. 258:--
- "If these principles are correct, then it follows: First, that moral obligation
or the demands of the moral law can relate to nothing but intention, or the choice
of an ultimate end. If that is right, all is right. The law can demand nothing more.
That this is a fair sequence from the above principle is plain, as appears from the
following statement of the case. The law can demand nothing but what is within the
power of a moral agent. The power of such an agent extends no further than to the
acts of the will. All the acts of the will are either choices of an end, or volitions
designed to attain that end: the latter of course having no moral character, except
as they derive it from the nature of the end in view of the mind. Therefore all moral
character attaches properly to the intention, or ultimate choice which the agent
Here then, and elsewhere, it fully appears, that in so far as acts of will are
concerned and the dogma of the Jesuits never did nor can apply to any other, this
reviewer holds precisely the same doctrine that I do myself. He has done little else
than express his opinion in my own words. Through the entire review, with one strange
exception, he has maintained precisely the same doctrine in regard to acts of the
will that I do; namely, that so far as acts of the will are concerned, moral character
belongs strictly only to the ultimate intention, and that volitions, or executive
acts, have strictly no moral character, except as they receive it from the ultimate
design or end of the mind. The only exception, to which I have just alluded, I shall
notice in its proper place, and show that it not only contradicts the reviewer himself,
but that it contradicts reason and revelation, and shocks the moral sense.
But who does not hold, and that too, by a law of his own intelligence, that moral
character belongs to the ultimate intention? Who does not know and hold, that a man
is to be judged by his motive or design? This can never be intelligently and honestly
denied by any moral agent, any more than he can deny his own existence. Where shall
moral character be found, so far as voluntary acts are concerned? Certainly, not
in the muscular action, that results by a law of necessity from volition, or the
executive act of the will. It cannot belong to mere volition, which results also
by a law of necessity, from the design or intention of the mind. Volition, as distinct
from choice or intention, is only an executive act which the designing mind puts
forth to secure an end. The intelligence of all men affirms, and this has been the
doctrine of all schools from time immemorial, and always must be, that moral character
belongs to the ultimate intention, or choice of an end, and that the agent's character
for the time being is as his intention is. But I said, this reviewer had made one
strange and self-contradictory exception to this doctrine of intention--he says,
- "Mr. Finney cannot say, certain things are prohibited by the law of God,
and are therefore wrong, no matter with what intention they are performed, because
his doctrine is, that law relates only to the intention; its authority extends no
further. The will of God, is not the foundation of any obligation. Here he has got
into a deeper slough even than the Jesuits, for they hold that the law of God is
not a mere declaration of what is obligatory; and so far as we know, they never substitute
obedience to the intelligence as a synonymous expression with obedience to God."
But suppose it be admitted, that the will of God is the foundation of obligation.
Has God no respect to the intention? Do his commands contemplate only the outward
act, so that a thing may be right or wrong, "whatever the intention may be?"
This doctrine that God's commands do not respect the ultimate intention, but only
the outward life, may be palateable enough to hypocrites and worldly moralists, but
it is an abomination to reason, to the Bible, and to God. And can this reviewer say,
that a thing, anything whatever, is morally right or wrong without regard to the
intention? No, indeed, it is absurd.
But to return to the dogma of the Jesuits. They have grossly perverted a fundamental
truth, a truth held alike by all moral agents, because held by a necessity of the
intelligence. I am acquainted with the doctrine of the Jesuits, but I am not so frightened
thereby as to renounce both reason and revelation, and scout a truth which I hold
by a necessity of my own nature. I might refuse the responsibility of replying to
this perversion, and leave it with this writer to reply to the Jesuits as best he
can, since it is most evident, that the objection lies with just as much force against
him as against myself. All schools of philosophy, theology, morals, law and equity,
and all moral agents are equally concerned to answer this objection, as it lies with
equal force against them all, and lies against reason and revelation. Why then are
Oberlin and Mr. Finney to be held particularly responsible, and obliged to answer
this objection? Why is the doctrine that moral character belongs to the ultimate
intention, so far as acts of will are concerned, heresy at Oberlin, but orthodoxy
at Princeton and everywhere else?
Before I proceed to point out the manifest perversion of the Jesuits, I must not
omit to remark, that so far as their dogma is concerned, it matters not at all what
the end is upon which right intention is supposed to terminate. Their doctrine is,
that "the end sanctifies the means." Whatever the end is, provided it be
right, it would follow in their view that the means must be right. This is fully
admitted by this reviewer:
- "In any event, the whole poison of the doctrine lies in the principle common
to both, namely, That whatever proceeds from a right intention is right. If this
is true, then the end sanctifies the means; and it is right to do evil that good
Whether the end be justice, or truth, or right, or virtue, or happiness, it matters
not: it is equally open to this objection, and perversion, unless it can be shown,
which, cannot justly be pretended, that men universally, and necessarily possess
a knowledge in all cases of what is right, or true, or just, or useful, &c.
I now proceed to inquire, in what sense the doctrine, that the end sanctifies the
means is true, after which, I shall show in what sense it is false.
- 1. It is true in the sense that the end, design, or ultimate intention, gives
character to the use of means to accomplish the end. The mere outward act has no
moral character, except as its character is derived from the end, or design of the
mind. This everybody knows to be true, and this no one can honestly and intelligently
- 2. The doctrine that the end sanctifies the means, is true in the sense, that
from the laws of mind, a moral agent in the honest pursuit of an ultimate end, can
use no other than means which he honestly regards as the appropriate and necessary
means. That is, his intention must secure the use of means, and the means which,
in the honest apprehension of his mind, are the appropriate and necessary means to
that end. For example: if his end be benevolent, he can use no other than benevolent
means. If he is honest in the choice of an end, that is, if he chooses an end in
accordance with the dictates of reason and revelation, he cannot but choose the means
by the same rule. He cannot choose an end in obedience to God and reason, and then
disobey and disregard both, or either, in the use of means to secure his end. This
is impossible. If honest in his end, he will be and must be honest in the use of
means. Benevolence consists in the choice of the highest good of universal being
as an ultimate end, and implies the choice of every interest, of every being, according
to its perceived and relative value. With a benevolent end it is impossible for a
moral agent to use unbenevolent means, knowingly to disregard, or unjustly trample
down, any interest of any being. The nature of benevolence is such, as to forbid
the use of any but benevolent means to secure its end. The constitution of the mind
is such, as to render it impossible for it to use any other means to secure an end,
than those which are, in the judgment of the mind, the appropriate means. In this
sense, then, the end sanctifies the means; to wit, a good or benevolent end secures
the use of benevolent means.
- 3. But the end does not sanctify the means, in the sense, that any means whatever
may be justly resorted to, to secure a good end. Now this is the very sense, in which
the Jesuits hold that the end sanctifies the means, and herein consists their error,
and from this resulted all the odious and ridiculous consequences with which they
are chargeable. They held, that a good end justifies or sanctifies the use of any
means whatever; that is, that a benevolent end might justify unbenevolent means,
or more strictly, that the benevolence of the design imparts the same character to
the use of any means whatever. It is true, that a truly benevolent design imparts
its character to the use of any and every means which it does, or can, from its nature,
consent to use. But be it remembered, that it cannot consent to use other than benevolent
means, that is, means which are, in the honest judgment of the mind, the appropriate
means. The end is the highest good of being in general, therefore the interest of
no being can be overlooked, or disregarded, or trampled down, in the use of means.
If the mind has regard to the will and authority of God in the choice of an end,
it cannot disregard his will and authority in the use of means. It cannot seek to
please him in the pursuit of an end, by means that are known to be displeasing to
him. Every moral agent knows, that the highest good of sentient beings, and of moral
agents in particular, can be secured only by conforming to the laws of their mental,
moral, and physical constitution. Therefore a moral agent can no more honestly intend
to promote the highest good of moral agents in the use of unbenevolent means, than
in intending to secure their highest physical well-being, he could knowingly deprive
them of every condition of physical comfort and well-being, and feed them only with
poison. The error of the Jesuits consists:
- (1.) In proposing a wrong end. They set up the church and the priesthood, in
the place of God, and of being in general. This is partial love, and not benevolence.
Hence any and every other interest might be trampled down, and set at nought, to
promote the exaltation of the priesthood and the church.
(2.) They overlooked the real good, and of course the conditions of the real and
highest good of the part of creation, whose good they put in the place of universal
good. They overlooked the true end, and the true nature of benevolence, and of course,
let loose a flood of errors and absurdities upon the world. It was not that blessedness
that is connected with holiness, which constitutes the real and ultimate good of
moral agents, at which they aimed as an end. But it was rather the influence, the
authority, and aggrandizement of the church and the priesthood, at which they aimed
as an end. This was setting up a selfish, and not a benevolent end. What but wickedness,
could ever result from such an intention?
Let it be distinctly understood, then, that "the end sanctifies the means:"
- 1. In the sense, that it secures the use of such as the mind regards as the appropriate
- 2. In the sense, that the end or ultimate intention imparts its character to
the use of what the mind honestly regards as necessary means.
- 3. But that the end does not sanctify the means, in the sense that the end sanctifies
or justifies the use of any means whatever. This last, be it understood, is the sense
in which the Jesuits hold that the end sanctifies the means. This is radical error.
It cannot be honestly and intelligently denied, that in both the former senses, the
end does sanctify the means.
- (1.) It certainly is true, that in pursuit of an honest end, the mind can use
none but honest means.
(2.) A moral agent is certainly bound to use the means which, in his honest judgment,
under the best light he can get, he regards as the appropriate means. If honest,
he must have respect to the will and judgment of God, both in respect to the end
and the means, and if honest in the end, he will and must be in the means. If he
is not justified in using the means which he supposes reason and revelation to sanction
and ordain, what means is he to use? These, and these only, are the means he ought
to use; and being honest, they are the only means he can consent to use, and his
intention gives character to their use. No man is, or can be honest, who has access
to the Bible, in the selection of either end or means, without consulting the judgment
and the will of God respecting both.
But I am aware that, to leave this question here, will be unsatisfactory to this
reviewer, and to those who agree with him. They will inquire, but what are benevolent
means? Are not any means benevolent, which are necessary to secure the highest good
of the universe? To this I answer, yes. They inquire again, may not this end, in
some cases at least, require injustice and lying, fraud, and various forms of sin?
I answer, no. The difficulty with this writer is, that he regards benevolence as
a simple, unintelligent choice of happiness, having no necessary regard to the means
whatever. So the Jesuits regarded it. Hence their perversion. This writer is unable
to point out the error of the Jesuits, if he admits, which he cannot do, in respect
to acts of will, that moral character belongs to the ultimate intention, and that
the means must partake of the character of the end. This writer and the Jesuits regard
benevolence as a simple choice of happiness, and of course as possessing no attributes
whatever. Remarking upon the doctrine, that enjoyment is the ultimate good of being,
he says, pages 256, 7:
- "On this doctrine we remark: 1. That it is readily admitted that happiness
is a good. 2. That it is consequently obligatory on all moral agents to endeavour
to promote it. 3. That the highest happiness of the universe, being an unspeakably
exalted and important end, to make its attainment the object of life is a noble principle
of action. 4. Consequently, this theory of moral obligation is inconceivably more
elevated than that which makes self-love the ultimate principle of action, and our
own happiness the highest object of pursuit. 5. That the error of the theory is,
in making enjoyment the highest and only intrinsic or real good. 6. That this error
derives no countenance from the fact, that the Bible represents love to God and love
to our neighbour, as the fulfilling of the law. To derive any argument from this
source, Mr. Finney must first take the truth of his theory for granted. To prove
that all love is benevolence, it must be assumed that happiness is the only good.
If love is vastly more than benevolence, if a disposition to promote happiness is
only one, and that one of the lowest forms of the comprehensive excellence which
the scriptures call love, his argument is worth nothing. In accordance with that
meaning of the term which universal usage has given it, any outgoing of the soul,
whether under the form of desire, affection, complacency, reverence, delight towards
an appropriate object, is in the Bible called love. To squeeze all this down, and
wire-draw it through one pin-hole, is as impossible as to change the nature of the
human soul. Every man, not a slave to some barren theory of the understanding, knows
that love to God is not benevolence; that it is approbation, complacency, delight
in his moral excellence, reverence, gratitude, devotion.
The reason, then, why the scriptures represent love as the fulfilling of the law,
is two-fold. First, because love to an infinitely perfect Being involves in it approbation
of all conceivable forms of moral excellence, and consequent congeniality of soul
with it under all those forms. He who really loves a God of truth, justice, purity,
mercy, and benevolence, is himself truthful, just, holy, merciful, and kind. Secondly,
because love to God and man will secure all obedience to the precepts of the law.
We may admit therefore that love is the fulfilling of the law, without being sophisticated
into believing, or rather saying, that faith is love, justice is love, patience is
love, humility is love."
Upon this I remark:--
- 1. That he here distinctly admits, that enjoyment or happiness is an ultimate
- 2. That it is virtue to choose it, and intend to promote it, as an ultimate good,
and to make its attainment the object of life.
- 3. Consequently, there must be a law requiring benevolence.
- 4. It must be always right to obey this law. That is, if there be a moral law,
requiring that the highest enjoyment or happiness of the universe shall be chosen,
as an ultimate end, or as a good in itself, and that all moral agents shall consecrate
themselves to the promotion of it, then, benevolence is always a duty, and it must
be always right to aim at promoting this end, and to use the appropriate means to
- 5. But here the reviewer stumbles, and does not see why this position, which
he seems to overlook, as really his own position, does not lie open to the objection,
that even injustice, fraud, lying, oppression, or murder itself, may be innocently
resorted to, nay, that they may become a duty, and therefore virtues, if demanded
as the necessary means of the highest happiness of the universe.
The difficulty in this reviewer's mind lies in his overlooking the attributes
of benevolence. He regards it, manifestly, as having no attributes; as consisting
in a mere blind choice of happiness, without any necessary regard to the means by
which it can be secured. Now this, as I have shown in the work under consideration,
is a radical error in respect to the nature of benevolence. I have there attempted
to show, that the very nature and essence of benevolence implies and includes, a
regard to all the laws of the constitution of sentient beings, and especially of
moral agents; that therefore justice, truthfulness, righteousness, &c., were
attributes of benevolence, and that therefore the law of benevolence could never
sanction the violation of any of these, for the good reason, that they are essential
attributes of benevolence. Benevolence is a choice in accordance with the law of
the reason. Reason not only demands the choice of the highest happiness of being
as an end, but at the same time, and just as absolutely, affirms that conformity
to the laws of our being is the appropriate means, or is a condition of securing
that end. The Creator has so constituted us, that our nature itself indicates and
points out the conditions and indispensable means of our highest ultimate enjoyment.
Moral law, or the law of nature, is nothing else than the indication of our natures,
announced and enforced by the authority of God. Our body has its necessities, and
is endowed with those appetences that indicate the means of its highest health and
perfection. Food and drink are necessary means of its well-being. Hence appetites,
terminating on those necessary means. So the soul has its wants. The reason indicates
the means of meeting its necessities. The end demanded by the reason is the highest
good of universal being, and so far as may be, of every being in particular. The
means or conditions it affirms to be, universal conformity to the laws of our being,
especially to moral law. The reason has its ideas of the intrinsically and the relatively
valuable, of moral law, and moral obligation to will the intrinsically valuable,
with the conditions and means to that end. It has also the idea of the moral rightness
and justice of this willing, and of the wrongness of selfish willing. It also has
the idea of the moral beauty, fitness, and propriety of benevolence, both as it respects
the end upon which it terminates, and also as it respects the conditions or means
by which its end is to be secured. Hence it has the idea of moral excellence, or
of praise and blameworthiness; and affirms, that the benevolent ought to be at least
ultimately happy; and that of this happiness he cannot be justly deprived but by
his own consent; that the selfish man who refuses to will the good of being in general,
deserves no good himself; and that on the contrary, he deserves to be deprived of
good, and to be made miserable. The reason demands that he be made miserable, unless
he becomes benevolent. These ideas are necessarily in the mind of a moral agent.
Now let it be distinctly understood, that the reason affirms the moral obligation
of all moral agents to conform their wills to these ideas, and God also commands
the same. This is what is truly meant by moral law, or the law of nature. It is the
law of God. It is the authoritative command of God and of reason, that the will of
every moral agent be conformed to these ideas. This conformity both God and reason
affirm to be the indispensable condition of the ultimate and highest enjoyment of
But this writer, it would seem, sees no way to avoid the conclusions and errors of
the Jesuits, but by assuming that the law of right, justice, &c., is distinct
from, and may be opposed to, the law of benevolence; that therefore certain things
are right or wrong in themselves, as violations of the law of right, entirely irrespective
of their relation to the law of benevolence; that certain acts are wrong, such as
stealing, fraud, lying, &c., entirely irrespective of their relations to the
law of benevolence, and only on account of their being violations of the law of right;
and also wholly irrespective of the ultimate intention or end in view of the mind.
He also regards right, and justice, and truth, &c., as distinct grounds of moral
obligation, and consequently he must, if consistent, hold that there are distinct
laws of right, truth, justice, &c.; that is, that these laws are distinct from
the law of benevolence in such a sense, that benevolence may sometimes be a violation
of the law of right; that a choice of the highest happiness of being, and an intention
to promote it, and to use the necessary means, may be a violation of the law of right,
of justice, or of truth; and in all such cases, that benevolence would not be right
or wrong. The assumption of this writer must be, that the law of right, of justice,
&c., are distinct moral laws, above the law of benevolence, in such a sense,
that should they ever come into conflict, as it is supposed they may, the law of
benevolence is superseded, suspended, or limited by the law of right, &c. By
taking this ground, he thinks to avoid the rock upon which the Jesuits have split.
To a Jesuit who should affirm the lawfulness of sacrificing truth, right, justice,
to promote the highest good or happiness, he would reply: Stay, this thing is wrong
or right, or just in itself; and therefore right, or wrong, or just, whether the
law of benevolence requires or prohibits it. Or he would say, God commands or forbids
it, "therefore it is right or wrong, whatever the intention may be." But
suppose the Jesuit should make right his end, or truth, or justice; and assume, that
these are distinct grounds of moral obligation, as this writer does, and should say,
right, or truth, or justice, requires that such and such things should be done, whether
the law of benevolence requires them or not; and therefore they are right or wrong
in themselves, and the law of benevolence must be limited and suspended? that sin
deserves punishment--and must be punished--it is right, per se, and therefore forgiveness
is wrong, per se--and thus set aside the plan of salvation? The fact is, the true
and only proper answer to the Jesuit is, that the law of benevolence includes the
law of right, and truth, and justice, &c.; that these are not distinct laws,
that may come into collision with each other; that truthfulness, and justice, and
righteousness, are only attributes of benevolence; that is, they are only benevolence
contemplated in its relations to moral law; that benevolence can never sacrifice
right, nor right benevolence, for one is only an attribute of the other.
But since this writer assumes, that there are divers foundations or grounds of moral
obligation, and since his whole error may be traced to this assumption, it is necessary
to enter upon an examination of this subject. This question I have discussed at length
in the work under review; but this writer has not replied to my argument; and as
I have said, for this reason I have doubted the propriety of my replying at all to
his assumptions. A sufficient refutation of his assumption, that there are divers
grounds of moral obligation, might be quoted verbatim from the work reviewed. But
it would occupy too much room for our article. I will therefore condense as much
as possible the substance of the argument upon that subject, as far as is necessary
to reply to this reviewer.
- 1. Let it be remembered, that the present inquiry respects acts of will, since
to no other can the objection arising out of the perversion of the Jesuits apply.
- 2. Let it be remembered also, that this writer admits, that all intelligent acts
of will are either choices or volitions; that is, that they consist in the choice
of an end, or of means and volitions to secure an end.
- 3. He also admits, that in respect to acts of will, moral obligation belongs
strictly only to the choice of an end, or to the ultimate intention. In this all
schools must agree. The moral law or laws, then, so far as acts of will are concerned,
must be laws of choice or of ultimate intention; the ultimate intention or choice
always implying the choice of all the appropriate conditions and means of securing
the end upon which it terminates.
- 4. Moral law and moral obligation respect the choice of an ultimate end, or something
for its own sake, or for what it is in and of itself, and for the reason that it
is what it is.
- 5. It is plain, therefore, that the ground of the obligation must be found in
the thing itself, which is to be chosen for its own sake. That is, it must be worthy
of being chosen for what it is, in and of itself. The thing of itself must be such
as to impose obligation to choose it, by virtue of its own nature.
- 6. A ground or foundation of moral obligation, then, must be that which, upon
condition of moral agency, can and does impose obligation of itself, to choose itself
as an ultimate end.
- 7. That which is a ground of moral obligation, then, must impose obligation under
all circumstances; that is, its own nature being such that it ought to be chosen
for its own sake, it always and necessarily imposes obligation upon a moral agent
to choose it as an ultimate end. It can never be wrong, but always right to choose
- 8. Moral law is the rule that requires this ultimate end, or, if there be more
than one, these ultimate ends to be chosen for their own sake. Observe; moral obligation,
it is admitted, so far as acts of the will are concerned, respects only ultimate
intention, or the choice of an ultimate end, or of something for its own sake, together
with the condition and means of securing it. This something must be of such a nature,
as to be worthy of being chosen for its own sake. This nature enforces the obligation
to choose it. The law is the affirmation of God and of reason, that the thing ought
to be chosen for its own sake. Let it then be distinctly borne in mind, that there
can be no moral law enforcing obligation to choose an ultimate end, except the nature
of the end be such as to deserve to be chosen for its own sake; and all moral law
does and must require the choice of anything as an ultimate end for this reason,
that is, for its own sake.
- 9. It is admitted, that the intrinsically valuable must be a ground of moral
obligation. To deny this were to deny a first-truth; for by the valuable we mean
that which is a good to being, something that is worthy of being chosen for its own
sake:--and is it not self-evident, that what is worthy of being chosen for its own
sake, ought to be so chosen, as has been said.
- 10. It is admitted also, that enjoyment is intrinsically valuable, and therefore
that it is a ground of obligation; that is, that it imposes obligation on a moral
agent, to choose it as an ultimate good or end;--that therefore it is always duty
to intend or choose the highest enjoyment of the whole universe as an end; also to
use the necessary means to that end.
- 11. It is admitted, that entire consecration to this end is virtue; that is,
that it is always right to be entirely consecrated to the promotion of the highest
glory of God, and the highest well-being of the universe. Now the enquiry before
us is, can there be any other ground of moral obligation? any other end than the
valuable to being, which ought to be chosen for its own sake? Anything else than
the valuable, that can of itself impose obligation to choose it for its own sake?
The writer, whose views we are examining, must hold, that there are other ultimate
ends or grounds of moral obligation, other things than the intrinsically valuable
to being, that can of themselves not only impose obligation, but can set aside the
law of benevolence, as has been said. He thinks, by this assumption, to avoid the
rock upon which the Jesuits have split. He holds, that the will of God is a ground
or foundation of the obligation, and complains of me for denying it. If the will
of God be a foundation of obligation, then it can, upon the conditions of moral agency,
impose obligation of itself. But moral obligation in our present inquiry respects
acts of will, and the choice of an ultimate end. Now, what is the ultimate end which
the will of God alone can impose obligation to choose? Observe, an ultimate end is
something chosen for its own sake; not for a reason out of itself, but for a reason
within itself; that is, for its own nature. If the will of God can be a foundation
of obligation to choose an ultimate end, that end must be the will of God itself.
But this is absurd. It is a contradiction to affirm, that the will of God is the
ground, or a ground of obligation to choose any ultimate end whatever; for the ground
of the obligation must be, the nature and intrinsic value of the end itself. God
requires us to will his good. Now are we to will good to him because of its own value
to him, or because he commands it? If his will is the reason or ground of the obligation,
or a ground of the obligation that could of itself impose obligation, then if he
should command us to will evil to him as an ultimate end, we should be under obligation
to obey. In this case obligations would be opposites, and of course opposite duties
would exist. The well-being of God is intrinsically and infinitely valuable; and
for that reason it is unalterably right to will it. But if God's will can of itself
impose obligation to will an ultimate end, and should he command us to will evil
instead of good to him, it would impose a contrary obligation. What! should we love
God, or will his good, not because his well-being is infinitely valuable, but because
he commands it? God's will is always authoritative and imposes obligation, not in
the sense of its being a foundation of obligation, but in the sense that it is an
infallible declaration of the law of nature, or of the end at which, in the nature
of things, moral agents ought to aim, and of the conditions or means of this end.
But this writer admits that it is not the arbitrary will of God which, except
in some cases, is a ground or foundation of obligation. He says, page 264, 5:--
- "Mr. Finney's book is made up of half-truths. It is true that the will of
God, divorced from his infinite wisdom and excellence, mere arbitrary will, is not
the foundation of moral obligation. But the preceptive will of God is but the revelation
of his nature, the expression of what that nature is, sees to be right, and approves.
It is also true, that some things are right because God wills or commands them, and
that he wills other things because they are right. Some of his precepts, therefore,
are founded on his own immutable nature, others on the peculiar relations of man,
and others again upon his simple command. We can have no higher evidence that a thing
is right, than the command of God, and his command creates an obligation to obedience,
whether we can see the reason of the precept or not, or whether it have any reason
apart from his good pleasure. Mr. Finney is right, so far as saying that the will
of God, considered as irrational, groundless volition, is not the ultimate foundation
of moral obligation, but his will as the revelation of the infinitely perfect nature
of God, is not merely the rule, but ground of obligation to his creatures."
What does he mean by the preceptive will of God being the revelation of his nature,
the expression of what that nature is, and sees to be right and approves? If this
has any meaning, it is only another way of expressing the very doctrine of the book
he was reviewing; but being thrown into this mystical form, it conceals the fact
that he agrees with me. I said, that the moral law had its foundation in the nature
of God, and is an idea, externally existing in the divine reason, of the course of
willing that is obligatory upon him, and upon all moral agents; and that the expression
of this law by commandment imposes obligation upon us, not fundamentally because
God wills it, for this course of willing would be obligatory upon us if God forbade
it; but his will imposes obligation for the reason, that it is an infallible declaration
of what infinite intelligence sees to be right. Law is given by the intellect, and
not by the will of any being. Will may express and declare it, as God's will does.
But his reason gives the law to himself and to us. It is the Divine Reason and not
the Divine will, that perceives and affirms the rule of conduct. The Divine will
publishes, but does not originate the rule. Cannot this writer see this? It is true,
as he says, pages 264-5.
- "We can have no higher evidence that a thing is right, than the command
of God, and his command creates an obligation to obedience, whether we can see the
reason of the precept or not."
To be sure we can have no higher evidence, and need no other; and this evidence
alone imposes obligation, whether we are able to see the reason for the command or
not, because our own reason affirms that he must have some good reason for the requirement,
although we are unable to see what it is. But when this writer adds, that "it
would be obligatory whether it have any reason apart from his good pleasure,"
it is not true, if by good pleasure he meant his arbitrary pleasure. If by good pleasure
is meant, that his pleasure is good because founded in a good reason, why then the
expression of his good pleasure is sufficient to impose obligation. But if, as I
said, by good pleasure is meant a pleasure not finding its reason in the Divine intelligence,
then such pleasure cannot be a ground of obligation; for if it could, it would follow,
that it could be our duty to will the direct opposite, should God command it. "Some
precepts," he says, "are founded on his own immutable nature, others in
the peculiar relations of man, and others again upon his simple command." Now,
what does this mean? This writer talks so loosely upon this and most other points
as to render it difficult to understand him. "Some of his precepts are founded,"
&c. It is evident that this writer has in his mind the precepts that respect
the outward life, not the ultimate intention. It is true, that God's precepts are
often conditionated upon the relations of certain things to the highest well-being
of himself and the universe. But what does he mean when he says, that "some
of his precepts are founded on his simple command?" I suppose he means, but
he has not expressed it; and I suppose he means this, because I cannot conceive any
other meaning or thing to have been in his mind, that the obligation to obedience
is founded simply on his command, that is, whether we assume that he has any good
reason for it or not. But this is a mistake. As I have shown in the book in question,
we always affirm our obligation to obey, and to submit to the providence of God upon
the ground, that we always affirm that God must have a good reason for all his requirements,
and for all his dispensations. And on no other ground do or can we affirm our obligation.
But if, as he assumes, the obligation rests upon the simple command, irrespective
of any assumed reason for it, it would follow, that had he commanded the direct opposite,
under the identical circumstances, we should have been under obligations to obey.
Had this reviewer fairly and fully represented my argument on the will of God being
the foundation of obligation, there had been no need of a reply. Let the reader consult
it for himself (Lecture V. IV).
Observe, I do not deny, but fully admit, that the expressed will of God is an all-sufficient
reason for our willing and nilling whatever he commands, in the sense and for the
reason that it infallibly declares what is the dictate and affirmation of infinite
intelligence, and our own reason affirms the obligation upon this assumption, to
wit, that God always has and must have infinitely wise and good reasons for all his
requirements. Were it not for this assumption, our reason could not affirm our obligation
to regard the Divine will as the rule of duty. This writer has strangely misapprehended
and misrepresented my views, in relation to our obligation to obey the will of God.
I say, that that the Divine reason gives, and the Divine will publishes moral law.
This law is revealed to our reason, sometimes by the expressed will of God, and sometimes
by the light of nature. When we have this law, it lies in our reason as an idea of
what we ought to will and do. The will of God then is not the foundation of obligation
in such a sense as to impose obligation, irrespective of its being founded in any
good reason. But if God wills as he does because he has a good reason so to will,
then that reason must be the foundation of the obligation; and the assumption that
there is a good reason for the divine command, is the condition both of the obligation,
and of our affirming obligation to obey.
But before I leave this point, let me remind you of the intrinsic absurdity of the
will of God being the foundation of obligation to choose any ultimate end besides
the will of God itself. What! a moral agent bound to choose something for its own
sake, or because of its intrinsic nature and value, yet not for this reason, but
because God commands it! That is, God commands men to will it as an ultimate end,
or for its own sake, yet not for this reason, but because he wills that they should
will it! Or, he commands me to will it for its own sake, and also because he wills
it. Now if his command be a distinct ground of moral obligation, it would follow,
that should he command me to will it as an ultimate end, I should be under obligation
to do so, irrespective of its intrinsic value, even if it were an ultimate evil instead
of a good. But this is absurd and impossible. God's will then can never be a moral
law distinct from the law of benevolence. God is always benevolent, and can never
will anything inconsistent with benevolence; and until recently I did not know that
anybody would now deny, that every moral attribute of God is a modification of benevolence.
But to be consistent, this reviewer must deny it. Benevolence has been regarded,
and I suppose justly, as comprising the whole of God's moral character, and his different
moral attributes as only modifications of benevolence, or as only benevolence contemplated
in different relations. But if this writer is correct, it must follow that this is
all a mistake. But if this is a mistake, the gospel surely is false, that represents
God as love, and his moral attributes as all harmonizing and limiting the exercise
of each other; justice as limiting the exercise of mercy, and mercy as limiting the
exercise of justice. But if these attributes are not modifications of benevolence,
it is impossible and inconceivable that this limitation should take place; for unless
the law of benevolence is to decide when mercy or justice is to be exercised, no
possible rule of limitation can exist.
But to come to the enquiry, are there distinct grounds of moral obligation, and consequently
distinct moral laws; for example:--Is right a distinct ground of moral obligation?
Remember, that moral obligation respects the choice of an ultimate end, or of something
for its own sake. If right is a ground of moral obligation, it must, upon condition
of moral agency, impose obligation of itself, and invariably impose it. And moreover,
the obligation must be to choose right itself as the end, for the reason or the ground
of obligation to choose an ultimate end, must be found in the end itself. But what
is right, that it ought to be chosen as an ultimate end? Right is objective or subjective.
Objective right is a mere abstraction, or an idea of the fit, the suitable; and of
that choice which is subjectively right, or which constitutes virtue. Can this abstraction
impose obligation to will itself as an end? What is it? Why, it is an abstraction.
It is nothing in the concrete--nothing actual or possible. And can nothing be a ground
of moral obligation, and impose infinite obligation to will itself for its own sake?
The supposition is absurd. Remember, it is objective, or abstract right, of which
we are now treating. Subjective right, or virtue, will come under consideration in
its proper place. The question now is, can objective right be a ground or foundation
of obligation? Can it impose obligation by virtue of its own nature to choose itself
as an ultimate end? This, we have seen, cannot be; because it is absolutely nothing
but an abstraction, and in no case is or can it be anything in the concrete.
The same is true of objective justice, &c., &c. Neither right, nor justice
regarded objectively, can be a ground or foundation of moral obligation.
- 1. Because they are only abstractions; and,
- 2. Because if they were distinct grounds of moral obligation, they could in no
case be set aside, and right and justice must be done in every instance, and mercy
could in no case be exercised.
- 3. It involves a contradiction and an absurdity, to make these distinct grounds
of moral obligation, in the sense that they impose obligation of themselves to choose
themselves as ultimates. It is admitted, that the valuable is always to be chosen
for its own sake. Now, if right and justice are not to be ascertained by reference
to the law of benevolence, but by a law of right distinct from the law of benevolence,
and always to be chosen for their own sake, here are distinct and often conflicting
moral laws and duties. The laws of right and of justice demand the punishment of
sinners, but the law of benevolence demands their pardon, upon condition of repentance,
&c. Now, if you say, that upon these conditions the law of right and of justice
also demand their forgiveness, you give up the ground that right and justice are
distinct grounds of moral obligation; or that these are distinct moral laws, and
merge them in the law of benevolence. Benevolence does not demand nor admit their
forgiveness, except upon those conditions. The fact is, that right, justice, &c.,
are only words that express the moral attributes or qualities of benevolence. But
suppose objective right and justice, &c., are distinct grounds of moral obligation.
It follows, that there are distinct moral laws or precepts, and that these may come
into conflict. In this case, which shall limit and restrain the other? Or shall they
all remain in force. If all remain in force, then there are conflicting obligations
at the same time. But this is absurd. If they come into conflict, one of these laws
or precepts must be for the time being repealed. But this is inconsistent with the
very nature of moral law. Moral law is the law of nature, and immutable as nature
itself. But suppose otherwise, and that one might be for the time being repealed,
or limited by the other. Shall the law of benevolence be limited and set aside? or
shall the law of objective right or justice yield to the law of benevolence? Must
we in such a case will the abstractly right, and the abstractly just? or the good,
that is, the highest well-being of God and the universe? Shall we in such an emergency
cease to will the good, and will the abstract right? But shall we will a mere abstraction,
which can be of no possible value in itself, in preference to that which is infinitely
valuable? Impossible that this should be obligatory. If you reply, that no case can
occur in which objective right, or in which these supposed laws or precepts can come
into conflict, you not only deny that they are distinct grounds of moral obligation,
and distinct moral laws or precepts, but you fail utterly in making out your attempted
reply to the Jesuit. If whatever is demanded by the law of benevolence must be demanded
by the law of God, of right, of justice, &c., then the Jesuit turns upon you
and says, this is plainly demanded by the law of benevolence, and therefore it must
be right and just, &c., for these can never conflict with each other. This you
admit upon the last made supposition. Now, where is you pretended answer to the Jesuits?
Should you say, that although the law of right and the law of benevolence can never
come into conflict, yet sometimes we are to be guided by the law of right instead
of the law of benevolence, because we can tell what is right, but cannot, in a given
case, tell what is demanded by the law of benevolence--should you say thus, you would
talk nonsense. Both the law of right and the law of benevolence, if there be two
such laws, have respect to, and demand certain ultimate intentions, and neither of
them regards anything as right but these intentions, and those volitions that proceed
and receive their character from them. If therefore you would know what is right,
the law of right must answer, to will the right as an ultimate end, and the conditions
and means of promoting this end. But this were nonsense. The law of benevolence must
answer, to will the good as an ultimate end, and the conditions and means of promoting
it, is right. You can therefore always as infallibly know what is right by reference
to the law of benevolence, as by reference to the law of right. If these laws cannot
come into conflict, it is always right and always safe to will the good, and in so
doing you always will right. But to suppose the laws can come into conflict, involves
an absurdity and a contradiction. Whenever one supposes himself to know what right
demands, better than he knows what the law of benevolence demands, he is deceived.
In the supposition, he supposes that there is a law of right distinct from, and which
may be opposed to the law of benevolence, which is not true. And again. In the supposition
he, is conceiving of moral obligation and moral character as belonging to some particular
act, and not to the ultimate intention. It is common to hear people loosely say,
I know that such and such a thing is right or wrong, when they can have respect only
to the outward act, or to the volition that caused it; or, to say the most that can
truly be said, they make the affirmation only of the proximate, and not of the ultimate
intention. But it is certain, that if they affirm right or wrong of acts of will,
without regard to ultimate intention, they deceive themselves; for with respect to
acts of will at least, it is admitted, that right and wrong can strictly be predicated
only of ultimate intention. But if we are to look to the ultimate intention for right
and wrong, and if executive volitions receive their character from the ultimate intention,
then we can always as certainly tell what is right or wrong by reference to the law
of benevolence, as by reference to the law of right, if there be two moral laws.
For suppose we would know what is right by consulting the law of right, the answer
is, to intend the right as an end is right; and all volitions and actions proceeding
from this intention, receive their character from this intention. Should we enquire
what is right by consulting the law of benevolence, the answer would be, to will
the good or the intrinsically valuable to being as an end, is always right; and all
the volitions and actions which proceed from this intention receive their character
from the intention. We can in no case decide what is right or wrong without reference
to the ultimate intention, for in this all moral character properly resides. But
if the end or the intention is right, whatever the end may be supposed to be, whether
it be abstract right, or justice, or the will of God, or the valuable if the intention
be right, the executive volitions and acts must be right as proceeding from a right
intention. So that whatever be supposed to be the foundation of moral obligation,
if it be granted, as it must be, that obligation respects ultimate intention, and
that executive volitions and acts receive their character from the ultimate intention,
- 1. That we can tell as well what is right in any one case as in any other; and,
2. That the doctrine lies equally open to the perversion of the Jesuits, or to any
one who is wicked enough to abuse it; and,
3. That nothing is gained in replying to the Jesuits, or to those who would abuse
the doctrine of intention, by assuming that there are divers grounds of moral obligation.
But since this writer will have it, that the will of God is the foundation of moral
obligation, let us see how the supposed different moral precepts would read, upon
the supposition that the will of God is the foundation of the obligation to obey
them. Take first the law of right. This law, if there be such an one separate from
the law of benevolence says: Will the right as an ultimate end, that is, for its
own sake. Now, if the will of God is the foundation of the obligation to obey this
law, it should read thus: "will the right for its own sake; yet not for this
reason, but because God commands it." If God's will of itself, instead of the
nature of right, makes it obligatory and right to will the right, then should he
will the direct opposite, it would make that right and duty.
The same is true of justice. Suppose there be a distinct moral law requiring justice.
This law must require, that the just should be willed as an ultimate end, or for
its own sake. But if the will of God be the ground of the obligation to obey this
law, it would read: "will the just, not for the sake of the just, but because
God wills that you should will the just." Or suppose God's will is a distinct
ground of obligation in such a sense, that it could of itself impose obligation to
will the right or the just, irrespective of the nature of right, or justice, which
it must be, to be a ground of obligation at all, it would follow, that should God
will that I should choose the direct opposite, it would impose obligation. The same
is and must be true, whatever we suppose to be the end required to be chosen. Unless
the will of God itself be the end to be chosen, it can never be the ground, or foundation,
or a ground of obligation to will it. The ground, and the only ground of obligation
to will anything whatever as an ultimate end, must be found in and be identical with
the end itself. God requires it because it is obligatory in its own nature, and his
will is only a declaration of the law of his own reason respecting it. The divine
reason sees it to be right, fit, and suitable, and therefore the divine will publishes
the affirmation of the divine reason, and pronounces the sentence of the divine reason
against disobedience. It has been so long customary to talk loosely in reference
to the foundation of moral obligation, and to speak of God as an arbitrary sovereign
whose will alone is law, without so much as assuming that he has any good reason
for his requirements, or without once thinking that his own will is under the law
of his infinite reason, and that his commands are nothing else than the revelation
of the decisions of the infinite intelligence:--I say, it has been so long customary
for theologians to talk and write loosely upon this subject, that now if we introduce
a rigid inquiry into this matter, what this writer would call the pious feeling of
many are shocked. But it is their prejudices, and not their piety, that are shocked,
unless their piety consists in belief of error.
Nor is the divine reason the ground of obligation. It gives law to God and to us.
It declares that we ought to will the good for the sake of the good, or because it
is good, and not because the divine will or the divine reason requires it. Law is
never itself the ground of obligation. It only discloses, declares, or reveals the
ground of obligation, and affirms the obligation with the sanctions that enforce
it, and is in no case itself the ground or foundation of obligation. Law is always
a condition, but never a ground of obligation; so that where there is no law there
is no obligation. But law never is nor can be the ground of obligation. But all this
and much more is contained in the work in question, and I am doing little else than
re-writing the arguments to which the reviewer has made no reply. The fact is, his
review is rather, for the most part, an appeal to loose prejudices than to reason
or revelation, as any one may see by a thorough examination, both of the review and
of the work reviewed. I do not in thus saying intend to impeach his motives; for
he has himself been so long accustomed to a certain way of thinking and speaking,
that he really feels shocked at the conclusions of my work as he understands them,
and speaks as he feels. I cannot deny, however, that there is in his review, an appearance
at least, of a disposition to excite public prejudice against the work reviewed.
But can virtue or subjective right be a ground of moral obligation? What is it? Observe,
we are now inquiring, not whether it can be a ground of obligation to exercise certain
emotions; but whether it can be a ground of obligation to choose an ultimate end.
If it can, it must impose obligation to choose itself as an ultimate end; for the
ground of the obligation to choose anything as an ultimate end, must be found in,
and be identical with the end itself.
Now whether there be virtue separate from choice or not, it is admitted that the
choice of the highest good of being is virtuous. That is, either the choice itself
is virtue, or virtue is the moral attribute or quality of this choice. Hence, I remark:--
- 1. One's own present virtue cannot be a ground of moral obligation, for in this
case his obligation must be to choose either his own present choice, or an attribute
of his own choice as an end, which is absurd. If his virtue consists in the choice
of good, or right, or of anything, to choose his own virtue as an ultimate end, were
to choose his own choice as an ultimate end, instead of choosing the right or the
good, without regard to any other end, which is absurd. Observe, if virtue consists
in the choice of an end, and if it be a foundation or ground of obligation, it can
of itself impose obligation to choose itself, without any other reason. But can a
present choice be its own end or object? Impossible. But suppose virtue be regarded
as the moral attribute or quality of choice; then if it can be a ground of moral
obligation, the quality of a present choice can impose obligation to will it, irrespective
of any other end, or thing chosen. This, again, is absurd; for it is not possible
to regard the quality of a present or a proposed choice as a sufficient ground of
obligation to make it, and as constituting the only object of choice. But if it be
a ground of obligation, it must impose obligation by itself, to choose itself as
an ultimate end. The moral quality of a present choice, an end which of itself imposes
obligation to choose itself as an ultimate! If this is not absurd, what is?
2. I remark, that our future virtue cannot be a distinct ground of moral obligation.
For if it can, it must impose obligation to will itself as an ultimate end. But my
future virtue must consist, either in choosing an ultimate end, or in the quality
of that choice. If it consists in future choice, then I am under present obligation
to choose a future choice for its own sake, and wholly irrespective of any other
end whatever. If you say, that virtue consists in the choice of good or of the right,
and I am bound to choose the future choice of the good or the right, because this
choice is virtuous, I ask, Is the choice virtuous because of the end on which it
terminates? Then it is the end that gives character to the choice, and it is not
the choice, but the end, upon which it terminates that imposes the obligation. If
you say, the choice is to be chosen for its own sake irrespective of the end, then
the choice is to terminate on choice as an end, without regard to any other end.
If you say that the choice is to be chosen, or imposes obligation to choose itself,
only because it terminates on a certain end, then it must be the end on which the
future choice is to terminate, that imposes the obligation to choose this choice.
But if you say, that I am under obligation to choose both the end and the choice
upon which it is to terminate as ultimates, this is the same as to say, that the
choice itself without regard to its end, can impose obligation to choose itself as
an ultimate end: this is absurd. But suppose virtue to consist in the moral quality,
or attribute of future choice. If this quality can impose obligation to will or choose
itself as an ultimate end, it can do so irrespective of all other ends. But the quality
of this choice depends entirely upon the end chosen. If it can impose obligation,
it must be to choose itself for its own sake, and not for any other reason. But what
it is, in and of itself, depends altogether upon the end upon which the choice of
which it is a quality terminates. It is therefore impossible and absurd to say, that
a quality of present or of a future choice, should of itself be a ground of obligation
to choose it as an ultimate end.
3. The same is true, if we regard the present or future virtue of any other being
than ourselves as a ground or foundation of moral obligation. It matters not at all
what we regard as the ultimate end upon which choice ought to terminate, whether
it be happiness or objective right or virtue; the virtuousness of choosing this end
can never of itself impose obligation to make this choice; and to affirm that it
can, is to affirm that the virtuousness of a choice can impose obligation to make
the choice, without regard to the end, the nature of which end alone can make the
choice virtuous. Why, if the virtue of a choice depends wholly on the nature of the
end upon which it terminates, it is absurd and ridiculous to say, that the virtue
of the choice can alone impose obligation to choose it as an ultimate end.
But surely I have proceeded far enough in this discussion to show, that nothing
is gained in replying to the Jesuits, by assuming that there are divers independent
grounds of moral obligation, and consequently, divers moral laws. For if the supposition
be admitted that there are, either these laws may come into conflict or the cannot.
If they can, who will say that the law of benevolence shall yield to the law of right;
or that it an be a duty to will abstract right as an end, rather than the highest
well-being of God and the universe? But if these supposed moral laws cannot come
into conflict, why then the Jesuit will of course reply, that it is and must be always
right to will the highest well-being of God and the universe, with the necessary
conditions and means; and therefore the end, or the intention, must give character
to and sanctify the means. Or again: suppose that there be divers ultimate ends or
grounds of moral obligation, he would tell you that in the pursuit of any one of
these, the end or intention sanctifies the means, so that nothing is gained so far
as avoiding the perversion of the Jesuits is concerned, by assuming that there are
divers grounds of moral obligation, and of course divers moral laws. And the same
is true, whether it be admitted or denied, that these ends or laws can come into
The fact is, that the assumption that there are divers independent grounds of moral
obligation, each of which can impose obligation of itself, is a mistake; and when
men think that there are, it is only because they have lost sight of the fact, that
moral obligation is strictly predicable only of ultimate intention, or of the choice
of something for its own sake. Nothing can be thus chosen but the intrinsically valuable
to being, and therefore there can be no other ground of moral obligation, but that
which is intrinsically valuable. This is, and must be, the sole ground of moral obligation;
for the plain reason, that it is naturally impossible to choose anything else as
an ultimate end. This writer admits, that it is a first truth of reason, that enjoyment
is valuable in itself, and ought to be chosen for this reason. This has the characteristic
of a first truth; all men practically admit, that enjoyment is a good per se.
But suppose this writer to take the ground, which, in fact, I understand him to take,
that there may be divers grounds of moral obligation in respect to one and the same
intention. Suppose he should say, that although there cannot be divers grounds of
obligation in such a sense that they can come into conflict, yet there may be several
distinct and consistent grounds of obligation in respect to the same act. He says,
- "It is one of Mr. Finney's hobbies that the ground of obligation must be
one and simple. If it is the will of God, it is not his moral excellence; if his
moral excellence, it is not his will. This however may be safely referred to the
common judgment of men. They are conscious, that even entirely distinct grounds of
obligation may occur; as the nature of the thing commanded, the authority of him
who gives the command, and the tendency of what is enjoined."
Here this writer affirms, what I have above supposed, namely, that there are distinct
grounds of moral obligation in respect to one and the same act. The nature of the
thing commanded--the authority of him who gives the command, and the tendency of
what is enforced. These, he says, are distinct grounds of moral obligation; of course
he must mean in respect to one and the same act. This is a common error. I will therefore
spend a moment upon it. Here let it be remembered, that we are discoursing of acts
of will, and of ultimate choice or intention; for, as this writer agrees, and as
all must agree, so far as acts of will are concerned, strictly speaking, moral obligation
belongs only to the ultimate choice or intention. If therefore there can be several
distinct grounds of moral obligation respecting the same act, it must be, that there
are divers distinct grounds of moral obligation to make an ultimate choice or intention.
But the absurdity of this will appear, if we consider, that the choice of an ultimate
end consists in choosing it for its own sake, and not for some other reason. Now,
suppose that there are the following distinct grounds of moral obligation to will
the well-being of God and the universe.
- 1. The intrinsic value of the end.
2. The will or authority of God.
3. The utility, and--
4. The rightness of thus willing.
Now, be it remembered, that a ground of moral obligation must be something which
upon certain conditions can impose obligation of itself, without the existence of
any other ground of obligation. The intrinsic value of the end named is a ground
of moral obligation, and is seen by all men instantly and necessarily to impose obligation.
But can the will of God alone in this case impose obligation? Should he command me
to choose his well-being as an ultimate end, would this impose obligation to do so,
entirely irrespective of the value of the end? No; for it were a contradiction and
an impossibility to make this choice in obedience to his will, irrespective of the
value of the end. But for the value of the end, his command to will it as an ultimate
end, could impose no obligation to will it for its own sake. But to will it as an
ultimate end, is to will it for its own sake. But suppose the utility of the choice
is a distinct ground of obligation. The utility of the choice depends upon the value
of the end. The choice can be useful only because the end which it tends to promote
is valuable. The tendency or utility of the choice, then, can never be a distinct
ground of obligation, for aside from the value of the end, the tendency of the choice
to secure it would be no sufficient reason, or any reason at all for the choice.
Suppose the rightness of the choice to be a distinct ground of obligation. But the
choice is not right, aside from the value of the end chosen. Leave out of view the
value of the end, and the choice of it would not be right; therefore the rightness
of the choice cannot be a distinct ground of obligation; for if it could, it would
impose obligation irrespective of the value of the end; but irrespective of the value
of the end the choice would not be right; and of course irrespective of the value
of the end, there can be no ground whatever of obligation to will it as an ultimate
end. No consideration whatever could impose obligation to will the good of being
as an ultimate end, irrespective of the intrinsic value of the end. Of course there
can be no ground of obligation, in any proper sense of the term, except the intrinsic
value of the end to be chosen. This writer, and all who affirm distinct grounds of
moral obligation, are thinking, when they make the affirmation, not of ultimate choice
or intention, but of some executive act.
But suppose it be admitted, that obligation belongs to executive acts of will, that
is, to volitions as distinct from ultimate choice. And suppose that it be said, that
the value of the end which the volition is designed to secure, and the tendency of
the volition to secure it, and the rightness of the volition, and the authority of
God, are so many distinct grounds of moral obligation to put forth the executive
act. It is seen at a glance, that the value of the end, of itself imposes obligation
to put forth the executive act to secure it, upon condition of the tendency to do
so. But the tendency of the volition to secure the end, cannot be a ground of obligation
irrespective of the value of the end; for, if we have no regard to the value of the
end, there is no reason whatever, that is, no good reason for the act, although it
might tend to secure an end. The rightness of the act cannot be a ground of obligation,
separate from the value of the end; for aside from the value of the end, the executive
act would not be right. The will of God could not impose obligation to put forth
such a volition, irrespective of the value of the end; for the plain reason, that
it involves a contradiction, to put forth an executive volition to secure an ultimate
end, irrespective of, or without regard to, the value of the end. Should God command
me to put forth a volition to secure an ultimate end, or to secure something for
its own sake, it could not impose obligation without respect to the value of the
end; for the thing commanded is, that I put forth volition to secure the end for
its own sake, that is, for its own value. To put forth the volition without reference
to the value of the end to be secured by it, were not obedience to the command. But
suppose God should command me to put forth any act whatever, and should inform me
that there was no reason for it whatever, but his arbitrary will; that he had no
reason for giving the command, and I had none for obedience, except his arbitrary
will;--would this impose obligation? No; I say again, we can affirm our obligation
only as we assume, that God has in fact a good reason for all his requirements, whether
we can understand what they are or not. Observe, I expressly maintain, that the command
of God always imposes obligation without the knowledge of any other reason; but it
does this upon the ground of an affirmation of reason, that he has a good reason
for the command, whether we can understand it or not.
But I have dwelt enough at length on this part of the subject, my object being only
to show, that the great objection of this writer to my views, lies as really and
as fully against himself, and against all others as against me; and that he does
not avoid the difficulty by the assumption, that there are divers distinct grounds
of moral obligation: and that there is in fact no way of replying to this objection,
but that in which I have replied both here and in the book reviewed.
I must remark very briefly, upon what this writer calls my second fundamental principle,
to wit, that mental satisfaction, enjoyment, blessedness, or happiness, is the ultimate
good of being. I did not assume this as true, but showed, as I think, conclusively,
that this follows irresistibly from the first truth, that obligation is limited by
ability. This writer has not replied at all to my argument in support of the position
now to be examined, which has lead me to doubt whether I should reply at all to his
strictures upon this point. As it is, nothing more can be expected of me than a condensation
of the argument in support of this position: when it is replied to, it will be in
time either for me to yield the point, or enter into a fuller vindication of it.
I assumed as a first truth, that obligation must imply a possibility of obedience.
This I now, in view of what has been said, take as established. If obligation is
limited by ability, it follows, as this writer concedes, that all obligation must
strictly and properly belong to ultimate intention, or to the choice of an ultimate
end, with all the necessary conditions and means of securing it. This end must be
something chosen for what it is, in and of itself; that is, it must be regarded by
the mind as intrinsically valuable to being, and chosen for that reason. Nothing
can be so regarded but a state of mind, that is, the ultimate good of God and of
all beings, must be something existing within the field of consciousness, that of
which a being can be conscious. I insist, that this ultimate good must be enjoyment
alone. This my reviewer denies. Now, we are agreed, that in so far as acts of will
are concerned, obligation is strictly predicable only of the choice of an ultimate
end, or of something which the mind regards as a good, or as intrinsically valuable
in itself, together with the necessary conditions and means. I insist, that this
end is enjoyment alone. He admits that enjoyment is an ultimate good, and that this
is a first truth and that it ought to be chosen for its own sake. But he also insists,
that moral excellence is also a good in itself, and that it ought to be chosen as
an ultimate end; and that this is also a first truth. This I deny. We are agreed,
then, that enjoyment is an ultimate good. The only question between us here is, Is
moral excellence also an ultimate good? He says, page 265:--
- "Our author denies, that the divine moral excellence is the ground of moral
obligation. This he pronounces to be absurd. Moral obligation respects the choice
of an ultimate end. The reason of the obligation and the end chosen must be identical.
Therefore, what is chosen as an end, must be chosen for its own sake. But virtue,
being chosen as a means to an end, viz. enjoyment, cannot be the end chosen. This
of course follows from the principle, that enjoyment is the only intrinsic good,
the only thing that should be chosen for its own sake, and other things only as they
are the means or conditions of attaining that end.
We should like to ask, however, how Mr. Finney knows that happiness is a good, and
a good in itself to be chosen for its own sake? If he should answer, that is a first
truth of reason; is it not a first truth of reason, that moral excellence is a good,
and a far higher good to be chosen for its own sake? It is degraded and denied, if
it be chosen simply as a means of enjoyment. If the moral idea of excellence is not
a primary, independent one, then we have no moral nature, we have a sentient and
rational nature; a capacity for enjoyment, and the power of perceiving and adapting
means to its attainment."
This writer here, as elsewhere, confounds virtue with moral excellence. I have
distinguished between them. I hold that moral excellence consists in character, and
is not a state of mind, but only a result of a state of mind. Since the ultimate
good must consist in a state of mind, and since the moral character of a being is
not a state of mind, but the result of moral action, moral excellence cannot be an
ultimate good. I think it is plain, that this writer regards virtue, which he confounds
with moral excellence, as an ultimate good. To this I have two objections:--
1. That it is impossible, as has been shown, that virtue should be chosen as an
ultimate end; and,
2. That virtue is an ultimate good, and is so regarded by moral agents, is not, and
cannot be, a first truth of reason.
- 1. Virtue cannot be chosen as an ultimate end. Virtue, in so far as acts of will
are concerned, it is admitted, is either identical with, or is a quality of ultimate
choice. It either consists in that choice which the law requires, or is a quality
of it. It is either identical with obedience to law, or is a quality of obedience.
Now, it is ridiculous to say, that the required choice is identical with the end
chosen. The law requires the choice of an ultimate end. Can this end be identical
with the choice of it? The choice and the end chosen identical! This is nonsense.
But suppose virtue be regarded, not as identical with choice, but as the moral attribute
or quality of ultimate choice. But the virtue of choice depends upon the end chosen.
Can that end be the quality of the choice itself? The choice terminating on a quality
of itself, which quality depends upon, and owes its existence to, the nature of the
end chosen. But this end is the quality which has no existence until the end is chosen.
Who does not see that ultimate choice must terminate on some valuable end out of
itself, which end gives character to the choice.
- But can we not choose the virtue of another being as an ultimate end? No; for
his virtue is either identical with his choice of an ultimate end, or is a quality
of that choice. If identical with it, to choose his virtue as an ultimate end, were
to choose his choice as an ultimate end instead of choosing the end that he ought
to choose. If virtue consists in choosing the virtue of other beings as an ultimate
end, it amounts to this: If virtue be identical with choice, I must will that another
should will that another should will, and so on, ad infinitum, without any end willed
in any case except the willing of another:--all willing in an everlasting circle.
If virtue be regarded merely as a quality of choice, then I am to will the quality
of another's choice, of the quality of another's choice, of the quality of another's
choice, and so on for ever. But this quality depends upon the end chosen. Unless
the choice terminate on an intrinsically valuable end, or on the right end, the choice
is not virtuous. But in the case supposed, the end is nothing but the quality of
another's choice, and this quality of the other's choice depends upon the end he
chooses. But he chooses only the quality of another's choice, and so on to infinity.
This is ridiculous enough. But there is no escaping this absurdity, if virtue is
to be regarded as an ultimate good, to be chosen for its own sake. It is plain that
virtue cannot be an object of ultimate choice; and therefore cannot be an ultimate
good, and a foundation of moral obligation. The ultimate good, must consist in a
state of mind. All states of mind are voluntary or involuntary. A voluntary state
we have just seen, cannot be chosen as an ultimate end. The ultimate good then must
be an involuntary state of mind. But no involuntary state of mind can be an ultimate
good, but enjoyment. This everybody knows to be an ultimate good. After this all
are seeking, either selfishly or benevolently. This is the ultimate, the end at which
all moral agents aim. The selfish aim at their own personal enjoyment; that is, they
seek enjoyment selfishly. Benevolent beings aim at promoting the highest ultimate
enjoyment of all, or as many as possible.
- 2. I deny that it is a first truth of reason that virtue is an ultimate good.
This has not the characteristic of a first truth. A first truth is necessarily and
universally known and practically assumed by all men, whether they admit or deny
it in theory. But all men do not assume that virtue is an ultimate good. We have
seen that it cannot be chosen as an ultimate end, and of course it cannot be a first
truth of reason that it is an ultimate good. All moral agents do regard virtue as
a good, and as a great good, but not as an ultimate good. It is a good of infinite
value, but it is only a relative good. It is the condition of the infinite blessedness
of God, and therefore infinitely valuable. It is the condition of blessedness in
all moral agents, and therefore as really valuable as their blessedness; but it is
not an ultimate good. Its value is relative, and not ultimate. Hence ultimate good
is that blessedness in which virtue naturally and governmentally results. Moral agents,
from the laws of their being, cannot but approve of virtue. Holy beings delight in
it for its own sake. It is morally beautiful and lovely, and the contemplation of
it gives a sweet satisfaction and pleasure to the mind of a holy being. Hence we
say, we love it for its own sake; and so we do if by love we mean delight. But to
delight in a thing for its own sake, is not the same as choosing it for its own sake.
Delight is not choice. Virtue is delighted in for its own sake, but we have seen
that it cannot be chosen for its own sake. We are apt to call that a good in itself
which we are conscious of delighting in, without considering that the delight is
really the ultimate good, and not that which gives delight. I contemplate physical
or moral beauty; I experience a sweet enjoyment in the contemplation. Now I may call
the beauty which I enjoy a good, per se, but I talk loosely. It is not the beauty,
but the enjoyment that is the good, per se; beauty is only a relative and not the
ultimate good. This is the fact with virtue. It is morally and exquisitely beautiful.
God and all holy beings enjoy the exercise and the contemplation of it. Men are wont
to confound the cause of the enjoyment with the enjoyment itself, and to speak of
holiness or virtue as a good in itself. But suppose that moral agents had no pleasure
at all in it; suppose it was not to them a beautiful object; suppose that its contemplation
did not excite the least feeling, desire, or emotion of any kind; suppose it were
contemplated as a pure act of will, or as a moral quality of choice, and that we
were so constituted as to experience not the least pleasure in the contemplation,
or that it did not satisfy any demand of our being; could it be regarded as a good
in itself, or as a good in the sense of valuable at all? But if it were not regarded
either as relatively or intrinsically valuable, we could not affirm obligation to
choose it at all. We know nothing as valuable except upon condition of its relation
to the sensibility. But for this faculty, the idea of the valuable could not exist.
All moral agents regard obedience to moral laws as the condition of moral blessedness;
and since they regard blessedness as a good in itself, they affirm their obligation
to fulfil the necessary conditions of their own blessedness, and to will the blessedness
of all other moral agents, and that they should be virtuous, or do right, as the
condition of their blessedness. Were it not for the relation that virtue is seen
to sustain to happiness in general, no moral agent would conceive of it as valuable.
- Virtue is obedience to moral law. Now, do but consider how ridiculous it is to
assert, that obedience is itself the ultimate good, or end contemplated by the law?
Does the law aim, not at the results of obedience as an end, but at obedience itself
as an ultimate end? Do moral agents, can they possibly regard obedience itself as
the ultimate good? Obedience consists in choice or willing, and does the law contemplate
mere choice, or a quality of choice, as an ultimate end? The ultimate good, is that
blessedness promised as the reward of obedience to law. So all moral agents must
regard it, and so they must affirm, when they know what they say, and whereof they
affirm. Obedience to law, the ultimate good, instead of that which is the end or
object of obedience! The assertion is ridiculous. Obedience is not, and cannot be
regarded as of any value at all, were it not for its relation to the end or object
to be secured by it. Law is of no value, except as it is related to the end proposed
to be secured by it. So it is with obligation and with obedience. Obedience to moral
law is morally beautiful; that is, we so regard it by a law of our being, just as
we regard a rose as naturally beautiful. We have pleasure in both, but the pleasure
and not the beauty, is the ultimate good. The beauty is a good to us, but it is only
a relative good; that is, the beauty is the cause of the enjoyment, and is valuable
for that reason.
Observe, I am not contending that our own personal enjoyment is the end at which
we ought supremely to aim. The precept of the law requires me to choose as an ultimate
end the highest enjoyment of being in general, and the sanction promises that obedience
shall secure my own enjoyment, and the highest amount of enjoyment in others which
can result from my efforts. It is not partial good-will or self-enjoyment of which
I am speaking as the requirement of the law, nor partial enjoyment which is its end.
It requires the choice of universal good, and aims as far as possible to secure it.
But in support of the affirmation, that virtue is a good in itself, it may be said
that God requires virtue. Now, does he require it as an end, or as a means? If as
an end, this proves that he regards it as an ultimate good; if as a means, then this
is the doctrine that utility is the foundation of moral obligation, which my work
denies. To this I answer, as in substance I have before done:--
1. That virtue consists in obedience to moral law, and it is nonsense to make obedience
to moral law an end. The law requires the choice of an end. Can choice be the end
chosen? Virtue, strictly speaking, is an attribute of choice, can a quality of the
choice be the end chosen? But the quality of the choice depends altogether upon the
nature of the end chosen; the quality does not exist, and cannot therefore be known
or conceived of, until it is settled in regard to the end upon which the choice terminates,
or is to terminate. If this end is valuable in itself, the quality of the choice
is virtue; if the end be not a good per se, the choice has no virtue. Now, how absurd
and nonsensical it is to say, that the quality or virtue of the choice is the end
chosen, when the quality does not exist, except upon condition that something besides
itself is chosen as the ultimate end.
2. It is absurd to talk of requiring anything whatever as an ultimate end. What,
require an ultimate end instead of requiring the choice of that end! All requirement
respects doing or choosing, but doing or choosing cannot be an ultimate end. All
law or commandment respects, so far at least as acts of will are concerned, action
in reference to some end. Requirement in respect to acts of will at least, must of
necessity respect the choice of an end, or the choice of means to secure an end,
and virtue must be a quality of this required choice. To say that the choice of the
end is required, not for the sake of the end, but for the sake of the quality of
the choice, is to overlook the fact that it is the value of the end alone that gives
quality to the choice. It were strange indeed if the quality of choice which owes
its existence to the value of the end, were of greater intrinsic value than the end
itself; and it is absurd to say that the quality of the choice is the ultimate end,
instead of the end whose value gives the quality to the choice. But let us come back
to the thought that it is an absurdity to say, that which is required, the action,
choice, should be an ultimate end. Law, I say again, proposes an end, and requires
action in reference to that end. The thing required is not the end, but action in
reference to that end. Nor can the end be the quality of this required choice or
If it be asked, why God or reason demands the choice of the intrinsically valuable
for its own sake, the answer is, God and reason demand the choice for the sake of
the intrinsic value of the end. It is right per se to choose the valuable for its
own sake. Virtue is a quality of this choice. That is, the choice of the valuable
for its own sake is a right choice. God requires the choice because the end demands
it. The rightness of the choice is a condition of the obligation, but not the foundation
of it. It is the good that is to be chosen as an ultimate end, and not the right
or virtue of the choice; the goodness or value of the end makes the choice right,
but the rightness of the choice does not affect the value of the end. Choice of which
virtue is an attribute, is not demanded as an end, for it cannot be an end. Ultimate
choice is not demanded as a condition or means. It is demanded by the law of reason
and of God, as a thing right in itself, but not as a thing valuable in itself. Choice
respects ends or means--law requires the choice of an end with the conditions and
means. It requires the choice of the end for its intrinsic value, and of means upon
condition of the perceived tendency to secure the end; but the ground of the obligation
to choose the means is the value of the end. Moral law then, does not require the
choice of which virtue is an attribute as an end. Nor does it require it as a means,
but it requires this choice because of the value of the end, and upon condition that
it is right per se. But if the law requires this choice upon condition that it is
right per se, are we not to make this choice because it is right per se? I answer,
no. The thing is impossible and absurd, for this were to choose the right, and not
the good as an ultimate end. The thing required by the law is to choose the intrinsically
valuable to being for its own sake, or as an end: the law requires this upon the
condition that this is right per se. But I am bound, not to will the rightness of
the choice as an end, or to will the valuable because it is right thus to will, but
for the sake of the valuable. That is, it is the valuable, and not the right, which
I am bound to will.
Unless I will the valuable for its own sake, the choice is not right, for it is not
what the law demands. God requires the choice, then, of which virtue is a quality,
neither as an end nor as a means. The choice required must terminate on an end, but
the choice is not required as an end. The choice will secure the use of means, but
ultimate choice is not required as a means.
- Law does not require ends and means, but the choice of ends and means. Choice
therefore is never demanded as an end or as means, but choice is required because
of the value of the end, and upon condition that the choice of this end is right
per se. The argument to which I am now replying assumes, that whatever the moral
law requires, it requires as an end, or as a condition or means; whereas the truth
is, that the law requires not ends and means, but the choice of ends and means. The
choice of the right end, and of the appropriate conditions and means, is virtuous.
God requires the choice, both of the end and the means for the sake of the value
of the end, but upon condition that such choice is right per se. Right, therefore,
is a condition of the requirement, but not the foundation of it; for were it not
for the value of the end, I say again, it would not be right to choose it, and therefore
God could not command us to choose it.
Now, reader, let us see where we are in our argument. Observe, we are now inquiring
into the ultimate ground of obligation, or what is the ultimate good of being. I
have asserted, that enjoyment, blessedness, mental satisfaction, or happiness, is
the only ultimate good. My reviewer asserts that virtue is an ultimate good. Now,
what have we seen?
- 1. That the ultimate good must consist in a conscious state of mind.
- 2. That a voluntary state of mind, or a choice or volition, cannot be an ultimate
end, and therefore cannot be an ultimate good.
- 3. That the ultimate good must consist in an involuntary state of mind, and in
that involuntary state in which all action conformed to law terminates.
- 4. That this involuntary state is mental satisfaction or happiness.
- 5. We have seen, that voluntary action cannot be the end aimed at by law or requirement,
but that requirement must always contemplate an end, and require action or choice
in reference to that end; that this end cannot be the choice required, nor a quality
of this choice.
- 6. We have also seen, that the will of God cannot be the ultimate good that is
to be chosen for its own sake, that objective right cannot, that virtue cannot.
- 7. That all men give the highest evidence of regarding enjoyment as an ultimate
- 8. But that they do not, and cannot, understandingly affirm, that virtue is an
- 9. That the very idea of regarding choice, or a quality of choice, as an ultimate
good, is absurd and ridiculous. These things are indubitably established. Where then
is the foundation upon which this reviewer rests his criticism? "It has vanished
into thin air." He "has laboured in vain, and spent his strength for nought,
and in vain." We have seen that what he calls my two main positions or premises,
from which he admits that my conclusions logically follow, are established. Why then
does he triumph and say, new schoolism is fallen? Such triumphing is short.
I have already said so much, that I must close this reply with a few additional
words in reference to some of his many, I would hope, unintentional misrepresentations,
and perhaps a few sentences respecting some of the absurdities contained in his review.
Some of these last are so gross and glaring, and withal so heterodox, that it is
well for the reviewer that he does not live in Oberlin. If he did, the welkin would
ring with the cry of heresy! heresy!! In respect to his misrepresentations I am willing
to ascribe them to misapprehension, and his misapprehensions to his loose habit of
thinking on metaphysical and moral subjects, and to his want of rigid analysis in
his theological investigations.
He says, pages 272, 273:--
- "Mr. Finney's principles lead him to assert, that there is no difference
in their feelings between the renewed and the unrenewed, the sinner and the saint.
'The sensibility of the sinner,' he says, 'is susceptible of every kind and degree
of feeling that is possible to saints.' p. 521. He accordingly goes on to show, that
sinners may desire sanctification, delight in the truth, abhor sin, have complacency
in good men, entertain feelings of love and gratitude to God, and in short, be as
to feeling and conduct, exactly what saints are. The only essential difference is
in the will, in their ultimate purpose or intention. The sinner's ultimate intention
may be to promote the glory of God, from a sense of duty, or from appreciation of
the loveliness of moral excellence, and he be no better than a pirate; if his ultimate
end is to promote happiness because happiness is intrinsically valuable, he is a
This is a specimen of this writer's reading and criticism. Here he represents
me as holding the ridiculous absurdity, that a sinner's ultimate intention may be
to glorify God from a sense of duty, or from an appreciation of the loveliness of
moral excellence; that is, his ultimate choice or intention may be to glorify God,
and yet this is not chosen as an end for its own sake, but from a sense of duty,
or from an apprehension of the loveliness of moral excellence. He may choose the
glory of God for its own sake, and yet not for its own sake, but from a sense of
duty, &c. This is a ridiculous contradiction; and if this writer had understood
the book he was reviewing, he would not have failed to see, that I again and again
expose the very absurdity which he here charges upon me. The thing I hold is, not
that the sinner's ultimate end may be the glory of God, and he be as wicked as a
pirate; but I say, that his ultimate end may be selfish, and yet he may aim to do
his duty as a means of securing his own interest, or he may be selfish in aiming
to promote the glory of God, &c. Self may be his end, and duty or aiming to glorify
God a means. What a gross blunder for the reviewer to represent me as holding, that
the ultimate intention may be to glorify God, and yet the glory of God not be his
end, but duty or something else be his end, or to represent me as holding, that a
man can be wicked at all when his ultimate end is to glorify God. But as I said,
this is but a specimen of the misrepresentations of this reviewer. The book was regarded
by him as so hard to read, that he reviewed it without taking pains to understand
it, or else he was unqualifiedly wicked in misrepresenting me. I prefer the former
supposition. Further: what this writer here says will make a false impression in
other respects. He says, "I assert, that there is no difference in their feelings
between the renewed and the unrenewed, the sinner and the saint." He then quotes
from me, that "the sensibility of the sinner is susceptible of every kind and
degree of feeling that is possible to saints." But is this saying what he says
I say, that there is no actual difference in their feelings? I said sinners are capable
of feeling as saints do. Is this saying that they really do feel as saints do? I
say what sinners may feel, that is, what they are susceptible of feeling. This leads
him to say, that I hold that there is no difference in their actual feelings. Is
not this misrepresentation of what I say? I will not accuse this writer of a design
to misrepresent, but this, I am sorry to say, looks like an appeal to prejudice.
Again, page 267:--
- "Mr. Finney's system will not allow him to attach any other meaning to love
than 'good will,' that is, willing good or happiness to any one. Love of God therefore
can, according to his doctrine, be nothing more than willing his happiness; and this
obligation is entirely independent of his moral excellence. He admits, that his moral
goodness is the condition of our willing his actual happiness, but it is not the
ground of our obligation to love him, or to will his good. As far as our feelings
are concerned, there ought to be no difference between God and Satan, we are bound
to will the happiness of each according to its intrinsic value."
Here he complains of me for holding, that the ground of our obligation to will
the good of God as an ultimate end, is not his moral excellence. He then holds, that
we ought to will the good or well-being of God as an ultimate end, not for its own
sake or value to him, but for his moral excellence. This is again a ridiculous contradiction,
that the foundation of the obligation is not the value of God's happiness to him,
but because He is virtuous. But suppose God were not virtuous, should we be under
no obligation to will his good? Are we to will the good of God and of all beings
for its own value, or because they are virtuous? I hold that the intrinsic value
of their well-being is the ground of the obligation to will it as a possible good,
and their virtue is a condition of the obligation to will their present actual blessedness.
But he holds, that we ought to will good to God, not for the sake of its own value
to him, but for the sake of his moral excellence. But this is to will his moral excellence
as the ultimate end, and not the well-being of God. I will the highest blessedness
of God for its own value to him, but I will his actual and perfect blessedness as
a concrete reality upon condition of his moral excellence. But do not overlook the
contradiction involved in what he holds, to wit, that we ought to will good to God
for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, yet not as an ultimate end, or for its own
sake, but for, or on account of, the divine excellence. The utter looseness of this
writer's thoughts upon questions of this kind, has led him into many truly ridiculous
blunders in this review.
But here again he entirely misrepresents me. I say, that we are bound to will the
good of every being according to its relative value, so far as we understand it;
that Satan's character and governmental relations are such, that we are not at liberty
to do him good or express our benevolence toward him, but as his well-being is really
valuable, we ought to be benevolent toward him, or to will his good. And is not this
true? Have we a right to be otherwise than benevolent towards any being? In the passage
just quoted, the writer represents me as holding that as far as our feelings are
concerned there ought to be no difference between God and Satan. I said we ought
to will the good of each according to its perceived relative value, but he represents
me as holding that we ought to feel alike toward God and Satan. Such confusion is
common in the thoughts and language of this writer. He has here represented me as
holding the very opposite of what I do hold in the work under review. It is impossible
for us to feel alike toward God and Satan, nor have we any reason to do so. We cannot
but have feelings of abhorrence toward Satan. These feelings correspond with his
infernal character; while at the same time we ought to have, because, if our will
is right, we shall have feelings of complacency in God. Thus in this case again this
writer by his loose way of thinking and writing totally misrepresents me. Is it the
same thing to feel and to will? I said, we ought to will the good of Satan, or to
be really benevolent to him. God is benevolent and loves his enemies, and we ought
to love ours, or will their good. But from this, this writer represents me as holding,
that we ought to feel alike toward them; and to render the sentiment ridiculous,
which it truly is, he italicised "feelings." But the instances of misapprehension,
and of consequent misrepresentation, are too numerous to be noticed. I could not
believe this writer honest in all these misrepresentations, were it not that every
part of his review affords so high evidence of his loose way of thinking and writing
upon metaphysical subjects. But I have followed him far enough. He endorses my conclusion
provided my premises are sound. But I must not omit the notice of this writer's idea
of true religion. On pages 256 and 257, he says:--
- "On this doctrine we remark: 1. That it is readily admitted that happiness
is a good. 2. That it is consequently obligatory on all moral agents to endeavour
to promote it. 3. That the highest happiness of the universe, being an unspeakably
exalted and important end, to make its attainment the object of life is a noble principle
of action. 4. Consequently this theory of moral obligation is inconceivably more
elevated than that which make self-love the ultimate principle of action, and our
own happiness the highest object of pursuit. 5. That the error of the theory is making
enjoyment the highest and the only intrinsic or real good. 6. That this error derives
no countenance from the fact, that the Bible represents love to God and love to our
neighbour as the fulfilling of the law. To derive any argument from this source,
Mr. Finney must first take the truth of his theory for granted. To prove that all
love is benevolence, it must be assumed that happiness is the only good. If love
is vastly more than benevolence, if a disposition to promote happiness is only one,
and that one of the lowest forms of that comprehensive excellence which the scriptures
call love, his argument is worth nothing. In accordance with that meaning of the
term, which universal usage has given it, any out-going of the soul, whether under
the form of desire, affection, complacency, reverence, delight towards an appropriate
object, is in the Bible called love. To squeeze all this down, and wire-draw it through
one pin-hole, is as impossible as to change the nature of the human soul. Every man,
not a slave to some barren theory of the understanding, knows that love to God is
not benevolence; that it is approbation, complacency, delight in his moral excellence,
reverence, gratitude, devotion. The reason then why the scriptures represent love
as the fulfilling of the law, is two-fold. First, because love to an infinitely perfect
Being, involves in it approbation of all conceivable forms of moral excellence, and
consequent congeniality of soul with it under all those forms. He who really loves
a God of truth, justice, purity, mercy, and benevolence, is himself truthful, just,
holy, merciful, and kind. Secondly, because love to God and man will secure all obedience
to the precepts of the law. We may admit therefore that love is the fulfilling of
the law, without being sophisticated into believing, or rather saying, that faith
is love, justice is love, patience love, humility love."
Upon this paragraph I remark:--
- 1. That this writer's views of what constitutes virtue or true religion are utterly
defective. I trust that, as we say, his heart is upon this subject better than his
head. He freely admits, that benevolence consists in the choice of the highest happiness
and well-being of God and of the universe, and that benevolence is true virtue.
- 2. He regards benevolence, as has been said, as possessing no attributes, but
as consisting in the simple choice of the happiness of God and of being as an ultimate
end, without taking into view the essential attributes of benevolence. He talks of
squeezing down, and wire-drawing all virtue through a pin-hole, &c. He then regards
the representation that benevolence is the love required by the law of God, and that
it is, when properly defined, the whole of virtue, as squeezing down and wire-drawing
virtue through a pin-hole! I had said in the work before him (see "Systematic
Theology," Lecture XVII. I.):--
- "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 and is 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. The fact is, that 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 dispositions or willings considered in the various relations
in which it is called to act. Benevolence is an ultimate intention, or the choice
of an ultimate end. Now, 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. 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 it 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. 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 the reason. 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
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, 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 benevolence
viewed in certain relations and aspects. All his virtues are only so many attributes
of benevolence. This is and must be true of every holy being."
I then proceed to point out and define strictly, thirty-two of the moral attributes
of benevolence, as specimens and illustrations of the varieties or modifications
under which benevolence developes and manifests itself. Could I here quote, entire,
what I have written upon this subject in the work before him, perhaps the reader
might wonder, as I have done, how an honest and a Christian man could represent me
as squeezing down and wire-drawing through a pin-hole the love required by the law
of God. But I cannot in a reply make the quotation, as it occupies sixty-four pages
of the work reviewed. The object of writing so fully on the attributes of benevolence
was, as the above extract shows, to prevent the very inference or mistake into which
this writer has fallen. But this is only a painful specimen of his strange misapprehensions
and misrepresentations of the work reviewed. I had shown that every form of virtue
was resolvable in the last analysis into a modification of benevolence. But he represents
me as squeezing down and wire-drawing through a pin-hole the love required by the
law of God, instead of saying, as he was bound to do, that I amplified the meaning
of the word, and understood it as being comprehensive of all those modifications
of virtue of which we have been accustomed to hear and speak. Let any one read what
I have written upon the attributes of benevolence, and then pronounce judgment upon
this reviewer's representations. But as I said, what he has here done, is only a
specimen of the manner in which he blundered through, or rather over the work he
was reviewing. But I make all due allowance for his old-school eyes and prejudices,
and would exercise all charity towards him.
- 3. In this paragraph he represents benevolence as one of the lowest forms of
virtue. He says, page 257:--
- "To prove that all love is benevolence, it must be assumed that happiness
is the only good. If love is vastly more than benevolence, if a disposition to promote
happiness is only one, and that one of the lowest forms of that comprehensive excellence
which the scriptures call love, his argument is worth nothing. In accordance with
that meaning of the term, which universal usage has given it, any out-going of the
soul, whether under the form of desire, affection, complacency, reverence, delight
towards an appropriate object, is in the Bible called love. To squeeze all this down,
and wire-draw it through one pin-hole, is as impossible as to change the nature of
the human soul. Every man, not a slave to some barren theory of the understanding,
knows that love to God is not benevolence; that it is approbation, complacency, delight
in his moral excellence, reverence, gratitude, devotion. The reason then why the
scriptures represent love as the fulfilling of the law, is two-fold. First, because
love to an infinitely perfect Being, involves in it approbation of all conceivable
forms of moral excellence, and consequent congeniality of soul with it under those
forms. He who really loves a God of truth, justice, purity, mercy, benevolence, is
himself truthful, just, holy, merciful, and kind. Secondly, because love to God and
man will secure all obedience to the precepts of the law."
God's love to us must be benevolence, and his love to the universe must be benevolence.
Complacency in holiness, I have shown, may consist either in an emotion of delight
in it, or in a modification of benevolence or good will. God loves all beings with
good will, and towards holy beings he exercises complacency, both in the form of
benevolence, and in the form of an emotion of delight in them. But it seems, the
this writer considers approbation as a higher form of virtue than benevolence. But
what is approbation? Why, it is a necessary state of the intellect in view of moral
excellence. No moral agent can otherwise than approve of virtue or of moral excellence.
This is as true of the worst as of the best of men. Who does not know, that from
a law of the intellect, a moral agent, whether holy or sinful, must and does of necessity
approve of moral excellence. But this it seems we are to regard as a higher form
of virtue than that which we approbate in God. God is benevolent, and we are, from
the laws of our being; necessitated to approve of it; but in this involuntary state
we are more virtuous, or exercise a higher order of virtue, than the benevolence
which we behold in God, and approve.
Now I affirm, that there is nothing of the nature of virtue in the approbation of
moral excellence, and that this approbation is common to saints and sinners, and
doubtless to devils and holy angels. What sinner on earth or in hell is not conscious
of approving the moral excellency of God? But he makes delight in moral excellence,
another form of virtue of a higher order than benevolence. Delight, as he uses it,
is not a modification of good will, but an involuntary state of mind. So it seems
that delight in God's moral excellence, or which is the same thing, in his benevolence,
is more virtuous than the benevolence in which we delight. But this state of the
sensibility I have shown may exist in the mind of a sinner as well as in a saint,
and I believe that many sinners can attest, that they are conscious at times of this
delight. They give themselves credit for it as something really good, and it seems
that at Princeton they grant to such sinners, not only all that they claim of virtue
in this exercise, but infinitely more. They make the delight a higher form of virtue
than benevolence. So the sinner who plays the miser and hoards up his millions, may
quiet himself, and by approving and delighting in the benevolence of God, may be
even more virtuous than God is. This is worse than Jesuitism.
Again: he represents reverence, gratitude, and devotion, as higher forms of
virtue than benevolence. I had shown, that these were attributes of benevolence,
but he regards them manifestly as involuntary emotions. Reverence for God, for, or
on account of his benevolence, gratitude to God for his love or benevolence; devotion
to God for his benevolence, higher forms of virtue than the benevolence which we
adore! Amazing! What will the church and the world say, when they are told that at
Princeton they hold such views of the nature of true religion? What, good will to
God and to being in general, that efficient principle that is the foundation and
the source of all doing good, one of the lowest forms of virtue! "Tell it not
in Gath." I could enlarge indefinitely on the absurd, and most false and ruinous
views of this writer, as it respects the nature of true religion. With his views,
I do not wonder that he says, on page 276:--
- "Mr. Finney is well aware, that this doctrine changes the whole nature of
religion; and hence his frequent denunciations of the false philosophy and pretended
orthodoxy, by which religion has been perverted and the church corrupted. And certain
it is that religion, as represented by him, is something exceedingly different from
what good people in all ages have commonly regarded it. We should have to provide
a new language, new hymns, new prayers, and especially a new Bible."
I freely admit, that this writer and myself have exceedingly diverse views of
the nature of true religion. If, as he says, the involuntary states of the intellect
and the sensibility are more virtuous, than the benevolence in which I hold that
all virtue strictly consists, I am utterly mistaken. And if on the other hand, supreme
disinterested good will to God and man, including all its attributes and developements
is virtue, and strictly speaking, the whole of virtue, then this writer is wholly
in fault, and has not the true ideal of the Christian religion before him when he
Again: this writer repeatedly insinuates, that I confound God with the universe,
and make good-will to the universe, instead of love to God the great thing in religion.
This representation is as false as possible, as every one who reads the book reviewed
will see. I hold, indeed, that love to God considered as a virtue, consists in good-will;
that love to God as an emotion always exists where good-will exists, but that virtuous
love is a voluntary exercise, that God's well-being and interests are of infinitely
greater value than those of all the universe besides; and of course, that love to
him should always be supreme.
It is amazing to me, that this writer could have so misunderstood and misrepresented
me, as he has in many of these things.
There are a number of other things contained in the review before us that I should
like to examine, and may do so, the Lord willing, at another time. But the present
article has already become too long for our paper. It might be amusing enough to
turn the reductio ad absurdum, upon this writer himself. He has asserted many strange
and absurd things indeed in this review. But for the present, at least, I must close.
This was typed in by John, Terri and Aaron Clark.
A REPLY TO THE "WARNING AGAINST ERROR."
WRITTEN BY THE REV. DR. DUFFIELD,
AND APPROVED AND ADOPTED, FIRST BY THE PRESBYTERY OF DETROIT, AND SUBSEQUENTLY BY
THE SYNOD OF MICHIGAN.
BY PROFESSOR C. G. FINNEY.
TO THE SYNOD OF MICHIGAN.
Reverend and Beloved Brethren:
I have received a pamphlet entitled, "A Warning against Error," being the
Report of a Committee, adopted by the Presbytery of Detroit, at their Session at
Northville, Mich. Approved by the Synod of Michigan, at their Session at Kalamazoo,
Oct. 18, 1847.
Sickness and death in my family, my own ill health, together with the loss of our
press by fire, have hitherto prevented a reply. I see nothing in this pamphlet intrinsically
worthy of a reply, and should take no public notice of it, but for the extraordinary
manner of its appearance before the churches. Its author has, in some way which I
cannot explain, obtained for it the endorsement and sanctions of the Synod. On perusing
the pamphlet I have been constrained to doubt whether the members of the Synod had
to any considerable extent made themselves acquainted with my published volumes of
theology. I must also doubt whether the writer of the pamphlet had patiently and
understandingly read my work through; for I cannot conceive how a discerning mind
could have fallen into so many strange misapprehensions and misrepresentations, if
he had really read and pondered the positions taken in the work reviewed. Two reasons
mainly induce me to reply. 1. The present relations of the Synod of Michigan to the
pamphlet. They, it seems, have made themselves responsible to God and to the world
for the truthfulness of this "Warning against Error," and pledged their
Christian and ministerial characters in support of its positions. This gives to the
pamphlet an importance that seems to demand a notice from me. Silence on my part
under such circumstances might be deemed either a contempt for the Synod, or a tacit
acknowledgment of error. I am unwilling that either of these inferences should be
drawn, because neither is true, and either might injure the cause of truth. 2. My
second reason for replying is, that it will afford me an opportunity to state in
a few words my views upon the points considered as erroneous. Such a statement may
be read and understood by many who may never ready my theology entire.
Before I enter directly upon the work of reply, I must notice a few of the many peculiarities
of the pamphlet before me.
- 1. I have been struck with the remarkable manner in which the writer of the "Warning"
has quoted from my book. He has seldom, if at all, done more than quote isolated
sentences, leaving their connexion out of view. Suppose this should be done with
the Bible or any other book, what could not be made out of it?
2. The writer has seldom, if at all, so much as noticed the proof of my positions,
as stated in my book. He has found it convenient to pass my arguments unnoticed,
and has quoted the Confession of Faith in reply, as if it were of Divine authority.
He also appears to quote scripture in opposition to my positions; but with what success
we shall see.
3. The writer of the "Warning" seldom takes issue with my real positions.
He almost uniformly misapprehends and misrepresents my views. He seldom grapples
manfully with my positions, but "dodges" the real question.
4. The "Warning" abounds with false issues, and consequently with most
impertinent argumentation, and quotations of scripture.
5. Another peculiarity of the "Warning" is, that it is very ambiguous.
Much that is said may be read almost equally well two or three ways. It may be so
read as to be old school, or new school, or no school at all; so as to be orthodox,
heterodox, or mere nonsense. If my limits will permit, I may call attention to some
instances of this ambiguity.
I am made happy by the consideration, that it is not for me to sit in judgment
upon the intention of the writer, but that in this I may leave him to the judgment
of God, and attend only to his opinions.
Again: in reading the "Warning against Error," I have been struck,
as often before, with the fact, that the brethren abroad are not opposing so much
the real as the imputed views of Oberlin. To make us out heretics, our opponents
must impute to us sentiments that we do not hold, and which we abhor as really as
themselves. I wrote and published my theology to avoid this, but it seems to be impossible
to speak so plainly, that certain men will not misapprehend us, and by their blunders
mislead others. How long shall this be? Of what use is it to misrepresent us, and
fight a man of straw?
In reply, I must, 1. Condense as much as possible. 2. I must omit lengthy quotations
from scripture, and rely in general upon the memory of my readers to supply them.
3. I might in almost every instance quote a complete reply to the writer from the
work reviewed; but for brevity's sake I must content myself with stating in as few
words as possible my views, as contained in my published volumes of theology, and
leave those who are disposed, to examine the work for themselves.
The writer has occupied the first twelve pages of his pamphlet in defending himself
against the charge of having himself departed from the Presbyterian Confession of
Faith. I will not trouble myself nor you with remarks upon this prolix introduction
to his "Warning." It is only the old story about "The Form of Sound
Words," accompanied with the admission that these "sound words" are
not the words in which he should always prefer to express his doctrinal belief, and
also with the admission that much latitude is allowed to Presbyterians in construing
these "sound words," so that opposing schools may each properly express
their doctrinal views on these "sound words." These words, it appears,
are so "sound," that they may be understood with about equal propriety,
to mean one thing or the other, according to the psychological views of opposing
schools and different individuals. Alas! for these "sound words!" the true
interpretation of which has cost the church so much division and disgrace. But I
would not speak disparagingly of the Confession of Faith. In the main I think it
true; but in no instance do I acknowledge it as an authoritative exposition of the
word of God. I claim the right to examine the "lively oracles" for myself,
and am not bound to take the Confession of Faith as a conclusive exponent of the
Bible. Be it understood, however, that in my reply to this pamphlet, I make no war
with the Confession of Faith. I have only to deal with the author.
I will now attend to the pretended issues of the "Warning."
- 1. His first issue is as follows, pages 12, 13, 15:
- "THE FOUNDATION OF FAITH.
"The erroneous system assumes and teaches, as the true philosophy, certain metaphysical
views of the nature and foundation of moral obligation, which it makes the key to
unlock the mysteries of our faith; or in other words, the postulates by which human
reason may explain the doctrines of the Bible, and reconcile the differences among
professing Christian in point of doctrinal belief. It claims philosophy to be the
legitimate expositor of Bible theology.
"But we protest against any man's metaphysical theory or definitions, or philosophical
views of the nature and foundation of moral obligation, being made the arbiter of
our faith, and the interpreter of the doctrines of the Bible, however great may be
his pretensions to holiness, or whatever his fame and reputed success in preaching
"We warn you against all attempts to make metaphysics, or philosophy, the arbiter
and interpreter of the facts affirmed by the Spirit of God in the sacred scriptures.
We are bound to believe the facts when once, and as God affirms them, even though
we cannot explain them by our philosophy."
The point of my alleged offence here is, that I appeal to philosophy or reason as
the legitimate expounder of the Bible. But is there really any issue between this
writer and myself upon this point? No, indeed. Why does he warn the churches against
what he holds as really as I do? to wit, that we must appeal to reason; 1. In sitting
in judgment upon the evidences that the Bible is of divine origin? and 2. In ascertaining
what the Bible means? In interpreting the language, the doctrines, and facts contained
in it? Without the aid of mental science we can form no definite idea of what the
most common terms in the Bible mean. The terms sin, holiness, regeneration, repentance,
faith, and the like, are all expressive, not of muscular action, but of acts and
states of the mind; and without assuming the great truths of mental science, no man
can rightly understand these terms. This this writer admits, and this is that for
which I contend. He admits that it is the appropriate business of the schools to
interpret these and similar terms in the light of mental science. He constantly does
this himself, and so does every minister. Where then is the issue? Brethren of the
synod, has this writer made you believe, that I hold that reason or philosophy is
higher authority than the Bible? I hold no such thing. The meaning of the Bible once
ascertained, its teaching are with me an end of all controversy. But the Bible must
be expounded by reason or philosophy, or we can have no opinion even, of what it
means. All men do and must expound the Bible by, and in accordance with, their views
of mental science. The difference among theologians is founded in their different
views of mental science. Who does not know this? Why then does this writer exclaim
against reason and philosophy, and talk about receiving the simple facts and doctrines
of Christianity, by faith, without philosophizings, &c.? Why does he repudiate
philosophy, and yet constantly obtrude his own philosophy upon us? The fact is, he
and I differ in our philosophy, and consequently in our theology. The issue between
us is not as he here represents it. It is not whether we may, or must of necessity,
appeal to reason and philosophy in our exposition of the language of scripture. This
he repeatedly admits. This I also maintain. The real issue between us respects our
views of mental science, in the light of which we respectively interpret the language
of the Bible. Here then is a false issue in the outset. It is more convenient for
him to exclaim against philosophy as an expositor of the Bible, and then surround
himself with the smoke of his own philosophy in combating my views, than it is to
take issue with me upon those points of philosophy, upon which our diverse theological
views are founded. He exclaims against my appeal to philosophy, and yet glaringly
assumes the truth of his own, and that of the framers of the Confession of Faith.
Every one knows, that the framers of the Confession held a peculiar philosophy, which
gave shape to that whole document. Why, then, does this writer protest against philosophy
as an exponent of the Bible? Such protests are nonsensical. Had I space, I might
quote enough of the philosophy of this writer, both from this pamphlet, and from
his other published works, to silence a modest man, and prevent his exclaiming against
interpreting scripture in the light of mental science. I conclude this head then,
with repeating, that the writer has here made an issue where there is none. He professes
to differ with me, as it respects the relations and use of philosophy, when in fact
we agree in this, and differ only in our views of what constitutes true philosophy.
- 2. His second issue is as follows, pages 15, 16, 17:
- "THE FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
"The facts, that we are free agents, possessing powers to know and obey the
will of God, and that he has given his law for the regulation of our conduct, are
generally acknowledged and felt to be a sufficient ground of that moral obligation
which binds us to do his will. His right to command and require our obedience, men
generally trace to the facts, that he is our Creator, and made us for himself; our
Proprietor, and claims us for his own; our Sovereign, and possesses authority to
command; our beneficent friend, and in every way best fitted and qualified, by his
own excellence and resources, to exercise dominion over us. The Bible speaks plainly
on this subject, and in accordance with such views. When God commanded Abraham to
walk before him and be perfect, the chief reason he assigned for it was, 'I am the
Almighty God,' God all-sufficient. All the holy obedience and adoration of heaven
is referred to this source. 'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour,
and power; for thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were
created.' The will of God, expressed in his law, is everywhere, in the sacred scriptures,
recognized to be, as well the reason for, as the rule of our obedience. Thus, the
Saviour speaks of himself; 'I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but
the will of him that sent me.' It is given as a distinctive trait in the character
of him whose morality is acceptable, that 'he doeth the will of God,' and 'keepeth
his commandments.' God has required it, therefore we are bound to obey. The expression
of his will as to our actions or conduct, as to what we are, or are not, to do; that
is, his law is a sufficient, and indeed, a paramount reason of obedience.
"The error against which we warn you, teaches that 'the right of God' to exercise
moral government 'cannot be found in the fact that God sustains to (us) the relation
of Creator.' As counterpart with this, it teaches, that 'the fact that God is the
owner and sole proprietor of the universe, is no reason why he should govern it.'
It further teaches, that his right to govern 'cannot be founded in the fact, that
God possesses all the attributes, natural and moral, that are requisite to the administration
of moral government;' but that 'the necessity of government is the foundation of
the right to govern.' So far from moral obligation being founded in the will of God,
it teaches, that 'it is a responsibility imposed on the moral agent by his own reason,'
and that 'there can be no law that is, or can be, obligatory upon moral agents, but
one suited to, and founded in, their nature, relations, and circumstances.'"
Upon this point I would remark: (1.) That the utmost confusion seems to have reigned
in the mind of this writer upon certain points of fundamental importance in theological
investigations, and hence he continually misapprehends and misrepresents me, where
I have been careful to make those discriminations prominent.
I have throughout made an important distinction between the conditions, and the foundation
or ground of moral obligation, the conditions and the ground or foundation of justification,
&c. In the first sentence under this head, he has fallen into the error of confounding
this distinction. I represented moral agency, ability, &c., as conditions, but
not as the ground or foundation of it. Without free agency and ability we could not
be subjects of moral obligation; but then free agency and ability are not the ground
or foundation of the obligation. I have shown, that the fundamental reason why men
ought to will and to do good, is the intrinsic value of the good. Their ability to
do this is a condition of their obligation to do it, but their ability is not, and
cannot be, the foundation of the obligation. Ability is, of itself, no more a reason
for willing good than evil. The fundamental reason for doing good must be the value
of the good, and the ability only a condition of the obligation. This is made so
plain in the book reviewed, that it seems hardly possible that such a man as Doctor
D. can have overlooked it. In his first sentence he represents ability, &c.,
as the ground of moral obligation; and this confusion reigns throughout the whole
pamphlet, and fatally vitiates, as we shall see, his whole work.
I have taught, that the fact that God is the Creator, and that he possesses perfect
and infinite attributes, natural and moral, are conditions of his right to govern,
and of our obligation to obey him; but that his relations and attributes are not
the foundation of our obligation to will or to do good rather than evil. There must
be something in the nature of good and evil that is the fundamental reason for our
obligation to will and to do one rather than the other. It must be the intrinsic
value of the good, and the intrinsic evil of the evil, that constitutes the fundamental
reason for God's requiring the one and prohibiting the other; and that also constitutes
the fundamental reason of our obligation to choose the one and refuse the other.
But here is the utmost confusion in the Doctor's mind. He seems to be either unable
or unwilling to perceive a distinction at once so plain and so important, and hence
he wholly fails in his showing. It is surely ridiculous to affirm, that the relations
and attributes of God are the foundation of our obligation to will and do good, and
to avoid evil, rather than anything in the nature of the good and the evil, for this
would be obligatory upon us, whatever God's relations and attributes might be. We,
being moral agents, should be under obligation to will and do good, even if God should
(2.) The Doctor under this head, as we shall see elsewhere, at first appears to take
issue with me, and afterwards, by contradicting himself, annihilates the issue, and
concedes what I claim. On page 16, he represents the will of God, as he does elsewhere,
as the reason manifestly in the sense of the ground or foundation of moral obligation.
The connexion and strain of reasoning show, that by reason he means the fundamental
reason or ground. Here then is the appearance of an issue. But on page 19, he says:
"In so saying, we mean not that the law and constitution of God are mere arbitrary
enactments, that is, emanating wholly from a capricious volition; nor that they can
be so changed by any capricious act of the divine will, as to make that right, which
according to our intelligent powers, and the nature with which God has endowed us,
may be, under present circumstances, wrong, or that wrong which is now right."
He knew very well that I had shown, that if God's will is the foundation of moral
obligation, rather than the intrinsic value of the good, it would follow, that if
God had willed, or should will the direct opposite of what he does, it would impose
obligation upon us; that if his will be the foundation of our obligations, he might,
by willing it, change our obligations, and render it obligatory upon us to will evil
instead of good. But the Doctor is on his guard, and takes both sides of the question.
The will of God is the ground of obligation; yet he does not mean by this, that God
could by any arbitrary or "capricious volition" change the nature of virtue
and vice, and render it obligatory to will evil rather than good. But why not? This
is getting out of the difficulty, or escaping from the consequences by a denial of
his premises. It is undeniable, that if the sovereign will of God is the foundation
of the obligation, he can by his sovereign will change the nature of virtue and vice.
If his willing that we should will and do good, is the reason why we should will
and do good rather than evil, and the intrinsic nature of the good and the evil is
not the fundamental reason of the obligation, certainly it follows, that should he
will the opposite of what he does, his willing would impose obligation, and of course
change the nature of virtue and vice. I insist upon the Doctor's taking one side
or the other of this question; that he either make a real issue and abide by it,
or that he relinquish all pretence of an issue. I must protest against his appearing
to make an issue, and then in anticipation of my answer, turning round and virtually
denying the very position upon which, alone, the appearance of an issue rested. If
God by an arbitrary choice cannot change the nature of virtue and vice, he cannot
change moral obligation, of course. Hence, it follows that his will is not the foundation
of moral obligation. Why does not the Doctor admit this at once? Why has the Doctor
italicized "wholly" and "capricious?" Does he mean to imply that
God's enactments do or may emanate partly from a capricious volition? So it would
seem. But this I deny, and maintain, that God has no more right to will or to legislate
unreasonably than we have. But the Doctor will have it, that it is because God is
what he is, &c., because he possesses infinite perfections, moral and natural,
that his will is the foundation of moral obligation. But the fact of these perfections
is by me represented, not as the ground, but as the condition of our obligation to
obey him. He commands us to will and do good, because good is valuable, and for that
reason. But it seems that Doctor D. will have it, that we are to will and do good,
not for good's sake, or because good is good or valuable, but because God wills it.
We are to will good to God and to our neighbour, not that we care for their well-being
for its own sake, but we are to will it because God commands it! This he insists
is the teaching of the Bible and of the standards. We are to love God and our neighbour,
and seek the glory of God and the good of our neighbour; not that we care for these
things for their own intrinsic value or importance, but because God wills it. And
God wills it, not for its value, but because he does will it. Marvellous! But the
Doctor informs me and his readers, of the origin of my error, pages 18 and 19.
"The error originates in losing sight of God's sovereignty in the original creation
of man, with the powers, and in the relations in which he was constituted, and adapted
to His law, or the law to him. The nature and fitness of things cannot be apprehended
by us, or correctly spoken of, as though some eternal constitution, or as the preacher
called it, fate, existed, irrespectively of God's will, in the exercise of His wisdom
and benevolence, originally planning the whole system. The scriptures speak explicitly
of 'the mystery of His will, according to his good pleasure, which He purposed in
Himself;' and of His constitutions being 'according to the purpose of Him who worketh
all things after the counsel of his own will.' To assume an eternal fitness in the
nature of things, anterior to, and irrespective of, His original, wise, good, and
holy ordinations, and to affirm that God adapts his moral law to it, is to impugn
his sovereignty. It is to make both God and his creatures dependent on a state of
things out of Himself, or something other than 'the counsel of His own will,' AN
This is a wonderful discovery! The universe originated in the sovereign good pleasure
of God, and therefore his will, and not the nature and relations of things, is the
foundation of obligation. He created the nature of things, and therefore his will,
and not the nature of things is the foundation of moral obligation. Had he pleased,
he could have so constituted things, that what is now virtue would have been vice,
and what is now vice had been virtue. That is, he might have so constituted moral
agents, that benevolence had been sin, and selfishness virtue; that it would have
been duty to prefer our own good to that of God, to prefer a less to a greater good,
to love ourselves supremely, or to hate God, and adore ourselves. If this is not
what he means, what does he mean, and what does the paragraph just quoted amount
to? If the Doctor means to affirm this, I greatly wonder that the Synod should endorse
a sentiment so preposterous.
The fact is, God's eternal and self-existent nature, and not his willing, has for
ever settled the question of the nature of virtue and vice. His eternal self-existent
reason has imposed law upon his will, and no willing of his can change this law.
But more of this in another place.
Why does the Doctor represent me as holding that the nature and fitness of things
is the foundation of obligation? I hold, that things being as they are, that is,
that our nature and relations are conditions of our obligations, but deny that they
are the foundation of obligation. The foundation of obligation I hold to be, the
intrinsic value of the good we ought to choose and do; that the intrinsic value of
the good is the reason why God requires us to will and do it, and of course the fundamental
reason why we ought to will and do it. I hold that the intrinsic value of the glory
of God and the well-being of the universe, is the fundamental reason of our obligation
to will it, and seek it. Now suppose the Doctor to deny this, and to maintain that
the sovereign will of God is the foundation of the obligation. Then the matter stands
thus. We are under obligation to be benevolent, that is, to will and do good, not
because good is valuable in itself, but because God wills it. But why does God will
it? If for its intrinsic value, we ought to will it for the same reason. The Doctor,
page 19, admits that our obligation is not founded in the mere fact that God wills
thus and thus, but in the fact, that he is an infinitely good Being. Now what does
this mean? Does it mean that the obligation is founded in the fact that God wills
what he does? that is, that he requires us to will and do that which we ought to
will and do, and that which he ought to require us to will and do, on account of
the nature or value of that which he requires us to will and do? In other words,
is the obligation to obey God founded in the fact that his will is wise and good?
I admit that this is a condition of our obligation to obey him, but I deny that his
goodness or his will is the foundation of the obligation to will and do good; and
maintain, that God's willing and his goodness are so far from being the foundation
of our obligation to will and do good, that we should be under obligation to will
and do good if God forbade it, and if he were perfectly wicked. I say again, that
his being good, or his willing as he does, is the condition of our obligation to
obey him; but is so far from being the foundation of the obligation to do that which
he commands, that the obligation would exist if God should forbid that which he now
commands. Should God forbid us to will and seek his good and the good of the universe,
it would be our duty to will and seek it notwithstanding. I go farther, and affirm,
that God could not possibly create a universe of moral agents, and render it obligatory
upon them to be selfish. I utterly deny, that God by his sovereignty could, by any
possible constitution of things, render benevolence a sin and selfishness a virtue.
Brethren of the Synod of Michigan, do you hold with Dr. D. upon this point, and deny
the position which I take? I cannot believe it. I must believe that you adopted this
pamphlet on a bare hearing it read, and that you do not, and cannot endorse it, on
a more thorough understanding of it. But we shall see.
But again, page 19, the Doctor says of God:--
"His own glorious nature, His own infinitely exalted excellence, and not anything
conceivably existing apart from, and independent and irrespective of God, is that
which determines His will."
What does the Doctor mean? Does he mean that God is a necessary as opposed to a free
agent? That his will is necessarily determined by his self-existent nature? If he
means this, what virtue is there in God? His nature is necessarily self-existent.
No one can suppose that God is deserving of praise for possessing a nature which
he did not create, and which he cannot annihilate or change. God is not praiseworthy
for having this nature, but for the voluntary use or exercise of it. It is his benevolence,
and not his nature, for which he deserves praise.
What does the Doctor mean by "God's infinitely exalted excellence?" Does
he mean moral excellence? He says that God's excellence determines his will. What
is this excellence, I inquire again? Is it moral? And what is moral excellence? I
had supposed that Dr. D. and the Synod of Michigan, were at least so far new school
as to hold that moral excellence consists in voluntary action, that is, in choice,
benevolence, love. But here it seems you all hold that moral excellence lies back
of choice and determines it; that God's moral excellence, according to the Synod
of Michigan, is not voluntary, but necessary. It does not belong to or consist in
choice or volition, nor in any action of the will, in any free or voluntary state
of mind, but lies back of all actions of will and determines them. This then is your
idea of the moral excellence of God. And is this moral excellence in creatures? And
you, brethren, feel solemnly called upon to warn the churches against believing in
the free agency of God, and in his voluntary moral excellence; and charge them to
believe that God's moral excellence lies back of all voluntary states of the will,
and determines them. They must believe that God's moral excellence does not consist
in benevolence, but in something back of good-will, that determines the will to good.
And this is orthodoxy in your churches? My dear Brethren, you cannot mean so. But
what do you mean? Do you say, that by excellence, you do not mean moral excellence?
But how does this relieve you? What is this excellence? It must be moral or physical.
If the former, then moral excellence is involuntary, which is absurd. If the latter,
that is, if this excellence be that of his self-existing and necessary nature, then
he is a necessary being, and his will is determined to benevolence by his immutable
and self-existent nature. Is there, can there be any virtue in a necessary benevolence?
I had supposed, that God freely determined his own will in accordance with the law
of his eternal reason; that God is free, and in the sovereign exercise of this freedom,
yielded a voluntary obedience to the moral law, or law of benevolence, as it is affirmed
by his reason. But you hold, it seems, that it is some natural or substantial involuntary
excellence that determines his will. God's virtue then, must consist, not in voluntary
conformity to the law of his reason, but in his will being determined by some involuntary
excellence. What can this excellence be, and would it be virtue in a creature?
Under this head the Doctor repudiates the idea, that the necessity of government
constitutes the condition of God's right to govern, and maintains that God has this
right by virtue of his own infinite excellence, or, as it would seem, by virtue of
his sovereignty. Now what does the Doctor mean by this? Does he mean, that God's
being infinitely great and good confers on him the right to govern his creatures
even if they need no government? Or if there is no good reason, either in himself
or in them, for this government? I have taught, that God has no right to do anything
without a good reason. Is this heresy? That unless there be a good reason for government
existing, either in God or in his creatures, or in their relations, or in all these
together, God has no right to govern.
I maintain that government is a necessary means of securing the highest glory of
God, and the highest well-being of the universe, and that the intrinsic value of
this glory and well-being is the ground of the obligation and right of God to govern.
God's attributes and relations, together with the necessities of his creatures, are
conditions of the obligation and right to govern. Why should God's attributes, natural
and moral, give him a right to control his creatures, or to exercise any government
over them, if there is no good reason for it? Is God unreasonable? Has he a right
to be unreasonable? Has he a right to exercise a capricious and arbitrary sovereignty,
in administering a government of law with its terrible sanctions, when government
is not at all necessary? when no good end is secured, or even proposed by it? If
God has such a right, it must be because his "capricious volition" makes
right. But this cannot be. The truth is, that if God's arbitrary and capricious will
does not make right, it must be that he, as well as all other moral agents, must
have some good reason to authorize him to do anything. What! will Doctor D. gravely
maintain, that God has a right to govern the universe when there is no need whatever
of government? When there is no necessity for it in his own nature and relations,
nor in the nature and relations of his subjects? If he maintains this, what is this
but holding, that God has a right to exercise a perfectly arbitrary and capricious
sovereignty. But if the Doctor does not hold this, why does he pretend to disagree
with me upon this point, and gravely sound the alarm of heresy? Let him, if he thinks
best, proclaim it as orthodoxy in Michigan, that God's right to govern is founded,
not in the necessity of government as a means to an infinitely valuable end, but
that his right is founded in an arbitrary sovereignty. But, brethren of the Synod,
will you endorse this sentiment for him?
Observe, my position is, that the intrinsic value of the end to be secured by moral
government, is the foundation and the attributes of God, moral and natural, together
with his relations to the universe, are conditions of his right to govern; that neither
his attributes or relations could of themselves confer on Him this right, except
there is good reason for the existence of government. If the Doctor ask, why we may
not as well say that the attributes and relations of God are the ground, and the
intrinsic value of the end to be secured by government the condition of the right,
the answer is plain. The ground of the right, that is, the intrinsic value of the
end to be secured by government would exist, and be the same, even were God's attributes
changed. But this change in his attributes and relations, while it would not dispense
with the necessity and importance of government, would nevertheless affect his right
to govern. I would ask Doctor D. if he holds that God would have a right to govern
the universe, if he were a wicked being, although he might have been its creator?
If the Doctor says no, what is this but admitting that his goodness is a condition
of the right? If the Doctor will still insist that his goodness confers on Him the
right, and is the foundation of this right, in such a sense that the right would
exist, although the end to be secured by government were of no value, and although
there were no good reason for government whatever, what is this but saying that God's
goodness confers on Him the right to that which is perfectly unreasonable and capricious?
- 3. The Doctor's third issue is as follows:--
- "THE NATURE AND AUTHORITY OF MORAL LAW.
"On this subject, the system of error against which we warn you, teaches that
'moral law is not, and never can be the will of God, or of any other being.' It affirms,
that the will of no being can be law, but that 'moral law is an idea of the reason'--'the
law of nature, the law which the nature or constitution of every moral agent imposes
on himself'--'the rule imposed on us, not by the arbitrary will of any being, but
by our own intelligence.' Human reason is thus enthroned as lawgiver to the human
conscience. The authority binding to obedience 'is nothing else than the reason's
idea, or conception of that course of willing and acting that is fit, proper, suitable
to, and demanded by the nature, relations, necessities, and circumstances of moral
What I hold and teach upon the subject of this paragraph is this. Moral law is given
by the reason of God as the rule of his own conduct, and the conduct of all moral
agents. Moral law does not originate in the will, but in the reason of God. It is
and must be his own rational conception, apprehension, idea, or affirmation of the
course of willing and acting, that is fit, proper, right, in himself and all moral
agents. It is ridiculous to affirm, that moral law has its foundation in the will
of any being. God's expressed will reveals law, but the law consists in the rule
of action imposed by the reason and conscience, upon the will of God and of all moral
agents. God is a law to himself. That is, his reason imposes law upon his will, and
his virtue must consist in his will's obeying the law of his reason. Does not Doctor
D. admit this? God has created mankind in his own image, that is, moral agents like
himself. Consequently, they necessarily have the idea of moral law and moral obligation.
They necessarily affirm their obligation to be benevolent. They have the idea, conception,
apprehension, or affirmation, that to love God and their neighbour, is fit, suitable,
proper, right. Thus, as the Bible says, they are a law unto themselves. Thus God's
law, the law of his own intelligence, is revealed to all moral agents in the necessary
ideas of their own reason. This is not exalting reason above God, nor enthroning
reason as lawgiver in any other sense, than that it is through, and by their reason,
that God reveals his law to moral agents. This is what is intended by moral law being
an idea of the reason. Does not Doctor D. know this? Does he need to be told, that
moral law must be a rule of action, conceived, or apprehended and affirmed by the
reason of a moral agent? This rule or law may be declared and enforced by the expressed
will of God, but it is utter nonsense to say, that it originates in his will, and
not in his reason. God's self-existent nature is the source or foundation of moral
law. He is necessarily a moral agent. Possessing this nature, benevolence is his
duty. That is, benevolence is fit, proper, right in him, and selfishness would be
wrong in him. He must be a subject of moral law and moral obligation, or virtue is
impossible to him. His reason must impose upon his will the obligation of benevolence.
He is his own lawgiver, and the lawgiver, in the sense of revealing law, of all moral
agents. He has so created them, that they cannot but have the idea, and affirm it
to be their duty to be benevolent. This law God has revealed to them in the necessary
laws and ideas of their own reason. The Bible also declares it to the reason, and
imposes it upon the conscience through the reason. The reason is the only faculty
that can have the idea of moral law. This is what all writers on moral law mean by
its subjectivity; that is, the law is not merely objective, something without the
reason, and contemplated as an object apart from the mind, but it is an idea, a conception
of the mind itself. It lies in the reason of the subject. And is this error? Do you,
brethren, feel called upon to warn the churches against this teaching as error? Do
you seriously sympathize with Doctor D. in his alarm, and can you declare this deliberately
to the churches in Michigan?
I have said, a few pages back, that God's self-existent nature had for ever settled
the nature of virtue and vice, so that he can never change them. We are now prepared
to see what is intended by such language.
His reason is self-existent, and of course infinite and immutable. This eternally
and necessarily affirms, that benevolence is virtue and selfishness vice. So that
God never did settle the nature of virtue and vice by an act of will, or by ordaining
and establishing any constitution of things whatever. His eternal, self-existent
and necessary reason has settled this from eternity. No sovereignty of God was concerned
in settling, creating or establishing the intrinsic nature of virtue and vice, nor
in creating, or establishing moral law. Moral law, and the nature of virtue and vice,
are and always were as independent of God's will as his self-existent and eternal
nature is. Neither his reason nor its necessary affirmations, are subject to his
will. He cannot affirm differently if he would. That is a shallow and an absurd theology
that represents moral law, moral obligation, and consequently the nature of virtue
and vice, as dependent upon the sovereign will of God. Why, if moral law were, or
ever was, dependent upon the sovereign will of God, he could by willing it, have
made selfishness in himself and in all moral agents virtue, and benevolence vice.
Do you believe this? Doctor D. is terrified with this view which I have taken, as
being the doctrine of an "ETERNAL FATE," or as something above God. But
what nonsense is this. Fate separate from God! No, indeed; it is God's own nature,
his own reason that has given moral law to him and to all his creatures. It is not
fate, but the infinite and perfect reason that has forever settled the nature of
moral law, of moral obligation, and of course, of virtue and vice. This is not an
eternal fate, but an eternal God. Cannot Doctor D. see this?
It is the grossest error to maintain, that God's sovereign will originated moral
law, or established the nature of virtue and vice. This would render virtue in God
impossible. If there were no law obligatory upon his will, then virtue would be impossible
to him. For what is virtue in God, or in any other being but conformity to moral
law? But all this and much more is in the work reviewed, and it is wonderful that
Doctor D. can so utterly misapprehend and misrepresent me on this, and almost every
other point, upon which he attempts to warn the churches. Brethren of the Synod have
you attentively examined what I have said in my work upon this subject? I cannot
believe you have. Do you, can you believe that what I have just now said upon the
nature of moral law is heresy, or merely "philosophy falsely so called?"
I cannot believe that you do. But we shall see. On the 21st page the doctor says:--
"How unlike is this philosophy to the unerring testimony of God, which makes
His will, made known to men for the regulation of their conduct, to be the law! In
the first instance God gave to Adam an expression of His will, and this was law--His
command. In the same way, He spake the law by an audible voice in the ten commandments,
which all admit to be moral law, thus making known His will for the regulation of
our conduct. Everywhere in the scriptures we are referred to God's will, expressed
in His commands, as law binding us to obedience."
Now, does the doctor believe, and do you believe that I deny this? God's will is
the law, in the sense that it expresses and enforces the law or rule of his own reason,
as the law of all moral agents. His will is always declarative of law, but never
creates it. He gave particular laws to Adam and to the Jews; not arbitrary enactments,
but his will declared the affirmations of his own reason, relative to their conduct,
under particular circumstances. He declared that which he saw to be required in their
God's declared will is always law in the sense of being obligatory. It invariably
declares the decisions of the divine reason. So that we need no other evidence of
what is obligatory than the expressed will of God. But God's will is not law, in
the sense that law originates in his will, as distinct from his intelligence. His
arbitrary will can never be law. His expressed will is always law, I say again, because
it reveals what is the law or decision of his own reason, in regard to the conduct
of his creatures. The whole that Doctor D. has said of my teaching under this head,
is the result of misapprehension.
- IV. The fourth issue is as follows, pages 22, 23:--
- "THE NATURE OF OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
"The system of error against which we warn you, affirms the moral law to be
'the rule of action, which is founded, not in the will of God, but in the nature
and relations of moral agents,' and 'prescribes the course of action which is agreeable
or suitable to our nature and relations.'
"Obedience to moral law, therefore, is made to consist in 'acting conformably
with our nature and relations;' 'and sin in being governed by the sensibility instead
of being governed by the law of God, as it lies revealed in the reason.' It teaches,
that 'as the moral law did not originate in (God's) arbitrary will;' as 'He did not
create it,' and cannot 'introduce any other rule of right among moral agents;' so,
'nothing is or can be obligatory on a moral agent, but the course of conduct suited
to his nature and relations.'
"This, it is obvious, is very vague, and very liable to mislead. It is the very
doctrine of the refined sensualist, who, in acting according to the demands of appetite
and the dictates of affection and passion, claims that he is actuated by enlightened
reason, and is fulfilling the law of God. The depravity of man has utterly perverted
his nature, and his judgment as to his relations, and disqualified him to judge by
his reason, as to what is duty and obligation. He needs a more distinct and definite
rule. This, the Bible and our standards teach us, is the declared will of God."
Upon this, I remark:--
(1.) I have already shown in what sense I regard the moral law as founded, not in
the will of God, but in the nature of God and of moral agents.
The law or rule of action suitable for moral agents, is of course that which is agreeable
to their nature and relations. That is, they ought to will and do just as is fit
and proper, with their natures and in their relations. The rule of action is conditionated
upon, or grows out of, or is a consequence of their nature and relations. This is
true, first, of God. His nature being what it is, it is fit and proper that he should
be benevolent. Thus it also is with all moral agents. Their natures and relations,
being what they are, it is fit, proper, and right, that they should love God supremely,
and their neighbours as themselves. God pursues this course himself, and enjoins
it upon all moral agents, not as an arbitrary enactment, but because or upon condition
that his nature and relations, and their nature and relations, are what they are.
Their being moral agents, and not the will of God, is the reason why this rule is
their law. This law would be binding upon them whether God willed it or not. God
wills this or commands it, because this course is demanded by the value of the end
which he requires them to seek, and not because his will can create law. Does Doctor
D., does the Synod doubt or deny this? If you do, say so. Would God's will be moral
law should he require moral agents to will and do contrary to their natures and relations?
No, indeed. Nor, as I have before said, is it possible for God to create moral agents
and impose any other law upon them than that which is suited to their nature and
(2.) The Doctor, as he well knows, or ought to know, seeing he has assumed the responsibility
of a reviewer, has made a totally false issue.
He objects to the idea that moral law is founded in, or grows, so to speak, out of
the nature and relations of moral agents, that this is a vague rule, and liable to
be misunderstood; and that therefore the declared will of God is necessary to reveal
to us our duty, &c. Now the question is not, whether man needs a revelation of
the moral law by the expressed will of God, but in what is this rule based? Is the
law founded in the will of God, or in the nature of God, and in the nature and relations
of moral agents? When God reveals the moral law to men, does he reveal to them, and
require of them a course of willing and doing which is naturally and necessarily
fit and proper for them, their natures and relations being what they are? Or does
he publish an arbitrary edict which is not naturally obligatory upon them, but which
is rendered obligatory, merely by his willing it? This is the question. I no more
believe than he does, that man in his present blinded state would perceive in multitudes
of instances, what his nature and relations require of him, or what is fit and proper
for him, seeing he possesses this nature and sustains these relations, without a
revelation and an injunction from God. Man needs, to say the least, to have the true
application of the great principle of moral law revealed to him through the express
will of God. But the question is, what is the law when it is revealed? Is it an arbitrary
enactment, sustaining no natural and necessary relation to the nature and relations
of moral agents, and whose obligation or authority is founded in the sovereign will
of God? Or is it a law founded in the eternal nature of God, and in the nature and
relations of moral agents, and enforced by the authority or command of God, not as
an arbitrary enactment, but as a rule necessarily growing out of, and founded in
his own nature, and the nature and relations of his subjects? Will Doctor D. and
will the Synod of Michigan affirm, that the moral law is anything else than that
rule of action which is in accordance with the nature and relations of God and of
his moral subjects? Remember, the question is not, whether man needs a revelation
of this, at least in its specific applications, but what is the law, and on what
is it based? Is it founded in the sovereign and arbitrary will of God? Or in the
eternal and immutable nature of God, and in the nature and relations of moral agents?
This is the question. Will Doctor D. or the Synod answer it? It is perfectly impertinent
to quote scripture, as Doctor D. has done, to settle this question. Who doubts or
denies that God's expressed will is law, and imposes obligation? I do not doubt this,
as the Doctor very well knows. But this is all the passages prove, which he has quoted.
There is no issue between us on this point. The question is not, whether God's revealed
will is law. This is conceded on all hands. This the Bible everywhere affirms and
implies. But the question is, why is God's revealed will law? Is it simply because
God wills something, or because he wills what he does? Would his will be law, if
he willed in every instance the opposite of what he does? This is the question. Is
it upon condition that God wills in accordance with the nature and relations of moral
agents, that his revealed will is moral law? Or would his will be moral law if he
willed contrary to the nature of God, and to the nature and relations of moral agents?
If the Doctor admits the former, this is what I have taught. If he insists upon the
latter, let him say so. But will the Synod go with him? We shall see.
(3.) Again, pages 23, 24, 25, the Doctor says:--
"The actual doing of what the moral law requires, and that too out of respect
to the divine command, is that alone which the Saviour accepts as obedience. 'Ye
are my friends,' says he, 'if ye do whatever I command you.' In like manner we are
explicitly assured, that he alone is accepted 'that doeth the will of our Father
which is in Heaven;' that 'not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the
doers of the law, shall be justified.' It is only 'he that doeth righteousness is
righteous.' But 'cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are
written in the book of the law to do them.' The intention or will to do is of value
in estimating our obedience, but it is not all. The law of God goes beyond the will,
and looks also to the action; nor is obedience to it complete till that is consummated.
"In opposition to this, the error we condemn teaches that moral obligation respects
ultimate intention only, that the law of God requires only consecration to the 'right
end.' By the ultimate intention is meant the choice of an end for its own sake, and
by consecration to that end, the supreme controlling choice. The highest possible
aim of a rational creature is affirmed to be the greatest good of the universe. The
choice of this, for its own intrinsic value, that is, 'choosing every interest according
to its value as perceived by the mind,' it teaches is the law, is the sum and perfection
of obedience to the moral law. This it calls holiness, which it defines, 'to consist
in the supreme ultimate intention, choice or willing the highest well-being of God
and the highest good of His kingdom: and nothing else than this is virtue and holiness.'
This, too, is what it calls the love which Christ says is 'the fulfilling of the
law.' It avers that sincerity of choice, or honesty of intention, here, 'is moral
perfection;' 'it is obedience to the law;' and 'insists that the moral law requires
nothing more than honesty of intention.' But the Bible teaches, that sincerity in
error, good intentions in wrong deeds, change not the character of the act."
With reference to these paragraphs,
1. I would inquire, whether Doctor D. means to assert that the Bible does not regard
the motive or intention of the agent in any given act? If he does, I affirm that
this is as great a heresy as ever was taught. But if the Doctor does not mean this,
what does he mean, and where is the issue between us? He insists, that the Bible
requires the doing as well as the intending. So do I, and he knows it full well.
I insist, that the outward act follows from the intention by a law of necessity.
This the Doctor knows. I hold, that when the Bible requires doing, it requires that
the specified act shall be done with a benevolent intention; that the spirit of the
requirement regards the intention; that God does not accept the outward doing, unless
the intention is right. But if the intention is right, God accepts the will as the
deed where the outward act or deed is impossible. The doing will and must follow
the willing unless something renders the outward act impossible. But where there
is a right willing or intending, and the outward performance is rendered impossible,
God accepts the intention as obedience. So of sin; if the willing or intending evil
exists, God regards the crime as already committed, although the outward performance
or doing should be prevented. What reader of the Bible does not know that this is
everywhere taught in it? Does Doctor D. deny this? He appears to do so. Nay, if he
does not do so, why does he find fault? Where is the issue between us upon this point?
What does the Doctor mean by doing, when he says that this doing alone is accepted
as obedience. Does he mean the muscular action, or the willing, or both? If he means
the first, I deny it and call for proof. Does the Doctor really intend to teach,
that the Bible represents God as accepting for obedience nothing but the doing, and
that he does accept the doing as distinct from the intending? I deny that the Bible
does teach this, and affirm that if it did, the human intelligence would and must
reject its divine authority, by a law of necessity.
2. The Doctor says,
"But the Bible teaches, that sincerity in error, good intention in wrong deeds,
change not the character of the act."
To this I reply, that the Bible nowhere teaches or implies, that wrong deeds can
proceed from good intentions, or that good deeds can proceed from wrong intentions.
But the Bible everywhere teaches, that the character of the deed is as the intention
is. The doctrine of the Bible is, that the intention gives character to the deed;
that good fruit cannot grow upon an evil tree, nor evil fruit upon a good tree; that
the intention is known by the deed; that the outward life reveals the nature of the
intention. What! does Doctor D. and does the Synod of Michigan, believe that the
outward or muscular act can be right or wrong per se, in opposition to the intention?
Certainly you will not gravely assert this. And yet the Doctor has charged this absurdity
upon the blessed Bible!
I omit quotations from scripture, on points so plain, to save space, and because
every reader of the Bible will readily supply them from memory.
But can it be, that a D.D. should gravely assert, that the Bible teaches or implies,
that moral character belongs, not to the intention, but to mere muscular action,
in such a sense that the muscular action can be right or wrong, irrespective of,
or contrary to, the intention? Really such teaching merits deep rebuke, rather than
the sanction of a Synod. And the churches must be gravely warned against the dreadful
error, that moral character belongs to the intention that necessitates muscular action,
and not to the muscular action itself! If much of the teaching of this "Warning
against Error" be not itself the most pernicious error, I know not what it is.
But the Doctor labours to show that the Bible requires more than good intention,
that it requires good deeds. Now, does the doctor mean, or expect to make the churches
believe that I deny this? He knows that I do not deny it, but that I hold it as strongly
as he does. I repeat, that I hold that good deeds, or outward actions, are connected
with good intention by a law of necessity. If I will or intend to move my muscles,
and to do a certain thing, the action follows by necessity, unless the established
connexion between willing and muscular action is by some means suspended. When the
Bible requires outward acts, the spirit of all such requirements is, that the subject
shall will that which he is required to do; and if the outward or muscular action
does not follow the act of the will, but fails on account of inability in the will
to cause the outward act, God, in this case, accepts the will for the deed. "If
there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not
according to what he hath not." If the will or intention exists, the outward
act follows of course and of necessity, unless it has by some means become impossible
for the will to cause or perform the outward act. In all such cases the act of the
will or intention, is regarded as complying with the spirit of the requirement. Similar
things are true, of sinful intention. Does the doctor deny this? Who does not know
that this is the doctrine of the Bible, of common law, of equity, of all schools
of philosophy and of theology? I am distressed with the Doctor's affecting to prove
so often by scripture, either what nobody denies, or what nobody believes. If the
Doctor does not really deny what I have taught in this paragraph, and the same in
my theology, what does he mean by pretending to differ with me upon this point? I
should lose all respect for the doctor's theological ability, and even for his common
sense, if I supposed that he really held that moral character belongs to the outward
act, as distinct from, and opposed to, the intention. But if he does not hold it,
but admits, as he must, or deny both reason and revelation, that the commands of
God respect directly in their spirit the intention, why does he profess to differ
with me, and cry heresy?
- V. The fifth issue which the doctor takes, is as follows, pages 27, 28:--
- "THE SPIRITUALITY AND EXTENT OF THE MORAL LAW.
"The system of error against which we warn you, teaches, 'that moral law requires
nothing more than honesty of intention,' and 'that sincerity or honesty of intention
is moral perfection.' By this rule it graduates the claims of the law of God, so
as to make it a most convenient sliding scale, which adapts itself to the ignorance
and weakness of men. It utterly perverts men's notions of that high and absolute
perfection which the law demands, and makes moral perfection a variant quantity,
changing continually, not only in different persons, but in the same individual.
It reasons as follows, namely: Moral law respects intention only. Honesty of intention,
or sincerity, is moral perfection. But light, or knowledge of the ultimate end, is
the condition of moral obligation. Consequently, the degree of obligation must be
just equal to the mind's honest estimate of the value of the end! Thus to love God
with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, means nothing more than 'that the thoughts
shall be expended in exact accordance with the mind's honest judgment of what is
at every moment the best economy for God.'
"But the Bible teaches plainly, that the law of God reaches further than the
ultimate intention, even to the actings of the moral agent, in the exercise of all
the various faculties of the mind, in all the purposes, choices and intentions of
the will, in all the inclinations and desires, the passions and affections of the
heart, and in all the members of the body. So far from making obligation to vary
with light or knowledge, and the moral ability of the individual, the law and word
of God hold men responsible for their ignorance; and attribute the deeper degrees
of depravity and obnoxiousness to punishment, to those who have blinded their minds
and hardened their hearts, so as to have destroyed or lost all power of perceiving
and feeling the truth. 'It is a people of no understanding, therefore He that made
them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will show them no favour.'
'That servant which neither knew, nor did his Lord's will, was beaten, it is true,
with fewer stripes than was he who knew it and did it not,' but he was beaten. His
ignorance did not render him innocent. 'The weapons of our warfare are not carnal,
but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations,
and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of Christ, and bringing
into captivity every thought to the obedience of faith.'"
I sum up my teachings upon this subject as follows:--
1. The Bible requires no natural impossibilities.
2. Honesty of intention, with those states of mind, and those outward acts that are
by a natural law connected with, and consequently flow from it, is all that is naturally
3. All acts and mental states that are directly or indirectly under the control of
the will, are proper subjects of command or prohibition, and are accordingly either
commanded or prohibited.
4. But no act or mental state is either required or prohibited by the Bible, which
in no sense is either directly or indirectly under the control of the will. These
truths I have argued at length in the work reviewed; but, upon this, as on most other
points, the Doctor takes no notice of my argument. He finds it convenient to pass
my proofs and arguments by in silence, and keep his readers in ignorance of my reasons
in support of my opinions; and even treats my opinions as if they were mere dogmatical
assertions, without even an attempt on my part to support them by reason or scripture.
He merely quotes some single sentences and parts of sentences from my work, and seldom
more in any one place, and then affects to array the scriptures against me. But in
no instance does he show that my opinions, as I hold and teach them, are inconsistent
with the Bible.
But does the Doctor deny the truth of the above propositions? If he does, let him
say so. But if he does not, why does he profess to disagree with me, and cry heresy?
But, as usual, the Doctor quotes the Confession of Faith. He quotes from your Confession
as follows, page 25:--
"Good works, or holy obedience, are only such as God hath commanded in his holy
word; not such as, without the warrant thereof, are derived by men out of blind zeal,
or 'upon any pretence of good intentions.'"
I have italicized this just as I find it in the pamphlet before me.
In reply to this, I would say, that I fully accord with this sentiment, as I do with
most of the sentiments of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. But what does it
teach on this point?
1. Not that the Bible has no regard to the intention.
2. Not that the character of an outward act can be opposed to the intention.
3. Not that the character of an act is not invariably as the intention is.
4. But it does teach, that good works are not those that are devised by men, without
a warrant from the word of God, under the pretence of good intentions. Now, why does
not the Confession say, as the doctor will have it, that good works are not always
such as flow from good intentions, instead of carefully saying, a pretence of good
The framers of the Confession knew that good works must flow from good intention,
but that evil works flow from a mere pretence of good intention. The plain teaching
of the passage is this: Works, to be good, must have the sanction of the Bible, and
not a mere pretence of good intention. Have I taught that a pretence of good intentions
can justify any course of conduct whatever? No, indeed; but as far from it as possible.
This the doctor knows. What, then, has his quotation from the Confession of Faith
to do with my teaching? I hold that intention must be honest, that is, that it must
be such intention as God requires; and that when the intention is as God requires
it to be, the outward deed must follow by a necessary law, unless something is interposed
that renders the outward act impossible, in which case God invariably accepts the
will or intention for the deed. I might support this teaching by abundant quotations
from scripture, and from the wisest and best of men, as the Doctor ought to know.
It is truly remarkable, that the Doctor should so often quote scripture and the Confession
of Faith with no just application to the point in debate. In the present instance,
the Confession does not at all support his position, but implies the position which
I hold. To hold his position, it should read, "good works are only such as God
has commanded in his holy word, not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised
by men out of blind zeal, or from good intentions." But instead of this, it
says, "upon pretence of good intentions;" plainly implying, that works
that have not a warrant in the word of God, can only proceed from pretended good
intentions. This is what I teach. Does the doctor deny this? If so, let him say so.
If not, why does he pretend to differ with me?
- VI. The Doctor's sixth objection is as follows, pages 29, 30:--
- "THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.
"By the divine sovereignty, the supreme authority and right of God to govern,
has been generally understood by Presbyterians. The entire constitution of nature
is referred, by the Bible, to the sovereign will of God as its proper cause. It is
as it is, because God so ordained it should be; 'who worketh all things after the
counsel of his own will.' Why angels and men, and other creatures, with all their
varied powers, exist, is to be resolved into the sovereign will of God. 'Thou hast
created all things, and for they pleasure they are and were created.' Why this man,
wise and prudent, perceives not, and is left to reject the truths of salvation and
the overtures of mercy, and the other man, simple and ignorant as a child, receives
them, believes, and is saved, is referred by our blessed Redeemer to the same adorable
sovereignty of God. 'In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, I thank thee,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou has hid these things from the wise
and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, even so Father, for so it seemed
good in thy sight.'
"But this sovereignty, the system of error we condemn, denies. For it teaches,
that obligation of moral law is 'entirely independent of the will of God'--'does
not, and cannot, originate in (His) will'--was not created by Him--binds God himself--is
as entirely independent of His will as His own existence, is necessarily and self-evidently
obligatory, grows out of, and consists in what is fit, proper, and suitable to the
nature, relations, and circumstances of moral beings; and that 'everything else that
claims to be law, and to impose obligations upon moral agents, from whatever source
it emanates, is not, and cannot be law, but must be an imposition and a thing of
The Doctor seems to be horrified at the denial that the arbitrary will of God is
the foundation of moral obligation, that he does little else than repeat the objection
over and over. Here we have his objection again. I have fully discussed this subject
in the work reviewed, and showed conclusively that God's sovereign will cannot be
the foundation of obligation. I have also shown it fully in the preceding pages,
but by no means so fully, and to so great a length, as in my Theology. The Doctor
takes no notice of my argument, nor apprises his readers that I have any in support
of my position, but only professes to be shocked at the impiety of such teaching.
But does the Doctor himself believe that God's will is the foundation of obligation?
Does he believe that God's will would impose obligation, did he will the contrary
of what he does? Does he believe that God's will would impose obligation, if he had
no good reason for willing as he does, or if he willed contrary to right reason?
Does he deny, that God wills as he does, because there is the best reason for his
so willing? But, if God wills as he does because he has good reasons for so willing,
how is his will the foundation of the obligation? God wills good, and requires us
to will good. Is he under an obligation so to will and so to require? If so, how
can his will be the foundation of the obligation? I have shown that moral law is
founded, not in the will, but in the reason of God; that he is as truly under obligation
to be benevolent, or to obey the moral law, as we are. Does the Doctor deny this?
If so, let him say so.
Under this head again, the Doctor insists that the nature and relations of things
must be ascribed to the sovereign will of God. I admit this in some sense, but in
1. Not in the sense that God had a right, or that it was possible for him to have
created moral agents in such a way that benevolence should have been vice, and selfishness
virtue. It was not possible for God to create a universe of moral agents, and render
any other than the law of benevolence obligatory on them. He might have abstained
from creating moral agents; but if he did create them, or having created them, he
could give them no other law than that of benevolence, which his reason imposed upon
himself. Nor could he possibly have so created them as moral agents that another
law could have been binding upon them. His eternal reason from eternity affirmed
the law of all possible moral agents, and God can never, by willing it, change this
ordinance of his own intelligence. Does Doctor D. deny this? If not, why does he
pretend to differ with me upon this point, and continue to ring changes upon different
statements of this objection, which I have so fully and so often answered? If I am
guilty of repetition in my reply, it is only because I have to follow the Doctor.
In these lectures five and nine, I have considered fully the question of the sovereign
will of God being the foundation of moral obligation. If I am not mistaken, the reader
of those lectures will, if he duly considers them, be convinced, that the heresy
lies on the Doctor's side of this question, and that it is a most injurious blunder
in theology to hold that the sovereign will of God is the foundation of moral obligation.
Will the reader consult also what I have written on the purposes and sovereignty
- VII. The Doctor's seventh head is as follows--pages 31, 32, 33:--
- "THE NATURE, AND GROUND, OR REASON OF JUSTIFICATION.
"Justification is the acquittal from guilt, and acceptance as righteous, of
an individual, either on the part of man or God. Among men, it is founded on the
individual's innocence or freedom from crime. The justification of a sinner can never
take place on this ground. He has offended, and therefore the sacred scriptures declare,
'By the deeds of the law, (that is, our personal obedience,) shall no flesh be justified
in his sight.' If ever a sinner of the human race shall be treated and accepted as
righteous or justified before God, it must be by an act of grace; that is, it must
be an act of unmerited favour. The ground or reason for God's doing this in any case,
is not because of the sinner's return to obedience; nor because of his repentance;
nor because of any moral perfection or virtue in him; nor because he is in any sense
morally perfect; but simply and solely on account of the obedience unto death of
"It is not the sinner's own personal obedience to the law, nor the believer's,
which, properly speaking, forms the condition of justification before God. By condition,
we understand and mean, that which is to be performed previously by one party, in
order to entitle to something promised, stipulated, or engaged to be done by another
in return. It is in this sense the word is commonly understood and employed, in the
ordinary transactions of life. There is, it is true, another sense in which the word
is used by some theologians--its philosophical meaning--who express by it simply
the state or position in which things stand connected with each other, as when, having
said that faith and holiness are the conditions of salvation, and when called to
explain themselves, affirm, that they by no means intend that these are the meritorious
grounds, but merely that they will be found invariably connected with, as they are
indispensable evidences of, a state of salvation."
I have defined gospel justification to be pardon of sin, and acceptance with God,
as if the sinner had not sinned. I make a broad distinction between the conditions
of justification, and ground or foundation of justification. I use the term condition
in the sense of a sine quà non, a "not without which." The ground
or foundation of justification I regard as that to which we are to ascribe our justification.
The following I hold to be conditions of pardon and acceptance, or of gospel justification
in the sense just explained, that is, not in the sense of the ground or foundation
of justification, but in the sense that justification cannot take place where these
are wanting. Men are not justified for these things, but they cannot be justified
without them, just as men are not justified by good works, but cannot be justified
without them. I regard this distinction as fundamental. I regard and teach the following
as conditions, but not as the ground, of justification. 1. The atonement of Christ;
2. Repentance; 3. Faith in the atonement; 4. Sanctification, or such repentance and
faith as imply present obedience to God, or present entire consecration to him. I
make a distinction between present, and continued, and final justification.
I conditionate present pardon of past sin, and acceptance or justification, upon
present faith and obedience, and future acceptance upon future faith and obedience.
The Doctor denies this, and maintains that one act of faith introduces the sinner
into a state of unalterable justification. We shall attend to his teaching soon,
but for the present I must present my own.
I have just said, that I hold perseverance in faith and obedience to be a condition
of continued justification. With regard to the ground or foundation of justification,
I hold and expressly teach, as the Doctor well knows, that the following are not
grounds of justification.
1. Not the obedience of Christ for us.
2. Not our own obedience either to the law or gospel.
3. Not the atonement of Christ.
4. Not anything in the mediatorial work of Christ.
5. Not the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
These are all conditions of our justification in the sense that we cannot be justified
without them. But the ground or fundamental reason of our justification is the disinterested
and infinite love of God:--"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only
begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life."--John iii. 16.
Now, how does the Doctor treat this teaching? Why, he knows that I make the important
distinction between the conditions and ground of justification, and admits that some
writers make this distinction, but he does not say that I make it and treat me accordingly,
but proceeds to take issue with me, and to represent me as if I did not make it.
But the Doctor perfectly misrepresents me upon this subject. Page 39.
"But the system of error against which we warn you, plainly and avowedly makes
justification before God to be on the ground and condition of man's personal obedience
to the law."
Here, as all along, the Doctor confounds the conditions and ground of justification,
and represents me as teaching, that obedience to the moral law is both the ground
and condition of justification. Let any one read my lecture on Justification, and
then say whether the Doctor has fairly represented my views.
From what the Doctor says in regard to the conditions of justification, it appears
as if his charge against me on this point was not an oversight. It seems as if he
saw clearly that I made the distinction above explained, between the conditions and
ground of justification, and it also seems as if he intended to cover up this distinction,
and keep the fact that I had made it out of view. It is plain, that the distinction
in the sense above explained, is an important one, and too obvious to be reasonably
disputed. It is also clear, that the only appearance of error in my teaching, as
it respects the ground of justification, is found in the overlooking of this distinction.
I must confess that I have been distressed with the apparent dishonesty of this writer
in this and several other parts of his review. There is in this review, as a whole,
so much of the appearance of a spirit of fault-finding, as almost to agonize me.
But, as I said, I must not sit in judgment upon his intention, but leave him to the
judgment of God.
Dear brethren, will you consider the injustice, I may hope unintentionally, done
to me and the cause of truth, in this gross mistake made by Doctor D., and endorsed
by you? I think I may safely say, that I never for a moment, at any period of my
Christian life, held that man's own obedience or righteousness was the ground of
his justification before God. I always held and strenuously maintained the direct
opposite of this. In my published theology I have insisted upon it at large, and
yet Doctor D. has charged me with that which is as untrue as possible, and you reiterate
the charge, "Tell it not in Gath."
Do not understand me as accusing the Doctor of designed misrepresentation. I make
no such charge. I am aware of the power of habit as well in thought as in other things.
The Doctor has so stereotyped his trains of thought, and has so long been accustomed
to a certain way of thinking, and to a certain phraseology, that he does not readily
understand what is said when it varies much from his accustomed track.
- VIII. But let us attend to the Doctor's teaching, pages 34, 40-42.
- "THE IMMUTABILITY OF JUSTIFICATION, OR ADOPTION INTO GOD'S FAMILY, AND
PERSEVERANCE UNTO LIFE.
"The eternal continuance of the true believer in a state of justification before
God, and his perseverance in the way of faith and holiness, so as never to come under
the damnatory sentence of the law of God, as a broken covenant of works, are essential
points of faith.
"The sacred Scriptures clearly teach, that God, by one gracious act, once passed,
and for ever immutable releases the sinner who believes, so effectually and fully
from the penalty of the law, that he is removed from under its dominion, and never
more comes into condemnation.
"But the system of error, against which we warn you, utterly repudiates such
a release from the condemnation of the law, and such a filial relation to God, except
in so far as it may exist simultaneously, and only in connection with what it calls,
at one time, 'present full obedience,' at another, 'entire sanctification,' and again,
'moral perfection.' It affirms that the Christian 'is justified no farther than he
obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys, or antinomianism is true.' It does
not distinguish between the offending Christian's displeasing God as his heavenly
father, and the condemnation of the impenitent sinner by God as his lawgiver and
judge; between God's parental discipline administered to his erring children, and
the infliction of the penalty of the law as moral governor upon the guilty; between
forgiveness as a father, and pardon as a prince. A system of parental chastisement
which is disciplinary, reforming, and not penal, is very different from a moral government
armed with penal sanctions. Chastisement aims to reform and save; penalty does not;
but to protect society and promote the public good. This distinction is very important;
but it is wholly lost sight of in the erroneous theory which we condemn. It identifies
these things, and confounds all the gracious relations and offices of God through
Jesus Christ, with that of the high executive functionary of moral governor of the
universe, boldly affirming, that 'when the Christian sins, he must repent and do
his first works, or he will perish; until he repent, he cannot be forgiven.' Whenever
he sins he must, for the time being, cease to be holy; he must be condemned, he must
incur the penalty of the law of God.'
"Justification is an act of God's free grace, which takes immediate effect in
this mortal life, and by which the relation of the sinner who believes on Jesus Christ,
is so thoroughly changed to the law, that through the acting of his faith, he passes
from under the condemnation and penalty of the law; and being accepted as righteous,
only for the righteousness of Christ, is adopted into the family of God's children.
It is one act of God, once done and for ever, and begins immediately to produce its
Here then, we have the doctor's views of justification:--
1. That one act of faith so changes the relation of the sinner, that he never again
comes under condemnation, however much he may sin!
He is removed from under God's moral government, and is only under a parental government.
In this state he may sin, but the law does not condemn him. God no longer sustains
to him the relation of a moral governor, but only that of a father. Now I should
like to know where the Doctor gets all this? Indeed! is a Christian no longer a subject
of moral government? How does the Doctor know this? But what is a parental government?
Is it not a moral government? Has God, as a father, no law, no rule of action? If
He has not, what is virtue in his children? If He has, what is this law? Has it any
penalty? If the Doctor says, No, then I affirm that it is no law. Penalty is a universal
attribute of law. That is not, cannot be law, which has no penalty. It is only counsel
If the Doctor admits, that the law of God's children has a penalty, I would ask whether
his children incur this penalty when they sin? If the Doctor says no, I ask, why
then do they need pardon, or how can they be pardoned, if not condemned? If he says
yes, I inquire how this, that is, pardon, is consistent with the doctrine that Christians
are justified, that is, pardoned, "once for all?" If justification consists
in pardon and acceptance or a restoration to favour, how can it be "once for
all," or perpetual, and yet pardon for subsequent sin be necessary or possible?
Will the Doctor inform us? In this, as in all other cases, the Doctor has found it
convenient to pass in silence my whole argument against his views of justification,
with all the scriptures I have quoted to sustain my position.
To go into a full refutation of the Doctor's error upon the points at issue, were
but to re-write the entire lecture to which I have referred the reader. I ask only
that the reader may read and understand that lecture, and I cheerfully submit the
points now at issue to his judgment, without further argument.
But think of it, reader, Christians not under the moral government of God! So far
from it, that they can commit any number or degree of sins without condemnation--may
backslide and not be condemned--might apostatize, and still not be condemned by the
law! If this is not dangerous error, what is? But the Doctor says, page 33:--
"The acceptance and appropriation of a gift can, in no proper sense, be called
a condition. The sinner is 'freely justified by grace.' He is not asked, or required,
by God, to do anything with a view to a future justification; but to accept a free
justification at present offered."
But is not this accepting of a free justification a doing something, and doing something
not as a ground, but as a condition of justification? In confounding the ground with
the conditions of justification, the Doctor blunders at every step. What, are there
no conditions of justification? Nothing for a sinner to do as a sine quà non
of his justification? I affirm that the Bible everywhere represents perseverance
in obedience as a condition of ultimate justification. The Doctor represents me as
teaching that this perseverance is the ground of ultimate justification. In this
he greatly errs. What can the Doctor mean by the assertion, that "the acceptance
and appropriation of a gift can in no proper sense be a condition?" Is it not
a condition of possessing the thing given? Is it not a sine quà non of justification?
Perhaps in reply the Doctor will give us a learned essay on the etymology of the
term condition. If so, I will not dispute about the meaning of a word, while the
sense in which I use the term is plain.
There are three points at issue between the Doctor and myself upon the subject of
1. I hold, that we are to ascribe our justification before God to his infinite love
or grace, as its ground or foundation. The Doctor holds that the atonement and work
of Christ are the ground of justification. I hold that the atonement and mediatorial
work of Christ are conditions, but not the ground of justification.
2. I hold, that "breaking off from sin by righteousness and turning unto God,"
is a condition of justification; that repentance, and faith that implies whole-hearted
consecration to God, that a ceasing from present rebellion against God, is a condition
of the present pardon of past sin, or of present justification. The Doctor, it would
seem (for he professes to differ with me upon this point,) holds, that a present
cessation from rebellion is not even a condition of pardon and acceptance with God,
but the sinner is pardoned and justified upon the first act of a faith that does
not imply present, entire renunciation of rebellion against God. Thus the Doctor
holds that a sinner may be justified while he continues his rebellion. If he does
not mean this, where is the difference between us upon this point? If the Doctor
denies, that a sinner can be pardoned and accepted until he ceases from present rebellion,
let him say, that upon this point he agrees with me, for this is what I hold. I admit,
that the Christian is justified through faith; but I also hold that--
- "'Tis faith that changes all the heart,
'Tis faith that works by love,
That bids all sinful joys depart,
And lifts the thoughts above."
- But it seems that the doctor denies this, and of course considers Watts, in the
above stanza, as teaching heresy. I hold, that this purifying faith is a condition
of present justification. The doctor denies this. Who is right?
Is the Doctor of old-school, or of new-school, or of no school at all upon the subject
of justification? Does he hold strictly to the imputed righteousness of Christ as
the ground of justification? I cannot tell. Upon this, as upon sundry other points,
he seems to be so loose in his phraseology, and so indefinite in his use of language,
that he may be understood as being one thing or another, or nothing, as you please.
This whole review is characterized by such looseness and ambiguity of language, as
to preclude a rational hope of ever concluding controversy with the writer, except
upon the condition that I consent to let him have the last word, and say what he
3. A third point of difference respects the perpetuity of justification. I hold,
that the Christian remains justified no longer than he continues in faith and obedience;
that perseverance in faith and obedience is a condition of continued and ultimate
justification. I support this in my theology at great length by scripture and reason.
This the Doctor denies, and holds that one act of faith for ever changes the relation
of the Christian, insomuch, that from the first act of faith, he is justified "once
for all." However much then, a Christian may sin, he is not condemned, and of
course needs no pardon. For pardon is nothing else than setting aside the execution
of an incurred penalty of law. Why then do Christians pray for pardon, and why should
they offer the Lord's prayer?
Is not this teaching of the Doctor as plainly contrary to the Bible as possible?
"But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth
iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth,
shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; in
his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them
shall he die." Ezek. xviii. 24. "When I shall say to the righteous, that
he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity,
all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath
committed, he shall die for it." xxxiii. 13. "If a man abide not in me,
he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them
into the fire, and they are burned." John xv. 6. "Who will render to every
man according to his deeds; to them, who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek
for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life." Rom. ii. 6, 7. "For
we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast
unto the end." Hebrews iii. 14.
- IX. The ninth issue which the Doctor professes to take, is upon the subject of
Perfection, or Entire Sanctification. He says, page 43:--
- "PERFECTION OR 'ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION.'
"We believe, according to the word of God, and our standards, that 'there is
not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not,' that 'if we say we have
no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,' and 'that no mere man,
since the fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God.'
We mean not, that the true Christian will or can deliberately make choice of, and
allow himself to do, what he knows to be sinful, or refuse to do what he knows to
be his duty. The consecration of mind and heart to God, 'with full purpose of, and
endeavour after, new obedience,' are what we look for, and affirm to be among the
very first indications of 'effectual calling' and a regenerate state; not an attainment
which is or may be made in a more advanced period of the Christian life."
Upon this passage I would inquire, whether the Doctor means gravely to maintain,
that a person once regenerated does not and cannot choose and do what he knows to
be wrong, or refuse to choose and do what he knows to be right? This he affirms.
But does he really mean it? and does that Synod of Michigan hold this too? Did not
David choose to do what he knew to be wrong in the seduction of Bathsheba, and the
consequent murder of her husband? Will the Doctor say that he was not a regenerate
man? Or will he say that he did not act intelligently or "deliberately?"
If so, what does he mean by "deliberately?" Will the Doctor inform us?
Again, the Doctor says, pages 46, 47:--
"It is altogether a fallacy that men must believe in the actual attainability
of perfection in this mortal life, in order to aim at it, and to stimulate to effort
for it, which is the main, popular, and plausible argument, by which this system
of error advocates perfection in this world. The artist and tradesman aim at perfection
in their professions; the painter has a beau ideal constantly in view, and skill
and improvement continually result from their efforts after perfection; but their
constant imperfections, and failures, and yet conscious advancement, keep them humble,
persevering, and diligent, ever pressing on toward it."
1. I was not aware that this was the "main, popular, and plausible argument
by which the advocates of Christian perfection endeavour to sustain their position."
2. I was not, and still am not aware of the fallacy of this argument. The Doctor's
illustration will show the fallacy, not of the argument, but of his answer.
It is altogether a fallacy to assert that the painter aims at perfection. He know
it to be impossible, and all that can be truly said is, that he intends to go as
far as he can, and to reach as high an elevation in his art as is possible to him.
But he never for a moment intends or expects to attain to perfection. Nor does, nor
can a Christian really intend to be or do, what he knows or believes to be impossible
But I must now attend to the pretended issue with the Doctor takes with me upon this
subject. I must first get at his definition of perfection or entire sanctification.
He says, pages 45, 46:--
"There is a deterioration of our moral and intellectual, as well as our physical
powers, consequent on the fall, so that the most exact obedience any mortal man ever
rendered, comes far short of the demands which the law of God made on our great progenitor,
who was created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and
in the full developement and perfection of all his moral powers. Uninterrupted obedience
is the only obedience that can satisfy the claims of the law. To continue in his
obedience, as perfect as God had made him, agreeably to the test which He had instituted,
was the condition required for his justification, and to which the promise of eternal
life was annexed. This, then, is the standard by which we are to judge of moral perfection,
and not the fluctuating standard of the different degrees of moral power in different
individuals--the endlessly deteriorated varieties of human ability, developed in
man's fallen nature. Whoever is thus perfect, as Adam was required to be, will be
justified by his own obedience to the law, and entitled to eternal life, as having
perfectly kept the commandments of God. This, and this only, is perfection in the
eye of God and of His law."
Again, page 53:--
"To affirm perfect holiness or entire sanctification, therefore, to pertain
to an individual, because of an ultimate intention, or purpose, or governing act
of will, or faith, which has not been subjected to tests, nor been tried without
failure or interruption through an entire life, is greatly to dishonour God's law,
and to magnify human vanity and pride."
Again, page 56:--
"What is 'entire obedience,' 'entire sanctification,' if these phrases mean
anything distinct and definite? and what else can it be, but perfect, absolute conformity
in thought and word, in will and deed, in purpose and affection, in heart and habits,
to every requirement of the divine law, from the very first moment of our mortal
existence, and without the least failure or interruption? This was had only by our
first parents in their state of innocence."
In these passages we have all that I can gather of the Doctor's idea of what constitutes
perfection, or entire sanctification. In reply, I remark:--
1. That, as has been usual, the Doctor makes a totally false issue with us. He has
given altogether a different definition of entire sanctification from that which
I have given and defended, and that too, notwithstanding my solemn protest upon this
subject as follows.--See the beginning of the lectures on Sanctification.
"Here let me remark, that a definition of terms in all discussions is of prime
importance. Especially is this true of this subject. I have observed that, almost
without an exception, those who have written on this subject dissenting from the
views entertained here, do so upon the ground that they understand and define the
terms sanctification and Christian perfection differently from what we do. Every
one gives his own definition, varying materially from others, and from what we understand
by the terms; and then they go on professedly opposing the doctrine as inculcated
here. Now this is not only utterly unfair, but palpably absurd. If I oppose a doctrine
inculcated by another man, I am bound to oppose what he really holds. If I misrepresent
his sentiments, 'I fight as one that beateth the air.' I have been amazed at the
diversity of definitions that have been given to the terms Christian perfection,
sanctification, &c.; and to witness the diversity of opinion as to what is, and
what is not implied in these terms. One objects wholly to the use of the term Christian
perfection, because, in his estimation, it implies this and that and the other thing,
which I do not suppose are at all implied in it. Another objects to our using the
term sanctification because that implies according to his understanding of it, certain
things that render its use improper. Now it is no part of my design to dispute about
the use of words. I must however use some terms; and I ought to be allowed to use
Bible language in its scriptural sense, as I understand it. And if I should sufficiently
explain my meaning, and define the sense in which I use the terms, and the sense
in which the Bible manifestly uses them, this ought to suffice. And I beg that nothing
more or less may be understood by the language I use than I profess to mean by it.
Others may, if they please, use the terms and give a different definition of them.
But I have a right to hope and expect, if they feel called upon to oppose what I
say, that they will bear in mind my definition of the terms, and not pretend, as
some have done, to oppose my views, while they have only differed from me in their
definitions of the terms used, giving their own definition, varying materially, and
I might say, infinitely from the sense in which I use the same terms, and then arraying
their arguments to prove that according to their definition of it, sanctification
is not really attainable in this life, when no one here or any where else, that I
ever heard of, pretended that in their sense of the term, it ever was or ever will
be attainable in this life, and I might add, or in that which is to come."
Now hear what the Doctor says to all this, page 56:--
"We warn you against its deceptive and jesuitical use of terms, as it makes
the phrases 'entire obedience,' 'full present obedience,' 'honesty of intention;'
'sincerity,' 'entire sanctification'--its novel, peculiar, and sophistical technics,
synonymous with moral perfection or perfect holiness--perfection of moral character
and conduct. The phrases are actually unmeaning, and ambiguous--mere vehicles for
the most dangerous sophistry, and eminently calculated to mislead and deceive."
I will not remark upon the characteristic language of this last paragraph. I supposed
I had a right to use such terms as I chose, to define my own position, if I was careful
to define the sense in which I used them, especially to use Bible language. I took
much pains to say what I did not, and what I did mean by the terms I used, and protested
against any one's overlooking my own definitions, and substituting a totally different
one of their own, and thus setting up the pretence of opposing my views, when they
were only assailing a position which I did not occupy. But, after all, this is the
identical course which the Doctor has taken. His definition of perfection or entire
sanctification, does not even pretend to be that of Christian perfection, or of Christian
sanctification. It is only a definition of what would constitute perfection, in a
being who had never sinned. My definition designates perfection or entire sanctification
in one who has been a sinner. The Doctor well knows that there is no issue between
us upon the attainability of perfection in this life, in his sense of the term perfection.
I no more believe in the possibility of attaining perfection in this life in his
sense of the term, than he does.
Have our opponents no way to oppose us but to cavil at our definitions, and make
false issues with us? It would seem not. But what are the elements of the Doctor's
ideal of perfection? Hear him, page 56:--
"What is 'entire obedience,' 'entire sanctification,' if these phrases mean
anything distinct and definite? And what else can it be, but perfect absolute conformity
in thought and word, in will and deed, in purpose and affection, in heart and habits,
to every requirement of the divine law, from the very first moment of our mortal
existence, and without the least failure or interruption? This was had only by our
first parents in their state of innocence."
Here, then, he lays it down, that entire sanctification in his use of the term, implies
uninterrupted and perfect obedience from the first moment of moral agency. That is,
to be sanctified, in his sense of the term, one must have never sinned. If any moral
agent has sinned, according to this, he can never be entirely sanctified in this
nor in any other world. No saint in glory can be entirely sanctified, because he
has sinned. He can never at any period of his existence perfectly obey the law of
God, because his obedience has not "always been perfect, from the first moment
of his moral existence." Marvellous! Brethren of the synod, do you accept and
endorse this definition of entire sanctification?
Again: let us hear what constitutes a second element in his ideal of entire
obedience to moral law, or entire sanctification. He says, page 45:--
"There is a deterioration of our moral and intellectual, as well as our physical
powers, consequent on the fall, so that the most exact obedience any mortal man ever
rendered, comes far short of the demands which the law of God made on our great progenitor,
who was created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and
in the full developement and perfection of all his moral powers. Uninterrupted obedience
is the only obedience that can satisfy the claims of the law. To continue in his
obedience, as perfect as God had made him, agreeably to the test which he had instituted,
was the condition required for his justification, and to which the promise of eternal
life was annexed. This, then, is the standard by which we are to judge of moral perfection,
and not the fluctuating standard of the different degrees of moral power in different
individuals, the endlessly deteriorated variety of human ability, developed in man's
It here appears, that all mankind, whatever their age, or education, or circumstances,
or ability be, are according to him required by the law of God, to render the very
same service to God, both in kind and degree, that was required of Adam, "created
as he was in the image of God, in knowledge, and righteousness, and true holiness,
in the full developement and perfection of all his moral powers." Notwithstanding
that, "there is a deterioration of our moral and intellectual, as well as our
physical powers;" so that the same obedience is impossible to us, yet the law
still demands this impossible obedience of us all. And how does the Doctor know this?
He has not informed us. Does the Bible teach it? No, indeed; that informs us that
"if there first be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath,"
according to his ability, "and not according to what he hath not." The
very language of the law as laid down by Christ restricts requirement to ability,
whatever that may be. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and will all thy soul, with all thy might, and with all thy strength." Now every
one can see, that the Doctor has taken no issue with me in respect to the attainability
in this life of a state of entire sanctification in my sense of the term. And I take
no issue with him on the attainability of such a state either in this or in any life,
in his sense of the term. Nay, it is impossible for one who has ever sinned to attain
in this sense entire sanctification, as we have seen. The only point at issue between
us upon this subject respects the spirit of the requirement of God's law. He maintains,
that he requires of man in his present state a natural impossibility; that it requires
a degree of obedience that is no more possible to him, than to undo all he has done,
or to make a world; that it threatens him with eternal death for not rendering this
impossible obedience. I do not wonder that the Doctor vehemently opposes the idea,
that "moral law is a rule of action, suited to the nature and relations of moral
agents." Should he admit this, which reason and revelation equally affirm, he
must of course give up his old-school dogma, that God requires of his creatures natural
impossibilities. Brethren of the Synod, do you hold with Doctor D. the doctrine of
natural inability? I supposed you did not. But it seems I am mistaken. Will all the
new school Presbyterians go back with Dr. D. to all the absurdities of old schoolism,
to escape from our conclusions? We shall see.
Since the Doctor has given a definition of entire sanctification, and of entire obedience
to the law of God differing toto cælo from mine, and indeed from any other
I have ever heard or read, I will not follow him, nor trouble him with a reply. It
will be time enough for me to reply when he undertakes to show, that entire sanctification,
in my sense of the term, is unattainable in this life.
The Doctor does indeed almost rail at my idea of entire sanctification. He vehemently
urges, that that is no entire sanctification at all. But on what ground does he insist
upon this? Why, on the grounds above explained, namely, that the moral law requires
impossibilities of man, and that no one can ever be justly said to be entirely sanctified
who has ever sinned. Well, I will leave the Doctor quietly to enjoy his opinion.
- X. The Doctor's next head is as follows, pages 57, 58, 59, 65:--
- "THE NATURE OF MORAL DEPRAVITY.
"In the language of common sense, men attribute to the moral being, whose general
state of mind manifests itself in uniform choices and prevalent governing emotions
and passions, the same character they do to these its manifestations. Both the general
state of mind and its specific manifestations, as well in uniform or habitual choices,
as in occasional ascendant passions, affections or propensities, are regarded as
developements and attributes of character, which are to be predicated of the person
or moral agent, strictly speaking of the rational, responsible mind or soul in which
they exist, either as habitudes or as acts or events, rather than of the specific
faculties, susceptibilities, affections, or passions. Thus we denominate this one
or the other, 'the debauchee and the glutton and the drunkard, and the gambler, and
the miser, and a host of others, each in his turn giving striking and melancholy
proof' of the man's moral depravity, rather than, as it is affirmed by this theory,
'of the monstrous developement and physical depravity of the human sensibility.'
This man and the other is called revengeful, malicious, lewd, lascivious, deceitful,
covetous, avaricious, and the like, according to the ascendant passion, affection,
propensity, or habit of mind, which determines the choices and conduct, and, in so
doing, developes his moral character. Hence it is common to speak of sinful dispositions,
sinful affections, sinful words, sinful conduct, as well as sinful choices, not as
sinful per se, that is, in themselves, by a mere necessity of being, but as related
to sinful choice, that is to say, the dispositions, affections, &c., influencing
the sinful choices of sinful beings.
"Hence it has been customary to predicate moral depravity of what lies back
of choice or ultimate intention, that is, of whatever state of mind or feeling, or
both, exists anterior to choice, and tends, inclines, impels, and prevails to determine
the moral and accountable being to sinful choice."
But a few pages back we hear the Doctor affirm, that the moral excellence of God
determines his will. Here he comes forward with the theory that the moral depravity
also "lies back of choice, and tends, inclines, impels, and prevails, to determine
the moral and accountable being to sinful choice." Here then the Doctor defines
his position. Moral depravity is involuntary. It is not an action or voluntary attitude
of the will, but is something back of voluntary action which prevails to determine
This is indeed ripe old schoolism. To reply to this were to re-write my whole volume
on moral government, and to repeat what has been said in reply to this nonsensical
philosophy a hundred times.
Under this head the Doctor forgets all the protests he has filed against philosophizing,
and plunges into a dense fogbank of old school metaphysics, and assumes, with the
utmost assurance, the truthfulness of all that has been so often refuted by new school
writers. Most that he says under this head is high old schoolism. But, as is usual
with him, he is often very ambiguous. Sometimes he speaks of disposition as distinct
from the will and as determining its choices, and then again he speaks of it as if
it were or might be a voluntary state of mind. Brethren of the Synod, do you understand
the Doctor upon this subject, and believe in his positions? For myself I can do neither.
But since to reply to him upon this point were but to re-write all that myself and
others have written to expose the errors of this philosophy, it cannot be expected
that in this reply I should attempt it. Why does he dogmatically assume as true what
has been shown to be false, and that too, without once attempting a reply to what
his opponents have said? This might do for laymen and women, who are not expected
to have read much and entered into this controversy; but that he should succeed in
gaining the sanction of a new school Synod to his old and exploded positions, is
surely marvellous. Brethren, I cannot believe that you had opportunity to understand
this pamphlet before you adopted it. But we shall see.
- XI. The Doctor's next head is as follows, pages 73, 74, 75:--
- "THE NATURE OF REGENERATION AND OF THE SPIRIT.
"The system of error, against which we testify, teaches that regeneration is
'change in the attitude of the will,' and that it consists in the sinner's changing
his 'ultimate choice, intention, preference.' A resolution, or purpose, or choice,
or ultimate intention to seek the well-being of God and of the universe, is the whole
of it. This it calls, 'a change from entire sinfulness to entire holiness.' 'Regeneration
is nothing else than the will being duly influenced by truth.' The agency of the
Spirit in regeneration is, indeed, theoretically acknowledged, and the passivity
of the sinner also; but the former is represented to consist in presenting the truth,
and the latter in being a 'percipient of the truth (so) presented by the Spirit,
at the moment, and during the act of regeneration.' An efficient determining influence
upon the mind and heart of the sinner, causing and enabling him to renounce the world,
the flesh, and the devil, and to make choice of God, and Christ, and holiness, is
denied and denounced. The perception of truth on the sinner's heart, according to
the error against which we warn you, follows the law of necessity that governs intellect.
The Spirit's presentation of the truth, it is admitted, is necessary; but only as
a prerequisite to such perception. That perception is but 'the condition and the
occasion of regeneration.' The sinner himself is 'the sovereign and efficient cause
of the choice' of his will. He solely originates, in a sovereign manner, his choices.
Any other influence 'than light poured upon the intelligence, or truth presented
to the mind,' being beyond consciousness, this theory affirms, 'is and must be physical;'
and that the Spirit exerts any other influence in regeneration, than that of divine
illumination, it affirms to be a 'sheer assumption.'
"In sustaining these views, this theory affirms, that the word heart, as used
in this connexion in the sacred Scriptures, does not mean the feelings, the sensibilities,
or susceptibilities, but only the ultimate intention; and that of the latter alone,
never of the former, can moral character be predicated. A change of heart is simply
a change of will. This view is directly opposed to the language and spirit of the
Bible. In it, the word heart is sometimes used to denote the sensibilities and feelings,
the affections and passions, the susceptibilities and emotions, and not exclusively
the supreme ultimate intention or governing purpose."
In remarking upon this extract I would say,--
1. That I nowhere maintain, as the Doctor represents, that the term heart is used
in the Bible exclusively to mean the ultimate intention or controlling preference
of the mind. This is sheer misrepresentation, for I expressly assert the contrary.
2. I would inquire what the Doctor means by "an efficient determining influence
upon the mind and heart of the sinner, causing and enabling him to renounce the flesh?"
Now in what sense does the Doctor use the term heart in this sentence? What does
he mean by efficient influence? What does he mean by causing "the sinner?"
&c. He has not told us what he means. The heart, it would seem with him, must
be the sensibility, or something distinct from the will, or from ultimate preference
Again he says, page 76:--
"No bald purpose or resolution, or will to seek the well-being of God and of
the universe, will suffice as evidence of regeneration, or of that change which takes
place when the sinner renounces sin and self, and begins to lead a new and holy life.
It must be such an entire consecration to God as bears along with it, mind, will,
affections, and places every power of the body, soul, and spirit, under his direction
Here the Doctor gives his views of what is implied in regeneration. This also is
what I hold to be implied in regeneration, and hence I hold, that regeneration implies
present entire obedience to God. Does not the Doctor's language here imply present
entire obedience to God? If it does not, what language would?
The Doctor ought to know, that I nowhere maintain that a "bald purpose, or resolution,
or will," &c., constitutes all that is implied in regeneration. I hold,
that a change in the ultimate intention or ruling preference of the mind, necessarily
carries with it the whole man; that the affections, emotions, outward life, are all
carried and controlled, directly or indirectly, by the will and hence a change in
the supreme preference or ultimate intention of the will, necessarily carries with
it a change of feeling, purpose, desire, affection, effort, and makes the regenerate
man a "new creature."
The difference between us on this head does not respect the greatness of the change
implied in regeneration, but simply respects the quo modo of the change.
Again the Doctor says, pages 76, 77:--
"While the sinner is active, and acts freely in this consecration of himself
to God, he is nevertheless acted on. Motive influence, external to the mind itself,
must be brought to bear upon it, to induce it to exercise its free will in such consecration
to God. This is the work of the Spirit. It is the province of the Spirit of God,
and His office, as provided for in the gracious scheme of redemption through Jesus
Christ, to help our infirmities, to come in with the aid of His motive power, to
induce us to renounce our selfishness, and make choice of God and holiness."
I must confess myself unable to understand the Doctor upon this subject. He seems
to hold, that the sinner is active and free in this change, and yet he insists upon
the Holy Spirit's exerting upon him a "motive power," inducing him, &c.
Now what does the Doctor mean by this "motive power?" Not the influence
of motives or of moral considerations, or truths presented to the intellect and conscience
by the Holy Spirit. This view he repudiates. What, then, does he mean by "motive
power?" Not surely moral power, or a persuasive influence. It must be a physical
influence, for what else can it be? But the Doctor seems to repudiate the idea of
a physical influence exerted by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. But is it neither
moral nor physical? What is it? Will the Doctor explain himself? If he will, I can
then say whether I agree with him as to the nature of this influence or not. The
Doctor is really so loose and ambiguous that I cannot understand him. It really seems
as if the Doctor often intended to be non-committal, and hence so expresses himself
that he can be understood in either of several ways. But perhaps this is unintentional.
Sometimes the Doctor speaks as if he agreed with me, that regeneration consists in
a change of choice. He says, pages 78, 79:--
"But this He does by the influence of the Spirit, who brings the mind and heart
into that state which disposes and inclines it to make choice of God and holiness,
to come to Jesus Christ for 'grace and strength to help in every time of need.' In
doing so, the Spirit employs the truth as His instrument; and that, not at man's
will, but of His own will. His office, in this respect, is more than the mere presentation
of the truth. As a teacher, He does indeed enlighten; but he does more. He renders
the truth 'quick and powerful.' It is 'the sword of the Spirit,' and 'mighty through
God to the pulling down of strong holds.'
"In what way precisely it is that the Spirit gives energy to the truth, and
renders it efficient, so that he becomes the author or the cause of the sinner's
regeneration, it is in vain for us to inquire."
Here, as elsewhere, he seems to hold, that regeneration is a voluntary change, and
consists in choosing God, in coming to Christ, &c. He also admits, that in inducing
this change, the Holy Spirit uses the truth as his instrument; but he also insists
that he does more than to present the truth. "He renders the truth, quick and
powerful." It is admitted that he renders the truth quick and powerful. But
how does the Doctor know that he does anything more than so to present it that it
shall be quick and powerful? He admits his inability to explain the quo modo, or
to tell what the Spirit does more than to present the truth. Why then does he assume
that he does anything more than so to present it as to give it the requisite power?
Why this assumption without proof?
I have endeavoured to show the teaching of the Bible upon this subject, and why does
the Doctor assume the contrary without noticing my proof? He all along does this
with as much assurance as if he were inspired. Is this right? But I will not further
reply to the Doctor upon this point, for really I cannot be certain that I at all
understand him. If you, brethren of the Synod, are edified by what he has said upon
this subject, certainly you possess a happiness that is denied to me; for to me he
seems to say upon this and sundry other subjects, things totally inconsistent with
each other. I will not say the fault is not in the obtuseness of my intellect.
Thus much, brethren, in reply to what the Doctor has written of what he is pleased
to call throughout his "Warning," "a system of error." I am sorry
to be laid under the necessity of replying to such a production, by the fact that
the venerable Synod of Michigan have endorsed it, and thus committed themselves for
its truthfulness, to God and the Church. But for this fact, as I have said, I should
have made no reply.
Had I time and room, I should not satisfy myself with standing on the defensive,
but should go over and assail some of the Doctor's positions. Brethren, are you satisfied
with his teachings in this pamphlet? If you are, I should like to meet with some
of you, and have a fraternal conference upon certain points. If the Doctor has not
laid down erroneous, and preposterous, and self-contradictory positions in this pamphlet,
I am surely very dull of apprehension. But I must for the present close. And may
I not hope, dear brethren, if any great man feels called upon to raise the cry of
heresy, that before you again suffer yourselves to be prevailed upon to endorse for
him, you will hold him bound at least to understand and fairly represent me?
Your brother in the Lord,
C. G. FINNEY.
- P.S. I have seen Dr. Duffield's review of my Theology in the Biblical Repository.
That is only an expansion and a dilution of the Warning against Error, to which I
have in the foregoing article replied. All I need to say in reply to such a production
is, that if he has enlightened any one by what he has written, I shall be happy to
Introduction ---New Window
LECTURES 1-7 of page 1
LECTURES 8-16 of page 2 ---New Window
LECTURES 17-30 of page 3 ---New Window
LECTURES 31-38 of page 4 ---New Window
LECTURES 39-47 of page 5 ---New Window
LECTURES 48-57 of page 6 ---New Window
LECTURES 58-67 of page 7 ---New Window
LECTURES 68-74 of page 8 ---New Window
LECTURES 75-80 of page 9 ---New Window
LECTURES 81-83 of page 10 ---New Window
APPENDIX on page 11
RELATED STUDY AIDS:
Section Sub-Index for Finney: Voices