The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
WHAT IS NOT IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
I. I will state briefly what constitutes obedience.
II. What is not implied in it.
I. What constitutes obedience to moral law.
We have seen, that all the law requires is summarily expressed in the single word, love; that this word is synonymous with benevolence; that benevolence consists in the choice of the highest well-being of God and of the universe, as an end, or for its own sake; that this choice is an ultimate intention. In short, we have seen, that good-will to being in general is obedience to the moral law. Now the question before us is, what is not implied in this good-will, or in this benevolent ultimate intention? I will here introduce, with some alteration, what I have formerly said upon this subject.
Since the law of God, as revealed in the Bible, is the standard, and the only standard, by which the question in regard to what is not, and what is, implied in entire sanctification, is to be decided, it is of fundamental importance, that we understand what is, and what is not, implied in entire obedience to this law. It must be apparent to all, that this inquiry is of prime importance. To settle this question is one of the main things to be attended to in this discussion. The doctrine of the entire sanctification of believers in this life can never be satisfactorily settled until it is understood. And it cannot be understood, until it is known what is, and what is not, implied in it. Our judgment of our own state, or of the state of others, can never be relied upon, till these inquiries are settled. Nothing is more clear than that, in the present vague unsettled views of the church upon this question, no individual could set up a claim of having attained this state, without being a stumbling-block to the church. Christ was perfect, and yet so erroneous were the notions of the Jews, in regard to what constituted perfection, that they thought him possessed with a devil, instead of being holy, as he claimed to be. It certainly is impossible, that a person should profess to render entire obedience to the moral law, without being a stumbling-block to himself and to others, unless he and they clearly understand what is not, and what is, implied in it. I will state then, what is not implied in entire obedience to the moral law, as I understand it. The law, as epitomized by Christ, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself,”–I understand to lay down the whole duty of man to God, and to his fellow creatures. Now, the questions are, what is not, and what is, implied in perfect obedience to this law? Vague notions, in regard to the proper answer to be given to these questions, seem to me to have been the origin of much error. To settle these questions, it is indispensable that we have distinctly before our minds just rules of legal interpretation. I will, therefore, lay down some first principles, in regard to the interpretation of law, in the light of which, I think, we may safely proceed to settle these questions.
RULE 1. Whatever is inconsistent with natural justice is not, and cannot be, moral law.
2. Whatever is inconsistent with the nature and relations of moral beings, is contrary to natural justice, and, therefore, cannot be moral law.
3. That which requires more than man has natural ability to perform, is inconsistent with his nature and relations, and, therefore, is inconsistent with natural justice, and, of course, is not moral law.
4. Moral law, then, must always be so understood and interpreted, as to consist with the nature of the subjects, and their relations to each other and to the lawgiver. Any interpretation that makes the law to require more than is consistent with the nature and relations of moral beings, is the same as to declare that it is not law. No authority in heaven or on earth can make that law, or obligatory upon moral agents, which is inconsistent with their nature and relations.
5. Moral law must always be so interpreted as to cover the whole ground of natural right or justice. It must be so understood and explained, as to require all that is right in itself, and, therefore, immutably and unalterably right.
6. Moral law must be so interpreted, as not to require any thing more than is consistent with natural justice, or with the nature and relations of moral beings.
7. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to imply the possession of any attributes, or strength, or perfection of attributes which the subject does not possess. Take for illustration the second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Now the simple meaning of this commandment seems to be, that we are to regard and treat every person and interest according to its relative value. We are not to understand this commandment as expressly or by implication, requiring us to know, in all cases, the exact relative value of every person and thing in the universe; for this would imply our possession of the attribute of omniscience. No mind, short of an omniscient one, can have this knowledge. The commandment, then, must be so understood, as only to require us to judge with candour of the relative value of different interests, and to treat them according to their value, and our ability to promote their good, so far as we understand it. I repeat the rule, therefore; moral law is never to be so interpreted as to imply the possession of any attribute, or any strength and perfection of attributes, which the subject does not possess.
8. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to require that which is naturally impossible in our circumstances. Example:–The first commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” &c., is not to be so interpreted, as to require us to make God the constant and sole object of our attention, thought, and affection; for this would not only be plainly impossible in our circumstances, but manifestly contrary to our duty.
9. Moral law is never to be so interpreted as to make one requirement inconsistent with another. Example: if the first commandment be so interpreted as to require us to make God the only object of thought, affection, and attention, then we cannot obey the second commandment which requires us to love our neighbour. And if the first commandment is to be so understood, that every faculty and power is to be directed solely and exclusively, to the contemplation and love of God, then love to all other beings is prohibited, and the second commandment is set aside. I repeat the rule, therefore; commandments are not to be so interpreted, as to conflict with each other.
10. A law requiring perpetual benevolence must be so construed, as to consist with, and require, all the appropriate and essential modifications of this principle, under every circumstance; such as justice, mercy, anger at sin and sinners, and a special and complacent regard to those who are virtuous.
11. Moral law must be so interpreted, as that its claims shall always be restricted to the voluntary powers, in such a sense, that the right action of the will shall be regarded as fulfilling the spirit of the law, whether the desired outward action, or inward emotion, follow or not. If there be a willing mind, that is, if the will or heart is right, it is and must, in justice, be accepted as obedience to the spirit of moral law. For whatever does not follow the action of the will, by a law of necessity, is naturally impossible to us, and, therefore, not obligatory. To attempt to legislate directly over the involuntary powers, would be inconsistent with natural justice. You may as well attempt to legislate over the beating of the heart, as directly over any involuntary mental actions.
12. In morals, actual knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation. The maxim, “ignorantia legis non excusat” (ignorance of the law excuses no one), applies in morals to but a very limited extent. That actual knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation, will appear–
(1.) From the following scriptures;
Jam_4:17 : “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Luk_12:47-48 : “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” Joh_9:41 : “Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.” In the first and second chapters of the epistle to the Romans, the apostle reasons at large on this subject. He convicts the heathen of sin, upon the ground that they violate their own consciences, and do not live according to the light they have.
(2.) The principle is everywhere recognized in the Bible, that an increase of knowledge increases obligation. This impliedly, but plainly, recognizes the principle that knowledge is indispensable to, and commensurate with, obligation. In sins of ignorance, the sin lies in the state of heart that neglects or refuses to be informed, but not in the neglect of what is unknown. A man may be guilty of present or past neglect to ascertain the truth. Here his ignorance is sin, or rather, the state of heart that induces ignorance, is sin. The heathen are culpable for not living up to the light of nature; but are under no obligation to embrace Christianity, until they have the opportunity to do so.
13. Moral law is to be so interpreted, as to be consistent with physical law. In other words, the application of moral law to human beings, must recognize man as he is, as both a corporeal and an intellectual being; and must never be so interpreted as that obedience to it would violate the laws of the physical constitution, and prove the destruction of the body.
14. Moral law is to be so interpreted as to recognize all the attributes and circumstances of both body and soul. In the application of the law of God to human beings, we are to regard their powers and attributes as they really are, and not as they are not.
15. Moral law is to be so interpreted as to restrict its obligation to the actions, and not to extend them to the nature or constitution of moral beings. Law must not be understood as extending its legislation to the nature, or requiring a man to possess certain attributes, but as prescribing a rule of action, suited to the attributes he at present possesses. It is not the existence or possession of certain attributes which the law requires, or that these attributes should be in a certain state of perfection; but the right use of all these attributes as they are, is what the law is to be interpreted as requiring.
16. It should be always understood, that the obedience of the heart to any law, implies, and includes general faith, or confidence in the lawgiver; but no law should be so construed as to require faith in what the intellect does not perceive. A man may be under obligation to perceive what he does not; that is, it may be his duty to inquire after and ascertain the truth. But obligation to believe with the heart, does not attach until the intellect obtains perception of the things to be believed.
Now, in the light of these rules let us proceed to inquire:–
II. What is not implied in entire obedience to the law of God.
1. Entire obedience does not imply any change in the substance of the soul or body; for this the law does not require; and it would not be obligatory if it did, because the requirement would be inconsistent with natural justice, and, therefore, not law. Entire obedience is the entire consecration of the powers, as they are, to God. It does not imply any change in them, but simply the right use of them.
2. It does not imply the annihilation of any constitutional traits of character, such as constitutional ardour or impetuosity. There is nothing, certainly, in the law of God that requires such constitutional traits to be annihilated, but simply that they should be rightly directed in their exercise.
3. It does not imply the annihilation of any of the constitutional appetites, or susceptibilities. It seems to be supposed by some, that the constitutional appetites and susceptibilities, are in themselves sinful, and that a state of entire conformity to the law of God implies their entire annihilation. And I have often been astonished at the fact, that those who array themselves against the doctrine of entire conformity to the law of God in this life, assume the sinfulness of the constitution of man. And I have been not a little surprised to find, that some persons who, I had supposed, were far enough from embracing the doctrine of physical moral depravity, were, after all, resorting to this assumption, in order to set aside the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life. But let us appeal to the law. Does the law any where, expressly or impliedly, condemn the constitution of man, or require the annihilation of any thing that is properly a part of the constitution itself? Does it require the annihilation of the appetite for food, or is it satisfied merely with regulating its indulgence? In short, does the law of God any where require any thing more than the consecration of all the powers, appetites, and susceptibilities of body and mind to the service of God?
4. Entire obedience does not imply the annihilation of natural affection, or natural resentment. By natural affection I mean, that certain persons may be naturally pleasing to us. Christ appears to have had a natural affection for John. By natural resentment I mean, that, from the laws of our being, we must resent or feel opposed to injustice or ill-treatment. Not that a disposition to retaliate or revenge ourselves is consistent with the law of God. But perfect obedience to the law of God does not imply that we should have no sense of injury and injustice, when we are abused. God has this, and ought to have it, and so has every moral being. To love your neighbour as yourself, does not imply, that if he injure you, you should feel no sense of the injury or injustice, but that you should love him and do him good, notwithstanding his injurious treatment.
5. It does not imply any unhealthy degree of excitement of the mind. Rule 13 lays down the principle that moral law is to be so interpreted as to be consistent with physical law. God’s laws certainly do not clash with each other. And the moral law cannot require such a state of constant mental excitement as will destroy the physical constitution. It cannot require any more mental excitement than is consistent with all the laws, attributes, and circumstances of both soul and body, as stated in Rule 14.
6. It does not imply that any organ or faculty is to be at all times exerted to the full measure of its capacity. This would soon exhaust and destroy any and every organ of the body. Whatever may be true of the mind, when separated from the body, it is certain, while it acts through a material organ, that a constant state of excitement is impossible. When the mind is strongly excited, there is of necessity a great determination of blood to the brain. A high degree of excitement cannot long continue, without producing inflammation of the brain, and consequent insanity. And the law of God does not require any degree of emotion, or mental excitement, inconsistent with life and health. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not appear to have been in a state of continual mental excitement. When he and his disciples had been in a great excitement for a time, they would turn aside, “and rest a while.”
Who that has ever philosophized on this subject, does not know that the high degree of excitement which is sometimes witnessed in revivals of religion, must necessarily be short, or that the people must become deranged? It seems sometimes to be indispensable that a high degree of excitement should prevail for a time, to arrest public and individual attention, and draw off people from other pursuits, to attend to the concerns of their souls. But if any suppose that this high degree of excitement is either necessary or desirable, or possible to be long continued, they have not well considered the matter. And here is one grand mistake of the church. They have supposed that the revival consists mostly in this state of excited emotion, rather than in conformity of the human will to the law of God. Hence, when the reasons for much excitement have ceased, and the public mind begins to grow more calm, they begin immediately to say, that the revival is on the decline; when, in fact, with much less excited emotion, there may be vastly more real religion in the community.
Excitement is often important and indispensable, but the vigorous actings of the will are infinitely more important. And this state of mind may exist in the absence of highly excited emotions.
7. Nor does it imply that the same degree of emotion, volition, or intellectual effort, is at all times required. All volitions do not need the same strength. They cannot have equal strength, because they are not produced by equally influential reasons. Should a man put forth as strong a volition to pick up an apple, as to extinguish the flames of a burning house? Should a mother, watching over her sleeping nursling, when all is quiet and secure, put forth as powerful volitions, as might be required to snatch it from the devouring flames? Now, suppose that she were equally devoted to God, in watching her sleeping babe, and in rescuing it from the jaws of death. Her holiness would not consist in the fact, that she exercised equally strong volitions, in both cases; but that in both cases the volition was equal to the accomplishment of the thing required to be done. So that persons may be entirely holy, and yet continually varying in the strength of their affections, emotions, or volitions, according to their circumstances, the state of their physical system, and the business in which they are engaged.
All the powers of body and mind are to be held at the service and disposal of God. Just so much of physical, intellectual, and moral energy are to be expended in the performance of duty, as the nature and the circumstances of the case require. And nothing is further from the truth than that the law of God requires a constant, intense state of emotion and mental action, on any and every subject alike.
8. Entire obedience does not imply that God is to be at all times the direct object of attention and affection. This is not only impossible in the nature of the case, but would render it impossible for us to think of or love our neighbour as ourselves: Rule 9.
The law of God requires the supreme love of the heart. By this is meant that the mind’s supreme preference should be of God–that God should be the great object of its supreme regard. But this state of mind is perfectly consistent with our engaging in any of the necessary business of life–giving to that business that attention, and exercising about it all those affections and emotions, which its nature and importance demand.
If a man love God supremely, and engage in any business for the promotion of his glory, if his eye be single, his affections and conduct, so far as they have any moral character, are entirely holy when necessarily engaged in the right transaction of his business, although, for the time being, neither his thoughts nor affections are upon God; just as a man, who is intensely devoted to his family, may be acting consistently with his supreme affection, and rendering them the most important and perfect service, while he does not think of them at all. It is said, in my lecture on the text, “Make to yourself a new heart, and a new spirit:”–“The moral heart is the mind’s supreme preference. The natural, or fleshy, heart propels the blood through all the physical system. Now there is a striking analogy between this and the moral heart. And the analogy consists in this, that as the natural heart, by its pulsations, diffuses life through the physical system, so the moral heart, or the supreme governing preference, or ultimate intention of the mind, is that which gives life and character to man’s moral actions. For example, suppose that I am engaged in teaching mathematics; in this, my ultimate intention is to glorify God in this particular calling. Now, in demonstrating some of its intricate propositions, I am obliged, for hours together, to give the entire attention of my mind to that object. While my mind is thus intensely employed in one particular business, it is impossible that I should have any thoughts directly about God, or should exercise any direct affections, or emotions, or volitions, towards him. Yet if, in this particular calling, all selfishness is excluded, and my supreme design is to glorify God, my mind is in a state of entire obedience, even though, for the time being, I do not think of God.”
It should be understood, that while the supreme preference or intention of the mind has such efficiency, as to exclude all selfishness, and to call forth just that strength of volition, thought, affection, and emotion, that is requisite to the right discharge of any duty, to which the mind may be called, the heart is in a right state. And this must always be the case while the intention is really honest, as was shown on a former occasion. By a suitable degree of thought and feeling, to the right discharge of duty, I mean just that intensity of thought, and energy of action, that the nature and importance of the particular duty, to which, for the time being, I am called, demand, in my honest estimation.
In making this statement, I take it for granted, that the brain, together with all the circumstances of the constitution are such that the requisite amount of thought, feeling, &c., are possible. If the physical constitution be in such a state of exhaustion, as to be unable to put forth that amount of exertion which the nature of the case might otherwise demand, even in this case, the languid efforts, though far below the importance of the subject, would be all that the law of God requires. Whoever, therefore, supposes that a state of entire obedience implies a state of entire abstraction of mind from everything but God, labours under a grievous mistake. Such a state of mind is as inconsistent with duty, as it is impossible, while we are in the flesh.
The fact is, that the language and spirit of the law have been and generally are, grossly misunderstood, and interpreted to mean what they never did, or can, mean, consistently with natural justice. Many a mind has been thrown open to the assaults of Satan, and kept in a state of continual bondage and condemnation, because God was not, at all times, the direct object of thought, affection, and emotion; and because the mind was not kept in a state of perfect tension, and excited to the utmost at every moment.
9. Nor does it imply a state of continual calmness of mind. Christ was not in a state of continual calmness. The deep peace of his mind was never broken up, but the surface or emotions of his mind were often in a state of great excitement, and at other times, in a state of great calmness. And here let me refer to Christ, as we have his history in the Bible, in illustration of the positions I have already taken. For example, Christ had all the constitutional appetites and susceptibilities of human nature. Had it been otherwise, he could not have been “tempted in all points like as we are;” nor could he have been tempted in any point as we are, any further than he possessed a constitution similar to our own. Christ also manifested natural affection for his mother and for other friends. He also showed that he had a sense of injury and injustice, and exercised a suitable resentment when he was injured and persecuted. He was not always in a state of great excitement. He appears to have had his seasons of excitement and of calm–of labour and rest–of joy and sorrow, like other good men. Some persons have spoken of entire obedience to the law, as implying a state of uniform and universal calmness, and as if every kind and degree of excited feeling, except the feeling of love to God, were inconsistent with this state. But Christ often manifested a great degree of excitement when reproving the enemies of God. In short, his history would lead to the conclusion that his calmness and excitement were various, according to the circumstances of the case. And although he was sometimes so pointed and severe in his reproof, as to be accused of being possessed of a devil, yet his emotions and feelings were only those that were called for, and suited to the occasion.
10. Nor does it imply a state of continual sweetness of mind, without any indignation or holy anger at sin and sinners.
Anger at sin is only a modification of love to being in general. A sense of justice, or a disposition to have the wicked punished for the benefit of the government, is only another of the modifications of love. And such dispositions are essential to the existence of love, where the circumstances call for their exercise. It is said of Christ, that he was angry. He often manifested anger and holy indignation. “God is angry with the wicked every day.” And holiness, or a state of obedience, instead of being inconsistent with, always implies, the existence of anger, whenever circumstances occur which demand its exercise. Rule 10.
11. It does not imply a state of mind that is all compassion, and no sense of justice. Compassion is only one of the modifications of love. Justice, or willing the execution of law and the punishment of sin, is another of its modifications. God, and Christ, and all holy beings, exercise all those dispositions that constitute the different modifications of love, under every possible circumstance.
12. It does not imply that we should love or hate all men alike, irrespective of their value, circumstances, and relations. One being may have a greater capacity for well-being, and be of much more importance to the universe, than another. Impartiality and the law of love require us not to regard all beings and things alike, but all beings and things according to their nature, relations, circumstances, and value.
13. Nor does it imply a perfect knowledge of all our relations. Rule 7.
Now such an interpretation of the law as would make it necessary, in order to yield obedience, for us to understand all our relations, would imply in us the possession of the attribute of omniscience; for certainly there is not a being in the universe to whom we do not sustain some relation. And a knowledge of all these relations plainly implies infinite knowledge. It is plain that the law of God cannot require any such thing as this; and that entire obedience to the law of God, therefore, implies no such thing.
14. Nor does it imply perfect knowledge on any subject. Perfect knowledge on any subject, implies a perfect knowledge of its nature, relations, bearings, and tendencies. Now, as every single thing in the universe sustains some relation to, and has some bearing upon, every other thing, there can be no such thing as perfect knowledge on any one subject, that does not embrace universal or infinite knowledge.
15. Nor does it imply freedom from mistake on any subject whatever. It is maintained by some that the grace of the gospel pledges to every man perfect knowledge, or at least such knowledge as to exempt him from any mistake. I cannot stop here to debate this question, but would merely say, the law does not expressly or impliedly require infallibility of judgment in us. It only requires us to make the best use we can of all the light we have.
16. Nor does entire obedience imply the knowledge of the exact relative value of different interests. I have already said, in illustrating Rule 7, that the second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” does not imply that we should, in every instance, understand exactly the relative value and importance of every interest. This plainly cannot be required, unless it be assumed that we are omniscient.
17. It does not imply the same degree of knowledge that we might have possessed, had we always improved our time in its acquisition. The law cannot require us to love God or man, as well as we might have been able to love them, had we always improved all our time in obtaining all the knowledge we could, in regard to their nature, character, and interests. If this were implied in the requisition of the law, there is not a saint on earth or in heaven that does, or ever can perfectly obey. What is lost in this respect is lost, and past neglect can never be so remedied, that we shall ever be able to make up in our acquisitions of knowledge what we have lost. It will no doubt be true to all eternity, that we shall have less knowledge than we might have possessed, had we filled up all our time in its acquisition. We do not, cannot, nor shall we ever be able to, love God as well as we might have loved him, had we always applied our minds to the acquisition of knowledge respecting him. And if entire obedience is to be understood as implying that we love God as much as we should, had we all the knowledge we might have had, then I repeat it, there is not a saint on earth or in heaven, nor ever will be, that is entirely obedient.
18. It does not imply the same amount of service that we might have rendered, had we never sinned. The law of God does not imply or suppose, that our powers are in a perfect state; that our strength of body or mind is what it would have been, had we never sinned. But it simply requires us to use what strength we have. The very wording of the law is proof conclusive, that it extends its demand only to the full amount of what strength we have. And this is true of every moral being, however great or small.
The most perfect developement and improvement of our powers, must depend upon the most perfect use of them. And every departure from their perfect use, is a diminishing of their highest developement, and a curtailing of their capabilities to serve God in the highest and best manner. All sin then does just so much towards crippling and curtailing the powers of body and mind, and rendering them, by just so much, incapable of performing the service they might otherwise have rendered.
To this view of the subject it has been objected, that Christ taught an opposite doctrine, in the case of the woman who washed his feet with her tears, when he said, “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.” But can it be that Christ intended to be understood as teaching, that the more we sin the greater will be our love, and our ultimate virtue? If this be so, I do not see why it does not follow that the more sin in this life, the better, if so be that we are forgiven. If our virtue is really to be improved by our sins, I see not why it would not be good economy both for God and man, to sin as much as we can while in this world. Certainly, Christ meant to lay down no such principle as this. He undoubtedly meant to teach, that a person who was truly sensible of the greatness of his sins, would exercise more of the love of gratitude than would be exercised by one who had a less affecting sense of ill-desert.
19. Entire obedience does not imply the same degree of faith that might have been exercised but for our ignorance and past sin.
We cannot believe anything about God of which we have neither evidence nor knowledge. Our faith must therefore be limited by our intellectual perceptions of truth. The heathen are not under obligation to believe in Christ, and thousands of other things of which they have no knowledge. Perfection in a heathen would imply much less faith than in a Christian. Perfection in an adult would imply much more and greater faith than in a child. And perfection in an angel would imply much greater faith than in a man, just in proportion as he knows more of God than man does. Let it be always understood, that entire obedience to God never implies that which is naturally impossible. It is naturally impossible for us to believe that of which we have no knowledge. Entire obedience implies, in this respect, nothing more than the heart’s faith or confidence in all the truth that is perceived by the intellect.
20. Nor does it imply the conversion of all men in answer to our prayers. It has been maintained by some, that entire obedience implies the offering of prevailing prayer for the conversion of all men. To this I reply,–
(1.) Then Christ did not obey, for he offered no such prayer.
(2.) The law of God makes no such demand, either expressly or impliedly.
(3.) We have no right to believe that all men will be converted in answer to our prayers, unless we have an express or implied promise to that effect.
(4.) As, therefore, there is no such promise, we are under no obligation to offer such prayer. Nor does the non-conversion of the world imply, that there are no saints in the world who fully obey God’s law.
21. It does not imply the conversion of any one for whom there is not an express or implied promise in the word of God. The fact that Judas was not converted in answer to Christ’s prayer, does not prove that Christ did not fully obey.
22. Nor does it imply that all those things which are expressly or impliedly promised, will be granted in answer to our prayers; or, in other words, that we should pray in faith for them, if we are ignorant of the existence or application of those promises. A state of perfect love implies the discharge of all known duty. And nothing strictly speaking can be duty, of which the mind has no knowledge. It cannot, therefore, be our duty to believe a promise of which we are entirely ignorant, or the application of which to any specific object we do not understand.
If there is sin in such a case as this, it lies in the fact, that the soul neglects to know what it ought to know. But it should always be understood that the sin lies in this neglect to know, and not in the neglect of that of which we have no knowledge. Entire obedience is inconsistent with any present neglect to know the truth; for such neglect is sin. But it is not inconsistent with our failing to do that of which we have no knowledge. James says: “He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” “If ye were blind,” says Christ, “ye should have no sin, but because ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.”
23. Entire obedience to the divine law does not imply, that others will of course regard our state of mind, and our outward life, as entirely conformed to the law.
It was insisted and positively believed by the Jews, that Jesus Christ was possessed of a wicked, instead of a holy spirit. Such were their notions of holiness, that they no doubt supposed him to be actuated by any other than the Spirit of God. They especially supposed so on account of his opposition to the current orthodoxy, and to the ungodliness of the religious teachers of the day. Now, who does not see, that when the church is, in a great measure, conformed to the world, a spirit of holiness in any man would certainly lead him to aim the sharpest rebukes at the spirit and life of those in this state, whether in high or low places? And who does not see, that this would naturally result in his being accused of possessing a wicked spirit? And who does not know, that where a religious teacher finds himself under the necessity of attacking a false orthodoxy, he will certainly be hunted, almost as a beast of prey, by the religious teachers of his day, whose authority, influence, and orthodoxy are thus assailed?
The most violent opposition that I have ever seen manifested to any person, has been manifested by members of the church, and even by some ministers of the gospel, towards those who, I believe, were among the most holy persons I ever knew. I have been shocked, and wounded beyond expression, at the almost fiendish opposition to such persons which I have witnessed. I have several times of late observed, that writers in newspapers were calling for examples of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, or, which is the same thing, of entire obedience to the law of God. Now I would humbly inquire, of what use is it to point the church to examples, so long as they do not know what is, and what is not, implied in entire obedience to moral law? I would ask, are the church agreed among themselves in regard to what constitutes this state? Are any considerable number of ministers agreed among themselves, as to what is implied in a state of entire obedience to the law of God? The church and the ministry are in a great measure in the dark on this subject. Why then call for examples? No man can profess to render this obedience, without being sure to be set at nought as a hypocrite or a self-deceiver.
24. Nor does it imply exemption from sorrow or mental suffering.
It was not so with Christ. Nor is it inconsistent with our sorrowing for our own past sins, and sorrowing that we have not now the health, and vigour, and knowledge, and love, that we might have had, if we had sinned less; or sorrow for those around us–sorrow in view of human sinfulness, or suffering. These are all consistent with a state of joyful love to God and man, and indeed are the natural results of it.
25. Nor is it inconsistent with our living in human society–with mingling in the scenes, and engaging in the affairs of this world, as some have supposed. Hence the absurd and ridiculous notions of papists in retiring to monasteries, and convents–in taking the veil, and, as they say, retiring to a life of devotion. Now I suppose this state of voluntary exclusion from human society, to be utterly inconsistent with any degree of holiness, and a manifest violation of the law of love to our neighbour.
26. Nor does it imply moroseness of temper and manners. Nothing is further from the truth than this. It is said of Xavier, than whom, perhaps, few holier men have ever lived, that “he was so cheerful as often to be accused of being gay.” Cheerfulness is certainly the result of holy love. And entire obedience no more implies moroseness in this world than it does in heaven.
In all the discussions I have seen upon the subject of Christian holiness, writers seldom or never raise the distinct inquiry: What does obedience to the law of God imply, and what does it not imply? Instead of bringing everything to this test, they seem to lose sight of it. On the one hand, they include things that the law of God never required of man in his present state. Thus they lay a stumbling-block and a snare for the saints, to keep them in perpetual bondage, supposing that this is the way to keep them humble, to place the standard entirely above their reach. Or, on the other hand, they really abrogate the law, so as to make it no longer binding. Or they so fritter away what is really implied in it, as to leave nothing in its requirements, but a sickly, whimsical, inefficient sentimentalism, or perfectionism, which in its manifestations and results, appears to me to be anything but that which the law of God requires.
27. It does not imply that we always or ever aim at, or intend to do our duty. That is, it does not imply that the intention always, or ever, terminates on duty as an ultimate end.
It is our duty to aim at or intend the highest well-being of God and the universe, as an ultimate end, or for its own sake. This is the infinitely valuable end at which we are at all times to aim. It is our duty to aim at this. While we aim at this, we do our duty, but to aim at duty is not doing duty. To intend to do our duty is failing to do our duty. We do not, in this case, intend the thing which it is our duty to intend. Our duty is to intend the good of being. But to intend to do our duty, is only to intend to intend.
28. Nor does it imply that we always think at the time of its being duty, or of our moral obligation to intend the good of being. This obligation is a first truth, and is always and necessarily assumed by every moral agent, and this assumption or knowledge is a condition of his moral agency. But it is not at all essential to virtue or true obedience to the moral law, that moral obligation should at all times be present to the thoughts as an object of attention. The thing that we are bound to intend is the highest good of God, and of being in general. The good, the valuable, must be before the mind. This must be intended. We are under moral obligation to intend this. But we are not under moral obligation to intend moral obligation, or to intend to fulfil moral obligation, as an ultimate end. Our obligation is a first truth, and necessarily assumed by us at all times, whether it is an object of attention or not, just as causality or liberty is.
29. Nor does it imply that the rightness or moral character of benevolence is, at all times, the object of the mind’s attention. We may intend the glory of God and the good of our neighbour, without at all times thinking of the moral character of this intention. But the intention is not the less virtuous on this account. The mind unconsciously, but necessarily, assumes the rightness of benevolence, or of willing the good of being, just as it assumes other first truths, without being distinctly conscious of the assumption. First truths are those truths that are universally and necessarily known to every moral agent, and that are, therefore, always and necessarily assumed by him, whatever his theory may be. Among them, are the law of causality–the freedom of moral agents–the intrinsic value of happiness or blessedness–moral obligation to will it for or because of its intrinsic value–the infinite value of God’s well-being, and moral obligation to will it on that account–that to will the good of being is duty, and to comply with moral obligation is right–that selfishness is wrong. These and many such like truths are among the class of first truths of reason. They are always and necessarily taken along with every moral agent, at every moment of his moral agency. They live in his mind as intuitions or assumptions of his reason. He always and necessarily affirms their truth, whether he thinks of them, that is, whether he is conscious of the assumption, or not. It is not, therefore, at all essential to obedience to the law of God, that we should at all times have before our minds the virtuousness or moral character of benevolence.
30. Nor does obedience to the moral law imply, that the law itself should be, at all times, the object of thought, or of the mind’s attention. The law lies developed in the reason of every moral agent in the form of an idea. It is the idea of that choice or intention which every moral agent is bound to exercise. In other words, the law, as a rule of duty, is a subjective idea always and necessarily developed in the mind of every moral agent. This idea he always and necessarily takes along with him, and he is always and necessarily a law to himself. Nevertheless, this law or idea, is not always the object of the mind’s attention and thought. A moral agent may exercise good-will or love to God and man, without at the time being conscious of thinking, that this love is required of him by the moral law. Nay, if I am not mistaken, the benevolent mind generally exercises benevolence so spontaneously as not, for much of the time, even to think that this love to God is required of him. But this state of mind is not the less virtuous on this account. If the infinite value of God’s well-being and of his infinite goodness constrains me to love him with all my heart, can any one suppose that this is regarded by him as the less virtuous, because I did not wait to reflect, that God commanded me to love him, and that it was my duty to do so?
The thing upon which the intention must or ought to terminate is the good of being, and not the law that requires me to will it. When I will that end, I will the right end, and this willing is virtue, whether the law be so much as thought of or not. Should it be said that I may will that end for a wrong reason, and, therefore, thus willing it is not virtue; that unless I will it because of my obligation, and intend obedience to moral law, or to God, it is not virtue; I answer, that the objection involves an absurdity and a contradiction. I cannot will the good of God and of being as an ultimate end, for a wrong reason. The reason of the choice and the end chosen are identical, so that if I will the good of being, as an ultimate end, I will it for the right reason.
Again: to will the good of being, not for its intrinsic value, but because God commands it, and because I am under a moral obligation to will it, is not to will it as an ultimate end. It is willing the will of God, or moral obligation, as an ultimate end, and not the good of being, as an ultimate end. This willing would not be obedience to the moral law.
Again: It is absurd and a contradiction to say, that I can love God, that is, will his good out of regard to his authority, rather than out of regard to the intrinsic value of his well-being. It is impossible to will God’s good as an end, out of regard to his authority. This is to make his authority the end chosen, for the reason of a choice is identical with the end chosen. Therefore, to will anything for the reason that God requires it, is to will God’s requirement as an ultimate end. I cannot, therefore, love God with any acceptable love, primarily, because he commands it. God never expected to induce his creatures to love him, or to will his good, by commanding them to do so. “The law,” says the apostle, “was not made for a righteous man, but for sinners.” If it be asked, then, “Wherefore serveth the law?” I answer–
(1.) That the obligation to will good to God exists antecedently to his requiring it.
(2.) He requires it because it is naturally obligatory.
(3.) It is impossible that he, being benevolent, should not will that we should be benevolent.
(4.) His expressed will is only the promulgation of the law of nature. It is rather declaratory than dictatorial.
(5.) It is a vindication or illustration of his righteousness.
(6.) It sanctions and rewards love. It cannot, as a mere authority, beget love, but it can encourage and reward it.
(7.) It can fix the attention on the end commanded, and thus lead to a fuller understanding of the value of that end. In this way, it may convert the soul.
(8.) It can convince of sin, in case of disobedience.
(9.) It holds before the mind the standard by which it is to judge itself, and by which it is to be judged.
But let it be kept in constant remembrance, that to aim at keeping the law as an ultimate end is not keeping it. It is a legal righteousness, and not love.
31. Obedience to the moral law does not imply, that the mind always, or at any time, intends the right for the sake of the right. This has been so fully shown in a former lecture, that it need not be repeated here.
32. Nor does it imply, that the benevolent mind always so much as thinks of the rightness of good willing. I surely may will the highest well-being of God and of men as an end, or from a regard to its intrinsic value, and not at the time, or at least at all times, be conscious of having any reference to the rightness of this love. It is, however, none the less virtuous on this account. I behold the infinite value of the well-being of God, and the infinite value of the immortal soul of my neighbour. My soul is fired with the view. I instantly consecrate my whole being to this end, and perhaps do not so much as think, at the time, either of moral obligation, or of the rightness of the choice. I choose the end with a single eye to its intrinsic value. Will any one say that this is not virtue?–that this is not true and real obedience to the law of God?
33. Obedience to the moral law does not imply that we should practically treat all interests that are of equal value according to their value. For example, the precept, “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” cannot mean that I am to take equal care of my own soul, and the soul of every other human being. This were impossible. Nor does it mean that I should take the same care and oversight of my own, and of all the families of the earth. Nor that I should divide what little of property, or time, or talent I have, equally among all mankind. This were–
(2.) Uneconomical for the universe. More good will result to the universe by each individual’s giving his attention particularly to the promotion of those interests that are within his reach, and that are so under his influence that he possesses particular advantages for promoting them. Every interest is to be esteemed according to its relative value; but our efforts to promote particular interests should depend upon our relations and capacity to promote them. Some interests of great value we may be under no obligation to promote, for the reason that we have no ability to promote them, while we may be under obligation to promote interests of vastly less value, for the reason, that we are able to promote them. We are to aim at promoting those interests that we can most surely and extensively promote, but always in a manner that shall not interfere with others promoting other interests, according to their relative value. Every man is bound to promote his own, and the salvation of his family, not because they belong to self, but because they are valuable in themselves, and because they are particularly committed to him, as being directly within his reach. This is a principle everywhere assumed in the government of God, and I wish it to be distinctly borne in mind, as we proceed in our investigations, as it will, on the one hand, prevent misapprehension, and, on the other, avoid the necessity of circumlocution, when we wish to express the same idea; the true intent and meaning of the moral law, no doubt, is, that every interest or good known to a moral being shall be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, and that, in our efforts to promote good, we are to aim at securing the greatest practicable amount, and to bestow our efforts where, and as it appears from our circumstances and relations, we can accomplish the greatest good. This ordinarily can be done, beyond all question, only by each one attending to the promotion of those particular interests which are most within the reach of his influence.