CHARLES G. FINNEY
WHAT CONSTITUTES DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW.
In discussing this question, I will,
I. Revert to some points that have been settled.
II. Show what disobedience to the Moral Law can not consist in.
III. What it must consist in.
I. Revert to some points that have been settled.
1. That moral law requires love or benevolence, and that this is the sum of its requirements.
2. That benevolence is good will to being in general. In other words, that it consists in the impartial choice of the good of being, as an end, or for its own sake.
3. That obedience to moral law is a unit or that it invariably consists in disinterested benevolence. That consecration to the highest good of being is virtue and the whole of virtue.
4. That feeling and outward action are only results of ultimate intention, and in themselves neither virtue nor vice.
5. That all choice and volition must terminate upon some object, and that this object must be chosen as an end or as a means.
6. That the choice of any thing as a means to an end is in fact only carrying into execution the ultimate choice or the choice of an end.
7. That the mind must have chosen an end, or it can not choose the means. That is, the choice of means implies the previous choice of an end.
8. That moral character belongs to the ultimate intention only, or to the choice of an end.
9. That virtue or obedience to moral law consists in choosing in accordance with the demands of the intelligence in opposition to following the feelings, desires, or impulses of the sensibility.
10. That whatever is chosen for its own sake, and not as a means to an end, is, and must be chosen as an end.
11. That the mind must always have an end in view, or it can not choose at all. That is, as has been said, the will must have an object of choice, and this object must be regarded as an end or as a means.
12. That the fundamental reason for choosing an end and the end chosen are identical. That is, the fundamental reason of the obligation to choose a thing must be found in the nature of the thing itself, and this reason is the end or thing chosen. Example: If the intrinsic value of a thing be the foundation of the obligation to choose it, the intrinsically valuable is the end or thing chosen.
II. Show what disobedience to moral law can not consist in.
1. It can not consist in malevolence, or in the choice of evil or misery as an ultimate end. This will appear if we consider,
(1.) That the choice of an end implies the choice of it not for no reason, but for a reason and for its own intrinsic value, or because the mind prizes it on its own account. But moral agents are so constituted that they can not regard misery as intrinsically valuable. They can not, therefore, choose it as an ultimate end, nor prize it on its own account.
(2.) To will misery as an ultimate end, would imply the choice of universal misery and every degree of it according to its relative amount.
(3.) The choice of universal misery as an end implies the choice of all the means necessary to that end.
(4.) The end chosen is identical with the reason for choosing it. To say that a thing can be chosen without any reason is to say that nothing is chosen, or that there is no object of choice, or that there is no choice. Misery may be chosen to assert our own sovereignty, but this were to choose self-gratification and not misery as an ultimate end. To choose misery as an ultimate end is to choose it, not to assert my own sovereignty, nor for any other reason than because it is misery.
(5.) To choose an end is not to choose without any reason, as has been said, but for a reason.
(6.) To choose misery as an end is to choose it for the reason that it is misery, and that misery is preferred to happiness for its own sake, which is absurd. Such a supposition overlooks the very nature of choice.
(7.) To will misery as a means is possible, but this is not malevolence, but might be either benevolence or selfishness.
(8.) The constitution of moral beings renders malevolence, or the willing of misery for its own sake impossible. Therefore disobedience to moral law can not consist in it.
2. Disobedience to moral law can not consist in the constitution of soul or body. The law does not command us to have a certain constitution, nor forbid us to have the constitution with which we came into being.
3. It can not consist in any state either of the sensibility or of the intelligence; for these, as we have seen, are involuntary and are dependent upon the actings of the will.
4. It can not consist in outward actions; for these, we have seen, are controlled by the actions of the will, and therefore can have no moral character in themselves.
5. It can not consist in inaction: for total inaction is to a moral agent impossible. Moral agents are necessarily active. That is, they can not exist as moral agents without choice. They must by a law of necessity choose either in accordance with, or in opposition to the law of God. They are free to choose in either direction, but they are not free to abstain from choice altogether. Choose they must. The law directs how they shall or ought to choose. If they do not choose thus, it must be because they choose otherwise, and not because they do not choose at all.
6. It can not consist in the choice of moral evil or sin as an ultimate end. Sin is but an element or attribute of choice or intention, or it is intention itself. If it be intention itself, then to make sin an end of intention would be to make intention or choice terminate on itself, and the sinner must choose his own choice or intend his own intention as an end: this is absurd.
If sin is but an element or attribute of choice or intention, then to suppose the sinner to choose it as an end, were to make choice or intention terminate on an element or attribute of itself, to suppose him to choose as an end an element of his own choice. This also is absurd and a contradiction.
The nature of a moral being forbids that he should choose sin for its own sake. He may choose those things the choosing of which is sinful, but it is not the sinfulness of the choice upon which the intention terminates. This is naturally impossible. Sin may be chosen as a means of gratifying a malicious feeling, but this is not choosing it as an end, but as a means. Malevolence, strictly speaking, is impossible to a moral agent. That is, the choice of moral or natural evil for its own sake contradicts the nature of moral agents and the nature of ultimate choice, and is therefore impossible.
III. What disobedience to moral law must consist in.
1. It must consist in choice or ultimate intention, for moral character belongs strictly only to ultimate intention.
2. As all choice must terminate on an end or on means, and as the means can not be chosen until the end is chosen and but for its sake, and as the choice of means for the sake of an end is but an endeavor to secure the end chosen, therefore it follows that disobedience to the moral law must consist in the choice of some end or ends inconsistent with its requisitions.
3. We have seen that misery or natural evil can not be chosen as an end by a moral agent. So this can not be the end chosen.
4. We have seen also that moral evil or sin can not be chosen as an ultimate end.
5. Disobedience to God's law must consist in the choice of self-gratification as an end. In other words, it must consist in selfishness.
Self-gratification is generally distinguished from self-love, but I apprehend without foundation. Self-love has been defined to be the desire of happiness. But desire is not love. Men constitutionally desire, not only their own happiness, but the happiness of others; but this desire for the happiness of others is not benevolence. It is not the love of being in general. But why may it not as properly be called the love of being in general, as the desire of our own happiness may be called self-love? Love, properly speaking is a voluntary state of mind. Self-love, properly speaking, is a choice to gratify our desires as an end, that is, for the sake of the gratification. The desire is not self-love. It is constitutional, and has no moral character. Self-love, strictly speaking, is the choice to gratify our desires. So that selfishness and self-love are identical. But as this distinction between selfishness and self-love has been common, and as the error lies only in giving a false definition to self-love, and in calling desire love, I will not insist on the identity of selfishness and self-love, but proceed to establish the position that disobedience to the moral law, or sin, consists wholly and exclusively in selfishness, or in making good to self and not the good of God and the universe of sentient beings an ultimate end.
In other words still, sin consists in choosing self-gratification as an end or for its own sake, instead of choosing, in accordance with the law of the reason, the highest well-being of God and of the universe as an ultimate end. In other words still, sin or disobedience to the moral law consists in the consecration of the heart and life to the gratification of the constitutional and artificial desires rather than in obedience to the law of the intelligence. Or, to state it once more, sin consists in being governed by the sensibility instead of being governed by the law of God as it lies revealed in the reason.
That this is sin and the whole of sin will appear if we consider:
1. That this state of mind, or this choice is the "carnal mind or the minding of the flesh which the Apostle affirms to be enmity against God."
2. It is the universal representation of Scripture that sin consists in the spirit of self-seeking.
3. This spirit of self-seeking is always in the Bible represented as the contrast or opposite of disinterested benevolence, or the love which the law requires. "Ephraim bringeth forth fruit to himself," is the sum of God's charges against sinners.
4. Selfishness is always spoken of in terms of reprobation in the Bible.
5. It is known by every moral agent to be sinful.
6. It is the end in fact which all unregenerate men pursue, and the only end they pursue.
7. When we come to the consideration of the attributes of selfishness, it will be seen that every form of sin, not only may, but must resolve itself into selfishness just as we have seen that every form of virtue does and must resolve itself into love or benevolence.
6. From the laws of its constitution, the mind is shut up to the necessity of choosing that as an ultimate end which is regarded by the mind as intrinsically good or valuable in itself. This is the very idea of choosing an end, to wit, something chosen for its own sake, or for what it is in and of itself, that is, because it is regarded by the mind as intrinsically valuable to self, or to being in general, or to both.
6. The gratification or good of being is necessarily regarded by the mind as a good in itself, or as intrinsically valuable.
7. Nothing else is or can be regarded as valuable in itself but the good of being.
8. Moral agents are, therefore, shut up to the necessity of willing the good of being either partially or impartially. Nothing else can possibly be chosen as an end or for its own sake. Willing the good of being impartially, we have seen is virtue. To will it partially is to will it not for its own sake, but upon condition of its relation to self. That is, it is to will self good or good to self. In other words, it is to will the gratification of self as an end, in opposition to willing the good of universal being as an end, and every good, or the good of every being according to its intrinsic value.
9. But may not one will the good of a part of being as an end, or for the sake of the intrinsic value of their good? This would not be benevolence, for that, as we have seen, must consist in willing good for its own sake, and implies the willing of every good and of the highest good of universal being. It would not be selfishness, as it would not be willing good to, or the gratification of, self. It would be sin, for it would be the partial love or choice of good. It would be loving some of my neighbors, but not all of them. It would therefore be sin, but not selfishness. If this can be, then there is such a thing possible, whether actual or not, as sin that does not consist in selfishness.
To say that I choose good for its own sake or because it is valuable to being, that is, in obedience to the law of my reason, implies that I choose all possible good, and every good according to its relative value. If then a being chooses his own good or the good of any being as an ultimate end, in obedience to the law of reason, it must be that he chooses, for the same reason, the highest possible good of all sentient being.
The partial choice of good implies the choice of it, not merely for its own sake, but upon condition of its relations to self, or to certain particular persons. It is its relations that conditionate the choice. When its relations to self conditionate the choice so that it is chosen, not for its intrinsic value irrespective of its relations, but for its relations to self, this is selfishness. It is the partial choice of good. If I choose the good of others besides myself and choose good because of its relations to them, it must be either,
(1.) Because I love their persons with the love of fondness, and will their good for that reason, that is, so gratify my affection for them, which is selfishness; or,
(2.) Because of their relations to me so that good to them is in some way a good to me, which also is selfishness; or,
(3.) Upon condition that they are worthy, which is benevolence: for if I will good to a being upon condition that he is worthy, I must value the good for its own sake, and will it particularly to him, because he deserves it. This is benevolence and not the partial choice of good, because it is obeying the law of my reason. If I will the good of any being or number of beings, it must be for some reason. I must will it as an end, or as a means. If I will it as an end, it must be the universal or impartial choice of good. If I will it as a means, it must be as a means to some end. The end can not be their good for its own sake, for this would be willing it as an end and not as a means. If I will it as a means, it must be as a means of my own gratification.
Again: If I will the good of any number of beings, I must do it in obedience to the law either of my intelligence or of my sensibility. But if I will in obedience to the law of my intelligence, it must be the choice of the highest good of universal being. But if I will in obedience to the law or impulse of my sensibility, it must be to gratify my feelings or desires. This is selfishness.
Again: As the will must either follow the law of the reason, or the impulses of the sensibility, it follows that moral agents are shut up to the necessity of being selfish or benevolent, and that there is no third way, because there is no third medium through which any object of choice can be presented. The mind can absolutely know nothing as an object of choice that is not recommended by one of these faculties. Selfishness, then, and benevolence are the only two alternatives.
Therefore, disobedience to the moral law must consist in selfishness and in selfishness alone.
It has been said that a moral agent may will the good of others for its own sake, and yet not will the good of all. That is, that he may will the good of some for its intrinsic value, and yet not will universal good. But this is absurd. To make the valuable the object of choice for its own sake without respect to any conditions or relations, is the same as to will all possible and universal good; that is, the one necessarily implies and includes the other. It has been asserted, for example, that an infidel abolitionist may be conscious of willing and seeking the good of the slave for its own sake or disinterestedly, and yet not exercise universal benevolence. I reply, he deceives himself just as a man would who should say he chooses fruit for its own sake. The fact is, he is conscious of desiring fruit for its own sake. But he does not and can not choose it for its own sake. He chooses it in obedience to his desire, that is, to gratify his desire. So it is and must be with the infidel abolitionist. It can not be that he chooses the good of the slave in obedience to the law of his intelligence; for if he did, his benevolence would be universal. It must be, then, that he chooses the good of the slave because he desires it, or to gratify a constitutional desire. Men naturally desire their own happiness and the happiness of others. This is constitutional. But when in obedience to these desires they will their own or others' happiness, they seek to gratify their sensibility or desires. This is selfishness.
Let it be remembered, then, that sin is a unit, and always and necessarily consists in selfish ultimate intention and in nothing else. This intention is sin; and every phase of sin resolves itself into selfishness. This will appear more and more, as we proceed to unfold the subject of moral depravity.
Return to 1846 SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY Index page
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOKS STORE