CHARLES G. FINNEY
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
14. Oppression is another attribute of selfishness.
Oppression is the spirit of slaveholding. It consists in a disposition to deprive others of their rights for the purpose of contributing to our own interest or gratification. To define it comprehensively: it is a disposition to enslave God and all the universe; to make them all give up their interest and happiness and glory and seek and live for ours. It is a willing that all beings should live to and for us; that all interests should bend and be sacrificed to ours. It is a practical denial of all rights but our own, and a practical setting up the claim that all beings are ours, our goods and chattels, our property. It is a spirit that aims at making all beings serve us and all interests subserve our own.
This must be an attribute of selfishness. Self-interest is the ultimate end; and the whole life and activity and aim and effort is to secure this end. The sinner, while he remains such has absolutely no other end in view and no other ultimate motive in any thing he does. Selfishness or self-gratification under some form is the reason for every volition, action and omission. For this end alone he lives and moves and has his being. This being his only end, it is impossible that oppression should not be an attribute of his character. The whole of oppression is included in the choice of the end of life. Nothing can be more oppressive to the whole universe than for a being to set up his interest as the sole good and account all other interests as of no value except as they contribute to his own. This is the perfection of oppression, and it matters not what particular course it takes to secure its end. They are all equally oppressive. If he does not seek the good of others for its own sake, but simply as a means of securing his own, which must be the fact, it matters not at all whether he pamper and fatten his slaves or whether he starve them, whether he work them hard or let them lounge, whether he lets them go naked or arrays them in costly attire. All is done for one and but one ultimate reason, and that is to promote self-interest and not at all for the intrinsic value of any interest but that of self. If such an one prays to God it is because he is unable to command and govern him by authority, and not at all out of any true regard to the rights or character or relations of God. He desires God's services; and because he can not get them by force, he intreats. God's interests and rights are practically treated as of no value by every sinner in the universe. They care nothing for God except to enslave him, that is, to make Him serve them without wages. They have no design to live to and for Him but that He should live to and for them. They regard all other beings just in the same manner. If there is in any instance the semblance of a regard to their interest for its own sake, it is only a semblance and not a reality. It is not, and it can not be a reality. The assertion that it is any thing more than a hypocritical pretence, is absurd and contradicts the supposition that he is a sinner, or selfish.
There are innumerable specious forms of oppression that to a superficial observer appear very like a regard to the real interest of the oppressed for its own sake.
It may be gratifying to the pride, the ambition or to some other feeling of a slaveholder to see his slaves well fed, well clad, full fleshed, cheerful, contented, attached to their master. For the same reason he might feed his dog, provide him a warm kennel, and ornament his neck with a brazen collar. He might do the same for his horse and for his swine. But what is the reason of all this? Why to gratify himself. God has so moulded his constitution that it would give him pain to whip his slave or his dog or his horse, or to see them hungry or naked. It would trouble his conscience and endanger his peace and his soul. There may often be the appearance of virtue in a slaveholder and in slaveholding; but it can absolutely be only an appearance. If it be properly slaveholding it is and must be oppression; it is and must be selfishness. Can it be that slaveholding is designed to promote the good of the slave for its own sake. But this could not be slaveholding.
Should an individual be held to service for his own benefit; should the law of benevolence really demand it; this could no more be the crime of slaveholding and oppression than it is murder or any other crime. It would not be selfishness, but benevolence, and therefore no crime at all, but virtue. But selfishness embodies and includes every element of oppression. Its end, the means, and its every breath is but an incessant denial of all rights but those of self. All sinners are oppressors and slaveholders in heart and in fact. They practice continual oppression and nothing else. They make God serve them without wages, and they, as he says, "make Him to serve with their sins." God, all men and all things and events are as far as possible made to serve them without the return of the least disinterested regard to their interests. Disinterested regard! Why the very term contradicts the supposition that he is a sinner. He has, he can have in no instance any other than selfish aims in appearing, to care for any one's interest for its own sake.
All unconverted abolitionists are slaveholders in heart and so far as possible in life. There is not one of them who would not enslave every slave at the South and his master too and all at the North and the whole universe and God himself so far as he could. Indeed he does, and remaining selfish, he can not but aim to enslave all beings, to make them so far as possible contribute to his interest and pleasure without the least disinterested regard to their interest in return.
Oppression is an essential attribute of selfishness and always develops itself according to circumstances. When it has power, it uses the chain and the whip. When it has not power, it resorts to other means of securing the services of others without disinterested return. Sometimes it supplicates; but this is only because it is regarded as necessary or expedient. It is oppression under whatever form it assumes. It is in fact a denial of all rights but those of self, and a practical claiming of God and of all beings and events as ours. It is to all intents the chattel principle universally applied. So that all sinners are both slaves and slaveholders; in heart and endeavor they enslave God and all men; and other sinners in heart and endeavor enslave them. Every sinner is endeavoring in heart to appropriate to himself all good.
15. War is another attribute of selfishness.
War is strife. It is opposed to peace or amity. Selfishness on the very face of it, is a declaration of war with all beings. It is setting up self-interest in opposition to all other interests. It is an attempt and a deliberate intention to seize upon and subordinate all interests to our own. It is impossible that there should not be a state of perpetual hostility between a selfish being and all benevolent beings. They are mutually and necessarily opposed to each other. The benevolent are seeking the universal good, and the selfish are seeking their own gratification without the least voluntary regard to any interest but that of self. Here is opposition and war of course and of necessity.
But it is no less true that every selfish being is at war with every other selfish being. Each is seeking and fully consecrated to his own interest and denying all rights but his own. Here is and must be war. There is no use in talking of putting away slavery or war from earth while selfishness is in it; for they both inhere in the very nature of selfishness; and every selfish being is an oppressor, a slaveholder, a tyrant, a warrior, a duelist, a pirate, and all that is implied in making war upon all beings. This is no railing accusation, but sober verity. The forms of war and of oppression may be modified indefinitely. The bloody sword may be sheathed. The manacle and the lash may be laid aside, and a more refined mode of oppression and of war may be carried on; but oppression and war must continue under some form so long as selfishness continues. It is impossible that it should not. Nor will the more refined and specious, and if you please, baptized forms of oppression and war that may succeed those now practised involve less guilt and be less displeasing to God than the present. No indeed. As light increases and compels selfishness to lay aside the sword and bury the manacle and the whip and profess the religion of Christ the guilt of selfishness increases every moment. The former manifestation is changed, compelled by increasing light and advancing civilization and christianization. Oppression and war, although so much changed in form are not at all abandoned in fact. Nay, they are only strengthened by increasing light. Nor can it be told or so much as rationally conjectured whether the more refined modifications of oppression and war that may succeed, will upon the whole be a real benefit to mankind. Guilt will certainly increase as light increases. Sin abounds and becomes exceeding sinful just in proportion as the light of truth is poured upon the selfish mind; and whether it is a real good to promote mere outward reform without reforming the heart, who can tell? The fact is selfishness must be done away; the ax must be laid at the root of the tree. It is a mistaken zeal that wastes its energies in merely modifying the forms in which selfishness manifests itself in changing the modes of oppression and war and bringing about mere refinements in sin. I can not for my life respect in myself or in others such efforts. What do they amount to after all but to whitewash and baptize a sinner and gather about him a delusion deep as death and send him by the shortest way to hell? All such efforts remind me of an affirmation I once heard a preacher make, namely, "that self-righteousness is good so far as it goes, but is like a coat without sleeves."
Many seem to think that to bring about mere outward reform is a good so far as it goes. But it is no real good unless true virtue and happiness be gained. Unless selfishness be put away it is no positive good. Whether, then, outward reforms will prove to be the less of two evils, who can tell? Do you ask, then, what shall we do? Shall we do nothing, but let things go on as they are? I answer, no, by no means: Do, if possible, ten times more than ever to put away these and all the evils that are under the sun. But aim at the annihilation of selfishness, and when you succeed in reforming the heart, the life can not but be reformed. Put away selfishness, and oppression and war are no more. But engage in bringing about any other reform, and you are but building dams of sand. Selfishness will force for itself a channel; and who can say that its desolations may not be more fearful and calamitous in this new modification than before? Attempting to reform selfishness and teach it better manners, is like daming up the waters of the Mississippi. It will only surely overflow its banks, and change its channel, and carry devastation and death in its course. I am aware that many will regard this as heresy. But God seeth not as man seeth. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart. All the wars and filthiness of heathenism God winks at as comparatively a light thing when put into the scale against the most refined form of intelligent but heartless Christianity that ever existed.
But to return. Let it be forever understood that selfishness is at war with all nations and with all beings. It has no element of peace in it any further than all beings and all interests are yielded to the gratification of self. This is its essential, its unalterable nature. This attribute can not cease while selfishness remains.
All selfish men who are advocates of peace principles, are necessarily hypocrites. They say and do not. They preach but do not practice. Peace is on their lips, but war is on their hearts. They proclaim peace and good will to men, while under their stolen robe of peace, they conceal their poisoned implements of war against God and the universe. This is, this must be. I am anxious to make the impression and lodge it deep in your inmost hearts, so that you shall always practically hold, and teach, and regard this as a fundamental truth both of natural and revealed religion, that a selfish man, be he who he may, instead of being a christian, a man of peace, and a servant of the Prince of peace, is, in heart, in character, in spirit, in fact, a rebel, an enemy, a warrior, truly and in fact at war with God and all beings.
16. Unmercifulness is another attribute of selfishness. Mercy is a disposition to pardon crime, and will and must manifest itself in efforts to secure the conditions upon which crime can be reasonably forgiven, if such condition can be secured. Unmercifulness is an unwillingness to forgive sin, and of course manifests itself either by resisting efforts to secure its forgiveness, or by treating such efforts with coldness or contempt. The manner in which sinners treat the plan of salvation, the atonement of Christ, the means used by God and the church to bring about the pardon of sin, demonstrates that their tender mercies are cruelty. The apostle charges them with being "implacable, unmerciful." Their opposition to the gospel, to revivals of religion, and to all the exhibitions of the mercy of God which he has made to our world, show that unmercifulness is an attribute of their character.
Sinners generally profess to be the friends of mercy. They with their lips extol the mercy of God. But how do they treat it? Do they embrace it? Do they honor it as something which they favor? Do they hold it forth to all men as worthy of all acceptation? Or do they wage an unrelenting war with it? How did they treat Christ when he came on his errand of mercy? They brought forth the appalling demonstration that unmercifulness is an essential attribute of their character. They persecuted unto death the very impersonation and embodiment of mercy. And this same attribute of selfishness has always manifested itself under some form whenever a development and an exhibition of mercy has been made. Let the blood of prophets and apostles, the blood of millions of martyrs--and above all let the blood of the God of mercy speak. What is their united testimony? Why, this--that the perfection of unmercifulness is one of the essential and eternal attributes of selfishness.
Whenever, therefore, a selfish being appears to be of a merciful disposition, it is, it can be, only in appearance. His feelings may be sensitive, and he may sometimes, nay often, or always yield to them, but this is only selfishness. The reason and the only reason why every sinner does not exhibit every appalling form of unmercifulness and cruelty, is, that God has so tempered his sensibility, and so surrounded him with influences as to modify the manifestation of selfishness and to develop other attributes more prominently than this. Unmerciful he is, and unmerciful he must be while he remains in sin. To represent him as other than an unmerciful wretch were to misrepresent him. No matter who it is. That delicate female who would hint at the sight of blood! if she is a sinner, she is spurning and scorning the mercy of God. She lets others go down to hell unpardoned without an effort to secure their pardon. Shall she be represented as other than unmerciful? No language can describe the hardness of her heart. See! the cup of salvation is presented to her lips by a Savior's bleeding hand. She nevertheless dashes it from her, and tramples its contents beneath her feet. It passes from lip to lip. But she offers no prayer that it may be accepted; or if she does, it is only the prayer of a hypocrite while she rejects it herself. No, with all her delicacy, her tender mercies are utter cruelty. With her own hands she crucifies the Son of God afresh and would put him to open shame! O monstrous! a woman murdering the Savior of the world! Her hands and garments all stained with blood! And call her merciful! O shame, where is thy blush?
17. Falsehood or Lying is another attribute of selfishness. Falsehood may be objective or subjective. Objective falsehood is that which stands opposed to truth. Subjective falsehood is a heart conformed to error and to objective falsehood. Subjective falsehood is a state of mind or an attribute of selfishness. It is the will in the attitude of resisting truth and embracing error and lies. This is always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness consists in the choice of an end opposed to all truth, and can not but proceed to the realization of that end in conformity with error or falsehood instead of truth. If at any time it seize upon objective truth, as it often does, it is with a false intention. It is with an intention at war with the truth, the nature, and the relations of things.
If any sinner, at any time and under any circumstances, tell the truth, it is for a selfish reason; it is to compass a false end. He has a lie in his heart and a lie in his right hand. He stands upon falsehood. He lives for it, and if he does not uniformly and openly falsify the truth, it is because objective truth is consistent with subjective falsehood. His heart is false, as false as it can be. It has embraced and sold itself to the greatest lie in the universe. The selfish man has practically proclaimed that his good is the supreme good; nay, that there is no other good but his own, that there are no other rights but his own, that all are bound to serve him, and that all interests are to yield to his. Now all this, as I said, is the greatest falsehood that ever was or can be. Yet this is the solemn practical declaration of every sinner. His choice affirms that God has no rights, that he ought not to be loved and obeyed, that he has no right to govern the universe, but that God and all beings ought to obey and serve the sinner. Can there be a greater, a more shameless falsehood than all this? And shall such an one pretend to regard the truth? Nay, verily. The very pretence is only an instance and an illustration of the truth that Falsehood is an essential element of his character.
If every sinner on earth does not openly and at all times falsify the truth, it is not because of the truthfulness of his heart, but for some purely selfish reason. This must be. His heart is utterly false. It is impossible that, remaining a sinner, he should have any true regard to the truth. He is a liar in his heart: this is an essential and an eternal attribute of his character. It is true that his intelligence condemns falsehood and justifies truth, and that oftentimes through the intelligence, a deep impression is or maybe made on his sensibility in favor of the truth; but if the heart is unchanged, it holds on to lies, and perseveres in the practical proclamation of the greatest lies in the universe, to wit: that God ought not to be trusted; that Christ is not worthy of confidence; that one's own interest is the supreme good; and that all interests ought to be accounted of less value than one's own.
18. Pride is another attribute of selfishness.
Pride is a disposition to exalt self above others, to get out of one's proper place in the scale of being, and to climb up over the heads of our equals or superiors. Pride is a species of injustice on the one hand, and is nearly allied to ambition on the other. It is not a term of so extensive an import as either injustice or ambition. It sustains to each of them a near relation, but is not identical with either. It is a kind of self-praise, self-worship, self-flattery, self-adulation, a spirit of self-consequence, of self-importance. It is an exalting not merely one's interest, but one's person above others, and above God, and above all other beings. A proud being supremely regards himself. He worships and can worship no one but self. He does not, and remaining selfish, he can not, practically admit that there is any one so good and worthy as himself. He aims at conferring supreme favor upon himself; and practically admits no claim of any being in the universe to any good or interest that will interfere with his own. He can stoop to give preference to the interest, the reputation, the authority of no one, no not of God himself. His practical language is, Who is Jehovah that I should bow down to him? It is impossible that a selfish soul should be humble. Pride is an essential modification or attribute of selfishness. Sinners are represented in the bible as proud, as "flattering themselves in their own eyes."
Pride is not a vice distinct from selfishness, but is only a modification of selfishness. Selfishness is the root or stock in which every form of sin inheres. This it is important to show. Selfishness has been scarcely regarded by many as a vice, much less as constituting the whole of vice; consequently, when. selfishness has been most apparent, it has been supposed and assumed that there might be along with it many forms of virtue. It is for this reason that I take up your time and my own in showing what are the essential elements of selfishness. So it has been supposed that selfishness might exist in any heart without implying every form of sin; that a man might be selfish and yet not proud. In short, it has been overlooked that where selfishness is, there must be every form of sin, that where there is one form of selfishness manifested, it is a breach of every commandment of God and implies in fact the real existence of every possible form of sin and abomination in the heart. My object is to pursue this course of instruction so far and no farther than will fully develop in your minds the great truth that where selfishness is, there must be in a state either of development or of undevelopment every form of sin that exists in earth or hell; that all sin is a unit, and some form of selfishness; and that where this is, all sin must be.
The only reason that pride, as a form of selfishness, does not appear in all sinners in the most disgusting forms is only this, that their constitutional temperament and providential circumstances are such as to give a more prominent development to some other attribute of selfishness. It is important to remark that where any one form of unqualified sin exists, there selfishness must exist, and there of course every form of sin must exist, at least in embryo, and waiting only for providential circumstances to develop it. When therefore you see any form of sin, know assuredly that selfishness, the root, is there, and expect nothing else, if selfishness continues, than to see developed, one after one, every form of sin as the providence of God shall present the occasion. Selfishness is a volcano, sometimes smothered, but which must have vent. The providence of God cannot but present occasions upon which its lava-tides will burst forth and carry desolation before them.
That all these forms of sin exist has been known and admitted. But it does not appear to me that the philosophy of sin has been duly considered by many. It is important that we should get at the fundamental or generic form of sin, that form which includes and implies all others, or more properly, which constitutes the whole of sin. Such is selfishness. "Let it be written with the point of a diamond and engraved in the rock forever," that it may be known that where selfishness is, there every precept of the law is violated, there is the whole of sin. Its guilt and ill desert must depend upon the light with which the selfish mind is surrounded. But sin, the whole of sin, is there.
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