CHARLES G. FINNEY
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION
I. The Will of God.
II. Self Interest.
I will now proceed to the examination of various other Theories of the Foundation of Moral Obligation, for the purpose of showing that they all involve the most palpable contradiction of their own admitted principles, of the plainest intuitions of Reason, and of Divine Revelation. I will commence with the Theory.
I. That the Sovereign Will of God is the Foundation of Moral Obligation.
1. By the Will of God I suppose is intended his willing that we should will, choose, intend some end. For Moral Obligation, let it be remembered, respects the choice of an end, or the ultimate intention. This theory, then, makes God's willing, commanding, the foundation of the obligation to choose or intend an ultimate end. If this is so, then the willing of God is the end to be intended. For the end to be intended and the reason of the obligation to intend it, are identical. But it is impossible to will or choose the Divine willing or requirement as an ultimate end. God's willing reveals a Law, a rule of choice, or of intention. It requires something to be intended as an ultimate end for its own intrinsic value. This end can not be the willing, commandment, law itself. This is absurd and impossible. Does God will that I should choose his willing as an ultimate end? This is ridiculously absurd. It is a plain contradiction to say that Moral Obligation respects directly ultimate intention only, or the choice of an end for its own intrinsic value, and yet that the Will of God is the foundation or reason of the obligation. This is affirming at the same breath that the intrinsic value of the end which God requires me to choose, is the reason or foundation of the obligation to choose it, and yet that this is not the reason, but that the Will of God is the reason.
Willing can never be an end. God can not will our willing as an end. Nor can he will his willing as an end. Willing, choosing, always and necessarily implies an end willed entirely distinct from the willing or choice itself. Willing can not be regarded or willed as an ultimate end for two reasons:
(1.) Because that on which choice or willing terminates, and not the choice itself, must be regarded as the end.
(2.) Because choice or willing is of no intrinsic value and of no relative value aside from the end willed or chosen.
2. The will of God can not be the foundation of Moral Obligation in created moral agents. It is admitted that God is himself the subject of Moral Obligation. If so, there is some reason, independent of his own will, why he wills as he does, some reason that imposes obligation upon him to will as he does will. His will, then, respecting the conduct of moral agents, is not the fundamental reason of their obligation; but the foundation of their obligation must be the reason which induces God or makes it obligatory on him to will in respect to the conduct of moral agents, just what he does.
3. If the will of God were the foundation of Moral Obligation, he could, by willing it, change the nature of virtue and vice.
4. If the will of God were the foundation of Moral Obligation, he not only can change the nature of virtue and vice, but has a right to do so; for if there is nothing back of his will that is as binding upon him as upon his creatures, he could at any time, by willing it, make malevolence a virtue, and benevolence a vice.
5. If the will of God be the foundation of Moral Obligation, we have no standard by which to judge of the moral character of His actions, and can not know whether he is worthy of praise or blame.
6. If the will of God is the foundation of Moral Obligation, he has no standard by which to judge of his own character, as he has no rule with which to compare his own actions.
7. If the will of God is the foundation of Moral Obligation, he is not himself a subject of Moral Obligation. But,
8. If God is not a subject of Moral Obligation, he has no moral character; for virtue and vice are nothing else but conformity or non-conformity to Moral Obligation. The will of God, as expressed in his law, is the rule of duty to moral agents. It defines and marks out the path of duty, but the fundamental reason why moral agents ought to act in conformity to the will of God, is plainly not the will of God itself.
9. The Will of no being can be law. Moral Law is an idea of the Reason and not the willing of any being. If the Will of any being were law, that being could not by natural possibility will wrong, for whatever he willed would be right, simply and only because he willed it. This is absurd.
10. But let us bring this Philosophy into the light of Divine Revelation. "To the Law and to the Testimony: if it agree not therewith, it is because it hath no light in it."
The Law of God, or the Moral Law, requires that God shall be loved with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Now it is agreed by the parties in this discussion, that the love required is not mere emotion, but that it consists in choice, willing, intention--i.e., in the choice of something on account of its own intrinsic value, or in the choice of an ultimate end. Now what is this end? What is that which we are to choose for its own intrinsic value? Is it the will or command of God? Are we to will as an ultimate end, that God should will that we should thus will? What can be more absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous than this? But again: what is this love, willing, choosing, intending, required by the Law? We are commanded to love God and our neighbor. What is this--what can it be, but to will the highest good or well-being of God and our neighbor? This is intrinsically and infinitely valuable. This must be the end required, and nothing can possibly be Law that requires the choice of any other ultimate end. Nor can that by any possibility be true Philosophy that makes any thing else the Reason or Foundation of Moral Obligation.
But it is said that we are conscious of affirming our obligation to obey the will of God without reference to any other reason than his will; and this, it is said, proves that His will is the Foundation of the Obligation.
To this I reply, the Reason does indeed affirm that we ought to will that which God commands, but it does not and can not assign His will as the foundation of the obligation to will it. His whole will respecting our duty is summed up in the two precepts of the Law. These as we have seen, require universal good will to being, or the Supreme Love of God and the Equal Love of our neighbor--that we should will the highest well-being of God and of the Universe for its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value. Reason affirms that we ought thus to will. And can it be so self-contradictory as to affirm that we ought to will the good of God and of the Universe for its own intrinsic value; yet not for this reason, but because God wills that we should will it? Impossible ! But in this objection or assertion, the objector has reference to some outward act, some condition or means of the end to be chosen, and not to the end itself. But even in respect to any act whatever, his objection does not hold good. For example, God requires me to labor and pray for the salvation of souls, or to do any thing else. Now his command is necessarily regarded by me as obligatory, not as an arbitrary requirement, but as revealing infallibly the true means or conditions of securing the great and ultimate end which I am to will for its intrinsic value. I necessarily regard his commandment as wise and benevolent, and it is only because I so regard it that I affirm or can affirm my obligation to obey Him. Should He command me to choose as an ultimate end, or for its own intrinsic value, that which my Reason affirmed to be of no intrinsic value, I could not possibly affirm my obligation to obey Him. Should He command me to do that which my Reason affirmed to be unwise and malevolent, it were impossible for me to affirm my obligation to obey Him. This proves beyond controversy that Reason does not regard His command as the foundation of the obligation to obey, but only as infallible proof that that which He commands is wise and benevolent in itself, and commanded by Him for that reason.
If the will of God were the Foundation of Moral Obligation, He might command me to violate and trample down all the laws of my being, and to be the enemy of all good, and I should not only be under obligation, but affirm my obligation to obey him. But this is absurd. This brings us to the conclusion that he who asserts that Moral Obligation respects the choice of an end for its intrinsic value, and still affirms the will of God to be the Foundation of Moral Obligation, contradicts his own admissions, the plainest intuitions of Reason, and Divine Revelation. His theory is grossly inconsistent and nonsensical. It overlooks the very nature of Moral Law as an idea of Reason, and makes it to consist in arbitrary willing. This is nonsense.
II. I now proceed to state and examine a second Theory.
For convenience sake I shall call it the theory of Paley. His theory, as every reader of Paley knows, makes self-interest the Ground of Moral Obligation. Upon this theory I remark,
1. That if self-interest be the ground of Moral Obligation, then self-interest is the end to be chosen for its own sake. To be virtuous I must in every instance intend my own interest as the supreme good.
2. Upon this hypothesis, I am to treat my own interest as supremely valuable, when it is infinitely less valuable than the interests of God. Thus I am under a moral obligation to prefer an infinitely less good, because it is my own, to one of infinitely greater value that belongs to another. This is precisely what every sinner in earth and hell does.
3. But this theory would impose on me a moral obligation to choose contrary to the nature and relations of things, and, therefore, contrary to Moral Law. But this is absurd.
4. But let us examine this theory in the light of the revealed law. If this Philosophy be correct, the Law should read, "Thou shalt love thyself supremely, and God and thy neighbor not at all." For Dr. Paley holds the only reason of the obligation to be self-interest. If this is so, then I am under an obligation to love myself alone, and never do my duty when I at all love God or my neighbor. He says it is the utility of any rule alone which constitutes the obligation of it. (Paley's Moral Philo., Book 2, chap. 6.) Again he says, "And let it be asked why I am obliged, (obligated) to keep my word? and the answer will be: Because I am urged to do so by a violent motive, namely, the expectation of being after this life rewarded if I do so, or punished if I do not."--(Paley's Moral Philo., Book 2, chap. 3.) Thus it would seem that it is the utility of a rule to myself only that constitutes the ground of obligation to obey it.
But should this be denied, still it can not be denied that Dr. Paley maintains that self-interest is the ground of Moral Obligation. If this is so, i.e., if this be the foundation of Moral Obligation, whether Paley or any one else holds it to be true, then, undeniably, the Moral Law should read, "thou shalt love thyself supremely, and God and thy neighbor subordinately;" or, more strictly, Thou shalt love thyself as an end, and God and your neighbor only as a means of promoting your own interest.
5. If this theory be true, all the precepts in the Bible need to be altered. Instead of the injunction, "Whatever you do, do it heartily unto the Lord," it should read: Whatever you do, do it heartily unto yourself. Instead of the injunction, "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," it should read: Do all to secure your own interest. Should it be said that this school would say that the meaning of these precepts is, do all to the glory of God to secure your own interest thereby, I answer: This is a contradiction. To do it to or for the glory of God is one thing, to do it to secure my own interest is an entirely different and opposite thing. To do it for the glory of God, is to make his glory my end. But to do it to secure my own interest, is to make my own interest the end.
6. But let us look at this theory in the light of the revealed conditions of salvation. "Except a man forsake all that he hath he can not be my disciple." If the theory under consideration be true, it should read: Except a man make his own interest the supreme end of pursuit, he can not be my disciple. Again; "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross," etc. This, in conformity with the theory in question, should read: "If any man will come after me let him not deny himself, but cherish and supremely seek his own interest. A multitude of such passages might be quoted, as every reader of the Bible knows.
7. But let us examine this theory in the light of Scripture declarations. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This, according to the theory we are opposing, should read: It is more blessed to receive than to give. "Charity, (love) seeketh not her own." This should read: Charity seeketh her own. "No man (that is no righteous man,) liveth to himself." This should read: Every (righteous man) liveth to himself.
8. Let this theory be examined in the light of the spirit and example of Christ. "Even Christ pleased not himself." This should read, if Christ was holy and did his duty: Even Christ pleased himself, or which is the same thing, sought his own interest.
"I seek not mine own glory but the glory of Him who sent me." This should read: I seek not the glory of Him who sent me, but mine own glory.
But enough; you can not fail to see that this is a selfish Philosophy, and the exact opposite of the truth of God.
But let us examine this Philosophy in the light of the admission that Moral Obligation respects ultimate intention only. I ought to choose the good of God and my neighbor for its own intrinsic value; That is, as an ultimate end, and yet not as an ultimate end for its intrinsic value, but only as a means of promoting my own interest! This is a plain contradiction. What! I am to love, that is, will good to God and my neighbor as an ultimate end or for its own sake, merely to promote my own happiness!
III. I will in the next place consider the Utilitarian Philosophy.
This maintains that the utility of an act or choice renders it obligatory. That is, Utility is the Foundation of Moral Obligation--that the tendency of an act, choice, or intention, to secure a good or valuable end is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that choice or intention. Upon this theory I remark,
1. That it is absurd to say the foundation of the obligation to choose a certain end is to be found not in the value of the end itself, but in the tendency of the intention to secure the end. The tendency is valuable or otherwise, as the end is valuable or otherwise. It is and must be the value of the end and not the tendency of an intention to secure the end, that constitutes the foundation of the obligation to intend.
2. We have seen that the foundation of obligation to will or choose any end as such, that is, on its own account, must consist in the intrinsic value of the end, and that nothing else whatever can impose obligation to choose any thing as an ultimate end, but its intrinsic value. To affirm the contrary is to affirm a contradiction. It is the same as to say that I ought to choose a thing as an end, and yet not as an end, that is, for its own sake, but for some other reason, to wit, the tendency of my choice to secure that end. Here I affirm at the same breath that the thing intended is to be an end, that is, chosen for its own intrinsic value, and yet not as an end or for its intrinsic value, but for entirely a different reason, to wit, the tendency of the choice to secure it.
3. But we have also seen that the end chosen and the reason for the choice are identical. If Utility be the foundation of Moral Obligation, then Utility is the end to be chosen. That is, the tendency of the choice to secure its end is the end to be chosen. This is absurd.
4. But the very announcement of this theory implies its absurdity. A choice is obligatory because it tends to secure good. But why secure good rather than evil? The answer is because good is valuable. Ah! here then we have another reason, and one which must be the true reason, to wit, the value of the good which the choice tends to secure. Obligation to use means to do good may and must be conditionated upon the tendency of those means to secure the end, but the obligation to use them is founded solely in the value of the end.
But let us examine this philosophy in the light of the oracles of God. What say the Scriptures?
(1.) The Law. Does this require us to love God and our neighbor because loving God and our neighbor tends to the well-being either of God, our neighbor, or ourselves? Is it the tendency or utility of love that makes it obligatory upon us to exercise it? What! will good, not from regard to its value, but because willing good will do good! But why do good? What is this love? Here let it be distinctly remembered that the love required by the law of God is not a mere emotion or feeling, but willing, choosing, intending, in a word, that this love is nothing else than ultimate intention. What, then, is to be intended as an end or for its own sake? Is it the tendency of love or the utility of ultimate intention that is the end to be intended? It must be the latter if Utilitarianism is true.
According to this theory, when the law requires supreme love to God, and equal love to our neighbor, the meaning is, not that we are to will, choose, intend the well-being of God and our neighbor for its own sake or because of its intrinsic value, but because of the tendency of the intention to promote the good of God, our neighbor and ourselves. But suppose the tendency of love or intention to be what it may, the utility of it depends upon the intrinsic value of that which it tends to promote. Suppose love or intention tends to promote its end, this is a useful tendency only because the end is valuable in itself. It is nonsense then to say that love to God and man, or an intention to promote their good is required, not because of the value of their well-being, but because love tends to promote their well-being.
But the supposition that the Law of God requires love to God and man or the choice of their good on account of the tendency of love to promote their well-being, is absurd. It is to represent the law as requiring love, not to God and our neighbor as an end, but to tendency as an end. The law in this case should read thus: Thou shalt love the utility or tendency of Love with all thy heart, etc.
If the theory under consideration is true, this is the spirit and meaning of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord and thy neighbor, that is, thou shall choose their good, not for its own sake or as an end, but because choosing it tends to promote it. This is absurd; for I ask again, why promote it but for its own value?
Again this theory is absurd, because if the Law of God requires ultimate intention, it is a contradiction to affirm that the intention ought to terminate on its own tendency as an end.
2. Again, let us examine this theory in the light of the precepts of the gospel. "Do all to the glory of God." The spirit of this requirement, as is admitted, is, intend, choose the glory of God. But why choose the glory of God? Why, if Utilitarianism be true, not because of the value of God's glory, but because choosing it tends to promote it. But again, I ask why promote it if it be not valuable? And if it be valuable, why not will it for that reason?
3. But it is said that we are conscious of affirming obligation to do many things on the ground that those things are useful or tend to promote good.
I answer that we are conscious of affirming obligation to do many things upon condition of their tendency to promote good, but that we never affirm obligation to be founded on this tendency. Such an affirmation would be a down-right absurdity. I am under an obligation to use the means to promote good, not for the sake of its intrinsic value, but for the sake of the tendency of the means to promote it! This is absurd.
I say again, the obligation to outward action or to use means may and must be conditionated upon perceived tendency, but never founded in this tendency. Ultimate intention has no such condition. The perceived intrinsic value imposes obligation without any reference to the tendency of the intention.
4. But suppose any utilitarian should deny that moral obligation respects ultimate intention only, and maintain that it also respects those volitions and actions that sustain to the ultimate end the relation of means, and therefore assert that the foundation of moral obligation in respect to all those volitions and actions, is their tendency to secure a valuable end. This would not at all relieve the difficulty of Utilitarianism, for in this case tendency could only be a condition of the obligation, while the fundamental reason of the obligation would and must be the intrinsic value of the end which these may have a tendency to promote. Tendency to promote an end can impose no obligation. The end must be intrinsically valuable and this alone imposes obligation to choose the end, and to use the means to promote it. Upon condition that any thing is perceived to sustain to this end the relation of a necessary means, we are for the sake of the end alone under obligation to use the means.
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