The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
(9.) Efficiency is another attribute of selfishness.
Desire never produces action until it influences the will. It has no efficiency or causality in itself. It cannot, without the concurrence of the will, command the attention of the intellect, or move a muscle of the body. The whole causality of the mind resides in the will. In it resides the power of accomplishment.
Again: the whole efficiency of the mind, as it respects accomplishment, resides in the choice of an end, or in the ultimate intention. All action of the will, or all willing, must consist in choosing either an end, or the means of accomplishing an end. If there is choice, something is chosen. That something is chosen for some reason. To deny this is a denial that any thing is chosen. The ultimate reason for the choice and the thing chosen, are identical. This we have repeatedly seen.
Again: we have seen that the means cannot be chosen until the end is chosen. The choice of the end is distinct from the volitions or endeavours of the mind to secure the end. But although the choice of an end is not identical with the subordinate choices and volitions to secure the end, yet it necessitates them. The choice once made, secures or necessitates the executive volitions to secure the end. By this it is not intended that the mind is not free to relinquish its end, and of course to relinquish the use of the means to accomplish it; but only that, while the choice or intention remains, the choice of the end by the will is efficient in producing volitions to realize the end. This is true both of benevolence and selfishness. They are both choices of an end, and are necessarily efficient in producing the use of the means to realize this end. They are choices of opposite ends, and, of course, will produce their respective results.
The Bible represents sinners as having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; that while the will is committed to the indulgence of the propensities, they cannot cease from the indulgence. There is no way, therefore, for the sinner to escape from the commission of sin, but to cease to be selfish. While selfishness continues, you may change the form of outward manifestation, you may deny one appetite or desire for the sake of indulging another; but it is and must be sin still. The desire to escape hell, and to obtain heaven may become the strongest, in which case, selfishness will take on a most sanctimonious type. But if the will is following desire, it is selfishness still; and all your religious duties, as you call them, are only selfishness robed in the stolen habiliments of loving obedience to God.
Be it remembered, then, that selfishness is, and must be, efficient in producing its effects. It is cause: the effect must follow. The whole life and activity of sinners is founded in it. It constitutes their life, or rather their spiritual death. They are dead in trespasses and in sins. It is in vain for them to dream of doing anything good, until they relinquish their selfishness. While this continues, they cannot act at all, except as they use the means to accomplish a selfish end. It is impossible, while the will remains committed to a selfish end, or to the promotion of self-interest or self-gratification, that it should use the means to promote a benevolent end. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease from outward sin. Indeed, if the end be changed, many of the same acts which were before sinful will become holy. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner does, is selfish. Whether he eats, or drinks, or labours, or preaches, or, in short, whatever he does, is to promote some form of self-interest. The end being wrong, all is, and must be, wrong.
But let the end be changed; let benevolence take the place of selfishness, and all is right. With this end in view the mind is absolutely incapable of doing anything or of choosing anything, except as a means of promoting the good of the universe.
I wish to impress this truth deeply upon the mind, and, therefore, give the substance of the preceding remarks in the form of definite propositions.
i. All action consists in, or results from, choice.
ii. All choice must respect or consist in the choice of an end or of means. The mind is incapable of choosing unless it has an object of choice, and that object must be regarded by the mind either as an end or as a means.
iii. The mind can have but one ultimate end at the same time.
iv. It cannot choose the means until it has chosen the end.
v. It cannot choose one end and use means to accomplish another, at the same time.
vi. Therefore, while the will is benevolent or committed to the glory of God and the good of being, it cannot use the means of self-gratification in a selfish sense, or, in other words, it cannot put forth selfish volitions.
vii. When the will is committed to self-indulgence it cannot use the means designed to glorify God and promote the good of men as an end. This is impossible.
viii. The carnal heart or mind cannot but sin; "it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be," because it is "enmity against God."
ix. The new or regenerate heart cannot sin. It is benevolence, love to God and man. This cannot sin. These are both ultimate choices or intentions. They are from their own nature efficient, each excluding the other, and each securing, for the time being, the exclusive use of means to promote its end. To deny this, is the same as to maintain either that the will can, at the same time, choose two opposite ends, or that it can choose one end only, but, at the same time, choose the means to accomplish another end, not yet chosen. Now either alternative is absurd. Then holiness and sin can never co-exist in the same mind, at the same time. Each, as has been said, for the time being, necessarily excludes the other. Selfishness and benevolence co-exist in the same mind! A greater absurdity and a more gross contradiction was never conceived or expressed. No one for a moment ever supposed that selfishness and benevolence could co-exist in the same mind, who had clearly defined ideas of what they are. When desire is mistaken on the one hand for benevolence, and on the other for selfishness, the mistake is natural, that selfishness and benevolence can co-exist in the same mind. But as soon as it is seen, that benevolence and selfishness are supreme ultimate opposite choices, the affirmation is instantaneous and irresistible, that they can neither co-exist, nor can one use means to promote the other. While benevolence remains, the mind's whole activity springs from it as from a fountain. This is the philosophy of Christ. "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." Matt. xii. 33, 35. "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh." James iii. 11, 12. "For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." Luke vi. 43-45.
(10.) Opposition to benevolence, or to virtue, or to holiness and true religion, is one of the attributes of selfishness; this quality belongs to the nature of selfishness.
Selfishness is not, in its relations to benevolence, a mere negation. It cannot be. It is the choice of self-gratification as the supreme and ultimate end of life. While the will is committed to this end, and benevolence, or a mind committed to an opposite end, is contemplated, the will cannot remain in a state of indifference to benevolence. It must either yield its preference of self-indulgence, or resist the benevolence which the intellect perceives. The will cannot remain in the exercise of this selfish choice, without as it were bracing and girding itself against that virtue, which it does not imitate. If it does not imitate it, it must be because it refuses to do so. The intellect does, and must, strongly urge the will to imitate benevolence, and to seek the same end. The will must yield or resist, and the resistance must be more or less resolute and determined, as the demands of the intellect are more or less emphatic. This resistance to benevolence or to the demands of the intellect in view of it, is what the Bible calls, hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will, under the light and the presence of true religion and the admitted claims of benevolence.
This opposition to benevolence or true religion, must be developed in specific action, whenever the mind apprehends true religion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Not only must this opposition be developed, or selfishness abandoned, under such circumstances, but it must increase as true religion displays more and more of its loveliness. As the light from the radiant sun of benevolence is poured more and more upon the darkness of selfishness, the opposition of this principle of action must of necessity manifest itself in the same proportion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Thus selfishness remaining under light, must manifest more and more opposition, just in proportion as light increases, and the soul has less the colour of an apology for its opposition.
This peculiarity of selfishness has always been manifested just in proportion as it has been brought into the light of true religion. This accounts for all the opposition that has been made to true religion since the world began. It also proves that where there are impenitent sinners, and they retain their impenitence, and manifest no hostility to the religion which they witness, that there is something defective in the professed piety which they behold; or at least they do not contemplate all the attributes of a true piety. It also proves, that persecution will always exist where much true religion is manifested to those who hold fast their selfishness.
It is indeed true, that selfishness and benevolence are just as much opposed to each other, and just as much and as necessarily at war with each other, as God and Satan, as heaven and hell. There can never be a truce between them; they are essential and eternal opposites. They are not merely opposites, but they are opposite efficient causes. They are essential activities. They are the two, and the only two, great antagonistic principles in the universe of mind. Each is heaving and energizing like an earthquake to realize its end. A war of mutual and uncompromising extermination necessarily exists between them. Neither can be in the presence of the other, without repulsion and opposition. Each puts forth all its energy to subdue and overcome the other; and already selfishness has shed an ocean of the blood of saints, as well as the precious blood of the Prince of life. There is not a more gross and injurious mistake, than to suppose that selfishness ever, under any circumstances, becomes reconciled to benevolence. The supposition is absurd and contradictory; since for selfishness to become reconciled to benevolence, were the same thing as for selfishness to become benevolence. Selfishness may change the mode of attack or of its opposition, but its real opposition it can never change, while it retains its own nature and continues to be selfishness.
This opposition of the heart to benevolence often begets deep opposition of feeling. The opposition of the will engages the intellect in fabricating excuses, and cavils, and lies, and refuges, and often greatly perverts the thoughts, and excites the most bitter feelings imaginable toward God and toward the saints. Selfishness will strive to justify its opposition, and to shield itself against the reproaches of conscience, and will resort to every possible expedient to cover up its real hostility to holiness. It will pretend that it is not holiness, but sin that it opposes. But the fact is, it is not sin but holiness to which it stands for ever opposed. The opposition of feeling is only developed when the heart is brought into a strong light, and makes deep and strong resistance. In such cases, the sensibility sometimes boils over with feelings of bitter opposition to God, and Christ, and all good.
The question is often asked, May not this opposition exist in the sensibility, and those feelings of hostility to God exist, when the heart is in a truly benevolent state? To this inquiry, I would reply: If it can, it must be produced by infernal or some other influence that misrepresents God, and places his character before the mind in a false light. Blasphemous thoughts may be suggested, and, as it were, injected into the mind. These thoughts may have their natural effect in the sensibility, and feelings of bitterness and hostility may exist without the consent of the will. The will may all the while be endeavouring to repel these suggestions, and divert the attention from such thoughts, yet Satan may continue to hurl his fiery darts, and the soul may be racked with torture under the poison of hell, which seems to be taking effect in the sensibility. The mind, at such times, seems to itself to be filled, so far as feeling is concerned, with all the bitterness of hell. And so it is, and yet it may be, that in all this there is no selfishness. If the will holds fast its integrity; if it holds out in the struggle, and where God is maligned and misrepresented by the infernal suggestions, it says with Job, "Although he slay me, yet will I trust in him." However sharp the conflict in such cases, we can look back and say, "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us." In such cases it is the selfishness of Satan, and not our own selfishness, that kindled up those fires of hell in our sensibility. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life."
(11.) Cruelty is another attribute of selfishness.
This term is often used to designate a state of the sensibility. It then represents that state of feeling which has a barbarous or savage pleasure in the misery of others.
Cruelty, as a phenomenon of the will, or as an attribute of selfishness, consists, first, in a reckless disregard of the well-being of God and the universe, and secondly, in persevering in a course that must ruin the souls of the subjects of it, and, so far as they have influence, ruin the souls of others. What should we think of a man who was so intent on securing some petty gratification, that he would not give the alarm if a city were on fire, and the sleeping citizens in imminent danger of perishing in the flames? Suppose that sooner than deny himself some momentary gratification, he would jeopard many lives. Should we not call this cruelty? Now there are many forms of cruelty. Because sinners are not always brought into circumstances where they exercise certain forms of it, they flatter themselves that they are not cruel. But selfishness is always and necessarily cruel--cruel to the soul and highest interests of the subject of it; cruel to the souls of others in neglecting to care and act for their salvation; cruel to God, in abusing him in ten thousand ways; cruel to the whole universe. If we should be shocked at the cruelty of him who should see his neighbour's house on fire, and the family asleep, and neglect to give them warning, because too self-indulgent to rise from his bed, what shall we say of the cruelty of one, who shall see his neighbour's soul in peril of eternal death, and yet neglect to give him warning?
Sinners are apt to possess very good dispositions, as they express it. They suppose they are the reverse of being cruel. They possess tender feelings, are often very compassionate in their feelings toward those who are sick and in distress, and who are in circumstances of any affliction. They are ready to do many things for them. Such persons would be shocked, should they be called cruel. And many professors would take their part, and consider them abused. Whatever else, it would be said, is an attribute of their character, surely cruelty is not. Now, it is true that there are certain forms of cruelty with which such persons are not chargeable. But this is only because God has so moulded their constitution, that they are not delighted with the misery of their fellow men. However, there is no virtue in their not being gratified at the sight of suffering, nor in their painstaking to prevent it while they continue selfish. They follow the impulses of their feelings, and if their temperament were such that it would gratify them to inflict misery on others; if this were the strongest tendency of their sensibility; their selfishness would instantly take on that type. But though cruelty, in all its forms, is not common to all selfish persons, it is still true that some form of cruelty is practised by every sinner. God says, "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." The fact that they live in sin, that they set an example of selfishness, that they do nothing for their own souls, nor for the souls of others; these are really most atrocious forms of cruelty, and infinitely exceed all those comparatively petty forms that relate to the miseries of men in this life.
(12.) Injustice is another attribute of selfishness.
Justice, as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that disposes it to regard and treat every being and interest with exact equity.
Injustice is the opposite of this. It is that quality of selfishness which disposes it to treat the persons and interests of others inequitably, and a disposition to give the preference to self-interest, regardless of the relative value of the interests. The nature of selfishness demonstrates, that injustice is always and necessarily one of its attributes, and one that is universally and constantly manifested.
There is the utmost injustice in the end chosen. It is the practical preference of a petty self-interest over infinite interests. This is injustice as great as possible. This is universal injustice to God and man. It is the most palpable and most flagrant piece of injustice possible to every being in the universe. Not one known by him to exist who has not reason to bring against him the charge of most flagrant and shocking injustice. This injustice extends to every act and to every moment of life. He is never, in the least degree, just to any being in the universe. Nay, he is perfectly unjust. He cares nothing for the rights of others as such; and never, even in appearance, regards them except for selfish reasons. This, then, is, and can be, only the appearance of regarding them, while in fact, no right of any being in the universe is, or can be, respected by a selfish mind, any further than in appearance. To deny this, is to deny his selfishness. He performs no act whatever but for one reason, that is, to promote his own gratification. This is his end. For the realization of this end every effort is made, and every individual act and volition put forth. Remaining selfish, it is impossible that he should act at all, but with reference directly or indirectly to this end. But this end has been chosen, and must be pursued, if pursued at all, in the most palpable and outrageous violation of the rights of God and of every creature in the universe. Justice demands that he should devote himself to the promotion of the highest good of God and the universe, that he should love God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. Every sinner is openly, and universally, and as perfectly unjust as possible, at every moment of his impenitence.
It should, therefore, always be understood, that no sinner at any time is at all just to any being in the universe. All his paying of his debts, and all his apparent fairness and justice, are only a specious form of selfishness. He has, and, if a sinner, it is impossible that he should not have, some selfish reason for all he does, is, says, or omits. His entire activity is selfishness, and, while he remains impenitent, it is impossible for him to think, or act, or will, or do, or be, or say, anything more or less than he judges expedient to promote his own interests. He is not just. He cannot be just, nor begin in any instance, or in the least degree, to be truly just, either to God or man, until he begins life anew, gives God his heart, and consecrates his entire being to the promotion of the good of universal being. This, all this, justice demands. There is no beginning to be just, unless the sinner begins here. Begin and be just in the choice of the great end of life, and then you cannot but be just in the use of means. But be unjust in the choice of an end, and it is impossible for you, in any instance, to be otherwise than totally unjust in the use of means. In this case your entire activity is, and can be, nothing else than a tissue of the most abominable injustice.
The only reason why every sinner does not openly and daily practise every species of outward commercial injustice, is, that he is so circumstanced that, upon the whole, he judges it not for his interest to practise this injustice. This is the reason universally, and no thanks to any sinner for abstaining, in any instance, from any kind or degree of injustice in practice, for he is only restrained and kept from it by selfish considerations. That is, he is too selfish to do it. His selfishness, and not the love of God or man, prevents.
He may be prevented by a constitutional or phrenological conscientiousness, or sense of justice. But this is only a feeling of the sensibility, and, if restrained only by this, he is just as absolutely selfish as if he had stolen a horse in obedience to acquisitiveness. God so tempers the constitution as to restrain men, that is, that one form of selfishness shall prevail over and curb another. Approbativeness is, in most persons, so large, that a desire to be applauded by their fellow-men so modifies the developements of their selfishness, that it takes on a type of outward decency and appearance of justice. But this is no less selfishness than if it took on altogether a different type.
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