The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
(24.) Egotism is another attribute of selfishness.
Egotism, when properly considered, does not consist in actually talking about and praising self; but in that disposition of mind that manifests itself in self-laudation. Parrots talk almost exclusively of themselves, and yet we do not accuse them of egotism, nor feel the least disgust toward them on that account.
Moral agents may be under circumstances that render it necessary to speak much of themselves. God's character and relations are such, and the ignorance of men so great, that it is necessary for him to reveal himself to them, and consequently to speak to them very much about himself. This same is true of Christ. One of Christ's principal objects was to make the world acquainted with himself, and with the nature and design of his mission. Of course he spake much of himself. But whoever thought of accusing either the Father or the Son of egotism?
Real and sinful egotism is a selfish state of the will. It is a selfish disposition. Selfishness cannot but manifest egotism. The natural heart is egotistical, and its language and deportment must be the same.
An egotistical state of mind manifests itself in a great variety of ways; not only in self-commendation and laudation, but also in selfish aims and actions, exalting self in action as well as in word. An egotistical spirit speaks of itself and its achievements, in such a way as reveals the assumption, that self is a very important personage. It demonstrates that self is the end of every thing, and the great idol before which all ought to bow down and worship. This is not too strong language. The fact is, that selfishness is nothing short of a practical setting up of the shameless claim, that self is of more importance than God and the whole universe; that self ought to be universally worshipped; that God and all other beings ought to be entirely consecrated to its interests, and to the promotion of its glory. Now, what but the most disgusting egotism can be expected from such a state of mind as this? If it does not manifest itself in one way, it will and must in another. The thoughts are upon self; the heart is upon self. Self-flattery is a necessary result, or rather attribute of selfishness. A selfish man is always a self-flatterer, and a self-deceiver, and a self-devotee.
Self may speak very sparingly of self, because reason affirms that self-praise must provoke contempt. A man may have a spirit too egotistical to speak out, and may reveal his superlative disposition to be praised, by a studied abstinence from self-commendation. Nay, he may speak of himself in terms the most reproachful and self-abasing, in the spirit of supreme egotism, to evince his humility and the deep self-knowledge which he possesses. Yet this may be hypocritically designed to draw forth admiration and applause. A spirit of self-deification, which selfishness always is, if it does not manifest itself in words, must and will in deeds. The great and supreme importance of self is assumed by the heart, and cannot but in some way manifest itself. It may, and often does, put on the garb of the utmost self-abasement. It stoops to conquer; and, to gain universal praise, affects to be most empty of self.
But this is only a more refined egotism. It is only saying, Come, see my perfect humility and self-emptiness. Indeed, there are myriads of ways in which an egotistical spirit manifests itself, and so subtle and refined are many of them, that they resemble Satan robed in the stolen habiliments of an angel of light.
An egotistical spirit often manifests itself in self-consequential airs, and by thrusting self into the best seat at table, in a stage coach, a railroad carriage, or into the best state room in the steam boat. In short, it manifests in action what it is apt to manifest in word, to wit, a sense of supreme self-importance.
The mere fact of speaking of self is not of itself proof of an egotistical spirit. The thing to be regarded is the manner and manifest design of speaking of self. A benevolent man may speak much of self because it may be important to others that he should do so, on account of his relations. When the design is the benefit of others and the glory of God, it is as far as possible from the spirit of egotism. A benevolent man might speak of himself just as he would of others. He has merged his interests in, or rather identified them with, the interests of others, and, of course, would naturally treat others and speak of them much as he treats and speaks of himself. If he sees and censures the conduct of others, and has ever been guilty of the like, he will censure his own baseness quite as severely as he does the same thing in others. If he commends the virtues of others, it is but for the glory of God; and for the very same reason, he might speak of virtues of which he is conscious in himself, that God may have glory. A perfectly simple-hearted and guileless state of mind might naturally enough manifest itself in this manner. An egotistical spirit in another might, and doubtless would, lead him to misunderstand such open-heartedness and transparency of character. There would be, nevertheless, a radical difference in the spirit with which two such men would speak either of their own faults or virtues. Paul was so circumstanced as to find it necessary to speak in vindication of himself, and to publish the success of his own labours, for the benefit of the church and the glory of God. He was slandered, misrepresented, and his ministry hindered among strangers, by these false representations. He had no one to speak for him. It was his duty to disabuse the public mind. He did so, but who can accuse him of a spirit of egotism? Others have often been similarly situated, and have been subject to the same necessity. They are liable to be misunderstood. The most selfish and egotistical will be the first to judge them by their own spirit. But God will justify them if, in his providence necessity is laid upon them to do as Paul did. But, to a truly pious mind, it is trying to be obliged to speak much of self. If not compelled by circumstances to do so, it is unnatural to a pious mind to think or speak much of self. He is too much engrossed with his work to think much of self, unless peculiar trials place him under a necessity of doing so.
(25.) Simplicity is another attribute of selfishness.
By this term it is intended to express two things, to wit:--
(i.) Singleness, unmixed, or unmingled, and--
(ii.) That selfishness is always as intense as under the circumstances it can be. I will consider these two branches of the subject separately, and in order.
(i.) Selfishness is simple in the sense of uncompounded or unmixed. It consists, as we have repeatedly seen, in ultimate choice or intention. It is the choice of an end, of course the supreme as well as the ultimate choice of the soul. Now it must be self-evident that no other and opposing choice can consist with it. Nor can the mind, while in the exercise of this choice of an end, possibly put forth any volitions inconsistent with it. Volitions never are, and never can be, put forth but to secure some end, or, in other words, for some reason. If they could, such volitions would have no moral character, because there would be no intention. Intelligent volitions must, of course, always imply intention. It is, therefore, impossible that benevolent volitions should co-exist with a selfish intention, or that selfish volitions should co-exist with a benevolent intention. Simplicity, in the sense of uncompounded or unmixed, must be an attribute of selfishness. This is evidently the philosophy assumed in the teachings of Christ and of inspiration. "Ye cannot serve two masters"--that is, certainly, at the same time--says Christ. And again: "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon"--that is, of course at the same time. "Can a fountain at the same place send forth sweet water and bitter?" says James. Thus we see that the Bible assumes, and expressly teaches, the philosophy here maintained.
(ii.) Selfishness is always as intense as under the circumstances it can be.
It is a choice. It is the choice of self-indulgence as an ultimate end. Therefore, if repose is sought, it is only because the propensity to repose at the time preponderates. If energetic, it is to secure some form of self-indulgence, which, at the time, is preferred to ease. If at one time it is more or less intense than at another, it is only because self-gratification at the time demands it. Indeed, it is absurd to say, that it is more intense at one time than at another, except as its intensity is increased by the pressure of motives to abandon it, and become benevolent. If a selfish man gives himself up to idleness, lounging, and sleeping, it is not for want of intensity in the action of his will, but because his disposition to self-indulgence in this form is stronger than in any other. So, if his selfishness take on any possible type, it is only because of the strength of his disposition to indulge self in that particular way. Selfishness lives only for one end, and it is impossible that that end, while it continues to be chosen, should not have the supreme control. Indeed, the choice of an ultimate end implies the consecration of the will to it, and it is a contradiction to say, that the will is not true to the end which it chooses, and that it acts less intensely than is demanded by the nature of the end, and the apprehensions of the mind in regard to the readiest way to realize it. The end is chosen without qualification, or else not at all as an ultimate end. The moment anything should intervene that should cause the mind to withhold the requisite energy to secure it, that moment it would cease to be chosen as an ultimate end. That which has induced the will to withhold the requisite energy, has become the supreme object of regard. It is palpably absurd to say, that the spirit of self-indulgence should not always be as intense as will most tend, under all circumstances, to indulge self. The intensity of the spirit of self-indulgence is always just what it is, and as it is, because, and only because, self is the most indulged and gratified thereby. If upon the whole, self would be more indulged and gratified by greater or less intensity, it is impossible that that should not be. The presence of considerations inducing to benevolence must either annihilate or strengthen selfishness. The choice must be abandoned, or its intensity and obstinacy must increase with, and in proportion to, increasing light. But at every moment, the intensity of the selfish choice must be as great as is consistent with its nature, that is, with its being the choice of self-indulgence.
(26.) Total moral depravity is implied in selfishness as one of its attributes. By this I intend that every selfish being is at every moment as wicked and as blameworthy as with his knowledge he can be. To establish this proposition, I must,
(i.) Remind you of that in which moral character consists.
(ii.) Of the foundation of moral obligation.
(iii.) Of the conditions of moral obligation.
(iv.) Show the unity of moral obligation.
(v.) The unity of virtue and of vice.
(vi.) How to measure moral obligation.
(vii.) The guilt of transgression to be equal to the degree of obligation.
(viii.) Moral agents are at all times either as holy or as sinful as with their knowledge they can be.
(ix.) Consequently, total moral depravity is an attribute of selfishness in the sense that every sinner is as wicked as with his present light he can be.
(1.) In what moral character consists.
It has been repeatedly shown that moral character belongs only to ultimate intention, or that it consists in the choice of an ultimate end, or the end of life.
(2.) The foundation of moral obligation.
(a.) Moral character implies moral obligation.
(b.) Moral obligation respects ultimate intention.
(c.) Ultimate choice or intention is the choice of an ultimate end, or the choice of something for its own sake.
(d.) The foundation of the obligation to choose or intend an end or something for its own sake, must consist in the intrinsic value of the thing to be chosen.
(e.) The highest good or well-being of God and of the universe is of intrinsic and infinite value.
(f.) Therefore, the highest well-being of God and of the universe of sentient beings, is the foundation of moral obligation, that is, this is the ultimate end to which all moral agents ought to consecrate themselves.
(iii.) Conditions of moral obligation.
(a.) The powers of moral agency: intellect, sensibility, and free-will.
(b.) The existence and perception of the end that ought to be chosen.
(c.) Obligation to will the conditions and means of the good of being, and to make executive efforts to secure this good, is conditioned as above, and also upon the knowledge that there are means and conditions of this good, and what they are, and upon the necessity, possibility, and assumed utility, of executive efforts.
(iv.) Unity of moral obligation.
(a.) Moral obligation strictly belongs only to the ultimate intention.
(b.) It requires but one ultimate choice or intention.
(c.) It requires universally and only, that every moral agent should, at all times, and under all circumstances, honestly will, choose, intend the highest good of being as an end, or for its own intrinsic value, with all the necessary conditions and means thereof. Therefore moral obligation is a unit.
(v.) Unity of virtue and vice.
(a.) Virtue must be a unit, for it always and only consists in compliance with moral obligation, which is a unit.
(b.) It always and only consists in one and the same choice, or in the choice of one and the same end.
(c.) It has been fully shown that sin consists in selfishness, and that selfishness is an ultimate choice, to wit, the choice of self-gratification as an end, or for its own sake.
(d.) Selfishness is always one and the same choice, or the choice of one and the same end.
(e.) Therefore, selfishness or sin must be a unit.
(f.) Or, more strictly, virtue is the moral element or attribute of disinterested benevolence or good-willing. And sin or vice is the moral element or attribute of selfishness. Virtue is always the same attribute of the same choice. They are, therefore, always and necessarily units.
(vi.) How to measure moral obligation.
(a.) It is affirmed, both by reason and revelation, that there are degrees of guilt; that some are more guilty than others; and that the same individual may be more guilty at one time than at another.
(b.) The same is true of virtue. One person may be more virtuous than another when both are truly virtuous. And also the same person may be more virtuous at one time than at another, although he may be virtuous at all times. In other words, it is affirmed, both by reason and revelation, that there is such a thing as growth, both in virtue and vice.
(c.) It is matter of general belief, also, that the same individual, with the same degree of light or knowledge, is more or less praise or blameworthy, as he shall do one thing or another; or, in other words, as he shall pursue one course or another, to accomplish the end he has in view; or, which is the same thing, that the same individual, with the same knowledge or light, is more or less virtuous or vicious, according to the course of outward life which he shall pursue. This I shall attempt to show is human prejudice, and a serious and most injurious error.
(d.) It is also generally held that two or more individuals, having precisely the same degree of light or knowledge, and being both equally benevolent or selfish, may, nevertheless, differ in their degree of virtue or vice, according as they pursue different courses of outward conduct. This also, I shall attempt to show, is a fundamental error.
We can arrive at the truth upon this subject only by clearly understanding how to measure moral obligation, and of course how to ascertain the degree of virtue and sin. The amount or degree of virtue or vice, or of praise or blame-worthiness, is and must be decided by reference to the degree of obligation.
It is very important to remark here, that virtue does not merit so much praise and reward as vice does blame and punishment. This is the universal and necessary affirmation of reason, and the plain doctrine of inspiration. The reason is this: virtue is a compliance with obligation. Christ says, "When you have done all, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done what it was our duty to do." To suppose that virtue is as deserving of reward as vice is of punishment, were to overlook obligation altogether, and make virtue a work of supererogation, or that to which we are under no obligation. Suppose I owe a hundred dollars; when I pay I only discharge my obligation, and lay my creditor under no obligation to me, except to treat me as an honest man, when and as long as I am such. This is all the reward which the discharge of my duty merits.
But suppose I refuse to pay when it is in my power; here my desert of blame, as every body must know, and as the Bible everywhere teaches, is vastly greater than my desert of praise in the former case. The difference lies in this, namely, that virtue is nothing more than a compliance with obligation. It is the doing of that which could not have been neglected without sin. Hence all the reward which it merits is, that the virtuous being, so long as he is virtuous, shall be regarded and treated as one who does his duty, and complies with his obligations.
But vice is violence done to obligation. It is a refusal to do what ought to be done. In this case it is clear, that the guilt is equal to the obligation, that is, the measure of obligation is the measure of guilt. This brings us to the point of inquiry now before us, namely, how is moral obligation to be measured? What is the criterion, the rule, or standard by which the amount or degree of obligation is to be estimated?
And here I would remind you--
(a.) That moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the highest well-being of God and the universe; and,--
(b.) That the conditions of the obligation are the possession of the powers of moral agency and light, or the knowledge of the end to be chosen.
(c.) Hence it follows that the obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen. That this, and nothing else, is the rule or standard by which the obligation, and, consequently, the guilt of violating it, is to be measured, will appear if we consider--
(a.) That the obligation cannot be measured by the infinity of God, apart from the knowledge of the infinite value of His interests. He is an infinite being, and his well-being must be of intrinsic and of infinite value. But unless this be known to a moral agent, he cannot be under obligation to will it as an ultimate end. If he knows it to be of some value, he is bound to choose it for that reason. But the measure of his obligation must be just equal to the clearness of his apprehension of its intrinsic value.
Besides, if the infinity of God were alone, or without reference to the knowledge of the agent, the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow, that obligation is in all cases the same, and of course that the guilt of disobedience would also in all cases be the same. But this, as has been said, contradicts both reason and revelation. Thus it appears, that moral obligation, and of course guilt, cannot be measured by the infinity of God, without reference to the knowledge of the agent.
(b.) It cannot be measured by the infinity of His authority, without reference to the knowledge of the agent, for the same reasons as above.
(c.) It cannot be measured by the infinity of his moral excellence, without reference, both to the infinite value of his interests, and of the knowledge of the agent; for his interests are to be chosen as an end, or for their own value, and without knowledge of their value there can be no obligation; nor can obligation exceed knowledge.
(d.) If, again, the infinite excellence of God were alone, or without reference to the knowledge of the agent, to be the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow, that guilt in all cases of disobedience, is and must be equal. This we have seen cannot be.
(e.) It cannot be measured by the intrinsic value of the good, or well-being of God and the universe, without reference to the knowledge of the agent, for the same reason as above.
(f.) It cannot be measured by the particular course of life pursued by the agent. This will appear, if we consider that moral obligation has directly nothing to do with the outward life. It directly respects the ultimate intention only, and that decides the course of outward action or life. The guilt of any outward action cannot be decided by reference to the kind of action, without regard to the intention, for the moral character of the act must be found in the intention, and not in the outward act or life. This leads me to remark that--
(g.) The degree of moral obligation, and of course the degree of the guilt of disobedience, cannot be properly estimated by reference to the nature of the intention, without respect to the degree of the knowledge of the agent. Selfish intention is, as we have seen, a unit, always the same; and if this were the standard, by which the degree of guilt is to be measured, it would follow that it is always the same.
(h.) Nor can obligation, nor the degree of guilt, be measured by the tendency of sin. All sin tends to infinite evil, to ruin the sinner, and from its contagious nature, to spread and ruin the universe. Nor can any finite mind know what the ultimate results of any sin may be, nor to what particular evil it may tend. As all sin tends to universal and eternal evil, if this were the criterion by which the guilt is to be estimated, all sin would be equally guilty, which cannot be.
Again: That the guilt of sin cannot be measured by the tendency of sin, is manifest from the fact, that moral obligation is not founded in the tendency of action or intention, but in the intrinsic value of the end to be intended. Estimating moral obligation, or measuring sin or holiness, by the mere tendency of actions, is the utilitarian philosophy, which we have shown to be false. Moral obligation respects the choice of an end, and is founded upon the intrinsic value of the end, and is not so much as conditionated upon the tendency of the ultimate choice to secure its end. Therefore, tendency can never be the rule by which obligation can be measured, nor, of course, the rule by which guilt can be estimated.
(i.) Nor can moral obligation be estimated by the results of a moral action or course of action. Moral obligation respects intention, and respects results no further than they were intended. Much good may result, as from the death of Christ, without any virtue in Judas, but with much guilt. So, much evil may result, as from the creation of the world, without guilt in the Creator, but with great virtue. If moral obligation is not founded or conditionated on results, it follows that guilt cannot be duly estimated by results, without reference to knowledge and intention.
(j.) What has been said has, I trust, rendered it evident, that moral obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen, to wit, the highest well-being of God and the universe.
It should be distinctly understood, that selfishness involves the rejection of the interests of God and of the universe, for the sake of one's own. It refuses to will good, but upon condition that it belongs to self. It spurns God's interests and those of the universe, and seeks only self-interest as an ultimate end. It must follow, then, that the selfish man's guilt is just equal to his knowledge of the intrinsic value of those interests that he rejects. This is undeniably the doctrine of the Bible. I will introduce a few paragraphs from one of my reported sermons upon this subject.
(a.) The scriptures assume and affirm it.
Acts xvii. 30, affords a plain instance. The apostle alludes to those past ages when the heathen nations had no written revelation from God, and remarks that "those times of ignorance God winked at." This does not mean that God did not regard their conduct as criminal in any degree, but it does mean that he regarded it as a sin of far less aggravation, than that which men would now commit, if they turned away when God commanded them all to repent. True, sin is never absolutely a light thing: but some sins incur small guilt, when compared with the great guilt of other sins. This is implied in the text quoted above.
I next cite, James iv. 17.--"To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." This plainly implies that knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation; and even more than this is implied, namely, that the guilt of any sinner is always equal to the amount of his knowledge on the subject. It always corresponds to the mind's perception of the value of the end which should have been chosen, but is rejected. If a man knows he ought, in any given case, to do good, and yet does not do it, to him this is sin--the sin plainly lying in the fact of not doing good when he knew that he could do it, and being measured as to its guilt by the degree of that knowledge.
John ix. 41.--"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore, your sin remaineth." Here Christ asserts that men without knowledge would be without sin: and that men who have knowledge, and sin notwithstanding, are held guilty. This plainly affirms, that the presence of light or knowledge is requisite to the existence of sin, and obviously implies that the amount of knowledge possessed is the measure of the guilt of sin.
It is remarkable that the Bible everywhere assumes first truths. It does not stop to prove them, or even assert them--but seems to assume, that every one knows and will admit them. As I have been recently writing on moral government, and studying the Bible as to its teachings on this class of subjects, I have been often struck with this remarkable fact.
John xv. 22-24.--"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hatest me, hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father." Christ holds the same doctrine here as in the last passage cited; light essential to constitute sin, and the degree of light constituting the measure of its aggravation.
Let it be observed, however, that Christ probably did not mean to affirm in the absolute sense, that if he had not come, the Jews would have literally had no sin; for they would have had some light, if he had not come. He speaks, as I suppose, comparatively. Their sin, if he had not come, would have been so much less as not to justify his strong language of condemnation.
Luke xii. 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 will they ask the more."
Here we have the doctrine laid down and the truth assumed, that men shall be punished according to knowledge. To whom much light is given, of him shall much obedience be required. This is precisely the principle, that God requires of men according to the light they have.
1 Tim. i. 13.--"Who was before a blasphemer and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." Paul had done things in form as bad as they well could be; yet his guilt was far less, because he did them under the darkness of unbelief; hence he obtained mercy, when otherwise, he might not. The plain assumption is, that his ignorance abated from the malignancy of sin, and favoured his obtaining mercy.
In another passage (Acts xxvi. 9.) Paul says of himself--"I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." This had everything to do with the degree of his guilt in rejecting the Messiah, and also with his obtaining pardon.
Luke xxiii. 34.--"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." This passage presents to us the suffering Jesus, surrounded with Roman soldiers and malicious scribes and priests, yet pouring out his prayer for them, and making the only plea in their behalf which could be made--"for they know not what they do." This does not imply that they had no guilt, for if this were true, they would not have needed forgiveness; but it did imply that their guilt was greatly palliated by their ignorance. If they had known him to be the Messiah, their guilt might have been unpardonable. Yet they shut their eyes to evidence, and that constituted their ignorance wilful, and consequently sinful.
Matt. xi. 20-24.--"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, in the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee." But why does Christ upbraid these cities? Why denounce so fearful a woe on Chorazin and Capernaum? Because most of his mighty works had been wrought there. His oft-repeated miracles which proved him to be the Messiah, had been wrought before their eyes. Among them he had taught daily, and in their synagogues every sabbath-day. They had great light, hence, their great, their unsurpassed guilt. Not even the men of Sodom had guilt to compare with theirs. The city most exalted, even as it were to heaven, must be brought down to the deepest hell. Guilt and punishment, evermore, according to light enjoyed, but resisted.
Luke xi. 47-51.--"Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation. From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily, I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation." Now here I ask, on what principle was it, that all the blood of martyred prophets, ever since the world began, was required of that generation? Because they deserved it; for God does no such thing as injustice. It never was known that he punished any people, or any individual, beyond their desert.
But why, and how, did they deserve this fearful and augmented visitation of the wrath of God for past centuries of persecution?
The answer is two-fold: they sinned against accumulated light, and they virtually endorsed all the persecuting deeds of their fathers, and concurred most heartily in their guilt. They had all the oracles of God. The whole history of the nation lay in their hands. They knew the blameless and holy character of those prophets who had been martyred; they could read the guilt of their persecutors and murderers. Yet under all this light, they go straight on and perpetrate deeds of the same sort, but of far deeper malignity.
Again: in doing this, they virtually endorse all that their fathers did. Their conduct towards the Man of Nazareth put into words would read thus: "The holy men whom God sent to teach and rebuke our fathers, they maliciously traduced and put to death; they did right, and we will do the same thing toward Christ." Now, it was not possible for them to give a more decided sanction to the bloody deeds of their fathers. They underwrote for every crime--assumed upon their own consciences all the guilt of their fathers. In intention, they do those deeds over again. They in effect say, "If we had lived then, we should have done and sanctioned all they did."
On the same principle, the accumulated guilt of all the blood and miseries of slavery since the world began, rests on this nation now. The guilt involved in every pang, every tear, every blood drop forced out by the knotted scourge--all lie at the door of this generation.
Why? Because the history of all the past is before the pro-slavery men of this generation, and they endorse the whole by persisting in the practice of the same system, and of the same wrongs. No generation before us ever had the light on the evils and wrongs of slavery that we have: hence our guilt exceeds that of any former generation of slave-holders; and moreover, knowing all the cruel wrongs and miseries of the system from the history of the past, every persisting slave-holder endorses all the crimes, and assumes all the guilt, involved in the system, and evolved out of it, since the world began.
Rom. vii. 13.--"Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." The last clause of this verse brings out clearly the principle, that under the light which the commandment, that is, the law, affords, sin becomes exceeding guilty. This is the very principle, which, we have seen, is so clearly taught and implied in numerous passages of scripture.
The diligent reader of the Bible knows that these are only a part of the texts which teach the same doctrine: we need not adduce any more.
(b.) I remark, that this is the rule, and the only just rule, by which the guilt of sin can be measured. If I had time to turn the subject over and over--time to take up every other conceivable supposition, I could show that none of them can possibly be true. No supposition can abide a close examination except this, that the rule or measure of guilt is the mind's knowledge pertaining to the value of the end to be chosen.
There can be no other criterion by which guilt can be measured. It is the value of the end that ought to be chosen, which constitutes sin guilty, and the mind's estimate of that value measures its own guilt. This is true according to the Bible, as we have seen; and every man needs only consult his own consciousness faithfully, and he will see that it is equally affirmed by the mind's own intuitions to be right.
(vii.) The guilt of transgression is just equal to the degree of obligation.
(a.) The guilt of sin lies in its being the violation of an obligation.
(b.) It must follow, that the degree of the guilt of violation must be just equal to the degree of obligation. This, as we have seen, is not true of virtue, for reasons before stated. But it must be true of vice.
(c.) Moral obligation respects the choice of an end. The amount of the obligation must be just equal to the mind's apprehension of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen. The guilt of transgression is, and must be, just equal to the amount of the obligation. This conducts us to the conclusion or truth to be demonstrated, namely:--
(viii.) That moral agents are, at all times, either as holy or as sinful as with their knowledge they can be.
This will more fully appear, if we consider--
(a.) That moral obligation, strictly speaking, respects ultimate intention alone.
(b.) That obligation to choose or intend an end is founded in the apprehended intrinsic value of the end.
(c.) That, when this end is chosen in accordance with apprehended value, all present obligation is met or complied with, since the choice of the end implies and includes the choice of all the known necessary conditions and means of this end. Virtue is now complete, in the sense that it can only be increased by increased light, in regard to the value of the end. New relations and interests may be discovered, or the mind may come to apprehend more clearly the intrinsic value of those partially known before. In this case, virtue may increase, but not otherwise. It matters not as to the virtue of the choice, what particular course is taken to realize this end. The intention is honest. It is, and to be honest, must be intense according to the mind's apprehension of the intrinsic value of the end. The mind cannot but act in accordance with its best judgment, in regard to the use of means to compass its end. Whatever it does it does for one and the same reason. Its virtue belongs to its intention. The intention remaining, virtue does not, cannot vary, but with varying light. This renders it evident, that the virtuous man is as virtuous as with his present light he can be. Give him more light, and you may increase his virtue, by causing it to be more intense.
The same must be true of sin or selfishness. We have seen in former lectures, that malevolence, in the sense of willing evil for its own sake, is impossible; that selfishness is ultimate intention, or the choice of self-gratification as an end; that the obligation to benevolence is founded in the intrinsic value of the good of God and the universe, that the amount of obligation is equal to the mind's apprehension or knowledge of the value of the end; that sin is a unit, and always consists in violating this obligation by the choice of an opposite end; that the guilt of this violation depends upon, and is equal to, the mind's apprehension of the intrinsic value of the end it ought to choose.
Selfishness is the rejection of all obligation. It is the violation of all obligation. The sin of selfishness is then complete; that is, the guilt of selfishness is as great as with its present light it can be. What can make it greater with present light? Can the course that it takes to realize its end mitigate its guilt? No: for whatever course it takes, it is for a selfish reason, and, therefore, in nowise lessens the guilt of the intention. Can the course it takes to realize its end without more light, increase the guilt of the sin? No: for the sin lies exclusively in having the selfish intention, and the guilt can be measured only by the degree of illumination or knowledge under which the intention is formed and maintained. The intention necessitates the use of the means; and whatever means the selfish person uses, it is for one and the same reason, to gratify himself. As I said in a former lecture, if the selfish man were to preach the gospel, it would be only because, upon the whole, it was most pleasing or gratifying to himself, and not at all for the sake of the good of being, as an end. If he should become a pirate, it would be for exactly the same reason, to wit, that this course is, upon the whole, most pleasing or gratifying to himself, and not at all for the reason that that course is evil in itself. Whichever course he takes, he takes it for precisely the same ultimate reason; and with the same degree of light it must involve the same degree of guilt. If light increase, his guilt must increase, but not otherwise. The proposition is, that every selfish being is, at every moment, as blame-worthy as with his present knowledge he can be. Which of these courses may tend ultimately to the most evil, no finite being can say, nor which shall result in the greatest evil. Guilt is not to be measured by unknown tendencies or results, but belongs to the intention; and its degree is to be measured alone by the mind's apprehension of the reason of the obligation violated, namely, the intrinsic value of the good of God and the universe, which selfishness rejects. Now, it should be remembered, that whichever course the sinner takes to realize his end, it is the end at which he aims. He intends the end. If he become a preacher of the gospel for a selfish reason, he has no right regard to the good of being. If he regards it at all, it is only as a means of his own good. So, if he becomes a pirate, it is not from malice, or a disposition to do evil for its own sake, but only to gratify himself. If he has any regard at all to the evil he may do, it is only to gratify himself that he regards it. Whether, therefore, he preach or pray, or rob and plunder upon the high seas, he does it only for one end, that is, for precisely the same ultimate reason; and of course his sinfulness is complete, in the sense that it can be varied only by varying light. This I know is contrary to common opinion, but it is the truth, and must be known; and it is of the highest importance that these fundamental truths of morality and of immorality should be held up to the minds of all.
Should the sinner abstain from any course of vice because it is wicked, it cannot be because he is benevolent, for this would contradict the supposition that he is selfish, or that he is a sinner. If, in consideration that an act or course is wicked, he abstains from it, it must be for a selfish reason. It may be in obedience to phrenological conscientiousness, or it may be from fear of hell, or of disgrace, or from remorse; at all events, it cannot but be for some selfish reason.
(ix.) Total moral depravity is an attribute of selfishness, in the sense, that every selfish person is at all times just as wicked and blameworthy as with his present light he can be.
(a.) He, remaining selfish, can take no other course than to please himself, and only that course which is, upon the whole, most pleasing to him for the time being. If he takes one course of outward conduct, rather than another, it is only to please and gratify himself.
(b.) But if, for this reason, he should take any other outward course than he does, it would not vary his guilt, for his guilt lies in the intention, and is measured by the light under which the intention is maintained.
A few inferences may be drawn from our doctrine.
1. Guilt is not to be measured by the nature of the intention; for sinful intention is always a unit--always one and the same thing--being nothing more nor less than an intention to gratify self.
2. Nor can it be measured by the particular type of self-gratification which the mind may prefer. No matter which of his numerous appetites or propensities the man may choose to indulge, whether for food, or strong drink, for power, pleasure, or gain, it is the same thing in the end, self-gratification, and nothing else. For the sake of this he sacrifices every other conflicting interest, and herein lies his guilt. Since he tramples on the greater good of others with equal recklessness, whatever type of self-gratification he prefers, it is clear, that we cannot find in this type the true measure of his guilt.
3. Nor, again, is the guilt to be decided by the amount of evil which the sin may occasion. An agent not enlightened may, by accident, or even with a good intention, do that which will introduce great evil, and yet no guilt attach to this agent. In fact, it matters not how much or how little unforeseen good or evil may result from the deeds of a moral agent, you cannot determine the amount of his guilt, or of his virtue, from this circumstance. God may overrule the greatest sin, so that but little evil shall result from it; or he may leave its tendencies uncounteracted, so that great evils shall result from the least sin. Who can tell how much or how little overruling agency may interpose between any sin, great or small, and its legitimate results?
Satan sinned in tempting Judas, and Judas sinned in betraying Christ. Yet God so overruled these sins, that most blessed results to the universe followed from Christ's betrayal and consequent death. Shall the sins of Satan and Judas be estimated from the evils actually resulting from them? If it should appear that the good immensely overbalanced the evil, does their sin thereby become holiness--meritorious holiness? Is their guilt at all the less for God's wisdom and love in overruling it for good? It is not, therefore, the amount of resulting good or evil which determines the amount of guilt, but the degree of light enjoyed under which the sin is committed.
4. Nor, again, can guilt be measured by the common opinions of men. Men associated in society are wont to form among themselves a sort of public sentiment, which becomes a standard for estimating guilt; yet how often is it erroneous! Christ warns us against adopting this standard, and also against ever judging according to the outward appearance. Who does not know that the common opinions of men are exceedingly incorrect? It is, indeed, wonderful to see how far they diverge in all directions from the Bible standard.
5. The amount of guilt can be determined, as I have said, only by the degree in which those ideas are developed which throw light upon obligation. Just here sin lies, in resisting the light, and acting in opposition to it; and, therefore, the degree of light should naturally measure the amount of guilt incurred.
1. We see, from this subject, the principle on which many passages of scripture are to be explained. It might seem strange that Christ should charge the blood of all the martyred prophets of past ages on that generation. But the subject before us reveals the principle upon which this is done, and ought to be done.
Whatever of apparent mystery may attach to the fact declared in our text, "The times of this ignorance God winked at," finds in our subject an adequate explanation. Does it seem strange, that for ages God should pass over, almost without apparent notice, the monstrous and reeking abominations of the heathen world? The reason is found in their ignorance. Therefore God winks at those odious and cruel idolatries. For all, taken together, are a trifle, compared with the guilt of a single generation of enlightened men.
2. One sinner may be in such circumstances, as to have more light and knowledge than the whole heathen world. Alas! how little the heathen know! How little compared with what is known by sinners in this land, even by very young sinners!
Let me call up and question some impenitent sinner of Oberlin. It matters but little whom--let it be any sabbath-school child.
What do you know about God? I know that there is one God, and only one. The heathen believe there are hundreds of thousands.
What do you know about God? I know that he is infinitely great and good.--But the heathen think some of their gods are both mean and mischievous, wicked as can be, and the very patrons of wickedness among men.
What do you know about salvation? I know that "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in him might live for ever." O, the heathen never heard of that. They would faint away, methinks, in amazement, if they should hear and really believe the startling, glorious fact. And that sabbath-school child knows that God gives his Spirit to convince of sin. He has, perhaps, often been sensible of the presence and power of that Spirit. But the heathen know nothing of this.
You, too, know that you are immortal--that beyond death there is still a conscious unchanging state of existence, blissful or wretched, according to the deeds done here. But the heathen have no just ideas on this subject. It is to them as if all were a blank.
The amount of it, then, is, that you know everything--the heathen almost nothing. You know all you need to know to be saved, to be useful--to honour God, and serve your generation according to his will. The heathen sit in deep darkness, wedded to their abominations, groping, yet finding nothing.
As your light, therefore, so is your guilt immeasurably greater than theirs. Be it so, that their idolatries are monstrous, guilt in your impenitence, and under the light you have, is vastly more so. See that heathen mother dragging her shrieking child and casting it into the Ganges! See her rush with another to throw him into the burning arms of Moloch. Mark! see that pile of wood flashing, lifting up its lurid flames toward heaven. Those men are dragging a dead husband, they leave his senseless corpse on that burning pile. There comes the widow, her hair all dishevelled and flying, gaily decked for such a sacrifice; she dances on; she rends the air with her howls and her wailings; she shrinks, and yet she does not shrink; she leaps on the pile, and the din of music, with the yell of spectators, buries her shrieks of agony: she is gone! O, my blood curdles and runs cold in my veins; my hair stands on end; I am horrified with such scenes; but what shall we say of their guilt? Ah, yes, what do they know of God, of worship, of the claims of God upon their heart and life? Ah, you may well spare your censure of the heathen for their fearful orgies of cruelty and lust, and express it where light has been enjoyed and resisted.
3. You see, then, that often a sinner in some of our congregations may know more than all the heathen world know. If this be true, what follows from it, as to the amount of his comparative guilt? This, inevitably, that such a sinner deserves a direr and deeper damnation than all the heathen world! This conclusion may seem startling; but how can we escape from it? We cannot escape. It is as plain as any mathematical demonstration. This is the principle asserted by Christ when he said, "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."
Not long since, an ungodly young man, trained in this country, wrote back from the Sandwich Islands, a glowing, and perhaps a just description of their horrible abominations, moralizing on their monstrous enormities, and thanking God that he had been born and taught in a Christian land. Indeed! he might well have spared this censure of the dark-minded heathen! His own guilt, in remaining an impenitent sinner under all the light of Christian America, was greater than the whole aggregate guilt of all those islands.
So we may all spare our expressions of abhorrence at the guilty abominations of idolatry. You are often, perhaps, saying in your heart, Why does God endure these horrid abominations another day? See that rolling car of Juggernaut. Its wheels move axle-deep in the gushing blood and crushed bones of its deluded worshippers! And yet God looks on, and no red bolt leaps from his right hand to smite such wickedness. They are, indeed, guilty; but, O, how small their guilt, compared with the guilt of those who know their duty perfectly, yet never do it! God sees their horrible abominations, yet does he wink at them, because they are done in so much ignorance.
But see that impenitent sinner. Convicted of his sin under the clear gospel light that shines all around him, he is driven to pray. He knows he ought to repent, and almost thinks he is willing to, and will try. Yet still he clings to his sins, and will not give his heart to God. Still he holds his heart in a state of impenitence. Now mark me;--his sin, in thus withholding his heart from God under so much light, involves greater guilt than all the abominations of the heathen world. Put together the guilt of all those widows who immolate themselves on the funeral pile--of those who hurl their children into the Ganges, or into the burning arms of Moloch--all does not begin to approach the guilt of that convicted sinner's prayer, who comes before God under the pressure of his conscience, and prays a heartless prayer, determined all the while to withhold his heart from God. O, why does this sinner thus tempt God, and thus abuse his love, and thus trample on his authority? O, that moment of impenitence, while his prayers are forced by conscience from his burning lips, and yet he will not yield the controversy with his Maker, that moment involves direr guilt than rests on all the heathen world together! He knows more than they all, yet sins despite of all his knowledge. The many stripes belong to him--the few to them.
4. This leads me to remark again, that the Christian world may very well spare their revilings and condemnations of the heathen. Of all the portions of the Earth's population, Christendom is infinitely the most guilty--Christendom, where the gospel peals from ten thousand pulpits--where Christ's praises are sung by a thousand choirs, but where many thousand hearts that know God and duty, refuse either to reverence the one, or perform the other! All the abominations of the heathen world are a mere trifle compared with the guilt of Christendom. We may look down upon the filth, and meanness, and degradation of a heathen people, and feel a most polite disgust at the spectacle--and far be it from me to excuse these degrading, filthy, or cruel practices; but how small their light, and consequently their guilt, compared with our own! We, therefore, ask the Christian world to turn away from the spectacle of heathen degradation, and look nearer home upon the spectacle of Christian guilt! Let us look upon ourselves.
5. Again: let us not fear to say, what you must all see to be true, that the nominal church is the most guilty part of Christendom. It cannot for a moment be questioned, that the church has more light then any other portion; therefore has she more guilt. Of course I speak of the nominal church--not the real church, whom its Lord has pardoned, and cleansed from her sins. But in the nominal church, think of the sinners that live and riot in their corruption. See that backslider. He has tasted the waters of life. He has been greatly enlightened. Perhaps he has really known the Lord by true faith--and then see, he turns way to eat the husks of earthly pleasure! He turns his back on the bleeding Lamb! Now, put together all the guilt of every heathen soul that has gone to hell--of every soul that has gone from a state of utter moral darkness; and your guilt, backsliding Christian, is greater than all theirs!
Do you, therefore, say: may God then have mercy on my soul? So say we all; but we must add, if it be possible; for who can say that such guilt as yours can be forgiven? Can Christ pray for you as he prayed for his murderers--"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?" Can he plead in your behalf that you know not what you are doing? Awful! awful!! Where is the sounding line that shall measure the ocean-depth of your guilt?
6. Again: if our children remain in sin, we may cease to congratulate ourselves that they were not born in heathenism or slavery! How often have I done this! How often, as I have looked upon my sons and daughters, have I thanked God that they were not born to be thrown into the burning arms of Moloch, or to be crushed under the wheels of Juggernaut! But if they will live in sin, we must suspend our self-congratulations for their having Christian light and privileges. If they will not repent, it were infinitely better for them to have been born in the thickest pagan darkness, better to have been thrown, in their tender years, into the Ganges, or into the fires which idolatry kindles, better be any thing else, or suffer any thing earthly, than have the gospel's light only to shut it out, and go to hell despite of its admonitions.
Let us not then, be hasty in congratulating ourselves, as if this great light enjoyed by us and by our children, were, of course, a certain good to them; but this we may do, we may rejoice that God will honour himself, his mercy if he can, and his justice if he must. God will be honoured, and we may glory in this. But oh, the sinner, the sinner! Who can measure the depth of his guilt, or the terror of his final doom! It will be more tolerable for all the heathen world together than for you.
7. It is time that we all understood this subject fully, and appreciated all its bearings. It is no doubt true, that however moral our children may be, they are more guilty than any other sinners under heaven, if they live in sin, and will not yield to the light under which they live. We may be, perhaps, congratulating ourselves on their fair morality; but if we saw their case in all its real bearings, our souls would groan with agony, our bowels would be all liquid with anguish, our very hearts within us would heave as if volcanic fires were kindled there; so deep a sense should we have of their fearful guilt, and of the awful doom they incur in denying the Lord that bought them, and setting at nought a known salvation. O, if we ever pray, we should pour out our prayers for our offspring, as if nothing could ever satisfy us or stay our importunity, but the blessings of a full salvation realized in their souls.
Let the mind contemplate the guilt of these children. I could not find a sabbath-school child, perhaps not one in all Christendom, who could not tell me more of God's salvation than all the heathen world know. That dear little boy who comes from his sabbath-school knows all about the gospel. He is almost ready to be converted, but not quite ready; yet that little boy, if he knows his duty, and yet will not do it, is covered with more guilt than all the heathen world together. Yes, that boy, who goes alone and prays, yet holds back his heart from God, and then his mother comes and prays over him, and pours her tears on his head, and his little heart almost melts, and he seems on the very point of giving up his whole heart to the Saviour; yet if he will not do it, he commits more sin in that refusal, than all the sin of the heathen world; his guilt is more than the guilt of all the murders, all the drownings of children, and burnings of widows, and deeds of cruelty and violence, in all the heathen world. All this combination of guilt shall not be equal to the guilt of the lad who knows his duty, but will not yield his heart to its righteous claims.
8. "The heathen," says an apostle, "sin without law, and shall therefore perish without law." In their final doom they will be cast away from God: this will be perhaps about all. The bitter reflection, "I had the light of the gospel, and would not yield to it; I knew my duty, yet did it not"--this cannot be a part of their eternal doom. This is reserved for those who gather themselves into our sanctuaries and around our family altars, yet will not serve their own Infinite Father.
9. One more remark. Suppose I should call out a sinner by name--one of the sinners of this congregation, a son of pious parents, and should call up the father also. I might say, Is this your son? Yes. What testimony can you bear about this son of yours? I have endeavoured to teach him all the ways of the Lord. Son, what can you say? I knew my duty--I have heard it a thousand times. I knew I ought to repent, but I never would.
Oh, if we understood this matter in all its bearings, it would fill every bosom with consternation and grief. How would our bowels yearn and our bosoms heave as a volcano. There would be one universal outcry of anguish and terror at the awful guilt and fearful doom of such a sinner!
Young man, are you going away this day in your sins? Then, what angel can compute your guilt? O how long has Jesus held out his hands, yes, his bleeding hands, and besought you to look and live? A thousand times, and in countless varied ways has he called, but you have refused; stretched out his hand, and you have not regarded. Oh, will you not repent? Why not say at once: It is enough that I have sinned so long. I cannot live so any longer! Oh, sinner, why will you live so? Would you go down to hell--ah, to the deepest hell--where, if we would find you, we must work our way down for a thousand years, through ranks of lost spirits less guilty than you, ere we could reach the fearful depth to which you have sunk! Oh, sinner, what a hell is that which can adequately punish such guilt as thine!
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