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  • OBEDIENCE TO THE MORAL LAW - C,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    10. It does not imply that we should love or hate all men alike, irrespective of their value, circumstances, and relations. One being may have a greater capacity for well-being, and be of much more importance to the universe, than another. Impartiality and the law of love require us not to regard all beings and things alike, but all beings and things according to their nature, relations, circumstances, and value.

    11. Nor does it imply a perfect knowledge of all our relations. Such an interpretation of the law as would make it necessary, in order to yield obedience, for us to understand all our relations, would imply in us the possession of the attribute of omniscience; for certainly there is not a being in the universe to whom we do not sustain some relation. And a knowledge of all these relations plainly implies infinite knowledge. It is plain that the law of God cannot require any such thing as this.

    12. Nor does it imply freedom from mistake on any subject whatever. It is maintained by some that the grace of the gospel pledges to every man perfect knowledge, or at least such knowledge as to exempt him from any mistake. I cannot stop here to debate this question, but would merely say, the law does not expressly or impliedly require infallibility of judgment in us. It only requires us to make the best use we can of all the light we have.

    13. It does not imply the same degree of knowledge we might have possessed, had we always improved our time in its acquisition. The law might require us to love God or man, as well as we might have been able to love them, had we always improved all our time in obtaining all the knowledge we could, in regard to their nature, character, and interests. If this were implied in the requisition of the law, there is not a saint on earth or in heaven that does, or ever can, perfectly obey. What is lost in this respect is lost, and past neglect can never be so remedied, that we shall ever be able to make up in our acquisitions of knowledge what we have lost. It will no doubt be true to all eternity, that we shall have less knowledge than we might have possessed, had we filled up all our time in its acquisition. We do not, cannot, nor shall we ever be able to, love God as well as we might have loved Him, had we always applied our minds to the acquisition of knowledge respecting Him. And if entire obedience is to be understood as implying that we love God as much we should, had we all the knowledge we might have had, then I repeat it, there is not a saint on earth or in heaven, nor ever will be, that is entirely obedient.

    14. It does not imply the same amount of service that we might have rendered, had we never sinned. The law of God does not imply or suppose, that our powers are in a perfect state; that our strength of body or mind is what it would have been, had we never sinned. But it simply requires us to use what strength we have. The very wording of the law is proof conclusive, that it extends its demand only to the full amount of what strength we have. And this is true of every moral being, however great or small.

    The most perfect development and improvement of our powers, must depend upon the most perfect use of them. And every departure from their perfect use, is a diminishing of their highest development, and a curtailing of their capabilities to serve God in the highest and best manner. All sin then does just so much towards crippling and curtailing the powers of body and mind, and rendering them, by just so much, incapable of performing the service they might otherwise have rendered.

    To this view of the subject it has been objected, that Christ taught an opposite doctrine, in the case of the woman who washed His feet with her tears, when He said, "To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much" (Luke 7:47). But can it be that Christ intended to be understood as teaching, that the more we sin the greater will be our love, and our ultimate virtue? If this be so, I do not see why it does not follow that the more sin in this life, the better, if so be that we are forgiven. If our virtue is really to be improved by our sins, I see not why it would not be good economy, both for God and man, to sin as much as we can while in this world. Certainly Christ meant to lay down no such principle as this. He undoubtedly meant to teach that a person who was truly sensible of the greatness of his sins, would exercise more of the love of gratitude than would be exercised by one who had a less affecting sense of ill-desert.

    15. Entire obedience does not imply the same degree of faith that might have been exercised but for our ignorance and past sin. We cannot believe anything about God of which we have neither evidence nor knowledge. Our faith must therefore be limited by our intellectual perceptions of truth. The heathen are not under obligation to believe in Christ, and thousands of other things of which they have no knowledge. Perfection in a heathen would imply much less faith than in a Christian. Perfection in an adult would imply much more and greater faith than in a child. And perfection in an angel would imply much greater faith than in a man, just in proportion as he knows more of God than man does. Let it be always understood, that entire obedience to God never implies that which is naturally impossible. It is naturally impossible for us to believe that of which we have no knowledge. Entire obedience implies, in this respect, nothing more than the heart's faith or confidence in all the truth that is perceived by the intellect.

    16. Nor does it imply the conversion of all men in answer to our prayers. It has been maintained by some, that entire obedience implies the offering of prevailing prayer for the conversion of all men. To this I reply: then Christ did not obey, for He offered no such prayer. The law of God makes no such demands, either expressly or impliedly. We have no right to believe that all men will be converted in answer to our prayers, unless we have an express or implied promise to that effect. As, therefore, there is no such promise, we are under no obligation to offer such a prayer. Nor does the non-conversion of the world imply, that there are no saints in the world who fully obey God's law.

    It does not imply the conversion of any one for whom there is not an express or implied promise in the word of God. The fact that Judas was not converted in answer to Christ's prayer, does not prove that Christ did not fully obey.

    Nor does it imply that all those things which are expressly or impliedly promised, will be granted in answer to our prayers; or, in other words, that we should pray in faith for them, if we are ignorant of the existence or application of those promises. A state of perfect love implies the discharge of all known duty. And nothing strictly speaking can be duty of which the mind has no knowledge. It cannot, therefore, be our duty to believe a promise of which we are entirely ignorant, or the application of which to any specific object we do not understand.

    If there is sin in such a case as this, it lies in the fact, that the soul neglects to know what it ought to know. But it should always be understood that the sin lies in this neglect to know, and not in the neglect of that of which we have no knowledge. Entire obedience is inconsistent with any present neglect to know the truth; for such neglect is sin. But it is not inconsistent with our failing to do that of which we have no knowledge. James says, "He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). "If ye were blind," says Christ, "ye should have no sin, but because ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth" (John 9:41).

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