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

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    17. Entire obedience to the divine law does not imply, that others will of course regard our state of mind, and our outward life, as entirely conformed to the law.

    It was insisted and positively believed by the Jews, that Jesus Christ was possessed of a wicked instead of a holy spirit. Such were their notions of holiness, that they no doubt supposed Him to be actuated by any other than the Spirit of God. They especially supposed so on account of His opposition to the current orthodoxy, and to the ungodliness of the religious teachers of the day. Now, who does not see, that when the church is, in a great measure, conformed to the world, a spirit of holiness in any man would certainly lead him to aim the sharpest rebukes at the spirit and life of those in this state, whether in high or low places? And who does not see, that this would naturally result in His being accused of possessing a wicked spirit? And who does not know, that where a religious teacher finds himself under the necessity of attacking a false orthodoxy, he will certainly be hunted, almost as a beast of prey, by the religious teachers of his day, whose authority, influence, and orthodoxy are thus assailed?

    18. Nor does it imply exemption from sorrow or mental suffering. It was not so with Christ. Nor is it inconsistent with our sorrowing for our own past sins, and sorrowing that we have not now the health, and vigor, and knowledge, and love, that we might have had, if we had sinned less; or sorrow for those around us sorrow in view of human sinfulness, or suffering. These are all consistent with a state of joyful love to God and man, and indeed are the natural results of it.

    19. Nor is it inconsistent with our living in human society with mingling in the scenes, and engaging in the affairs of this world, as some have supposed. Hence the absurd and ridiculous notions of papists in retiring to monasteries, and convents in taking the veil, and, as they say, retiring to a life of devotion. Now I suppose this state of voluntary exclusion from human society, to be utterly inconsistent with any degree of holiness, and a manifest violation of the law of love to our neighbor.

    20. Nor does it imply moroseness of temper and manners. Nothing is further from the truth than this. It is said of Xavier, than whom, perhaps, few holier men have ever lived, that "he was so cheerful as often to be accused of being gay." Cheerfulness is certainly the result of holy love. And entire obedience no more implies moroseness in this world than it does in heaven.

    In all the discussions I have seen upon the subject of Christian holiness, writers seldom or never raise the distinct inquiry: What does obedience to the law of God imply, and what does it not imply? Instead of bringing everything to this test, they seem to lose sight of it. On the one hand, they include things that the law of God never required of man in his present state. Thus they lay a stumbling-block and a snare for the saints, to keep them in perpetual bondage, supposing that this is the way to keep them humble, to place the standard entirely above their reach. Or, on the other hand, they really abrogate the law, so as to make it no longer binding. Or they so fritter away what is really implied in it, as to leave nothing in its requirements, but a sickly, whimsical, inefficient sentimentalism, or perfectionism, which in its manifestations and results, appears to me to be anything but that which the law of God requires.

    21. It does not imply that we always or ever aim at, or intend to do our duty. That is, it does not imply that the intention always, or ever, terminates on duty as an ultimate end. It is our duty to aim at or intend the highest well-being of God and the universe, as an ultimate end, or for its own sake. This is the infinitely valuable end at which we are at all times to aim. It is our duty to aim at this. While we aim at this, we do our duty, but to aim at duty is not doing duty.

    Nor does it imply that we always think, at the time, of its being duty, or of our moral obligation to intend the good of being. This obligation is a first truth, and is always and necessarily assumed by every moral agent, and this assumption or knowledge is a condition of his moral agency. But it is not at all essential to virtue or true obedience to the moral law, that moral obligation should at all times be present to the thoughts as an object of attention.

    Nor does it imply that the rightness or moral character of benevolence is, at all times, the object of the mind's attention. We may intend the glory of God and the good of our neighbor, without at all times thinking of the moral character of this intention. But the intention is not the less virtuous on this account. The mind unconsciously, but necessarily, assumes the rightness of benevolence, or of willing the good of being, just as it assumes other first truths, without being distinctly conscious of the assumption. It is not therefore, at all essential to obedience to the law of God, that we should at all times have before our minds the virtuousness or moral character of benevolence.

    22. Nor does obedience to the moral law imply, that the law itself should be, at all times, the object of thought, or of the mind's attention. The law lies developed in the reason of every moral agent in the form of an idea. It is the idea of that choice or intention which every moral agent is bound to exercise. In other words, the law, as a rule of duty, is a subjective idea always and necessarily developed in the mind of every moral agent. This idea he always and necessarily takes along with him, and he is always and necessarily a law to himself. Nevertheless, this law or idea, is not always the object of the mind's attention and thought. A moral agent may exercise good will or love to God and man, without at the time being conscious of thinking, that this love is required of him by the moral law. Nay, if I am not mistaken, the benevolent mind generally exercises benevolence so spontaneously, as not, for much of the time, even to think that this love to God is required of him. But this state of mind is not the less virtuous on this account. If the infinite value of God's well-being and of His infinite goodness constrains me to love Him with all my heart, can any one suppose that this is regarded by him as the less virtuous, because I did not wait to reflect, that God commanded me to love Him, and that it was my duty to do so?

    The thing upon which the intention must or ought to terminate is the good of being, and not the law that requires me to will it. When I will that end, I will the right end, and this willing is virtue, whether the law be so much as thought of or not. Should it be said that I may will that end for a wrong reason, and, therefore, thus willing it is not virtue; that unless I will it because of my obligation, and intend obedience to moral law, or to God, it is not virtue; I answer, that the objection involves an absurdity and a contradiction. I cannot will the good of God and of being, as an ultimate end, for a wrong reason. The reason of the choice and the end chosen are identical, so that if I will the good of being as an ultimate end, I will it for the right reason.

    It is impossible to will God's good as an end, out of regard to His authority. This is to make His authority the end chosen, for the reason of a choice is identical with the end chosen. Therefore, to will anything for the reason that God requires it, is to will God's requirement as an ultimate end. I cannot, therefore, love God with any acceptable love, primarily, because He commands it. God never expected to induce His creatures to love Him, or to will His good, by commanding them to do so.

    23. Obedience to the moral law does not imply that we should practically treat all interests that are of equal value according to their value. For example, the precept, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 19:19), cannot mean that I am to take equal care of my own soul, and the soul of every other human being. This were impossible. Nor does it mean that I should take the same care and oversight of my own, and of all the families of the earth. Nor that I should divide what little of property, or time, or talent I have, equally among all mankind. This were:

    (1.) Impossible.

    (2.) Uneconomical for the universe. More good will result to the universe by each individual's giving his attention particularly to the promotion of those interests that are within his reach, and that are so under his influence that he possesses particular advantages for promoting them. Every interest is to be esteemed according to its relative value; but our efforts to promote particular interests should depend upon our relations and capacity to promote them. Some interests of great value we may be under no obligation to promote, for the reason that we have no ability to promote them, while we may be under obligation to promote interests of vastly less value, for the reason, that we are able to promote them. We are to aim at promoting those interests that we can most surely and extensively promote, but always in a manner that shall not interfere with others promoting other interests, according to their relative value. Every man is bound to promote his own, and the salvation of his family, not because they belong to self, but because they are valuable in themselves, and because they are particularly committed to him, as being directly within his reach. This is a principle everywhere assumed in the government of God, and I wish it to be distinctly borne in mind, as we proceed in our investigations, as it will, on the one hand, prevent misapprehension, and, on the other, avoid the necessity of circumlocution, when we wish to express the same idea; the true intent and meaning of the moral law, no doubt, is, that every interest or good known to a moral being shall be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, and that, in our efforts to promote good, we are to aim at securing the greatest practicable amount, and to bestow our efforts where, as it appears from our circumstances and relations, we can accomplish the greatest good. This ordinarily can be done, beyond all question, only by each one attending to the promotion of those particular interests which are most within the reach of his influence.

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