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  • ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE - A,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    It has been shown that the sum and spirit of the whole law is properly expressed in one word love. It has also been shown, that this love is benevolence or good willing; that it consists in choosing the highest good of God and of universal being, for its own intrinsic value, in a spirit of entire consecration to this as the ultimate end of existence. Although the whole law is fulfilled in one word love, yet there are many things implied in the state of mind expressed by this term. It is, therefore, indispensable to a right understanding of this subject, that we inquire into the characteristics or attributes of this love. We must keep steadily in mind certain truths of mental philosophy. I will, therefore:

    Call attention to certain facts in mental philosophy as they are revealed in consciousness.

    1. Moral agents possess intellect, or the faculty of knowledge.

    2. They also possess sensibility, and sensitivity, or in other words, the faculty or susceptibility of feeling.

    3. They also possess will, or the power of choosing or refusing in every case of moral obligation.

    These primary faculties are so correlated to each other, that the intellect or the sensibility may control the will, or the will may, in a certain sense, control them. That is, the mind is free to choose in accordance with the demands of the intellect, which is the lawgiving faculty, or with the desires and impulses of the sensibility, or to control and direct them both. The will can directly control the attention of the intellect, and consequently its perceptions, thoughts, etc. It can indirectly control the states of the sensibility, or feeling faculty, by controlling the perceptions and thoughts of the intellect. We also know from consciousness, as was shown in a former lecture, that the voluntary muscles of the body are directly controlled by the will, and that the law which obliges the attention, the feelings, and the actions of the body to obey the decisions of the will, is physical law, or the law of necessity. The attention of the intellect and the outward actions are controlled directly, and the feelings indirectly, by the decisions of the will. The will can either command or obey. It can suffer itself to be enslaved by the impulses of the sensibility, or it can assert its sovereignty and control them. The will is not influenced by either the intellect, or the sensibility, by the law of necessity or force; so that the will can always resist either the demands of the intelligence, or the impulses of the sensibility. But while they cannot lord it over the will, through the agency of any law of force, the will has the aid of the law of necessity or force by which to control them.

    Again: We are conscious of affirming to ourselves our obligation to obey the law of the intellect rather than the impulses of the sensibility; that to act virtuously we must act rationally, or intelligently, and not give ourselves up to the blind impulses of our feelings.

    Now, inasmuch as the love required by the moral law consists in choice, willing, intention, as before repeatedly shown; and inasmuch as choice, willing, intending, controls the states of the intellect and the outward actions directly, by a law of necessity, and by the same law controls the feelings or states of the sensibility indirectly, it follows that certain states of the intellect and of the sensibility, and also certain outward actions, must be implied in the existence of the love which the law of God requires. I say, implied in it, not as making a part of it, but as necessarily resulting from it. The thoughts, opinions, judgments, feelings, and outward actions must be molded and modified by the state of the heart or will.

    Here it is important to remark, that, in common language, the same word is often used to express either an action or attitude of the will, or a state of the sensibility, or both. This is true of all the terms that represent what are called the Christian graces or virtues, or those various modifications of virtue of which Christians are conscious, and which appear in their life and temper. Of this truth we shall be constantly reminded as we proceed in our investigations, for we shall find illustrations of it at every step of our progress.

    Before I proceed to point out the attributes of benevolence, it is important to remark, that all the moral attributes of God and of all holy beings, are only attributes of benevolence. Benevolence is a term that comprehensively expresses them all. God is love. This term expresses comprehensively God's whole moral character. This love, as we have repeatedly seen, is benevolence. Benevolence is good willing, or the choice of the highest good of God and the universe, as an end. But from this comprehensive statement, accurate though it be, we are apt to receive very inadequate conceptions of what really belongs to, as implied in, benevolence. To say that love is the fulfilling of the whole law; that benevolence is the whole of true religion; that the whole duty of man to God and his neighbor, is expressed in one word, love these statements, though true, are so comprehensive as to need with all minds much amplification and explanation. Many things are implied in love or benevolence. By this is intended, that benevolence needs to be viewed under various aspects and in various relations, and its nature considered in the various relations in which it is called to act. Benevolence is an ultimate intention, or the choice of an ultimate end. But if we suppose that this is all that is implied in benevolence, we shall egregiously err. Unless we inquire into the nature of the end which benevolence chooses, and the means by which it seeks to accomplish that end, we shall understand but little of the import of the word benevolence. Benevolence has many attributes or characteristics. These must all harmonize in the selection of its end, and in its efforts to realize it. By this is intended that benevolence is not a blind, but the most intelligent, choice. It is the choice of the best possible end in obedience to the demand of the reason and of God, and implies the choice of the best possible means to secure this end. Both the end and the means are chosen in obedience to the law of God, and of reason. An attribute is a permanent quality of a thing. The attributes of benevolence are those permanent qualities which belong to its very nature. Benevolence is not blind, but intelligent, choice. It is the choice of the highest well-being of moral agents. It seeks this end by means suited to the nature of moral agents. Hence wisdom, justice, mercy, truth, holiness, and many other attributes, as we shall see, are essential elements, or attributes, of benevolence. To understand what true benevolence is, we must inquire into its attributes. Not everything that is called love has at all the nature of benevolence. Nor has all that is called benevolence any title to that title(name). There are various kinds of love. Natural affection is called love. Our preference of certain kinds of diet is called love. Hence we say we love fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, etc. Benevolence is also called love, and is the kind of love, beyond all question, required by the law of God. But there is more than one state of mind that is called benevolence. There is a constitutional or phrenological benevolence, which is often mistaken for, and confounded with, the benevolence which constitutes virtue. This so-called benevolence is in truth only an imposing form of selfishness; nevertheless it is called benevolence. Many of its manifestations are like those of true benevolence. Care, therefore, should be taken, in giving religious instruction, to distinguish accurately between them. Benevolence, let it be remembered, is the obedience of the will to the law of reason and of God. It is willing good as an end, for its own sake, and not to gratify self. Selfishness consists in the obedience of the will to the impulses of the sensibility. It is a spirit of self-gratification. The will seeks to gratify the desires and inclinations, for the pleasure of the gratification. Self-gratification is sought as an end, and as the supreme end. It is preferred to the claims of God and the good of being. Phrenological, or constitutional benevolence, is only obedience to the impulse of the sensibility a yielding to a feeling of compassion. It is only an effort to gratify a desire. It is, therefore, as really selfishness, as is an effort to gratify any constitutional desire whatever.

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