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

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    As disinterestedness is an attribute of this love, it does not seek its own, but the good of others. "Charity (love) seeketh not her own" (1 Cor. 13:5). It grasps in its comprehensive embrace the good of being in general, and of course, of necessity, secures a corresponding outward life and inward feeling. The intellect will be employed in devising ways and means for the promotion of its end. The sensibility will be tremblingly alive to the good of all and of each; will rejoice in the good of others as in its own, and will grieve at the misery of others as in its own. It "will rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:5). There will not, cannot be envy at the prosperity of others, but unfeigned joy, joy as real and often as exquisite as in its own prosperity. Benevolence enjoys everybody's good things, while selfishness is too envious at the good things of others even to enjoy its own. There is a Divine economy in benevolence. Each benevolent soul not only enjoys his own good things, but also enjoys the good things of all others so far as he knows their happiness. He drinks at the river of God's pleasure. He not only rejoices in doing good to others, but also in beholding their enjoyment of good things. He joys in God's joy, and in the joy of angels and of saints. He also rejoices in the good things of all sentient existences. He is happy in beholding the pleasure of the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea. He sympathizes with all joy and all suffering known to him; nor is his sympathy with the sufferings of others a feeling of unmingled pain. It is a real luxury to sympathize in the woes of others. He would not be without this sympathy. It so accords with his sense of propriety and fitness, that, mingled with the painful emotion, there is a sweet feeling of self-approval; so that a benevolent sympathy with the woes of others is by no means inconsistent with happiness, and with perfect happiness. God has this sympathy. He often expresses and otherwise manifests it. There is, indeed, a mysterious and an exquisite luxury in sharing the woes of others. God and angels and all holy beings know what it is. Where this result of love is not manifested, there love itself is not. Envy at the prosperity, influence, or good of others, the absence of sensible joy in view of the good enjoyed by others, and of sympathy with the sufferings of others, prove conclusively that this love does not exist. There is an expansiveness, an ampleness of embrace, a universality, and a divine disinterestedness in this love, that necessarily manifests itself in the liberal devising of liberal things for Zion, and in the copious outpourings of the floods of sympathetic feeling, both in joys and sorrows, when suitable occasions present themselves before the mind.

    6. Impartiality is another attribute of this love: By this term is not intended, that the mind is indifferent to the character of him who is happy or miserable; that it would be as well pleased to see the wicked as the righteous eternally and perfectly blessed. But it is intended that, other things being equal, it is the intrinsic value of their well-being which is alone regarded by the mind. Other things being equal, it matters not to whom the good belongs. It is no respecter of persons. The good of being is its end, and it seeks to promote every interest according to its relative value. Selfish love is partial. It seeks to promote self-interest first, and secondarily those interests that sustain such a relation to self as will at least indirectly promote the gratification of self. Selfish love has its favorites, its prejudices, unreasonable and ridiculous. Color, family, nation, and many other things of like nature, modify it. But benevolence knows neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, white nor black, Barbarian, Scythian, European, Asiatic, African, nor American, but accounts all men as men, and, by virtue of their common manhood, calls every man a brother, and seeks the interests of all and of each. Impartiality, being an attribute of this love, will of course manifest itself in the outward life, and in the temper and spirit of its subject. This love can have no fellowship with those absurd and ridiculous prejudices that are so often rife among nominal Christians. Nor will it cherish them for a moment in the sensibility of him who exercises it. Benevolence recognizes no privileged classes on the one hand, nor proscribed classes on the other. It secures in the sensibility an utter loathing of those discriminations, so odiously manifested and boasted of, and which are founded exclusively in a selfish state of the will. The fact that a man is a man, and not that he is of our party, of our complexion, or of our town, state, or nation that he is a creature of God, that he is capable of virtue and happiness, these are the considerations that are seized upon by this divinely impartial love. It is the intrinsic value of his interests, and not that they are the interests of one connected with self, that the benevolent mind regards.

    But here it is important to repeat the remark, that the economy of benevolence demands, that where two interests are, in themselves considered, of equal value, in order to secure the greatest amount of good, each one should bestow his efforts where they can be bestowed to the greatest advantage. For example: every man sustains such relations that he can accomplish more good by seeking to promote the interest and happiness of certain persons rather than of others; his family, his kindred, his companions, his immediate neighbors, and those to whom, in the providence of God, he sustains such relations as to give him access to them, and influence over them. It is not unreasonable, it is not partial, but reasonable and impartial, to bestow our efforts more directly upon them. Therefore, while benevolence regards every interest according to its relative value, it reasonably puts forth its efforts in the direction where there is a prospect of accomplishing the most good. This, I say, is not partiality, but impartiality; for, be it understood, it is not the particular persons to whom good can be done, but the amount of good that can be accomplished, that directs the efforts of benevolence. It is not because my family is my own, nor because their well-being is, of course, more valuable in itself than that of my neighbors' families, but because my relations afford me higher facilities for doing them good, I am under particular obligation to aim first at promoting their good. Hence the apostle says: "If any man provide not for his own, especially for those of his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Tim. 5:8). Strictly speaking, benevolence esteems every known good according to its intrinsic and relative value; but practically treats every interest according to the perceived probability of securing on the whole the highest amount of good. This is a truth of great practical importance. It is developed in the experience and observation of every day and hour. It is manifest in the conduct of God and of Christ, of apostles and martyrs. It is everywhere assumed in the precepts of the Bible, and everywhere manifested in the history of benevolent effort. Let it be understood, then, that impartiality, as an attribute of benevolence, does not imply that its effort to do good will not be modified by relations and circumstances. But, on the contrary, this attribute implies, that the efforts to secure the great end of benevolence, to wit, the greatest amount of good to God and the universe, will be modified by those relations and circumstances that afford the highest advantages for doing good.

    The impartiality of benevolence causes it always to lay supreme stress upon God's interests, because His well-being is of infinite value, and of course benevolence must be supreme to Him. Benevolence, being impartial love, of course accounts God's interests and well-being, as of infinitely greater value than the aggregate of all other interests. Benevolence regards our neighbor's interests as our own, simply because they are in their intrinsic value as our own. Benevolence, therefore, is always supreme to God and equal to man.

    7. Universality is another attribute of this love. Benevolence chooses the highest good of being in general. It excludes none from its regard; but on the contrary embosoms all in its ample embrace. But by this it is not intended, that it practically seeks to promote the good of every individual. It would if it could; but it seeks the highest practicable amount of good. The interest of every individual is estimated according to its intrinsic value, whatever the circumstances or character of each may be. But character and relations may and must modify the manifestations of benevolence, or its efforts in seeking to promote this end. A wicked character, and governmental relations and considerations, may forbid benevolence to seek the good of some. Nay, they may demand that positive misery shall be inflicted on some, as a warning to others to beware of their destructive ways. By universality, as an attribute of benevolence, is intended, that good will is truly exercised towards all sentient beings, whatever their character and relations may be; and that, when the higher good of the greater number does not forbid it, the happiness of all and of each will be pursued with a degree of stress equal to their relative value, and the prospect of securing each interest. Enemies as well as friends, strangers and foreigners as well as relations and immediate neighbors, will be enfolded in its sweet embrace. It is the state of mind required by Christ in the truly divine precept, "I say unto you. Love your enemies, pray for them that hate you, and do good unto them that despitefully use and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). This attribute of benevolence is gloriously conspicuous in the character of God. His love to sinners alone accounts for their being today out of perdition. His aiming to secure the highest good of the greatest number, is illustrated by the display of His glorious justice in the punishment of the wicked. His universal care for all ranks and conditions of sentient beings, manifested in His works and providence, beautifully and gloriously illustrates the truth, that "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalms 145:9).

    It is easy to see that universality must be a modification or attribute of true benevolence. It consists in good willing, that is, in choosing the highest good of being as such, and for its own sake. Of course it must, to be consistent with itself, seek the good of all and of each, so far as the good of each is consistent with the greatest good upon the whole. Benevolence not only wills and seeks the good of moral beings, but also the good of every sentient existence, from the minutest animalcule to the highest order of beings. It of course produces a state of the sensibility tremblingly alive to all happiness and to all pain. It is pained at the agony of an insect, and rejoices in its joy. God does this, and all holy beings do this. Where this sympathy with the joys and sorrows of universal being is not, there benevolence is not. Observe, good is its end; where this is promoted by the proper means, the feelings are gratified. Where evil is witnessed, the benevolent spirit deeply and necessarily sympathizes.

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