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  • ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE - 4 - D,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    This is an attribute essentially belonging to benevolence or love in all benevolent beings. With the lowest of moral beings it may have no other development, than in its relations to sentient existences below the rank of moral agents, for the reason, that there are no moral agents below them to whom they can stoop. God's condescension stoops to all ranks of sentient existences. This is also true with every benevolent mind, as to all inferiors. It seeks the good of being in general, and never thinks any being too low to have his interests attended to and cared for, according to their relative value. Benevolence cannot possibly retain its own essential nature, and yet be above any degree of condescension that can effect the greatest good. Benevolence does not, cannot know anything of that loftiness of spirit that considers it too degrading to stoop anywhere, or to any being whose interests need to be, and can be, promoted by such condescension. Benevolence has its end, and it cannot but seek this, and it does not, cannot think anything below it that is demanded to secure that end. O the shame, the infinite folly and madness of pride, and every form of selfishness! How infinitely unlike God it is! Christ could condescend to be born in a manger; to be brought up in humble life; to be poorer than the fox of the desert, or the fowls of heaven; to associate with fishermen; to mingle with and seek the good of all classes; to be despised in life, and die between two thieves on the cross. His benevolence "endured the cross and despised the shame" (Heb. 12:2). He was "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29). The Lord of heaven and earth is as much more lowly in heart than any of His creatures, as he is above them in His infinity. He can stoop to anything but to commit sin. He can stoop infinitely low.

    20. Stability is another attribute of benevolence.

    This love is not a mere feeling or emotion, that effervesces for a moment, and then cools down and disappears. But it is choice, not a mere volition which accomplishes its object, and then rests. It is the choice of an end, a supreme end. It is an intelligent choice the most intelligent choice that can be made. It is considerate choice none so much so; a deliberate choice, a reasonable choice, which will always commend itself to the highest perceptions and intuitions of the intellect. It is intelligent and impartial, and universal consecration to an end, above all others the most important and captivating in its influence. Now, stability must be a characteristic of such a choice as this. By stability, it is not intended that the choice may not be changed. Nor that it never is changed; but that when the attributes of the choice are considered, it appears as if stability, as opposed to instability, must be an attribute of this choice. It is a new birth, a new nature, a new creature, a new heart, a new life. These and such like are the representations of scripture. Are these representations of an evanescent state? The beginning of benevolence in the soul this choice is represented as the death of sin, as a burial, being planted, a crucifixion of the old man, and many such like things. Are these representations of what we so often see among professed Christians? Nay, verily. The nature of the change itself would seem to be a guarantee of its stability. We might reasonably suppose, that any other choice would be relinquished sooner than this; that any other state of mind would fail sooner than benevolence. It is vain to reply to this, that facts prove the contrary to be true. I answer what facts? Who can prove them to be facts? Shall we appeal to the apparent facts in the instability of many professors of religion; or shall we appeal to the very nature of the choice, and to the scriptures? To these doubtless. So far as philosophy can go, we might defy the world to produce an instance of choice which has so many chances for stability. The representations of scripture are such as I have mentioned above. What then shall we conclude of those effervescing professors of religion, who are soon hot and soon cold; whose religion is a spasm; "whose goodness is as the morning cloud and the early dew, which goeth away?" (Hosea 6:4). Why, we must conclude, that they never had the root of the matter in them. That they are not dead to sin and to the world, we see. That they are not new creatures, that they have not the spirit of Christ, that they do not keep His commandments, we see. What then shall we conclude, but this, that they are stony-ground hearers?

    21. Holiness is another attribute of benevolence. This term is used in the Bible, as synonymous with moral purity. In a ceremonial sense it is applied to both persons and things; to make holy and to sanctify are the same thing. To sanctity and to consecrate, or set apart to sacred use, are identical. Many things were, in this sense, sanctified, or made holy, under the Jewish economy. The term holiness may, in a general sense, be applied to anything whatever which is set apart to a sacred use. It may be applied to the whole being of a moral agent, who is set apart to the service of God.

    As an attribute of benevolence, it denotes that quality which tends to seek to promote the happiness of moral agents, by means of conformity to moral law. As a moral attribute of God, it is that peculiarity of His benevolence which secures it against all efforts to obtain its end by other means than those that are morally and perfectly pure. His benevolence aims to secure the happiness of the universe of moral agents, by means of moral law and moral government, and of conformity to His own subjective idea of right. In other words, holiness in God is that quality of His love that secures its universal conformity, in all its efforts and manifestations, to the Divine idea of right, as it lies in eternal development in the Infinite Reason. This idea is moral law. It is sometimes used to express the moral quality, or character of His benevolence generally, or to express the moral character of the Godhead. It sometimes seems to designate an attribute, and sometimes a quality of His moral attributes. Holiness is, doubtless, a characteristic, or quality of each and all of His moral attributes. They will harmonize in this, that no one of them can consent to do otherwise than conform to the law of moral purity, as developed and revealed in the Divine Reason.

    That holiness is an attribute of God is everywhere assumed, and frequently asserted in the Bible. If an attribute of God, it must be an attribute of love; for God is love. This attribute is celebrated in heaven as one of those aspects of the divine character that give ineffable delight. Isaiah saw the seraphim standing around the throne of Jehovah, and crying one to another, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" (Isaiah 6:3). John also had a vision of the worship of heaven, and says "They rest not day nor night, saying, Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty" (Rev. 4:8). When Isaiah beheld the holiness of Jehovah, he cried out "Woe is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5). God's holiness is infinite, and it is no wonder that a perception of it should thus affect the prophet.

    Finite holiness must forever feel itself awed in the presence of infinite holiness. Job says, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5). There is no comparing finite with infinite. The time will never come when creatures can with open face contemplate the infinite holiness of Jehovah, without being like persons overcome with a harmony too intensely delightful to be calmly borne. Heaven seems not able to endure it without breaking forth into strains of inexpressible rapture.

    The expressions of Isaiah and Job do not necessarily imply that at the time they were in a sinful state, but their expressions no doubt related to whatever of sin they had at any time been guilty of. In the light of Jehovah's holiness they saw the comparative pollution of their character taken as a whole. This view will always, doubtless, much affect the saints. This must be; and yet in another sense they may be, and are, as holy, in their measure as He is. They may be as perfectly conformed to what light or truth they have, as He is. This is doubtless what Christ intended when He said, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). The meaning is, that they should live to the same end, and be as entirely consecrated to it as He is. This they must be, to be truly virtuous or holy in any degree. But when they are so, a full view of the holiness of God would confound and overwhelm them. If any one doubts this, he has not considered the matter in a proper light. He has not lifted up his thoughts, as he needs to do, to the contemplation of infinite holiness. No creature, however benevolent, can witness the divine benevolence without being overwhelmed with a clear vision of it. This is no doubt true of every attribute of the divine love. However perfect creature virtue may be, it is finite, and, brought into the light of the attributes of infinite virtue, it will appear like the dimmest star in the presence of the sun, lost in the blaze of His glory. Let the most just man on earth or in heaven witness, and have a clear apprehension of, the infinite justice of Jehovah, and it would no doubt fill him with unutterable awe. So, could the most merciful saint on earth, or in heaven, have a clear perception of the divine mercy in its fullness, it would swallow up all thought and imagination, and, no doubt, overwhelm him. And so also of every attribute of God. Oh! When we speak of the attributes of Jehovah, we often do not know what we say. Should God unveil Himself to us, or bodies would instantly perish "No man," says He, "can see My face and live" (Exodus 33:20). When Moses prayed, "Show me Thy glory" (Exodus 33:18). God condescendingly hid him in the cleft of a rock, and covering him with His hand, He passed by, and let Moses see only His back parts, informing him that he could not behold His face, that is, His unveiled glories, and live.

    Holiness, or moral harmony of character is, then, an essential attribute of disinterested love. It must be so from the laws of our being, and from the very nature of benevolence. In man it manifests itself in great purity of conversation and demeanor, in a great loathing of all impurity of flesh and spirit. Let no man profess piety who has not this attribute developed. The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks to make its object happy only by making him holy. It manifests the greatest abhorrence of sin and all uncleanness. In creatures it pants, and doubtless ever will pant and struggle, toward infinite purity or holiness. It will never find a resting place in such a sense as to desire to ascend no higher. As it perceives more and more of the fullness and infinity of God's holiness, it will no doubt pant and struggle to ascend the eternal heights where God sits in light too intense for the strongest vision of the highest cherub.

    Holiness of heart or of will, produces a desire or feeling of purity in the sensibility. The feelings become exceedingly alive to the beauty of holiness and to the hatefulness and deformity of all spiritual, and even physical impurity. This is called the love of holiness. The sensibility becomes ravished with the great loveliness of holiness, and unutterably disgusted with the opposite. The least impurity of conversation or of action exceedingly shocks one who is holy. Impure thoughts, if suggested to the mind of a holy being, are instantly felt to be exceedingly offensive and painful. The soul heaves and struggles to cast them out as the most loathsome abominations.

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