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

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    Formerly we considered the attributes of benevolence, and also what states of the sensibility and of the intellect, and also what outward actions, were implied in it, as necessarily resulting from it. We are now to take the same course with selfishness.

    1. Voluntariness is an attribute of selfishness.

    Selfishness has often been confounded with mere desire. But these things are by no means identical. Desire is constitutional. It is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It is a purely involuntary state of mind, and can in itself produce no action, not can it, in itself, have moral character. Selfishness is a phenomenon of the will, and consists in committing the will to the gratification of the desires. The desire itself is not selfishness, but submitting the will to be governed by the desire, is selfishness. It should be understood, that no kind of mere desires, and no strength of mere desire, constitutes selfishness. Selfishness commences when the will yields to the desire, and seeks to obey it, in opposition to the law of the intelligence. It matters not what kind of desire it is; if it is the desire that governs the will this is selfishness. It must be the will in a state of committal to the gratification of the desire.

    2. Liberty is another attribute of selfishness.

    That is, the choice of self-gratification is not necessitated by desire. But the will is always free to choose in opposition to desire. This every moral agent is as conscious of as of his own existence. The desire is not free, but the choice to gratify it is and must be free. There is a sense, as I shall have occasion to show, in which slavery is an attribute of selfishness, but not in the sense that the will chooses, by a law of necessity, to gratify desire. Liberty, in the sense of ability to make an opposite choice, must ever remain an attribute of selfishness, while selfishness continues to be a sin, or while it continues to sustain any relation to moral law.

    3. Intelligence is another attribute of selfishness.

    By this it is not intended that intelligence is an attribute or phenomenon of will, nor that the choice of self-gratification is in accordance with the demands of the intellect. But it is intended that the choice is made with the knowledge of the moral character that will be involved in it. The mind knows its obligation to make an opposite choice. It is not a mistake. It is not a choice made in ignorance of moral obligation to choose the highest good of being, as an end, in opposition to self-gratification. It is an intelligent choice in the sense, that it is a known resistance of the demands of the intellect. It is a known rejection of its claims. It is a known setting up of self-gratification, and preferring to all higher interests.

    4. Unreasonableness is another attribute of selfishness.

    By this it is intended, that the selfish choice is in direct opposition to the demands of the reason The reason was given to rule, that is, to affirm obligation, and thus announce the law of God. It affirms law and moral obligation. Obedience to moral law, as it is revealed in the reason, is virtue. Obedience to the sensibility in opposition to the reason, is sin. Selfishness consists in this. It is a dethroning of reason from the seat of government, and an enthroning of blind desire in opposition to it. Selfishness is always and necessarily unreasonable. It is a denial of that divine attribute that allies man to God, makes him capable of virtue, and is a sinking him to the level of a brute. It is a denial of his manhood, of his rational nature. It is a contempt of the voice of God within him, and a deliberate trampling down the sovereignty of his own intellect. Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason, and would dethrone the divine, and place mere blind lust upon the throne of the universe.

    The very definition of selfishness implies that unreasonableness is one of its attributes. Selfishness consists in the will's yielding itself to the impulses of the sensibility in opposition to the demands of the intelligence. Therefore, every act or choice of the will is necessarily altogether unreasonable. Sinners, while they continue such; never say nor do one thing that is in accordance with right reason. Hence the Bible says, that "madness is in their heart while they live" (Eccl. 9:3). They have made an unreasonable choice of an end, and all their choices of means to secure their end are only a carrying out of their ultimate choice. They are, every one of them, put forth to secure an end contrary to reason. Therefore, no sinner, who has never been converted, has, even in a single instance, chosen otherwise than in direct opposition to reason. They are not merely sometimes unreasonable, but uniformly, and, while they remain selfish, necessarily so. The very first time that a sinner acts or wills reasonably, is when he turns to God, or repents and becomes a Christian. This is the first instance in which he practically acknowledges that he has reason. All previous to this, every one of the actions of his will and of his life, is a practical denial of his manhood, of his rational nature, of his obligation to God or his neighbor. We sometimes hear unrepentant sinners spoken of as being unreasonable, and in such a manner as to imply that all sinners are not so. But this only favors the delusion of sinners by leaving them to suppose that they are not all of them, at all times, altogether unreasonable. But the fact is, that there is not, and there never can be, in earth or hell, one unrepentant sinner who, in any instance, acts otherwise than in direct and perceptible opposition to his reason. It had, therefore, been infinitely better for sinners if they had never been endowed with reason. They do not merely act without consulting their reason, but in stout and determined opposition to it.

    Again: They act as directly in opposition to it as they possibly can. They not only oppose it, but they oppose it as much, and in as aggravated a manner, as possible. What can be more directly and aggravatedly opposed to reason than the choice which the sinner makes of an end? Reason was given him to direct him in regard to the choice of the great end of life. It gives him the idea of the eternal and the infinite. It spreads out before him the interests of God and of the universe as of absolutely infinite value. It affirms their value, and the infinite obligation of the sinner to consecrate himself to these interests; and it promises him endless rewards if he will do so. On the contrary, it lays before him the consequences of refusal. It thunders in his ear the terrible sanctions of the law. It points him to the coming doom that awaits his refusal to comply with its demands. But behold, in the face of all this, the sinner, unhesitatingly, in the face of these affirmations, demands, and threatenings, turns away and consecrates himself to the gratification of his desires with the certainty that he could not do greater despite to his own nature than in this most mad, most preposterous, most blasphemous choice. Why do not sinners consider that it is impossible for them to offer a greater insult to God, who gave them reason, or more truly and deeply to shame and degrade themselves, than they do in their beastly selfishness? Total, universal, and shameless unreasonableness, is the universal characteristic of every selfish mind.

    5. Interestedness is another attribute of selfishness.

    By interestedness is meant self-interestedness. It is not the disinterested choice of good, that is, it is not the choice of the good of being in general as an end, but it is the choice of self-good, of good to self. Its relation to self is the condition of the choice of this good. But for its being the good of self, it would not be chosen. The fundamental reason, or that which should induce choice, to wit, the intrinsic value of good, is rejected as insufficient; and the secondary reason, namely, its relation to self, is the condition of determining the will in this direction. This is really making self-good the supreme end. In other words, it is making self-gratification the end. Nothing is practically regarded as worthy of choice, except as it sustains to self the relation of a means of self-gratification.

    This attribute of selfishness secures a corresponding state of the sensibility. The sensibility, under this indulgence, attains to a monstrous development, either generally, or in some particular directions. Selfishness is the committal of the will to the indulgence of the inclinations. But from this it by no means follows, that all of the inclinations will be indiscriminately indulged, and thereby greatly developed. Sometimes one inclination, and sometimes another, has the greatest natural strength, and thereby gains the ascendancy in the control of the will. Sometimes circumstances tend more strongly to the development of one appetite or passion than another. Whatever inclination is most indulged, will gain the greatest development. The inclinations cannot all be indulged at once, for they are often opposed to each other. But they may all be indulged and developed in their turn. For example, the lascivious inclinations, and various other inclinations, cannot be indulged consistently with the simultaneous indulgence of the avaricious inclinations, the desire of reputation and of ultimate happiness. Each of these, and even all the inclinations, may come in for a share, and in some instances may gain so equal a share of indulgence, as upon the whole to be about equally developed. But in general, either from constitutional temperament, or from circumstances, some one or more of the inclinations will gain so uniform a control of the will, as to occasion its monstrous development. It may be the love of reputation; and then there will be at least a public decent exterior, more or less strict, according to the state of morals in the society in which the individual dwells. If it be amativeness that gains the ascendancy over the other inclinations, lasciviousness will be the result. If it be alimentiveness, then gluttony and Epicurianism will be the result. The result of selfishness must be, to develop in general, or in particular, the inclinations of the sensibility, and to beget a corresponding exterior. f avarice take the control of the will, we have the haggard and ragged miser. All the other inclinations wither under the reign of this detestable one. Where the love of knowledge prevails, we have the scholar, the philosopher, the man of learning. This is one of the most decent and respectable forms of selfishness, but is nevertheless as absolutely selfishness as any other form. When compassion, as a feeling, prevails, we have, as a result, the philanthropist, and often the reformer; not the reformer in a virtuous sense, but the selfish reformer. Where love of kindred prevails, we often have the kind husband, the affectionate father, mother, brother, sister, and so on. These are the amiable sinners, especially among their own kindred. When the love of country prevails, we have the patriot, the statesman, and the soldier. The picture might be drawn at full length, but with these traits I must leave you to fill up the outline. I would only add, that several of these forms of selfishness so nearly resemble certain forms of virtue, as often to be confounded with them, and mistaken for them. Indeed, so far as the outward life is concerned, they are right, in the letter, but as they do not proceed from disinterestedly benevolent intention, they are only specious forms of selfishness.

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