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  • MORAL OBLIGATION - C,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    But I must distinguish more clearly between ultimate and proximate intentions, which discrimination will show, that in the most strict and proper sense, obligation belongs to the former, and only in a less strict and proper sense, to the latter.

    An ultimate end, be it remembered, is an object chosen for its own sake.

    A proximate end is an object chosen as a condition or means of securing an ultimate end.

    An ultimate end is an object chosen because of its intrinsic nature and value.

    A proximate end is an object chosen for the sake of the end, and upon condition of its relation as a condition or means of the end.

    Example: A student labors to get wages, to purchase books, to obtain an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls, and to please God. Another labors to get wages, to purchase books, to get an education, to preach the gospel, to secure a salary, and his own ease and popularity. In the first supposition he loves God and souls, and seeks, as his ultimate end, the happiness of souls, and the glory and gratification of God. In the last case supposed, he loves himself supremely and his ultimate end is his own gratification. Now the proximate end, or immediate objects of pursuit, in these two cases, are precisely alike, while their ultimate ends are entirely opposite. Their first, or nearest, end is to get wages. Their next end, is to obtain books; and so we follow them, until we ascertain their ultimate end, before we learn the moral character of what they are doing. The means they are using, i.e., their immediate objects or proximate ends of pursuit, are the same, but the ultimate ends at which they aim are entirely different, and every moral agent, from a necessary law of his intellect, must, as soon as he understands the ultimate end of each, pronounce the one virtuous, and the other sinful, in his pursuits. One is selfish and the other benevolent. From this illustration it is plain, that strictly speaking, moral character, and, of course, moral obligation, respect directly the ultimate intention only. We shall see, in the proper place, that obligation also extends, but less directly, to the use of means to obtain the end.

    Our next inquiry is, to what acts and mental states moral obligation indirectly extends.

    1. The muscles of the body are, directly, under control of the will. I will to move, and my muscles must move, unless there be interposed some physical obstruction of sufficient magnitude to overcome the strength of my will.

    2. The intellect is also directly under the control of the will. I am conscious that I can control and direct my attention as I please, and think upon one subject or another.

    3. The sensibility, I am conscious, is only indirectly controlled by the will. Feeling can be produced only by directing the attention and thoughts to those subjects that excite feeling, by a law of necessity.

    The way is now prepared to say:

    1. That obligation extends indirectly to all intelligent acts of will, in the sense already explained.

    2. That moral obligation extends indirectly, to outward or bodily actions. These are often required, in the word of God. The reason is, that, being connected with the actions of the will, by a law of necessity, if the will is right, the outward action must follow, except upon the contingencies just named; and therefore such actions may reasonably be required. But if the contingencies just named intervene, so that outward action does not follow the choice or intention, the Bible accepts the will for the deed, invariably. "If there be a willing mind, it is accepted according, . . . " (2 Cor. 8:12).

    3. Moral obligation extends, but less directly, to the states of the sensibility, so that certain emotions or feelings are required as outward actions are, and for the same reason, namely, the states of the sensibility are connected with the actions of the will, by a law of necessity. But when the sensibility is exhausted, or when, for any reason, the right action of the will does not produce the required feelings, it is accepted upon the principle just named.

    4. Moral obligation indirectly extends also to the states of the intellect; consequently the Bible, to a certain extent, and in a certain sense, holds men responsible for their thoughts and opinions. It everywhere assumes that if the heart be constantly right, the thoughts and opinions will correspond with the state of the heart, or will: "If any man will do His will, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God" (John 7:17). "If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light" (Luke 11:34). It is, however, manifest, that the word of God everywhere assumes that, strictly speaking, all virtue or vice belong to the heart or intention. Where this is right, all is regarded as right; and where this is wrong, all is regarded as wrong. It is upon this assumption that the doctrine of total depravity rests. It is undeniable that the vilest sinners do many things outwardly which the law of God requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts, they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful nevertheless their conformity to the letter of the law of God.

    The fact is, that moral agents are so constituted that it is impossible for them not to judge themselves, and others, by their subjective motives or intentions. They cannot but assume it as a first truth, that a man's character is as his intention is, and consequently, that moral obligation respects, directly, intention only.

    5. Moral obligation then indirectly extends to everything about us, over which the will has direct or indirect control. The moral law, while, strictly, it legislates over intention only, yet in fact, in a sense less direct, legislates over the whole being, inasmuch as all our powers are directly or indirectly connected with intention, by a law of necessity. Strictly speaking, however, moral character belongs alone to the intention. In strict propriety of speech, it cannot be said that either outward action, or any state of the intellect, or sensibility, has a moral element or quality belonging to it. Yet in common language, which is sufficiently accurate for most practical purposes, we speak of thought, feeling, and outward action as holy or unholy. By this, however, all men really mean, that the agent is holy or unholy, is praiseworthy or blameworthy in his exercises and actions, because they regard them as proceeding from the state or attitude of the will.

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