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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - A,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    In the discussion of this question, I will first state what is intended by the foundation, or ground, of obligation.

    I shall use the terms ground and foundation as synonymous. Obligation must be founded on some good and sufficient reason. Be it remembered, that moral obligation respects moral action. That moral action is voluntary action. That properly speaking, obligation respects intentions only. That still more strictly, obligation respects only the ultimate intention. That ultimate intention or choice, which terms I use as synonymous, consists in choosing an object for its own sake, i.e., for what is intrinsic in the object, and for no reason that is not intrinsic in that object. That every object of ultimate choice must, and does, possess that in its own nature, the perception of which necessitates the rational affirmation, that it ought to be universally chosen, by moral agents, for its own sake, or, which is the same thing, because it is what it is, or, in other words still, because it is intrinsically valuable and not on account of its relations.

    The ground of obligation, then, is that reason, or consideration, intrinsic in, or belonging to, the nature of an object, which necessitates the rational affirmation, that it ought to be chosen for its own sake. It is that reason, intrinsic in the object, which thus creates obligation by necessitating this affirmation. For example, such is the nature of the good of being that it necessitates the affirmation, that benevolence is a universal duty.

    I will next call attention to some points of general agreement, and some principles essentially self-evident.

    1. In the most strict and proper sense, moral obligation extends to moral actions only.

    2. Strictly speaking, involuntary states of mind are not moral actions.

    3. Intentions alone are, properly, moral actions.

    4. In the most strict and proper sense, ultimate intentions alone are moral actions, ultimate intention being the choice of an object for its own sake, or for what is intrinsic in the object.

    5. While, in the strictest sense, obligation respects only the ultimate intention, yet, in a less strict and proper sense, obligation extends to the choice of the conditions and means of securing an intrinsically valuable end, and also to executive acts put forth with design to secure such end. Hence there are different forms of obligation: for example, obligation to put forth ultimate choice to choose the known necessary conditions and means to put forth executive volitions, etc.

    6. These different forms of obligation must have different conditions. For example, moral agency, including the possession of the requisite powers, together with the development of the ideas of the intrinsically valuable, of obligation, of right and wrong, is a condition of obligation in its universal form, namely, obligation to will the good of being in general, for its own sake; while obligation to will the existence of the conditions and means to the end, or to put forth executive efforts to secure the end, have not only the conditions above named, but obligation in these forms must be conditional, also, upon the knowledge that there are conditions and means, and what they are, and also that executive efforts are necessary, possible, and useful.

    7. The well-being of God, and of the universe of sentient existences, and especially of moral agents, is intrinsically important, or valuable, and all moral agents are under obligation to chose it for its own sake. Entire, universal, uninterrupted consecration to this end, or disinterested benevolence is the duty of all moral agents.

    8. This consecration is really demanded by the law of God, as revealed in the two great precepts laid down by Christ, and this benevolence, when perfect, is in fact a compliance with the entire spirit of the law. This is right in itself, and consequently is always duty and always right, and that in all possible circumstances; and, of course, no obligation inconsistent with this can ever, in any case, exist. Reason and revelation agree in this: that the law of benevolence is the law of right, the law of nature, and no moral law, inconsistent with this, can exist.

    9. Holiness, or obedience to moral law, or, in other words still, disinterested benevolence, is a natural, and of course necessary condition of the existence of that blessedness which is an ultimate or intrinsic good to moral agents, and ought to be chosen for that reason, i.e., that is a sufficient reason. Of course, the ground of obligation to choose holiness, and to endeavor to promote it in others, as a condition of the highest well-being of the universe, is the intrinsic nature of that good or well-being, and the relation of holiness to this end is a condition of the obligation to choose it, as a means to this end.

    10. Truth, and conformity of heart and life to all known and practical truths, are conditions and means of the highest good of being. Of course, the obligation to conform to such truths is universal, because of this relation of truth, and of conformity to truth, to the highest good. The intrinsic value of the good must be the ground, and the relation only a condition, of the obligation.

    11. God's ultimate end, in all He does, or omits, is the highest well-being of Himself, and of the universe, and in all His acts and dispensations, His ultimate object is the promotion of this end. All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty. This intention or consecration to this intrinsically and infinitely valuable end, is virtue, or holiness, in God and in all moral agents. God is infinitely and equally holy in all things, because He does all things for the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being.

    12. All God's moral attributes are only so many attributes of love or of disinterested benevolence; that is, they are only benevolence existing and contemplated in different relations. Creation and moral government, including both law and gospel, together with the infliction of penal sanctions, are only efforts of benevolence to secure the highest good.

    13. He requires, both in His law and gospel, that all moral agents should choose the same end, and do whatever they do for its promotion; that is, this should be the ultimate reason for all they do. Consequently, all obligation resolves itself into an obligation to choose the highest good of God, and of being in general, for its own sake, and to choose all the known conditions and means of this end, for the sake of the end.

    14. The intrinsic value of this end is the ground of this obligation, both as it respects God and all moral agents in all worlds. The intrinsic value of this end rendered it fit, or right, that God should require moral agents to choose it for its own sake, and of course, its intrinsic value, and not any arbitrary sovereignty, was, and is, His reason for requiring moral agents to choose it for its own sake.

    15. Its known intrinsic value would, of itself, impose obligation on moral agents to choose it for its own sake, even had God never required it; or, if such a supposition were possible, had He forbidden it. Thus, disinterested benevolence is a universal and an invariable duty. This benevolence consists in willing the highest good of being, in general, for its own sake, or, in other words, in entire consecration to this good as the end of life. The intrinsic value of this good does, of its own nature, impose obligation upon moral agents to will it for its own sake, and consecrate the whole being, without intermission, to its promotion.

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