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

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    Thus it is self-evident that moral character belongs to the ultimate intention, and that a man's character is as the end for which he lives, and moves, and has his being. Virtue consists in consecration to the right end, the end to which God is consecrated. This end is, and must be, by virtue of its own nature, the ground of obligation. That is, the nature of this end is such as to compel the reason of every moral agent to affirm, that it ought to be chosen for its own sake. This end is the good of being, and therefore disinterested benevolence, or goodwill, is a universal duty.

    Now, with these facts distinctly kept in mind, let us proceed to the examination of the various conflicting and inconsistent theories of the ground of obligation.

    Of the will of God as the ground of obligation.

    I will first consider the theory of those who hold that the sovereign will of God is the ground, or ultimate reason, of obligation. They hold that God's sovereign will creates, and not merely reveals and enforces, obligation. To this I reply:

    1. That moral law legislates directly over voluntary action only that moral obligation respects, primarily and strictly, the ultimate intention ultimate intention consists in choosing its object, for its own sake that ultimate intention must find its reasons exclusively in its object that the intrinsic nature and value of the object must impose obligation to choose it for its own sake that therefore this intrinsic value is the ground, and the only possible ground, of obligation to choose it for its own sake. It would be our duty to will the highest good of God and of the universe, even did God not will that we should, or were He to will that we should not. How utterly unfounded then, is the assertion, that the sovereign will of God is the ground of obligation. Obligation to do what? Why to love God and our neighbor. That is to will their highest good. And does God's will create this obligation? Should we be under no such obligation, had He not commanded it? Are we to will this good, not for its own value to God and our neighbor, but because God commands it? The answer to these questions is too obvious to need so much as to be named. But what consistency is there in holding that disinterested benevolence is a universal duty, and at the same time that the sovereign will of God is the foundation of obligation; How can men hold, as many do, that the highest good of being ought to be chosen for its own sake that to choose it for its own sake is disinterested benevolence that its intrinsic value imposes obligation to choose it for its own sake, and that this intrinsic value is therefore the ground of obligation, and yet the will of God is the ground of obligation?

    Why, if the will of God be the ground of obligation, then disinterested benevolence is sin. If the will of God does of itself create, and not merely reveal obligation, then the will, and not the interest and well-being of God, ought to be chosen for its own sake, and to be the great end of life. God ought to be consecrated to His own will, instead of His own highest good. Benevolence in God, and in all beings, must be sin, upon this hypothesis. A purely arbitrary will and sovereignty in God is, according to this theory, of more value than His highest well-being, and than that of the whole universe. But observe,

    Moral obligation respects ultimate intention, or the choice of an end.

    The foundation, or fundamental reason for choosing a thing, is that which renders it obligatory to choose it.

    This reason is the thing on which the choice ought to terminate, or the true end is not chosen. Therefore, the reason and the end are identical.

    If, then, the will of God be the foundation of obligation, it must also be the ultimate end of choice.

    But it is impossible for us to will or choose the divine willing as an ultimate end. God's willing reveals a law, a rule of choice, or of intention. It requires something to be intended as an ultimate end, or for its own intrinsic value. This end cannot be the willing, commandment, law, itself. Does God will that I should choose His willing as an ultimate end? This is impossible. It is a plain contradiction to say that moral obligation respects, directly, ultimate intention only, or the choice of an end, for its own intrinsic value, and yet, that the will of God is the foundation, or reason of the obligation. This is affirming at the same breath that the intrinsic value of the end which God requires me to choose, is the reason, or foundation of the obligation to choose it, and yet that this is not the reason, but that the will of God is the reason.

    Willing can never be an end. God cannot will our willing as an end. Nor can He will His willing as an end. Willing, choosing, always, and necessarily, implies an end willed entirely distinct from the willing, or choice, itself. Willing, cannot be regarded, or willed, as an ultimate end, for two reasons:

    (1.) Because that on which choice or willing terminates, and not the choice itself, must be regarded as the end.

    (2.) Because choice or willing is of no intrinsic value and of not relative value, aside from the end willed or chosen.

    2. The will of God cannot be the foundation of moral obligation in created moral agents. God has moral character, and is virtuous. This implies that He is the subject of moral obligation, for virtue is nothing else than compliance with obligation. If God is the subject of moral obligation, there is some reason, independent of His own will, why He wills as He does; some reason, that imposes obligation upon Him to will as He does. His will, then, respecting the conduct of moral agents, is not the fundamental reason of their obligation; but the foundation of their obligation must be the reason which induces God, or makes it obligatory on Him, to will in respect to the conduct of moral agents, just what He does.

    3. If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He could, by willing it, change the nature of virtue and vice, which is absurd.

    4. If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He not only can change the nature of virtue and vice, but has a right to do so; for if there is nothing back of His will that is as binding upon Him as upon His creatures, He has a right, at any time, to make malevolence, a virtue, and benevolence a vice. For if His will is the ground of obligation, then His will creates right, and whatever He wills, or might will, is right simply and only because so He wills.

    5. If the will of God be the foundation of moral obligation, we have no standard by which to judge of the moral character of His actions, and cannot know whether He is worthy of praise or blame. Upon the supposition in question, were God a malevolent being, and did He require all His creatures to be selfish, and not benevolent, He would be just as virtuous and worthy of praise as now; for the supposition is, that His sovereign will creates right, and of course, will as He might, that would be right, simply because He willed it.

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