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

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    6. If the will of God is the foundation of moral obligation, He has no standard by which to judge of His own character, as He has no rule but His own will, with which to compare His own actions.

    7. If the will of God is the foundation of moral obligation, He is not Himself a subject of moral obligation. But,

    8. If God is not a subject of moral obligation, He has no moral character; for virtue and vice are nothing else but conformity or nonconformity to moral obligation. The will of God, as expressed in His law, is the rule of duty to moral agents. It defines and marks out the path of duty, but the fundamental reason why moral agents ought to act in conformity to the will of God, is plainly not the will of God itself.

    9. The will of no being can be law. Moral law is an idea of the divine reason, and not the willing of any being. If the will of any being were law, that being could not, by natural possibility, will wrong; for whatever He willed would be right, simply and only because He willed it.

    10. But let us bring this philosophy into the light of divine revelation. "To the law and to the testimony; if it agree not therewith, it is because it hath no light in it" (Isaiah 8:20).

    The law of God, or the moral law, requires that God shall be loved with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. Now it is manifest that the love required is not mere emotion, but that it consists in choice, willing, intention, i.e., in the choice of something on account of its own intrinsic value, or in the choice of an ultimate end. Now what is this end? Is it the will or command of God? Are we to will as an ultimate end, that God should will that we should thus will? What can be more absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous than this? But again, what is this loving, willing, choosing, intending, required by the law? We are commanded to love God and our neighbor. What is this, what can it be, but to will the highest good or well-being of God and our neighbor? This is intrinsically and infinitely valuable. This must be the end, and nothing can possibly be law that requires the choice of any other ultimate end. Nor can that, by any possibility, be true philosophy, that makes anything else the reason or foundation of moral obligation.

    But it is said that we are conscious of affirming our obligation to obey the will of God, without reference to any other reason than His will; and this, it is said, proves that His will is the foundation of obligation.

    To this I reply, the reason does indeed affirm that we ought to will that which God commands, but it does not and cannot assign His will as the foundation of the obligation. His whole will respecting our duty, is summed up in the two precepts of the law. These, as we have seen, require universal good willing to being, or the supreme love of God and the equal love of our neighbor that we should will the highest well-being of God and of the universe, for its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value. Reason affirms that we ought thus to will. And can it be so self-contradictory as to affirm that we ought to will the good of God and of the universe, for its own intrinsic value, yet not for this reason, but because God wills that we should will it? Impossible! But in this assertion, the objector has reference to some outward act, some condition or means of the end to be chosen, and not to the end itself. But even in respect to any act whatever, his objection does not hold good. For example, God requires me to labor and pray for the salvation of souls, or to do anything else. Now His command is necessarily regarded by me as obligatory, not as an arbitrary requirement, but as revealing infallibly the true means or conditions of securing the great and ultimate end, which I am to will for its intrinsic value. I necessarily regard His commandment as wise and benevolent, and it is only because I so regard it, that I affirm, or can affirm, my obligation to obey Him. Should He command me to choose, as an ultimate end, or for its own intrinsic value, that which my reason affirmed to be of no intrinsic value, I could not possibly affirm my obligation to obey Him. Should He command me to do that which my reason affirmed to be unwise and malevolent, it were impossible for me to affirm my obligation to obey Him. This proves, beyond controversy, that reason does not regard His command as the foundation of the obligation, but only as infallible proof that which He commands is wise and benevolent in itself, and commanded by Him for that reason.

    If the will of God were the foundation of moral obligation, He might command me to violate and trample down all the laws of my being, and to be the enemy of all good, and I should not only be under obligation, but affirm my obligation to obey Him. But this is absurd. This brings us to the conclusion that he who asserts that moral obligation respects the choice of an end for its intrinsic value, and still affirms the will of God to be the foundation of moral obligation, contradicts his own admissions, the plainest intuitions of reason and divine revelation. His theory is grossly inconsistent and nonsensical. It overlooks the very nature of moral law as an idea of reason, and makes it to consist in arbitrary willing.

    Paley's Theory of Self-interest.

    This theory, as every reader of Paley knows, makes self-interest the ground of moral obligation. Upon this theory I remark:

    1. That if self-interest be the ground of moral obligation, then self-interest is the end to be chosen for its own sake. To be virtuous I must in every instance intend my own interest as the supreme good. Then, according to this theory, disinterested benevolence is sin. To live to God and the universe, is not right. It is not devotion to the right end. This theory affirms self-interest to be the end for which we ought to live. Then selfishness is virtue, and benevolence is vice. These are directly opposite theories. It cannot be a trifle to embrace the wrong view of this subject. If Dr. Paley was right, all are fundamentally wrong who hold the benevolence theory.

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