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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 3 -C,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    But while the law requires that this should be willed to all, as a possible and intrinsic good, irrespective of character; it cannot, and does not require us to will that God, or any moral agent in particular, shall be actually blessed, but upon condition that he be holy. Our obligation to the unholy, is to will that they might be holy, and perfectly blessed. Our obligation to the holy, is to will that they be perfectly blessed. As has been said, virtue only modifies the form, but does not change the ground of obligation. The Bible represents love to enemies as one of the highest forms of virtue: "God commandeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). But if love to enemies be a high and a valuable form of virtue, it must be only because the true spirit of the law requires the same love to them as to others, and because of the strong inducements not to love them. Who does not regard the virtue of the atonement as being as great as if it had been made for the friends, instead of the enemies of God? And suppose God were supremely selfish and unreasonably our enemy, who would not regard good will exercised toward Him as being as praiseworthy as it now is. Now if He were unjustly our enemy, would not a hearty good will to Him in such a case be a striking and valuable instance of virtue? In such a case we could not, might not, will His actual blessedness, but we might and should be under infinite obligation to will that He might become holy, and thereupon be perfectly blessed. We should be under obligation to will His good in such a sense, that should He become holy, we should will His actual blessedness, without any change in our ultimate choice or intention, and without any change in us that would imply an increase of virtue.

    So of our neighbor: we are bound to will his good, even if he is wicked, in such a sense as to need no new intention or ultimate choice to will his actual blessedness, should he become holy. We may be as holy in loving a sinner, and in seeking his salvation while he is a sinner, as in willing his good after he is converted and becomes a saint. God was as virtuous in loving the world, and seeking to save it while in sin, as He is in loving those in it who are holy. The fact is, if we are truly benevolent, and will the highest well-being of all, with the conditions and means of their blessedness, it follows of course, and of necessity, that when one becomes holy we shall love him with the love of complacency; that we shall, of course, will his actual blessedness, seeing that he has fulfilled the necessary conditions, and rendered himself worthy of blessedness. It implies no increase of virtue in God, when a sinner repents, to exercise complacency toward him. Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labors to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints.

    This is the universal doctrine of the Bible. It is in exact accordance with the spirit and letter of the law. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 19:19), that is, whatever his character may be. This is the doctrine of reason, and accords with the convictions of all men. But if this is so, it follows that virtue is not a distinct ground of moral obligation, but only modifies the form of obligation. We are under obligation to will the actual blessedness of a moral being, upon condition of his holiness. We ought to will good or blessedness for its own value, irrespective of character; but we ought to will the enjoyment of it, by an individual, in particular, only upon condition of his holiness. Its intrinsic value is the foundation of the obligation, and his holiness changes not the fact, but form, of the obligation, and is the condition of the obligation to will his actual enjoyment of perfect blessedness in particular. When, therefore, the Bible calls on us to love God for His goodness, it does not and cannot mean to assign the fundamental reason, or foundation of the obligation to will His good; for it were absurd to suppose, that His good is to be willed, not for its intrinsic value, but because He is good. Were it not for its intrinsic value, we should as soon affirm our obligation to will evil as good to Him. The Bible assumes the first truths of reason. It is a first truth of reason, that God's well-being is of infinite value, and ought to be willed as a possible good whatever His character may be; and that it ought to be willed as an actual reality upon condition of His holiness. Now the Bible does just as in this case might be expected. It asserts His actual and infinite holiness, and calls on us to love Him, or to will His good, for that reason. But this is not asserting nor implying that His holiness is the foundation of the obligation to will His good in any such sense as that we should not be under obligation to will it with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, as possible good, whether He were holy or not. It is plain that the law contemplates only the intrinsic value of the end to be willed. It would require us to will the well-being of God with all our heart, etc., or as the supreme good, whatever His character might be. Were not this so, it could not be moral law. His interest would be the supreme and the infinite good, in the sense of the intrinsically and infinitely valuable, and we should, for that reason, be under infinite obligation to will that it might be, whether He were holy or sinful, and upon condition of His holiness, to will the actual existence of His perfect and infinite blessedness. Upon our coming to the knowledge of His holiness, the obligation is instantly imposed, not merely to will His highest well-being as a possible, but as an actually existing, good.

    Again, it is impossible that goodness, virtue, good desert, merit, should be a distinct ground or foundation of moral obligation, in such a sense as to impose or properly to increase obligation. It has been shown that neither of these can be an ultimate good and impose obligation to choose itself as an ultimate end, or for its intrinsic value. But if goodness or merit can impose moral obligation to will, it must be an obligation to will itself as an ultimate end. But this we have seen cannot be, therefore, these things cannot be a distinct ground or foundation of moral obligation.

    But again, the law does not make virtue, good desert, or merit, the ground of obligation, and require us to love them and to will them as an ultimate end but, to love God and our neighbor as an ultimate good. It does, no doubt, require us to will God's goodness, good desert, worthiness, merit, as a condition and means of His highest well-being, and of the well-being of the universe; but it is absurd to say that it requires us to will either of these things as an ultimate end, instead of His perfect blessedness, to which these sustain only the relation of a condition. Let it be distinctly understood that nothing can impose moral obligation but that which is an ultimate and an intrinsic good; for if it impose obligation, it must be an obligation to choose itself for what it is, in and of itself. All obligation must respect the choice either of an end or of means. Obligation to choose means is founded in the value of the end. Whatever, then, imposes obligation must be an ultimate end. It must possess that, in and of itself, that is worthy or deserving of choice as an intrinsic and ultimate good. This we have seen, virtue, merit, etc., cannot be, therefore, they cannot be a foundation of moral obligation. But it is said they can increase obligation to love God and holy beings. But we are under infinite obligation to love God and to will His good with all our power, because of the intrinsic value of His well-being, whether He is holy or sinful. Upon condition that He is holy, we are under obligation to will His actual blessedness, but certainly we are under obligation to will it with no more than all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. But this we are required to do because of the intrinsic value of His blessedness, whatever His character might be. The fact is, we can do no more, and can be under obligation to do no more, than to will His good with all our powers, and this we are bound to do for its own sake, and no more than this can we be under obligation to do, for any reason whatever. Our oblation is to will His good with all our strength, by virtue of its infinite value, and it cannot be increased by any other consideration than our increased knowledge of its value, which increases our ability.

    (c.) But it is said that favors received impose obligation to exercise gratitude; that the relation of benefactor itself imposes obligation to treat the benefactor according to this relation.

    Answer: I suppose this objection contemplates this relation as a virtuous relation, that is, that the benefactor is truly virtuous and not selfish in his benefaction. If not, then the relation cannot at all modify obligation.

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