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

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    If the benefactor has in the benefaction obeyed the law of love, if he has done his duty in sustaining this relation, I am under obligation to exercise gratitude toward him. But what is gratitude? It is not a mere emotion or feeling; for this is a phenomenon of the sensibility, and, strictly speaking, without the pale both of legislation and morality. Gratitude, when spoken of as a virtue and as that of which moral obligation can be affirmed, must be an act of will. An obligation to gratitude must be an obligation to will something to the benefactor. But what am I under obligation to will to a benefactor, but his actual highest well-being? If it be God, I am under obligation to will His actual and infinite blessedness with all my heart and with all my soul. If it be my neighbor, I am bound to love him as myself, that is, to will his actual well-being as I do my own. What else can either God or man possess or enjoy, and what else can I be under obligation to will to them? I answer, nothing else. To the law and to the testimony, if any philosophy agree not herewith, it is because there is no light in it. The virtuous relation of benefactor modifies obligation, just as any other and every other form of virtue does, and in no other way. Whenever we perceive virtue in any being, this supplies the condition upon which we are bound to will his actual highest well-being. He has done his duty. He has complied with obligation in the relation he sustains. He is truthful, upright, benevolent, just, merciful, no matter what the particular form may be in which the individual presents to me the evidence of his holy character. It is all precisely the same so far as my obligation extends. I am, independently of my knowledge of his character, under obligation to will his highest well-being for its own sake. That is, to will that he may fulfil all the conditions, and thereupon enjoy perfect blessedness. But I am not under obligation to will his actual enjoyment of blessedness until I have evidence of his virtue. This evidence, however I obtain it, by whatever manifestations of virtue in him or by whatever means, supplies the condition upon which I am under obligation to will his actual enjoyment or highest well-being. This is my whole obligation. It is all he can have, and all I can will to him. All objections of this kind, and indeed all possible objections to the true theory, and in support of the one I am examining, are founded in an erroneous view of the subject of moral obligation, or in a false and anti-scriptural philosophy that contradicts the law of God, and sets up another rule of moral obligation.

    Again, if gratitude is a moral act, according to this objector, it is an ultimate intention, and as such must terminate on its object, and find its reasons or ground of obligation exclusively in its object. If this is so, then if the relation of benefactor is the ground of obligation to exercise gratitude, gratitude must consist in willing this relation for its own sake, and not at all in willing anything to the benefactor. This is absurd. It is certain that gratitude must consist in willing good to the benefactor, and not in willing the relation for its own sake, and that the ground of the obligation must be the intrinsic value of the good, and the relation only a condition of the obligation in the particular form of willing his enjoyment of good in particular. It is now said, in reply to this, that the "inquiry is not, what is gratitude? but, why ought we to exercise it?" But the inquiry is after the ground of the obligation; this, it is agreed, must be intrinsic in its object, and is it impertinent to inquire what the object is? Who can tell what is the ground of the obligation to exercise gratitude until he knows what the object of gratitude is, and consequently what gratitude is? The objector affirms that the relation of benefactor is a ground of obligation to put forth ultimate choice. Of course, according to him, and in fact, if this relation is the ground of the obligation, it is, and must be, the object chosen for its own sake, to exercise gratitude to a benefactor, then, according to this teaching is, not to will any good to him, nor to myself, nor to any being in existence, but simply to will the relation of benefactor for its own sake. Not for his sake, as a good to him. Not for my sake as a good to me, but for its own sake. Is not this a sublime philosophy?

    (d.) But it is also insisted that when men attempt to assign a reason why they are under moral obligation of any kind, as to love God, they all agree in this, in assigning the divine moral excellence as the reason of that obligation.

    I answer: The only reason why any man supposes himself to assign the goodness of God as the foundation of the obligation to will good to Him is, that he loosely confounds the conditions of the obligation to will His actual blessedness, with the foundation of the obligation to will it for its own sake, or as a possible good. Were it not for the known intrinsic value of God's highest well-being, we should as soon affirm our obligation to will evil as good to Him, as has been said. But if the divine moral excellence were the foundation of moral obligation, if God were not holy and good, moral obligation could not exist in any case.

    That every moral agent ought to will the highest well-being of God and of all the universe for its own sake, as a possible good, whatever their characters may be, is a truth of reason. Reason assigns and can assign no other reason for willing their good as an ultimate end than its intrinsic value; and to assign any other reason as imposing obligation to will it as an end, or for its own sake, were absurd and self-contradictory. Obligation to will it as an end and for its own sake, implies the obligation to will its actual existence in all cases, and to all persons, when the indispensable conditions are fulfilled. These conditions are seen to be fulfilled in God, and therefore upon this condition reason affirms obligation to will His actual and highest blessedness for its own sake, the intrinsic value being the fundamental reason for the obligation to will it as an end, and the divine goodness the condition of the obligation to will His highest blessedness in particular. Suppose that I existed and had the idea of blessedness and its intrinsic value duly developed, together with an idea of all the necessary conditions of it; but that I did not know that any other being than myself existed, and yet I knew their existence and blessedness possible; in this case I should be under obligation to will or wish that beings might exist and be blessed. Now suppose that I complied with this obligation, my virtue is just as real and as great as if I knew their existence, and willed their actual blessedness, provided my idea of its intrinsic value were as clear and just as if I knew their existence. And now suppose I came to the knowledge of the actual existence and holiness of all holy beings, I should make no new ultimate choice in willing their actual blessedness. This I should do of course, and, remaining benevolent, of necessity; and if this knowledge did not give me a higher idea of the value of that which I before willed for its own sake, the willing of the real existence of their blessedness would not make me a what more virtuous than when I willed it as a possible good, ithout knowing that the conditions of its actual existence would ever, in any case, be fulfilled.

    The Bible reads just as it might be expected to read, and just as we should speak in common life. It being a truth of reason that the well-being of God is of infinite value, and therefore ought to be willed for its own sake, it also being a truth that virtue is an indispensable condition of fulfilling the demands of His own reason and conscience, and of course of His actual blessedness, and of course also a condition of the obligation to will it, we might expect the Bible to exhort and require us to love God or will His actual blessedness, and mention His virtue as the reason or fulfilled condition of the obligation, rather than the intrinsic value of His blessedness as the foundation of the obligation. The foundation of the obligation, being a truth of reason, needs not to be a matter of revelation. Nor needs the fact that virtue is the condition of His blessedness, nor the fact that we are under no obligation to will His actual blessedness but upon condition of His holiness. But that in Him this condition is fulfilled, needs to be impressed upon us, and therefore the Bible announces it as a reason or condition of the obligation to love Him, that is, to will His actual blessedness.

    God's moral excellence is naturally, and rightly, assigned by us as a condition, not the ground of obligation to receive His revealed will as our law. Did we not assume the rectitude of the divine will, we could not affirm our obligation to receive it as a rule of duty. This assumption is a condition of the obligation, and is naturally thought of when obligation to obey God is affirmed. But the intrinsic value and importance of the interest He requires us to seek, is the ground of the obligation.

    (e.) Again: it is asserted that when men would awaken a sense of moral obligation they universally contemplate the moral excellence of God as constituting the reason of their obligation, and if this contemplation does not awaken their sense of obligation nothing else can or will.

    I answer: The only possible reason why men ever do or can take this course, is that they loosely consider religion to consist of feelings of complacency in God, and are endeavoring to awaken these complacent emotions. If they conceive of religion as consisting in these emotions, they will of course conceive themselves to be under obligation to exercise them, and to be sure they take the only possible course to awaken both these and a sense of obligation to exercise them. But they are mistaken both in regard to their obligation and the nature of religion. Did they conceive of religion as consisting in goodwill, or in willing the highest well-being of God and of the universe for its own sake, would they, could they, resort to the process in question, that is, the contemplation of the divine moral excellence, as the only reason for willing good to Him, instead of considering the infinite value of those interests to the realization of which they ought to consecrate themselves?

    If men often do resort to the process in question, it is because they love to feel and have a self-righteous satisfaction in feelings of complacency in God, and take more pains to awaken these feelings than to quicken and enlarge their benevolence A purely selfish being may be greatly affected by the great goodness and kindness of God to him. I know a man who is a very niggard so far as all benevolent giving and doing for God and the world are concerned, who, I fear, resorts to the very process in question, and is often much affected with the goodness of God. He can bluster and denounce all who do not feel as he does. But ask him for a dollar to forward any benevolent enterprise, and he will evade your request, and ask you how you feel, whether you are engaged in religion, etc.

    But it may well be asked, why does the Bible and why do we, so often present the character of God and of Christ as a means of awakening a sense of moral obligation and of inducing virtue? Answer:

    It is to lead men to contemplate the infinite value of those interests which we ought to will. Presenting the example of God and of Christ, is the highest moral means that can be used. God's example and man's example is the most impressive and efficient way in which He can declare His views, and hold forth to public gaze the infinite value of those interests upon which all hearts ought to be set. For example, nothing can set the infinite value of the soul in a stronger light than the example of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost has done.

    Nothing can beget a higher sense of obligation to will the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls, than the example of Christ. His example is His loudest preaching, His clearest, most impressive exhibition, not merely of His own goodness, but of the intrinsic and infinite value of the interest He sought and which we ought to seek. It is the love, the care, the self-denial, and the example of God, in His efforts to secure the great ends of benevolence, that hold those interests forth in the strongest light, and thus beget a sense of obligation to seek the same end. But let it be observed, it is not a contemplation of the goodness of God that awakens this sense of obligation, but the contemplation of the value of those interests which He seeks, in the light of His painstaking and example; this quickens and gives efficiency to the sense of obligation to will what He wills. Suppose, for example, that I manifest the greatest concern and zeal for the salvation of souls; it would not be the contemplation of my goodness that would quicken in a bystander a sense of obligation to save souls, but my zeal, and life, and spirit would have the strongest tendency to arouse in him a sense of the infinite and intrinsic value of the soul, and thus quicken a sense of obligation. Should I behold multitudes rushing to extinguish a flaming house, it would not be a contemplation of their goodness, but the contemplation of the interests at stake, to the consideration of which their zeal would lead me, that would quicken a sense of obligation in me to hasten to lend my aid.

    Revelation is concerned to impress the fact that God is holy, and of course call on us, in view of His holiness, to love and worship Him. But in doing this, it does not, cannot mean that His holiness is the foundation of the obligation to will His good as an ultimate end.

    Our obligation, when viewed apart from His character, is to will or wish that God might fulfill all the conditions of perfect blessedness, and upon that condition, that He might actually enjoy perfect and infinite satisfaction. But seeing that He meets the demands of His own intelligence and the intelligence of the universe, and that He voluntarily fulfills all the necessary conditions of His highest well-being, our obligation is to will His actual and most perfect and eternal blessedness.

    I am obliged to repeat much to follow the objector, because all his objections resolve themselves into one, and require to be answered much in the same way.

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