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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 4 - A,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    I now come to consider the philosophy which teaches that moral order is the foundation of moral obligation.

    But what is moral order? The advocates of this theory define it to be identical with the fit, proper, suitable. It is, then, according to the, synonymous with the right. Moral order must be, in their view, either identical with law or with virtue. It must be either an idea of the fit, the right, the proper, the suitable, which is the same as objective right; or it must consist in conformity of the will to this idea of law, which is virtue. It has been repeatedly shown that right, whether objective or subjective, cannot by any possibility be the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, and to which he ought to consecrate himself. If moral order be not synonymous with right in one of these senses, I do not know what it is; and all that I can say is, that if it be not identical with the highest well-being of God and of the universe, it cannot be the end at which moral agents ought to aim, and cannot be the foundation of moral obligation. But if by moral order, as the phraseology of some would seem to indicate, be meant that state of the universe in which all law is universally obeyed, and, as a consequence, a state of universal well-being, this theory is only another name for the true one. It is the same as willing the highest well-being of the universe, with the condition and means thereof.

    Or if it be meant, as other phraseology would seem to indicate, that moral order is a state of things in which either all law is obeyed, or in which the disobedient are punished for the sake of promoting the public good; if this be what is meant by moral order, it is only another name for the true theory. Willing moral order, is only willing the highest good of the universe for its own sake, with the condition and means thereof.

    But if by moral order be meant the fit, suitable, in the sense of law, physical or moral, it is absurd to represent moral order as the foundation of moral obligation. If moral order is the ground of obligation, it is identical with the object of ultimate choice. Does God require us to love moral order for its own sake? Is this identical with loving God and our neighbor? "Thou shalt will moral order with all thy heart, and with all thy soul!" Is this the meaning of the moral law? If this theory is right, benevolence is sin. It is not living to the right end.

    Again it is maintained that the nature and relations of moral beings are the true foundation of moral obligation.

    The advocates of this theory confound the conditions of moral obligation with the foundation of obligation. The nature and relations of moral agents to each other, and to the universe, are conditions of their obligation to will the good of being, but not the foundation of the obligation. What! The nature and relations of moral beings the foundation of their obligation to choose an ultimate end! Then this end must be their nature and relations. This is absurd. Their nature and relations being what they are, their highest well-being is known to them to be of infinite and intrinsic value. But it is and must be the intrinsic value of the end, and not their nature and relations, that imposes obligation to will the highest good of the universe as an ultimate end.

    If their nature and relations be the ground of obligation, then their nature and relations are the great object of ultimate choice, and should be willed for their own sakes, and not for the sake of any good resulting from their nature and relations. For, be it remembered, the ground of obligation to put forth ultimate choice must be identical with the object of this choice, which object imposes obligation by virtue of its own nature.

    The natures and relations of moral beings are a condition of obligation to fulfil to each other certain duties. For example, the relation of parent and child is a condition of obligation to endeavor to promote each other's particular well-being, to govern and provide for, on the part of the parent, and to obey, etc., on the part of the child. But the intrinsic value of the good to be sought by both parent and child must be the ground, and their relation only the condition, of those particular forms of obligation. So in every possible case. Relations can never be a ground of obligation to choose, unless the relations be the object of the choice. The various duties of life are executive and not ultimate acts. Obligation to perform them is founded in the intrinsic nature of the good resulting from their performance. The various relations of life are only conditions of obligation to promote particular forms of good, and the good of particular individuals.

    Writers upon this subject are often falling into the mistake of confounding the conditions with the foundation of moral obligation. Moral agency is a condition, but not the foundation of obligation. Light, or the knowledge of the intrinsically valuable to being, is a condition, but not the foundation of moral obligation. The intrinsically valuable is the foundation of the obligation; and light, or the perception of the intrinsically valuable, is only a condition of the obligation. So the nature and relations of moral beings are a condition of their obligation to will each other's good, and so is light, or a knowledge of the intrinsic value of their blessedness; but the intrinsic value is alone the foundation of the obligation. It is, therefore, a great mistake to affirm "that the known nature and relations of moral agents are the true foundation of moral obligation."

    The next theory that demands attention is that which teaches that moral obligation is founded in the idea of duty.

    According to this philosophy, the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, is duty. He must in all things "aim at doing his duty." Or, in other words, he must always have respect to his obligation, and aim at discharging it.

    It is plain that this theory is only another form of stating the rightarian theory. By aiming, intending, to do duty, we must understand the advocates of this theory to mean the adoption of a resolution or maxim, by which to regulate their lives the formation of a resolve to obey God to serve God to do at all times what appears to be right to meet the demands of conscience to obey the law to discharge obligation, etc. I have expressed the thing intended in all these ways because it is common to hear this theory expressed in all these terms, and in others like them. Especially in giving instruction to inquiring sinners, nothing is more common than for those who profess to be spiritual guides to assume the truth of this philosophy, and give instructions accordingly. These philosophers, or theologians, will say to sinners: Make up your mind to serve the Lord; resolve to do your whole duty, and do it at all times; resolve to obey God in all things to keep all His commandments; resolve to deny yourselves to forsake sin to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. They often represent regeneration as consisting in this resolution or purpose.

    Such-like phraseology, which is very common and almost universal among rightarian philosophers, demonstrates that they regard virtue or obedience to God as consisting in the adoption of a maxim of life. With them, duty is the great idea to be realized. All these modes of expression mean the same thing, and amount to just Kant's morality, which he admits does not necessarily imply religion, namely: "act upon a maxim at all times fit for law universal," and to Cousin's which is the same thing, namely, "will the right for the sake of the right." Now I cannot but regard this philosophy on the one hand, and utilitarianism on the other, as equally wide from the truth, and as lying at the foundation of much of the spurious religion with which the church and the world are cursed. Utilitarianism begets one type of selfishness, which it calls religion, and this philosophy begets another, in some respects more specious, but not a whit the less selfish, God dishonoring and soul destroying. The nearest that this philosophy can be said to approach either to true morality or religion, is, that if the one who forms the resolution understood himself he would resolve to become truly moral instead of really becoming so. But this is in fact an absurdity and an impossibility, and the resolution maker does not understand what he is about, when he supposes himself to be forming or cherishing a resolution to do his duty. Observe, he intends to do his duty. But to do his duty is to form and cherish an ultimate intention. To intend to do his duty is merely to intend to intend. But this is not doing his duty, as will be shown. He intends to serve God, but this is not serving God, as will also be shown. Whatever he intends, he is neither truly moral nor religious, until he really intends the same end that God does; and this is not to do his duty, nor to do right, nor to comply with obligation, nor to keep a conscience void of offence, nor to deny himself, nor any such like things. God aims at, and intends, the highest well-being of Himself and the universe, as an ultimate end, and this is doing His duty. It is not resolving or intending to do His duty, but is doing it. It is not resolving to do right for the sake of the right, but it is doing right. It is not resolving to serve Himself and the universe, but is actually rendering that service. It is not resolving to love, but actually loving His neighbor as Himself. It is not, in other words, resolving to be benevolent, but is being so. It is not resolving to deny self, but is actually denying self.

    A man may resolve to serve God without any just idea of what it is to serve Him. If he had the idea of what the law of God requires him to choose, clearly before his mind if he perceived that to serve God, was nothing less than to consecrate himself to the same end to which God consecrates Himself, to love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, that is, to will or choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, as an ultimate end to devote all his being, substance, time, and influence to this end; I say, if this idea were clearly before his mind, he would not talk of resolving to consecrate himself to God resolving to do his duty, to do right, to serve God, to keep a conscience void of offense, and such like things. He would see that such resolutions were totally absurd and a mere evasion of the claims of God. It has been repeatedly shown, that all virtue resolves itself into the intending of an ultimate end, or of the highest well-being of God and the universe. This is true morality, and nothing else is. This is identical with that love to God and man which the law of God requires. This then is duty. This is serving God. This is keeping a conscience void of offense. This is right, and nothing else is. But to intend or resolve to do this is only to intend to intend, instead of at once intending what God requires. It is resolving to love God and his neighbor, instead of really loving Him; choosing to choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, instead of really choosing it.

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