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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 5 - B,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    (4.) Another destructive consequence of this theory is that those who hold it will of course give false directions to inquiring sinners. Indeed, if they be ministers, the whole strain of their instructions must be false. They must, if consistent, not only represent God to their hearers as an absolute and arbitrary sovereign, but they must represent religion as consisting in submission to arbitrary sovereignty. If sinners inquire what they must do to be saved, such teachers must answer in substance, that they must cast themselves on the sovereignty of a God whose law is solely an expression of His arbitrary will, and whose every requirement and purpose is founded in His arbitrary sovereignty. This is the God whom they must love, in whom they must believe, and whom they must serve with a willing mind. How infinitely different such instructions are from those that would be given by one who knew the truth. Such an one would represent God to an inquirer as infinitely reasonable in all His requirements, and in all His ways. He would represent the sovereignty of God as consisting, not in arbitrary will, but in benevolence or love, directed by infinite knowledge in the promotion of the highest good of being. He would represent His law, not as the expression of His arbitrary will, but as having its foundation in the self-existent nature of God, and in the nature of moral agents; as being the very rule which is agreeable to the nature and relations of moral agents; that its requisitions are not arbitrary, but that the very thing, and only that, is required which is in the nature of things indispensable to the highest well-being of moral agents; that God's will does not originate obligation by any arbitrary fiat, but on the contrary, that He requires what He does, because it is obligatory in the nature of things; that His requirement does not create right, but that He requires only that which is naturally and of necessity right. These and many such like things would irresistibly commend the character of God to the human intelligence, as worthy to be trusted, and as a being to whom submission is infallibly safe and infinitely reasonable.

    The fact is, the idea of arbitrary sovereignty is shocking and revolting, not only to the human heart, whether unregenerate or regenerate, but also to the human intelligence. Religion, based upon such a view of God's character and government, must be sheer superstition or gross fanaticism.

    I will next glance at the legitimate results of the theory of the selfish school.

    This theory teaches that our own interest is the foundation of moral obligation. In conversing with a distinguished defender of this philosophy, I requested the theorist to define moral obligation, and this was the definition given: "It is the obligation of a moral agent to seek his own happiness." Upon the practical bearing of this theory I remark:

    (1.) It tends directly and inevitably to the confirmation and despotism of sin in the soul. All sin, as we shall hereafter see, resolves itself into a spirit of self-seeking, or into a disposition to seek good to self, upon condition of its relations to self, and not impartially and disinterestedly. This philosophy represents this spirit of self-seeking as virtue, and only requires that in our efforts to secure our own happiness, we should not interfere with the rights of others in seeking theirs. But here it may be asked, when these philosophers insist that virtue consists in willing our own happiness, and that, in seeking it, we are bound to have respect to the rights and happiness of others, do they mean that we are to have a positive, or merely a negative regard to the rights and happiness of others? If they mean that we are to have a positive regard to others' rights and happiness, what is that but giving up their theory, and holding the true one, to wit, that the happiness of each one shall be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, for its own sake? That is, that we should be disinterestedly benevolent? But if they mean that we are to regard our neighbor's happiness negatively, that is, merely in not hindering it, what is this but the most absurd thing conceivable? What! I need not care positively for my neighbor's appiness, I need not will it as a good in itself, and for its own value, and yet I must take care not to hinder it. But why? Why, because it is intrinsically as valuable as my own. Now, if this is assigning any good reason why I ought not to hinder it, it is just because it is assigning a good reason why I ought positively and disinterestedly to will it; which is the same thing as the true theory. But if this is not a sufficient reason to impose obligation, positively and disinterestedly, to will it, it can never impose obligation to avoid hindering it, and I may then pursue my own happiness in my own way without the slightest regard to that of any other.

    (2.) If this theory be true, sinful and holy beings are precisely alike, so far as ultimate intention is concerned, in which we have seen all character consists. They have precisely the same end in view, and the difference lies exclusively in the means they make use of to promote their own happiness. That sinners are seeking their own happiness, is a truth of consciousness to them. If moral agents are under obligation to seek their own happiness as the supreme end of life, it follows, that holy beings do so. So that holy and sinful beings are precisely alike, so far as the end for which they live is concerned; the only difference being, as has been observed, in the different means they make use of to promote this end. But observe, no reason can be assigned, in accordance with this philosophy, why they use different means, only that they differ in judgment in respect to them; for, let it be remembered, that this philosophy denies that we are bound to have a positive and disinterested regard to our neighbor's interest; and, of course, no benevolent considerations prevent the holy from using the same means as do the wicked. Where, therefore, is the difference in their character, although they do use this diversity of means? I say again, there is none. If this difference be not ascribed to disinterested benevolence in one, and to selfishness in the other, there really is and can be no difference in character between them. According to this theory nothing is right in itself, but the intention to promote my own happiness; and anything is right or wrong as it is intended to promote this result or otherwise. For let it be borne in mind that, if moral obligation respects strictly the ultimate intention only, it follows that ultimate intention alone is right or wrong in itself, and all other things are right or wrong as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This must be true.

    Further, if my own happiness be the foundation of my moral obligation, it follows that this is the ultimate end at which I ought to aim, and that nothing is right or wrong in itself, in me, but this intention or its opposite; and furthermore, that everything else must be right or wrong in me as it proceeds from this, or from an opposite intention. I may do, and upon the supposition of the truth of this theory, I am bound to do, whatever will, in my estimation, promote my own happiness, and that, not because of its intrinsic value as a part of universal good, but because it is my own. To seek it as a part of universal happiness, and not because it is my own, would be to act on the true theory, or the theory of disinterested benevolence; which this theory denies.

    (3.) Upon this theory I am not to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself. If I love God and my neighbor, it is to be only as a means of promoting my own happiness, which is not loving them but loving myself supremely.

    (4.) This theory teaches radical error in respect both to the character and government of God; and the consistent defenders of it cannot but hold fundamentally false views in respect to what constitutes holiness or virtue, either in God or man. They do not and cannot know the difference between virtue and vice.

    (5.) The teachers of this theory must fatally mislead all who consistently follow out their instructions. In preaching, they must, if consistent, appeal wholly to hope and fear. All their instructions must tend to confirm selfishness. All the motives they present, if consistent, tend only to stir up a zeal within them to secure their own happiness. If they pray, it will only be to implore the help of God to accomplish their selfish ends.

    Indeed, it is impossible that this theory should not blind its advocates to the fundamental truths of morality and religion, and it is hardly conceivable that one could more efficiently serve the devil than by the inculcation of such a philosophy as this.

    Let us in the next place look into the natural and, if its advocates are consistent, necessary results of utilitarianism.

    This theory, you know, teaches that the utility of an action or of a choice, renders it obligatory. That is, I am bound to will good, not for the intrinsic value of the good; but because willing good tends to produce good to choose an end, not because of the intrinsic value of the end, but because the willing of it tends to secure it. The absurdity of this theory has been sufficiently exposed. It only remains to notice its legitimate practical results.

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