The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION
I now enter upon the discussion of the theory, that the goodness, or moral excellence of God is the foundation of moral obligation.
To this philosophy I reply,
1. That the reason of obligation, or that which imposes obligation, is identical with the end on which the intention ought to terminate. If, therefore, the goodness of God be the reason, or foundation of moral obligation, then the goodness of God is the ultimate end to be intended. But as this goodness consists in love or benevolence, it is impossible that it should be regarded or chosen, as an ultimate end; and to choose it were to choose the divine choice, to intend the divine intention as an ultimate end, instead of choosing what God chooses, and intending what He intends. Or if the goodness or moral excellence of God is to be regarded not as identical with, but as an attribute or moral quality of benevolence, then, upon the theory under consideration, a moral agent ought to choose a quality or attribute of the divine choice or intention as an ultimate end, instead of the end upon which the divine intention terminates. This is absurd.
2. It is impossible that virtue should be the foundation of moral obligation. Virtue consists in a compliance with moral obligation. But obligation must exist before it can be complied with. Now, upon this theory, obligation cannot exist until virtue exists as its foundation. Then this theory amounts to this: virtue is the foundation of moral obligation; therefore virtue must exist before moral obligation can exist. But as virtue consists in a conformity to moral obligation, moral obligation must exist before virtue can exist. Therefore neither moral obligation nor virtue, can ever by any possibility, exist. God's virtue must have existed prior to His obligation, as its foundation. But as virtue consists in compliance with moral obligation, and as obligation could not exist until virtue existed as its foundation; in other words, as obligation could not exist without the previous existence of virtue as its foundation, and as virtue could not exist without the previous existence of obligation, it follows, that neither God nor any other being could ever be virtuous, for the reason that he could never be the subject of moral obligation. Should it be said, that God's holiness is the foundation of our obligation to love Him, I ask in what sense it can be so. What is the nature or form of that love, which His virtue lays us under an obligation to exercise? It cannot be a mere emotion of complacency, for emotions being involuntary states of mind and mere phenomena of the sensibility, are not strictly within the pale of legislation and morality. Is this love resolvable into benevolence or goodwill? But why will good to God rather than evil? Why, surely, because good is valuable in itself. But if it is valuable in itself, this must be the fundamental reason for willing it as a possible good; and His virtue must be only a secondary reason or condition of the obligation to will His actual blessedness. But again, the foundation of moral obligation must be the same in all worlds, and with all moral agents, for the simple reason that moral law is one and identical in all worlds. If God's virtue is not the foundation of moral obligation in Him, which it cannot be, it cannot be the foundation of obligation in us, as moral law must require Him to choose the same end that it requires us to choose. His virtue must be a secondary reason of His obligation to will His own actual blessedness, and the condition of our obligation to will His actual and highest blessedness, but cannot be the fundamental reason, that always being the intrinsic value of His well-being.
If this theory is true, disinterested benevolence is a sin. Undeniably benevolence consists in willing the highest well-being of God and the universe for its own sake, in devoting the soul and all to this end. But this theory teaches us, either to will the moral excellence of God, for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, or to will His good and the good of the universe, not for its own sake, but because He is morally excellent. The benevolence theory regards blessedness as the end, and holiness or moral excellence only as a condition of the end. This theory regards moral excellence itself as the end. Does the moral excellence of God impose obligation to will His moral excellence for its own sake? If not, it cannot be a ground of obligation. Does His moral excellence impose obligation to will His highest good, and that of the universe, for its own sake? No, for this were a contradiction. For, be it remembered, no one thing can be a ground of obligation to choose any other thing, for its own sake. That which creates obligation to choose, by reason of its own nature, must itself be the identical object of choice; the obligation is to choose that object for its own sake.
If the divine moral excellence is the ground of obligation to choose, then this excellence must be the object of this choice, and disinterested benevolence is never right, but always wrong.
2. But for the sake of a somewhat systematic examination of this subject, I will:
(1.) Show what virtue, or moral excellence is.
(2.) That it cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.
(3.) Show what moral worth or good desert is.
(4.) That it cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.
(5.) Show what relation virtue, merit, and moral worth sustain to moral obligation.
(6.) Answer objections.
(1.) Show what virtue, or moral excellence is.
Virtue, or moral excellence, consists in conformity of will to moral law. It must either be identical with love or goodwill, or it must be the moral attribute or element of good will or benevolence.
(2.) It cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.
It is agreed, that the moral law requires love, and that this term expresses all that it requires. It is also agreed that this love is goodwill, or that it resolves itself into choice, or ultimate intention. Or, in more common language, this love consists in the supreme devotion of heart and soul to God and to the highest good of being. But since virtue either consists in choice, or is an attribute of choice, or benevolence, it is impossible to will it as an ultimate end. For this would involve the absurdity of choosing choice, or intending intention, as an end, instead of choosing that as an end upon which virtuous choice terminates. Or, if virtue be regarded as the moral attribute of love or benevolence, to make it an ultimate end would be to make an attribute of choice an ultimate end, instead of that on which choice terminates, or ought to terminate. This is absurd.
(3.) Show what moral worth, or good desert is.
Moral worth, or good desert, is not identical with virtue, or obedience to moral law, but is an attribute of character, resulting from obedience. Virtue, or holiness, is a state of mind. It is an active and benevolent state of the will. Moral worth is not a state of mind, but is the result of a state of mind. We say that a man's obedience to moral law is valuable in such a sense that a holy being is worthy, or deserving of good, because of his virtue, or holiness. But this worthiness, this good desert, is not a state of mind, but, as I said, it is a result of benevolence. It is an attribute or quality of character, and not a state of mind.
(4.) Moral worth or good desert cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.
(a.) It is admitted, that good, or the intrinsically valuable to being, must be the foundation of moral obligation. The law of God requires the choice of an ultimate end. This end must be intrinsically valuable, for it is its intrinsic value that imposes obligation to will it. Nothing, then, can be the foundation of moral obligation but that which is a good, or intrinsically valuable in itself.
(b.) Ultimate good, or the intrinsically valuable, must belong to, and be inseparable from, sentient existences. A block of marble cannot enjoy, or be the subject of, good. That which is intrinsically good to moral agents, must consist in a state of mind. It must be something that is found within the field of consciousness. Nothing can be to them an intrinsic good, but that of which they can be conscious. By this it is not intended that everything of which they are conscious, is to them an ultimate good, or a good in any sense; but it is intended, that that cannot be to them an ultimate, or intrinsic good, of which they are not conscious. Ultimate good must consist in a conscious state of mind. Whatever conduces to the state of mind that is necessarily regarded by us as intrinsically good or valuable, is to us a relative good. But the state of mind alone is the ultimate good. From this it is plain, that moral worth, or good desert, cannot be the foundation of moral obligation, because it is not a state of mind, and cannot be an ultimate good. The consciousness of good desert, that is, the consciousness of affirming of ourselves good desert, is an ultimate good. Or, more strictly, the satisfaction which the mind experiences, upon occasion of affirming its good desert, is an ultimate good. But neither the conscious affirmation of good desert, nor the satisfaction occasioned by the affirmation, is identical with moral worth or good desert. Merit, moral worth, good desert, is the condition, or occasion, of the affirmation, and of the resulting conscious satisfaction and is therefore a good, but it is not, and cannot be an ultimate, or intrinsic good. It is valuable but, not intrinsically valuable. Were it not that moral beings are so constituted, that it meets a demand of the intelligence, and therefore produces satisfaction in its contemplation, it would not be, and could not reasonably be regarded as a good in any sense. But since it meets a demand of the intelligence, it is a relative good, and results in ultimate good.
(5.) Show what relation moral excellence, worth, merit, desert, sustain to moral obligation.
(a.) We have seen, that neither of them can be the foundation of moral obligation; that neither of them has in it the element of the intrinsic, or ultimate good, or valuable; and that therefore, a moral agent can never be under obligation to will or choose them as an ultimate end.
(b.) Worth, merit, good desert, cannot be a distinct ground, or foundation, of moral obligation, in such a sense as to impose obligation, irrespective of the intrinsic value of good. All obligation must respect, strictly, the choice of an object for its own sake, with the necessary conditions and means. The intrinsic value of the end is the foundation of the obligation to choose both it and the necessary conditions and means of securing it. But for the intrinsic value of the end there could be no obligation to will the conditions and means. Whenever a thing is seen to be a necessary condition or means of securing an intrinsically valuable end, this perceived relation is the condition of our obligation to will it. The obligation is, and must be, founded in the intrinsic value of the end, and conditionated upon the perceived relation of the object to the end. The intelligence of every moral agent, from its nature and laws, affirms, that the ultimate good and blessedness of moral beings is, and ought to be, conditionated upon their holiness and good desert. This being a demand of reason, reason can never affirm moral obligation to will the actual blessedness of moral agents, but upon condition of their virtue, and consequent good desert, or merit. The intelligence affirms that it is fit, suitable, proper, that virtue, good desert, merit, holiness, should be rewarded with blessedness. Blessedness is a good in itself, and ought to be willed for that reason, and moral agents are under obligation to will that all beings capable of good may be worthy to enjoy, and may, therefore, actually enjoy blessedness. But they are not under obligation to will that every moral being should actually enjoy blessedness, but upon condition of holiness and good desert. The relation that holiness, merit, good desert, etc., sustains to moral obligation, is this: they supply the condition of the obligation to will the actual blessedness of the being or beings who are holy. The obligation must be founded in the intrinsic value of the good we are to will to them. For it is absurd to say, that we are, or can be, under obligation to will good to them for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, and yet that the obligation should not be founded in the intrinsic value of the good. Were it not for the intrinsic value of their good, we should no sooner affirm obligation to will good to them than evil. The good or blessedness is the thing, or end, we are under obligation to will. But obligation to will an ultimate end cannot possibly be founded in anything else than the intrinsic value of the end. Suppose it should be said, that in the case of merit, or good desert, the obligation is founded in merit, and only conditionated on the intrinsic value of the good I am to will. This would be to make desert the end willed, and good only the condition, or means. This were absurd.
(c.) But again, to make merit the ground of the obligation, and the good willed only a condition, amounts to this: I perceive merit, whereupon I affirm my obligation to will--what? Not good to the deserving because of its value to Him, nor from any disposition to see Him enjoy blessedness for its own sake, but because of His merit. But what does He merit? Why, good, or blessedness. It is good, or blessedness, that I am to will to Him, and this is the end I am bound to will; that is, I am to will His good, or blessedness, for its own intrinsic value. The obligation, then, must be founded in the intrinsic value of the end, that is, His well-being, or blessedness, and only conditionated upon merit.
(6.) I am to answer objections.
(a.) It is objected, that, if virtue is meritorious, if it merits, deserves anything, this implies corresponding obligation, and that merit, or desert, must impose, or be the ground of, the obligation to give that which is merited. But this objection is either a mere begging of the question, or it is sheer logomachy. It assumes that the words, desert and merit, mean what they cannot mean. Let the objector remember, that he holds that obligation respects ultimate intention. That ultimate intention must find the grounds of its obligation exclusively in its object. Now, if desert or merit is a ground of obligation, then merit or desert must be the object of the intention. Desert, merit, must be willed for its own sake. But is this the thing that is deserved, merited? Does a meritorious being deserve that his merit or desert should be willed for its own sake? Indeed, is this what he deserves? We understandingly speak of good desert, the desert of good and of evil; can a being deserve that his desert shall be chosen for its own sake? If not, then it is impossible that desert or merit would be a ground of obligation; for be it remembered, that whatever is a ground of obligation ought to be chosen for its own sake. But if good desert deserves good, it is self-evident that the intrinsic value of the good is the ground, and merit only a condition, of obligation to will the actual and particular enjoyment of the good by the meritorious individual. Thus, merit changes merely the form of obligation. If an individual is wicked, I ought to will his good as valuable in itself, and that he would comply with the necessary conditions of happiness, and thereupon actually enjoy happiness. If he is virtuous, I am to will his good still for its intrinsic value; and, since he has complied with the conditions of enjoyment, that he actually enjoy happiness. In both cases, I am bound to will his good, and for the same fundamental reason, namely, its intrinsic value. Neither the fact nor the ground of obligation to will his good is changed by his virtue; the form only of the obligation is changed. I may be under obligation to will evil to a particular being, but in this case I am not bound to will the evil for its own sake, and therefore, not as an end or ultimate. I ought sometimes to will the punishment of the guilty, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the public good; and the intrinsic value of the good to be promoted is the ground of the obligation, and guilt or demerit is only a condition of the obligation in that form. If merit or desert be a ground of obligation, then merit or desert ought to be chosen for its own sake. It would follow from this, that ill desert ought to be chosen for its own sake, as well as good desert. But who will pretend that ill desert ought to be willed for its own sake? But if this is not, cannot be so, then it follows, that desert is not a ground of obligation, and that is not an object of ultimate choice, or of choice at all, only as a means to an end.
(b.) It is asserted, in support of the theory we are examining, that the Bible represents the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him, or as a foundation of the obligation to love Him.
To this I answer, the Bible may assign, and does assign the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him, but it does not follow, that it affirms, or assumes, that this reason is the foundation, or a foundation of the obligation. The inquiry is, in what sense does the Bible assign the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him? Is it that the goodness of God is the foundation of the obligation, or only a condition of the obligation to will His actual blessedness in particular? Is His goodness a distinct ground of obligation to love Him? But what is this love that His goodness lays us under an obligation to exercise to Him? It is agreed, that it cannot be an emotion, that it must consist in willing something to Him. It is said by some, that the obligation is to treat Him as worthy. But I ask, worthy of what? Is He worthy of anything? If so, what is it? For this is the thing that I ought to will to Him. Is He merely worthy that I should will His worthiness for its own sake? This must be, if His worthiness is the ground of obligation; for that which is the ground of obligation to choose must be the object of choice. Why, He is worthy of blessing, and honor, and praise. But these must all be embraced in the single word, love. The law has forever decided the point, that our whole duty to God is expressed by this one term. It has been common to make assertions upon the subject, that involve a contradiction of the Bible. The law of God, as revealed in the two precepts, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself," covers the whole ground of moral obligation (Deut. 6:5). It is expressly and repeatedly taught in the Bible, that love to God and our neighbor is the fulfilling of the law. It is, and must be admitted, that this love consists in willing something to God and our neighbor. What, then, is to be willed to them? The command is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. That is, I am to will His well-being, or His good, with the conditions and means thereof according to its value. If the law contemplated the virtue of any being as a distinct ground of obligation, it could not read as it does. It must, in that case, have read as follows: "If thou art righteous, and thy neighbor is as righteous as thou art, thou shalt love him as thyself, and not thy neighbor." How far would this be from the gloss of the Jewish rabbis so fully rebuked by Christ, namely, "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you. For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? Do not even the publicans the same" (Matt. 5:43-44, 46)? The fact is, the law knows but one ground of moral obligation. It requires us to love God and our neighbor. This love is goodwill. What else ought we to will, or can we possibly will to God and our neighbor, but their highest good, or well-being, with all the conditions and means thereof? This is all that can be of any value to them, and all that we can or ought to, will to them under any circumstances whatever. When we have willed this to them, we have done our whole duty to them. "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). We owe them nothing more, absolutely. They can have nothing more. But this the law requires us to will to God and our neighbor, on account of the intrinsic value of their good, whatever their character may be; that is, this is to be willed to God and our neighbor, as a possible good, whether they are holy or unholy, simple because of its intrinsic value.
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 commendeth 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 a 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 obligation 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.
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 fulfill 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 whit more virtuous than when I willed it as a possible good, without 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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