ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS
11. Falsehood, or lying, is another attribute of selfishness.
Falsehood may be objective or subjective. Objective falsehood is that which stands opposed to truth. Subjective falsehood is a heart conformed to error and to objective falsehood. Subjective falsehood is a state of mind, or an attribute of selfishness. It is the will in the attitude of resisting truth, and embracing error and lies. This is always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness consists in the choice of an end opposed to all truth, and cannot but proceed to the realization of that end, in conformity with error or falsehood instead of truth. If at any time it seizes upon objective truth, as it often does, it is with a false intention. It is with an intention at war with the truth, the nature, and the relations of things.
If any sinner, at any time, and under any circumstances, tells the truth, it is for a selfish reason; it is to compass a false end. He has a lie in his heart, and a lie in his right hand. He stands upon falsehood. He lives for it, and if he does not uniformly and openly falsify the truth, it is because objective truth is consistent with subjective falsehood. His heart is false, as false as it can be. It has embraced and sold itself to the greatest lie in the universe. The selfish man has practically proclaimed that his good is the supreme good; nay, that there is no other good but his own; that there are no other rights but his own, that all are bound to serve him, and that all interests are to yield to his. Now all this, as I said, is the greatest falsehood that ever was or can be. Yet this is the solemn practical declaration of every sinner. His choice affirms that God has no rights, that He ought not to be loved and obeyed, that He has no right to govern the universe, but that God and all beings ought to obey and serve the sinner. Can there be a greater, a more shameless falsehood than all this? And shall such an one pretend to regard the truth? Nay, verily. The very pretense is only an instance and an illustration of the truth, that falsehood is an essential element of his character.
If every sinner on earth does not openly and at all times falsify the truth, it is not because of the truthfulness of his heart, but for some purely selfish reason. This must be. His heart is utterly false. It is impossible that, remaining a sinner, he should have any true regard to the truth. He is a liar in his heart; this is an essential and an eternal attribute of his character. It is true that his intellect condemns falsehood and justifies truth, and that oftentimes through the intellect, a deep impression is or may be made on his sensibility, in favor of the truth; but if the heart is unchanged, it holds on to lies, and perseveres in the practical proclamation of the greatest lies in the universe, to wit, that God ought not to be trusted; that Christ is not worthy of confidence; that one's own interest is the supreme good; and that all interests ought to be accounted of less value than one's own.
12. Pride is another attribute of selfishness.
Pride is a disposition to exalt self above others, to get out of one's proper place in the scale of being, and to climb up over the heads of our equals or superiors. Pride is a species of injustice, on the one hand, and is nearly allied to ambition on the other. It is not a term of so extensive an import as either injustice or ambition. It sustains to each of them a near relation, but is not identical with either. It is a kind of self-praise, self-worship, self-flattery, self-adulation, a spirit of self-consequence, of self-importance. It is a tendency to exalt, not merely one's own interest, but one's person above others, and above God, and above all other beings. A proud being supremely regards himself. He worships and can worship no one but self. He does not, and remaining selfish, he cannot, practically admit that there is any one so good and worthy as himself. He aims at conferring supreme favor upon himself, and practically, admits no claim of any being in the universe to any good or interest, that will interfere with his own. He can stoop to give preference to the interest, the reputation, the authority of no one, no, not of God Himself, except outwardly and in appearance. His inward language is, "Who is Jehovah, that I should bow down to Him?" It is impossible that a selfish soul should be humble. Sinners are represented in the Bible as proud, as "flattering themselves in their own eyes" (Isaiah 5:21).
Pride is not a vice distinct from selfishness, but is only a modification of selfishness. Selfishness is the root, or stock, in which every form of sin inheres. This it is important to show. Selfishness has been scarcely regarded by many as a vice, much less as constituting the whole of vice; consequently, when selfishness has been most apparent, it has been supposed and assumed that there might be along with it many forms of virtue. It is for this reason that I make this attempt to allow what are the essential elements of selfishness. It has been supposed that selfishness might exist in any heart without implying every form of sin; that a man might be selfish and yet not proud. In short, it has been overlooked, that, where selfishness is, there must be every form of sin; that where there is one form of selfishness manifested, it is virtually a breach of every commandment of God, and implies, in fact, the real existence of every possible form of sin and abomination in the heart. My object is fully to develop the great truth that where selfishness is, there must be, in a state either of development or of undevelopment, every form of sin that exists in earth or hell; that all sin is a unit, and consists of some form of selfishness; and that where this is, all sin virtually is and must be.
The only reason that pride, as a form of selfishness, does not appear in all sinners, in the most disgusting forms, is only this, that their constitutional temperament, and providential circumstances, are such as to give a more prominent development to some other attribute of selfishness. It is important to remark, that where any one form of unqualified sin exists, there selfishness must exist, and there of course every form of sin must exist, at least in embryo, and waiting only for circumstances to develop it. When therefore, you see any form of sin, know assuredly that selfishness, the root, is there; and expect nothing else, if selfishness continues, than to see developed, one after another, every form of sin as the occasion shall present itself. Selfishness is a volcano, sometimes smothered, but which must have vent. The providence of God cannot but present occasions upon which its lava-tides will burst forth and carry desolation before them.
That all these forms of sin exist, has been known and admitted. But it does not appear to me, that the philosophy of sin has been duly considered by many. It is important that we should get at the fundamental or generic form of sin, that form which includes and implies all others, or, more properly, which constitutes the whole of sin. Such is selfishness. "Let it be written with the point of a diamond and engraved in the rock forever" (Jere. 17:1), that it may be known, that where selfishness is, there every precept of the law is violated, there is the whole of sin. Its guilt and ill desert must depend upon the light with which the selfish mind is surrounded. But sin, the whole of sin, is there. Such is the very nature of selfishness that it only needs the providential occasions, and to be left without restraint, and it will show itself to have embodied, in embryo, every form of iniquity.
13. Enmity against God is also an attribute of selfishness.
Enmity is hatred. Hatred may exist either as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or as a state or attitude of the will. Of course I am now to speak of enmity of heart or will. It is selfishness viewed in its relations to God. That selfishness is enmity against God will appear:
(1) From the Bible. The apostle Paul expressly says that "the carnal mind (minding the flesh) is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). It is fully evident that the apostle, by the carnal mind, means obeying the propensities or gratifying the desires. But this, as I have defined it, is selfishness.
(2) Selfishness is directly opposed to the will of God as expressed in His law. That requires benevolence. Selfishness is its opposite, and therefore enmity against the Lawgiver.
(3) Selfishness is as hostile to God's government as it can be. It is directly opposed to every law, and principle, and measure of His government.
(4) Selfishness is opposition to God's existence. Opposition to a government, is opposition to the will of the governor. It is opposition to his existence in that capacity. It is, and must be, enmity against the existence of the ruler, as such. Selfishness must be enmity against the existence of God's government, and as He does and must sustain the relation of Sovereign Ruler, selfishness must be enmity against His being. Selfishness will brook no restraint in respect to securing its end. There is nothing in the universe it will not sacrifice to self. This is true, or it is not selfishness. If then God's happiness, or government, or being, come into competition with it, they must be sacrificed, were it possible for selfishness to effect it. But God is the uncompromising enemy of selfishness. It is the abominable thing His soul hateth. He is more in the way of selfishness than all other beings. The opposition of selfishness to Him is, and must be, supreme and perfect. That selfishness is mortal enmity against God, is not left to conjecture, nor to a mere deduction or inference. God once took to Himself human nature, and brought Divine benevolence into conflict with human selfishness. Men could not brook His presence upon earth, and they rested not until they had murdered Him.
Enmity against any body or thing besides God, can be overcome more easily than against Him. All earthly enmities can be overcome by kindness, and change of circumstances; but what kindness, what change of circumstances, can change the human heart, can overcome the selfishness or enmity to God that reigns there? Selfishness offers all manner and every possible degree of resistance to God. It disregards God's commands. It condemns His authority. It spurns His mercy. It outrages His feelings. It provokes His forbearance. Selfishness, in short, is the universal antagonist and adversary of God. It can no more be reconciled to His law, than it can cease to be selfish.
14. Intemperance is also a form or attribute of selfishness.
Selfishness is self-indulgence not sanctioned by the reason. It consists in the committal of the will to the indulgence of the propensities. Of course some one, or more, of the propensities must have taken the control of the will. Generally, there is some ruling passion or propensity, the influence of which becomes overshadowing, and overrules the will for its own gratification. Sometimes it is acquisitiveness or avarice, the love of gain; sometimes alimentiveness or Epicureanism; sometimes it is amativeness or sexual love; sometimes philoprogenitiveness or the love of our own children; sometimes self-esteem or a feeling of confidence in self; sometimes one and sometimes another of the great variety of the propensities, is so largely developed, as to be the ruling tyrant, that lords it over the will and over all the other propensities. It matters not which of the propensities, or whether their united influence gains the mastery of the will: whenever the will is subject to them, this is selfishness. It is the carnal mind.
Intemperance consists in the undue or unlawful indulgence of any propensity. It is, therefore, an essential element or attribute of selfishness. All selfishness is intemperance: of course it is an unlawful indulgence of the propensities. Intemperance has as many forms as there are constitutional and artificial appetites to gratify. A selfish mind cannot be temperate. If one or more of the propensities is restrained, it is only restrained for the sake of the undue and unlawful indulgence of another. Sometimes the tendencies are intellectual, and the bodily appetites are denied, for the sake of gratifying the love of study. But this is no less intemperance and selfishness, than the gratification of amativeness or alimentiveness. Selfishness is always, and necessarily, intemperate. It does not always or generally develop every form of intemperance in the outward life, but a spirit of self-indulgence must manifest itself in the intemperate gratification of some one or more of the propensities.
Some develop self-indulgence most prominently in the form of intemperance in eating; others in sleeping; others in lounging and idleness; others are gossipers; others love exercise, and indulge that propensity; others study and impair health, and induce derangement, or seriously impair the nervous system. Indeed, there is no end to the forms which intemperance assumes, arising from the fact of the great number of propensities, natural and artificial, that in their turn seek and obtain indulgence.
It should be always borne in mind, that any form of self-indulgence, properly so called, is equally an instance of selfishness and wholly inconsistent with any degree of virtue in the heart. But it may be asked, are we to have no regard whatever to our tastes, appetites and propensities? I answer, we are to have no such regard to them, as to make their gratification the end for which we live, even for a moment. But there is a kind of regard to them which is lawful, and therefore, a virtue. For example: I am on a journey for the service and glory of God. Two ways are before me. One affords nothing to regale the senses; the other conducts me through variegated scenery, sublime mountain passes, deep ravines; beside bubbling brooks, and meandering rivulets; through beds of gayest flowers and woods of richest foliage; through aromatic groves and forests vocal with feathered songsters. The two paths are equal in distance, and in all respects that have a bearing upon the business I have in hand. Now, reason dictates and demands, that I should take the path that is most agreeable and suggestive of useful thoughts. But this is not being governed by the propensities, but by the reason. It is its voice which I hear and to which I listen, when I take the sunny path. The delights of this path are a real good. As such they are not to be despised or neglected. But if taking this path would embarrass and hinder the end of my journey, I am not to sacrifice the greater public good for a lesser one of my own. I must not be guided by my feelings, but by my reason and honest judgment in this and in every case of duty. God has not given us propensities to be our masters and to rule us, but to be our servants and to minister to our enjoyment, when we obey the biddings of reason and of God. They are given to render duty pleasant, and as a reward of virtue; to make the ways of wisdom pleasurable. The propensities are not, therefore, to be despised, nor is their annihilation to be desired. Nor is it true that their gratification is always selfish, but when their gratification is sanctioned and demanded by the intellect, as in the case just supposed, and in myriads of other cases that occur, the gratification is not a sin but a virtue. It is not selfishness but benevolence. But let it be remembered that the indulgence must not be sought in obedience to the propensity itself, but in obedience to the law of reason and of God. When reason and the will of God are not only not consulted, but even violated, it must be selfishness.
Intemperance, as a sin, does not consist in the outward act of indulgence, but in the inward disposition. A dyspeptic who can eat but just enough to sustain life, may be an enormous glutton at heart. He may have a disposition, that is, he may not only desire, but he may be willing, to eat all before him, but for the pain indulgence occasions him. But this is only the spirit of self-indulgence. He denies himself the amount of food he craves in order to gratify a stronger propensity, to wit, the dread of pain. So a man who was never intoxicated in his life, may be guilty of the crime of drunkenness every day. He may be prevented from drinking to inebriation only by a regard to reputation or health, or by an avaricious disposition. It is only because he is prevented by the greater power of some other propensity. If a man is in such a state of mind that he would indulge all his propensities without restraint, were it not that it is impossible, on account of the indulgence of some being inconsistent with the indulgence of the others, he is just as guilty as if he did indulge them all. For example: he has a disposition, that is a will, to accumulate property. He is avaricious in heart. He also has a strong tendency to luxury, to licentiousness, and prodigality. The indulgence of these propensities is inconsistent with the indulgence of avarice. But for this contrariety, he would in his state of mind indulge them all. He wishes to do so, but it is impossible. Now he is really guilty of all those forms of vice, and just as blameworthy as if he indulged in them.
Intemperance, as a crime, is a state of mind. It is the attitude of the will. It is an attribute of selfishness. It consists in the choice or disposition to gratify the propensities, regardless of the law of benevolence. This is intemperance; and so far as the mind is considered, it is the whole of it. Now, inasmuch as the will is committed to self-indulgence, and nothing but the contrariety there is between the propensities prevents the unlimited indulgence of them all, it follows, that every selfish person, or in other words every sinner, is chargeable in the sight of God with every species of intemperance, actual or conceivable. His lusts have the reign. They conduct him whithersoever they list. He has sold himself to self-indulgence. If there is any form of self-indulgence that is not actually developed in him, no thanks to him. The providence of God has restrained the outward indulgence, while there has been in him a readiness to perpetrate any sin and every sin, from which he was not deterred by some overpowering fear of consequences.
15. Total moral depravity is implied in selfishness as one of its attributes. By this I intend that every selfish being is at every moment as wicked and as blameworthy as with his knowledge he can be.
It is affirmed, both by reason and revelation, that there are degrees of guilt; that some are more guilty than others; and that the same individual may be more guilty at one time than at another. The same is true of virtue. One person may be more virtuous than another, when both are truly virtuous. And also the same person may be more virtuous at one time than at another, although he may be virtuous at all times. In other words, it is affirmed, both by reason and revelation, that there is such a thing as growth, both in virtue and vice.
It is matter of general belief, also, that the same individual, with the same degree of light or knowledge, is more or less praise or blameworthy, as he shall do one thing or another; or, in other words, as he shall pursue one course or another, to accomplish the end he has in view; or, which is the same thing, that the same individual, with the same knowledge or light, is more or less virtuous or vicious, according to the course of outward life which he shall pursue. This I shall attempt to show is human prejudice, and a serious and most injurious error.
It is also generally held that two or more individuals, having precisely the same degree of light or knowledge, and being both equally benevolent or selfish, may, nevertheless, differ in their degree of virtue or vice, according as they pursue different courses of outward conduct. This also, I shall attempt to show, is fundamental error.
We can arrive at the truth upon this subject only by clearly understanding how to measure moral obligation, and of course how to ascertain the degree of virtue and sin. The amount or degree of virtue or vice, or of praise worthiness or blame worthiness, is and must be decided by reference to the degree of obligation. And here I would remind you:
(1) That moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the highest well-being of God and the universe, and:
(2) That the conditions of the obligation are the possession of the powers of moral agency and light, or the knowledge of the end to be chosen.
(3) Hence it follows that the obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen. That this, and nothing else, is the rule or standard by which the obligation, and, consequently, the guilt of violating it, is to be measured, will appear if we consider:
(1) That the obligation cannot be measured by the infinity of God, apart from the knowledge of the infinite value of His interests. He is an infinite being, and His well-being must be of intrinsic and of infinite value. But unless this be known to a moral agent, he cannot be under obligation to will it as an ultimate end. If he knows it to be of some value, he is bound to choose it for that reason. But the measure of his obligation must be just equal to the clearness of his apprehension of its intrinsic value.
Besides, if the infinity of God were alone, or without reference to the knowledge of the agent, the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow, that obligation is in all cases the same, and of course that the guilt of disobedience would also in all cases be the same. But this, as has been said, contradicts both reason and revelation. Thus it appears, that moral obligation, and of course guilt, cannot be measured by the infinity of God, without reference to the knowledge of the agent.
(2) It cannot be measured by the infinity of His authority, without reference to the knowledge of the agent, for the same reasons as above.
(3) It cannot be measured by the infinity of His moral excellence, without reference, both to the infinite value of His interests, and of the knowledge of the agent; for His interests are to be chosen as an end, or for their own value, and without knowledge of their value there can be no obligation; nor can obligation exceed knowledge.
(4) If, again, the infinite excellence of God were alone, or without reference to the knowledge of the agent, to be the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow, that guilt in all cases of disobedience, is and must be equal. This we have seen cannot be.
(5) It cannot be measured by the intrinsic value of the good, or well-being of God and the universe, without reference to the knowledge of the agent, for the same reason as above.
(6) It cannot be measured by the particular course of life pursued by the agent. This will appear, if we consider that moral obligation has directly nothing to do with the outward life. It directly respects the ultimate intention only, and that decides the course of outward action or life. The guilt of any outward action cannot be decided by reference to the kind of action, without regard to the intention; for the moral character of the act must be found in the intention, and not in the outward act or life. This leads me to remark that:
(7) The degree of moral obligation, and of course the degree of the guilt of disobedience, cannot be properly estimated by reference to the nature of the intention, without respect to the degree of the knowledge of the agent. Selfish intention is, as we have seen, a unit, always the same; and if this were the standard by which the degree of guilt is to be measured, it would follow that it is always the same.
(8) Nor can obligation, nor the degree of guilt, be measured by the tendency of sin. All sin tends to infinite evil, to ruin the sinner and from its contagious nature, to spread and ruin the universe. Nor can any finite mind know what the ultimate results of any sin may be, nor to what particular evil it may tend. As all sin tends to universal and eternal evil, if this were the criterion by which the guilt is to be estimated, all sin would be equally guilty, which cannot be.
Again: That the guilt of sin cannot be measured by the tendency of sin, is manifest from the fact, that moral obligation is not founded in the tendency of action or intention, but in the intrinsic value of the end to be intended. Estimating moral obligation, or measuring sin or holiness, by the mere tendency of actions, is the utilitarian philosophy, which we have shown to be false. Moral obligation respects the choice of an end, and is founded upon the intrinsic value of the end, and is not so much as conditionated upon the tendency of the ultimate choice to secure its end. Therefore, tendency can never be the rule by which obligation can be measured, nor, of course, the rule by which guilt can be estimated.
(9) Nor can moral obligation be estimated by the results of a moral action or course of action. Moral obligation respects intention and respects results no further than they were intended. Much good may result, as from the death of Christ, without any virtue in Judas, but with much guilt. So, much evil may result, as from the creation of the world, without guilt in the Creator, but with great virtue. If moral obligation is not founded or conditionated on results, it follows that guilt cannot be duly estimated by results, without reference to knowledge and intention.
(10) What has been said has, I trust, rendered it evident, that moral obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen, to wit, the highest well-being of God and the universe.
It should be distinctly understood, that selfishness involves the rejection of the interests of God and of the universe, for the sake of one's own. It refuses to will good, but upon condition that it belongs to self. It spurns God's interests and those of the universe, and seeks only self-interest as an ultimate end. It must follow, then, that the selfish man's guilt is just equal to his knowledge of the intrinsic value of those interests that he rejects. This is undeniably the doctrine of the Bible.
Acts affords a plain instance. The apostle alludes to those past ages when the heathen nations had no written revelation from God, and remarks that "those times of ignorance God winked at" (Acts 17:30). This does not mean that God did not regard their conduct as criminal in any degree, but it does mean that He regarded it as a sin of far less aggravation, than that which men would now commit, if they turned away when God commanded them all to repent. True, sin is never absolutely a light thing; but some sins incur small guilt, when compared with the great guilt of other sins. This is implied in the text quoted above. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). This plainly implies that knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation; and even more than this is implied, namely, that the guilt of any sinner is always equal to the amount of his knowledge on the subject. It always corresponds to the mind's perception of the value of the end which should have been chosen, but is rejected. If a man knows he ought, in any given case, to do good, and yet does not do it, to him this is sin the sin plainly lying in the fact of not doing good when he knew that he could do it, and being measured as to its guilt by the degree of that knowledge.
"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore, your sin remaineth" (John 9:41). Here Christ asserts that men without knowledge would be without sin; and that men who have knowledge, and sin notwithstanding, are held guilty. This plainly affirms, that the presence of light or knowledge is requisite to the existence of sin, and obviously implies that the amount of knowledge possessed is the measure of the guilt of sin.
It is remarkable that the Bible everywhere assumes first truths. It does not stop to prove them, or even assert them but seems to assume, that every one knows and will admit them. As I have been recently writing on moral government, and studying the Bible as to its teachings on this class of subjects, I have been often struck with this remarkable fact.
"And that servant which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more" (Luke 12:47, 48). Here we have the doctrine laid down and the truth assumed, that men shall be punished according to knowledge. To whom much light is given, of him shall much obedience be required. This is precisely the principle, that God requires of men according to the light they have.
Selfishness is the rejection of all obligation. It is the violation of all obligation. The sin of selfishness is then complete; that is, the guilt of selfishness is as great as with its present light it can be. What can make it greater with present light? Can the course that it takes to realize its end mitigate its guilt? No; for whatever course it takes, it is for a selfish reason, and, therefore, it can in nowise lessen the guilt of the intention. Can the course it takes to realize its end without more light, increase the guilt of the sin? No; for the sin lies exclusively in having the selfish intention, and the guilt can be measured only by the degree of illumination or knowledge under which the intention is formed and maintained. The intention necessitates the use of the means; and whatever means the selfish person uses, it is for one and the same reason, to gratify himself. As I said in a former lecture, if the selfish man were to preach the gospel, it would be only because, upon the whole, it was most pleasing or gratifying to himself, and not at all for the sake of the good of being, as an end. If he should become a pirate, it would be for exactly the same reason, to wit, that this course is, upon the whole, most pleasing or gratifying to himself, and not at all for the reason that course is evil in itself. Whichever course he takes, he takes it for precisely the same ultimate reason; and with the same degree of light it must involve the same degree of guilt. If light increase, his guilt must increase, but not otherwise. The proposition is, that every selfish being is, at every moment, as blameworthy as with his present knowledge he can be. Which of these courses may tend ultimately to the most evil, no finite being can say, nor which shall result in the greatest evil. Guilt is not to be measured by unknown tendencies or results, but belongs to the intention; and its degree is to be measured alone by the mind's apprehension of the reason of the obligation violated, namely, the intrinsic value of the good of God and the universe, which selfishness rejects. Now, it should be remembered, that whichever course the sinner takes to realize his end, it is the end at which he aims. He intends the end. If he become a preacher of the gospel for a selfish reason, he has no right regard to the good of being. If he regards it at all, it is only as a means of his own good. So, if he becomes a pirate, it is not from malice, or a disposition to do evil for its own sake, but only to gratify himself. If he has any regard at all to the evil he may do, it is only to gratify himself that he regards it. Whether, therefore, he preach or pray, or rob and plunder upon the high seas, he does it only for one end, that is, for precisely the same ultimate reason; and of course his sinfulness is complete, in the sense that it can be varied only by varying light. This I know is contrary to common opinion, but it is the truth, and must be known; and it is of the highest importance that these fundamental truths of morality and of immorality should be held up to the minds of all.
Should the sinner abstain from any course of vice because it is wicked, it cannot be because he is benevolent, for this would contradict the supposition that he is selfish, or that he is a sinner. If, in consideration that an act or course is wicked, he abstains from it, it must be for a selfish reason. It may be in obedience to phrenological conscientiousness, or it may be from fear of hell, or of disgrace, or from remorse; at all events, it cannot but be for some selfish reason.
Total moral depravity is an attribute of selfishness, in the sense, that every selfish person is at all times just as wicked and blameworthy as with his present light he can be.
SANCTIONS OF MORAL LAW,
NATURAL AND GOVERNMENTAL
In the discussion of this subject, I shall show: What constitutes the sanctions of law.
1. The sanctions of law are the motives to obedience, the natural and the governmental consequences or results of obedience and of disobedience.
2. They are remuneratory, that is, they promise reward to obedience.
3. They are vindicatory, that is, they threaten the disobedient with punishment.
4. They are natural, that is, happiness is to some extent naturally connected with, and the necessary consequence of, obedience to moral law, and misery is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from, disobedience to moral law, or from acting contrary to the nature and relations of moral beings.
5. Sanctions are governmental. By governmental sanctions are intended:
(1) The favor of the government as due to obedience.
(2) A positive reward bestowed upon the obedient by government.
(3) The displeasure of government towards the disobedient.
(4) Direct punishment inflicted by the government as due to disobedience.
All happiness and misery resulting from obedience or disobedience, either natural, or from the favor, or frown of government, are to be regarded as constituting the sanctions of law.
In what light sanctions are to be regarded.
1. Sanctions are to be regarded as an expression of the benevolent regard of the lawgiver for his subjects: the motives which he exhibits to induce in the subjects the course of conduct that will secure their highest well-being.
2. They are to be regarded as an expression of his estimation of the justice, necessity, and value of the precept to the subjects of his government.
3. They are to be regarded as an expression of the amount or strength of his desire to secure the happiness of his subjects.
4. They are to be regarded as an expression of his opinion in respect to the desert of disobedience.
The natural sanctions are to be regarded as a demonstration of the justice, necessity and perfection of the precept.
By what rule sanctions ought to be graduated.
1. We have seen that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the well-being of God and of the universe, and conditionated upon the perception of its value; and,
2. That guilt is always to be measured by the perceived value of the end which moral beings ought to choose.
3. The sanctions of law should be graduated by the intrinsic merit and demerit of holiness and sin.
God's law has sanctions.
1. That sin, or disobedience to the moral law, is attended with, and results in, misery, is a matter of consciousness.
2. That virtue or holiness is attended with, and results in happiness, is also attested by consciousness.
3. Therefore that God's law has natural sanctions, both remuneratory and vindicatory, is a matter of fact.
4. That there are governmental sanctions added to the natural, must be true, or God, in fact, has no government but that of natural consequences.
5. The Bible expressly, and in every variety of form, teaches that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
The perfection and duration of the remuneratory sanctions of the law of God.
1. The perfection of the natural reward is, and must be, proportioned to the perfection of virtue.
2. The duration of the remuneratory sanction must be equal to the duration of obedience. This cannot possibly be otherwise.
3. If the existence and virtue of men are immortal, his happiness must be endless.
4. The Bible most unequivocally asserts the immortality both of the existence and virtue of the righteous, and also that their happiness shall be endless.
5. The very design and end of government make it necessary that governmental reward should be as perfect and unending as virtue.
Penal inflictions under the government of God must be endless.
Here the inquiry is, what kind of death is intended, where death is denounced against the transgressor, as the penalty of the law of God?
1. It is not merely natural death for:
(1) This would, in reality, be no penalty at all. But it would be offering a reward to sin. If natural death is all that is intended, and if persons, as soon as they are naturally dead, have suffered the penalty of the law, and their souls go immediately to heaven, the case stands thus: if your obedience is perfect and perpetual, you shall live in this world forever; but if you sin, you shall die and go immediately to heaven. "This would be hire and salary," and not punishment.
(2) If natural death be the penalty of God's law, the righteous, who are forgiven, should not die a natural death.
(3) If natural death be the penalty of God's law, there is no such thing as forgiveness, but all must actually endure the penalty.
(4) If natural death be the penalty, then infants and animals suffer this penalty, as well as the most abandoned transgressors.
(5) If natural death be the penalty, and the only penalty, it sustains no proportion whatever to the guilt of sin.
(6) Natural death would be no adequate expression of the importance of the precept.
2. The penalty of God's law is not spiritual death.
(1) Because spiritual death is a state of entire sinfulness.
(2) To make a state of entire sinfulness the penalty of the law of God, would be to make the penalty and the breach of the precept identical.
(3) It would be making God the author of sin, and would represent Him as compelling the sinner to commit one sin as the punishment for another, as forcing him into a state of total and perpetual rebellion, as the reward of his first transgression.
3. But the penal sanction of the law of God is endless death, or that state of endless suffering which is the natural and governmental result of sin or of spiritual death.
Before I proceed to the proof of this, I will notice an objection which is often urged against the doctrine of endless punishment. The objection is one, but it is stated in three different forms. This, and every other objection to the doctrine of endless punishment, with which I am acquainted, is leveled against the justice of such a governmental infliction.
(1) It is said that endless punishment is unjust, because life is so short, that men do not live long enough in this world to commit so great a number of sins as to deserve endless punishment. To this I answer that it is founded in ignorance or disregard of a universal principle of government, viz., that one breach of the precept always incurs the penalty of the law, whatever that penalty is. The length of time employed in committing a sin, has nothing to do with its blame worthiness or guilt. It is the design which constitutes the moral character of the action, and not the length of the time required for its accomplishment. This objection takes for granted, that it is the number of sins, and not the intrinsic guilt of sin, that constitutes its blame worthiness, whereas it is the intrinsic desert or guilt of sin, as we shall soon see, that renders it deserving of endless punishment.
(2) Another form of the objection is, that a finite creature cannot commit an infinite sin. But none but an infinite sin can deserve endless punishment: therefore endless punishments are unjust.
This objection takes for granted that man is so diminutive a creature, so much less than the Creator, that he cannot deserve His endless frown. Which is the greater crime, for a child to insult his playfellow, or his parent? Which would involve the most guilt, for a man to smite his neighbor and his equal, or his lawful sovereign? The higher the ruler is exalted above the subject in his nature, character, and rightful authority, the greater is the obligation of the subject to will his good, to render to him obedience, and the greater is the guilt of the transgression in the subject. Therefore, the fact that man is so infinitely below his Maker, does but enhance the guilt of his rebellion, and render him all the more worthy of His endless frown.
(3) A third form of the objection is, that sin is not an infinite evil; and therefore, does not deserve endless punishment.
This objection may mean either, that sin would not produce infinite mischief if unrestrained, or that it does not involve infinite guilt. It cannot mean the first, for it is agreed on all hands, that misery must continue as long as sin does, and therefore, that sin unrestrained would produce endless evil. The objection, therefore, must mean, that sin does not involve infinite guilt. Observe, then, the point at issue is, what is the intrinsic demerit or guilt of sin? What does all sin in its own nature deserve? They who deny the justice of endless punishment, manifestly consider the guilt of sin as a mere trifle. They who maintain the justice of endless punishment, consider sin as an evil of immeasurable magnitude, and, in its own nature, deserving of endless punishment. Proof:
Should a moral agent refuse to choose that as an ultimate end which is of no intrinsic value, he would thereby contract no guilt, because he would violate no obligation. But should he refuse to will the good of God and of his neighbor, he would violate an obligation, and of course contract guilt. This shows that guilt attaches to the violation of obligation, and that a thing is blameworthy because it is the violation of an obligation.
We have seen that sin is selfishness, that it consists in preferring self gratification to the infinite interests of God and of the universe. We have also seen that obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of that good which moral agents ought to will to God and to the universe, and is equal to the affirmed value of that good. We have also seen that every moral agent, by a law of his own reason, necessarily affirms that God is infinite, and that the endless happiness and well-being of God and of the universe, is of infinite value. Hence it follows, that refusal to will this good is a violation of infinite or unlimited obligation, and, consequently involves unlimited guilt. It is as certain that the guilt of any sin is unlimited, as that obligation to will the good of God and of the universe is unlimited. To deny consistently that the guilt of sin is unlimited, it must be shown, that obligation to will good to God is unlimited. To maintain consistently this last, it must be shown, that moral agents have not the idea that God is infinite. Indeed, to deny that the guilt of sin is in any instance less than boundless, is as absurd as to deny the guilt of sin altogether.
Having shown that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe, that it is always equal to the soul's knowledge of the value of those interests, and having shown also, that every moral agent necessarily has the idea more or less clearly developed, that the value of those interests is infinite, it follows that the law is infinitely unjust, if its penal sanctions are not endless. Law must be just in two respects: the precept must be in accordance with the law of nature, and the penalty must be equal to the importance of the precept. That which has not these two peculiarities is not just, and therefore, is not and cannot be law. Either, then, God has no law, or its penal sanctions are endless. That the penal sanctions of the law of God are endless, is evident from the fact, that a less penalty would not exhibit as high motives as the nature of the case admits, to restrain sin and promote virtue. Natural justice demands that God should exhibit as high motives to secure obedience as the value of the law demands and the nature of the case admits.
The tendency of sin to perpetuate and aggravate itself, affords another strong inference, that the sinfulness and misery of the wicked will be eternal.
The fact, that punishment has no tendency to originate disinterested love in a selfish mind towards him who inflicts the punishment, also affords a strong presumption, that future punishment will be eternal.
But let us examine this question in the light of revelation.
The Bible, in a great many ways, represents the future
punishment of the wicked as eternal, and never once represents it otherwise.
It expresses the duration of the future punishment of the wicked by the
same terms, and, in every way, as forcibly as it expresses the duration
of the future happiness of the righteous. I will here introduce, without
comment, some passages of scripture confirmatory of this last remark. "The
hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked
shall perish" (Prov. 10:28). "When a wicked man dieth, his expectation
shall perish; and the hope of unjust men perisheth" (Prov. 11:7). "And
many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting
life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). "Then
shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed,
into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was
an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous
into life eternal" (Matt. 25:41, 42, 46). "And if thy hand offend thee,
cut, it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than having
two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched;
where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43, 44).
fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor; and will gather
the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable"
(Luke 3:17). "And besides all this, between us and you there is a great
gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither
can they pass to us, that would come from thence" (Luke 16:26). "He that
believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the
Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).
"And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be
revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance
on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus
Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence
of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:7-9). "And the
angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,
He hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment
of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them,
in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after
strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of
eternal fire. Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering
stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" (Jude:6,
7, 13). "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If
any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead,
or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which
is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall
be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels,
and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth
up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the
beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name" (Rev.
14:9-11). "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire
and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be
tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). But there is scarcely
any end to the multitude of passages that teach directly, or by inference,
both the fact and the endlessness of the future punishment of the wicked.
Return To Charles Finney Systematic Theology Table of Contents