The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
7. Efficiency is another attribute or characteristic of benevolence. Benevolence consists in choice, intention. Now we know from consciousness that choice or intention constitutes the mind's deepest activity. If I honestly intend a thing I can not but make efforts to accomplish that which I intend, provided that I believe the thing possible. If I choose an end, this choice must and will energize to secure its end. When benevolence is the supreme choice, preference, intention of the soul, it is plainly impossible that it should not produce efforts to secure its end. It must cease to exist or manifest itself in exertions to secure its end as soon as and whenever the intelligence deems it wise to do so. If the will has yielded to the intelligence in the choice of an end, it will certainly obey the intelligence in pursuit of that end. Choice, intention, is the cause of all the outward activity of moral agents. They all have chosen some end, either their own gratification or the highest good of being; and all the busy bustle of this world's teeming population is nothing else than choice or intention seeking to compass its end.
Efficiency therefore is an attribute of benevolent intention. It must, it will, it does energize in God, in angels, in saints on earth and in Heaven. It was this attribute of benevolence that led God to give His only begotten Son, and that led the Son to give himself "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
If Love is efficient in producing outward action and efficient in producing inward feelings; it is efficient to wake up the intellect and set the world of thought on fire in devising ways and means to realize its end. It wields all the infinite natural attributes of God. It is the mainspring that moves all heaven. It is the mighty power that is heaving the mass of mind and rocking the moral world like a smothered volcano. Look to the heavens above. It was benevolence that hung them out. It is benevolence that sustains those mighty rolling orbs in their courses. It was good will endeavoring to realize its end that at first put forth creative power. The same power for the same reason still energizes and will continue to energize for the realization of its end so long as God is benevolent. And O what a glorious thought that infinite benevolence is wielding and will forever wield infinite attributes for the promotion of good. No mind but an infinite one can begin to conceive of the amount of good that Jehovah will secure. O blessed glorious thoughts! But it is, it must be a reality as surely as God and the universe exist. It is no imagination, it is one of the most stable as well as the most glorious truths in the universe. Mountains of granite are but vapor in the comparison of it. But will the truly benevolent on earth and in heaven sympathize with God? The power that energizes in him, energizes in them. One principle animates and moves them all, and that principle is love, good will to universal being. Well may our souls cry out, Amen, go on, God-speed, let the mighty power heave and wield universal mind until all the ills of earth shall be put away and til all that can be made holy are clothed in the garments of everlasting gladness.
Since benevolence is necessarily, from its very nature, active and efficient in putting forth efforts to secure its end, and since its end is the highest good of being, it follows that all who are truly religious will and must, from the very nature of true religion, be active in endeavoring to promote the good of being. While effort is possible to a christian, it is as natural to him as his breath. He has within him the very mainspring of activity, a heart set on the promotion of the highest good of universal being. This is the end for which he lives and moves and has his being. While he has life and activity at all, it will, and it must be directed to this end. Let this never be forgotten. An idle, an inactive, inefficient christian is a misnomer. Religion is an essentially active principle, and when and while it exists, it must exercise and manifest itself. It is not merely good desire, but it is good willing. Men may have desires, and hope and live on them, without making efforts to realize their desires. They may desire without action. If their will is active, their life must be. If they really choose an ultimate end, this choice must manifest itself. The sinner does and must manifest his selfish choice, and so likewise must the saint manifest his benevolence.
8. Penitence must be a characteristic of benevolence, in one who has been a sinner. Penitence, as we have briefly said and shall more fully illustrate hereafter, is not a phenomenon of the sensibility, but of the will. Every form of virtue must, of necessity, be a phenomenon of the will, and not of the intellect or of the sensibility. This word is commonly used also to designate a certain phenomenon of the sensibility, to wit, sorrow for sin. This sorrow, though called penitence, is not penitence regarded as a virtue. Evangelical penitence consists in a peculiar attitude of the will toward our own past sins. It is the will's continued rejection of and opposition to our past sins--the will's aversion to them. This rejection, opposition, and aversion, is penitence, and is always a peculiarity in the history of those benevolent minds that have been sinners. This change in the will, most deeply and permanently affects the sensibility. It will keep the intelligence thoroughly awake to the nature, character, and tendencies of sin, to its unspeakable guilt, and all its intrinsic odiousness. This will of course break up the fountains of the great deep of feeling; the sensibility will often pour forth a torrent of burning sorrow in view of past sin; and all its loathing and indignation will be kindled against it when it is beheld. This attribute of benevolence will secure confession and restitution, that is, these must necessarily follow from genuine repentance. If the soul forsake sin, it will of course make all possible reparation when it has done an injury. Benevolence seeks the good of all, of course it will and must seek to repair whatever injury it has inflicted on any.
Repentance will and must secure a God-justifying and sin-condemning spirit. It will take all shame and all blame to self, and fully acquit God of blame. This deep self-abasement is always and necessarily a characteristic of the true penitent. Where this is not, true repentance is not.
It should, however, be here remarked that feelings of self loathing, of self-abasement, and of abhorrence of sin, depend upon the view which the intelligence gains of the nature and guilt and aggravation of sin. In a sensible and manifested degree, it will. always exist when the will has honestly turned or repented; but this feeling I have described gains strength as the soul from time to time gains a deeper insight into the nature, guilt and tendencies of sin. It is probable that repentance as an emotion will always gain strength, not only in this world but in heaven. Can it be that the saints can in heaven reflect upon their past abuse of the Savior, and not feel their sorrow stirred within them? Nor will this diminish their happiness. Godly sorrow is not unhappiness. There is a luxury in the exercise. Remorse can not be known in heaven, but godly sorrow, I think, must exist among the saints forever. However this may be in heaven, it certainly is implied in repentance on earth. This attribute must and will secure an outward life conformed to the law of love. There may be an outward morality without benevolence, but there can not be benevolence without corresponding purity of outward life.
9. Another characteristic or attribute of benevolence is Faith. Evangelical faith is by no means, as some have supposed, a phenomenon of the intelligence. The term, however, is often used to express states both of the sensibility and of the intellect. Conviction, or a strong perception of truth, such as banishes doubt, is in common language called faith or belief, and this without any reference to the state of the will, whether it embraces or resists the truth perceived. But, certainly, this conviction can not be evangelical faith. In this belief, there is no virtue; it is but the faith of devils. The term is often used in common parlance to express a mere feeling of assurance, or confidence, and as often respects a falsehood as the truth. That is, persons often feel the utmost confidence in a lie. But whether the feeling be in accordance with truth or falsehood, it is not faith in the evangelical sense of the term.. It is not virtue. Faith, to be a virtue, must he a phenomenon of the will. It must be an attribute of benevolence or love. As an attribute of benevolence, it is the will's embracing and loving truth. It is the soul's yielding or committing itself to the influence of truth. It is trust. It is the heart's embracing the truths of God's existence, attributes, works and word. It implies intellectual perception of truth, and consists in the heart's embracing all the truth perceived. It also implies that state of the sensibility which is called faith. Both the state of the intellect and the state of the sensibility just expressed are implied in faith, though neither of them make any part of it. Faith always begets a realizing state of the sensibility. The intellect sees the truth clearly, and the sensibility feels it deeply, in proportion to the strength of the intellectual perception. But the clearest possible perception and the deepest possible felt assurance of the truth may consist with a state of the utmost opposition of the will to truth. But this can not be trust, confidence, faith. The damned in hell, no doubt, see the truth clearly, and have a feeling of the utmost assurance of the truth of Christianity, but they have no faith.
Faith then must certainly be a phenomenon of the will, and must be a modification or attribute of benevolence. It is good will or benevolence considered in its relations to the truth of God. It is good will to God, confiding in his veracity and faithfulness. It can not be too distinctly borne in mind that every modification or phase of virtue is only benevolence existing in certain relations, or good will to God and the universe manifesting itself in the various circumstances and relations in which it is called to act.
10. Complacency in holiness or moral excellence, is another attribute of benevolence. This consists in benevolence contemplated in its relations to holy beings.
This term also expresses both a state of the intelligence and of the sensibility. Moral agents are so constituted, that they necessarily approve of moral worth or excellence; and when even sinners behold right character, or moral goodness, they are compelled to respect and approve it by a law of their intelligence. This they not unfrequently regard as evidence of goodness in themselves. But this is doubtless just as common in hell as it is on earth. The veriest sinners on earth or in hell, have by the unalterable constitution of their nature, the necessity imposed upon them of paying intellectual homage to moral excellence. When a moral agent is intensely contemplating moral excellence, and his intellectual approbation is emphatically pronounced, the natural, and often the necessary result, is a corresponding feeling of complacency or delight in the sensibility. But this being altogether an involuntary state of mind, has no moral character. Complacency as a phenomenon of will consists in willing the actual highest blessedness of the holy being as a good in itself and upon condition of his moral excellence.
This attribute of benevolence is the cause of a complacent state of the sensibility. It is true that feelings of complacency may exist when complacency of will does not exist. But complacency of feeling surely will exist when complacency of will exists. Complacency of will implies complacency of conscience, or the approbation of the intelligence. When there is a complacency of intelligence and of will, there will be of course complacency of the sensibility.
It is highly worthy of observation here, that this complacency of feeling is that which is generally termed love to God and to the saints, in the common language of christians, and often in the popular language of the bible. It is a vivid and pleasant state of the sensibility, and very noticeable by consciousness of course. Indeed it is perhaps the general usage now to call this phenomenon of the sensibility, love, and for want of just discrimination, to speak of it as constituting religion. Many seem to suppose that this feeling of delight in and fondness for God, is the love required by the moral law.
They are conscious of not being voluntary in it, as well they may be. They judge of their religious state, not by the end for which they live, that is, by their choice or intention, but by their emotions. If they find themselves strongly exercised with emotions of love to God they look upon themselves as in a state well-pleasing to God. But if their feelings or emotions of love are not active, they of course judge themselves to have little or no religion. It is remarkable to what extent religion is regarded as a phenomenon of the sensibility and as consisting in mere feelings. So common is it, indeed, that almost uniformly when professed Christians speak of their experience, they speak of their feelings or the state of their sensibility, instead of speaking of their conscious consecration to God and the good of being.
It is also somewhat common for them to speak of their views of Christ, and of truth, in a manner that shows that they regard the states of the intelligence as constituting a part at least of their religion. It is of great importance that just views should prevail among Christians upon this momentous subject. Virtue or religion, as has been repeatedly said, must be a phenomenon of the heart or will. The attribute of benevolence which we are considering, that is, complacency of heart or will in God, is the most common light in which the Scriptures present it, and also the most common form in which it lies revealed on the field of consciousness. The Scriptures often assign the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him, and Christians are conscious of having much regard to His goodness in their love to Him. I mean in their good will to Him. They will good to Him and ascribe all praise and glory to Him upon the condition that He deserves it. Of this they are conscious. Now, as was shown in a former lecture, in their love or good will to God they do not regard His goodness as the fundamental reason for willing good to Him. Although His goodness is that which at the time most strongly impresses their minds, yet it must be that the intrinsic value of His well-being is assumed and had in view by them, or they would no sooner will that than any thing else to Him. In willing His good they must assume its intrinsic value to Him as the fundamental reason for willing it, and His goodness as a secondary reason or condition, but they are conscious of being much influenced in willing His good in particular by a regard to his goodness. Should you ask the Christian why he loved God or why he exercised good will to Him, he would probably reply, it is because God is good. But suppose he should be further asked why he willed good rather than evil to God, he would say because good is good or valuable to Him. Or if he returned the same answer as before, to wit, because God is good, he would give this answer only because he would think it impossible for any one not to assume and to know that good is willed instead of evil because of its intrinsic value. The fact is, the intrinsic value of well-being is necessarily taken along with the mind, and always assumed by it as a first truth. When a virtuous being is perceived, this first truth being spontaneously and necessarily assumed, the mind thinks only of the secondary reason or condition, or the virtue of the being in willing good to Him.
The philosophy of the heart's complacency in God may be illustrated by many familiar examples. For instance: The law of causality is a first truth. Every one knows it. Every one assumes it and must assume it. No one ever did or can practically deny it. Now I have some important end to accomplish. In looking around for means to accomplish my end, I discover a certain means which I am sure will accomplish it. It is the tendency of this to accomplish my end that my mind is principally affected with at the time. Should I be asked why I choose this I should naturally answer because of its utility or tendency, and I should be conscious that this reason was upon the field of consciousness. But it is perfectly plain that the fundamental reason for this choice, and one which was assumed, and had in fact the prime and fundamental influence in producing the choice was the intrinsic value of the end to which the thing chosen sustained the relation of a means. Take another illustration: That happiness is intrinsically valuable is a first truth. Every body knows and assumes it as such. Now I behold a virtuous character. Assuming the first truth that happiness is intrinsically valuable, I affirm irresistibly that he deserves happiness and that it is my duty to will his happiness. Now, in this case the affirmation that he deserves happiness, and that I ought to will it, is based upon the assumption that happiness is intrinsically valuable. The thing with which I am immediately conscious of being affected, and which necessitated the affirmation of the obligation to will his good, and which induced me to will it, was the perception of his goodness or desert of happiness. Nevertheless, it is certain that I did assume, and was fundamentally influenced both in my affirmation or obligation and in my choice by the first truth, that happiness is intrinsically valuable. I assumed it and was influenced by it, though unconscious of it. And this is generally true of first truths. They are so universally and so necessarily assumed in practice, that we lose the direct consciousness of being influenced by them. Myriads of illustrations of this are arising all around us. We do really love God, that is, exercise good will to Him. Of this we are strongly conscious. We are also conscious of willing His actual blessedness upon condition that He is good. This reason we naturally assign to ourselves and to others. But in this we may overlook the fact that there is still another and a deeper, and more fundamental reason assumed for willing His good, to wit, its intrinsic value. And this reason is so fundamental that we should irresistibly affirm our obligation to will His good upon the bare perception of His susceptibility of Happiness wholly irrespective of His character.
Before I quit this subject, I must advert again to the subject of complacent love as a phenomenon of the sensibility and also as a phenomenon of the intelligence. There are sad mistakes and gross and ruinous delusions entertained by many upon this subject, if I mistake not. The intelligence of necessity, perfectly approves of the character of God where it is apprehended. The intelligence is so correlated to the sensibility that where it perceives in a strong light the Divine excellence, or the excellence of the Divine law, the sensibility is affected by the perception of the intelligence as a thing of course and of necessity. So that emotions of complacency and delight in the law, and in the Divine character may and often do glow and burn in the sensibility while the heart is unaffected. The will remains in a selfish choice, while the intellect and the sensibility are strongly impressed with the perception of the Divine excellence. This state of the intellect and the sensibility are, no doubt, often mistaken for true religion. We have undoubted illustrations of this in the Bible, and great multitudes of cases of it in common life. "Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God." Isaiah 58:2. "And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not." Ezekiel 33:32.
Nothing is of greater importance than forever to understand that religion is always and necessarily a phenomenon of the will; that it always and necessarily produces outward action and inward feeling; that on account of the correlation of the intellect and sensibility, almost any and every variety of feeling may exist in the mind, as produced by the perceptions of the intelligence whatever the state of the will may be; that unless we are conscious of good will or of consecration to God and the good of being--unless we are conscious of living for this end, it avails us nothing, whatever our views and feelings may be.
And also it behooves us to consider that although these views and feelings may exist while the heart is wrong, they will certainly exist when the heart is right; that there may be feeling, and deep feeling when the heart is wrong, yet that there will and must be deep emotion and strenuous action when the heart is right. Let it be remembered, then, that complacency, as a phenomenon of the will, is always a striking characteristic of true love or benevolence to God; that is, that the mind is affected and consciously influenced in willing the actual and infinite blessedness of God by a regard to His goodness. The goodness of God is not, as has been repeatedly shown, the fundamental influence or reason of the good will, but it is one reason or a condition both of the possibility of willing, and of the obligation to will his actual blessedness. It assigns to itself and to others, as has been said, this reason for loving God, or willing His good, rather than the truly fundamental one, to wit, the intrinsic value of good, because that is so universally and so necessarily assumed, that it thinks not of mentioning that, taking it always for granted, that that will and must be understood.
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