The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
14. Mercy is also an attribute of benevolence. And this term likewise expresses a state of feeling and represents a phenomenon of the sensibility. Mercy is often understood to be synonymous with compassion, but it is not rightly understood.
Mercy, considered as a phenomenon of the will, is a disposition to pardon crime. It consists in willing the pardon and the well-being of one who deserves punishment. It is good will viewed in relation to one who deserves punishment. Mercy, considered as a feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, is a desire for the pardon or good of one who deserves punishment. It is only a feeling, a desire; of course it is involuntary, and has in itself no moral character.
Mercy, as an attribute of benevolence, is a willing the pardon and the good of the culprit. It will, of course, manifest itself in action and in effort to pardon or to procure a pardon, unless the attribute of wisdom prevent. It may be unwise to pardon or to seek the pardon of a guilty one. In such cases, as all the attributes of benevolence must necessarily harmonize, no effort will be made to realize its end.
It was this attribute of benevolence modified and limited in its exercise by wisdom and justice, that energized in providing the means and in opening the way for the pardon of our guilty race.
As wisdom and justice are also attributes of benevolence, mercy can never manifest itself by efforts to secure its end except in a manner and upon conditions that do not set aside justice and wisdom. No one attribute of benevolence is or can be exercised at the expense of, or in opposition to another. The moral attributes of God, as has been said, are only attributes of benevolence, for benevolence comprehends and expresses the whole of them. From the term benevolence we learn that the end upon which it fixes is good. And we must infer too, from the term itself, that the means are unobjectionable, because it is absurd to suppose that good would be chosen because it is good, and yet that the mind that makes this choice should not hesitate to use objectionable and injurious means to obtain its end. This would be a contradiction, to will good for its own sake or out of regard to its intrinsic value, and then choose injurious means to accomplish this end. This can not be. The mind that can fix upon the highest well-being of God and the universe as an end, can never consent to use efforts for the accomplishment of this end that are seen to be inconsistent with it, that is, that tend to prevent the highest good of being.
Mercy, I have said, is that attribute of benevolence that wills the pardon of the guilty. But this attribute can not go out in exercise but upon conditions that consist with the other attributes of benevolence. Mercy viewed by itself would pardon without repentance or condition; would pardon without reference to public justice. But viewed in connection with the other attributes of benevolence, we learn that although a real attribute of benevolence, yet it is not and can not be exercised without the fulfilment of those conditions that will secure the consent of all the other attributes of benevolence. This truth is beautifully taught and illustrated in the doctrine and fact of atonement, as we shall see. Indeed, without consideration of the various attributes of benevolence, we are necessarily all in the dark and in confusion in respect to the character and government of God; the spirit and meaning of his law; the spirit and meaning of the gospel; our own spiritual state, and the developments of character around us. Without an acquaintance with the attributes of love or benevolence, we shall not fail to be perplexed--to find apparent discrepancies in the Bible and in the Divine administration--and in the manifestation of christian character both as revealed in the Bible and as exhibited in common life. For example: how Universalists have stumbled for want of consideration upon this subject! God is love! Well, without considering the attributes of this love, they infer that if God is love, He can not hate sin and sinners. If He is merciful He can not punish sinners in hell, &c. Unitarians have stumbled in the same way. God is merciful, that is, disposed to pardon sin. Well then, what need of an atonement? If merciful, He can and will pardon upon repentance without atonement. But we may inquire, if He is merciful, why not pardon without repentance? If His mercy alone is to be taken into view, that is simply a disposition to pardon, that by itself would not wait for repentance. But if repentance is and must be a condition of the exercise of mercy, may there not be, nay must there not be other conditions of its exercise? If wisdom and public justice are also attributes of benevolence and conditionate the exercise of mercy, and forbid that it should be exercised but upon condition of repentance, why may they not, nay, why must they not equally conditionate its exercise upon such a satisfaction of public justice as would secure as full and as deep a respect for the law as the execution of its penalty would do? In other words, if wisdom and justice be attributes of benevolence, and conditionate the exercise of mercy upon repentance, why may and must they not also conditionate its exercise upon the fact of an atonement? As mercy is an attribute of benevolence, it will naturally and inevitably direct the attention of the intellect. to devising ways and means to render the exercise of mercy consistent with the other attributes of benevolence. It will employ the intelligence in devising means to secure the repentance of the sinner, and to remove all the obstacles out of the way of its free and full exercise.
It will also secure the state of feeling which is also called mercy or compassion. Hence it is certain that mercy will secure efforts to procure the repentance and pardon of sinners. It will secure a deep yearning in the sensibility over them, and energetic action to accomplish its end, that is, to secure their repentance and pardon. This attribute of benevolence led the Father to give His Only Begotten and Well-beloved Son, and it led the Son to give Himself to die to secure the repentance and pardon of sinners. It is this attribute of benevolence that leads the Holy Spirit to make such mighty and protracted efforts to secure the repentance of sinners. It is also this attribute that energized in prophets and apostles and martyrs, and in saints of every age, to secure the conversion of the lost in sin. It is an amiable attribute. All its sympathies are sweet, and tender, and kind as heaven.
15. Justice is another attribute of benevolence.
This term also expresses a state or phenomenon of the sensibility. As an attribute of benevolence it is the opposite of mercy, when viewed in its relations to crime. It consists in a disposition or willing to treat every moral agent according to his intrinsic desert or merit. In its relations to crime, the criminal, and the public, it consists in a willing his punishment according to law. Mercy would pardon--justice would punish for the public good.
Justice as a feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, is a feeling that the guilty deserves punishment, and a desire that he may be punished. This is an involuntary feeling, and has no moral character. It is often strongly excited, and is often the cause of mobs and popular commotions. When it takes the control of the will, as it often does with sinners, it leads to lynching, and a resort to those summary methods of executing vengeance which are often so appalling.
I have said that the mere desire has no moral character. But when the will is governed by this desire and yields itself up to seek its gratification, this state of will is selfishness under one of its most odious and frightful forms. Under the providence of God, however, this form of selfishness, like every other in its turn, is overruled for good, like earthquakes, tornadoes, pestilence, and war, to purify the moral elements of society, and scourge away those moral nuisances with which communities are sometimes infested. Even war itself is often but an instance and an illustration of this.
Justice, as an attribute of benevolence, is virtue, and exhibits itself in the execution of the penalties of law, and in support of public order, and in various other ways.
There are several modifications of this attribute. That is, it may and must be viewed under various aspects and in various relations. One of these is public justice. This is a regard to the public interests, and secures a due administration of law for the public good. It will in no case suffer the execution of the penalty to be set aside, unless something be done to support the authority of the law and of the lawgiver. It also secures the due administration of rewards, and looks narrowly after the public interests, always insisting that the greater interest shall prevail over the lesser; that private interest shall never set aside or prejudice a public one of greater value. Public justice is modified in its exercise by the attribute of mercy. It conditionates the exercise of mercy, and mercy conditionates its exercise. Mercy can not consistently with this attribute, extend a pardon but upon conditions of repentance, and an equivalent being rendered to the government. So on the other hand, justice is conditionated by mercy, and can not, consistently with that attribute, proceed to take vengeance when the highest good does not require it, and when punishment can be dispensed with without public loss. Thus these attributes mutually limit each other's exercise, and render the whole character of benevolence perfect, systematical, and heavenly.
Justice is reckoned among the sterner attributes of benevolence; but it is indispensable to the filling up of the entire circle of moral perfections. Although solemn and awful, and sometimes inexpressibly terrific in its exercise, it is nevertheless one of the glorious modifications and manifestations of benevolence. Benevolence without justice would be any thing but morally lovely and perfect. Nay it could not be benevolence. This attribute of benevolence appears conspicuous in the character of God as revealed in His law, in His gospel, and sometimes is indicated most impressively by His providence.
It is also conspicuous in the history of inspired men. The Psalms abound with expressions of this attribute. We find many prayers for the punishment of the wicked. Samuel hewed Agag in pieces, and David abounds in expressions that show that this attribute was strongly developed in his mind; and the circumstances under which he was placed, often rendered it proper to express and manifest in various ways the spirit of this attribute. Many have stumbled at such prayers, expressions, and manifestations as are here alluded to. But this is for want of due consideration. They have supposed that such exhibitions were inconsistent with a right spirit. Oh, they say, how unevangelical! how unchristlike! How inconsistent with the sweet and heavenly spirit of Christ and of the gospel! But this is all a mistake. These prayers were dictated by the spirit of Christ. Such exhibitions are only the manifestations of one of the essential attributes of benevolence. Those sinners deserved to die. It was for the greatest good that they should be made a public example. This the spirit of inspiration knew, and such prayers under such circumstances are only an expression of the mind and will of God. They are truly the spirit of justice pronouncing sentence upon them. These prayers and such like things found in the Bible are no vindication of the spirit of fanaticism and denunciation that so often have taken shelter under them. As well might lunatics burn cities and lay waste countries, and seek to justify themselves by an appeal to the destruction of the old world by flood and the destruction of the cities of the plain by fire and brimstone.
Retributive justice is another modification of this attribute. This consists in a disposition to visit the offender with that punishment which he deserves, because it is fit and proper that a moral agent should be dealt with according to his deeds. In a future lecture I shall enlarge upon this modification of justice.
Another modification of this attribute is commercial justice. This consists in willing exact equivalents, and uprightness in business transactions.
There are some other modifications of this attribute, but the foregoing may suffice to illustrate sufficiently the various departments over which this attribute presides.
This attribute, though stern in its spirit and manifestations, is nevertheless one of prime importance in all governments of moral agents whether human or Divine. Indeed without it government could not exist. It is vain for certain philosophers to think to disparage this attribute, and to dispense with it altogether in the administration of government. They will, if they try the experiment, find to their cost and confusion that no one attribute of benevolence can say to another, "I have no need of thee." In short, let any one attribute of benevolence be destroyed or overlooked, and you have destroyed its perfection, its beauty, its harmony, its propriety, its glory. It is no longer benevolence, but a sickly, and inefficient, and limping sentimentalism, that has no God, no virtue, no beauty, or form, or comeliness in it, that when we see it we should desire it.
This attribute stands by, nay it executes law. It aims to secure commercial honesty. It aims to secure public and private integrity and tranquility. It says to violence, disorder, and injustice, Peace, be still, and there must be a great calm. We see the evidences and the illustrations of this attribute in the thunderings of Sinai and in the agony of Calvary. We hear it in the wail of a world when the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and when the windows of heaven were opened, and the floods descended, and the population of a globe were swallowed up. We see its manifestations in the descending torrent that swept the cities of the plain; and lastly, we shall forever see its bright but awful and glorious displays in the dark and curling folds of that pillar of smoke of the torment of the damned, that ascends up before God forever and ever.
Many seem to be afraid to contemplate justice as an attribute of benevolence. Any manifestation of it among men, causes them to recoil and shudder as if they saw a demon. But let it have its place in the glorious circle of moral attributes. It must have. It will have. It can not be otherwise. Whenever any policy of government is adopted, in family or state, that excludes the exercise of this attribute, all must be failure, defeat, and ruin.
Again: Justice being an attribute of benevolence, will prevent the punishment of the finally impenitent from derogating from the happiness of God and of holy beings. They will never delight in misery for its own sake. But they will take pleasure in the administration of justice. So that when the smoke of the torment of the damned comes up in the sight of heaven, they will, as they are represented, shout "Allelulia! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." "Just and righteous are thy ways thou King of saints!"
Before I relinquish the consideration of this topic, I must not omit to insist that where true benevolence is, there must be exact justice, commercial or business honesty and integrity. This is as certain as that benevolence exists. The rendering of exact equivalents, or the intention to do so, must be a characteristic of a truly benevolent mind. Impulsive benevolence may exist; that is, phrenological or constitutional benevolence, falsely so called, may exist to any extent and yet justice will not exist. The mind may be much and very often carried away by the impulse of feeling so that a man may at times have the appearance of true benevolence while the same individual is selfish in business and overreaching in all his commercial relations. This has been a wonder and an enigma to many, but the case is a plain one. The difficulty is, the man is not just, that is, not truly benevolent. His benevolence is only an imposing species of selfishness. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." His benevolence results from feeling and is not true benevolence.
Again: Where benevolence is, the golden rule will surely be observed. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." The justice of benevolence can not fail to secure conformity to this rule. Benevolence is a just state of the will. It is a willing justly. It must then by a law of necessity, secure a just exterior. If the heart is just, the life must be.
This attribute of benevolence must secure its possessor against every species and degree of injustice. He can not be unjust to his neighbor's reputation, his person, his property, his soul, his body, nor indeed be unjust in any respect to God or man. It will and must secure confession and restitution in every case of remembered wrong, so far as this is practicable. It should be distinctly understood, that a benevolent or a truly religious man cannot be unjust. He may indeed appear to be so to others; but he can not be truly religious or benevolent and unjust at the same time. If he appears to be so in any instance, he is not and can not be really so, if he is at the time in a benevolent state of mind. The attributes of selfishness, as we shall see in its proper place, are the direct opposite of those of benevolence. The two states of mind are as opposite as heaven and hell and can no more co-exist in the same mind than a thing can be and not be at the same time. I said that if a man truly, in the exercise of benevolence, appears to be unjust in any thing, he is only so in appearance and not in fact. Observe; I am speaking of one who is really at the time in a benevolent state of mind. He may mistake and do that which would be unjust, did he see it differently and intend differently. Justice and injustice belong to the intention. No outward act can in itself be either just or unjust. To say that a man, in the exercise of a truly benevolent intention, can at the same time be unjust is the same absurdity as to say that he can intend justly and unjustly at the same time and in regard to the same thing; which is a contradiction. It must all along be borne in mind that benevolence is one identical thing, to wit, good will, willing for its own sake the highest good of being and every known good according to its relative value. Consequently, it is impossible that justice should not be an attribute of such a choice. Justice consists in regarding and treating or rather in willing every thing just agreeably to its nature or intrinsic and relative value and relations. To say, therefore, that present benevolence admits of any degree of present injustice is to affirm a palpable contradiction. A just man is a sanctified man, is a perfect man, in the sense that he is at present in a sinless state.
16. Truth or Truthfulness is another attribute of benevolence. Truth is objective and subjective. Objective truth may be defined to be the reality of things. Truthfulness is subjective truth. It is the conformity of the will to the reality of things. Truth in statement is conformity of statement to the reality of things. Truth in action is action conformed to the nature and relations of things. Truthfulness is a disposition to conform to the reality of things. It is willing in accordance with the reality of things. It is willing the right end by the right means. It is willing the intrinsically valuable as an end and the relatively valuable as a means. In short it is the willing of every thing according to the reality or facts in the case.
Truthfulness, then, must be an attribute of benevolence. It is, like all the attributes, only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect or relation. It can not be distinguished from benevolence, for it is not distinct from it, but only a phase or form of benevolence. The universe is so constructed that if every thing proceeds and is conducted and willed according to its nature and relations, the highest possible good must result. Truthfulness seeks the good as an end and truth as a means to secure this end. It wills the good and that it shall be secured only by means of truth. It wills truth in the end and truth in the means. The end is truly valuable and chosen for that reason. The means are truth, and truth is the only appropriate or possible means.
Truthfulness of heart, begets, of course, a state of the sensibility which we call the love of truth. It is a feeling of pleasure that spontaneously arises in the sensibility of one whose heart is truthful, in contemplating truth. This feeling is not virtue; it is rather a part of the reward of truthfulness of heart.
Truthfulness as a phenomenon of the will, is also often called and properly called a love of the truth. It is a willing in accordance with objective truth. This is virtue, and is an attribute of benevolence. Truth as an attribute of the Divine benevolence is the ground of confidence in Him as a moral gove[r]nor. Both the physical and moral law of the universe evince and are instances and illustrations of the truthfulness of God. Falsehood, in the sense of lying, is naturally regarded by a moral agent with disapprobation, disgust and abhorrence. Truth is as necessarily regarded by him with approbation, and if the will be benevolent, with pleasure. We necessarily take pleasure in contemplating objective truth as it lies in idea on the field of consciousness. We also take pleasure in the perception and contemplation of truthfulness, in the concrete realization of the idea of truth. Truthfulness is moral beauty. We are pleased with it just as we are with natural beauty by a law of necessity, when the necessary conditions are fulfilled. This attribute of benevolence secures it against every attempt to promote the ultimate good of being by means of falsehood. True benevolence will no more, can no more resort to falsehood as a means of promoting good than it can contradict or deny itself. The intelligence affirms that the highest ultimate good can be secured only by a strict adherence to truth, for this adherence is a demand of the intelligence, and the mind can not be satisfied with any thing else. Indeed to suppose the contrary is to suppose a contradiction. It is the same absurdity as to suppose that the highest good could be secured only by the violation and setting aside of the nature and relations of things. Since the intelligence affirms this unalterable relation of truth to the highest ultimate good, benevolence or that attribute of benevolence which we denominate truthfulness or love of the truth, can no more consent to falsehood than it can consent to relinquish the highest good of being as an end. And in no case then, does or can a moral agent violate truth, except as he has for the time being at least become selfish and prefers a present gratification to the highest ultimate good of being. Therefore, every resort to falsehood, every pious fraud, falsely so called, is only a specious but real instance of selfishness. A moral agent can not lie for God, that is, he can not tell a sinful falsehood thinking and intending thereby to please God. He knows by intuition that God can not be pleased or truly served by a resort to lying. There is a great difference between concealing or withholding the truth for benevolent purposes and telling a wilful falsehood. An innocent persecuted and pursued man, has taken shelter from one who pursued him to shed his blood, under my roof. His pursuer comes and inquires after him. I am not under obligation to declare to him the fact that he is in my house. I may, and indeed ought to withhold the truth in this instance, for the wretch has no right to know it. The public and highest good demands that he should not know it. He only desires to know it for selfish and bloody purposes. But in this case I should not feel, or judge myself at liberty to state a known falsehood. I could not think that this would ultimately conduce to the highest good. The person might go away deceived, or under the impression that his victim was not there. But he could not accuse me of telling him a lie. He might have drawn his own inference from my refusing to give the desired information. But even to secure my own life or the life of my friend, I am not at liberty to tell a lie. If it be said that lying implies telling a falsehood for selfish purposes, and that therefore it is not lying to tell a falsehood for benevolent purposes, I reply, that our nature is such that we can no more state a wilful falsehood with a benevolent intention, than we can commit a sin with a benevolent intention. We necessarily regard falsehood as inconsistent with the highest good of being, just as we regard sin as inconsistent with the highest good of being, or just as we regard holiness and truthfulness as the indispensable conditions of the highest good of being. The correlation of the will and the intelligence forbids that the mistake should ever be fallen into that wilful falsehood is or can be the means or conditions of the highest good. Universal truthfulness, then, will always characterize a truly benevolent man. While he is truly benevolent he is, he must be, faithful, truthful. So far as his knowledge goes, his statements may be depended upon with as much safety as the statements of an angel, or as the statements of God himself. Truthfulness is necessarily an attribute of benevolence in all beings. No liar has or can have a particle of virtue or benevolence in him.
Return to 1846 SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY Index page
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOKS STORE