The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
27. Holiness, or purity, is another attribute of benevolence.
Holiness is a term that seems sometimes to be used as expressive of all the moral attributes of God. As an attribute of benevolence, it signifies purity. It denotes the moral purity or moral character or quality of God's benevolence, and indicates or expresses the intention to promote the happiness of moral beings by means of moral purity or virtue. Benevolence simply considered, is a willing or choosing the highest good of being, and especially of moral agents. Holiness as an attribute of benevolence, is that element of the choice that aims to secure the end of benevolence by means of virtue. Moral purity is uprightness or righteousness. This attribute is hardly distinguishable from righteousness or uprightness. Uprightness or integrity are generally used as synonymous with holiness.
That holiness is an attribute of God is every where assumed and frequently asserted in the bible.
If an attribute of God, it must be an attribute of love; for God is love. This attribute is celebrated in heaven as one of those aspects of the divine character that give ineffable delight. Isaiah saw the seraphim standing around the throne of Jehovah, and crying one to another, holy! holy! holy! John also had a vision of the worship of heaven, and says "they rest not day nor night saying Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty." When Isaiah beheld the holiness of Jehovah he cried out "Wo is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!" God's holiness is infinite, and it is no wonder that a perception of it should thus affect the prophet.
Finite holiness must forever stand and feel itself to be comparative rottenness and impurity when brought into comparison with infinite holiness. The seraphim are represented as being affected much as the prophet was. At least, had the vision of his holiness been as new to them as it was to him, it might no doubt have impressed them as it did him. Their holiness in the comparison or light of his might have appeared to them like pollution. They railed their faces in his presence. They covered their faces as if afraid, or as if they had considered that in his eyes the most holy creatures in the universe were comparatively unclean. Every christian of much experience knows well what it is to be confounded in the presence of his awful holiness. Job says, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." There is no comparing finite with infinite. The time will never come when creatures can behold the awful holiness of Jehovah without shrinking into comparative rottenness in his presence. This must be, and yet in another sense they may be and are as holy as he is. They may be as perfectly conformed to what light or truth they have as he is. This is doubtless what Christ intended when he said "Be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." The meaning is, that they should live to the same end and be as entirely consecrated to it as he is. This they must be to be truly virtuous or holy in any degree. But when they are so, a full view of the holiness of God would confound and overwhelm them. If any one doubts this, he has not considered the matter in a proper light. He has not lifted up his thoughts as he needs to do to the contemplation of Infinite Holiness. No creature, however benevolent he be, can witness the divine benevolence without being overwhelmed with a clear vision of it. This is no doubt true of every attribute of the divine love. However perfect creature virtue may be, it is finite, and brought into the light of the attributes of infinite virtue, it will appear as comparative rottenness. Let the most just man on earth or in heaven witness and have a clear apprehension of the infinite justice of Jehovah, and it would no doubt fill him with unutterable awe of him. So, could the most merciful saint on earth or in heaven have a clear perception of the divine mercy in its fulness, it would swallow up all thought and imagination and no doubt overwhelm him. And so also of every attribute of God. Oh! when we speak of the attributes of Jehovah, we often do not know what we say. Should God unvail himself to us our bodies would instantly perish. "No man," says he, "can see my face and live." When Moses prayed, Show me thy glory, God condescendingly hid him in the cleft of a rock and covering him with his hand, he passed by and let Moses see only his back parts, informing him that he could not behold his face, that is, his unvailed glories and live.
Holiness is an essential attribute of disinterested love. It must be so from the laws of our being, and from the very nature of benevolence. In man it manifests itself in great purity of conversation and deportment, in a great loathing of all impurity of flesh and spirit. Let no man profess piety who has not this attribute developed. The love required by the law of God is pure love. It seeks to make its object happy only by making him holy. It manifests the greatest abhorrence of sin and all uncleanness. In creatures it pants and doubtless ever will pant and struggle towards infinite purity or holiness. It will never find a resting place in such a sense as to desire to ascend no higher. As it perceives more and more of the fullness and infinity of God's holiness, it will no doubt pant and struggle to ascend the eternal heights where God sits in light too dazzling for the strong vision of the highest cherubim.
Holiness of heart begets a desire or feeling and love of purity in the sensibility. The feelings become exceedingly alive to the beauty of holiness and to the hatefulness and deformity of all spiritual and even physical impurity. The sensibility becomes ravished with the great loveliness of holiness, and unutterably disgusted with the opposite. The least impurity of conversation or of action exceedingly shocks one who is holy. Impure thoughts, if suggested to the mind of a holy being, are exceedingly detestable, and the soul heaves and struggles to cast them out as the most loathsome abominations.
28. Modesty is another attribute of love.
This may exist either as a phenomenon of the sensibility, or of the will.
As a phenomenon of the sensibility, it consists in a feeling of delicacy or shrinking from whatever is impure, unchaste; or from all boasting, vanity or egotism; a feeling like retiring from public observation, and especially from public applause. It is a feeling of self-diffidence, and is as a feeling the opposite of self-esteem and self-complacency. It takes on as a mere feeling a great variety of types, and when it controls the will, often gives its subject a very lovely and charming exterior; especially is this true when manifested by a female. But when this is only a phenomenon of the sensibility, and manifests itself only as this feeling takes control of the will, it is not virtue but only a specious and delusive form of selfishness. It appears lovely because it is the counterfeit of a sweet and charming form of virtue.
As a phenomenon of the will and as an attribute of benevolence it consists in a disposition opposed to display and self-exaltation. It is nearly allied to humility. It is a state of heart the opposite of an egotistical spirit. It seeks not personal applause or distinction. It is the unostentatious characteristic of benevolence. "Love seeketh not its own, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly." Benevolence seeketh not its own profit, nor its own honor. It seeks the good of being, with a single eye, and it is no part of its design to set off self to advantage. Hence modesty is one of its lovely characteristics. It manifests itself very much as the feeling of modesty manifests itself when it takes control of the will, so that often it is difficult to distinguish modesty as a virtue, or as an attribute of religion, from that modesty of feeling which is a peculiarity of the constitution of some, and which comes to control the will.
True piety is always modest. It is unassuming, unostentatious, anti-egotistical, content to seek with a single eye its object, the highest good of being. In this work it seeks not public notice or applause. It finds a luxury in doing good no matter how unobserved. If at any time it seeks to be known, it is entirely disinterested in this. It seeks to be known only to make "manifest that its deeds are wrought in God," and to stimulate and encourage others to good works. Modesty as a virtue shrinks from self-display, from trumpeting its own deeds. It is prone to "esteem others better than self;" to give the preference to others, and hold self in very moderate estimation. It is the opposite of self-confidence and self-exaltation. It aims not to exhibit self, but God and Christ.
This form of virtue is often conspicuous in men and women whom the providence of God has placed on high, so that they are exposed to the public gaze. They seem never to aim at the exhibition or exaltation of self; they never appear flattered by applause, nor to be disheartened by censure and abuse. Having this attribute largely developed, they pursue their way very much regardless both of the praise and the censure of men. Like Paul they can say "With me it is a small thing to be judged of man's judgment." It seeks only to commend itself to God and to the consciences of men.
29. Sobriety is another attribute of benevolence.
Sobriety as a virtue is the opposite of levity. There is, as every one knows, a remarkable difference in the constitutional temperament of different persons in regard to levity and sobriety considered as a tendency of the sensibility. Sobriety considered as a constitutional peculiarity, is often attributable to a diseased state of the organs of organic life, and is then not unfrequently termed hypochondriasis. In other instances it seems not to result from or to indicate ill health, but is a peculiarity not to be accounted for by any philosophy of ours.
Sobriety as a phenomenon of the sensibility often results from conviction of sin and fear of punishment, and from worldly troubles, and indeed from a multitude of causes.
But sobriety considered as a virtue and as a characteristic or attribute of benevolence, consists in that solemn earnestness which must belong to an honest intention to pursue to the utmost the highest good of being.
Sobriety is not synonymous with moroseness. It is not a sour, fault-finding, censorious spirit. Neither is it inconsistent with cheerfulness--I mean the cheerfulness of love. It is the contrast of levity and not of cheerfulness. Sobriety is serious earnestness in the choice and promotion of the highest good of being. It has no heart for levity and folly. It can not brook the spirit of gossip and of giggling. Sober earnestness is one of the essential attributes of love to God and souls. It can not fail to manifest this characteristic. Benevolence supremely values its object. It meets with many obstacles in attempting to secure it. It too deeply prizes the good of being, and sees too plainly how much is to be done to have any time or inclination to levity and folly. God is always in serious earnest. Christ was always serious and in earnest. Trifling is an abomination to God and to benevolence also.
But let it never be forgotten that sobriety, as an attribute of benevolence, has nothing in it of the nature of moroseness and peevishness. It is not melancholy. It is not sorrowfulness. It is not despondency. It is a sober, honest, earnest, intense state of choice or of good will. It is not an affected but a perfectly natural and serious earnestness. Benevolence is in earnest and it appears to be so by a law of its own nature. It puts on no affectation of solemnity. It has need of none. It can laugh and weep for the same reason and at the same time. It can do either without levity on the one hand and without moroseness, melancholy or discouragement on the other. Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God promised him a son by Sarah. But it was not levity. It was benevolence rejoicing in the promise of a faithful God.
We should always be careful to distinguish between sobriety as a mere feeling and the sobriety of the heart. The former is often easily dissipated and succeeded by trifling and levity. The former is stable as benevolence itself because it is one of its essential attributes. A trifling Christian is a contradiction. It is as absurd as a light and foolish benevolence. These are of a piece with a sinful holiness. Benevolence has and must have its changeless attributes. Some of them are manifest only on particular occasions that develop them. Others are manifest on all occasions as every occasion calls them into exercise. This attribute is one of that class. Benevolence must be in serious earnest on all occasions. The benevolent soul may and will rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep. He may be always cheerful in faith and in hope, yet he always has too great business on hand to have a heart for trifling or for folly.
30. Sincerity is another attribute of benevolence.
Sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy. The terms sincerity and perfection seem, as used in the bible, to be synonymous. Sincerity as an attribute of benevolence implies whole-hearted honesty, singleness of aim, true uprightness of purpose. Where this attribute is, there is a consciousness of its presence. The soul is satisfied that it is really and truly whole-hearted. It can not but respect its own honesty of intention and of purpose. It has not to affect sincerity--it has it. When the soul has this attribute developed it is as deeply conscious of whole-heartedness as of its own existence. It is honest. It is earnest. It is deeply sincere. It knows it, and never thinks of being suspected of insincerity, and of course has no reason for affectation.
This also is one of those attributes of benevolence that are manifest on. all occasions. There is a manifestation of sincerity that carries conviction in the spirit and deportment of the truly benevolent man. It is exceedingly difficult so to counterfeit it that the deception shall not be seen. The very attempt to counterfeit sincerity will manifest hypocrisy to a discerning mind. There is a cant, a grimace, a put-on seriousness, a hollow, shallow, long-facedness that reveals a want of sincerity; and the more pains is taken to cover up insincerity, the more surely it reveals itself. There is a simplicity and unguardedness, a right up and down frankness, an openheartedness, a transparency in sincerity that is charming. It tells the whole story, and carries with it on its very face the demonstration of its honesty. Sincerity is its own passport, its own letter of commendation. It is transparent as light and as honest as justice, as kind as mercy, and as faithful as truth. It is all lovely and praiseworthy. It needs no hoods or gowns or canonicals or ceremonials to set it off; it stands on its own foundation. It walks abroad unsuspecting, and generally unsuspected of hypocrisy. It lives and moves and has its being in open day-light. It inhabits love as its dwelling place; and where benevolence is, there is its rest.
31. Another attribute of benevolence is Zeal. Zeal is not always a phenomenon of will, but this term often expresses an effervescing state of the sensibility. It often expresses enthusiasm in the form of excited feeling. Zeal is also often an attribute of selfishness. The term expresses intensity whether used of the will or of the emotions, whether designating a characteristic of selfishness or of benevolence. Benevolence is an intense action of the will or an intense state of choice. The intensity is not uniform, but varies with varying perceptions of the intellect. When the intellectual apprehensions of truth are clear, when the Holy Spirit shines on the soul, the actings of the will become proportionably intense. This must be, or benevolence must cease altogether. Benevolence is the honest choice of the highest good of being as an end. Of course it has no sinister or bye ends to prevent it from laying just that degree of stress upon the good of being which its importance seems to demand. Benevolence is yielding the will up unreservedly to the demands of the intelligence. Nothing else is benevolence. Hence it follows that the intensity of benevolence will and must vary with varying light. When the light of God shines strongly upon the soul, there is often a consuming intensity in the action of the will, and the soul can adopt the language of Christ, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up."
In its lowest estate, benevolence is zealous. That is, the intellectual perceptions never sink so low as to leave benevolence to become a stagnant pool. It is never lazy, never sluggish, never inactive. It is aggressive in its nature. It is essential activity in itself. It consists in choice, the supreme choice of an end--in consecration to that end. Zeal, therefore, must be one of its essential attributes. A lazy benevolence is a misnomer. In a world where sin is, benevolence must be aggressive. In such a world it can not be conservative. It must be reformatory. This is its essential nature. In such a world as this a conservative, anti-reform benevolence is sheer selfishness. To baptize anti-reform and conservatism with the name of christianity, is to steal a robe of light to cover the black shoulders of a fiend. Zeal, the zeal of benevolence, will not, can not rest while sin is in the world. God is represented as clothed with zeal as with a cloak; and after making some of his exceeding great and precious promises, he concludes by saying, "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this."
32. Unity is another attribute of benevolence.
Benevolence or love has but one end. It consists in one choice, one ultimate intention. It is always one and indivisible. It possesses many attributes or characteristics; but they are all only so many phases of one principle. Every modification of virtue, actual or conceivable, may be and must be resolvable into love, for in fact it is only a modification of love or benevolence. It is easy to see that an honest choice of the highest good of being as an end, will sufficiently and fully account for every form in which virtue has appeared, or ever can appear. The love or good will of God is a unit. He has but one end. All he does is for one and the same reason. So it is and must be with love or benevolence in all beings. God's conduct is all equally good and equally praiseworthy.
(1.) Because he always has one intention.
(2.) Because he always has the same degree of light
With creatures this light varies, and consequently they, although benevolent, are not always equally praiseworthy. Their virtue increases as their light increases, and must forever do so if they continue benevolent. But their end is always one and the same. In this respect their virtue never varies. They have the same end that God has.
It is of great importance that the unity of virtue should be understood. Else that which really constitutes its essence is overlooked. If it be supposed that there can be various sorts of virtue, this is a fatal mistake. The fact is, virtue consists in whole-hearted consecration to one end, and that end is, as it ought to be and must be, the highest well-being of God and of the universe. This and nothing else, more nor less, is virtue. It is one and identical in all moral agents, in all worlds, and to all eternity. It can never be changed. It can never consist in any thing else. God could not alter its nature, nor one of its essential attributes. The inquiry and the only inquiry is, for what end do I live? To what end am I consecrated? Not, how do I feel, and what is my outward deportment? These may indicate the state of my will. But these can not settle the question! If a man know any thing, it must be that he knows what his supreme intention is. That is, if he considers at all and looks at the grand aim of his mind, he cannot fail to see whether he is really living for God and the universe or for himself.
If God is love, His virtue or love must be a unit. If all the law is fulfilled in one word; if love is the fulfilling of the law; then all virtue must resolve itself into love; and this unity is and must be an attribute of benevolence.
33. Simplicity is another attribute of benevolence.
By simplicity is intended singleness, without mixture. It has and can have but one simple end. It does not, and can not mingle with selfishness. It is simple or single in its aim. It is and must be simple or single in all its efforts to secure its end. It does not, can not attempt to serve God and mammon. But as I have dwelt at length upon this subject in a former lecture, I must refer you to that and not enlarge upon it here.
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