The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
[8.] 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 source or power of action. If I honestly intend a thing, I cannot 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, or 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 have all 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 in action to devise ways and means for realizing 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 endeavouring 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 for ever wield, infinite natural 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 thought! But it is, it must be a reality, as surely as God and the universe exist. It is no vain imagination; it is one of the most certain, as well as the most glorious, truths in the universe. Mountains of granite are but vapour in comparison with 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 the work; let this mighty power heave and wield universal mind, until all the ills of earth shall be put away, and until 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 endeavouring 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 main-spring of activity, a heart set on the promotion of the highest good of universal 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.
9. 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 alone. 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 to 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 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 forsakes sin, it will of course make all possible reparation, where 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 self-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 Saviour, 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 cannot be known in heaven, but godly sorrow, I think, must exist among the saints for ever. 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 cannot be benevolence without corresponding purity of outward life.
10. 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 cannot be evangelical faith. In this belief, there is no virtue; it is essentially but the faith of devils. The term is often used, in common language, to express a mere feeling of assurance, or confidence. Faith, to be a virtue, must be a phenomenon of the will. It must be an attribute of benevolence or love. Faith, as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that inclines it to trust in veracity and truth as the necessary condition of securing the good of being. It is a first truth, that truth, and obedience to truth, are conditions of the good of being. Hence, in the very act of becoming benevolent, the will embraces and commits itself to truth. The reason also affirms the veracity of God. Hence, in becoming benevolent, the mind commits itself to the veracity of God. Benevolence, be it remembered, is an intelligent choice, in obedience to the law of God. Of course its very nature implies confidence in God. Such is its nature that it will, of course, embrace and be influenced by the revealed will of God, and receive this revealed will as law, in all its efforts to secure its end. This quality reveals itself in specific acts. There is an important distinction between faith, as an attribute of benevolence, and faith as a volition, or special act. The first is the cause of the last. Faith, as an attribute, is a quality that belongs to the nature of benevolence. This quality reveals itself in particular acts, or in embracing and committing itself to the testimony and will of God, in resting in the promises and declarations of God, and in the word and work of Christ. It trusts in God, this is its nature. As has been said, in the very act of becoming benevolent, the mind commits itself to truth, and to the God of truth. It obeys the law of the intellect in the act of choosing the good of being, as an ultimate end. The intellect affirms the veracity of God, and the relations of this veracity and of truth to the good of being. Hence confidence in God belongs to the very nature of benevolence. As confidence in God is an attribute of benevolence, it will, of course, employ the intellect to ascertain the truth and will of God, and put forth appropriate expressions of confidence, in specific acts, as new truths shall be discovered. Particular acts of confidence in God, or in others, or in particular truths, are executive acts, and efforts to secure the end of benevolence. 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 makes 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 cannot 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, manifested by confiding in his veracity and faithfulness. It cannot 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.
11. 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 is it 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 highest actual blessedness of the holy being in particular, 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 must follow, 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 religion, 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 intellect 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 will. The attribute of benevolence which we are considering, that is, complacency of 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 good than evil 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 could 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 in particular. 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 particular 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 of 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 conditions 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 a 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.*
*Let the foregoing be read in connection with the lecture on the Moral Excellence of God being the Foundation of Obligation.
Before I dismiss 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 intellect. If I mistake not, there are sad mistakes, and gross and ruinous delusions, entertained by many upon this subject. The intellect, of necessity, perfectly approves of the character of God where it is apprehended. The intellect 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 intellect, 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 will or 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 similar 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 lviii. 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." Ezek. xxxiii. 32.
Nothing is of greater importance, than for ever 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 intellect, 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 behoves 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 in a selfish attitude, yet, that there will and must be deep emotion and strenuous action, when the heart is right. Let it be remembered, that complacency, as a phenomenon of the will, is always a striking characteristic of true love to God; 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 reason for the good will, but it is one reason or a condition, both of the possibility of willing, and of the obligation to will, his blessedness in particular. It assigns to itself and to others, his goodness as the reason for willing his good, rather than the intrinsic value of good; because this last is so universally, and so necessarily assumed, that it thinks not of mentioning it, taking it always for granted, that this will, and must be understood.
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