The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
27. Holiness is another attribute of benevolence.
This term is used in the Bible, as synonymous with moral purity. In a ceremonial sense it is applied to both persons and things; to make holy and to sanctify are the same thing. To sanctify and to consecrate, or set apart to a sacred use, are identical. Many things were, in this sense, sanctified, or made holy, under the Jewish economy. The term holiness may, in a general sense, be applied to anything whatever which is set apart to a sacred use. It may be applied to the whole being of a moral agent, who is set apart to the service of God.
As an attribute of benevolence, it denotes that quality which leads it to seek to promote the happiness of moral agents, by means of conformity to moral law.
As a moral attribute of God, it is that peculiarity of his benevolence which secures it against all efforts to obtain its end by other means than those that are morally and perfectly pure. His benevolence aims to secure the happiness of the universe of moral agents, by means of moral law and moral government, and of conformity to his own subjective idea of right.
In other words, holiness in God is that quality of his love that secures its universal conformity, in all its efforts and manifestations, to the Divine idea of right, as it lies in eternal developement in the Infinite Reason. This idea is moral law. It is sometimes used to express the moral quality, or character of his benevolence generally, or to express the moral character of the Godhead.
It sometimes seems to designate an attribute, and sometimes a quality of all his moral attributes.
Holiness is, doubtless, a characteristic, or quality of each and all of his moral attributes. They will harmonize in this, that no one of them can consent to do otherwise than conform to the law of moral purity, as developed and revealed in the Divine Reason.
That holiness is an attribute of God is everywhere 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 "Woe 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 feel itself awed in the presence of infinite 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 with open face contemplate the infinite holiness of Jehovah without being like persons overcome with a harmony too intensely delightful to be calmly borne. Heaven seems not able to endure it without breaking forth into strains of inexpressible rapture.
The expressions of Isaiah and Job do not necessarily imply that, at the time they were in a sinful state, but their expressions no doubt related to whatever of sin they had at any time been guilty of. In the light of Jehovah's holiness they saw the comparative pollution of their character, taken as a whole. This view will always, doubtless, much affect the saints.
This must be, and yet in another sense they may be, and are, as holy, in their measure 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, 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 like the dimmest star in the presence of the sun, lost in the blaze of his glory. 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. 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 unveil himself to us, or 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 unveiled glories, and live.
Holiness, or moral harmony of character is, then, 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, toward 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 fulness and infinity of God's holiness, it will no doubt pant and struggle to ascend the eternal heights where God sits in light too intense for the strongest vision of the highest cherub.
Holiness of heart or of will, produces a desire or feeling 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. This is called the love of holiness. 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 instantly felt to be exceedingly offensive and painful. 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, or of both.
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 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. But when this is only a phenomenon of the sensibility, and manifests itself only as this feeling takes control of the will, it does not rise to the dignity of virtue, but is 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 is that quality which preserves it from ostentation and display, and disposes it to pursue an opposite course. 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, not its own honour. 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 the 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 must be entirely disinterested in this. It is not the person, but the act that it exhibits, and that only for the sake of example. 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 aims not to exhibit self, but God and Christ. After Paul had said, "I laboured more abundantly than they all;" he adds, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
This form of virtue is sometimes conspicuous in men and women whom the providence of God has placed in high stations, 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, totally regardless both of the praise and the censure of men. Like Paul, they can say, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or 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 tendencies of the sensibility. Sobriety, considered as a constitutional peculiarity, when existing in an excessive degree, is often attributable to a diseased state of the organs of 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 indicates 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. It has no heart for levity and folly. It cannot brook the spirit of gossip and of giggling. Sober earnestness is one of the essential attributes of love to God and souls. It cannot fail to manifest this characteristic, because 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 for levity and folly. God is always serious and in earnest. Christ was always serious and in earnest. Trifling is an abomination to God, and equally so to true and enlightened benevolence.
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 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 latter is stable as benevolence itself, because it is one of its essential attributes. A trifling Christian is a contradiction. It is as absurd as to speak of 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 develope them. Others are manifest on all occasions, because every occasion calls them into exercise. This attribute is one of that class. Benevolence must be seriously in earnest on all occasions. The benevolent soul may and will rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who 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 nearly 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 cannot 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 along with it, 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 the discerning mind. There is a cant, a put-on seriousness, a hollow, shallow long-facedness, that reveals a want of sincerity; and the more pains men take to cover up insincerity, the more surely it reveals itself. There is a simplicity, an unguardedness, a transparency, a right up and down frankness, an open-heartedness in such sincerity, that at once commends it and gives it power. 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 as transparent as light, as honest as justice, as kind as mercy, and as faithful as truth. It is all lovely and praiseworthy. It needs no hoods nor gowns, nor canonicals, nor ceremonials, to set it off; it stands on its own foundation. It walks abroad unsuspecting, and generally unsuspected of, hypocrisy. It lives in open day-light and courts no concealment. 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 the will; for the term often expresses an effervescing state of the sensibility. It often expresses enthusiasm in the mere form of excited feeling. It is also often an attribute of selfishness. The term expresses intensity in the pursuit of an object, 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, and, 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 consists in yielding the will up unreservedly to the demands of the intelligence, when the intelligence is enlightened as to the ground of moral obligation. 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 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 like a stagnant pool. It must be a fountain, flowing forth. 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--and 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 cannot 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 Christianity, is to steal a robe of light to cover the black shoulders of a fiend. Zeal, the zeal of benevolence, will not, cannot 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 for ever do so, if they continue benevolent. But their end is always one and the same. In this respect their virtue never varies, while their benevolence continues. They have the same end with God.
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 anything else. God, if he is himself unchangeable, 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 merely, how do I feel, and what is my outward deportment? These may indicate the state of my will. But these cannot settle the question. If a man knows anything, 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 apart.
If God is love, his virtue or love must be itself 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 cannot, 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, cannot, attempt to serve God and mammon. But, as I have dwelt at length upon this view of the subject in a former lecture, I need not enlarge upon it here.
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