Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
The GOSPEL TRUTH
PSYCHOLOGY OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
BY PRESIDENT CHARLES G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, JANUARY 21, 1875
By this phraseology I mean the designation of the particular acts and states of mind that constitute unrighteousness. To render myself intelligible, I will state my own views of this question, in the following order:
I. What unrighteousness is not.
II. What unrighteousness is.
III. How it begins in the human mind.
IV. When it begins.
V. Its author.
I. What it is not.
All that we know of the actions and states of our own minds we know by consciousness.
What we know by consciousness we know with certainty. It is real knowledge. If we are not certain of that of which we are conscious, then all certainty is impossible. The question of unrighteousness, being a phenomenon of mind, must be a question of consciousness. The conscience is that faculty of the mind to which belongs all moral discrimination, and its testimony is given to us in consciousness. Conscience, within its strictly appropriate sphere, is infallible. By its strictly appropriate sphere I mean that act or state of mind in which all moral character strictly resides. Whenever conscience appears to be in error it is because it is dependent upon the fallible judgment. Strictly, the jurisdiction of conscience is confined to the ultimate choice or preference of the soul. Here it is not dependent upon any judgment, but decides directly, intuitively, and without error. In deciding upon the moral character of this act and state of mind its decision is infallible and we are directly conscious of this decision. Here we have not opinion, not speculation, but certainty. In the light of this conclusion we can see what unrighteousness is not. God has informed us that "all unrighteousness is sin." "Sin is a transgression of God's law." All sin involves guilt and deserves punishment. This is not only taught us by God in his Word, but is irresistibly affirmed by conscience. Unrighteousness, then, cannot be a faculty, quality, or attribute of our nature. Conscience takes no cognizance of sin as any part, faculty, or quality of either soul or body. Conscience recognizes but one kind of sin, and that is action contrary to the moral law. The Bible recognizes no other kind of sin. The general judgment, according to the Bible, will recognize nothing as sin but action contrary to the law of God.
1. Unrighteousness does not belong to bodily action of any kind. Bodily actions are directly necessitated by volition. They, therefore, belong to the category of cause and effect, and, being necessitated actions, can have no moral character in themselves.
2. Unrighteousness does not consist in involuntary feeling of any kind. Feelings belong to the sensibility. They are, therefore, involuntary. All states of the sensibility are involuntary. They are never directly under the control of the will and not always indirectly governed by the will. This we know by consciousness. Hence, all the states of the sensibility belong to the category of cause and effect, and, therefore, can have no moral character in themselves. Neither states of the sensibility nor bodily actions have moral character except as they derive it from their primary cause.
3. Unrighteousness does not consist in any intellectual act or state. All these acts and states are involuntary, belong to the category of cause and effect, and consequently have no moral character in themselves. These states are often dependent on volition for their existence; but volition cannot always, either produce or control them. Of this we are directly conscious. Whatever of moral character may be ascribed to them is derived from their primary cause.
4. Unrighteousness does not belong to volition. Volition is one of a series of acts of will which flow by necessity from ultimate supreme choice. I choose an ultimate supreme end. This choice is ultimate because the end is chosen for its own sake. I do not choose an end for the utility of the choice or for the sake of thereby securing the end, but for the sake of what this end is in itself. This choice is supreme because the object is preferred to all others. If this end is to be secured in whole or in part by my own exertions, I, of course, and of necessity, decide or choose to use means to secure the end. This is subordinate choice and is caused by the ultimate choice. Subordinate choice, of necessity, causes volition. Volition is an executive act and is an effort to secure the object of ultimate choice. As both subordinate choice and volition belong to the category of cause and effect and derive their very existence from the ultimate supreme choice, it follows that they have no moral character in themselves, any more than outward actions has; but, like outward action, derive whatever moral character belongs to them from the ultimate supreme choice. Strictly speaking, we can never be certain of the moral character of any act or state of mind until we ascertain the ultimate choice or preference from which it necessarily, directly or indirectly, proceeds. That is the source from which all responsible action, thought, feeling flows, and, whether this ultimate choice be right or wrong, good or evil, it imparts it character to whatever acts or states of mind proceed from it. This is attested by conscience, as also by the Word of Christ.
5. Unrighteousness is not a negation or a state of indifference or non-choice. In the presence of an object seen to be valuable or a good in itself, obligation to choose it for its own sake is instantly and necessarily affirmed. The mind cannot remain in a state of indifference or of non-choice in such circumstances. The soul's freedom does not consist in the power to remain indifferent under such circumstances, but in the power to choose the good or to choose or prefer something else. It cannot refuse to choose the good simply, without preferring something else to it, for such a refusal would be no choice at all. Choice implies an object chosen. But a simple refusal to choose the good, if choice at all, would be choice without an object, which is an absurdity. Unrighteousness, therefore, cannot consist in a mere negation, or refusal to choose the good, which we affirm ourselves to be under obligation to choose.
II. What unrighteousness is.
1. Moral unfitness. Moral unrightness. Moral wrong. It is an act or state of mind in opposition to the mind and law of God. The law of God requires perfect and universal love, in the form of unselfish and universal benevolence, and this is the sum of its requirements. The law of God requires that we choose, prefer the highest well-being of God and the whole intelligent universe for its own sake or as our supreme and ultimate end, and that we consecrate our whole being to the promotion of this end. Unrighteousness is the ultimate supreme preference of our own gratification to the well-being of God and the universe. It is the preference of an infinitely less to an infinitely greater good, upon condition that that less good is our own. It is selfishness. It involves a refusal to choose the highest well-being of God and the universe, for its own sake, as a supreme and ultimate end and a preference of the gratification of our own desires. It is committing one's self to self-pleasing, in opposition to pleasing God. It is a committal of the will to obey the blind impulses of the sensibility, in opposition to the law of God, as revealed in conscience. It is, first, an act of ultimate choice or preference. As it is an ultimate, supreme choice, it remains a state of preference. It is ultimate because self-gratification is chosen for its own sake. It is supreme because it is preferred to everything else. It is also immanent. It is innate, underlying, and the cause of all other voluntary action. It is an efficient state of choice. It energizes to secure its end. It produces, by a law of necessity, subordinate choices and volitions, and, either directly or indirectly, all those states of the intellect and sensibility and all those actions of the outward life that come within the direct or indirect control of the will. The moral quality of this state of supreme ultimate preference is unrighteousness, sin. It is moral depravity, as distinct from executive transgressions. It is the wicked heart, out of which, as from a fountain, flow all acts, words, thoughts, states of mind, and whatever is opposed to the will of God. The Bible calls it sometimes the "carnal mind," a "death in trespasses and sins." It is the state into which Adam fell when he preferred his own gratification to the will of God. It is a wicked force that reveals itself in a wicked life. Now it seems to me that this is a plain question of consciousness.
III.. How unrighteousness begins in the human mind.
By yielding to temptation, just as it did in the case of Adam and Eve. Some excitement in the sensibility, for example--excitement of desire or appetite, bodily or mental, or both--is allowed to secure this preference of self-gratification, just as it did in the case of Adam and Eve.
IV. When unrighteousness begins.
From the teaching of the Bible on the subject, we are compelled to admit that it occurs at the very earliest dawn of moral agency, however early this is. Moral agency commences with the first affirmation or perception of moral obligation. As soon as the idea of ought or oughtness is developed the soul becomes a moral agent. From the teaching of the Bible we learn that the first moral act of the descendants of Adam is sin. It must consist, therefore, in the preference of self-gratification to the well-being of God and the universe. It consists in repelling the sense of obligation and preferring self-gratification. This is a fall from a state of no moral character into that of total depravity. It is the individual soul's own act. I say nothing here of its connection with the first sin of Adam.
V. The author of unrighteousness or moral depravity.
It can be no other than the agent himself. It must be the agent's own act, and to speak of God or any other being as the author of another's sin is nonsense.
Question.--Has there not been a world of mystification thrown over a very plain subject?
2.* Why should we go back of the voluntary act of the agent to find sin in his constitution or nature? In the Park-street lectures Dr. Griffin maintained that if there were not a sinful appetite or propensity belonging to the nature of man he could not be tempted to sin. But was there a sinful propensity in the angels that kept not their first estate? Had Adam and Eve a sinful nature before temptation took effect or before they fell? If Dr. Griffin's reasoning is correct, then the angels that fell and Adam and Eve were created with sinful propensities. If sin consists, as has been said, in a voluntary committal to the indulgences of constitutional appetites and desires, why assume that these constitutional appetites must be sinful in us any more than they were in Adam or in the angels?
3. Is it not an intuitive truth that the preference of self-indulgence over the universal good is sin?
4. Is not this preference a fact of sinful experience as it is revealed in the consciousness of sinners and as manifested in their lives?
5. As this preference underlies and is the cause of subordinate actions of the will and of all acts and states of mind that are under the direct or indirect control of the will, why should we search for something sinful in the constitution back of all voluntary and responsible action.
6. In this sinful preference we have total moral depravity and a depravity which the Gospel, illuminated by the Holy Ghost, has power to overcome. But if moral depravity lies back in our constitution and is a part of our nature there can be no power in the Gospel to overcome it.
7. If sin belongs to the constitution, how can it be overcome but by the re-creation of our nature and, consequently, the destruction of our personal identity?
8. If sin belongs to the constitution, who put it there and who is the author?
*Number sequence is in original.--Ed.
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