The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
34. Gratitude is another characteristic of love.
This term also designates a state of the sensibility, or a mere feeling of being obliged to another, or benefited by him. This feeling includes an emotion of love and attachment to the benefactor who has shown us favour. It also includes a feeling of obligation, and of readiness to make such returns as we are able, to the being who has shown us favour. But, as a mere feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, gratitude has no moral character. It may exist in the sensibility of one who is entirely selfish. For selfish persons love to be obliged, and love those who love to oblige them, and can feel grateful for favours shown to themselves, and desire or wish to make a return.
Gratitude, as a virtue, is only a modification or an attribute of benevolence or of good-will. It is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to acknowledge a favour, and to make suitable returns; to will and endeavour to promote the particular good of a benefactor. It always assumes of course the intrinsic value of the good willed, as the fundamental reason for willing it. But it always has particular reference to the relation of benefactor, as a secondary or additional reason for willing good to him in particular. This relation cannot be the foundation of the obligation to love or will the good of any being in the universe; for the obligation to will his good would exist, if this relation did not exist, and even if the relation of persecutor existed in its stead. But gratitude, always assuming the existence of the fundamental reason, to wit, the intrinsic value of the well-being of its object for its own sake, has, as I have just said, particular reference to the relation of benefactor; so particular reference to it, that, if asked why he loved or willed the good of that individual, he would naturally assign this relation as a reason. He would, as has been formerly shown, assign this as the reason, not because it is, or can be, or ought to be, the fundamental reason, much less the exclusive one, but because the other reason lies in the mind as a first truth, and is not so much noticed on the field of consciousness at the time, as the secondary reason, to wit, the relation just referred to.
This attribute of benevolence may never have occasion for its exercise in the Divine mind. No one can sustain to him the relation of benefactor. Yet, in his mind, it may, and no doubt does, exist in the form of good-will to those who are benefactors of others, and for that reason: just as finite minds ought to be affected by that relation. He has even gone much farther than this, and has been pleased to say, that good done to our fellowmen he will graciously consider and reward as good done to himself. This identification of good done to his creatures with good done to him and for his glory, raises benevolence to the highest conceivable point of dignity and honour.
That love will ever have an opportunity to develope all its attributes, and manifest all its loveliness, and take on every possible peculiarity, is more than we can know. Its loveliness can never be known nor conceived of by finite minds, except so far as occasions develope its charming attributes. Our love of gratitude to God finds abundant occasions of developement in all finite minds, and especially among sinners of our race. Our ill-desert is so infinite, and God's goodness, mercy, and long-suffering are so infinite, and so graciously manifested to us, that if we have any attribute of benevolence largely developed, it must be that of gratitude. Gratitude to God will manifest itself in a spirit of thanksgiving, and in a most tender and anxious regard to his feelings, his wishes, and all his commandments. A grateful soul will naturally raise the question on all occasions, Will this or that please God? There will be a constant endeavour of the grateful soul to please him. This must be; it is the natural and inevitable result of gratitude. It should be always borne in mind, that gratitude is good-will, modified by the relation of benefactor. It is not a mere feeling of thankfulness, but will always awaken that feeling. It is a living, energizing attribute of benevolence, and will and must manifest itself in corresponding feeling and action.
It should also be borne in mind, that a selfish feeling of gratitude or thankfulness often exists, and imposes upon its subject, and often upon those who witness its manifestations. It conceals its selfish foundation and character, and passes in this world for virtue; but it is not. I well recollect weeping with gratitude to God years previous to my conversion. The same kind of feeling is often, no doubt, mistaken for evangelical gratitude.
Benevolence is an all-comprehending, impartial principle. The benevolent soul regards all interests as his own, and all beings as parts of himself, in such a sense, as to feel obligations of gratitude for favours bestowed on others as well as on himself. Gratitude, as an attribute of benevolence, recognizes God as a benefactor to self in bestowing favours on others. Benevolence, regarding all interests as our own, acknowledges the favours bestowed upon any and upon all. It will thank God for favours bestowed upon the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and for "opening his hand and supplying the wants of every living thing."
35. Wisdom is another attribute of benevolence.
Wisdom is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to be directed by knowledge. Its manifestation in life and action is that of love directed by discretion, evidently for this reason, that hereby it becomes more efficient for good. Wisdom, therefore, must mingle with benevolence, and take the directions of its zeal and activity. It chooses the best and most valuable end, and the most appropriate means of obtaining it. It is like all the other attributes, only benevolence viewed in a certain relation, or only a particular aspect of it.
Wisdom is a term that expresses the perfectly intelligent character of love. It represents it as not a blind and unintelligent choice, but as being guided only by the highest intelligence. This attribute, like all the others, is perfect in God, in an infinitely higher sense than in any creature. It must be perfect in creatures, in such a sense as to be sinless; but can in them never be perfect, in such a sense as to admit of no increase.
The manifold displays of the divine wisdom in creation, providence, and grace, are enough, when duly considered, to overwhelm a finite mind. An inspired apostle could celebrate this attribute in such a strain as this: "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out." The wisdom of the saints appears in their choice of an end. They choose invariably the same end that God does, but do not, for want of knowledge, always use the best means. This, however, is not a sinful defect in them, provided they act according to the best light they have or can obtain.
Wisdom is a term that is often and justly used to express true religion, and to distinguish it from everything else; it expresses both benevolence, or good-will, and the intelligent character of that choice, that is, that the choice is dictated by the intelligence, as distinguished from selfish choice, or choice occasioned by the mere impulses of feeling.
36. Grace is another attribute of benevolence.
Grace is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to bestow gratuitous favour, that is, favour on the undeserving and on the ill-deserving.
Grace is not synonymous with mercy. It is a term of broader meaning.
Mercy is a disposition to forgive the guilty. Grace expresses not only a willingness to pardon, or exempt from penalty, but to bestow other favours of a positive character.
Mercy might pardon; but unless great grace were bestowed, our pardon would by no means secure our salvation.
Grace does not wait for merit as a condition of bestowing favour. It causes its sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sends its rain on the just and the unjust.
Grace in the saints manifests itself in acts of beneficence to the most unworthy, as well as to the deserving. It seeks to do good to all, whether meritorious or not. It seeks to do good from a love to being. It rejoices in opportunities to bestow its gratuities upon all classes that need them. To grace, necessity or want is the great consideration. When we come to God, his grace is delighted with the opportunity to supply our wants. The grace of God is a vast ocean without shore, or bound, or bottom. It is infinite. It is an ever overflowing stream of beneficence. Its streams go forth to make glad the universe. All creatures are objects of his grace to a greater or less extent. All are not objects of his saving grace, but all are, or have been, the recipients of his bounty. Every sinner that is kept out of hell, is sustained every moment by grace. Every thing that any one receives who has ever sinned, which is better than hell, is received of grace.
Repentance is a condition of the exercise of mercy; but grace is exercised in a thousand forms, without any reference to character. Indeed, the very term expresses good-will to the undeserving and ill-deserving. Surely it must have been a gracious disposition, deep and infinite, that devised and executed the plan of salvation for sinners of our race. A sympathy with the grace of God must manifest itself in strenuous and self-denying efforts to secure, to the greatest possible number, the benefits of this salvation. A gracious heart in man will leap forth to declare the infinite riches of the grace of God, in the ears of a dying world. No man certainly has or can have a sympathy with Christ who will or can hesitate to do his utmost to carry the gospel, and apply his grace, to a perishing world. What! shall the gracious disposition of Christ prepare the way, prepare the feast; and can they have any sympathy with him, who can hesitate to go or send to invite the starving poor? If Christ both lived and died to redeem men, is it a great thing for us to live to serve them? No, indeed: he only has the spirit of Christ who would not merely live, but also die for them.
37. Economy is another attribute of benevolence.
This term expresses that peculiarity of benevolence that makes the best use, and the most that can be made, of every thing to promote the public good. This attribute appears at every step in the works and government of God. It is truly wonderful to see how every thing is made to conduce to one end; and nothing exists or can exist in the universe, which God will not overrule to some good account. Even "the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain." A most divine economy is every where manifest in the works and ways of God. If he is love, we might expect this. Nay, if he is love, it is impossible that this should not be. He lives only for one end. All things were created, and are ruled or overruled by him. All things, then, must, directly or indirectly, work together for good. He will secure some benefit from every thing. Nothing has occurred, or will occur, or can ever occur to all eternity, that will not in some way be used to promote the good of being. Even sin and punishment will not be without their use. God has created nothing, nor has he suffered anything to occur, in vain. Sin, inexcusable and ruinous as it is, if left to work out its natural results, is not without its use. And God will take care to glorify himself in sinners, whether they consent or not. He says, "He has created all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil." That is, he created no man wicked, but he created those who have become wicked. He created them not for the sake of punishing them, but knowing that they would become incorrigible sinners, he designed to punish them, and by making them a public example, render them useful to his government. He created them, not because he delighted in their punishment for its own sake, but that he might make their deserved punishment useful to the universe. In this sense, it may be truly said, that he created them for the day of evil. Foreseeing that they would become incorrigible sinners, he designed, when he created them, to make them a public example.
God's glorious economy in overruling all events for the public benefit, is affectingly displayed in the fact, that all things are made to work together for good to them who love God. All beings, saints and sinners, good and evil angels, sin and holiness; in short, there is not a being nor an event in the universe, that is not all used up for the promotion of the highest good. Whether men intend it or not, God intends it. If men do not design it, no thanks to them, what ever use God may make of them. He will give them, as he says, according to their endeavours or intentions; but he will take care to use them in one way or another for his glory. If men will consent to live and die for his glory and the good of being, well; they shall have their reward. But if they will not consent, he will take care to dispose of them for the public benefit. He will make the best use of them he can. If they are willing and obedient, if they sympathize with him in promoting the good of the universe, well. But if not, he can make them a public example, and make the influence of their punishment useful to his kingdom. Nothing shall be lost, in the sense that God will not make it answer some useful purpose. No, not even sin with all its deformities and guilt, and blasphemy with all its desolating tendencies, shall be suffered to exist in vain. It will be made useful in innumerable ways. But no thanks to the sinner; he means no such thing, as that his sin shall thus be made useful. He is set upon his own gratification, regardless of consequences. Nothing is further from his heart than to do good, and glorify God. But God has his eye upon him; has laid his plans in view of his foreseen wickedness; and so surely as Jehovah lives, so surely shall the sinner, in one way or another, be used up for the glory of God, and the highest good of being.
Economy is necessarily an attribute of benevolence in all minds. The very nature of benevolence shows that it must be so. It is consecration to the highest good of being. It has no other end. Now all choice must respect means or ends. Benevolence has but one end; and all its activity, every volition that it puts forth, must be to secure that end. The intellect will be used to devise means to promote that end. The whole life and activity of a benevolent being is, and must be, a life of strenuous economy for the promotion of the one great end of benevolence. Extravagance, self-indulgence, waste, are necessarily foreign to love. Everything is devoted to one end. Everything is scrupulously and wisely directed to secure the highest good of God and being in general. This is, this must be, the universal and undeviating aim of every mind, just so far as it is truly benevolent. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear."
There are many other attributes of benevolence that might be enumerated and enlarged upon, all of which are implied in entire obedience to the law of God. Enough has been said, I hope, to fix attention strongly upon the fact, that every modification of virtue, actual, conceivable, or possible, is only either an attribute or manifestation of benevolence; and where benevolence is, there all virtue is, and must be, and every form in which virtue does or can exist, must develope itself as its occasions shall arise.
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