The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN ENTIRE OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD,
12. Opposition to sin is another attribute or characteristic of true love to God.
This attribute is simply benevolence contemplated in its relations to sin. This attribute certainly is implied in the very essence and nature of benevolence. Benevolence is good willing, or willing the highest good of being as an end. Now there is nothing in the universe more palpably and diametrically opposite to this end than sin. Benevolence can not do otherwise than be forever opposed to sin as that abominable thing which it necessarily hates. It is absurd and a contradiction to affirm that benevolence is not opposed to sin. God is love or benevolence. He must, therefore, be the unalterable opponent of sin--of all sin, in every form and degree.
But there is a state, both of the intellect and of the sensibility, that are often mistaken for the opposition of the will to sin. Opposition to sin as a virtue, is and must be a phenomenon of the will. But it also often exists as a phenomenon of the intellect, and likewise of the sensibility. The intelligence cannot contemplate sin without disapprobation. This disapprobation is often mistaken for opposition of heart, or of will, to it. When the intellect strongly disapproves of and denounces sin, there is naturally and necessarily a corresponding feeling of opposition to it in the sensibility, an emotion of loathing, of hatred, of abhorrence. This is often mistaken for opposition of the will, or heart. This is manifest from the fact, that often the most notorious sinners manifest strong indignation in view of oppression, injustice, falsehood, and many forms of sin. This phenomenon of the sensibility and of the intellect, as I said, is often mistaken for a virtuous opposition to sin.
But let it be remembered, that the only virtuous opposition to sin, is a phenomenon of the will. It is a characteristic of love to God and man, or of benevolence. This opposition to sin can not possibly co-exist with any degree of sin in the heart. That is, this opposition can not co-exist with a sinful choice. The will can not at the same time be opposed to sin, and commit sin. This is impossible, and the supposition involves a contradiction. Opposition to sin as a phenomenon of the intellect, or of the sensibility may exist--in other words, the intellect may strongly disapprove of sin, and the sensibility may feel strongly opposed to it, while at the same time the will may cleave to self-indulgence, or to that which constitutes sin. This fact, no doubt, accounts for the common mistake, that we can at the same time have a virtuous opposition to sin, and still continue to commit it.
Many are, no doubt, laboring under this fatal delusion. They are conscious not only of an intellectual disapprobation of sin, but also at times of strong feelings of opposition to it. And yet they are also conscious of continuing to commit it. They, therefore, conclude that they have a principle of holiness in them, and also a principle of sin, that they are partly holy and partly sinful at the same time. Their opposition of intellect and of feeling, they suppose to be a holy opposition, when, no doubt, it is just as common in hell, and even more so than it is on earth, for the reason that sin is more naked there than it generally is here.
But now the enquiry may arise, how is it that both the intellect and the sensibility are opposed to it, and yet that it is persevered in? What reason can the mind have for a sinful choice when urged to it neither by the intellect nor the sensibility? The philosophy of this phenomenon needs explanation. Let us attend to it.
I am a moral agent. My intelligence necessarily disapproves of sin. My sensibility is so correlated to my intellect that it sympathizes with it, or is affected by its perceptions and its judgments. I contemplate sin. I necessarily disapprove of it and condemn it. This affects my sensibility. I loathe and abhor it. I nevertheless commit it. Now how is this to be accounted for? The usual method is by ascribing it to a depravity in the will itself, a lapsed or corrupted state of the faculty, so that it perversely chooses sin for its own sake. Although disapproved by the intelligence and loathed by the sensibility, yet such, it is said, is the inherent depravity of the will, that it pertinaciously cleaves to sin notwithstanding, and will continue to do so until the faculty is renewed by the Holy Spirit, and a holy bias or inclination is impressed upon the will itself.
But here is a gross mistake. In order to see the truth upon this subject, it is of indispensable importance to inquire what sin is.
It is admitted, on all hands, that selfishness is sin. Comparatively few seem to understand that selfishness is the whole of sin, and that every form of sin may be resolved into selfishness, just as every form of virtue may be resolved into benevolence. It is not my purpose now to show that selfishness is the whole of sin. It is sufficient for the present to take the admission that selfishness is sin. But what is selfishness? It is the choice of self-gratification as an end. It is the preference of our own gratification to the highest good of universal being. Self-gratification is the supreme end of selfishness. This choice is sinful. That is, the moral element, quality or attribute of this selfish choice is sin. Now in no case is or can sin be chosen for its own sake or as an end. Whenever any thing is chosen to gratify self, it is not chosen because the choice is sinful, but notwithstanding it is sinful. It is not the sinfulness of the choice upon which the choice fixes as an end or for its own sake, but it is the gratification to be afforded by the thing chosen. For example: theft is sinful. But the will in an act of theft does not aim at and terminate on the sinfulness of theft, but upon the gratification expected from the stolen object. Drunkenness is sinful, but the inebriate does not intend or choose the sinfulness for its own sake or as an end. He does not choose strong drink because the choice is sinful, but notwithstanding it is so. We choose the gratification, but not the sin, as an end. To choose the gratification as an end is sinful, but it is not the sin that is the object of choice. Our mother Eve ate the forbidden fruit. This eating was sinful. But the thing that she chose or intended was not the sinfulness of eating, but the gratification expected from the fruit. It is not, it can not in any case be true that sin is chosen as an end or for its own sake. Sin is only a quality of selfishness. Selfishness is the choice, not of sin as an end or for its own sake, but of self-gratification; and this choice of self-gratification as an end is sinful. That is, the moral element, quality or attribute of the choice is sin. To say that sin is or can be chosen for its own sake is absurd. It is the same as saying that a choice can terminate on an element, quality or attribute of itself; that the thing chosen is really an element of the choice itself. This is absurd.
But it is said that sinners are sometimes conscious of choosing sin for its own sake, or because it is sin; that they possess such a malicious state of mind that they love sin for its own sake; that they "roll sin as a sweet morsel under their tongue;" that "they eat up the sins of God's people as they eat bread;" that is, that they love their sins and the sins of others as they do their necessary food, and choose it for that reason, or just as they do their food. That they not only sin themselves with greediness, but also have pleasure in them that do sin. Now all this may be true, yet it does not at all disprove the position which I have taken, namely, that sin never is and never can be chosen as an end, or for its own sake. Sin may be sought and loved as a means, but never as an end. The choice of food will illustrate this. Food is never chosen as an ultimate end: it never can be so chosen. It is always as a means. It is the gratification or the utility of it in some point of view that constitutes the reason for choosing it. Gratification is always the end for which a selfish man eats. It may not be merely the present pleasure of eating which he alone or principally seeks. But, nevertheless, if a selfish man, he has his own gratification in view as an end. It may be that it is not so much a present as a remote gratification he has in view. Thus he may choose food to give him health and strength to pursue some distant gratification, the acquisition of wealth or something else that will gratify him.
It may happen that a sinner may get into a state of rebellion against God and the universe of so frightful a character that he shall take pleasure in willing and in doing and saying things that are sinful because they are sinful and displeasing to God and to holy beings. But in this case, sin is not chosen as an end, but as a means of gratifying this malicious feeling. It is, after all, self-gratification that is chosen as an end, and not sin. Sin is the means, and self-gratification is the end.
Now we are prepared to understand how it is that both the intellect and sensibility can often be opposed to sin, and yet the will cleave to the indulgence. An inebriate is contemplating the moral character of drunkenness. He instantly and necessarily condemns the abomination. His sensibility sympathizes with the intellect. He loathes the sinfulness of drinking strong drink, and himself on account of it. He is ashamed, and were it possible, he would spit in his own face. Now in this state it would surely be absurd to suppose that he could choose sin, the sin of drinking as an end, or for its own sake. This would be choosing it for an impossible reason, and not for no reason. But still he may choose to continue his drink, not because it is sinful, but notwithstanding it is so. For while the intellect condemns the sin of drinking strong drink, and the sensibility loathes the sinfulness of the indulgence, nevertheless there still exists so strong an appetite, not for the sin, but for the liquor, that the will seeks the gratification notwithstanding the sinfulness of it.
So it is and so it must be in every case where sin is committed in the face of the remonstrances of the intelligence and the loathing of the sensibility. The sensibility loathes the sinfulness, but more strongly desires the thing the choice of which is sinful. The will in a selfish being yields to the strongest impulse of the sensibility, and the end chosen is in no case sin, but self-gratification. Those who suppose this opposition of the intellect or of the sensibility to be a holy principle, are fatally deluded. This kind of opposition to sin, as I have said, is doubtless common and always must be in hell. It is this kind of opposition to sin that often manifests itself among wicked men, and that leads them to take credit for goodness which they do not possess. They will not believe themselves to be morally and totally depraved, while they are conscious of so much hostility to sin within them. But they should understand that this opposition is not of the will or they could not go on in sin; that it is purely an involuntary state of mind, and has no moral character whatever. Let it be ever remembered, then, that a virtuous opposition to sin is always and necessarily an attribute of benevolence, a phenomenon of the will, and that it is naturally impossible that this opposition of will should co-exist with the commission of sin.
As this opposition to sin is plainly implied in, and is an essential attribute of benevolence, or true love to God, it follows that obedience to the law of God can not be partial in the sense that we can both love God and sin at the same time.
13. Compassion for the miserable is also an attribute of benevolence; or of pure love to God and man. This is benevolence viewed in its relations to misery and to guilt.
There is a compassion also which is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It may, and does often exist in the form of an emotion. But this emotion being involuntary, has no moral character in itself. The compassion which is a virtue and which is required of us as a duty, is a phenomenon of the will, and is of course an attribute of benevolence. Benevolence, as has been often said, is good willing, or willing the highest happiness and well-being of God and the universe for its own sake, or as an end. It is impossible, therefore, from its own nature, that compassion for the miserable should not be one of its attributes. Compassion of will to misery is the choice that it should not exist. Benevolence wills that happiness should exist for its own sake. It must therefore, will that misery should not exist. This attribute or peculiarity of benevolence consists in willing the happiness of the miserable. Benevolence simply considered, is willing the good or happiness of being in general. Compassion of will is a willing particularly that the miserable should be happy.
Compassion of sensibility is a feeling of pity in view of misery. As has been said, it is not a virtue. It is only a desire, but not willing; consequently does not benefit its object. It is the state of mind of which James speaks:--James 2:15,16: "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?" This kind of compassion may consist and co-exist with selfishness. But compassion of heart or will can not; for it consists in willing the happiness of the miserable for its own sake, and of course impartially. It will, and from its very nature must deny self to promote its end whenever it wisely can, that is, when it is demanded by the highest general good. Circumstances may exist that may render it unwise to express this compassion by actually extending relief to the miserable. Such circumstances forbid that God should extend relief to the lost in hell. But for their character and governmental relations, God's compassion would no doubt make immediate efforts for their relief.
Many circumstances may exist in which although compassion would hasten to the relief of its object, yet on the whole the misery that exists is regarded as the less of two evils, and therefore the wisdom of benevolence forbids it to put forth exertions to save its object.
But it is of the last importance to distinguish carefully between compassion as a phenomenon of the sensibility or as a mere feeling, and compassion considered as a phenomenon of the will. This, be it remembered, is the only form of virtuous compassion. Many, who from the laws of their mental constitution, feel quickly and deeply, often take credit to themselves for being compassionate while they seldom do much for the poor, the down-trodden, the miserable. Their compassion is a mere feeling. It says," Be ye warmed and clothed," but does not that for them which is needful. It is this particular attribute of benevolence that was so conspicuous in the life of Howard, Wilberforce and many other Christian philanthropists.
It should be said before I leave the consideration of this attribute, that the will is often influenced by the feeling of compassion. In this case the mind is no less selfish in seeking to promote the relief and happiness of its object than it is in any other form of selfishness. In such cases self-gratification is the end sought, and the relief of the suffering is only a means. Pity is stirred, and the sensibility is deeply pained and excited by the contemplation of misery. The will is influenced by this feeling, and makes effort to relieve the painful emotion on the one hand, and to gratify the desire to see the sufferer happy on the other. This is only an imposing form of selfishness. We, no doubt, often witness this exhibition of self-gratification. The happiness of the miserable is not in this case sought as an end or for its own sake, but as a means of gratifying our own feelings. This is not obedience of will to the law of the intelligence, but obedience to the impulse of the sensibility. It is not a rational and intelligent compassion, but just such compassion as we often see mere animals exercise. They will risk, and even lay down their lives to give relief to one of their number, or to a man who is in misery. In them this has no moral character. Having no reason, it is not sin for them to obey their sensibility, nay, this is a law of their being. This they can not but do. For them, then, to seek their own gratification as an end is not sin. But man has reason; he is bound to obey it. He should will and seek the relief and the happiness of the miserable for its own sake, or for its intrinsic value. When he descends to seek it for no higher reason than to gratify his feelings, he denies his humanity. He seeks it, not out of regard to the sufferer, but in self-defence, or to relieve his own pain, and to gratify his own desires. This in him is sin.
Many, therefore, who take to themselves much credit for benevolence, are after all only in the exercise of this imposing form of selfishness. They take credit for holiness when their holiness is only sin. What is especially worthy of notice here, is, that this class of persons appear to themselves and to others to be all the more virtuous by how much more manifestly and exclusively they are led on by the impulse of feeling. They are conscious of feeling deeply, of being most sincere and earnest in obeying their feelings. Every body who knows them can also see that they feel deeply and are influenced by the strength of their feelings rather than by their intelligence. Now so gross is the darkness of most persons upon this subject, that they award praise to themselves and to others just in proportion as they are sure that they are actuated by the depth of their feelings rather than by their sober judgment
But I must not leave this subject without also observing that when compassion exists as a phenomenon of the will, it will certainly also exist as a feeling of the sensibility. A man of a compassionate heart will also be a man of a compassionate sensibility. He will feel and he will act. Nevertheless his actions will not be the effect of his feelings, but will be the result of his sober judgment. These classes suppose themselves and are generally supposed by others to be truly compassionate persons. The one class exhibit much feeling of compassion; but their compassion does not influence their will, hence they do not act for the relief of suffering. These content themselves with mere desires and tears. They say, Be ye warmed and clothed, but give not the needed relief. Another class feel deeply, and give up to their feelings. Of course they are active and energetic in the relief of suffering. But being governed by feeling, instead of being influenced by their intelligence, they are not virtuous but selfish. Their compassion is only an imposing form of selfishness. A third class feel deeply, but are not governed by blind impulses of feeling. They take a rational view of the subject, act wisely and energetically. They obey their reason. Their feelings do not lead them, and they do not seek to gratify their feelings. But these last are truly virtuous, and altogether the most happy of the three. Their feelings are all the more gratified by how much less they aim at the gratification. They obey their intelligence, and therefore have the double satisfaction of the applause of conscience while their feelings are also fully gratified by seeing their desire accomplished.
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