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WHAT CONSTITUTES DISOBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW?
In discussing this question, I will,
I. Show in what disobedience to moral law cannot consist.
1. It cannot consist in malevolence, or in the choice of evil or misery as an ultimate end. This will appear, if we consider, that the choice of an end implies the choice of it, not for no reason, but for a reason, and for its own intrinsic value, or because the mind prizes it on its own account. But moral agents are so constituted, that they cannot regard misery as intrinsically valuable. They cannot, therefore, choose it as an ultimate end, nor prize it on its own account.
2. Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in the constitution of soul or body. The law does not command us to have a certain constitution, nor forbid us to have the constitution with which we came into being.
3. It cannot consist in any unavoidable state, either of the sensibility or of the intelligence; for these, as we have seen, are involuntary, and are dependent upon the actings of the will.
4. It cannot consist in outward actions, independent of the design with which they are put forth; for these, we have seen, are controlled by the actions of the will, and, therefore, can have no moral character in themselves.
5. It cannot consist in inaction; for total inaction is to a moral agent impossible. Moral agents are necessarily active. That is, they cannot exist as moral agents without choice. They must, by a law of necessity, choose either in accordance with, or in opposition to, the law of God. They are free to choose in either direction, but they are not free to abstain from choice altogether. Choose they must. The possession of free-will, and the perception of opposing objects of choice, either exciting desire, or developing the rational affirmation of obligation to choose, render choice one way or the other inevitable. The law directs how they ought to choose. If they do not choose thus, it must be because they choose otherwise, and not because they do not choose at all.
6. It cannot consist in the choice of moral evil, or sin, as an ultimate end. Sin is but an element or attribute of choice or intention, or it is intention itself. If it be intention itself, then to make sin an end of intention, would be to make intention or choice terminate on itself, and the sinner must choose his own choice, or intend his own intention as an end: this is absurd.
7. Disobedience to moral law cannot consist in self-love. Self-love is 181simply the constitutional desire of happiness. It is altogether an involuntary state. It has, as a desire, no moral character, any more than has the desire of food. It is no more sinful to desire happiness, and properly to seek it, than it is wrong to desire food, and properly to seek that.
II. What disobedience to moral law must consist in.
Disobedience to God’s law must consist in the choice of self-gratification as an end. In other words, it must consist essentially in committing the will, and through the will committing the whole being, to the indulgence of self-love, as the supreme and ultimate end of life. This is selfishness. In other words, it is seeking to gratify the desire of personal good, in a manner prohibited by the law of God.
It consists in choosing self-gratification as an end, or for its own sake, instead of choosing, in accordance with the law of the reason and of God, the highest well-being of God and of the universe as an ultimate end. In other words still, sin or disobedience to the moral law, consists in the consecration of the heart and life to the gratification of the constitutional and artificial desires, rather than in obedience to the law of the intelligence. Or, once more, sin consists in being governed by impulses of the sensibility, instead of being governed by the law of God, as it lies revealed in the reason.
That this is sin, and the whole of sin viewed in its germinating principles, will appear, if we consider:—
1. That this state of mind, or this choice, is the “carnal mind,” or the minding of the flesh, which the apostle affirms to be “enmity against God.” It is the universal representation of scripture, that sin consists in the spirit of self-seeking. This spirit of self-seeking is always in the Bible represented as the contrast or opposite of disinterested benevolence, or the love which the law requires. “Ephraim bringeth forth fruit to himself,” is the sum of God’s charges against sinners.
2. When we come to the consideration of the attributes of selfishness, it will be seen that every form of sin, not only may, but must resolve itself into selfishness, just as we have seen that every form of virtue does and must resolve itself into love or benevolence.
3. From the laws of its constitution, the mind is shut up to the necessity of choosing that, as an ultimate end, which is regarded by the mind as intrinsically good or valuable in itself. This is the very idea of choosing an end, to wit, something chosen for its own sake, or for what it is in and of itself, or, because it is regarded by the mind as intrinsically valuable to self, or to being in general, or to both.
4. Moral agents are, therefore, shut up to the necessity of willing the good of being, either partially or impartially, either good to self, or good 182to being in general. Nothing else can possibly be chosen as an end or for its own sake. Willing the good of being impartially, we have seen, is virtue. To will it partially is to will it, not for its own sake, except upon condition of its relation to self. That is, it is to will good to self. In other words, it is to will the gratification of self as an end, in opposition to willing the good of universal being as an end, and every good, or the good of every being, according to its intrinsic value.
5. But may not one will the good of a part of being as an end, or for the sake of the intrinsic value of their good? This would not be benevolence; for that, as we have seen, must consist in willing good for its own sake, and implies the willing of every good, and of the highest good of universal being. It would not be selfishness, as it would not be willing good to, or the gratification of, self. It would be sin, for it would be the partial love or choice of good. It would be loving some of my neighbors, but not all of them. It would, therefore, be sin, but not selfishness. If this can be, then there is such a thing possible, whether actual or not, as sin that does not consist in selfishness. But let us examine whether this supposition would not resolve itself into selfishness.
To say that I choose good for its own sake, or because it is valuable to being, that is, in obedience to the law of my reason, and of God, implies that I choose all possible good, and every good according to its relative value. If, then, a being chooses his own good, or the good of any being as an ultimate end, in obedience to the law of reason, it must be that he chooses, for the same reason, the highest possible good of all sentient being.
The partial choice of good implies the choice of it, not merely for its own sake, but upon condition of its relations to self, or to certain particular persons. Its relations conditionate the choice. When its relations to self conditionate the choice, so that it is chosen, not for its intrinsic value, irrespective of its relations, but for its relations to self, this is selfishness. It is the partial choice of good. If I choose the good of others besides myself, and choose good because of its relations to them, it must be either—
(1.) Because I love their persons with the love of fondness, and will their good for that reason, that is, to gratify my affection for them, which is selfishness; or—
(2.) Because of their relations to me, so that good to them is in some way a good to me, which also is selfishness; or
(3.) Upon condition that they are worthy, which is benevolence; for if I will good to a being upon condition that he is worthy, I must value the good for its own sake, and will it particularly to him, because he deserves it. This is benevolence, and not the partial choice of good, because it is obeying the law of my reason.183
Again: If I will the good of any number of beings, I must do it in obedience to the law either of my intelligence and of God, or of my sensibility. But, if I will in obedience to the law of my intelligence, it must be the choice of the highest good of universal being. But if I will in obedience to the law or impulse of my sensibility, it must be to gratify my feelings or desires. This is selfishness.
Again: As the will must either follow the law of the reason and of God, or the impulses of the sensibility, it follows that moral agents are shut up to the necessity of being selfish or benevolent, and that there is no third way, because there is no third medium, through which any object of choice can be presented. The mind can absolutely know nothing as an object of choice, that is not recommended by one of these faculties. Selfishness, then, and benevolence, are the only two alternatives.
Let it be remembered, then, that sin is a unit, and always and necessarily consists in selfish ultimate intention, and in nothing else. This intention is sin; and thus we see that every phase of sin resolves itself into selfishness. This will appear more and more, as we proceed to unfold the subject of moral depravity.
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