2. Principles Do Not Change
Something deep within the human intellect says that absolutes must exist. Man cannot live without them and maintain his sanity, nor the other elements of his distinctive humanity. Reason demands absolutes, because absolutes integrate everything. Without them nothing makes sense.
So a thinking man looks at himself and his world and says, "Everything should make sense; it should be meaningful. All the elements are there." All that remains is to find the absolutes, and choas is turned into cosmos. There must be a core, a fundamental reality, an underlying set of facts and unchanging principles!
But where to look? Philosophy, ethics, or religion broadly defined? Modern man has done that but has heard discord instead of harmony.
Western man devotes himself to technology. In the physical sciences things are governed by laws--workable, predictable, harmonious. But "know-how" is no substitute for "know why." Man must know why, and no amount of knowing how will bring the answer.
Groping to find their way out of the dilemma, many Westerners are experimenting with parapsychology, the occult and metaphysical Eastern religions. Rejecting plastic materialism, they hope to find immutable universals in the preternatural, or within their own minds and emotions. But for those who reject the reality and finality of the God who has revealed Himself authoritatively and personally in the Bible, few things are more vague than the metaphysical, or more changeable than human emotions. Cut loose from their anchorage in the Christian revelation, they drift into the dark, dangerous water of the supernatural they neither understand nor escape by themselves.
Then we have the epicurean and/or hedonist. This is the person who accepts the premises of materialism and proceeds to escape from his reasonable humanity into pleasure seeking. He believes that he is a meaningless animal and tries to live like one. His is the bumper-sticker philosophy "if it feels good, do it"; The Bible describes this as the "eat, drink, and be merry" philosophy--the philosophy of the fool. (Luke 12:16-21.)
We turn from these delusions to something that meets the demands of both reality and reason while satisfying the yearnings of the human soul--biblical principles.
We know that the physical world operates according to definite physical law. If this were not true, we could not have put men on the moon.
It might come as a surprise to many that morality also operates according to definite law--moral law.
The laboratory where moral law is observed in operation is not equipped with test tubes, flasks, Bunsen burners and embalmed specimens. It is populated instead with real persons, moral agents who live, move, love, suffer, struggle, hope, and sometimes rejoice.
Some people do attempt to account for human behavior by ascribing it to physical causes only (brain cells, stimulus response associations). But human values and moral actions go far beyond physical considerations.
True, physical law and moral law do operate side-by-side. They do affect each other. But, and this is fundamentally important, they are separate and distinct from each other and operate in different areas.
Physical law does not govern moral action, and moral law does not directly govern physical action. Moral law governs people who live in the world of substance, but moral law does not govern substance itself. It governs morality and moral relationships, including what people do with their physical world.
Physical law governs everything that is involuntary, including matter and involuntary states and actions of the mind. Everything is under physical law except free will and what is caused by free will. Physical law is the law of automatic sequence, necessity, force. It is cause and effect.
Moral law is the law of free will, including what is caused by free will. It is the law of intelligence, the law of liberty, the law of responsible choice. It operates by persuasion, not coercion. It does not force, but holds up to the intelligence the values to be chosen and the consequences of free choice. It moves by motivation. It rules by reason.
If a moral agent will not be governed by reason, external restraints may be applied to safeguard society. But, strictly speaking, moral law operates only in the area of free will. Whatever is not the action of free will or the result of free will is under physical law, not moral law. Please keep this clearly in mind.
For example, Joe decides to steal Bill's watch. He plans how he is going to do it. He waits for the opportune moment. Then he carries out his plan. His hand reaches out and takes the watch. Swiftly, his feet carry him away from the scene of the crime and he is lost in the crowd.
Now, where does moral law apply directly? To the emotional excitement of planning the theft? To the movement of the hand to grasp the watch? To the muscular action of the body as Joe hurried away?
Did Joe's hand reach out of its own accord and grab Bill's watch against Joe's will? Can Joe say, "I just don't know what I'm going to do with this thieving hand of mine. It just keeps stealing things against my will".
Of course not. Joe's hand cannot take anything unless Joe wills for it to do so. In other words, the sin or theft takes place in Joe's heart (choice), not in his hand.
So moral law applies directly to the choices involved--the choice to commit the act in the first place and the choices involved in carrying it out (which are a continuation of the original choice). Thoughts, emotions and physical actions are the direct and indirect results that follow necessarily from the choices. They are under physical law, the "law of necessity," the law of automatic sequence. They derive their moral character only from the choices, the willing, that produced them.
In other words, the guilt is in the heart; that is, the will, intention, purpose. What is in the heart is carried out into the life. "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (Jas. 1:15). Lust or desire conceives the moment it gains the consent of the will.
THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF MORAL LAW
Moral law has several attributes, or permanent qualities. Let's look at them as Finney listed them.
"1. Subjectivity. It is, and must be an idea of the reason developed in the mind of the subject." 4
To be a free moral agent, a person must have some inner knowledge of right from wrong. This means that he (or she) must have some perception of the valuable and therefore be under a personal moral obligation to choose the valuable. This is the point where conscience starts operating and the "age of accountability" arrives.
"2. Objectivity. Moral law may be regarded as a rule of duty prescribed by the supreme Lawgiver and external to self." 5
Being all-knowing and all-wise, God knows absolutely what is beneficial and what is harmful. So, as the supreme Lawgiver, He has the right and the obligation to reveal the rule of duty and to maintain it.
"3. Liberty. The precept...cannot possess an element or attribute of force in any such sense as to render conformity of will to its precept unavoidable. This would confound it with physical law." 6
Love cannot be forced. By its very nature it is voluntary. If obedience is not willing, if it does not come from the heart, it is no obedience at all. So it is with sin. No one can be forced to sin. Persuaded, yes; forced, no. So then, though we use it, the term "free moral agent" is redundant, because moral choice is free choice by its very nature. In his Preface Finney states:
"Especially do I urge to their logical consequences the two admissions that the will is free and that sin and holiness are voluntary acts of mind." 7
"4. Fitness. It must be the law of nature, that is, its precept must prescribe and require just those actions of the will which are suitable to the nature and relations of moral beings and nothing more nor less." 8
Moral law demands exactly what God's highest glory and our highest good naturally require. Holiness is natural, beneficial, wholesome, reasonable. Sin is unnatural, harmful, disruptive, dissipating, unreasonable.
"5. Universality. The conditions and circumstances being the same, it requires, and must require, of all moral agents the same things, in whatever world they may be found." 9
The moral obligation to love God with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves applies everywhere, to every nation, in every culture, in Heaven, on earth, and in hell. Love is the universal obligation. If certain violations of the good and well-being of others are permitted within a certain culture, they are not thereby justified. Stealing, immorality, killing, whatever. Even the members of those cultures that permit such things know that they do not want done to them what they find culturally acceptable in doing to others. The words of Jesus are universal and unchanging: "therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12).
"6. Impartiality. Moral law is no respecter of persons.... It demands one thing of all...." 10
As moral law applies everywhere, so also it applies to every moral agent. If we can perceive the valuable--that is, if we have reason and light-- we are reponsible moral agents. No moral agent is exempt from moral law. None is above the obligation to love--not even God Himself. In fact, the greater our reason and light, the greater our moral obligation to conform our whole being to reason and light. The clearer our perception of what is valuable to God and others, the greater is our responsibility to pursue it for His sake and the sake of others.
Oh, how beautiful is God's love! He has infinite intelligence, and perfect knowledge of what is truly best for all. And His great heart is perfectly conformed to His intelligence and knowledge. He seeks the highest good with a perfect heart. Oh, the grandeur of His holiness! the perfection of His character!
"7. Practicability. That which the precept demands must be possible to the subject. That which demands a natural impossibility is not, and cannot be, moral law.... To talk of inability to obey moral law is to talk nonsense." 11
Everything required by moral law is possible. Remember, moral law applies to free will. It applies to what we can do by choosing to do. What we cannot do by choosing to do is outside the jurisdiction of moral law and moral obligation. Moral law cannot require natural impossibilities, because no one is morally obligated to perform natural impossibilities.
There is no such thing as a moral impossibility. "Moral impossibility" is a contradiction of terms. If something is impossible, it is not required by moral law. If something is moral, it is something the person is obligated to do and can do, otherwise it would not be classified as moral.
The only impossibility is this: We cannot do what we refuse to do. But this impossibility applies only to the outward action, not the heart. The refusal is a deliberate choice. The sinner cannot live for God as long as he (or she) refuses to do so. This is sin.
"8. Independence. It is an eternal and necessary idea of the divine reason. It is the eternal, self-existent rule of the divine conduct, the law which the intelligence of God prescribes to himself.... As a law, it is entirely independent of his will just as his own existence is." 12
The will of God always requires what the law of love itself already requires on the basis of the values that impose obligation in and of themselves.
God's interests are infinitely valuable. That is why I should choose them supremely. I must love God for His sake, and not just for the sake of His will. Of course, it is the will of God that we love Him supremely and others as ourselves. But we are to do this for His sake and for the sake of others.
This makes the will of God very precious, because it is the only way we can properly secure these infinitely valuable interests. The will of God is the necessary means to the valuable end, but it is not the end in itself. We shall return to this subject later.
"9. Imutability. Moral law can never change, or be changed." 13
What does moral law require? "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love the neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40). Moral law requires this and nothing more nor less of every moral agent. No one can possibly do more. No one can morally do less. If a genius suffers a blow on the head and becomes a moron, he (or she) has less mind than before, but can still love God with all that is left. We are simply held responsible according to the amount of moral enlightenment we possess.
"10. Unity. Moral law proposes but one ultimate end of pusuit to God and to all moral agents. All its requistions...are summed up in one word, love or benevolence. Moral law is the idea of perfect, universal and constant consecration of the whole being to the highest good of being." 14
Partial obedience to moral law is impossible. Either we do love God with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves, or we do not. We often do so with far less than perfect knowledge and understanding. But we obey with a perfect heart according to the knowledge we do have, or we do not obey at all. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other" (Matt. 6:24).
"11. Expediency. That which is upon the whole most wise is expedient. That which is upon the whole expedient is demanded by moral law.... Expediency may be inconsistent with the letter, but never with the spirit of moral law.... That which is plainly demanded by the highest good of the universe is law. It is expedient. It is wise. So, on the other hand, whatever is plainly inconsistent with the highest good of the universe is illegal, unwise, inexpedient, and must be prohibited by the spirit of moral law.... The Bible precepts always reveal that which is truly expedient and in no case are we at liberty to set aside the spirit of any commandment upon the assumption that expediency requires it.... That which is upon the whole most expedient is right and that which is right is upon the whole expedient." 15
We may disregard temporal laws and regulations when moral considerations clearly require us to do so, but we may not disregard absolute principles on the pretext that moral considerations require us to do so. Because the highest good is inherent within absolute principles, the violation of absolute principles is always destructive of the highest good. Therefore, it is self-contradictory and absurd to claim that a situation could exist in which one would be morally obligated to disregard absolute principles. Absolute principles always embody moral law and moral obligation.
The instructions of the Bible are always the wisest and most beneficial course of action in any situation. They are always what love truly demands.
"12. Exclusiveness. Moral law is the only possible rule of moral obligation.... This is and must be the law of love or benevolence. This is the law of right and nothing else is or can be." 16
Every valid law must be an expression and application of the moral law. As a guide for the choices and actions or moral beings, no law can overrule, replace, or even coexist with moral law. Moral law, that is, the law of love, is the only legitimate rule for moral conduct.
Now, is all of this just theoretical and idealistic? Not at all. It is as practical and revelant as eating and drinking. In fact, it touches every part of our lives, as we will see.