5. What Is Really Worth Living For?
In this chapter we shall examine the true basis, or foundation, of moral obligation. It is of vital importance to understand clearly just what we are required by the moral law to aim at and live for as the great ultimate goal or value of life.
But first we need to define some terms. Finney frequently uses the word "intrinsic." Intrinsic means "within itself." Something intrinsically valuable is valuable within itself. It is valuable, not because it is scarce or because of demand, but because it has worth or value within its own nature.
Finney also uses the word "intention." He does not use the word in the popular sense of "I mean to do it someday." Rather, he uses the word to mean actual and immediate choice.
Here is what Finney says about the foundation of moral obligation:
"The ground of obligaiton, then, is that reason or consideration intrinsic in or belonging to the nature of an object, which necessitates the rational affirmation that it ought to be chosen for its own sake.
"The well-being of God and the universe...is intrinsically important or valuable, and all moral agents are under obligation to choose it for its own sake. Entire, universal, uninterrupted consecration to this end...is the duty of all moral agents.
"God's ultimate end in all he does or omits is the highest well-being of himself and of the univers.... All moral agents should have the same end, and this comprises their whole duty.
"Thus it is self-evident that moral character belongs to the ultimate intention and that a man's character is as the end for which he lives, moves and has his being.
"Let us proceed to the examination of the various conflicting theories of the ground of obligation.
1. THE WILL OF GOD AS THE GROUND OF OBLIGATION
"I will first consider the theory of those who hold that...God's sovereign will creates, and not merely reveals and enforces, obligation. To this I reply:
"Obligation to do what? Why, to love God and our neighbor.... And does God's will create this obligation? Should we be under no such obligation had he not commanded it? Are we to will this good, not for its own value to God and our neighbor, but because God commands it?
"If the will of God does of itself create and not merely reveal obligation, then the will and not the interest and well-being of God ought to be chosen for its own sake, and to be the great end of life.
"The reason does indeed affirm that we ought to will that which God commands, but it does not and cannot assign his will as the foundation of the obligation...God requires me to labor and pray for the salvation of souls.... Now his command is necessarily regarded by me as obligatory, not as an arbitrary requirement, but as revealing infallibly the true means or conditions of securing the great and ultimate end, which I am to will for its intrinsic value." 25
It is always God's will that we love Him supremely and others as ouselves, because of the value of His highest good and the good of others.
But when people become self-convinced that the will of God is an end in itself, and not the means to the end, the result is fanaticism. Any code of ethics built on this premise becomes completely detached from real, practical values.
The Crusades provide us with a classic example. Once they had convinced themselves that it was God's will to "rescue the holy sepulchre," the crusaders felt perfectly justified in killing everybody who stood in their way. A modern example is the religiously based but politically motivated terrorism that has resulted in so much violence and bloodshed in the Middle East and elsewhere. "God wills it" is used to justify all kinds of evil and foolishness.
People who struggle to "do the will of God" without a real love for God and others are under a delusion. They are only trying to provide a moral rationale for the gratification of passion and ambition. They have no real regard for the good that truly doing God's will would bring to God and to others.
The will of God is not an end in itself to which all interests, human and divine, are to be sacrificed. Rather, the will of God is always to be understood as the course of action that results in the highest practical good to God and man, and for that reason it is the will of God.
2. THEORY OF SELF-INTEREST
"This theory...makes self-interest the ground of moral obligation. Upon this theory I remark--
"If self-interest be the ground of moral obligation,...to be virtuous I must in every instance intend my own interest as the supreme good.
"Upon this hypothesis I am to treat my own interest as supremely valuable, when it is infinitely less valuable than the interests of God.
"But enough; we cannot fail to see that this is a selfish philosophy, and the exact opposite of the truth of God." 26
This is a popular one today. It is the "live-and-let-live" philosophy. We hear it every time someone says, "I just mind my own business. I don't bother other people and they don't bother me."
What they mean is, "I'll live for myself and you live for yourself, and we'll try to stay out of each other's way."
Each cares only for self or what is in some way related to self.
There's no love, no morality in that.
3. THE UTILITARIAN PHILOSOPHY
"This maintains...that the tendencey of an act, choice or intention to secure a good or valuable end is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that choice or intention. Upon this theory I remark--
"The tendency is valuable or otherwise as the end is valuable or otherwise.
"A choice is obligatory because it tends to secure good. But why secure good rather than evil? The answer is, because good is valuable. Ah! here then we have another reason, the one which must be the true reason, to wit, the value of the good which the choice tends to secure.
"The obligation to use means may and must be conditionated upon perceived tendency, but never founded in this tendency.... The end must be intrinsically valuable, and this alone imposes obligation to choose the end and to use the means to promote it." 27
The utilitarian philosophy is the "good works" tread mill. Its objective is to maintain one's moral self-image by piling up moral "credits."
4. THE THEORY OF RIGHT AS THE FOUNDATION OF OBLIGATION
"The law of God does not, cannot, require us to love right more than God and our neighbor. What! Right of greater value than the highest well-being of God and of the universe? Impossible!
"When we pray and preach and converse, must we aim at right, must the love of right, and not the love of God and of souls influence us?... Did he [God] give his Son to die for the right, for the sake of the right, or to die...for the sake of...souls?
"Consistent rightarianism is a godless, Christless, loveless philosophy. 'Do the right for the sake of the right....' But now, having adopted this maxim, the mind...finds God and being to exist and sees it to be right to intend their good.... But...we are to will their well-being as an end or for its own sake, or because it is right? If for its own sake, where then is the maxium, 'Will the right for the sake of the right'?" 28
This system is the opposite of utilitarianism. Here is where millions of people are deceived. They struggle to do "right," thinking that this is true religion and morality. But ask them to surrender their hearts to God, and what do they reply?
"Well, I'm trying to do right. I pay my debts. I try to reat my family and my fellowman right. I try to live a good clean life."
They endeavor to assure themselves that they are "right," while all the time self sits enthroned in their hearts. Not once are they motivated by true love for God and for all mankind. They just struggle to be "right." And when they feel that they are "right," they often find pleasures in judging other. It makes them feel righteous, and reinforces their moral self-image. The world accepts them as "good," and often the church accepts them as Christian. Deluded souls!
5. THE PRACTICAL TENDENCY OF THE VARIOUS THEORIES
"I will begin with the theory that regards the sovereign will of God as the foundation of moral obligation.
"One legitimate and necessary result of this theory is a totally erroneous conception both of the character of God, and of the nature and design of his government. If God's will is the foundation of moral obligation, it follows that he is an arbitrary sovereign.... But if his will is under the law of his reason,...then his will is not the foundation of moral obligation, but those reasons that lie revealed in the divine intelligence....
"There is ground for perfect confidence, love and submission to his divine will in all things.... His will is law...in the sense of its being a revelation of both the end we ought to seek, and the means by which the end can be secured.
"I will next glance at the legitimate results of the theory of the selfish school.
"It tends directly and inevitably to the confirmation and despotism of sin in the soul. All sin...resolves itself into a spirit of self-seeking.... This philosophy represents this spirit of self-seeking as virtue, and only requires that in our efforts to secure our own happiness we should not interfere with the rights of others in seeking theirs.... What! I need not care positively for my neighbor's happiness,...yet I must take care not to hinder it. But why? Because it is intrinsically as valuable as my own.
"Practical bearings and tendency of rightarianism. "Having...in mind a law of right distinct from, and perhaps opposed to, benevolence, what frightful conduct may not this philosophy lead to? This is indeed the law of fanaticism.
"It sets men in chase of a philosophical abstraction as the supreme end of life instead of the concrete reality of the highest well-being of God and the universe.
"Lastly, I come to the consideration of the practical bearings of what I regard as the true theory of the foundation of moral obligation, namely, that the intrinsic nature and value of the highest well-being of God and of the universe is the sole foundation of moral obligation.
"If this be true, the whole subject of moral obligation is perfectly simple and intelligible.
"Every moral agent knows in every possible instance what is right and can never mistake his real duty.
"His duty is to will this end with all the known conditions and means thereof.
"Multitudes of professed Chritstians seem to have no conception that benevolence constitutes true religion; that nothing else does; and that selfishness is sin, and totally incompatible with religion. They live on in their self-indulgences, and dream of heaven." 29
No code of conduct or system of ethics that leaves the soul under the control of selfishness is real morality. And no "faith" that does not break the power of selfishness in the heart is true religion.
Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shll make you free" (John 8:32). If a person's religion does not break the bondage of sin in the heart, it cannot be the truth, because the truth always liberates the soul from the power of sin.
The true foundation or reason for moral obligation is the highest happiness of God and His creation. God's happiness is supremely valuable; therefore, we are morally obligated to place His happiness first. Living supremely for anything else is not living right because it is not living supremely for God; it is placing something that bears an ultimate relationship to self ahead of God; it is sin.
What is to be said about the "religious" person who regards the will of God as a moral justification for some selfish end, and not out of love for God? That person's religion is a delusion. He wants to feel that God is on his side. But he has not the love of God in him. Serving God only for selfish reasons must be terribly tiresome. Religion is a burden if one does not love Jesus Christ.
The same is true of utilitarians, the folks who are always involved in doing "good," and promoting the "cause." Their "morality" consists in quantity, not quality. They strive to achieve higher quotas, more productivity. They are busy in good causes, always "involved." It is "so rewarding" and gives them such a good feeling.
But ask them why they are so active, and they become uneasy, defensive. In their hearts they know that they are not motivated by true love for God and man.
Jesus said, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:22,23).
Remember 1 Corinthians 13. That great love chapter teaches that it is possible to give all our goods to feed the poor and even to give our body to be burned without being motivated by love.
Works motivated by self-gratification are of no moral value.
And the rightarian--always a stickler for the letter of the law, regardless of whether or not it does God or anybody else any good.
In the Bible the prime example of rightarians are the Pharisees. Jesus healed a lame man and told him to carry his bedroll home. The Pharisees, however, complained that he was carrying it on the sabbath. In their twisted morality, it was wrong for Jesus to heal on the sabbath, but perfectly "right" for them to plot His death on the sabbath.
Jesus summed up all their religious activity, and then disposed of it all by saying, "All their works they do for to be seen of men..." (Matt. 23:5).
In other words, their motive was wrong, and when the motive is wrong, all is wrong. All their praying, fasting, tithing were only means to a selfish ultimate end--to be seen of men.
Rightarians are motivated by a smug, self-satisfying regard for the "right," not by real love for God and man. If people just believe and act "right," they are satisfied. Their standing for the "right" keeps them in good stead in the church and/or community, and bolsters their hope that they are on the road to Heaven.
No good deeds, right opinions, firm beliefs, or fervent feelings can be moral or Christian, even in the slightest degree, while the will is not surrendered to God.
When we turn our hearts to God and love Him supremely and others as ourselves, the will of God becomes our delight as the indispensable means of glorifying Him; active service flows freely and gladly; and for the first time we are truly right!
Instead of being objectives in themselves, all these things and others like them become means and conditions for promoting the great end, the great goal, of every true heart--the highest well-being of God and His creatures. Genuine Christians are motivated by the highest possible values. Love for God and for others commands the full commitment of their whole being and motivates them to the development and employment of their full potential. God's highest happiness and the greatest good of all mankind--these are the values worth living for. These are the values that all true believers seek. They are the basis of all morality.
It is that simple. It all adds up to love.
Yet, many people feel that they can be somewhat good and somewhat bad at the same time. But is this possible? Is there a certain amount of goodness and a certain amount of evil mixed together in all of us? Can we be partly holy and partly sinful at the same time?
That is our next subject.