John 14:23 Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me
will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and
make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my
teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who
An Outline of Moral Law
Moral law is an universal unchanging rule proceeding from divine intelligence to
which moral beings ought to conform that will protect the basic rights of all
and bring happiness to all; a rule for action with certain resultant
consequences for obedience or disobedience. A moral law without sanctions is not
law, but advice; the law is a fence to show not only ownership, but also
protection. These sanctions give binding force to a moral law. As the penalty
for breaking it or the reward for conforming to it. The provision of law that
persuades or induces obedience.
Moral law is a rule of moral action with sanctions. It is that
rule to which moral agents ought to conform all their voluntary actions, and is
enforced by sanctions equal to the value of the precept. It is the rule for the
government of free and intelligent action, as opposed to necessary and
unintelligent action. It is the law of liberty, as opposed to the law of
necessity - of motive and free choice, as opposed to force of every kind.
The problems come when Governments and the Christian Church
have leaders who do not hold to this sensible teaching on Moral Law. Thus the
people they lead are now open to harm from those who are immoral. In fact,
Christian Leaders are often seen to be blaming Victims for criticising immoral
Church Members who harm them. Therefore, they allow immorality to flourish as if
God will do nothing about it. For example, they say, "God's love is
unconditional!" I say, "Bunkum!"
My feelings are for the immoral Church Members who are taught
to carry on, as God loves them as they are. Judgement Day will determine the
truth in this matter. True, we are merciful against our enemies, but that should
not stop us from warning them of the consequences of their actions when God's
The Moral Law of God
by Charles G. Finney
Definition of the term law . . Distinction between physical and moral law . .
The essential attributes of moral law . . Subjectivity . . Objectivity . .
Liberty, as opposed to necessity . . Fitness . . Universality . . Impartiality .
. Justice . . Practicability . . Independence . . Immutability . . Unity . .
Equity . . Expediency . . Exclusiveness
I. DEFINITION OF LAW.
II. DISTINCTION BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND MORAL LAW.
III. ATTRIBUTES OF MORAL LAW.
I. In discussing this subject, I must begin with defining the term Law.
Law, in a sense of the term both sufficiently popular and scientific for my
purpose, is a RULE OF ACTION. In its generic signification, it is applicable to
every kind of action, whether of matter or of mind--whether intelligent or
unintelligent--whether free or necessary action.
II. I must distinguish between Physical and Moral Law.
Physical law is a term that represents the order of sequence, in all the changes
that occur under the law of necessity, whether in matter or mind. I mean all
changes, whether of state or action, that do not consist in the states or
actions of free will. Physical law is the law of force, or necessity, as opposed
to the law of liberty. Physical law is the law of the material universe. It is
also the law of mind, so far as its states and changes are involuntary. All
mental states or actions, which are not free and sovereign actions of will, must
occur under, and be subject to, physical law. They cannot possibly be accounted
for, except as they are ascribed to the law of necessity or force.
Moral law is a rule of moral action with sanctions. It is that rule to which
moral agents ought to conform all their voluntary actions, and is enforced by
sanctions equal to the value of the precept. It is the rule for the government
of free and intelligent action, as opposed to necessary and unintelligent
action. It is the law of liberty, as opposed to the law of necessity--of motive
and free choice, as opposed to force of every kind. Moral law is primarily a
rule for the direction of the action of free will, and strictly of free will
only. But secondarily, and less strictly, it is the rule for the regulation of
all those actions and states of mind and body, that follow the free actions of
will by a law of necessity. Thus, moral law controls involuntary mental states
and outward action, only by securing conformity of the actions of free will to
III. I must call attention to the essential attributes of moral law.
1. Subjectivity. It is, and must be, an idea of reason, developed in the mind of
the subject. It is an idea, or conception, of that state of will, or course of
action, which is obligatory upon a moral agent. No one can be a moral agent, or
the subject of moral law, unless he has this idea developed; for this idea is
identical with the law. It is the law developed, or revealed within himself; and
thus he becomes "a law to himself," his own reason affirming his obligation to
conform to this idea, or law.
2. Objectivity. Moral law may be regarded as a rule of duty, prescribed by the
supreme Lawgiver, and external to self. When thus contemplated, it is objective;
when contemplated as a necessary idea or affirmation of our own reason, we
regard it subjectively, or as imposed upon us by God, through the necessary
convictions of our own minds. When contemplated as within ourselves, and as the
affirmation of our own reason we predicate of it subjectivity; but when thought
of as a law declared and enforced by the will of God, it is contemplated as
distinct from our own necessary ideas, and predicate of it objectivity.
3. A third attribute is liberty, as opposed to necessity. The precept must lie
developed in the reason, as a rule of duty--a law of moral obligation--a rule of
choice, or of ultimate intention, declaring that which a moral agent ought to
choose, will, intend. But it does not, must not, can not possess the attribute
of necessity in its relations to the actions of free will. It must not, 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
4. A fourth attribute of moral law, is 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; that is, the intrinsic value of the well-being of God and of the
universe being given as the ground, and the nature and relations of moral beings
as the condition of the obligation, the reason hereupon necessarily affirms the
intrinsic propriety and fitness of choosing this good, and of consecrating the
whole being to its promotion. This is what is intended by the law of nature. It
is the law or rule of action imposed on us by God, in and by the nature which he
has given us.
5. A fifth attribute of moral law is 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.
6. A sixth attribute of moral law is, and must be, impartiality. Moral law is no
respecter of persons--knows no privileged classes. It demands one thing of all,
without regard to anything, except the fact that they are moral agents. By this
it is not intended, that the same course of outward conduct is required of all;
but the same state of heart in all--that all shall have one ultimate
intention--that all shall consecrate themselves to one end--that all shall
entirely conform, in heart and life, to their nature and relations.
7. A seventh attribute of moral law is, and must be, justice. That which is
unjust cannot be law.
Justice, as an attribute of moral law, must respect both the precept and the
sanction. Justice, as an attribute of the precept, consists in the requisition
of just that, and no more, which is in exact accordance with the nature and
relations of the ruler and the subject.
Justice, as an attribute of the sanction, consists in apportioning rewards and
punishments, to the merit of obedience on the one hand, and to the guilt of
disobedience on the other.
Sanctions belong to the very essence and nature of moral law. A law without
sanctions is no law; it is only counsel, or advice. Sanctions are the motives
which the law presents, to secure obedience to the precept. Consequently, they
should always be graduated by the importance of the precept; and that is not
properly law which does not promise, expressly or by implication, a reward
proportionate to the merit of obedience, and threaten punishment equal to the
guilt of disobedience. Law cannot be unjust, either in precept or sanction: and
it should always be remembered, that what is unjust, is not law, cannot be law.
It is contrary to the true definition of law. Moral law is a rule of action,
founded in the nature and relations of moral beings, sustained by sanctions
equal to the merit of obedience, and the guilt of disobedience.
8. An eighth attribute of moral law is 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. The true definition of law
excludes the supposition that it can, under any circumstances, demand an
absolute impossibility. Such a demand could not be in accordance with the nature
and relations of moral agents, and therefore practicability must always be an
attribute of moral law. To talk of inability to obey moral law, is to talk
9. A ninth attribute of moral law is independence. It is founded in the
self-existent nature of God. 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. Moral law, as we shall see
hereafter more fully, does not, and cannot originate in the will of God. It
originates, or rather, is founded in his eternal, self-existent nature. It
eternally existed in the divine reason. It is the idea of that state of will
which is obligatory upon God upon condition of his natural attributes, or, in
other words, upon condition of his nature. As a law, it is entirely independent
of his will just as his own existence is. It is obligatory also upon every moral
agent, entirely independent of the will of God. Their nature and relations being
given, and their intelligence being developed, moral law must be obligatory upon
them, and it lies not in the option of any being to make it otherwise. Their
nature and relations being given, to pursue a course of conduct suited to their
nature and relations, is necessarily and self-evidently obligatory, independent
of the will of any being.
10. A tenth attribute of moral law is immutability. Moral law can never change,
or be changed. It always requires of every moral agent a state of heart, and
course of conduct, precisely suited to his nature and relations. Whatever his
nature is, his capacity and relations are; entire conformity to just that
nature, those capacities and relations, so far as he is able to understand them,
is required at every moment and nothing more nor less. If capacity is enlarged,
the subject is not thereby rendered capable of works of supererogation--of doing
more than the law demands; for the law still, as always, requires the full
consecration of his whole being to the public interests. If by any means
whatever, his ability is abridged, moral law, always and necessarily consistent
with itself, still requires that what is left--nothing more or less--shall be
consecrated to the same end as before. Whatever demands more or less than
entire, universal, and constant conformity of heart and life, to the nature,
capacity and relations of moral agents, be they what they may, is not, and
cannot be, moral law. To suppose that it could be otherwise, would be to
contradict the true definition of moral law. If therefore, the capacity is by
any means abridged, the subject does not thereby become incapable of rendering
full obedience; for the law still demands and urges, that the heart and life
shall be fully conformed to the present, existing nature, capacity, and
relations. Anything that requires more or less than this, whatever else it is,
is not, and cannot be, moral law. To affirm that it can, is to talk nonsense.
Moral law invariably holds one language. It never changes the spirit of its
requirement. "Thou shalt love," or be perfectly benevolent, is its uniform and
its only demand. This demand it never varies, and never can vary. It is as
immutable as God is, and for the same reason. To talk of letting down, or
altering moral law, is to talk absurdly. The thing is naturally impossible. No
being has the right or the power to do so. The supposition overlooks the very
nature of moral law. Should the natural capability of the mind, by any means
whatever, be enlarged or abridged, it is perfectly absurd, and a contradiction
of the nature of moral law, to say, that the claims of the law are either
elevated or lowered. Moral law is not a statute, an enactment, that has its
origin or its foundation in the will of any being. It is the law of nature, the
law which the nature or constitution of every moral agent imposes on himself,
and which God imposes upon us because it is entirely suited to our nature and
relations, and is therefore naturally obligatory upon us. It is the unalterable
demand of the reason, that the whole being, whatever there is of it at any time,
shall be entirely consecrated to the highest good of universal being, and for
this reason God requires this of us, with all the weight of his authority. It
cannot be too distinctly understood, that moral law is nothing more nor less,
than the law of nature revealed in the necessary ideas of our own reason, and
enforced by the authority of God. It is an idea of that which is fit, suitable,
agreeable to our nature and relations for the time being, that which it is
reasonable for us to will and do, at any and every moment, in view of all the
circumstances of our present existence,--just what the reason affirms, and what
God affirms, to be suited to our nature and relations, under all the
circumstances of the case.*(see below)
11. An eleventh attribute of moral law is unity. Moral law proposes but one
ultimate end of pursuit to God, and to all moral agents. All its requisitions,
in their spirit, are summed up and expressed in one word, love or benevolence.
This I only announce here. It will more fully appear hereafter. Moral law is a
pure and simple idea of the reason. It is the idea of perfect, universal, and
constant consecration of the whole being, to the highest good of being. Just
this is, and nothing more nor less can be, moral law; for just this, and nothing
more nor less, is a state of heart and a course of life exactly suited to the
nature and relations of moral agents, which is the only true definition of moral
12. Equity is another attribute of moral law. Equity is equality. That only is
equitable which is equal. The interest and well-being of every sentient
existence, and especially of every moral agent, is of some value in comparison
with the interests of others, and of the whole universe of creatures. Moral law
demands that the interest and well-being of every member of the universal family
shall be regarded by each according to its relative or comparative value, and
that in no case shall it be sacrificed or wholly neglected, unless it be
forfeited by crime. The distinction, allowed by human tribunals, between law and
equity, does not pertain to moral law, nor does nor can it strictly pertain to
any law. For it is impossible that that should be law, in the sense of imposing
obligation, of which equity is not an attribute. An inequitable law cannot be.
The requirements of law must be equal. A moral agent may, by transgression,
forfeit the protection of law, and may come into such governmental relations, by
trampling on the law, that moral law may demand that he be made a public
example--that his interest and well-being be laid upon the altar, and that he be
offered a sacrifice to public justice, as a preventive of crime in others. It
may happen also that sacrifices may be demanded by moral law of innocent beings,
for the promotion of a greater amount of good than that sacrificed by the
innocent. Such was the case with the atonement of Christ, and such is the case
with the missionary, and with all who are called by the law of love to practice
self-denial for the good of others. But let it be remembered, that moral law
never requires nor allows any degree of self-denial and self-sacrifice that
relinquishes a good of greater value than that gained by the sacrifice. Nor does
it in any case demand nor permit that any interest, not forfeited by its
possessor, shall be relinquished or finally neglected, without adequate ultimate
compensation. As has been said, every interest is of some comparative value; and
ought to be so esteemed and treated. Moral law demands, and must demand, that it
shall be so regarded by all moral agents to whom it is known. "THOU SHALT LOVE
THY NEIGHBOUR AS THYSELF" is its unalterable language. It can absolutely utter
no other language than this, and nothing can be moral law which holds any other
language. Law is not, and cannot be, an arbitrary enactment of any being or
number of beings. Unequal LAW is a misnomer. That which is unequal in its
demands, is not and cannot be, law. Law must respect the interests and the
rights of all, and of each member of the universal family. It is impossible that
it should be otherwise, and still be law.
13. Expediency is another attribute of moral law.
That which is upon the whole most wise is expedient,--that which is upon the
whole expedient is demanded by moral law. True expediency and the spirit of
moral law are always identical. Expediency may be inconsistent with the letter,
but never with the spirit of moral law. Law in the form of commandment is a
revelation or declaration of that course which is expedient. It is expediency
revealed, as in the case of the decalogue, and the same is true of every precept
of the Bible, it reveals to us what is expedient. A revealed law or commandment
is never to be set aside by our views of expediency. We may know with certainty
that what is required is expedient. The command is the expressed judgment of God
in the case, and reveals with unerring certainty the true path of expediency.
When Paul says, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not
expedient," we must not understand him as meaning that all things in the
absolute sense were lawful to him, or that anything that was not expedient was
lawful to him. But he doubtless intended, that many things were inexpedient that
are not expressly prohibited by the letter of the law,--that the spirit of the
law prohibited many things not expressly prohibited by the letter. It should
never be forgotten that that which is plainly demanded by the highest good of
the universe is law. It is expedient. It is wise. The true spirit of the moral
law does and must demand it. 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. But let the
thought be repeated, that 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 supposition that expediency requires it. Some have
denounced the doctrine of expediency altogether, as at all times inconsistent
with the law of right. These philosophers proceed upon the assumption that the
law of right and the law of benevolence are not identical but inconsistent with
each other. This is a common but fundamental mistake, which leads me to remark
Law proposes the highest good of universal being as its end, and requires all
moral agents to consecrate themselves to the promotion of this end.
Consequently, expediency must be one of its attributes. That which is upon the
whole in the highest degree useful to the universe must be demanded by moral
law. Moral law must, from its own nature, require just that course of willing
and acting that is upon the whole in the highest degree promotive of the public
good,--in other words, that which is upon the whole in the highest degree
useful, and therefore expedient. It has been strangely and absurdly maintained
that right would be obligatory if it necessarily tended to and resulted in
universal and perfect misery. Than which a more nonsensical affirmation was
never made. The affirmation assumes that the law of right and of good-will are
not only distinct, but may be antagonistic. It also assumes that that can be law
that is not suited to the nature and relations of moral agents. Certainly it
will not be pretended that that course of willing and acting that necessarily
tends to, and results in, universal misery, can be consistent with the nature
and relations of moral agents. Nothing is or can be suited to their nature and
relations, that is not upon the whole promotive of their highest well-being.
Expediency and right are always and necessarily at one. They can never be
inconsistent. That which is upon the whole most expedient is right, and that
which is right is upon the whole expedient.
14. Exclusiveness is another attribute of moral law. That is, moral law is the
only possible rule of moral obligation. A distinction is usually made between
moral, ceremonial, civil, and positive laws. This distinction is in some
respects convenient, but is liable to mislead and to create an impression that
something can be obligatory, in other words can be law, that has not the
attributes of moral law. Nothing can be law, in any proper sense of the term,
that is not and would not be universally obligatory upon moral agents under the
same circumstances. It is law because and only because, under all the
circumstances of the case, the course prescribed is fit, proper, suitable, to
their natures, relations, and circumstances. There can be no other rule of
action for moral agents but moral law, or the law of benevolence. Every other
rule is absolutely excluded by the very nature of moral law. Surely there can be
no law that is or can be obligatory upon moral agents but one suited to, and
founded in their nature, relations, and circumstances. This is and must be the
law of love or benevolence. This is the law of right, and nothing else is or can
be. Every thing else that claims to be law and to impose obligation upon moral
agents, from whatever source it emanates, is not and cannot be a law, but must
be an imposition and "a thing of nought."
*(from above) It has been said, that if we "dwarf," or abridge our powers, we do
not thereby abridge the claims of God; that if we render it impossible to
perform so high a service as we might have done, the Lawgiver, nevertheless,
requires the same as before, that is, that under such circumstances he requires
of us an impossibility;--that should we dwarf, or completely derange, or
stultify our powers, he would still hold us under obligation to perform all that
we might have performed, had our powers remained in their integrity. To this I
That this affirmation assumes, that moral law and moral obligation are founded
in the will of God;--that his mere will makes law. This is a fundamental
mistake. God cannot legislate in the sense of making law. He declares and
enforces the common law of the universe, or, in other words, the law of nature.
This law, I repeat it, is nothing else than that rule of conduct which is in
accordance with the nature and relations of moral beings. The totality of its
requisitions are, both in its letter and its spirit, "Thou shalt love, &c., with
all thy heart, thy soul, thy might, thy strength." That is, whatever there is of
us, at any moment, is to be wholly consecrated to God, and the good of being,
and nothing more nor less. If our nature or relations are changed, no matter by
what means, or to what extent, provided we are still moral agents, its language
and spirit are the same as before,--"Thou shalt love with all thy strength," &c.
I will here quote from the "Oberlin Evangelist," an extract of a letter from an
esteemed brother, embodying the substance of the above objection, together with
"One point is what you say of the claims of the law, in the 'Oberlin
Evangelist,' vol. ii. p. 50:--'the question is, what does the law of God require
of Christians of the present generation, in all respects in our circumstances,
with all the ignorance and debility of body and mind which have resulted from
the intemperance and abuse of the human constitution through so many
generations?' But if this be so, then the more ignorant and debilitated a person
is in body and mind in consequence of his own or ancestors' sins and follies,
the less the law would require of him, and the less would it be for him to
become perfectly holy--and, the nearer this ignorance and debility came to being
perfect, the nearer would he be to being perfectly holy, for the less would be
required of him to make him so. But is this so? Can a person be perfectly
sanctified, while particularly that 'ignorance of mind,' which is the effect of
the intemperance and abuse of the human constitution, remains? Yea, can he be
sanctified at all, only as this ignorance is removed by the truth and Spirit of
God; it being a moral and not a physical effect of sinning? I say it kindly,
here appears to me, at least, a very serious entering wedge of error. Were the
effect of human depravity upon man simply to disable him, like taking from the
body a limb, or destroying in part, or in whole, a faculty of the mind, I would
not object; but to say, this effect is ignorance, a moral effect wholly, and
then say, having this ignorance, the law levels its claims according to it, and
that with it, a man can be entirely sanctified, looks not to me like the
teachings of the bible."
1. I have seen the passage from my lecture, here alluded to, quoted and
commented upon, in different periodicals, and uniformly with entire
2. It has always been separated entirely from the exposition which I have given
of the law of God in the same lectures; with which exposition, no one, so far as
I know, has seen fit to grapple.
3. I believe, in every instance, the objections that have been made to this
paragraph, were made by those who profess to believe in the present natural
ability of sinners to do all their duty.
4. I would most earnestly and respectfully inquire, what consistency there is,
in denominating this paragraph a dangerous heresy, and still maintaining that
men are at present naturally able to do all that God requires of them?
5. I put the inquiry back to those brethren,--By what authority do you affirm,
that God requires any more of any moral agent in the universe, and of man in his
present condition, than he is at present able to perform?
6. I inquire, does not the very language of the law of God prove to a
demonstration, that God requires no more of man than, in his present state, he
is able to perform? Let us hear its language: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and will all
thy strength. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Now here, God so
completely levels his claims, by the very wording of these commandments, to the
present capacity of every human being, however young or old, however maimed,
debilitated, or idiotic, as, to use the language or sentiment of Prof. Hickok,
of Auburn Seminary, uttered in my hearing that, "if it were possible to conceive
of a moral pigmy, the law requires of him nothing more, than to use whatever
strength he has, in the service and for the glory of God."
7. I most respectfully but earnestly inquire of my brethren, if they believe
that God requires as much of men as of angels, of a child as of a man, of a
half-idiot as of a Newton? I mean not to ask whether God requires an equally
perfect consecration of all the powers actually possessed by each of these
classes; but whether in degree, he really requires the same, irrespective of
their present natural ability?
8. I wish to inquire, whether my brethren do not admit that the brain is the
organ of the mind, and that every abuse of the physical system has abridged the
capacity of the mind, while it remains connected with the body? And I would also
ask, whether my brethren mean to maintain, at the same breath, the doctrine of
present natural ability to comply with all the requirements of God, and also the
fact that God now requires of man just the same degree of service that he might
have rendered if he had never sinned, or in any way violated the laws of his
being? And if they maintained these two positions at the same time, I further
inquire, whether they believe that man has naturally ability at the present
moment to bring all his faculties and powers, together with his knowledge, into
the same state in which they might have been, had he never sinned? My brethren,
is there not some inconsistency here?
The fact is, you contradict yourselves. Your positions are precisely as
(1.) Man is able perfectly to keep all the commandments of God.
(2.) God requires of man just that service in kind and degree, which would have
been possible to him had he never sinned.
(3.) But man has sinned, abused, and crippled his powers, in so much that, to
render the kind and degree of service which God demands of him, is a natural
9. In the paragraph above quoted, the brother admits, that if a man by his own
act had deprived himself of any of his corporeal faculties, he would not
thenceforth have been under an obligation to use those faculties. But he thinks
this principle does not hold true, in respect to ignorance; because he esteems
ignorance a moral, and not a natural defect. Here I beg leave to make a few
(1.) Should a man wickedly deprive himself of the use of his hand, would not
this be a moral act? No doubt it would.
(2.) Suppose a man by his own act should make himself an idiot, would not this
be a moral act?
(3.) Would he not in both cases render himself naturally unable, in the one case
to use his hand, and in the other his reason? Undoubtedly he would. But how can
it be affirmed, with any show of reason, that in the one case his natural
inability discharges him from obligation, and not in the other--that he is still
bound to use his reason, but not his hand? Now the fact is, that in both these
cases the inability is natural.
(4.) I ask, if a man willingly remained in ignorance of God, whether his
ignorance would constitute a moral inability? If a moral inability, he can
instantly overcome it, by the right exercise of his own will, for nothing can be
a moral inability that cannot be instantaneously removed by our own volition.
But can the present ignorance of mankind be instantaneously removed by an act of
volition on the part of men, and their knowledge become as perfect as it might
have been had they never sinned? If not, why call ignorance a moral inability,
or a moral effect? The fact is that ignorance is often the natural effect of
moral delinquency. Neglect of duty occasions ignorance; and this ignorance,
while it remains, constitutes a natural inability to perform those duties of
which the mind is ignorant; and all that can be required is, that from the
present moment, the mind should diligently engage in acquiring what knowledge it
can, and perfectly obey, as fast as it obtains the light. If this is not true,
it is utter nonsense to talk about natural ability as being a sine quà non of
moral obligation. And I would kindly, but most earnestly, ask my brethren, by
what rule of consistency they maintain, at the same breath, the doctrine of a
natural ability to do whatever God requires, and also insist that he requires
men to know as much, and in all respects to render him the same kind and degree
of service as if they never had sinned, or rendered themselves in any respect
naturally incapable of doing and being, at the present moment, all that they
might have done and been, had they never, in any instance, neglected duty?
10. This objector appears to be strongly impressed with the consideration, that
if a man's ignorance can be any excuse for his not doing, at present, what he
might have done, but for this ignorance, it will follow, that the less he knows
the less is required of him, and should he become a perfect idiot, he would be
entirely discharged from moral obligation. To this I answer: Yes, or the
doctrine of natural ability and the entire government of God, are a mere farce.
If a man should annihilate himself, would not he thereby set aside his moral
obligation to obey God? Yes truly. Should he make himself an idiot, would he not
thereby annihilate his moral agency; and of course his natural ability to obey
God? Will my New School brethren adopt the position of Dr. Wilson of Cincinnati,
as maintained on the trial of Dr. Beecher, that "moral obligation does not imply
ability of any kind?" The truth is, that for the time being, a man may destroy
his moral agency, by rendering himself a lunatic or an idiot; and while this
lunacy or idiotcy continues, obedience to God is naturally impossible, and
therefore not required.
But it is also true, that no human being can deprive himself of reason and moral
agency, but for a limited time. There is no reason to believe, that the soul can
be deranged or idiotic, when separated from the body. And therefore moral agency
will in all cases be renewed in a future, if not in the present state of
existence, when God will hold men fully responsible for having deprived
themselves of power to render him all that service which they might otherwise
have rendered. But do let me inquire again, can my dear brethren maintain, that
an idiot or a lunatic can be a moral agent? Can they maintain that a being is
the subject of moral obligation any farther than he is in a state of sanity? Can
they maintain, that an infant is the subject of moral obligation, previous to
all knowledge? And can they maintain, that moral obligation can, in any case,
exceed knowledge? If they can and do--then, to be consistent, they must flatly
deny that natural ability is a sine quà non of moral obligation, and adopt the
absurd dogma of Dr. Wilson, that "moral obligation does not imply any ability
whatever." When my brethren will take this ground, I shall then understand and
know where to meet them. But I beseech you not to complain of inconsistency in
me, nor accuse me of teaching dangerous heresy, while I teach nothing more than
you must admit to be true, or unequivocally admit in extenso, the very dogma of
Dr. Wilson, quoted above.
I wish to be distinctly understood. I maintain, that present ignorance is
present natural inability, as absolutely as that the present want of a hand is
present natural inability to use it. And I also maintain, that the law of God
requires nothing more of any human being, than that which he is at present
naturally able to perform, under the present circumstances of his being. Do my
brethren deny this? If they do, then they have gone back to Dr. Wilson's ground.
If they do not, why am I accounted a heretic by them, for teaching what they
11. In my treatise upon the subject of entire sanctification, I have shown from
the Bible, that actual knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation, and that
the legal maxim, "ignorance of the law excuses no one," is not good in morals.
12. Professor Stuart, in a recent number of the Biblical Repository, takes
precisely the same ground that I have taken, and fully maintains, that sin is
the voluntary transgression of a known law. And he further abundantly shows,
that this is no new or heterodox opinion. Now Prof. Stuart, in the article
alluded to, takes exactly the same position in regard to what constitutes sin
that I have done in the paragraph upon which so much has been said. And may I be
permitted to inquire, why the same sentiment is orthodox at Andover, and sound
theology in the Biblical Repository, but highly heterodox and dangerous at
13. Will my brethren of the new school, to avoid the conclusiveness of my
reasonings in respect to the requirements of the law of God, go back to old
schoolism, physical depravity, and accountability based upon natural inability,
and all the host of absurdities belonging to its particular views of orthodoxy?
I recollect that Dr. Beecher expressed his surprise at the position taken by Dr.
Wilson, to which I have alluded, and said he did not believe that "many men
could be found, who could march up without winking to the maintenance of such a
proposition as that." But to be consistent, I do not see but that my brethren
with or "without winking," are driven to the necessity, either of "marching up"
to maintaining the same proposition, or they must admit that the objectionable
paragraph in my lecture is the truth of God.