Finney Systematic Theology 1878 Part 2



THE primary idea of government, is that of direction, guidance, control
by, or in accordance with, rule or law.

All government is, and must be, either moral or physical; that is, all
guidance and control must be exercised in accordance with either moral
or physical law; for there can be no laws that are neither moral nor

Physical government is control, exercised by a law of necessity or
force, as distinguished from the law of free will, or liberty. It is
the control of substance, as opposed to free will. The only government
of which substance, as distinguished from free will, is capable, is and
must be physical. This is true, whether the substance be material or
immaterial, whether matter or mind. States and changes, whether of
matter or mind, that are not actions of free will, must be subject to
the law of necessity. They must therefore belong to the department of
physical government. Physical government, then, is the administration
of physical law, or the law of force.

Moral government consists in the declaration and administration of
moral law. It is the government of free will by motives as
distinguished from the government of substance by force. Physical
government presides over and controls physical states and changes of
substance or constitution, and all involuntary states and changes.
Moral government presides over and controls, or seeks to control the
actions of free will: it presides over intelligent and voluntary states
and changes of mind. It is a government of motive, as opposed to a
government of force–control exercised, or sought to be exercised, in
accordance with the law of liberty, as opposed to the law of necessity.
It is the administration of moral as opposed to physical law.

Moral government includes the dispensation of rewards and punishments;
and is administered by means as complicated and vast as the whole of
the works, and providence, and ways, and grace of God.

The fundamental reason of moral government.

Government must be founded in a good and sufficient reason, or it is
not right. No one has a right to prescribe rules for, and control the
conduct of another, unless there is some good reason for his doing so.
There must be a necessity for moral government, or the administration
of it is tyranny. Moral government is indispensable to the highest
well-being of the universe of moral agents. The universe is dependent
upon this as a means of securing the highest good. This dependence is a
good and sufficient reason for the existence of moral government. Let
it be understood, then, that moral government is a necessity of moral
beings, and therefore right.

Our nature and circumstances demand that we should be under a moral
government; because no community can perfectly harmonize in all their
views and feelings, without perfect knowledge, or to say the least, the
same degree of knowledge on all subjects on which they are called to
act. But no community ever existed, or will exist, in which all possess
exactly the same amount of knowledge, and where the members are,
therefore, entirely agreed in all their thoughts, views, and opinions.
But if they are not agreed in opinion, or have not exactly the same
amount of knowledge, they will not, in every thing, harmonize, as it
respects their courses of conduct. There must, therefore, be in every
community, some standard or rule of duty, to which all the subjects of
the community are to conform themselves. There must be some head or
controlling mind, whose will shall be law, and whose decision shall be
regarded as infallible, by all the subjects of the government. However
diverse their intellectual attainments are, in this they must all
agree, that the will of the lawgiver is right, and universally the rule
of duty. This will must be authoritative, and not merely advisory.
There must of necessity be a penalty attached to, and incurred by,
every act of disobedience to this will. If disobedience be persisted
in, exclusion from the privileges of the government is the lowest
penalty that can consistently be inflicted. The good, then, of the
universe imperiously requires that there should be a moral governor.

Whose right is it to govern?

We have just seen that the highest well-being of the universe demands,
and is the end of moral government. It must, therefore, be his right
and duty to govern, whose attributes, physical and moral, best qualify
him to secure the end of government. To him all eyes and hearts should
be directed, to fill this station, to exercise this control, to
administer all just and necessary rewards and punishments. It is both
his right and duty to govern.

That God is a moral governor, we infer–

1. From our own nature. From the very laws of our being, we naturally
affirm our responsibility to him for our conduct. As God is our
creator, we are naturally responsible to him for the right exercise of
our powers. And as our good and his glory depend upon our conformity to
the same rule to which he conforms his whole being, he is under a moral
obligation to require us to be holy, as he is holy.

2. His natural attributes qualify him to sustain the relation of a
moral governor to the universe.

3. His moral character also qualifies him to sustain this relation.

4. His relation to the universe as creator and preserver, when
considered in connection with the necessity of government, and with his
nature and attributes, confers on him the right of universal

5. His relation to the universe, and our relations to him and to each
other, render it obligatory upon him to establish and administer a
moral government over the universe. It would be wrong for him to create
a universe of moral beings, and then refuse or neglect to administer
over them a moral government, since government is a necessity of their
nature and relations.

6. His happiness must demand it, as he could not be happy unless he
acted in accordance with his conscience.

7. If God is not a moral governor he is not wise. Wisdom consists in
the choice of the best ends, and in the use of the most appropriate
means to accomplish those ends. If God is not a moral governor, it is
inconceivable that he should have had any important end in view in the
creation of moral beings, or that he should have chosen the best or any
suitable means for the promotion of their happiness as the most
desirable end.

8. The conduct or providence of God plainly indicates a design to exert
a moral influence over moral agents.

9. His providence plainly indicates that the universe of mind is
governed by moral laws, or by laws suited to the nature of moral

10. If God is not a moral governor, the whole universe, so far as we
have the means of knowing it, is calculated to mislead mankind in
respect to this fundamental truth. All nations have believed that God
is a moral governor.

11. We must disapprove the character of God, if we ever come to a
knowledge of the fact that he created moral agents, and then exercised
over them no moral government.

12. The Bible, which has been proved to be a revelation from God,
contains a most simple and yet comprehensive system of moral

13. If we are deceived in respect to our being subjects of moral
government, we are sure of nothing.

What is implied in the right to govern?

1. From what has just been said, it must be evident, that the right to
govern implies the necessity of government, as a means of securing an
intrinsically valuable end.

2. Also that the right to govern implies the duty, or obligation to
govern. There can be no right, in this case, without corresponding
obligation; for the right to govern is founded in the necessity of
government, and the necessity of government imposes obligation to

3. The right to govern, implies obligation, on the part of the subject,
to obey. It cannot be the right, or duty, of the governor to govern,
unless it is the duty of the subject to obey. The governor and subjects
are alike dependent upon government, as the indispensable means of
promoting the highest good. The governor and the subject must,
therefore, be under reciprocal obligation, the one to govern, and the
other to be governed, or to obey. The one must seek to govern, the
other must submit to be governed.

4. The right to govern, implies the right and duty to dispense just and
necessary rewards and punishments–distribute rewards proportioned to
merit, and penalties proportioned to demerit, whenever the public
interest demands their execution.

5. It implies obligation, on the part of the subject, cheerfully to
acquiesce in any measure that may be necessary to secure the end of
government, and in case of disobedience, to submit to merited
punishment, and also, if necessary, to aid in the infliction of the
penalty of law.

6. It implies obligation, on the part both of the ruler and the ruled,
to be always ready, and when occasion arises, actually to make any
personal and private sacrifice demanded by the higher public good–to
cheerfully meet any emergency, and exercise any degree of self-denial,
that can, and will, result in a good of greater value to the public
than that sacrificed by the individual, or by any number of
individuals, it always being understood, that present voluntary
sacrifices shall have an ultimate reward.

7. It implies the right and duty to employ any degree of force, which
is indispensable to the maintenance of order, the execution of
wholesome laws, the suppression of insurrections, the punishment of
rebels and disorganizers, and sustaining the supremacy of moral law. It
is impossible that the right to govern should not imply this; and to
deny this right, is to deny the right to govern. Should an emergency
occur, in which a ruler had no right to use the indispensable means of
securing order, and the supremacy of law, the moment this emergency
occurred, his right to govern would, and must, cease: for it is
impossible that it should be his right to govern, unless it be at the
same time, and for the same reason, his duty to govern; and it is
absurd to say, that it is his right and duty to govern, and yet at the
same time, that he has not a right to use the indispensable means of
government. If it be asked, whether an emergency like the one under
consideration is possible, and if so what might justly be regarded as
such an emergency, I answer, that should circumstances occur under
which the sacrifice necessary to sustain, would overbalance the good to
be derived from the prevalence of government, this would create the
emergency under consideration, in which the right to govern would

The limits of this right.

The right to govern is, and must be, just co-extensive with the
necessity of government. We have seen, that the right to govern is
founded in the necessities of moral beings. In other words, the right
to govern is founded upon the fact, that the highest good of moral
agents cannot be secured, but by means of government. But to avoid
mistake, and to correct erroneous impressions, which are sometimes
entertained, I must show what is not the foundation of the right to
govern. The boundary of the right must, as will be seen, depend upon
the foundation of the right. The right must be as broad as the reason
for it. If the reason of the right be mistaken, then the limits of the
right cannot be ascertained, and must necessarily be mistaken also.

1. The right to govern the universe cannot be founded in the fact, that
God sustains to it the relation of Creator. This is by itself no reason
why he should govern it, unless it needs to be governed–unless some
good will result from government. Unless there is some necessity for
government, the fact that God created the universe can give him no
right to govern it.

2. The fact that God is owner and sole proprietor of the universe is no
reason why he should govern it. Unless either his own good or the good
of the universe, or of both together, demand government, the relation
of owner cannot confer the right to govern. Neither God, nor any other
being, can own moral beings, in such a sense as to have a right to
govern them, when government is wholly unnecessary, and can result in
no good whatever to God, or to his creatures. Government, in such a
case, would be perfectly arbitrary and unreasonable, and consequently
an unjust, tyrannical and wicked act. God has no such right. No such
right can, by possibility, in any case exist.

3. The right to govern cannot be founded in the fact, that God
possesses all the attributes, natural and moral, that are requisite to
the administration of moral government. This fact is no doubt a
condition of the right; for without these qualifications he could have
no right, however necessary government might be. But the possession of
these attributes cannot confer the right independently of the necessity
of government: for however well qualified he may be to govern, still,
unless government is necessary to securing his own glory and the
highest well-being of the universe, he has no right to govern it.
Possessing the requisite qualifications is the condition, and the
necessity of government is the foundation of the right to govern. More
strictly, the right is founded in the intrinsic value of the interests
to be secured by government, and conditioned upon the fact, that
government is the necessary means of securing the end.

4. Nor is the right to govern conferred by the value of the interests
to be secured, nor by the circumstance of the necessity of government
merely, without respect to the condition just above mentioned. Did not
God’s natural and moral attributes qualify him to sustain that relation
better than any one else, the right could not be conferred on him by
any other fact or relation.

5. The right to govern is not, and cannot be, an abstract right based
on no reason whatever. The idea of this right is not an ultimate idea
in such a sense, that our intelligence affirms the right without
assigning any reason on which it is founded. The human intelligence
cannot say that God has a right to govern, because he has such a right;
and that this is reason enough, and all the reason that can be given.
Our reason does not affirm that government is right because it is
right; and that this is a first truth, and an ultimate idea. If this
were so, then God’s arbitrary will would be law, and no bounds could
possibly be assigned to the right to govern. If God’s right to govern
be a first truth, an ultimate truth, fact, and idea, founded in no
assignable reason, then he has the right to legislate as little, and as
much, and as arbitrarily, as unnecessarily, as absurdly, and
injuriously as possible, and no injustice is, or can be done; for he
has, by the supposition, a right to govern, founded in no reason, and
of course without any limit. Assign any other reason, as the foundation
of the right to govern, than the value of the interests to be secured
and the necessity of government, and you may search in vain for any
limit to the right. But the moment the foundation and the condition of
the right are discovered, we see instantly, that the right must be
co-extensive with the reason upon which it is founded, or in other
words, must be limited by, and only by the fact, that thus far, and no
farther, government is necessary to the highest good of the universe.
No legislation can be valid in heaven or earth–no enactments can
impose obligation, except upon the condition, that such legislation is
demanded by the highest good of the governor and the governed.
Unnecessary legislation is invalid legislation. Unnecessary government
is tyranny. It can, in no case be founded in right. It should, however,
be observed, that it is often, and in the government of God universally
true, that the sovereign, and not the subject, is to be the judge of
what is necessary legislation and government. Under no government,
therefore, are laws to be despised or rejected because we are unable to
see at once their necessity, and hence their wisdom. Unless they are
palpably unnecessary, and therefore unwise and unjust, they are to be
respected and obeyed as a less evil than contempt and disobedience,
though at present we are unable to see their wisdom. Under the
government of God there can never be any doubt nor of course any ground
for distrust and hesitancy as it respects the duty of obedience.


The idea of obligation, or of oughtness, is an idea of the pure reason.
It is a simple, rational conception, and, strictly speaking, does not
admit of a definition, since there are no terms more simple by which it
may be defined. Obligation is a term by which we express a conception
or idea which all men have, as is manifest from the universal language
of men. All men have the ideas of right and wrong, and have words by
which these ideas are expressed, and, perhaps, no idea among men more
frequently reveals itself in words than that of oughtness or
obligation. The term cannot be defined, for the simple reason that it
is too well and too universally understood to need or even to admit of
being expressed in any language more simple and definite than the word
obligation itself.

The conditions of moral obligation.

There is a distinction of fundamental importance between the condition
and the ground of obligation. The ground of obligation is the
consideration which creates or imposes obligation, the fundamental
reason of the obligation. Of this I shall inquire in its proper place.
At present I am to define the conditions of obligation. But I must in
this place observe that there are various forms of obligation. For
example, obligation to choose an ultimate end of life as the highest
good of the universe; obligation to choose the necessary conditions of
this end, as holiness, for example; and obligation to put forth
executive efforts to secure this end. The conditions of obligation vary
with the form of obligation, as we shall fully perceive in the course
of our investigations.

A condition of obligation in any particular form is a sine qua non of
obligation in that particular form. It is that, without which,
obligation in that form could not exist, and yet is not the fundamental
reason of the obligation. For example, the possession of the powers of
moral agency is a condition of the obligation to choose the highest
good of being in general, as an ultimate end, or for its own sake. But
the intrinsic value of this good is the ground of the obligation. This
obligation could not exist without the possession of these powers; but
the possession of these powers cannot of itself create the obligation
to choose the good in preference to the ill of being. The intrinsic
difference between the good and the ill of being is the ground of the
obligation to will the one rather than the other. I will first define
the conditions upon which all obligation depends, and without which
obligation in no form can exist, and afterward proceed to point out the
conditions of distinct forms of obligation.

1. Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The
attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free-will.

(1.) Intellect includes, among other functions which I need not name,
reason, conscience, and self-consciousness. As has been said on a
former occasion, reason is the intuitive faculty or function of the
intellect. It gives by direct intuition the following among other
truths: the absolute–for example, right and wrong; the
necessary–space exists; the infinite–space is infinite; the
perfect–God is perfect–God’s law is perfect, etc. In short, it is the
faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to
act in conformity with perceived moral relations. It is that faculty
that postulates all the   priori truths of science whether
mathematical, philosophical, theological, or logical.

Conscience is the faculty or function of the intellect that recognizes
the conformity or disconformity of the heart and life to the moral law
as it lies revealed in the reason, and also awards praise to
conformity, and blame to disconformity to that law. It also affirms
that conformity to the moral law deserves reward, and that
disconformity deserves punishment. It also possesses a propelling or
impulsive power, by which it urges the conformity, and denounces the
nonconformity of will to moral law. It seems, in a certain sense, to
possess the power of retribution.

Consciousness is the faculty or function of self-knowledge. It is the
faculty that recognizes our own existence, mental actions, and states,
together with the attributes of liberty or necessity, belonging to
those actions or states.

?Consciousness is the mind in the act of knowing itself.? By
consciousness I know that I am–that I affirm that space is,–that I
also affirm that the whole is equal to all its parts–that every event
must have a cause, and many such like truths. I am conscious not only
of these affirmations, but also that necessity is the law of these
affirmations, that I cannot affirm otherwise than I do, in respect to
this class of truths. I am also conscious of choosing to sit at my desk
and write, and I am just as conscious that liberty is the law of this
choice. That is, I am conscious of necessarily regarding myself as
entirely free in this choice, and affirming my own ability to have
chosen not to sit at my desk, and of being now able to choose not to
sit and write. I am just as conscious of affirming the liberty or
necessity of my mental states as I am of the states themselves.
Consciousness gives us our existence and attributes, our mental acts
and states, and all the attributes and phenomena of our being, of which
we have any knowledge. In short, all our knowledge is given to us by
consciousness. The intellect is a receptivity as distinguished from a
voluntary power. All the acts and states of the intellect are under the
law of necessity, or physical law. The will can command the attention
of the intellect. Its thoughts, perceptions, affirmations, and all its
phenomena are involuntary, and under a law of necessity. Of this we are
conscious. Another faculty indispensable to moral agency is–

(2.) Sensibility. This is the faculty or susceptibility of feeling. All
sensation, desire, emotion, passion, pain, pleasure, and, in short,
every kind and degree of feeling, as the term feeling is commonly used,
is a phenomenon of this faculty. This faculty supplies the
chronological condition of the idea of the valuable, and hence of right
and wrong, and of moral obligation. The experience of pleasure or
happiness develops the idea of the valuable, just as the perception of
body develops the idea of space.. But for this faculty the mind could
have no idea of the valuable, and hence of moral obligation to will the
valuable, nor of right and wrong, nor of praise-worthiness and

Self-love is a phenomenon of this department of the mind. It consists
in a constitutional desire of happiness, and implies a corresponding
dread of misery. It is doubtless through, or by, this constitutional
tendency that the rational idea of the intrinsic value of happiness or
enjoyment is at first developed. Animals, doubtless, have enjoyment,
but we have no evidence that they possess the faculty of reason in the
sense in which I have defined the term. Consequently they have not, as
we suppose, the rational conception of the intrinsic worth or value of
enjoyment. They seek enjoyment from a mere impulse of their animal
nature, without, as we suppose, so much as a conception of moral law,
obligation, right or wrong.

But we know that moral agents have these ideas. Self-love is
constitutional. Its gratification is the chronological condition of the
development of the reason’s idea of the intrinsically valuable to
being. This idea develops that of moral law, or in other words, the
affirmation that this intrinsic good ought to be universally chosen and
sought for its own sake.

The sensibility, like the intellect, is a receptivity or purely a
passive, distinguished from a voluntary faculty. All its phenomena are
under the law of necessity. I am conscious that I cannot, by any direct
effort, feel when and as I will. This faculty is so correlated to the
intellect that when the intellect is intensely occupied with certain
considerations, the sensibility is affected in a certain manner, and
certain feelings exist in the sensibility by a law of necessity. I am
conscious that when certain conditions are fulfilled, I necessarily
have certain feelings, and that when these conditions are not
fulfilled, I cannot be the subject of those feelings. I know by
consciousness that my feelings and all the states and phenomena of the
sensibility are only indirectly under the control of my will. By
willing I can direct my intellect to the consideration of certain
subjects, and in this way alone affect my sensibility, and produce a
given state of feeling. So on the other hand, if certain feelings exist
in the sensibility which I wish to suppress, I know that I cannot
annihilate them by directly willing them out of existence, but by
diverting my attention from the cause of them, they cease to exist of
course and of necessity. Thus, feeling is only indirectly under the
control of the will.

(3.) Moral agency implies the possession of free-will. By free-will is
intended the power of choosing, or refusing to choose, in every
instance, in compliance with moral obligation. Free-will implies the
power of originating and deciding our own choices, and of exercising
our own sovereignty, in every instance of choice upon moral
questions–of deciding or choosing in conformity with duty or otherwise
in all cases of moral obligation. That man cannot be under a moral
obligation to perform an absolute impossibility, is a first truth of
reason. But man’s causality, his whole power of causality to perform or
do anything, lies in his will. If he cannot will, he can do nothing.
His whole liberty or freedom must consist in his power to will. His
outward actions and his mental states are connected with the actions of
his will by a law of necessity. If I will to move my muscles, they must
move, unless there be a paralysis of the nerves of voluntary motion, or
unless some resistance be opposed that overcomes the power of my
volitions. The sequences of choice or volition are always under the law
of necessity, and unless the will is free, man has no freedom; and if
he has no freedom he is not a moral agent, that is, he is incapable of
moral action and also of moral character. Free-will then, in the above
defined sense, must be a condition of moral agency, and of course, of
moral obligation.

As consciousness gives the rational affirmation that necessity is an
attribute of the affirmations of the reason, and of the states of
sensibility, so it just as unequivocally gives the reason’s affirmation
that liberty is an attribute of the actions of the will. I am as
conscious of the affirmation that I could will differently from what I
do in every instance of moral obligation, as I am of the affirmation
that I cannot affirm, in regard to truths of intuition, otherwise than
I do. I am as conscious of affirming that I am free in willing, as I am
of affirming that I am not free or voluntary in my feelings and

Consciousness of affirming the freedom of the will, that is, of power
to will in accordance with moral obligation, or to refuse thus to will,
is a necessary condition of the affirmation of obligation. For example,
no man affirms, or can affirm, his obligation to undo all the acts of
his past life, and to live his life over again. He cannot affirm
himself to be under this obligation, simply because he cannot but
affirm the impossibility of it. He cannot but affirm his obligation to
repent and obey God in future, because he is conscious of affirming his
ability to do this. Consciousness of the affirmation of ability to
comply with any requisition, is a necessary condition of the
affirmation of obligation to comply with that requisition. Then no
moral agent can affirm himself to be under obligation to perform an

2. A second condition of moral obligation is light, or so much
knowledge of our moral relations as to develop the idea of oughtness.
This implies–

(1.) The perception or idea of the intrinsically valuable.

(2.) The affirmation of obligation to will the valuable for its own
sake. Before I can affirm my obligation to will, I must perceive
something in that which I am required to will as an ultimate end, that
renders it worthy of being chosen. I must have an object of choice.
That object must possess, in itself, that which commends itself to my
intelligence as worthy of being chosen.

All choice must respect means or ends. That is, everything must be
willed either as an end or a means. I cannot be under obligation to
will the means until I know the end. I cannot know an end, or that
which can possibly be chosen as an ultimate end, until I know that
something is intrinsically valuable. I cannot know that it is right or
wrong to choose or refuse a certain end, until I know whether the
proposed object of choice is intrinsically valuable or not. It is
impossible for me to choose it, as an ultimate end, unless I perceive
it to be intrinsically valuable. This is self-evident; for choosing it
as an end is nothing else than choosing it for its intrinsic value.
Moral obligation, therefore, always and necessarily implies the
knowledge that the well-being of God and of the universe is valuable in
itself, and the affirmation that it ought to be chosen for its own
sake, that is, impartially and on account of its intrinsic value. It is
impossible that the ideas of right and wrong should be developed until
the idea of the valuable is developed. Right and wrong respect
intentions, and strictly nothing else, as we shall see. Intention
implies an end intended. Now that which is chosen as an ultimate end,
is and must be chosen for its own sake or for its intrinsic value.
Until the end is apprehended, no idea or affirmation of obligation can
exist respecting it. Consequently, no idea of right or wrong in respect
to that end can exist. The end must first be perceived. The idea of the
intrinsically valuable must be developed. Simultaneously with the
development of the idea of the valuable the intelligence affirms, and
must affirm, obligation to will it, or, which is, strictly speaking,
the same thing, that it is right to will it, and wrong not to will it.

It is impossible that the idea of moral obligation, or of right and
wrong, should be developed upon any other conditions than those just
specified. Suppose, for instance, it should be said that the idea of
the intrinsically valuable is not necessary to the development of the
idea of moral obligation, and of right and wrong. Let us look at it. It
is agreed that moral obligation, and the ideas of right and wrong
respect, directly, intentions only. It is also admitted that all
intentions must respect either means or ends. It is also admitted that
obligation to will means, cannot exist until the end is known. It is
also admitted that the choice of an ultimate end implies the choice of
a thing for its own sake, or because it is intrinsically valuable. Now,
from these admissions, it follows that the idea of the intrinsically
valuable is the condition of moral obligation, and also of the idea of
moral obligation. It must follow also that the idea of the valuable
must be the condition of the idea that it would be right to choose, or
wrong not to choose, the valuable. It is, then, nonsense to affirm that
the ideas of right and wrong are developed antecedently to the idea of
the valuable. It is the same as to say that I affirm it to be right to
will an end, before I have the idea of an end; or wrong not to will an
end when as yet I have no idea or knowledge of any reason why it should
be willed, or, in other words, while I have no idea of an ultimate end.

Let it be distinctly understood then, that the conditions of moral
obligation, in the universal form of obligation to will the highest
well-being of God and of the universe, for its own sake, are the
possession of the powers, or faculties, and susceptibilities of a moral
agent, and light or the development of the ideas of the valuable, of
moral obligation, of right and wrong.

I have defined the conditions of obligation in its universal form, i.
e. obligation to be benevolent, to love God and our neighbor, or to
will the universal good of being for its intrinsic value. Obligation in
this form is universal and always a unit, and has always the same
conditions. But there are myriads of specific forms of obligation which
relate to the conditions and means of securing this ultimate end. We
shall have occasion hereafter fully to show that obligation respects
three classes of the will’s actions, viz. the choice of an ultimate
end–the choice of the conditions and means of securing that end–and
executive volitions or efforts put forth to secure the end. I have
already shown that moral agency, with all that is implied in it, has
the universal conditions of obligation to choose the highest good of
being, as an ultimate end. This must be self-evident.

Obligation to choose the conditions of this end, the holiness of God
and of all moral agents, for example, must be conditioned upon the
perception that these are the conditions. In other words, the
perception of the relation of these means to the end must be a
condition of the obligation to will their existence. The perception of
the relation is not the ground but simply the condition of obligation
in this form. The relation of holiness to happiness as a condition of
its existence, could not impose obligation to will the existence of
holiness without reference to the intrinsic value of happiness, as the
fundamental reason for willing it as a necessary condition and means.
The ground of the obligation to will the existence of holiness, as a
means of happiness, is the intrinsic value of happiness, but the
perceived relation of holiness to happiness is a condition of the
obligation. But for this perceived relation the obligation could not
exist, yet the perceived relation could not create the obligation.
Suppose that holiness is the means of happiness, yet no obligation to
will holiness on account of this relation could exist but for the
intrinsic value of happiness.

Conditions of obligation to put forth executive acts.

Having now defined the conditions of obligation in its universal form,
and also in the form of obligation to choose the existence of holiness
as a necessary means of happiness, I now proceed to point out the
conditions of obligation to put forth executive volitions or efforts to
secure holiness, and secure the highest good of being. Our busy lives
are made up in efforts to secure some ultimate end, upon which the
heart is set. The sense in which obligation extends to these executive
volitions or acts I shall soon consider; at present I am concerned only
to define the conditions of these forms of obligation. These forms of
obligation, be it understood, respect volitions and consequent outward
acts. Volitions, designed as executive acts, always suppose an existing
choice of the end designed to be secured by them. Obligation to put
forth executive efforts to secure an end must be conditioned upon the
possibility, supposed necessity, and utility of such efforts. If the
end chosen does not need to be promoted by any efforts of ours, or if
such efforts are impossible to us, or if they are seen to be of no use,
there can be no obligation to make them.

It is important, however, to observe that the utility of ultimate
choice, or the choice of an object for its own sake, is not a condition
of obligation in that form. Ultimate choice, or the choice of an object
for its own sake, or for its intrinsic value, is not an effort designed
to secure or obtain that object; that is, is not put forth with any
such design. When the object which the mind perceives to be
intrinsically valuable (as the good of being, for example), is
perceived by the mind, it cannot but choose or refuse it. Indifference
in this case is naturally impossible. The mind, in such circumstances,
is under a necessity of choosing one way or the other. The will must
embrace or reject it. The reason affirms the obligation to choose the
intrinsically valuable for its own sake, and not because choosing it
will secure it. Nor does the real choice of it imply a purpose or an
obligation to put forth executive acts to secure it, except upon
condition that such acts are seen to be necessary, and possible, and
calculated to secure it.

Ultimate choice is not put forth with design to secure its object. It
is only the will’s embracing the object or willing it for its own sake.
In regard to ultimate choice the will must choose or refuse the object
entirely irrespectively of the tendency of the choice to secure the
object. Assuming this necessity, the reason affirms that it is right,
fit, suitable, or, which is the same thing, that the will ought, or is
under obligation to choose, the good or valuable, and not refuse it,
because of its intrinsic nature, and without regard to whether the
choosing will secure the object chosen.

But executive acts, be it remembered, are, and must be put forth with
design to secure their object, and of course, cannot exist unless the
design exist, and the design cannot exist unless the mind assumes the
possibility, necessity, and utility of such efforts.



Man is a subject of moral obligation.

That man has intellect and sensibility, or the powers of knowing and
feeling, has not, to my knowledge, been doubted. In theory, the freedom
of the will in man has been denied. Yet the very deniers, have, in
their practical judgment, assumed the freedom of the human will, as
well, and as fully as the most staunch defenders of human liberty of
will. Indeed, nobody ever did or can, in practice, call in question the
freedom of the human will, without justly incurring the charge of
insanity. By a necessity of his nature, every moral agent knows himself
to be free. He can no more hide this fact from himself, or reason
himself out of the conviction of its truth, than he can speculate
himself into a disbelief of his own existence. He may, in speculation,
deny either, but in fact he knows both. That he is, that he is free,
are truths equally well known, and known precisely in the same way,
namely, he intuits them–sees them in their own light, by virtue of the
constitution of his being. I have said that man is conscious of
possessing the powers of a moral agent. He has also the idea of the
valuable, of right and of wrong; of this he is conscious. But nothing
else is necessary to constitute man or any other being a subject of
moral obligation, and the possession of these powers, together with
sufficient light on moral subjects to develop the ideas just mentioned.

Man, by a law of necessity, affirms himself to be under moral
obligation. He cannot doubt it. He affirms absolutely and necessarily,
that he is praise-worthy or blame-worthy as he is benevolent or
selfish. Every man assumes this of himself, and of all other men of
sound mind. This assumption is irresistible, as well as universal.

The truth assumed then is not to be called in question. But if it be
called in question in theory, it still remains, and must remain, while
reason remains, a truth of certain knowledge, from the presence of
which there is, and can be no escape. The spontaneous, universal, and
irresistible affirmation that men of sound mind are praise-worthy or
blame-worthy, as they are selfish or benevolent, shows beyond
contradiction, that all men regard themselves, and others, as the
subjects of moral obligation.

Extent of moral obligation.

By this is intended, to what acts and states of mind does moral
obligation extend? This certainly is a solemn and a fundamentally
important question. In the examination of this question, let us inquire
first, to what acts and states of mind moral obligation cannot directly

1. Not to external or muscular action. These actions are connected with
the actions of the will, by a law of necessity. If I will to move my
muscles, they must move, unless the nerves of voluntary motion are
paralyzed, or some resistance is offered to muscular motion, that
overpowers the strength of my will, or, if you please, of my muscles.
It is generally understood and agreed that moral obligation does not
directly extend to bodily or outward action.

2. Not to the states of the sensibility. I have already remarked that
we are conscious, that our feelings are not voluntary, but involuntary
states of mind. Moral obligation cannot, therefore, directly extend to

3. Not to states of the intellect. The phenomena of this faculty, we
also know by consciousness, to be under the law of necessity. It is
impossible that moral obligation should extend directly to any
involuntary act or state of mind.

4. Not to unintelligent acts of will. There are many unintelligent
volitions, or acts of will, to which moral obligation cannot extend,
for example, the volitions of maniacs, or of infants, before the reason
is at all developed. They must at birth, be the subjects of volition,
as they have motion or muscular action. The volitions of somnambulists
are also of this character. Purely instinctive volitions must also come
under the category of unintelligent actions of will. For example: a bee
lights on my hand, I instantly and instinctively shake him off. I tread
on a hot iron, and instinctively move my foot. Indeed there are many
actions of will which are put forth under the influence of pure
instinct, and before the intellect can affirm obligation to will or not
to will. These surely cannot have moral character, and of course moral
obligation cannot extend to them.

We inquire in the second place, to what acts and states of mind moral
obligation must directly extend.

1. To ultimate acts of will. These are and must be free. Intelligent
acts of will, as has been before observed, are of three classes. First,
the choice of some object for its own sake, i. e., because of its own
nature, or for reasons found exclusively in itself, as, for example,
the happiness of being. These are called ultimate choices, or
intentions. Second, the choice of the conditions and means of securing
the object of ultimate choice, as for example, holiness, as the
conditions or means of happiness. Third, volitions, or executive
efforts to secure the object of ultimate choice. Obligation must extend
to these three classes of the actions of the will. In the most strict
and proper sense it may be said, that obligation extends directly only
to the ultimate intention.

The choice of an end necessitates the choice of the known conditions
and means of securing this end. I am free to relinquish, at any moment,
my choice of an end, but while I persevere in the choice, or ultimate
intention, I am not free to refuse the known necessary conditions and
means. If I reject the known conditions and means, I, in this act,
relinquish the choice of the end. The desire of the end may remain, but
the actual choice of it cannot, when the will knowingly rejects the
known necessary conditions and means. In this case, the will prefers to
let go the end, rather than to choose and use the necessary conditions
and means. In the strictest sense the choice of known conditions and
means, together with executive volitions, is implied in the ultimate
intention or in the choice of an end.

When the good or valuable per se, is perceived by a moral agent, he
instantly and necessarily, and without condition, affirms his
obligation to choose it. This affirmation is direct and universal,
absolute, or without condition. Whether he will affirm himself to be
under obligation to put forth efforts to secure the good, must depend
upon his regarding such acts as necessary, possible, and useful. The
obligation, therefore, to put forth ultimate choice, is in the
strictest sense direct, absolute and universal.

Obligation to choose holiness, (as the holiness of God,) as the means
of happiness, is indirect in the sense that it is conditioned, first,
upon the obligation to choose happiness as a good per se; and, second,
upon the knowledge that holiness is the necessary means of happiness.

Obligation to put forth executive volitions is also indirect in the
sense that it is conditioned; first, upon obligation to choose an
object as an end; and, second, upon the necessity, possibility, and
utility of such acts.

It should here be observed, that obligation to choose an object for its
own sake, implies, of course, obligation to reject its opposite; and
obligation to choose the conditions of an intrinsically valuable object
for its own sake, implies obligation to reject the conditions or means
of the opposite of this object. Also, obligation to use means to secure
an intrinsically valuable object, implies obligation to use means, if
necessary and possible, to prevent the opposite of this end. For
example: Obligation to will happiness, for its intrinsic value, implies
obligation to reject misery, as an intrinsic evil. Obligation to will
the conditions of the happiness of being, implies obligation to reject
the conditions of misery. Obligation to use means to promote the
happiness of being, implies obligation to use means, if necessary and
practicable, to prevent the misery of being.

Again, the choice of any object, either as an end, or a means, implies
the refusal of its opposite. In other words, choice implies preference,
refusing is properly only choice in an opposite direction. For this
reason, in speaking of the actions of the will, it has been common to
omit the mention of pilling, or refusing, since such acts are properly
included in the categories of choices and volitions. It should also be
observed that choice, or willing, necessarily implies an object chosen,
and that this object should be such that the mind can regard it as
being either intrinsically, or relatively valuable, or important. As
choice must consist in an act, an intelligent act, the mind must have
reason for choice. It cannot choose without a reason, for this is the
same as to choose without an object of choice. A mere abstraction
without any perceived or assumed, intrinsic, or relative importance, to
any being in existence, cannot be an object of choice, either ultimate
or executive. The ultimate reason which the mind has for choosing is in
fact the object of choice; and where there is no reason there is no
object of choice.

2. I have said, that moral obligation respects in the strictest sense
and directly the intention only. I am now prepared to say still
further, that this is a first truth of reason. It is a truth
universally and necessarily assumed by all moral agents, their
speculations to the contrary, in any wise, notwithstanding. This is
evident from the following considerations:

(1.) Very young children know and assume this truth universally. They
always deem it a sufficient vindication of themselves, when accused of
any delinquency to say, ?I did not mean to,? or if accused of short
coming, to say, ?I meant or intended to have done it–I designed it.?
This, if true, they assume to be an all-sufficient vindication of
themselves. They know that this, if believed, must be regarded as a
sufficient excuse to justify them in every case.

(2.) Every moral agent necessarily regards such an excuse as a perfect
justification, in case it be sincerely and truly made.

(3.) It is a saying as common as men are, and as true as common, that
men are to be judged by their motives, that is, by their designs,
intentions. It is impossible for us not to assent to this truth. If a
man intend evil, though, perchance, he may do us good, we do not excuse
him, but hold him guilty of the crime which he intended. So if he
intend to do us good, and, perchance, do us evil, we do not, and cannot
condemn him. For this intention and endeavor to do us good, we cannot
blame him, although it has resulted in evil to us. He may be to blame
for other things connected with the affair. He may have come to our
help too late, and have been to blame for not coming when a different
result would have followed; or he may have been blamable for not being
better qualified for doing us good. He may have been to blame for many
things connected with the transaction, but for a sincere, and of course
hearty endeavor to do us good, he is not culpable, nor can he be,
however it may result. If he honestly intended to do us good, it is
impossible that he should not have used the best means in his power, at
the time. This is implied in honesty of intention. And if he did this,
reason cannot pronounce him guilty, for it must judge him by his

(4.) Courts of criminal law have always in every enlightened country
assumed this as a first truth. They always inquire into the quo animo,
that is, the intention, and judge accordingly.

(5.) The universally acknowledged truth that lunatics are not moral
agents and responsible for their conduct, is but an illustration of the
fact that the truth we are considering is regarded, and assumed, as a
first truth of reason.

(6.) The Bible everywhere either expressly or impliedly recognizes this
truth. ?If there be a willing mind,? that is, a right willing or
intention, ?it is accepted,? etc. Again, ?All the law is fulfilled in
one word,? ?love.? Now this cannot be true, if the spirit of the whole
law does not directly respect intentions only. If it extends directly
to thoughts, emotions, and outward actions, it cannot be truly said
that love is the fulfilling of the law. This love must be good will,
for how could involuntary love be obligatory? The spirit of the Bible
everywhere respects the intention. If the intention is right, or if
there be a willing mind, it is accepted as obedience. But if there be
not a willing mind, that is, right intention, no outward act is
regarded as obedience. The willing is always regarded by the scriptures
as the doing. ?If a man look on a woman, to lust after her,? that is,
with licentious intention, or willing, ?he hath committed adultery with
her already,? etc. So on the other hand, if one intends to perform a
service for God, which, after all, he is unable to perform, he is
regarded as having virtually done it, and is rewarded accordingly. This
is too obviously the doctrine of the Bible to need further elucidation.

3. We have seen that the choice of an end implies, and, while the
choice continues, necessitates the choice of the known conditions and
means of the end, and also the putting forth of volition to secure the
end. If this is true, it follows that the choice of the conditions and
means of securing an end, and also the volitions put forth as executive
efforts to secure it, must derive their character from the ultimate
choice or intention which gives them existence. This shows that moral
obligation extends, primarily and directly, only to the ultimate
intention or choice of an end, though really, but less directly, to the
choice of the conditions and means, and also to executive volitions.

But I must distinguish more clearly between ultimate and proximate
intentions, which discrimination will show, that in the most strict and
proper sense, obligation belongs to the former, and only in a less
strict and proper sense, to the latter.

An ultimate end, be it remembered, is an object chosen for its own

A proximate end is an object chosen as a condition or means of securing
an ultimate end.

An ultimate end is an object chosen because of its intrinsic nature and

A proximate end is an object chosen for the sake of the end, and upon
condition of its relation as a condition or means of the end.

Example:–A student labors to get wages, to purchase books, to obtain
an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls, and to please God.
Another labors to get wages, to purchase books, to get an education, to
preach the gospel, to secure a salary, and his own ease and popularity.
In the first supposition he loves God and souls, and seeks, as his
ultimate end, the happiness of souls, and the glory and gratification
of God. In the last case supposed, he loves himself supremely, and his
ultimate end is his own gratification. Now the proximate ends, or
immediate objects of pursuit, in these two cases, are precisely alike,
while their ultimate ends are entirely opposite. Their first, or
nearest, end is to get wages. Their next end is, to obtain books; and
so we follow them, until we ascertain their ultimate end, before we
learn the moral character of what they are doing. The means they are
using, i. e. their immediate objects or proximate ends of pursuit, are
the same, but the ultimate ends at which they aim are entirely
different, and every moral agent, from a necessary law of his
intellect, must, as soon as he understands the ultimate end of each,
pronounce the one virtuous, and the other sinful, in his pursuits. One
is selfish and the other benevolent. From this illustration it is
plain, that strictly speaking, moral character, and, of course, moral
obligation, respect directly the ultimate intention only. We shall see,
in the proper place, that obligation also extends, but less directly,
to the use of means to obtain the end.

Our next inquiry is, to what acts and mental states moral obligation
indirectly extends.

1. The muscles of the body are, directly, under the control of the
will. I will to move, and my muscles must move, unless there be
interposed some physical obstruction of sufficient magnitude to
overcome the strength of my will.

2. The intellect is also directly under the control of the will. I am
conscious that I can control and direct my attention as I please, and
think upon one subject or another.

3. The sensibility, I am conscious, is only indirectly controlled by
the will. Feeling can be produced only by directing the attention and
thoughts to those subjects that excite feeling, by a law of necessity.

The way is now prepared to say–

1. That obligation extends indirectly to all intelligent acts of will,
in the sense already explained.

2. That moral obligation extends indirectly, to outward or bodily
actions. These are often required, in the word of God. The reason is,
that, being connected with the actions of the will, by a law of
necessity, if the will is right, the outward action must follow, except
upon the contingencies just named; and therefore such actions may
reasonably be required. But if the contingencies just named intervene,
so that outward action does not follow the choice or intention, the
Bible accepts the will for the deed, invariably. ?If there be a willing
mind, it is accepted according,? etc.

3. Moral obligation extends, but less directly, to the states of the
sensibility, so that certain emotions or feelings are required as
outward actions are, and for the same reason, namely, the states of the
sensibility are connected with the actions of the will, by a law of
necessity. But when the sensibility is exhausted, or when, for any
reason, the right action of the will does not produce the required
feelings, it is accepted upon the principle just named.

4. Moral obligation indirectly extends also to the states of the
intellect; consequently the Bible, to a certain extent, and in a
certain sense, holds men responsible for their thoughts and opinions.
It everywhere assumes that if the heart be constantly right, the
thoughts and opinions will correspond with the state of the heart, or
will; ?If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine whether
it be of God.? ?If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of
light.? It is, however manifest, that the word of God everywhere
assumes that, strictly speaking, all virtue and vice belong to the
heart or intention. Where this is right, all is regarded as right; and
where this is wrong, all is regarded as wrong. It is upon this
assumption that the doctrine of total depravity rests. It is undeniable
that the veriest sinners do many things outwardly which the law of God
requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts,
they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is
found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful
notwithstanding their conformity to the letter of the law of God.

The fact is, that moral agents are so constituted that it is impossible
for them not to judge themselves, and others, by their subjective
motives or intentions. They cannot but assume it as a first truth, that
a man’s character is as his intention is, and consequently, that moral
obligation respects, directly, intention only.

5. Moral obligation then indirectly extends to everything about us,
over which the will has direct or indirect control. The moral law,
while, strictly, it legislates over intention only, yet in fact, in a
sense less direct, legislates over the whole being, inasmuch as all our
powers are directly or indirectly connected with intention, by a law of
necessity. Strictly speaking, however, moral character belongs alone to
the intention. In strict propriety of speech, it cannot be said that
either outward action, or any state of the intellect, or sensibility,
has a moral element or quality belonging to it. Yet in common language,
which is sufficiently accurate for most practical purposes, we speak of
thought, feeling, and outward action as holy or unholy. By this,
however, all men really mean, that the agent is holy or unholy, is
praise-worthy or blame-worthy in his exercises and actions, because
they regard them as proceeding from the state or attitude of the will.

On this day...

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