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c Hence it follows that the obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen. That this and nothing else is the rule or standard by which the obligation, and consequently the guilt of violating it is to be measured, will appear if we consider,
a That the obligation can not be measured by the infinity of God, apart from the knowledge of the infinite value of His interests. He is an infinite being, and His well-being must be of intrinsic and of infinite value. But unless this be known to a moral agent, he can not be under obligation to will it as an ultimate end. If he knows it to be of some value he is bound to choose it for that reason. But the measure of his obligation must be just equal to the clearness of his apprehension of its intrinsic value.
Besides if the infinity of God were alone or without reference to the knowledge of the agent the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow that obligation is in all cases the same, and of course that the guilt of disobedience would also in all cases be the same. But this, as has been said, contradicts both reason and revelation. Thus it appears that moral obligation, and of course guilt, can not be measured by the infinity of God without reference to the knowledge of the agent.
b It can not be measured by the infinity of His authority without reference to the knowledge of the agent for the same reasons as above.
c It can not be measured by the infinity of his moral excellence without reference both to the infinite value of his interests and of the knowledge of the agent; for his interests are to be chosen as an end or for their own value, and without knowledge of their value, there can be no obligation; nor can obligation exceed knowledge.
d If, again, the infinite excellence of God were alone or without reference to the knowledge of the agent to be the rule by which moral obligation is to be measured, it would follow that guilt in all cases of disobedience, is and must be equal. This we have seen can not be.
e It can not be measured by the intrinsic value of the gooc or well being of God and the universe without reference to the knowledge of the agent, for the same reason as above.
f It can not be measured by the particular course of life pursued by the agent. That the guilt of sin can not be meas ured by the particular course of life pursued, will appear, i
we consider that moral obligation has directly nothing to do with the outward life. It respects the ultimate intention only and that decides the course of outward action or life. The guilt of any outward action can not be decided by reference to the kind of action without regard to the intention, for the moral character of the act must be found in the intention, and not in the outward act or life. This leads me,
To remark that the degree of moral obligation, and of course the degree of the guilt of disobedience can not be properly estimated by reference to the nature of the inten tion without respect to the degree of the knowledge of the agent. Selfish intention is, as we have seen, a unit, always the same; and if this were the standard by which the degree of guilt is to be measured, it would follow that it is always the same.
h Nor can obligation, nor of course guilt, be measured by the tendency of sin. All sin tends to infinite evil, to ruin the sinner, and from its contagious nature, to spread and ruin the universe. Nor can any finite mind know what the ultimate results of any sin may be, nor to what particular evil it may tend. As all sin tends to universal and eternal evil, if this were the criterion by which the guilt is to be estimated, all sin would be equally guilty, which can not be.
Again: That the guilt of sin can not be measured by the tendency of sin is manifest from the fact that moral obligation is not founded in the tendency of action or intention, but in the intrinsic value of the end to be intended. Estimating moral obligation or measuring sin or holiness by tendency, is in accordance with the utilitarian philosophy which we have seen to be false. Moral obligation respects the choice of an end, and is founded upon the intrinsic value of the end, and is not so much as conditionated upon the tendency of the choice to secure its end. Therefore tendency can never be the rule by which obligation can be measured, nor, of course, the rule by which guilt can be estimated.
i Nor can moral obligation be estimated by the results of a moral action or course of action. Moral obligation respects intention and respects results no farther than they were intended. Much good may result, as in the death of Christ, without any virtue but with much guilt. So, much evil may result as in the creation of the world, without guilt, but with great virtue. If moral obligation is not founded or conditionated on results, it follows that guilt can not be duly estimated by results without reference to knowledge and intention.
j What has been said has, I trust, rendered it evident that. moral obligation is to be measured by the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the intrinsic value of the end to be chosen and which is rejected, to wit, the highest well-being of God and the universe.
It should be distinctly understood that selfishness implies the rejection of the interests of God and of the universe for the sake of one's own. It refuses to will good but upon condition that it belongs to self. It spurns God's interests and those of the universe, and seeks only self-interest as an ultimate end. It must follow that the selfish man's guilt is just equal to his knowledge of the intrinsic value of those interests that he rejects. This is undeniably the doctrine of the bible. I will introduce a few paragraphs from one of my reported sermons upon this subject.
1. The scriptures assume and affirm it.
Acts 17: 30 affords a plain instance. The apostle alludes to those past ages when the heathen nations had no written revelation from God, and remarks that "those times of ignorance God winked at." This does not mean that God connived at their sin because of their darkness, but it does mean that he passed over it with comparatively slight notice, regarding it as a sin of far less aggravation than that which men would now commit if they turned away when God commanded them all to repent. True, sin is never absolutely a light thing; but comparatively, some sins incur small guilt when compared with the great guilt of other sins. This is implied in our
I next cite James 4: 17. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." This plainly implies that knowledge is indispensable to moral obligation; and even more than this is implied, namely, that the guilt of any sinner is always equal to the amount of his knowledge on the subject. It always corresponds to the mind's perception of the value of the end which should have been chosen, but is rejected. If a man knows he ought in any given case to do good, and yet does not do it, to him this is sin-the sin plainly lying in the fact of not doing good when he knew he could do it, and being measured as to its guilt by the degree of that knowledge.
John 9: 41-"Jesus said unto them, if ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, we see; therefore your sin remaineth." Here Christ asserts that men without knowledge would be without sin: and that men who have knowledge, and sin notwithstanding, are held guilty. This plainly affirms 30
that the presence of light or knowledge is requisite to the existence of sin, and obviously implies that the amount of knowledge possessed is the measure of the guilt of sin.
It is remarkable that the Bible everywhere assumes first truths. It does not stop to prove them, or even assert them— it always assumes their truth, and seems to assume that every one knows and will admit them. As I have been recently writing on moral government and studying the Bible as to its teachings on this class of subjects, I have been often struck with this remarkable fact.
John 15: 22-24 "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth me, hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father." ." Christ holds the same doctrine here as in the last passage cited; light essential to constitute sin, and the degree of light, constituting the measure of its aggravation.
Let it be observed, however, that Christ probably did not mean to affirm in the absolute sense that if he had not come, the Jews would have had no sin; for they would have had some light if He had not come. He speaks, as I suppose, comparatively. Their sin if He had not come would have been so much less as to justify his strong language.
Luke, 12: 47, 48-" And that servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."
Here we have the doctrine laid down and the truth assumed that men shall be punished according to knowledge. To whom much light is given, of him shall much obedience be required. This is precisely the principle, that God requires of men according to the light they have.
1 Tim. 1: 13-"Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." Paul had done things in form as bad as well they could be; yet his guilt was far less because he did them under the darkness of unbelief; hence he obtained mercy, when otherwise, he might not. The plain assumption is that his ignorance abated from the malignity of his sin and favored his obtaining mercy.
In another passage, (Acts 26: 9) Paul says of himself— "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." This had every thing to do with the degree of his guilt in rejecting the Messiah, and also with his obtaining pardon.
Luke, 23: 34-"Then said Jesus, Father forgive them: for they know not what they do." This passage presents to us the suffering Jesus, surrounded with Roman soldiers and malicious scribes and priests yet pouring out his prayer for them, and making the only plea in their behalf which could be made" for they know not what they do." This does not imply that they had no guilt, for if this were true they would not have needed forgiveness; but it did imply that their guilt was greatly palliated by their ignorance. If they had known him to be the Messiah, their guilt might have been unpardonable.
Matt. 11: 20-24-" Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin!-woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee." But why does Christ thus upbraid these cities? Why denounce so fearful a woe on Chorazin and Capernaum? Because most of his mighty works had been wrought there. His oft-repeated miracles which proved him to be the Messiah had been wrought before their eyes. Among them he had taught daily, and in their synagogues every Sabbath day. They had great light-hence their great -their unsurpassed guilt. Not even the men of Sodom had guilt to compare with theirs. The city most exalted, even as it were to heaven, must be brought down to the deepest hell. Guilt and punishment, evermore, according to light enjoyed, but resisted.
Luke 11: 47-51-"Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. There