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God and the true welfare of ourselves and others may be promoted. See now how plain and obvious the difference between these emotions and desires, and those which are in themselves sinful; and how differently they are treated in the sacred Scriptures. Does the word of God require that we should take care to regulate our ill-will, envy and revenge towards our fellowmen, and our enmity against our Maker ?—that we should keep them within proper bounds, and direct them to a proper end ? Why, they have no proper bounds. There is no proper end at which we can aim in their exercise. In their own nature they are contrary to the divine law. They are disobedience. And where does the law undertake to regulate disobedience, and keep it within proper bounds? Instead of this, it forbids it wholly. It forbids us to have the commencement of it in our hearts. It condemns us for the first and feeblest emotion which is contrary tu holiness, though never developed in action, and even though conscience should not at the time be so wakeful as to notice its turpitude.
Inquirer refers to a child who has inherited from his parents a strong appetite for intoxicating drinks, but has checked and refused to indulge it; and he asks, whether that child is guilty of intemperance. I answer, No. The mere bodily appetite is not intemperance. In itself it has nothing of a moral nature, any more than the extreme thirst of a man for water. We are sure of this from our own consciousness. Speculative reasoning has nothing to do with it. All that the law requires of him who inherits such an appetite is, that he should refuse to gratify it, and in every proper way strive to subdue it. If he loves God he will readily do this. And if he does this, we give him special credit for his temperance. We honor him more than if he had never been subject to such an appetite, and had never practised self-denial in refraining from indulging it. This is all plain ; and what Inquirer says respecting it is obviously just.
But we cannot but notice the essential difference between such a bodily appetite and those dispositions and affections of the soul, which are in their own nature morally wrong, and which cannot for a moment exist without sin. To have a malevolent, envious, or revengeful feeling in the heart, is to be a transgressor. Merely having the emotion shows a man to be depraved and guilty. Jesus never had such an emotion. He never had the least degree, not even the beginning of the feel
ing of ill-will, pride, envy or revenge. In his pure heart no emotion or desire contrary to holiness was ever found, no, not for a moment. Of this I am certain.
We come now to the case of a reformed debauchee. The supposition of Inquirer is, that although the reformed man is now a true Christian, he is “ often and violently assailed with desires and passions like those of former days," i. e. impure desires, desires after forbidden pleasures; but that he steadily opposes them. The question is, how we are to regard such a man in his present state. Let the man himself answer this. He regards the impure passions and desires referred to, as the sin that dwelleth in him. He confesses them to God and mourns over them as such. He says within himself: How bad must be the tree which bears such fruit! How evil the heart from which proceed such vile and hateful passions and desires! In short, does he not really look upon himself as the subject of an inward defilement, a spiritual evil, in proportion to the frequency and violence with which he is assaulted by the passions and desires of his former wicked life? And when he resists them, does he not do it with the full conviction that they are morally wrong, and wholly without excuse in the sight of God? But if, through the strength of religious principle, and the help of divine grace, he overcomes and eradicates these evil passions and desires, we regard it as a great and virtuous achievement. We honor him for resisting and subduing, not what is innocent, but what is sinful.
The principle which I have endeavored to support, is evidently true in regard to holy affections and desires. Love to God and desire for his glory show the heart to be sanctified in proportion as they arise spontaneously and fervently in view of the object. When our moral state is right, nothing is necessary to excite love to God but the sight of his character. As soon as we see what he is we love him. The affection is awakened immediately when the object is presented before the mind, whether it is presented in consequence of a previous act of the will or not. So it was with Jesus. No reasoning, no persuasion, no antecedent act or effort of his will was necessary to elicit his love. As soon as he thought of his Father, he loved him, and desired his glory. The affection was always joined with the thought. If it is not so with us, if, when we turn our thoughts to God, our hearts slumber, or if earthly affections lodge within us, and if we find voluntary exertion and labor ne
cessary to dislodge those earthly affections, and to prepare ourselves to love God, it is a certain proof that the law of sin is still warring against the law of holiness, and that the work of sanctification is very incomplete.
It will, I hope, be kept steadily in mind, that the main point now under consideration is a matter of experience and direct consciousness, and not of speculative argument.
Some writers, who admit that an act of the will has no direct control over the affections, still hold that, as it is by an act of the will that we bring before our minds those objects which excite the affections, it is this previous voluntary act which gives the character of morality to the affections. The reason why they hold this opinion is, that they have already adopted the principle, that voluntary acts, and those only, are morally good or evil. In my view, this principle, as at present understood, is far too narrow, and overlooks truths of essential importance. But I shall not enter on the consideration of the subject here, except in the way of appeal to plain common sense.
According to the opinion above stated, if by an act of our will we put ourselves in a situation where divine and spiritual objects will be presented before us, and if. we do it for the purpose of awakening pious affections in our minds, those affections, when thus awakened, are holy and praiseworthy; and are so, because we voluntarily put ourselves in such a situation. And if, by an act of the will, we knowingly put ourselves in a situation, where objects will come before us which will excite wrong affections, we are then blameworthy for those affections; and we are so, merely because we voluntarily came into such a situation.
Now I acknowledge that the previous act of the will above mentioned, and the affections which followed, are, in the first case, good and praiseworthy, and, in the second case, blameworthy. But that the affections are right or wrong, and that we are worthy of praise or blame on account of them merely because we voluntarily placed ourselves in such a situation, this I do not admit. For suppose that, without any previous arrangement or choice of mine, a good man comes and presents before me some striking view of the glorious character of God, which instantly excites reverence and love in my heart. Or suppose such a view of God is unexpectedly suggested to my mind by some event of divine providence, over which I have no control; and in consequence of it, I have at once the
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affection of reverence and love. Must I regard this affection as destitute of piety and goodness, because I exercise it in such circumstances ? Do these circumstances deprive me of moral agency ? Or suppose without any intention of mine, I am brought into a situation where objects are presented before me, which suddenly excite the feeling of ill-will, envy, or revenge. Is such a feeling innocent, and am I blameless for exercising it because I exercise it in such a way ? Do I cease to be a moral agent? Is it not evident that the affection is of the same nature, and that it indicates the same character of mind, whether it is exercised in consequence of a previous act of the will, or otherwise ? What difference can it make in the judgment we pass upon benevolence or ill-will, love to God, or enmity against him, whether the object which elicits it comes before the mind in one way or another? Is not the object the same? Is not the affection the same? And are not we the same moral, accountable beings?
Take another case. An irreligious, wicked man knows by experience, that the truths of the gospel stir up within him strong dislike and opposition of heart. He therefore wishes to avoid every person and every situation that will be likely to bring these truths before him. But unexpectedly and contrary to his will, a Christian goes to him, and in the kindest manner presents some precious gospel truths before him, in view of which his heart at once kindles into violent hatred and wrath. Do you think his feelings cease to be sinful, because the object exciting them was brought before his mind without his intention, and contrary to his choice ?
See what a fearful influence the theory I am opposing would have upon the divine law. Doubtless the moral law primarily and essentially requires that, and that only, which is of a moral nature. Now, according to the theory under review, the first and great command, instead of requiring love itself, requires that previous act of the will, by which we put ourselves in a situation where the object of love shall be presented before us. And our putting forth this previous act would constitute obedience, whether the affection followed or not. On the other hand, if we should really love God when his character is brought to our view unexpectedly and without our previous design, the affection, however pure and elevated, but not resulting from a previous act of the will, would lose its moral nature, and would not be obedience to the first and great command; although, after all, it is the very thing which the law requires. The same as to the command, “ Thou shalt not covet.” If we really covet our neighbor's house or wife, we are not transgressors, unless we had a previous voluntary agency in bringing the object before us. How often soever and how strongly soever we may covet, we are not blameworthy, if the exciting object is presented to our view without our choice. Now who of us has any right to take such liberty as this with the law of God, and to say, that it is not obeyed by that very affection which it requires, and is not disobeyed by that very affection which it forbids ? Who of us would willingly be responsible for the consequences of such a theory?
As I understand the subject, if a man spontaneously puts forth either good or bad affections in view of objects brought before him without his previous design, this very circumstance does, in some respects, exhibit the goodness or badness of his character with peculiar clearness. If a man's heart is such that, whenever moral objects are brought before him, whether by his own voluntary act or not, he is at once filled with right affections and desires, we attribute to him the character of singular excellence. We say, he has an eminently good heart. And if, whenever moral objects are brought before another man, even against his intention, his heart instantly kindles into bad emotions and desires, we say, his character is stamped with uncommon depravity. In this we cannot be mistaken. Fruit growing thus spontaneously makes it very plain what the tree is. Here there is no constraint. The heart acts itself out with perfect freedom. So Christ says: “A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things ; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”
The remaining topics introduced by Inquirer must be deferred to another opportunity.
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