What constitutes obedience to the moral law?
As we have constantly stated in previous chapters, the law is summarily expressed in the single word, love, which is synonymous with benevolence. This disinterested benevolence implies the choice of the highest well-being of God and of the universe as an end and for its own sake. This choice of God’s well being and that of the universe is a choice of ultimate intention which is how we define obedience to moral law.
What is not implied in good will or ultimate intention?
The doctrine of entire sanctification can never be understood until we know what is and what is not implied in obedience to moral law. Even Jesus was thought to be a sinner by the Pharisees and said to be doing miracles in the power of Satan. We have stated that the law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the whole duty of man to God and his fellow creatures. So we ask, what is not implied in perfect obedience to moral law? We don’t want to be vague or we will be in error. In order to settle the questions here, we will set up rules of legal interpretation. For that purpose we will lay down first principles in regard to the interpretation of law. Then only can we safely settle these questions.
Rule 1. What is not consistent with natural justice is not and cannot be moral law.
Rule 2. Anything that is not consistent with the nature and relations of moral agents can’t be moral law since it is contrary to natural justice.
Rule 3. If the moral law requires more than a person has a natural ability to perform, is inconsistent with the nature and relations of moral agents – inconsistent with natural justice – then it is not moral law.
Rule 4. Moral law must thus be consistent with the nature and relations of moral agents in their relations to each other and to God. If this is not the case one cannot claim it to be moral law. There is no power in heaven or earth that can make a law that is not consistent with the nature and relations of moral beings and with God.
Rule 5. Moral law always covers the whole ground of natural justice. It is right in itself and thus immutably and unalterably right.
Rule 6. True moral law can never be anything more than what has been said regarding natural justice, and the nature and relations of moral agents.
Rule 7. True moral law can’t be interpreted as possessing attributes, strength, or perfection of attributes that no moral agent possesses. When you hear the commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” it means that you regard every person and interest according to its relative value. We can’t possibly know the relative value of every person in the universe or we would be omniscient like God. Moral law does not require that we have the mind of God. Thus the moral law only requires that we treat everyone with a value that helps to promote their good only as far as we understand it. Thus moral law does not require attributes which you don’t possess.
Rule 8. Moral law does not require something impossible in our circumstances. When the Bible says to love God with all your heart, it does not mean to think only of God all the time and of nothing else. It would be impossible! It does mean that our general moral motive is for the good of God and of others.
Rule 9. Moral law does not allow one requirement to be inconsistent with another. For example, even though we love God with all our heart, if doing so means that we can’t love our neighbor as our self, then we are inconsistent. The moral law never requires that you love God in such a way that you can’t love others. It does not require that your mind be so fastened upon God that it cannot care for others. That would be inconsistent. It is a law where His yoke is easy. We love Him but we can, at the same time, love others. Thus there is no conflict.
Rule 10. Moral law, perpetual benevolence, is consistent with modifications of the principle of love under every circumstance, such as justice, mercy, anger at sin and sinners, and a respect to those that are virtuous.
Rule 11. Moral law always refers to voluntary powers so that the right action of the will shows that one is following the spirit of the law, whether the outward actions and emotions follow the will or not. As long as there is a willing mind, the heart of a moral agent is right. It may be that a person wants to do something and is willing to do so, but there is a physical hindrance that prevents it. Anything that cannot be done because it is naturally impossible is not our obligation under the moral law. Any moral law that requires something that is impossible is inconsistent with natural justice. You can’t legislate the beating of the heart and you can’t legislate involuntary mental actions.
Rule 12. When speaking of moral law, actual knowledge is an indispensable part of obligation. Ignorance does not excuse anyone.
We see it in the scriptures – James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” 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. (48) 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.” 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.” Paul, in the book of Romans, the first and second chapters, reasons that heathen sinners are convicted by their own conscience and thus don’t live by the light that they do have.
The principle of the Bible is that increased knowledge means increased obligation to obey the moral law. With the sin of ignorance, the sinner either neglects or refuses to live by whatever light he has because of the state of his own heart. He refuses to be informed. Because of that, his ignorance is sin. Heathen are condemned because they don’t live up to the light of God’s creation, nature. However, they are not required to become Christians until they get the opportunity to be what God required.
Rule 13. Moral law is consistent with physical law. It should never be interpreted in such a way that that to obey would violate the laws of physical construction.
Rule 14. Moral law is regarded as that which really is, interpreting all attributes of body and soul as they apply to human beings, not as something that does not fit our own nature and relations.
Rule 15. Moral law should be interpreted in a way that defines itself as obligation to actions and not as the nature or constitution of moral beings. It cannot require man to possess attributes, but rather to prescribe a rule of action for those attributes which he possess at the present time. The moral law does not require possession of certain attributes or a certain state of perfection but rather the right use of attributes as they already exist in the moral agent in his present state.
Rule 16. Thus, moral law is obedience of the heart which includes faith or confidence in the lawgiver. This can be said of any law, however no law can require faith where the intellect or spirit does not perceive the truth that is to create the faith. Until a truth is perceived faith cannot be attached to the truth.
With these rules in mind let’s ask what is not implied in entire obedience to the law of God.
- It does not imply a change of substance of body or soul. If it did require such a thing, it could not be an obligation since it would be inconsistent with natural justice. Then it would not be a law at all. Entire obedience is consecration of the powers we have to God. We don’t change our powers but through the Holy Spirit, we use them properly. The main change is Christ in us, the hope of Glory.
- It does not remove certain natural traits of character like intense emotion or impulsive action. The moral law only tries to redirect these traits in the right way.
- It does not imply removing constitutional appetites or susceptibilities since these are not sinful in themselves. Those that are against entire conformity to the law of God in this life, think that man has a sinful constitution. That is not to deny moral depravity which we shall discuss later, but rather we are talking about the constitution which would remove a man from choices to natural actions. For something to be moral there must be choices based upon motives. People that think that depravity has to do with physical depravity also reject entire sanctification but we need to look at natural laws. Is there anything in the law of God that condemns what is part of the natural constitution? Does it condemn the natural appetite for food or does it rather condemn the choices that result in over indulgence in this area? Does the law of God require any more than our natural appetites consecrated in body and mind and service to God? No it does not!
- The term “entire obedience” does not imply the removal from our lives of natural affections or resentments. Some people are more pleasing to us just because certain personality types match up or other traits. Other people are naturally offensive to us for the same reasons. Just because we are Christians and obey the law of love does not mean that we don’t hurt when we are abused or mistreated. That does not mean that we are justified if we retaliate, but we have done no wrong to be deeply hurt by abuse. Accordingly, loving ones neighbor as ones self does not mean that we feel no hurt from injury or injustice, but that we should still try to do that person good, even when treated injuriously.
- It does not imply a crazy unhealthy level of excitement in the mind. Moral law, as we said in Rule 13, is consistent with physical law. God’s laws do not clash with each other. Physical law does not clash with moral law. Moral law cannot demand what the physical constitution is unable to withstand such as a constant state of excitement.
- It does not imply that our bodily organs be constantly exerted to the full measure of our capacity. Our body would be destroyed if this were the case. Excitement brings extra blood to the brain. God would not require something that could bring physical harm or insanity. God never requires excitement that would be inconsistent with life or health. He even rested with His disciples when necessary. Some people think of a revival as just an emotional degree of excitement, which does come in such a movement to get the attention of the general public, but it is not necessarily sustained at a high pitch since sometimes there is much moving of God in the quiet times as well. People make a mistake thinking that revivals are a constant state of heightened emotion when they are really only a conformity of the human will to the law of God. When the excitement declines they think that the revival is also declining but the conformity to the Will of God may be on the increase, instead! It is alright to be excited, but having the will move things in the right direction is far more important.
- It does not require that the exact same degree of emotion, will, or intellectual effort is constantly required at all times. There is always a natural ebb and flow. Different volitions require different amounts of strength. One does not use the same will power to eat an apple as to put out a fire. A mother does not exert the same will power over a sleeping baby as she does when she needs to snatch that baby from imminent danger. This can be the same in Christian actions. The degree of will power is in direct proportion to the degree of the action. Thus a person can be entirely holy but vary in the degree of their actions and emotions. It depends on the circumstances which means that a person can be holy and yet vary the strength of the affections, emotions or volitions depending on the circumstances and the physical state of the person or the activities in which they are engaged. What we are saying is that all the powers of the mind and body are at the disposal of God so that just so much of the physical, intellectual, and moral energy that is needed will be expended for what each individual case requires. God does not require a constant, intense state of emotional and mental action on each and every subject alike.
- Entire obedience doesn’t mean that God is to be the constant direct object of attention and affection. This is not possible by mere human nature and to do so would mean that a person could not love their neighbor as themselves as in Rule 9. Just because we are to love God with all of our heart does not mean that we can’t engage in the normal business of life. It just means that the supreme preference in all that we do should be God and His glory. This is probably why the monasteries of the dark ages were wrong. They took good spiritual people from normal society and put them in an environment that was meant to be constantly in tuned with God but in the end, they became corrupted and society was at a loss without them. What this world needs is for people who have a preference for God but are working and living in society in such a way that their influence is constantly felt on a daily basis. As the Book “In His Steps” so adequately pointed out, every walk of life can be lived with a mind set of doing what Jesus would do. As the natural heart by its pulsations diffuses life through the physical system, so the moral heart, the supreme governing preference, the ultimate intention of the mind, is what gives life and character to a man’s moral actions. We are the salt of the earth and we make our influence felt by having a mindset that is always pointed in the direction of God while we may not literally be thinking of God at every moment of every day. We do, however, always have a sense of the presence and power of God, whether or not we are actually thinking specifically about Him or not.
- Entire obedience does not necessarily mean that a Christian has continual calmness of mind. There may be deep peace in the soul and spirit but that does not mean that the mind will not be excited at times and then calm at other times. When one looks at Jesus in the Bible we find that He had all the appetites and susceptibilities of any other human being. That is why the Bible says that he “tempted in all points like as we are.” Jesus had a constitution similar to ours. He had affection for his mother and his friends. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus had labor and rest, joy and sorrow, excitement and calm as any one else has. He was very forceful when reproving the enemies of his Father as shown in his denouncement of the Pharisees and when he was accused of doing miracles through the power of Satan.
- Entire obedience does not mean a continual state of sweetness of mind to the point that there is never any holy indignation against sin and sinners who trample under foot the Son of God. Being angry at sin is only a modification of disinterested benevolence which is seeing the intrinsic value in God and others. The sense of justice that is part of such indignation is really a modification of the love of God and love to ones fellow man. One could not be holy unless there were times that they had holy indignation at anything or person which creates a spirit of sin and rebellion against the very holiness for which we stand.
- Entire obedience does not mean that there is a syrupy love with no justice. Justice is just as much an attribute of love as compassion is. Those that love God and Jesus Christ also love His justice because it was the justice of God that caused Jesus to die thus showing us God’s mercy in allowing His life for ours.
- Entire obedience does not imply that we love and hate all human beings alike no matter what their individual value, nature, relations, and circumstances may be. Someone may be greater in capacity and elicit more feeling that they have a unique intrinsic relative value than another. We cannot be impartial if we regard all beings alike but rather we should evaluate them in accordance with their particular nature and relations with attention given to circumstances and value.
- Entire obedience does not require that we have perfect knowledge all our relations. Rule 7. For us to understand everybody in order to love them, we would need to be omniscient like God. Since we don’t have this infinite knowledge, the law of God cannot require that this is included in the term, “Entire Obedience.”
- It also does not imply that we have perfect knowledge of any subject. Only God has that! To have such knowledge one would have perfect knowledge of the nature relations, bearings, and tendencies of every relationship and there is no one that has that kind of knowledge except God.
- Entire obedience does not imply freedom from mistake. We don’t have infallible judgment, we are human and the best that we can do is to use the light that we have in that capacity.
- Nor does entire obedience imply knowledge of the exact relative value of different interests. Though the Bible says, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” we don’t always understand the exact relative value and importance of every interest. We cannot be required to have this knowledge or we would be omniscient like God.
- It does not imply the same degree of knowledge that we might possess if we had applied ourselves in such a way that we would not have wasted any time or effort on other things rather than learning to love both God and man. In all eternity we will have less than we might have had if we had applied ourselves, but no one is like God but we are all human. No one in heaven or earth would be considered to have entire obedience if we were to be required to love God as much as we would had we used every opportunity to its fullest.
- It does not imply the same amount of the service of God that we would have given if we had never sinned. The law of God does not suppose that we are in such a perfect state that our strength of body or mind is just what it would have been had we never sinned. We are only to use the strength that we have in our present state at the time we get saved. As the example in the Bible says, “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” God only expects us to use what we have with his aid through the Holy Spirit, nothing more. The point is that there is none that can say that they are not able to be saved. There is no such thing as unconditional election or irresistible grace. God offers salvation to EVERY man and the Holy Spirit is offered to all who will believe and come to God. We have every opportunity to use what God has provided and every time we fail to use them we cripple the power and growth of our spirit and our maturity before God. That is what sin does. The beautiful thing about salvation is that “to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.” Does this mean that we should sin more so that we can receive more grace? Paul the Apostle says in Romans 6, “God forbid….” What Jesus meant was merely that the greater the sin of one that repents, the greater would be his appreciation of the love and mercy of God.
- Entire obedience does not mean that we have the same degree of faith that we might have exercised without our ignorance or past sins. God does not require that we believe that which we have no evidence to believe or knowledge of. Our faith is limited by our perception of truth. Heathen who have never heard of Christ are not under obligation to believe in that of which they have no knowledge. The Bible says that the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen so heathen can believe in a creator and call upon him as the early saints did. Perfection in an adult requires more faith than a child. That in an angel would be more than that in humans. The Bible says to whom much is given will much be required. Entire obedience to God never requires what is naturally impossible. A mentally challenged person would not have the same responsibility as the one that is intellectually bright. It is based simply upon the spiritual light and not on intellect or any other physical trait. When light shines in the heart of any man and faith perceives the light and then causes that person to place all their confidence in that light and truth, then the person has entire obedience as the Bible requires.
- Entire obedience does not imply the conversion of all men in answer to our prayers as some maintain. They say that one must offer prevailing prayer for the conversion of all men. If that were true then we have some problems: (a) Christ did not obey, since he did not offer such a prayer. (b) The law of God does not make such a demand, even by implication. (c) We could not believe that all men would be saved from our prayers unless there is a promise to that effect, express or implied. (d) Since there is no promise as such, we are not under obligation to expect that all will be saved in answer to our prayers. This does not mean that there are no Christians in the world that are fully obeying God’s laws.
- Entire obedience does not imply that anyone will be saved where there is no express or implied promise in the Bible. Judas was not saved in answer to Christ’s prayer but that does not mean that Christ did not fully obey.
- Entire obedience does not mean that all things that are promised will be granted in answer to our prayers, especially where we have no knowledge of the promises. Perfect love means doing what is known and there can be no duty if a thing is not known. Thus it is not our duty to believe in a promise of which we have no knowledge or that we do not fully understand. Where we sin is in a case where we should know better and don’t live by the knowledge we have, but there is no sin where there is no knowledge. If we neglect to learn or know the truth as it is readily available to us, then it is sin. “He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but because ye say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.”
- Entire obedience does not imply that others will see us as entirely conformed to the moral law. Jesus was considered to be possessed by devils by the Jewish leaders. We will be wrongly judged as well. When a church is conformed to the world, a spiritual man will aim his rebukes at this worldliness and this would, in turn, result in the worldly church thinking that he had a wicked judgmental spirit. When a man of God attacks false doctrine, he will be hunted down and assailed by the religious leaders who feel threatened by his power and wisdom. Some of the most violent positions taken toward a holy man of God are taken by ministers of the Gospel who attack with a fiendish opposition in an attempt to bring that man of God down. Even a discussion of entire obedience will generate much criticism and opposition by those who don’t understand the definition.
- Entire obedience does not exempt one from sorrow or mental suffering. Jesus had sorrow and suffering and so will we. We will also suffer in thinking about our past sins. We will also sorrow that had we not lived so long in sin we would be far more advanced in our present spiritual life. This will all come as a result of our love to both God and man.
- Entire obedience is not inconsistent with living in human society, engaging in the affairs of this world and mingling with the typical scenes that are known to society. This is why when the Catholics try to live in monasteries or convents they are missing the point of entire obedience since God does not require one to retire from daily contacts with the society in which we live in order to live a holy life. We are in the world but not “of” the world. For a person to live in such a way is a direct contradiction of the second part of the moral law, namely, to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we withdraw from society, the very purpose that God has us here, to be the salt of the earth, becomes missing and thus we allow society to become corrupted by the lack of spiritual influence that such an influence would afford.
- Entire obedience does not imply a dull temper and manners. We should be cheerful as it was said of Xavier, “he was so cheerful as often to be accused of being gay.” Cheerfulness is a result of holy love and if we are to be joyful in heaven one day, we should be the same way here on earth. Being morose is not necessarily being holy. Too many times people are held in bondage to traditions that are not implied in the moral law, things intended to keep them humble or to place a standard above their reach. As a result many think of holiness as inefficient sentimentalism or perfectionism. These, however, are anything but what the law of God requires.
- Entire obedience does not imply that we always constantly aim at, or intend to do our duty. It does not imply that our intentions always terminate on duty as the ultimate end. While it is our duty to aim at the highest well-being of God and the universe as an ultimate end and for its own sake, yet to aim at this duty as duty is not necessarily doing our duty. We have seen the results of doing right for the sake of right or doing duty for the sake of duty. Thus when we think of always aiming at doing our duty, we are losing sight of the true goal, the highest well-being of God and of others which should be our real goal.
- Entire obedience does not mean that we always think at the time we are doing something that is in accord with the moral law that we are doing duty, or even of our moral obligation to intend the good of being. This is always assumed as a first truth of moral agency but it is not essential to true obedience. True obedience is intending the highest good of God and of being in general. The good and valuable is always before our mind. This is what is intended. However we are not under moral obligation to intend moral obligation or to intend to fulfill moral obligation because that obligation is a first truth always assumed by us and whether we actually think about the “obligation” or not we are, just the same, fulfilling it by intending the highest good of God and others. Thus, whether the moral obligation is an object of our attention or not, we are still fulfilling the moral law as a law of liberty.
- Entire obedience does not necessarily imply that the rightness or moral character of benevolence is continually the subject of our mind’s attention. We can intend the good of God and the good of our neighbor without thinking about the moral character of such thoughts at all times. Our intention is still virtuous, none the less. Ones mind may unconsciously, through the conscience, assume the rightness of benevolence and the good of being in the same way that it may assume first truths without being distinctly conscious of the assumption. First truths, as we have seen previously, are universally and necessarily known by every moral being. First truths include the law of cause and effect, the freedom of moral beings, the intrinsic value of happiness or blessedness, moral obligation to will happiness for its intrinsic value, the infinite value of God’s well-being, and the moral obligation to will his well being for that purpose, to will the good of being as a duty, and to comply with moral obligation as being right, while selfishness is wrong. These and other truths are called first truths of reason. These truths live in the mind as intuition in the spirit and thus become assumptions of reason through that spirit. They are truths whether you think of them as moral obligations or not.
- Entire obedience does not mean that that the law of God should be constantly the object of thought or the attention of the mind. The moral law is in the spirit of every moral agent in the form of an intuition through the conscience. That becomes an idea in the mind. It is the idea of a choice or intention which every moral being is required to exercise. Moral law, the rule of duty is usually subjective as an idea and is developed in mind and spirit of every moral being. This intuition and conscience of the spirit goes with you wherever you are. You are a law unto yourself. This idea may not always be an object of the mind and spirit’s thought. A person may love God and man without being conscious of think that this is required of him by the moral law. When we love God with all our heart because of His intrinsic value, does God think it any less virtuous if we do not reflect that we are following a command of God? No! Not at all! Just love God and love others because of who they are and of their value. Don’t think of the command to love God, just see Him as the Altogether Lovely One. You can’t love God and others for the wrong reason. The virtue of the reason and the choice are identical. Do it, not because it is a command, but because it is the best end, command or not. Do it because He is of priceless value, not because it is commanded. To serve God from the position of his command and not because of his value, is not for the good of being and not a right ultimate end. Thus it would not be obedience to moral law. His yoke is easy and His burden is truly light. Even to serve God because of His authority and not because of his value to the universe makes action come from the wrong ultimate end. The law was not made for righteous men but for sinners, then what is the purpose of the moral law? We answer here: (a) The obligation to will good to God existed before He required it. (b) God requires it because it is a natural obligation in the minds of all creation. (c) It would be impossible for a benevolent God not to will that we would also be benevolent. (d) His expressed will is only the bringing to print the law of nature. It is not dictatorial, but declaratory. The Ten Commandments exist whether God declares them or not. (e) The declared law of God is really a vindication and illustration of His righteousness. (f) This moral law sanctions and rewards love. It does not beget love but it encourages and rewards it. (g) Moral law can fix the attention on the end commanded and result in a fuller understanding of the value of that end. This is what converts the soul. (h) In the case of disobedience, it can convince of sin. (i) It holds a standard before the mind by which to judge itself and by which it is judged. (j) To aim at keeping the law as the ultimate end is not really keeping it, it is legal righteousness and not love. The only motive that places ultimate intention where it should be is loving because of the intrinsic value of God and of others.
- Obedience to moral law does not mean that the mind always intends right for the same of right as we have seen previously.
- It does not imply that the mind always thinks of the rightness of good willing. We may will the goodness of God and of others without thinking of the rightness of this love of God and others. It is still virtuous and in fact more virtuous than one that is always striving to show their virtue and not thinking of the value of God and others.
- It does not mean that we take the command love ones neighbor as oneself practically so that we actually think constantly that we love others as much as our self, but that we see the intrinsic value of all living beings. This would be impossible and uneconomical for the universe. We promote the salvation of ourselves and our family because they have value and that is also why we promote the salvation of others because of a similarly intrinsic value but the exact value is different from person to person. Obviously ones family would have more intense concentration than those from other families. Still there is intrinsic value in both. We only need to have influence where we can do the most good and it will be counted as virtue with God.