Moral Obligation

Another “first truth” of our existence in this world is that man is a subject of moral obligation.  Just as in the case that every cause has an effect, in just the same way we can know that every man is under moral obligation.  People can argue to the end of time against this but the simple matter is that it is a “first truth” that cannot be denied and the very fact that some will try to use “reasoning’s of the mind” to argue against what their own inner conscience is affirming in no uncertain terms is further proof that they have this sense and are only fighting against what they know to be true in their spirit.  A good example of this is a recent court case where an atheist went all the way to a high court with a claim that the words “under God” were offensive to his daughter.  When the final analysis was made public, the daughter had no such thoughts but rather the argument was purely that of the father who tried to portray a mention of God as being offensive to all citizens.  His argument was not really with the court or the society at all, but it was with his own inner conscience. The truth is that the definition of sin is this:  “To miss the mark of the end and scope of life, which is God.” Moral law is to come to know God. This atheist was only admitting that he is lazy and has never tried to find God.  The Bible says that we will find God when we seek for Him with all our heart. His daughter loved the discussions of God and his rebellion against his own conscience prompted this attack on the Pledge of Allegiance.  He is a perfect example of a man that knew this “first truth” that we are all under moral obligation no matter what arguments we put forth to the contrary.  If the courts of our land would go back to some of the earlier conclusions of law they would realize that a belief in a higher power or “God” is a first truth of reason and that anyone denying this type of “a priori” truth is only admitting that he has a problem with his own conscience.  Even an atheist can come to know God.

The fact that man has a “free will” is something that is also a “first truth.”  Some have tried to create theologies that oppose this, but when it comes to practical experience, no one can deny that every man has a free will and that this is an integral part of what we know as moral law and moral agents in their relations to moral government. In fact, our whole American society is built around the philosophy that men are free to think and decide for themselves.  That is why we have elections in the first place. When a person wants to debate the obvious, it is possible to speculate any number of ridiculous things even that you don’t exist but the reality is that you do and that you are a free moral being.  When the truth stares you right in the face you can’t deny that it exists without question.  When it exists without question, it is a “first truth” of reason.

It is also true that every man possesses a conscience and has some inner idea of what is right or wrong, especially when it comes to the ultimate end of moral law, the law of love.  There is no human creature on the face of the earth that does not respond to love and that does not know down inside that love is the ultimate end or moral obligation.  Every living moral being knows that he or she has an obligation to the moral law and they can reason against it forever on end but the inner truth of it is a “first truth” of every living human being. Every human being of every country and in every walk of life will admit to the first truth that love is a foundation of the moral law.  There is even a popular song out entitled, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”   It is something that can never be denied. There is no debate.  It is a “first truth.” So we can say that no matter what arguments some may bring, down inside every living human is a powerful sense that they are all objects of moral obligation and though they may deny it in theory, they can never deny it in actual day to day practice.

”The truth assumed then, is a first truth, and 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 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.” – Finney

Extent of Moral Obligation

Now what we desire to ask is to what act or state of the mind one can extend the concept of moral obligation?  This is fundamental in understanding all moral concepts.  We will show three things:  1) By appealing to reason or natural theology we will show what acts or states of mind are not covered in the concept of moral obligation.  2)  We will show what acts or states of mind are encompassed in the concept of moral obligation.  3)  We will show what the direct concept of moral obligation is in relation to acts and mental states.

First, what acts or states of mind are not covered in this concept?

  1. External or muscular action is not covered.  Our wills cause our muscles to move as a law of necessity and unless we are paralyzed or drugged, or restrained externally they will move.  That being said, merely moving muscles as an outward bodily action is not part of moral obligation.
  2. Sensibilities or which are really involuntary states of consciousness are not part of moral obligation.  If you stub your toe and it hurts as a result, one can never make the argument that you have failed in your moral obligation by feeling pain.
  3. States of intellect are not part of moral obligation.  Just because a person has a high I.Q. does not make them have a higher moral obligation than a mentally challenged person.  States of the intellect are not something that can be controlled by choice and therefore are not part of moral obligation.  Moral obligation is all about making moral choices based upon moral ultimate intentions.
  4. Unintelligent acts of the will are not part of moral obligation.  A baby who has not yet grown in maturity enough to understand that certain actions are right or wrong, is not under moral obligation.  In the same way a mentally challenged person that cannot comprehend certain moral concepts and principles cannot be under moral obligation.  In this category are actions which one makes when under sudden exposure to a situation where they only act instinctively are not part of moral obligation.  Examples of this would be jerking ones hand from hot water or shaking a wasp or other threatening insect from ones body.  Closing the eyes as some object approaches as an instinctive way of protecting the eyes fall under this category.  These instinctive actions, while the mind and the will control them, are not part of the concept of moral obligation.

Next, what states of mind are included in the concept of moral obligation?

  1. Moral obligation is a concept of ultimate acts of the will or the end in view in any given moral choice or action.  When a person makes intelligent acts of the will, these actions fall into three categories:  1) the choice of something for its own sake, because of its own nature or for reasons found exclusively within itself.  An example of this is the happiness of just being content with life and loving all beings because of their intrinsic value.  2)  The choice of the conditions or means of arriving at this goal of ultimate choice.  An example of a condition would be the concept of holiness as a condition of being content with life, or as a means of happiness.  3) Decisions or executive efforts that allow one to secure the object of ultimate choice.  The best way to state what we are saying here is that moral obligation refers to ultimate intention.  Naturally when a person knows what their ultimate intention is, they logically will also choose the conditions and means of arriving at this ultimate intention.  When we reject the conditions and means of securing the object, we have also rejected the ultimate object of our lives.  If a person says that they want to go to heaven and God says that the means of getting there is to repent but they refuse to repent, then they have rejected the ultimate end of going to heaven.  What has happened is that the will would rather forget the end in mind than to use the conditions and means that are required to arrive at that end.
  2. Every moral being knows that it is right to make a choice that will result in the best end in any situation.  This is universal in all cultures and every moral being is under an obligation to choose what would be the best for all concerned, especially when he knows it is necessary, possible and useful for all.  This means that the concept of “ultimate choice” is the universal obligation of every living being.  In other words, everyone makes decisions based upon an ultimate choice of some kind.
  3. The obligation to choose the holiness of God as a means of universal happiness assumes that it is right to choose universal happiness and also that holiness is the necessary means of obtaining this happiness.  Our obligation to make attempts at doing the right thing assumes that it is right to make this choice and that there is a possibility, a necessity, and an available utility to do this moral thing.
  4. Along with the obligation to choose the happiness of every living being as the ultimate intention is the fact that we are to reject anything that leads to the opposite conclusion or goal.  Included in this obligation to refuse anything that would result in an opposite goal is the fact that we are to do everything possible to prevent the opposite goal, the hindering of universal happiness.  What I am saying here is that we need to use all our power and intentions to not only do what would be the best for every living being in the universe but we should also do all that we can to prevent anything that would lead to the worst for every living being.  We are to choose what is best and reject what would be the opposite of this.   We are to use every means possible to keep moral beings from experiencing the worst.
  5. Any object that one chooses as an end or as a means to an end implies that they have rejected the opposite of this object.  Moral obligation is having the best of intentions and also rejecting bad intentions at the same time.  Here are some examples of such choices:
  • Choosing to be owned by God and rejecting being owned by self.
  • Choosing Christ as Lord and rejecting self as Lord.
  • Choosing to submit to a life “in Christ” and rejecting a life “in the world.”
  • Choosing to be a servant of righteousness and rejecting being a servant of sin.
  • Choosing to walk in the Spirit and rejecting walking in the flesh.
  • Choosing to be saved by the power of God and rejecting being lost in hell for all eternity.
  • Choosing to be dead “to” sin while rejecting being dead “in” sin.
  • Choosing to love the Lord while rejecting loving the world.
  • Choosing Christ as master and rejecting Sin as master.
  • Choosing Christ yoke which is easy and rejecting the yoke of sin which will cause death anyway.
  • Choosing eternal life and rejecting eternal death.
  • Choosing to accept Christ for all that he is and refusing to reject Christ for all that he is.
  • Choosing heaven as my home and rejecting hell as my home.
  • Choosing spiritual life and rejecting spiritual death.
  • Choosing having the spirit alive by the Holy Spirit and rejecting having a dead spirit.
  • Choosing a life with the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer and rejecting a life without the Holy Spirit.
  • Choosing to be born again and rejecting the concept that only a physical birth is sufficient.
  • Choosing to be born again by the Spirit of God and rejecting having nothing more than a physical birth.
  • Choosing to enter into His rest and rejecting doing my own works.
  • Choosing Christ and others as the motive for life and rejecting having self as the motive for life.
  • Choosing Agape love as the mindset and rejecting selfishness as a mind set.
  • Choosing the Fruit of the Spirit and rejecting the works of the flesh.
  • Choosing God’s will as sovereign and rejecting man’s will as sovereign.
  • Choosing to having spiritual sight and rejecting being spiritually blind.
  • Choosing faith and belief and rejecting unbelief.
  • Choosing commitment to Christ and rejecting the act of drawing back into perdition.
  •  Choosing to believe with the heart and rejecting just a mind belief.
  • Choosing the end and scope of life as being God and rejecting an end and scope of life as consisting only in self.
  • Choosing to seek God with the whole heart and rejecting an unwillingness to seek God at all.
  • Choosing obedience unto righteousness and rejecting sin unto death.
  • Choosing to love God with all the heart and rejecting loving self.
  • Choosing to love our neighbor as our self and rejecting hating or competing with our neighbor.
  • Choosing to hold truth as coming from the Word of God and rejecting holding truth as coming from unrighteousness.
  • Choosing the will of God as a goal and rejecting selfish goals instead.
  • Choosing to be dead unto sin and rejecting continuing in sin.
  • Choosing to allow the Old Man to be crucified and rejecting having an Old Man that is alive and well in our lives.
  • Choosing to be free from sin and rejecting being free from righteousness.
  • Choosing to believe that we cannot habitually sin when we are born of God and rejecting the concept that we live in continuous sin.
  • Choosing to lose ones life now in order to save it in eternity while rejecting the concept of saving ones life now but losing it in the end in hell.
  • Choosing to repent of all our sins now while rejecting the thought of just regretting it when we sin.
  • Choosing Godly sorrow while rejecting the sorrow of the world.
  • Choosing to accept the entire Christ and rejecting the concept of only accepting a partial Christ, just the traits we agree with.
  • Choosing to life a life of agape, sacrificial love and rejecting a life of selfish lustful love.
  • Choosing to lose the world while rejecting gaining the world.
  • Choosing to save the world while rejecting losing the soul in hell.

Not only does moral obligation refer to the ultimate intention, but the fact is that this concept is a “first truth” that is widely accepted by all moral beings no matter what they reason to the contrary to be their true case.

  1. Young children know and assume the concept of ultimate intention as evidenced by their excuse, “I didn’t mean to. . .” when they get in trouble for committing something that seems to point to their wrong intention.  They all think that by saying these words that show good intentions they will be absolved of their crime.
  2. Every moral being has such a thought in his or her mind that will justify an action as long as they think they can make such a case.
  3. It is universally understood that men are judged by their motives.  Even if an evil motive results in some good, we still hold it against the person with the evil motive.  A good example is attempted murder where the act resulted in some form of good but still the person is put on trial for the intention to commit murder.
  4. Criminal courts in every country inquire into the quo animo, or intention and judge accordingly.
  5. It is a universal fact that mentally challenged persons are not responsible for their conduct.

Since not only the ultimate end or intention is implied in moral obligation, but also the means and conditions to reach that ultimate end, then it follows that these very means and conditions draw their character from the ultimate end in view.  Now let’s distinguish the meaning of ultimate and proximate intentions.

  1. An ultimate end is an object chosen for its own sake.
  2. A proximate end is an object chosen as a condition or means of securing an ultimate end.
  3. An ultimate end is an object chosen because of its intrinsic nature and value.
  4. A proximate end is an object chosen for the sake of the end, and upon condition of its relation as a condition and means to the end.
  5. Example: A student works to get paid, in order to buy books, to obtain an education, to preach the gospel, to save souls, and eventually to please God. Another does the same things; he works to get paid, in order to buy books to obtain an education, to arrive at a certain salary, for the purpose of his own ease and popularity.  One was an agape love goal and the other was a selfish goal. You can see that the “proximate” goals that result in the end are the same but the ultimate end is the opposite for both persons.

The Bible either says that this is the case or it implies it in so many words, “if there is a willing mind it is accepted….”All the law is fulfilled in the word, “love.”  This could not be true if moral law was not a law requiring proper intentions only.  If it were only the thoughts, emotions, and outward actions that make up Moral law, one could not truly be said to be fulfilling the moral law.  Going through the motions is not keeping the moral law.

The Bible considers the intention as the ultimate.  It is willing to accept intention as obedience even where there was no act that could have resulted is such a lofty goal.

Lastly, to what acts and mental mind sets does moral obligation extend.

We have discussed the ultimate end and the means of reaching that end as both being a part of moral obligation and connected together in a way that the result is the ultimate intention that was desired.

  1. The muscles are under the control of the will and unless constrained by illness or other means such as physical restraint, the muscles will move.
  2. Our intellect is under control of the will and we know that we can control or direct our attentions anywhere we please to any subject that we choose.
  3. Our sensibility is only indirectly controlled by the will.  Only things that cause these sensations to be activated will create the desired sensation.  We can indirectly control what our sensibilities are affected by in controlling our actions and relations.

Because of these facts we can make some statements:

  1. Moral Obligation extends indirectly to all intelligent acts and no one would dispute this fact.  Everyone is conscious of this and there is no proof needed.
  2. Moral obligation extends indirectly to bodily actions because if the will is right then the actions will follow.
  3. Moral obligation extends to sensibility, emotions, and conscience which make the outward actions and even if the feelings are not there is still a principle that outward actions must be for an ultimate end which has intrinsic value for all moral beings.
  4. Moral obligation affects states of the spirit through the conscience.  For that reason, when a person reads the Bible, it holds them to task on thoughts and opinions that are already part of their conscious mind and an integral part of their spirit through the conscience.  The Bible talks about how death reigned from Adam to Moses before there was a “law” and the reason for this fact is that men has consciences and when the law came, it only confirmed what the conscience had told them all along. John 7:17“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  In our spirit we know that the Bible is true, there is no discussion.  Matthew 6:22-23  “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  (23)  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”  The thought here is that the moral principles that are in our spirit and that the Bible is confirming what a part of our inner moral consciousness is already.   The Bible is saying that when we have right intentions as our overall moral obligation then we will do what is right and we will hear the Word of God.  It is also a fact that one may put on a show if morality when their intentions were wrong all along so that what they had was merely a good act.  However, when it comes down to us judging our selves or others, we can’t do so without considering the intentions so that in the end, the act really means far less than the intentions.

In conclusion, when it comes to moral obligation, we find that it indirectly extends to every thing in life where the will has either direct or indirect control.  This is a first truth no matter where you go in the world the things that we are saying will be part of every culture and are not open to debate since they are known in the spirit of every man, woman and child.  As such, while we say that Moral law has to do with ultimate intentions, we can really say that in a less strict sense it legislates over the whole being because all of our conscious powers are either directly or indirectly inter-connected with our intentions.  In the general consciousness of every moral being in the universe and in the common language of every culture we find that every state of mind and spirit is connected either directly or indirectly to the actions of conscience so that we think in terms of whether an action is holy or unholy. Ask a sinner if a Christian should miss church, or if a preacher should tell a lie.  They may know nothing about the Bible or any doctrine at all, and yet they can tell what is holy or unholy because the inner voice of the spirit through the conscience tells them what the moral intentions should be after all.