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Systematic Theology [1878]
« Prev Lecture XVII. Attributes of Selfishness. Next »

LECTURE XVII.

ATTRIBUTES OF SELFISHNESS.

Formerly we considered the attributes of benevolence, and also what states of the sensibility and of the intellect, and also what outward actions, were implied in it, as necessarily resulting from it. We are now to take the same course with selfishness: and—

1. Voluntariness is an attribute of selfishness.

Selfishness has often been confounded with mere desire. But these things are by no means identical. Desire is constitutional. It is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It is a purely involuntary state of mind, and can in itself produce no action, nor can it, in itself, have moral character. Selfishness is a phenomenon of the will, and consists in committing the will to the gratification of the desires. The desire itself is not selfishness, but submitting the will to be governed by the desire, is selfishness. It should be understood, that no kind of mere desires, and no strength of mere desire, constitutes selfishness. Selfishness commences when the will yields to the desire, and seeks to obey it, in opposition to the law of the intelligence. It matters not what kind of desire it is; if it is the desire that governs the will, this is selfishness. It must be the will in a state of committal to the gratification of the desire.

2. Liberty is another attribute of selfishness.

That is, the choice of self-gratification is not necessitated by desire. But the will is always free to choose in opposition to desire. This every moral agent is as conscious of as of his own existence. The desire is not free, but the choice to gratify it is and must be free. There is a sense, as I shall have occasion to show, in which slavery is an attribute of selfishness, but not in the sense that the will chooses, by a law of necessity, to gratify desire. Liberty, in the sense of ability to make an opposite choice, must ever remain an attribute of selfishness, while selfishness continues to be a sin, or while it continues to sustain any relation to moral law.

3. Intelligence is another attribute of selfishness.

By this it is not intended that intelligence is an attribute or phenomenon of will, nor that the choice of self-gratification is in accordance with the demands of the intellect. But it is intended that the choice is made with the knowledge of the moral character that will be involved in it. The mind knows its obligation to make an opposite choice. It is not a mistake. It is not a choice made in ignorance of moral obligation to choose the highest good of being, as an end, in opposition to self-gratification. It is an intelligent choice in the sense, that it is a known resistance of the demands of the intellect. It is a known rejection of its claims. It is a known setting up of self-gratification, and preferring it to all higher interests.

4. Unreasonableness is another attribute of selfishness.

By this it is intended, that the selfish choice is in direct opposition to the demands of the reason. The reason was given to rule, that is, to affirm obligation, and thus announce the law of God. It affirms law and moral obligation. Obedience to moral law, as it is revealed in the reason, is virtue. Obedience to the sensibility in opposition to the reason, is sin. Selfishness consists in this. It is a dethroning of reason from the seat of government, and an enthroning of blind desire in opposition to it. Selfishness is always and necessarily unreasonable. It is a denial of that divine attribute that allies man to God, makes him capable of virtue, and is a sinking him to the level of a brute. It is a denial of his manhood, of his rational nature. It is a contempt of the voice of God within him, and a deliberate trampling down the sovereignty of his own intellect. Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason, and would dethrone the divine, and place mere blind lust upon the throne of the universe.

The very definition of selfishness implies that unreasonableness is one of its attributes. Selfishness consists in the will’s yielding itself to the impulses of the sensibility, in opposition to the demands of the intelligence. Therefore, every act or choice of the will is necessarily altogether unreasonable. Sinners, while they continue such, never say nor do one thing that is in accordance with right reason. Hence the Bible says, that “madness is in their heart while they live.” They have made an unreasonable choice of an end, and all their choices of means to secure their end are only a carrying out of their ultimate choice. They are, every one of them, put forth to secure an end contrary to reason. Therefore, no sinner, who has never been converted, has, even in a single instance, chosen otherwise than in direct opposition to reason. They are not merely sometimes unreasonable, but uniformly, and, while they remain selfish, necessarily so. The very first time that a sinner acts or wills reasonably, is when he turns to God, or repents and becomes a Christian. This is the first instance in which he practically acknowledges that he has reason. All previous to this, every one of the actions of his will and of his life, is a practical denial of his manhood, of his rational nature, of his obligation to God or his neighbor. We sometimes hear impenitent sinners spoken of as being unreasonable, and in such a manner as to imply that all sinners are not so. But this only favors the delusion of sinners by leaving them to suppose that they are not all of them, at all times, altogether unreasonable. But the fact is, that there is not, and there never can be, in earth or hell, one impenitent sinner who, in any instance, acts otherwise than in direct and palpable opposition to his reason. It had, therefore, been infinitely better for sinners if they had never been endowed with reason. They do not merely act without consulting their reason, but in stout and determined opposition to it.

Again: They act as directly in opposition to it as they possibly can. They not only oppose it, but they oppose it as much, and in as aggravated a manner, as possible. What can be more directly and aggravatedly opposed to reason than the choice which the sinner makes of an end? Reason was given him to direct him in regard to the choice of the great end of life. It gives him the idea of the eternal and the infinite. It spreads out before him the interests of God and of the universe as of absolutely infinite value. It affirms their value, and the infinite obligation of the sinner to consecrate himself to these interests; and it promises him endless rewards if he will do so. On the contrary, it lays before him the consequences of refusal. It thunders in his ear the terrible sanctions of the law. It points him to the coming doom that awaits his refusal to comply with its demands. But behold, in the face of all this, the sinner, unhesitatingly, in the face of these affirmations, demands, and threatenings, turns away and consecrates himself to the gratification of his desires with the certainty that he could not do greater despite to his own nature than in this most mad, most preposterous, most blasphemous choice. Why do not sinners consider that it is impossible for them to offer a greater insult to God, who gave them reason, or more truly and deeply to shame and degrade themselves, than they do in their beastly selfishness? Total, universal, and shameless unreasonableness, is the universal characteristic of every selfish mind.

5. Interestedness is another attribute of selfishness.

By interestedness is meant self-interestedness. It is not the disinterested choice of good, that is, it is not the choice of the good of being in general as an end, but it is the choice of self-good, of good to self. Its relation to self is the condition of the choice of this good. But for its being the good of self, it would not be chosen. The fundamental reason, or that which should induce choice, to wit, the intrinsic value of good, is rejected as insufficient; and the secondary reason, namely, its relation to self, is the condition of determining the will in this direction. This is really making self-good the supreme end. In other words, it is making self-gratification the end. Nothing is practically regarded as worthy of choice, except as it sustains to self the relation of a means of self-gratification.

This attribute of selfishness secures a corresponding state of the sensibility. The sensibility, under this indulgence, attains to a monstrous development, either generally, or in some particular directions. Selfishness is the committal of the will to the indulgence of the propensities. But from this it by no means follows, that all of the propensities will be indiscriminately indulged, and thereby greatly developed. Sometimes one propensity, and sometimes another, has the greatest natural strength, and thereby gains the ascendancy in the control of the will. Sometimes circumstances tend more strongly to the development of one appetite or passion than another. Whatever propensity is most indulged, will gain the greatest development. The propensities cannot all be indulged at once, for they are often opposed to each other. But they may all be indulged and developed in their turn. For example, the licentious propensities, and various other propensities, cannot be indulged consistently with the simultaneous indulgence of the avaricious propensities, the desire of reputation and of ultimate happiness. Each of these, and even all the propensities, may come in for a share, and in some instances may gain so equal a share of indulgence, as upon the whole to be about equally developed. But in general, either from constitutional temperament, or from circumstances, some one or more of the propensities will gain so uniform a control of the will, as to occasion its monstrous development. It may be the love of reputation; and then there will be at least a public decent exterior, more or less strict, according to the state of morals in the society in which the individual dwells. If it be amativeness that gains the ascendancy over the other propensities, licentiousness will be the result. If it be alimentiveness, then gluttony and Epicurism will be the result. The result of selfishness must be, to develop in general, or in particular, the propensities of the sensibility, and to beget a corresponding exterior. If avarice take the control of the will, we have the haggard and ragged miser. All the other propensities wither under the reign of this detestable one. Where the love of knowledge prevails, we have the scholar, the philosopher, the man of learning. This is one of the most decent and respectable forms of selfishness, but is nevertheless as absolutely selfishness as any other form. When compassion, as a feeling, prevails, we have, as a result, the philanthropist, and often the reformer; not the reformer in a virtuous sense, but the selfish reformer. Where love of kindred prevails, we often have the kind husband, the affectionate father, mother, brother, sister, and so on. These are the amiable sinners, especially among their own kindred. When the love of country prevails, we have the patriot, the statesman, and the soldier. The picture might be drawn at full length, but with these traits I must leave you to fill up the outline. I would only add, that several of these forms of selfishness so nearly resemble certain forms of virtue, as often to be confounded with them, and mistaken for them. Indeed, so far as the outward life is concerned, they are right, in the letter, but as they do not proceed from disinterestedly benevolent intention, they are only specious forms of selfishness.

6. Partiality is another attribute of selfishness. It consists in giving the preference to certain interests, on account of their being either directly the interests of self, or so connected with self-interest as to be preferred on that account. It matters not, whether the interest to which the preference is given be of greater or of less value, if so be it is preferred, not for the reason of its greater value, but because of its relation to self. In some instances the practical preference may justly be given to a less interest, on account of its sustaining such a relation to us that we can secure it, when the greater interest could not be secured by us. If the reason of the preference, in such case, be, not that it is self-interest, but an interest that can be secured while the greater cannot, the preference is a just one, and not partiality. My family, for example, sustain such relations to me, that I can more readily and surely secure their interests, than I can those of my neighbor, or of a stranger. For this reason I am under obligation to give the practical preference to the interests of my own family, not because they are my own, nor because their interests sustain such a relation to my own, but because I can more readily secure their interests than those of any other family.

The question in such a case turns upon the amount I am able to secure, and not on the intrinsic value merely. It is a general truth, that we can secure more readily and certainly the interests of those to whom we sustain certain relations; and therefore, God and reason point out these interests as particular objects of our attention and effort. This is not partiality but impartiality. It is treating interests as they should be treated.

But selfishness is always partial. If it gives any interest, whatever the preference, it is because of its relation to self. It always, and, continuing to be selfishness, necessarily, lays the greatest stress upon, and gives the preference to, those interests the promotion of which will gratify self.

Here care should be taken to avoid delusion. Oftentimes selfishness appears to be very disinterested and very impartial. For example: here is a man whose compassion, as a mere feeling or state of the sensibility, is greatly developed. He meets a beggar, an object that strongly excites his ruling passion. He empties his pockets, and even takes off his coat and gives it to him, and in his paroxysm he will divide his all with him, or even give him all. Now this would generally pass for most undoubted virtue, as a rare and impressive instance of moral goodness. But there is no virtue, no benevolence in it. It is a mere yielding of the will to the control of feeling, and has nothing in it of the nature of virtue. Innumerable examples of this might be adduced, as illustrations of this truth. It is only an instance and an illustration of selfishness. It is the will seeking to gratify the feeling of compassion, which for the time is the strongest desire.

We constitutionally desire not only our own happiness, but also that of men in general, when their happiness in no way conflicts with our own. Hence selfish men will often manifest a deep interest in the welfare of those, whose welfare will not interfere with their own. Now, should the will be yielded up to the gratification of this desire, this would often be regarded as virtue. For example: a few years since much interest and feeling were excited in this country by the cause and sufferings of the Greeks, in their struggle for liberty; and since in the cause of the Poles. A spirit of enthusiasm appeared, and many were ready to give and do almost anything for the cause of liberty. They gave up their will to the gratification of this excited state of feeling. This, they may have supposed, was virtue; but it was not, nor was there a semblance of virtue about it, when it is once understood, that virtue consists in yielding the will to the law of the intelligence, and not to the impulse of excited feelings.

Some writers have fallen into the strange mistake of making virtue to consist in seeking the gratification of certain desires, because, as they say, these desires are virtuous. They make some of the desires selfish, and some benevolent. To yield the will to the control of the selfish propensities is sin; to yield to the control of the benevolent desires, such as the desire of my neighbor’s happiness and of the public happiness, is virtue, because these are good desires, while the selfish desires are evil. Now this is, and has been, a very common view of virtue and vice. But it is fundamentally erroneous. None of the constitutional desires are good or evil in themselves; they are alike involuntary, and all alike terminate on their correlated objects. To yield the will to the control of any one of them, no matter which, is sin; it is following a blind feeling, desire, or impulse of the sensibility, instead of yielding to the demands of the intelligence, as the law affirming power. To will the good of my neighbor, or of my country, and of God, because of the intrinsic value of those interests, that is to will them as an end, and in obedience to the law of the reason, is virtue; but to will them to gratify a constitutional but blind desire, is selfishness and sin. The desires terminate on their respective objects; but the will, in this case, seeks the objects, not for their own sake, but because they are desired, that is, to gratify the desires. This is choosing them, not as an end, but as a means of self-gratification. This is making self-gratification the end after all. This must be a universal truth, when a thing is chosen merely in obedience to desire. The benevolence of these writers is sheer selfishness, and their virtue is vice.

The choice of any thing whatever, because it is desired, irrespective of the demands of the reason, is selfishness and sin. It matters not what it is. The very statement, that I choose a thing because I desire it, is only another form of saying, that I choose it for my own sake, or for the sake of appeasing the desire, and not on account of its own intrinsic value. All such choice is always and necessarily partial. It is giving one interest the preference over another, not because of its perceived intrinsic and superior value, but because it is an object of desire. If I yield to mere desire in any case, it must be to gratify the desire. This is, and in the case supposed must be, the end for which the choice is made. To deny this is to deny that the will seeks the object because it is desired. Partiality consists in giving one thing the preference of another for no good reason. That is, not because the intelligence demands this preference, but because the sensibility demands it. Partiality is therefore always and necessarily an attribute of selfishness.

7. Efficiency is another attribute of selfishness. Desire never produces action until it influences the will. It has no efficiency or causality in itself. It cannot, without the concurrence of the will, command the attention of the intellect, or move a muscle of the body. The whole causality of the mind resides in the will. In it resides the power of accomplishment.

Again: the whole efficiency of the mind, as it respects accomplishment, resides in the choice of an end, or in the ultimate intention. All action of the will, or all willing, must consist in choosing either an end, or the means of accomplishing an end. If there is choice, something is chosen. That something is chosen for some reason. To deny this is a denial that any thing is chosen. The ultimate reason for the choice and the thing chosen, are identical. This we have repeatedly seen.

Again: we have seen that the means cannot be chosen until the end is chosen. The choice of the end is distinct from the volitions or endeavors of the mind to secure the end. But although the choice of an end is not identical with the subordinate choices and volitions to secure the end, yet it necessitates them. The choice once made, secures or necessitates the executive volitions to secure the end. By this it is not intended that the mind is not free to relinquish its end, and of course to relinquish the use of the means to accomplish it; but only that, while the choice or intention remains, the choice of the end by the will is efficient in producing volitions to realize the end. This is true both of benevolence and selfishness. They are both choices of an end, and are necessarily efficient in producing the use of the means to realize this end. They are choices of opposite ends, and, of course, will produce their respective results.

The Bible represents sinners as having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; that while the will is committed to the indulgence of the propensities, they cannot cease from the indulgence. There is no way, therefore, for the sinner to escape from the commission of sin, but to cease to be selfish. While selfishness continues, you may change the form of outward manifestation, you may deny one appetite or desire for the sake of indulging another; but it is and must be sin still. The desire to escape hell, and to obtain heaven may become the strongest, in which case, selfishness will take on a most sanctimonious type. But if the will is following desire, it is selfishness still; and all your religious duties, as you call them, are only selfishness robed in the stolen habiliments of loving obedience to God.

Be it remembered, then, that selfishness is, and must be, efficient in producing its effects. It is cause; the effect must follow. The whole life, and activity of sinners is founded in it. It constitutes their life, or rather their spiritual death. They are dead in trespasses and in sins. It is in vain for them to dream of doing anything good, until they relinquish their selfishness. While this continues, they cannot act at all, except as they use the means to accomplish a selfish end. It is impossible, while the will remains committed to a selfish end, or to the promotion of self-interest or self-gratification, that it should use the means to promote a benevolent end. The first thing is to change the end, and then the sinner can cease from outward sin. Indeed, if the end be changed, many of the same acts which were before sinful will become holy. While the selfish end continues, whatever a sinner does, is selfish. Whether he eats, or drinks, or labors, or preaches, or, in short, whatever he does, is to promote some form of self-interest. The end being wrong, all is, and must be, wrong.

This is the philosophy of Christ. “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. 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.” Matt. xii. 33, 35. “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” James iii. 11, 12. “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; nether doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Luke vi. 43-45.

8. Opposition to benevolence or to virtue, or to holiness and true religion, is one of the attributes of selfishness.

Selfishness is not, in its relations to benevolence, a mere negation. It cannot be. It is the choice of self-gratification as the supreme and ultimate end of life. While the will is committed to this end, and benevolence, or a mind committed to an opposite end, is contemplated, the will cannot remain in a state of indifference to benevolence. It must either yield its preference of self-indulgence, or resist the benevolence which the intellect perceives. The will cannot remain in the exercise of this selfish choice, without as it were bracing and girding itself against that virtue, which it does not imitate. If it does not imitate it, it must be because it refuses to do so. The intellect does, and must, strongly urge the will to imitate benevolence, and to seek the same end. The will must yield or resist, and the resistance must be more or less resolute and determined, as the demands of the intellect are more or less emphatic. This resistance to benevolence or to the demands of the intellect in view of it, is what the Bible calls, hardening the heart. It is obstinacy of will, under the light and the presence of true religion, and the admitted claims of benevolence.

This opposition to benevolence or true religion, must be developed in specific action, whenever the mind apprehends true religion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Not only must this opposition be developed, or selfishness abandoned, under such circumstances, but it must be increased as true religion displays more and more of its loveliness. As the light from the radiant sun of benevolence is poured more and more upon the darkness of selfishness, the opposition of this principle of action must of necessity manifest itself in the same proportion, or selfishness must be abandoned. Thus selfishness remaining under light, must manifest more and more opposition, just in proportion as light increases, and the soul has less the color of an apology for its opposition.

This peculiarity of selfishness has always been manifested just in proportion as it has been brought into the light of true religion. This accounts for all the opposition that has been made to true religion since the world began. It also proves that where there are impenitent sinners, and they retain their impenitence, and manifest no hostility to the religion which they witness, that there is something defective in the professed piety which they behold; or at least they do not contemplate all the attributes of true piety. It also proves, that persecution will always exist where much true religion is manifested to those who hold fast their selfishness.

It is indeed true, that selfishness and benevolence are just as much opposed to each other, and just as much and as necessarily at war with each other, as God and Satan, as heaven and hell. There can never be a truce between them; they are essential and eternal opposites. They are not merely opposites, but they are opposite efficient causes. They are essential activities. They are the two, and the only two, great antagonistic principles in the universe of mind. Each is heaving and energizing like an earthquake to realize its end. A war of mutual and uncompromising extermination necessarily exists between them. Neither can be in the presence of the other, without repulsion and opposition. Each puts forth all its energy to subdue and overcome the other; and already selfishness has shed an ocean of the blood of saints, as well as the precious blood of the Prince of life. There is not a more gross and injurious mistake, than to suppose that selfishness ever, under any circumstances, becomes reconciled to benevolence. The supposition is absurd and contradictory; since for selfishness to become reconciled to benevolence, were the same thing as for selfishness to become benevolence. Selfishness may change the mode of attack or of its opposition, but its real opposition it can never change, while it retains its own nature and continues to be selfishness.

This opposition of the heart to benevolence often begets deep opposition of feeling. The opposition of the will engages the intellect in fabricating excuses, and cavils, and lies, and refuges, and often greatly perverts the thoughts, and excites the most bitter feelings imaginable toward God and toward the saints. Selfishness will strive to justify its opposition, and to shield itself against the reproaches of conscience, and will resort to every possible expedient to cover up its real hostility to holiness. It will pretend that it is not holiness, but sin that it opposes. But the fact is, it is not sin but holiness to which it stands forever opposed. The opposition of feeling is only developed when the heart is brought into a strong light, and makes deep and strong resistance. In such cases, the sensibility sometimes boils over with feelings of bitter opposition to God, and Christ, and all good.

The question is often asked, May not this opposition exist in the sensibility, and those feelings of hostility to God exist, when the heart is in a truly benevolent state? To this inquiry, I would reply: If it can, it must be produced by infernal or some other influence that misrepresents God, and places his character before the mind in a false light. Blasphemous thoughts may be suggested, and, as it were, injected into the mind. These thoughts may have their natural effect in the sensibility, and feelings of bitterness and hostility may exist without the consent of the will. The will may all the while be endeavoring to repel these suggestions, and divert the attention from such thoughts, yet Satan may continue to hurl his fiery darts, and the soul may be racked with torture under the poison of hell, which seems to be taking effect in the sensibility. The mind, at such times, seems to itself to be filled, so far as feeling is concerned, with all the bitterness of hell. And so it is, and yet it may be, that in all this there is no selfishness. If the will holds fast its integrity; if it holds out in the struggle, and where God is maligned and misrepresented by the infernal suggestions, it says with Job, “Although he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” however sharp the conflict in such cases, we can look back and say, “We are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” In such cases it is the selfishness of Satan, and not our own selfishness, that kindled up those fires of hell in our sensibility. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life.”

9. Cruelty is another attribute of selfishness.

This term is often used to designate a state of the sensibility. It then represents that state of feeling which has a barbarous or savage pleasure in the misery of others.

Cruelty, as a phenomenon of the will or as an attribute of selfishness, consists, first, in a reckless disregard of the well-being of God and the universe, and secondly, in persevering in a course that must ruin the souls of the subjects of it, and, so far as they have influence, ruin the souls of others. What should we think of a man who was so intent on securing some petty gratification, that he would not give the alarm if a city were on fire, and the sleeping citizens in imminent danger of perishing in the flames? Suppose that sooner than deny himself some momentary gratification, he would jeopard many lives. Should we not call this cruelty? Now there are many forms of cruelty. Because sinners are not always brought into circumstances where they exercise certain forms of it, they flatter themselves that they are not cruel. But selfishness is always and necessarily cruel—cruel to the soul and highest interests of the subject of it; cruel to the souls of others, in neglecting to care and act for their salvation; cruel to God, in abusing him in ten thousand ways; cruel to the whole universe. If we should be shocked at the cruelty of him who should see his neighbor’s house on fire, and the family asleep, and neglect to give them warning, because too self-indulgent to rise from his bed, what shall we say of the cruelty of one, who shall see his neighbor’s soul in peril of eternal death, and yet neglect to give him warning?

Sinners are apt to possess very good dispositions, as they express it. They suppose they are the reverse of being cruel. They possess tender feelings, are often very compassionate in their feelings toward those who are sick and in distress, and who are in circumstances of any affliction. They are ready to do many things for them. Such persons would be shocked, should they be called cruel. And many professors would take their part, and consider them abused. Whatever else, it would be said, is an attribute of their character, surely cruelty is not. Now, it is true that there are certain forms of cruelty with which such persons are not chargeable. But this is only because God has so moulded their constitution, that they are not delighted with the misery of their fellow men. However, there is no virtue in their not being gratified at the sight of suffering, nor in their painstaking to prevent it while they continue selfish. They follow the impulses of their feelings, and if their temperament were such that it would gratify them to inflict misery on others—if this were the strongest tendency of their sensibility, their selfishness would instantly take on that type. But though cruelty, in all its lulus, is not common to all selfish persons, it is still true that some form of cruelty is practiced by every sinner. God says, “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” The fact that they live in sin, that they set an example of selfishness, that they do nothing for their own souls, nor for the souls of others; these are really most atrocious forms of cruelty, and infinitely exceed all those comparatively petty forms that relate to the miseries of men in this life.

10. Injustice is another attribute of selfishness.

Justice, as an attribute of benevolence, is that quality that disposes it to regard and treat every being and interest with exact equity.

Injustice is the opposite of this. It is that quality of selfishness which disposes it to treat the persons and interests of others inequitably, and a disposition to give the preference to self-interest, regardless of the relative value of the interests. The nature of selfishness demonstrates, that injustice is always and necessarily one of its attributes, and one that is universally and constantly manifested.

There is the utmost injustice in the end chosen. It is the practical preference of a petty self-interest over infinite interests. This is injustice as great as possible. This is universal injustice to God and man. It is the most palpable and most flagrant piece of injustice possible to every being in the universe. Not one known by him to exist who has not reason to bring against him the charge of most flagrant and shocking injustice. This injustice extends to every act and to every moment of life. He is never, in the least degree, just to any being in the universe. Nay, he is perfectly unjust. He cares nothing for the rights of others as such; and never, even in appearance, regards them except for selfish reasons. This, then, is, and can be, only the appearance of regarding them, while in fact, no right of any being in the universe is, or can be, respected by a selfish mind, any further than in appearance. To deny this is to deny his selfishness. He performs no act whatever but for one reason, that is, to promote his own gratification. This is his end. For the realization of this end every effort is made, and every individual act and volition put forth. Remaining selfish, it is impossible that he should act at all, but with reference directly or indirectly to this end. But this end has been chosen, and must be pursued, if pursued at all, in the most palpable and outrageous violation of the rights of God and of every creature in the universe. Justice demands that he should devote himself to the promotion of the highest good of God and the universe, that he should love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself. Every sinner is openly, and universally, and as perfectly, unjust as possible, at every moment of his impenitence.

It should, therefore, always be understood, that no sinner at any time is at all just to any being in the universe. All his paying of his debts, and all his apparent fairness and justice, are only a specious form of selfishness. He has, and, if a sinner, it is impossible that he should not have, some selfish reason for all he does, is, says, or omits. His entire activity is selfishness, and while he remains impenitent, it is impossible for him to think, or act, or will, or do, or be, or say, anything more or less than he judges expedient to promote his own interests. He is not just. Ho cannot be just, nor begin in any instance, or in the least degree, to be truly just, either to God or man, until he begins life anew, gives God his heart, and consecrates his entire being to promotion of the good of universal being. This, all this, justice demands. There is no beginning to be just, unless the sinner begins here. Begin and be just in the choice of the great end of life, and then you cannot but be just in the use of means. But be unjust in the choice of an end, and it is impossible for you, in any instance, to be otherwise than totally unjust in the use of means. In this case your entire activity is, and can be, nothing else than a tissue of the most abominable injustice.

The only reason why every sinner does not openly and daily practice every species of outward commercial injustice is, that he is so circumstanced that, upon the whole, he judges it not for his interest to practice this injustice. This is the reason universally, and no thanks to any sinner for abstaining, in any instance, from any kind or degree of injustice in practice, for he is only restrained and kept from it by selfish considerations. That is, he is too selfish to do it. His selfishness, and not the love of God or man, prevents. He may be prevented by a constitutional or phrenological conscientiousness, or sense of justice. But this is only a feeling of the sensibility, and, if restrained only by this, he is just as absolutely selfish as if he had stolen a horse in obedience to acquisitiveness. God so tempers the constitution as to restrain men, that is, that one form of selfishness shall prevail over and curb another. Approbativeness is, in most persons, so large, that a desire to be applauded by their fellow-men so modifies the developments of their selfishness, that it takes on a type of outward decency and appearance of justice. But this is no less selfishness than if it took on altogether a different type.

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