“They (Sundry Philanthropists) say that sin«e disinterestedness is the property of every virtuous act, and selfishness is the hateful root of vice, in all other beings, it would be immoral in God, thus to propose Himself as His own supreme end, and to arrogate to Himself the services of all creatures, exhausting their well-being upon Himself. They urge that this would be selfishness more enormous than that of sinful men, just as its claims are more vast. They exclaim that this scheme makes God the great egotist of the universe. On the contrary, they display their own scheme (their Philanthropy) in enviable contrast for its disinterestedness, as making the welfare of our fellow men the chief end.
These cavils against the Christian law assume that it is intrinsically wrong for a being to direct his aims to his own wellbeing. But this is not true. There is a sense in which self-love is lawful, even for a creature; yea, the absence of it may be positive sin. There is another reason why the selfishness of fallen man is criminal: It is because a question of prior right intervenes. Our Creator puts in claims to the fruits of our existence, which are superior to all others; and therefore it is sin to be supremely selfish, because it robs our Maker of that which we received of Him. But God is indebted to none for His existence and powers. He alone is eternal, uncaused, and independent. Obviously then, it is invalid to reason that, because, in a creature, supreme egotism would be an odious crime, therefore it would ‘be a vice in the uncreated God. That regard for one’s own well-being which, even in the creature, may toe a proper subordinate end, may be in the Creator a most righteous supreme end.
But Christianity can defend itself with more positive arguments upon this point. God, being immutable, is ever actuated by the same motives. But when His eternal purpose of creation and providence subsisted in His mind, “before He had made the highest part of the dust of the earth,” or laid the foundations of the heavens, He must have been self-moved thereto; for the irrefragable reason, that nothing else existed besides Himself, to be a motive. Is it said that creatures, the future recipients of His beneficence, were present in thought, and were the motives of His purpose? The reply is at hand, that they existed as yet, only in His purpose; which purpose was the expression of His own subjective desire and impulse alone, seeing nothing but Himself existed. Hence the very purpose to create creatures to be the recipients of His bounty, was simply the result of self-gratification, because the perfections of nature thereby indulged were infinitely benignant. But whatever was God’s motive in the earliest eternity, is His motive still; for He is without “variableness, or shadow of turning.” When it is remembered that we are creatures, it is easily concluded, that our highest duty is to God. He is the author of our existence, our powers, our happiness, and supporter of our nature. He is our proprietor, in a sense so high that all other forms of ownership almost vanish away, when set beside God’s. He is, moreover, by His own perfections, the properest object of all reverence, homage, and suitable service. So that, manifestly, it is the highest virtue in the creature, that he should offer to God the supreme tribute of his being and service. But if it is obligatory on the creature to offer this, it cannot be wrong in God to accept it.
Hence, we repeat, God’s most proper ultimate end, in all His creation ‘and government, is the gratification of His own adorable perfections in His acting. And the creature’s highest duty is not chiefly to seek his own good, or that »f his fellow creatures; but the glory of God. He is the center, in.’whom originated all beings, and to whom all should tend. His will and glory is the keystone of the whole moral order of the universe. As it was the gratification of His infinite activity which originated all creature existences, with all their powers of doing and enjoying, so it is His self-prompted desire to diffuse His infinite beneficence, which-is the spring of all the well-being in the universe. And here is the conclusive answer to the cavil which we have been discussing: How can it be selfishness in God to make the gratification of His own nature His supreme law, where that nature is infinitely unselfish and benevolent? In this light, the objection is seen to be of a piece with that wretched philosophizing which argues, that, because the loving mother, the sympathizing benefactor, are actuated by their own subjective impulse, in succoring the objects of their kindness, and find pleasure in the act, therefore it is not disinterested. Common sense, as true philosophy, replies: aye, but is not the pleasure itself a pleasure in disinterestedness? What higher definition of a disinterested nature can be given, than to say that its most instinctive pleasure is in doing good?
Thus, as God’s own most suitable end is the satisfaction of His own excellent perfections; so the creature’s chief end is to glorify aod enjoy Him. This benevolent God has, of course, given the duties of benevolence to man a large place in the law which he has enacted for men; but even in our freest acts of beneficence to our fellows, we are required to have a reference supremely to Him whose creatures they are. Love to our neighbor is to be a corollary from love to our God. We are chiefly to seek His glory in their good, as in our own; and these are always in complete harmony. Hence it follows that whenever man makes his own, or his fellows’ good his chief end, he necessarily comes short of that good; and the only way to gain it, is to seek the higher end. Nor is there a paradox, when we thus say, that in order that man may truly attain his own well-being, he must truly prefer something else to it. Is it not a parallel, and an admitted truth, to say, that it is only when the virtuous man prefers some better end than applause, in his actions, that they are truly virtuous and deserving of applause? An instructive instance of this great law of our well-being is found by every one in common life. Who has not experienced this: that the days and the efforts which have been especially devoted to our own enjoyment, have usually disappointed us of enjoyment, while the days, which we devote primarily to duty, are thickly strewn with wayside flowers of unexpected pleasure?
Christian philanthropy’derives its efficiency, no less than its purity, from this, that it all flows from the Christian’s love of his God. He is an object, who never disappoints us, who never changes nor forgets; who never shows Himself forgetful or neglectful of our affectionate service; who never disgusts our efforts by unworthiness; and who has pledged the most generous reward to every true act of humanity. But if we make man our chief end, he usually shews himself, soon, unworthy to be our end. He alienates our love; he disgusts us by the follies and crimes which cruelly counteract our efforts for his good; he renders us indignant by his ingratitude. Such an idol as this can never animate us with a devotion, which will rise to the pure and enduring self-sacrifice of Christian charity. Hence, if for no worse reason, worldly philanthropy is ever feeble, unsteady, evanescent.
R. L. Dabney
Vol. IV — Secular Discussions
The Crimes of Philanthropy — pp. 60-63
The beauty of this includes the idea that God is not only God’s highest good but in the self-giving of God in the Trinitarian communion we also see that God serves as our vision of the most selfless being of all. In the eternal intra-Trinitarian communion each member of the Trinity seeks to selflessly pursue the glory of each of the other member’s of the Trinity. The Fathers resolved to glorify the Son and the Son likewise sought to glorify the Father. The Spirit was sent by the Father and Son to glorify the Son as He glorifies the Father and in accomplishing His work the Spirit glorifies Father and Son who in turn Glorify the Spirit by giving Him as the Church’s inheritance. We see in all of this that God while God is the highest good in all that He pursues, He also is, at the same time, the most self-giving in all that He pursues.
However, in all of this God’s ultimate aim is never the creature. To be sure, the good of God towards the creature (particularly the Elect) is the residue of God’s pursuit in all He does but man always remains God’s penultimate aim and never His ultimate aim. God is eternally satisfied in Himself, and does all He does for His own Glory. Because this is true fallen man has great hope and is called to delight only in what God delights in.
Failure to accept this reasoning is a failure of the modern Church. The modern church fails, in this regard, first of all because we seldom speak about these matters and the reluctance to speak about these matters leaves the stubborn selfishness of man in place. Secondly, as the stubborn selfishness of man is left in place the consequence is that men create whole theologies out of the idea that man is God’s highest good. Man develops systems of thought where Jesus died for men before He died to glorify the Father, and by such “theology,” the good is made the enemy of the best. From here these kinds of theology end up developing the Christian understanding of God’s chief end as one where God exists in order to glorify man and fully enjoy him forever. When this kind of “theology” is given its head it results in man being ensconced as deity and with man viewing God as the great vending machine in the sky, who exists only to give man whatever man wants. God thus is reduced to being the servant of man and anthropology becomes theology. Such “theology,” may be seen in the simple statement, “God loves you and as a wonderful plan for your life,” when perhaps it should be at least understood by people who make such statements that, “God loves God and has ordained a wonderful plan to glorify Himself.”
It may be the case that of all the troubles that roils the modern Church today, the foundational problem is that God’s people, never mind those outside the Church, no longer have this high vision of God. And with this low vision the putatively “saved” man is turned into a even uglier creature then the unsaved man since the putatively “saved” has baptized his self-centeredness and called it Holy.