The Difference between Natural Attributes and Voluntary Attributes


Great quote to remember:
“Love is a word that, first, refers to a particular moral commitment
and, second, the actions that result from such commitment.”
– Mick Wolfe, “How God uses His Natural Attributes” (comprehensium).


‘A reader of my last post [1] asked that I explain, in more detail, the opening quote by James H. Fairchild from Moral Philosophy or the Science of Obligation reading,

“‘God is love,’ because His entire character is conformed to the requirement of benevolence. This is the holiness of God as a moral attribute; of holiness in essence or being, as distinguished from holiness in character, we have no conception. There is no thought answering to the words.”

I will presently endeavor to do so. I will likely employ a degree of repetition in the process.

Fairchild uses two words that describe the moral aspect of God.[2] The first is “love” and the second is “holiness.” It is important to understand that love and holiness are moraldesignations, not natural attributes. A natural attribute is an aspect of one’s constitution that is not chosen. God did not choose to have a mind, authority, power, presence, existence, etc. When speaking of the moral character of God, as Fairchild does, we are considering how He chooses to use (govern, control, direct) the abilities He possesses (His natural attributes). It is important to understand that this is what we speak of when using the term “moral.” A being possesses moral abilities (abilities related to analyzing, understanding, and choosing between right and wrong purposes and actions) but produces moral character and behavior.

Love is a moral word and is the essence of God’s moral character. Love is a word that, first, refers to a particular moral commitment and, second, the actions that result from such commitment. A moral commitment, good or bad, depends upon one’s use of the natural attributes or capabilities one possesses. The possession of a natural attribute has no moral value; the use of such natural capabilities produces moral character[3] and value. For example, the possession of a mind (the sort that a moral agent possesses) is not morally right or wrong. The way a moral agent uses his or her mind can be right or wrong. Love describes a commitment to use one’s moral capacities (the natural attributes of a moral agent) to purpose, pursue and promote the highest possible good, all things and all beings considered. This is a simple statement about a very complex procedure.

Benevolence is a word that refers to the good spoken of above. It is to apply oneself to the benefit of others. Of course, when viewing this in a corporate sense, the challenge becomes significant. It takes incredible wisdom to provide for benefit for one without treading on the appropriate benefit of another. Therefore, Fairchild is advancing the idea that the character of God stems from a commitment to use all of His abilities and capacities to pursue this path. I state above, “appropriate benefit” because a possible immediate response to certain situations, conditions or people might involve discipline or judgment. This never seems like a benefit and yet is an appropriate response at times when working toward the highest possible good and, consequently, a manifestation of love.

Holiness is a word that refers to setting aside of oneself (abilities, time, etc.) to this goal [4]. We can properly say that holiness is an attribute of love [5]. When he states that “…of holiness in essence or being, as distinguished from holiness in character, we have no conception,” he is stating, as I explained above, that holiness is not a natural attribute, something God HAS, it is a moral designation referring to the way He uses His abilities (natural attributes).

Many credible theologians reject such distinction. I believe it is tremendously appropriate and helpful to see the relationship and distinction between natural attributes and moral operations for both, our understanding of God and of human beings. The ignorance or violation of this realm of thought has produced much confusion of mind and conduct in our current culture.’

Source: Mick Wolfe, “How God uses His Natural Attributes” (Comprehensium).

[1] (note by crosstheology:) That was me.

[2] He actually uses three if we include “benevolence,” but, for our purposes, this will be treated as another word for “love.”

[3] Once moral character is set in motion, trends are established that produce further tendencies in the usage of natural capabilities. Such trends, however, can be interrupted and altered.’

[4] (note by crosstheology:) This article is great and I believe that Mick Wolfe’s definition of love is the greatest I’ve seen so far, from the Moral Government Theology community. But I’m not sure if I agree with the way he puts holiness. I would more likely put it as the late Gordon Olson put it:

Source: my youtube channel. Click on the video for secondary sources.

[5] From this point on, I and Gordon Olson agree again, as do many theologians. For more information on “The Attributes of Love“, click here.

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