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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Is that by which we are bound to the performance of any action,

1. Rational obligation is that which arises from reason, abstractly taken, to do or forbear certain actions.

2. Authoritative obligation is that which arises from the commands of a superior, or one who has a right or authority to prescribe rules to others.

3. Moral obligation is that by which we are bound to perform that which is right, and to avoid that which is wrong. It is a moral necessity of doing actions or forbearing them; that is, such a necessity as whoever breaks through it, is, ipso facto, worthy of blame for so doing. Various, however, have been the opinions concerning the ground of moral obligation, or what it arises from. One says, from the moral fitness of things; another, because it is conformable to reason and nature; another, because it is conformable to truth; and another, because it is expedient, and promotes the public good. A late writer has defined obligation to be " a state of mind perceiving the reasons for acting, and forbearing to act."

But I confess this has a difficulty in it to me; because it carries with it an idea that if a man should by his habitual practice of iniquity be so hardened as to lose a sense of duty, and not perceive the reasons why he should act morally, then he is under no obligation. And thus a depraved man might say he is under no obligation to obey the laws of the land, because, through his desire of living a licentious life, he is led to suppose that there should be none. In my opinion, a difference should be made between obligation and a sense of it. Moral obligation, I think, arises from the will of God, as revealed in the light and law of nature, and in his word. This is binding upon all men, because there is no situation in which mankind have not either one or the other of these. We find, however, that the generality of men are so far sunk in depravity, that a sense of obligation is nearly or quite lost. Still, however, their losing the sense does not render the obligation less strong. "Obligation to virtue is eternal and immutable, but the sense of it is lost by sin."

See Warburton's Legation, vol. 1: p. 38, 46, &c. Paley's Mor. Phil. p. 54, vol. 1:Robinson's preface to the Fourth Volume of Saurin's Sermons; Mason's Christian Morals, ser. 23, p. 256, vol. 2: Doddridge's Lect. lect. 52; Grove's Phil. vol. 2: p. 66.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Obligation'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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