The Goodness of God
From Howe’s posthumously published The Principles of the Oracles of God, part I, lectures XXIII, XXIV and XXV. These lectures were given in 1691.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48.
Having discoursed from this text, of many of the divine perfections, under the distinct heads of the perfections of the divine nature, of the divine mind, and of the divine will: and as for those of this last rank having discoursed to you of several others, it remains to say something yet,
Of the divine goodness; where, by goodness, I do not mean the goodness of being merely, or the goodness of this or that thing in its own particular kind; nor moral goodness in the utmost extent and latitude of it, for that would comprehend the several other perfections of the divine will, that have been spoken to already: but one branch thereof only, which commonly goes under the name of benignity; a benign inclination of will, which we are to consider, both with respect of what it excludes, and in respect of what it includes.
(1.) In respect of what it excludes; it excludes what is opposite to it, whether it be contrarily opposite, or contradictory. That which is contrarily opposite is an aptness to do hurt, a mischievous disposition to have a mind or will prone to the doing of mischief; which it most certainly excludes; and then, that which is contradictorily opposite is, not to be willing to do good, an unaptness to do good.
(2.) And so, accordingly, it doth include a general propensity to benefaction, to acts of beneficence, and so we are to consider the goodness of God analogically to what we can find of any like specimen among men; for indeed much of our way of knowing God is by reflection, there being somewhat of God yet left and remaining in man, fragments, broken relics of that image first instamped upon the soul of man in his creation. And by them it is, that we form the general notion, even of those perfections which we do ascribe to God. We see the several features of that image, by reflection, as in a glass, on which we bestow such and such names. Though in the mean time we must know (as hath been told you upon other occasions over and over), that whatsoever there is that goes under the same name with God and with us (as all his communicable attributes do), yet the things must be infinitely diverse, as his being and ours cannot but be. It is but some shadow, some faint resemblance, of the divine perfections that are discernible in us. But upon those things we bestow these names, still apprehending, that under the same name somewhat infinitely more perfect hath its place and being in God.
And now, as to this perfection (the divine benignity), I purposely reserved that to the last place, because it is most in the eye and design of this text, as is very manifest if you look back but to the two more immediate paragraphs, which do more directly refer hither, the former of them more expressly signifying that vacancy that should be in us (in conformity to the divine pattern and example), of all inclination to do evil, and the latter, positively expressing and holding forth the inclination that should be in us, after the same example to do good. Of the former of these paragraphs you may look downwards from verse 38, and see how the design of that runs against a mischievous temper and disposition of spirit, an aptness to do evil, yea, although provoked; that there must be no disposition to retaliate, to requite evil with evil, wrong with wrong, injury with injury; but rather than do so, suffer oneself to be injured more, as the several expressions in that paragraph do signify, which it is not needful here to consider.
And then for the latter paragraph, concerning the disposition to do good, the discourse of that runs from verse 43. to this conclusion and close of the chapter; all under the name of love ; so extensive and large in reference to its object, as not to exclude enemies themselves; those that do with the most bitter hate pursue and persecute us. “You have heard it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy”; such undue limits have been wont to be put and assigned to your love; that you acquit yourselves well enough if you do love them that love you, and if you do good turns to them that do such to you, if you carry it courteously and affably in your salutations to such as will salute you. But this is a mean and narrow spirit, unworthy of a Christian, and unworthy of the name and design of Christianity, that being intended to restore man to man, to restore man to himself, to make man what he was, and what he should be. There are no such limitations as those to be made to our love; it must reach enemies, enemies themselves. “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you”; and all this, that you may be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect; (for so he doth); “that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good, and sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust”; animadverting upon it as a mean thing, and an argument of a base and narrow spirit, to have our love and kindness confined to those wonted limits, wherein men, otherwise taught by their own corrupt inclinations, are wont to confine theirs. This is, therefore, the main and more principal design of this text, as it refers to the context, to commend to us the divine benignity, to represent that, and to set it before us as a pattern to which we are to be conformed. Be in this respect perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And indeed, it is the fittest to consider this divine perfection in the last place; for it is (as it were) the perfecting perfection; it crowns and consummates all the rest. All the excellencies of the Divine Being, they are to be considered not abstractly, each by itself, but as they refer to one another, and as all together they do make one admirable temperament; as with reverence we may speak. Indeed, of those that are abstractly considered, that are wont to go under the notion with us of very great exercise, [if they] should be all separated from this, they lose themselves, lose their very name; wisdom, apart from goodness, it were only an ability to contrive; power, apart from goodness, were only an ability to execute ill purposes and designs. But divine wisdom, that is in conjunction with most perfect goodness; and divine power, that is in conjunction with the most perfect goodness; and so this is (as I may say) the perfecting perfection, consummating of all the rest. How admirable a thing is that wisdom that is continually prompted by goodness! and that power that is continually set on work by goodness, in all the efforts and exertions of it!
And now, in speaking to this, the divine benignity and goodness, I shall briefly point out unto you the various diversifications or it, and then lay before you some of the more observable exemplifications of it. I shall show you how it is diversified, and wherein it is exemplified.
[1.] How it is diversified. It admits, in sundry respects (which I shall mention to you), of sundry considerations and notions that may be put upon it, which yet do all run into this one thing, goodness. First, as it imports a propension unto any thing of suitableness, according as the estimate of divine wisdom and liberty doth determine it, and so it goes under the name of love. Love is nothing else but a propension towards this or that object. The objects towards which divine goodness is propense, they are estimated by his wisdom and liberty, or sovereignty in conjunction, in respect of their capacities to receive these his propensions, or to be the passive subjects thereof. Secondly, as it refers to offenders, guilty creatures, so this goodness is his clemency; thirdly, as it refers to repeated offences, so it is patience; fourthly, as it refers to long continued and often repeated provocations, so it is long-suffering, forbearance; fifthly, as it refers to a miserable object, so it is pity and compassion; sixthly, as it refers to an amiable object, so it is complacency and delight; seventhly, as it refers to an indigent object, and speaks large benefactions towards it, so it is bounty; and lastly, as it refers to the principle of liberty and spontaneity from whence it proceeds, so it is called grace, eudokia, the very expression that is used to signify the goodness of the will, when, without any kind of inducement, good is done for goodness’ sake. “Thou art good and doest good.” When there is nothing to oblige, nothing to requite, nothing to remunerate, nothing to invite, this is the graciousness of goodness. These are sundry diversifications (as they may fitly enough be called), and one and the same excellency, divine goodness and benignity, raised according as such and such respects (as have been mentioned) do clothe it. But then,
[2.] We come to give you exemplifications of it, in instances and evidences that do recommend and show it forth unto us. And,
First, The most obvious and most comprehensive one is, this very creation itself which we behold, and whereof we ourselves are a little, inconsiderable part. What else can be supposed to have been the inducement to an infinite, self-sufficient, all-sufficient Being to make such a creation as this stand forth out of nothing, but an immense goodness, a benignity not to be prescribed unto, and was only its own reason to itself, of what it would design and do? The creation could add nothing to him; for it being produced out of nothing, it could have nothing in it, but what was of him and from him; and so there is nothing of being in it, nothing of excellency and perfection in it, but what was originally and eminently in himself before; for nothing could give that which it had not; and all that is in this world, is given out from God himself, and therefore, it is resolvable into nothing else but mere goodness, that we are, or that any thing else besides is. As in Rev. 4:11. “For thy pleasure all things are and were created.” For thy pleasure; it was a pleasure to him to have that immense and boundless goodness of his issue and flow forth in such a creation: and among the rest of creatures, in giving being to such as might be capable of knowing who made them, and of contemplating the glorious excellencies of their Maker, and of partaking a felicity in him, as well as a being from him. Indeed, that there should be so vast a creation (though all that is nothing compared with him, vast as it is), that is owing to his power; that there should so ornate, and amiable, and orderly a frame of things be created, that is owing to his wisdom. But that there should be any creation at all, that is owing to nothing else but his mere goodness. He would have creatures that should be capable of knowing and enjoying the excellencies and perfections that make up his being to himself, according to their measure and capacities; and he would have other creatures of inferior ranks and orders to minister unto them. And though this be an obvious thing, and we hear of it often, it is often in our minds, yet I am afraid it is not often enough in our hearts. It doth not sink and pierce deep into our souls, to think what we, by mere nature, are, by mere untainted, uncorrupt nature; all that we are by divine benignity, that it did eternally depend upon his mere pleasure whether I should be something or nothing. And what a rebuke would this carry in it to a vain mind, if it might be seriously and often thought of! “Was I created to indulge and pursue vanity, to indulge a vain mind, and pursue vain things?” How great an awe would it hold our spirits under! It would teach us to fear the Lord and his goodness, to think, “I only am, and have a place in this world, because he thought it good, and he saw it good to have it so.” But,
Secondly, The universal sustentation that he affords to all created beings, generally considered: that is all nothing but mere goodness; for as he had no need of a creation at first, he hath still no need of it, and he that hath raised it up into being out of nothing one moment, might have suffered all to slip and lapse into nothing the next moment again, without injury to what he hath made, or without loss to himself. His tender mercy is over all his works. He lets all this great variety of creatures that replenish this world, continually draw from him. The eyes of all things look towards him. Nature hath (as it were) set an eye in every thing that is made, only to look up with craving looks to the great Author of all things, and all are sustained suitably as their indigent states require, when all are still useless to him, and advantage him nothing. But,
Thirdly, His continual sparing offending creatures; how constant a testimony and evidence is this of the immense goodness of God! That when he hath those that offend Him continually in his power and at his mercy, and he may right himself for what hath been done in a moment, or prevent doing any thing more to his displeasure, and to his dishonor, yet he spares: how admirable goodness is this! It is not oscitancy and neglect, as if he took no notice of what men did. On purpose to obviate such an expression, Moses useth that emphatical expression (interceding for offending Israel), “Let the power of my God be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is long-suffering and slow to anger.” Let the power of my God be great. It is not from oscitancy, but power, that guilty creatures are spared, that an offending world is not turned into flames and ashes long ago; that a vindictive fire hath not been preying on it, and vindicating the wrong done to the offended Maker and Lord of all. It is not oscitancy but power, that is, power over himself, the greatest of all powers. Creating power is less; the sustentative power, by which the world is bore up, is less. By the exertion of his power towards his creatures he can easily conquer them; but by this exercise of his power he doth (as it were) conquer himself; withholding himself from those more sudden eruptions of displeasure and wrath, which would argue that these were a predominant thing with him. But he will let the world know it is not so. There is the power of goodness that doth predominate and is governing. It is admirable in itself, and ought to be so in our estimate, that this world which hath, for so many thousand years, been inhabited and possessed by rebels against the crown and throne and dignity of the Eternal King, is yet spared, and they let propagate their kind, and transmit their nature, though they do, with it, transmit the poison and malignity of an inveterate hate and enmity against the Author of their being. How admirable is the divine goodness, that shows itself in this patience and long-suffering towards a guilty world! We are taught so to account; “Despisest thou the riches of his forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Rom. 2:4. And again,
Fourthly, We are to consider as a further instance and evidence of this immense goodness of God, that he is pleased to take such care of the children of men, in their several successive ages and generations, as we find he continually doth; not only sparing them but providing for them; which is a plain and most constantly positive instance and exemplification of this goodness whereof we speak. Two ways he doth more especially take care of the offending creatures that do possess and inhabit this earth of ours; partly by laws, and partly by providence.
i. By Laws. How much of the goodness of God is seen by those very laws which he hath taken care shall have place in this world, and by which any thing of common order is preserved? How admirable is it that he should so concern himself for the tranquillity and peace and welfare of those that are in a confederacy and combination against him, and have been so from one generation to another! How wonderful is it! It is owing, partly, to the impressions he hath made and left upon the minds and nature of men, that there are any such laws as go under the name of the laws of nature, which have this tendency and design, to keep the world in a peaceful and quiet state; and do so, as far as they obtain and prevail. And indeed, there is none that do any thing to the disturbance and disquiet of the world, but they abandon the law of their nature in what they do, and offer violence to themselves. But any such law of nature we must understand to have proceeded from the Author of nature, and we must understand it to have been preserved and kept alive among men, by him that doth preserve the nature of man, and doth take care that there should be successions of such creatures in this world. Consider how tender he is of the life of man, that he hath provided, that there should be such a law, even in man’s nature, against murder, of which the municipal laws of several countries are all transcripts, and all owing to the general Legislator. Whatsoever laws of this or that country do agree with the natural law, they are all from the supreme Legislator, and are but discoveries of the care and concern that the common Ruler of this world hath to preserve such a creature as man on earth, from violence and wrong. And so likewise, the laws that do obtain any where for the preservation of property, and for the preservation of chastity, and for the preservation of fame and reputation among men, and the like; that men may not be injured in such respects: they are all so many instances and exemplifications of the great and general being of the common Lord and Author of all things, towards his poor creatures in this world, though he beheld his nature poisoned with enmity and malignity against himself, and though that creature takes no notice of him in all this. And then,
ii. The case is seen, not only in the provision he hath made by laws, but which he continually makes by providence, for the sustentation of these, his offending creatures. So you see the text refers us to these very instances, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven”: that you may represent and show forth the divine nature in yourselves, that you may show yourselves born of God, with such a nature as God hath; give some proofs and discoveries of the divine nature in you, because he doth thus; loves his enemies, doth good to them that hate him, feeds them with breath, with bread, with all the necessary supports of life, in a continual course from day to day. And again,
Fifthly, It doth further evidence and exemplify divine goodness, and how perfect he is therein, that there is any derivation hereof to be found any where among men, that there is any such thing among men as goodness towards one another, in any degree of it. Wheresoever there is to be found more or less of that which we call good nature, if there be any thing of humanity, of an aptness to do good to others, or an unaptness to do them hurt or to take pleasure in their infelicities or miseries, there are so many specimens of goodness that are derived, and their very derivation speaks a fountain from whence they come. There can be no borrowed or participated goodness but must suppose, and imply, a first goodness whence it proceeds. If there be any the least goodness, in any creature, this refers us to God, prompts us to look towards him with adoring eyes. This is a little rivulet from an immense ocean, a beam, a ray from that Sun of love and goodness, from that Nature that is all goodness and all love itself, in the very essence of it. This we ought to consider, if we meet with any kindness in this world, if we see any efforts, any discoveries of pity, of compassion and mercifulness in one towards another, this is all goodness from the First Goodness. All this shows there is one Immense Goodness, whence all such little parcels of goodness do proceed and come. Even in this apostate and fallen world we see some such appearances of the divine image (as was said) yet left. We see man hath love in his nature, something of goodness in his nature, a proneness to do acts of goodness and beneficence to some or other, as they come in his way: this should presently make us fall adoring the Supreme Goodness in all this. But then,
Sixthly, The design of recovering apostate, fallen man, is, beyond all things, a most admirable discovery of divine goodness; that ever he should have formed such a design. Here is such a creature, such an order of creatures, such a sort of creatures, fallen, sunk, lost, become miserable, and miserable by their own delinquency, by their own apostacy, that is, by their own choice: they have chosen the way that leads down to the chambers of death and eternal ruin. Now, that in this case he should form a design with himself, “I will yet settle a course wherein such creatures as these may be recovered and saved, even from a self-procured ruin.” If there were not, I say, a goodness whereof no other account could be given, but that it is divine, but that it is of itself, as the Deity is, as the Godhead is; who would ever have imagined but that such creatures having offended, and by their offensive nature and course, put themselves into a way of perishing, must have been let perish. Nothing more was needful than to let them perish. Why should they not be let perish, when they chose it, when they loved it, and affected the way to it? “They that hate me love death.” They that hated wisdom, the Supreme Wisdom, they loved death. And why might they not be left to their own choice, to take the things they love? No, this was God-like, this speaks the goodness of a God, that he will prevent the perishing of self-destroying creatures. “Their destruction is of themselves, but they shall find that in me is their help”; as by the prophet he speaks his own mind and heart. Partly, the design itself, of saving and recovering such creatures, and partly, the strange and most surprising methods for bringing about such a design, may not only beget conviction, but the highest admiration also, of the goodness of God. We should not only acknowledge it, but fall a wondering, and even lose ourselves in wonder. How unaccountable a goodness was this, that rather than such creatures as we should finally and remedilessly perish, God should put on man, become man: that man, a man of sorrows; that man of sorrows, at last a sacrifice on a cross, to bring about a reconciliation between an offended Majesty and offending creatures? What manner of love was this! what a transporting discovery of divine goodness! “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. But then, if we add in the next place, to all this,
Seventhly, The various means that he useth to draw and gather in souls, to comply with the terms upon which pardon and reconciliation, and eternal salvation are offered to us. There are his ensigns displayed, there is a Gospel published, there is an office set on foot, which is to last through all ages to the end of time, on purpose to draw and gather in souls; and all these to be looked upon still under the notion of enemies, they whose hearts were full of enmity and hate against him. For whom indeed he hath been doing good, in common kinds, long before: but they never thanked him for all the actings of his patience and sparing mercy. But such things are continually done towards the unthankful and the evil; yea, these he is so intent on saving from a deserved ruin, and bringing them to partake, even in a blessedness with himself, to unite them with his Son, make them one with him, to possess them with his Spirit; and to one of the greatest wonders of the divine goodness that can be thought of. When he hath given his Son to be a sacrifice for poor sinners, then to give his Spirit to enter into them, and to inhabit and possess them, and dwell in them; that holy, pure Spirit, of all goodness and purity, that Spirit of holiness, as he is called, that he should make his entrance into unholy souls, souls that are so many cells of impurity and filthiness, of every thing that is hateful and noisome and loathsome, how admirable a discovery is this of the divine goodness!
And having thus demonstrated the divine goodness, my design is to vindicate it. And that is, indeed, of so great importance, that I cannot think it fit to leave off from this subject without placing some endeavor that way. It is of the greatest consequence to us, in all the world, to have our souls habitually possessed with a believing, admiring sense of the goodness of God. We should therefore watch with greater jealousy over our souls, in no one point more than this, lest any thought should arise, or lest any injection should fix and have place in our souls, that should any way tend to infer with us a diminution of the goodness of God, that the glory of it should be sullied in our eyes, or that it should be obscured or darkened in any kind: for how much may a thought do of prejudice to that genuine, holy, spiritual affection that should be working back again in ourselves towards a good God! How may that affection be stifled by a thought, if it be not duly and seasonably obviated!
And indeed, there are but these two great objections that can, with any plausibleness, offer themselves against the goodness of God; partly, the eternal miseries that do befall the greater part of mankind; and partly, the temporal calamities that do befall the better part. These two ways, men may object to themselves against the divine goodness, wherein God is here represented as so perfect, that the most should miserably perish, and the best should undergo many hard and grievous things, even in this world. Both these we shall take into consideration, that so, this most necessary part of the idea of the divine perfections may obtain, without any kind of obstruction or objection lying against it in our minds or hearts; so as we may yield ourselves to be entirely swallowed up of the divine goodness.
The former of these is more frequent. And to show how little pretence there can be from thence, how little color of objection against the divine goodness, I shall lay before you these many considerations:
1. That no such goodness can be as a perfection in God, that shall exclude or diminish any of his other perfections. No such goodness can belong to the nature of God, as any perfection due to it, that shall be exclusive or diminishing of any other perfection. You should not praise a man, but reproach him, if you should give this of him as his character, that be is so very good-natured, as never to make any difference between civilities and affronts.
2. Punitive justice is most certainly a perfection belonging to the nature of God, both as he is a Being universally perfect, and as he is the Ruler of the world, to be exercised in such cases, wherein there is occasion it should have place. This is plain in itself, punitive justice to be exercised where it ought to have place, it is a perfection belonging to the nature of God as he is a Being of universal perfection, and the Ruler of the world: as indeed, the Original Being, the First of Beings, must include all perfection eminently in itself. For there is no perfection that is not somewhat, and there is no something that can come from nothing, and therefore, the First Being must have all perfection in it. And if this be a perfection (as every man’s judgment will tell him it is), that is, punitive justice, to be exercised upon proper occasions, it cannot but have place in the Divine nature, as he is a Being of universal perfection, and as it necessarily belongs to him, supposing a world, to be the Governor of it. It could be from no other but him; and therefore, can be under no government but his.
3. There can be no place for the exercise of punitive justice, but in reference to creatures governable by a law. Punitive justice can never have place, but towards such creatures as do admit of being governed by a law. Punishment is, properly, nothing else but due animadversion upon an offender against the law to which he is obliged, and which he is put under. This also is plain in itself, and only leads to what I add further,
4. That no creature can be capable of government by a law, but such a one as is endowed with the natural faculties of an understanding and a will. There is no place for a legal government, and so nor, consequently, for the exercise of punitive justice, but toward a creature that is endowed with the natural faculties of an understanding and will, supposing that such a creature be guilty of violating the laws by which he ought to be governed.
5. It can be no reflection upon the nature of God to have made such a creature as man. For that which is the very first instance of divine goodness, it would be very strange that that should be a reflection upon it, cloud it, or obscure it. It evidenceth it most highly, that when it was in the choice of God, and a thing merely depending upon his pleasure, to make such a sort and order of creatures stand up out of nothing into being. This is, I say, the first evidence of his goodness, and speaks nothing to the disparagement of it: “for thy pleasure all things are and were created.” And that which ought, from the very reason of the thing, to be matter of highest and most grateful acknowledgment and adoration, must thereupon, necessarily, be an instance of goodness in him to whom such grateful acknowledgments are due, and by whom they are claimed. And it is a saying that carries its own light and reason in it, of that ancient, that “If I were capable (saith he) of making an intelligent creature stand up out of nothing, with a present power of using and understanding, the first thing I should expect from him should be, that he fall down and worship me, and make acknowledgment to me, for having been the author of being, and of such a being to him.” And then, for the kind of this being which divine goodness hath allotted to it, it makes it a high instance of his goodness itself. So far is it from being a diminution to it, that is, that he hath given us such a sort of being that is merely imitative and resembling of his own, wherein could there have been a greater signification of kindness and goodness, than to form a creature after his own image, with a spiritual, intelligent nature like his own? And,
6. The things that render any creature capable of felicity, do also render it capable of government by a law: that is, reason and will, an intellective and elective faculty; these make a people capable of government by a law, and make them capable of felicity too. As hath been told you, if man had not had a nature endowed with an understanding and a will, he could have been no capable subject of being governed by a law: but then, if he had been destitute of such faculties as these, he could not have been capable of felicity neither. If he had not understanding to apprehend wherein it lies, and a will to unite with it, choose it, and take solace in it, he would be incapable of being a happy creature. And what! can it be any argument against the divine goodness that he hath made man with such a nature as renders him capable of felicity? If he were not capable of government, he could not be capable of felicity; the same things making him capable of the one, and of the other.
7. It must have been a very great blemish upon the divine government, if creatures capable of government by law, should generally offend against the most righteous and equal ones (as his laws cannot but be), and there should be no course taken for the punishing of such transgressors. This must be a manifest blemish upon a government. Suppose we, in any government whatsoever, that there should be any such edict and proclamation published, that let the subjects under such a government do what they please, no man shall be animadverted upon, all shall do what is good in their own eyes, and no one be ever called to any account; would this be a commendation of a government? Such a thing is altogether insupposable in the administration of the best and most excellent government that ever was, or ever can be. Consider it in the whole course of it, not the temporal administration abstractly from the future state of things, but the course and the end of it altogether; and it must finally appear the best and most perfect and excellent government that ever was, or ever can be. But how insupposable is it, I say, that the best and most perfect government, should ever be liable to such a blemish as this, that let men be never so wicked, it shall fare as well with them as if they were never so dutiful and obedient. The thing speaks itself, and Scripture speaks it, but it speaks not as a notion which it suggests anew, but only that which it takes up and observes, as a thing common to men before. “Shall not the Judge of all the world do right?” And see what immediately proceeds, “Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked? That be far from thee; Shall not the judge of all the world do right?” Gen. 18:23, 25. Supposing this as a great fundamental, a principle that did always shine with its own light, and that did evidence itself, that it must belong to the Judge of all the earth to do right: and so put a difference between the righteous and the wicked, that they are not to fare all alike. And again,
8. The very nature of the law, that was original and natural to man, is itself a high evidence and instance of divine goodness. The law of nature, that law (I say) which was original and natural to man, and so inwrought into himself at first, that he was even constituted as a law to himself, because that that was enjoined in it summarily, did carry his own reason in it, had in itself recommending evidence to that conscience wherewith he was created, that God did rule upon those terms that he was to rule himself upon; and so must judge him upon such terms, as upon which he must judge himself. For do but consider, how this law is afterwards summed up all in one word, love. This was the fulfilling of the law, the loving of God above all: the most equal thing in all the world, that the highest and best love should be placed upon the highest and best good. This was that which his law required, that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul, and with all our might. Our Savior gives this, as the summary and principal part of the law that was natural and original to man: and then, the second part is like the former, loving our neighbor as ourselves. How greatly evidential was this divine goodness, that when he had made a creature capable of government by a law, he should give him such a law as this, and impress it upon his mind, so as it might be said, God was not more to govern him by it, than he was to govern himself: and so finally was to judge him by it, as he must needs judge himself! “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8. Walk in that dutiful subjection to God, which must be the necessary and easy product of supreme and sovereign love to him ; and then, carry it justly and mercifully towards men. And, certainly, that must needs be an instance and evidence of the greatest goodness in God, that should be the cause of the greatest good in man. Now, do but suppose the world conformed to this law of God, in these two most noble and constituent parts of it; that is, that all the inhabitants of this world did live in the continual love of God, adoring him most gratefully as the great Author of their being, and in a universal and mutual love to one another, each man seeking another’s felicity as his own, and having no more design of hurt or mischief against another than he hath against his own life, his own heart, what a happy world were this! And that which tends to happiness, must be from goodness: nothing is plainer. Now, when so admirable a law as this, every part agreeing with the whole, no branch but what is naturally included in this summary, this compendium; I say, when such a law as this was given to man, it is most natural to add, that the same goodness that did enjoin upon man such a law, must also adjoin a penalty to it, a threatening or due punishment for the violation of it; otherwise, the divine government had been ludicrous, if there should have been such a law which is without annexing any penalty. And the better the law, and more unexceptionable, the more clearly righteous and equal is a very severe penalty to be annexed to it; and the annexing it thereunto, is not only what divine goodness must allow, and doth allow, but what it did require. This was a thing not only consistent with divine goodness, but the effect of it, that there should be such intermination added unto such a law. For, if the adding of that sanction to the law, was the aptest means to procure the continual obedience of it, and the law itself had a tendency to the good of the community for whom it was made, then the very addition of the sanction or threatening to the precept of the law, must not only consist with the goodness of it, but proceed from it. Any prince that doth really study the welfare of the governed community, must be understood to adjoin due and proper penalties to good laws, for the good of the people to be governed by them: that the awe of the adjoined threatening may procure obedience, and that obedience, felicity to them that are so governed; so as that such a law being once made, goodness did not only admit of it, but did require, that there should be a penalty annexed to it, to enforce obedience. And again,
9. It was never to be expected, that when God made such a creature, he should create him in that which was to be his final state. It could never be looked for from the divine goodness, that making such a creature as man, he should settle him in a final good and happy estate the first day he made him. It can be no way inconsistent with the goodness of God, that having made such a creature as man, he should order him a state of trial, of probation, through which he was to pass into that state which was to be final, and perpetually felicitating. For a final state is a state of retribution, a state of reward. The Scripture so speaks of it, frequently, as you cannot but know. Now I beseech you, what was it to be the reward of? It must be the reward of a foregoing obedience. And therefore, it could never have been expected from the divine goodness, that when God first made man, he should have made it impossible for him ever to have offended; or when he made any intelligent creature that he should have made it so. Those two great orders of intelligent creatures, angels and men, it is plain enough God made neither of them incapable of offending. And it was not reasonable to expect that he should. But as to ourselves (for we are more obliged to mind our own concernments), this is the account we have given us, Eccles. 7:29. “God made man upright; but he hath sought out many inventions.” God made him upright, put him into a good state, if he would have liked it, but he must needs fall to his own inventions, to mend it, and try if he could not make to himself a better state than God had made for him. It was never to be expected from the divine goodness, that he should, by almighty, extraordinary power, have prevented this. For the creature that was designed to be rewarded with eternal felicity, for a present temporal obedience, he must be left to the trial of his ingenuity and dutifulness towards his bountiful Creator. Otherwise, there would have been no place, no room for reward. And if there had been no place for punishment, in case of disobedience, there could have been no place of reward, in case of obedience and duty. Therefore I add hereupon,
10. That inasmuch as it was necessary there should be such a law, and the threatening annexed to it, or punishment proportionable to any offence committed against it, the execution, according to the tenor of the threatening, became accordingly and consequently necessary, supposing once the violation of such a law. I speak of that law which was natural and original to man; for that little instance of obedience, wherein God did put man at first upon, there could not have been transgression in that, without it had been a violating of the most natural law, in the most noble and essential part of it. Now, if a threatening were necessary to be annexed to a law, the execution of it, in case of a violation of that law, was consequently necessary; yea, and if the threatening did immediately proceed from divine goodness, the execution of the threatening most immediately proceed from it; but not without the intervention of the divine veracity. The goodness of God did lead him to add a due and proportionable threatening to his law: and this law being violated and broken, so as that the threatened punishment became due, it must be executed. That which was ordained from the divine goodness, it comes to be the immediate effects of divine justice, which is not contrary to goodness: it is only in our conception diverse, but far from being contrary. If there had not been such a constitution, the divine goodness had not shone forth with that luster and evidence that now it doth. And there being such a constitution, his truth and legal justice oblige him, in some way or other, to keep to it, either in kind or equivalency: he must do himself and his own law that right, as to preserve the honor, reputation, and dignity of it, and of his own government concerned therein. Therefore, the execution of such a law, by inflicting the incurred penalty one way or other, was necessarily and unavoidably consequent: so necessary, that one attribute could not in this case have had its sole exercise without injury to some other, which our first consideration was directed against. But then I yet farther add,
11. That whatsoever penalty comes to be inflicted upon unreconcileable sinners, in the final and eternal estate, it must be acknowledged that much of divine goodness was exercised and demonstrated towards them before. Suppose an offending creature whose heart was implacable towards God, and so violently addicted to sensual lusts, that he had the authority of his Maker in continual contempt; and his whole life was a defiance to the authority of his justice and government, and the goodness and kindness of the offers he hath made to him; suppose (I say) such a creature incurs never so severe a penalty, he cannot but acknowledge that much of the divine goodness had its exercise and demonstration towards him before. For otherwise, what room or place were there for that expostulation of the apostle, even with them whom he supposeth finally to fall under wrath in the day of God’s wrath, and revelation of his righteous judgment; “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and long-suffering, and forbearance? not knowing that the goodness of God should lead thee to repentance?” Despisest thou his goodness! This same despising had no object, if there had been no exercise of goodness towards such a one before, and it would suppose this expostulation to be a great impertinency. Despise goodness; it were to despise nothing, if there had been no goodness, and so there could have been no such thing as despising: the thing the apostle chargeth upon such a one; for there can be no act where there is no object. There could be no goodness to be despised, if there had not been the exercise of goodness towards such a one in a former state. Therefore I add,
12. That the general and special goodness of God are things no way inconsistent with one another. These two things do very fairly accord, God’s general goodness towards all, and his special goodness towards some. And it argues a very great debility of mind, and shortness of discourse, when any do set these against one another, as if special goodness must destroy the notion of general goodness, or as if general goodness must destroy the notion of special. The matter would be more easily apprehensible, if we would bring it to a case relating to a human government, and suppose the best that is supposable in this world. Would you suppose that the clemency, kindness, and goodness of the best prince that ever was (or of whom you can form any idea in your own minds), must oblige him to deal alike with all his subjects, that is, that all persons that are of equal parts, of equal understandings, must be equally preferred, equally dignified’! Would the goodness of any prince oblige him to this, that if he find a necessity to have some persons of good parts and understanding to be of a privy council to him, that he must have all to be of that privy council that are of as good parts as they? And shall such a prince not be thought to be good, or his government not to be equal, unless it were so? The best idea that we can form of any government is, that things be equally carried towards all, and yet special favor be towards objects that are not altogether incompetent, at the choice of the ruler. This is the best idea we can form. Bring then the matter to the divine government; we must distinguish between matters of right and matters of favor. For matters of right, we are to expect from it, that God do right to all men universally without exception; but for matters of mere favor, in reference whereunto he is not so much as a debtor by promise (and he can be a debtor to none by nature), he can owe nothing to his creature. It is possible for a subject in a human government to oblige his ruler, but no creature can oblige God. A subject in a human government may really deserve favor and kindness at the hands of his rulers, for he can benefit them, it is in his power to profit them, they can really be the better for him; but God can be the better for none of us; therefore, he can be a debtor to none but by promise: we are therefore only to expect from the divine goodness that where he hath promised, there he will be as good as his word; but for unpromised favor, to which the creature can have no title, that there he do dispense arbitrarily as seemeth good to him. And therefore, upon this ground his general goodness towards all, and special goodness towards some, are no inconsistencies one with another. And if he do generally show that goodness in the course of his dispensations to all his creatures, and especially to all the children of men, that every one that considers must acknowledge, then it is no detraction from the goodness that he doth show to all, that he doth somewhat more of mere special favor for others, yea, though it be never so much, or though it be never so greatly more. There is no cause or pretence why any man’s eye should be evil because his is good. For free and unpromised favors (and all are unmerited, but such as are not only unmerited but unpromised too), that he dispense out these arbitrarily, is certainly no repugnancy to the highest and most perfect goodness. I further add,
13. That instances of the general goodness of God towards men are most numerous and undeniable. For besides that he hath given them being (when it was in his choice and pleasure whether he would or no), here he entertains them in a world, to the making whereof, none of them did ever contribute any thing; he watches over them by an indulgent providence, supplies them with breath every moment; keeps off, for an appointed time, destructive evils; affords them out of that common bounty his, the good things that are necessary for the continuance and comfort of life. How rich is this earth in its productions for offending creatures! I cannot but think of it, many times, with wonder, that considering that this inferior part of God’s creation, so soon after it was made, fell under his just displeasure and righteous curse, there yet should be so great variety of productions, everywhere in this earth, for the entertainment of rebels, or those that for the most part never give thanks for what they enjoy, never look up, although they have a capacity and disposition in their nature (originally) so to do, to adore, to pay reverence to the first and eternal Being. That which some think to be more the difference of a man from a brute than reason is, a natural religion, which some take a great deal of pains with themselves to erase and tear by the roots out of their own souls. Let us consider that which the text refers to, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father, who doth good to the evil and the good, makes his sun to shine and his rain to fall on one and the other”; do so, that you may represent your Father; herein lies his perfection. This whole earth that men fill with their wickedness, he fills with his goodness, “The whole earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” Ps. 33:5. “The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works,” Ps. 145:9. “He hath not left himself without witness, in that he doeth good, and gives fruitful seasons, and fills men’s hearts with food and gladness,” Acts 14:17. And I further add,
14. That even those instances of divine goodness that are of an inferior kind, have a tendency and aptitude in them to make way for the exercise of his goodness to them, in a higher and nobler kind. The goodness which God exerciseth towards men in the concernments of this natural life of theirs, they have a tendency and aptitude to affect their minds, and to beget good impressions there, and to make them consider and bethink themselves, “Whence is all this? and how comes it to pass that such provision should be made for one, and for creatures generally, of that order to which I belong?” This is the tendency, even of external mercies. Whereupon, it is spoken of with such resentment, “They say unto God, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways � yet he filled their houses with good things: but the counsel of the wicked be far from me,” Job 21:14-15. And the same you have resumed afterwards, in the next chapter, implying that the tendency of things did run quite otherwise; that is, to allure and draw the minds and hearts of men towards God; and make them consider and bethink themselves, and say, Why should we not covet to know our great Benefactor, and him from whom all our good comes? But they say unto him, “Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways”; � “though he filled their houses with good things”; and therefore is there such a resentment afterwards expressed; “but the counsel of the wicked be far from me”; representing them as a monstrous sort of creatures, a sort of prodigies in the world, that there should be such should be such a disaffection in rebellious and obdurate hearts against the Author of all goodness and kindness and mercy, that is in so continued a course exercised towards them. The counsel of the wicked be far from me; as if any serious and considering man must, and ought to be startled and affrighted at beholding such a spectacle as this, a reasonable, intelligent soul shunning and fleeing away from him who is daily loading it with his benefits, and seeking, by kindness and goodness, to insinuate himself into it, and so make room and place for himself, in the love and kindness of such a one. But that these dispensations have this tendency in them, the Scripture is full of it; “Knowest thou not that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” hath a leadingness thereto, in that mentioned Rom. 2:4. “And count (saith the apostle Peter in his Second Epistle 3:15) that the long-suffering-of the Lord is salvation”; (he would not have us make a false count, I hope); reckon that he is aiming at the saving of your souls, while he is doing good to you in external respects. If he feed you with bread, if be feed you with breath day by day, and moment by moment, what is it for? Is it only to support such a despicable thing as this frail body of yours is, which must shortly become a carcass? Is that the utmost of his design? No, he is leading thee to repentance, and would have thee account that both his bounty and his patience towards thee have salvation in design. Count the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation, that is, it is the design of the thing; it is that which the thing itself doth naturally aim at, and lead unto. And hereupon, we are told in that, Acts 14:16-18, that God aimed at the turning men from the vanities that their hearts did dote on as the objects of their worship, to the living God; he did aim at this in giving them fruitful seasons, as you may see, if you take notice of the connection between the 15th and 17th verses of that chapter. So, Acts 17, he gives them being, breath, and all things, that they might seek after him who is not far from every one of us; in whom we live and move and have our being. And then,
15. Lastly, The terms upon which he offers peace and pardon and eternal life to offending creatures, are the highest proofs and evidences imaginable of the wonderful goodness of God, notwithstanding that so great multitudes do, finally, refuse them and perish. And to this purpose, it should be considered, that the apostle speaks of this as matter of transport more than doubt, and that it did need more to be admired than evinced. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. The silence that is there used is more speaking than any speech could be. He so loved the world, at so stupendous a rate. It is a very speaking silence that he doth not tell us how great that love is; he leaves us to understand it to be altogether inexpressible, that he should give his only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish � and whereas, men have an impotency to the exercise of that faith that is requisite to their attaining salvation, what is that impotency? It stands only in an affected blindness and obduracy of will; that which they call moral impotency. Now moral doth not excuse, but aggravate the faultiness. No man takes moral impotency to be an excuse, but a high aggravation. As if a man is guilty of murder, and he brings this to excuse him, � “I could not but kill that man because I hated him, I did so violently hate him that I could not but do this unto him.” That moral impotency (his extreme hatred) aggravates the crime, that that made it to be done, made it so highly faulty, and so much the more heinous, that it is done. He is not less guilty, but the more, by how much the more his hatred was predominant and prevalent in the case. Why, so this disaffection to God and to Christ and to holiness (which is impotency), is an impotency seated in the will, and the ignorance hath its root, it ariseth and proceeds from thence, that is, that men are “alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, and because of the blindness of their hearts.” A blindness which they love, a blindness which they choose, as it is, Eph. 4:18. Whereupon, all their misery is self-created. The miseries wherein men are involved in this world, which make it another hell to them (a hell on this side hell), and the miseries of the final and eternal state, they are all self-created; that is, they do arise from a fixed, inveterate malignity against the Author of their being, and that very nature itself, whereof their own, at first, was an imitation. An amazing thing, but it were impossible, if men did love God, to be miserable. Loving him is enjoying him, and enjoying him is felicity, if any thing be, or can be. The image of men’s future miseries you have in their present state. What is it that makes the world such a hell as it is, but men’s hatred of God and of one another? For (as was said) if there were no contention at all among men on earth, but who should love God best, and one another best, and who should do most for him, and for one another, what a heavenly life should we live here, a heaven on this side heaven: but the hell on this side hell, is only this, that men’s hearts are filled with enmity against God, and one another; and from this malignity proceeds their infidelity, that they do not unite to God in Christ when they are called to it; which is no excuse, but an aggravation. But, in the mean time, that is the most wonderful goodness that can be thought, that such overtures should be made to men, God having given his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
And this may suffice to be said, in answer to that first objection against the divine goodness, the eternal miseries of the most. And, indeed, the sum of all that can be said upon that account, doth amount to this, as if it were a thing inconsistent with the goodness of God, that he hath made such a creature as man, given him so excellent a being, made him after his own image, that is, endowed him with a reason and a will, in his very creation; and that, having made him such, he did not alterably fix him in a good and happy state the first day, but that he thought fit to pass him through a state of probation into his final state; and upon this lapse and degeneracy he did not do for every one in order to their recovery as he hath done for some. In answer whereto, you have these considerations laid before you.
But we pass on to the other objection; the temporal afflictions of good men. Some may be prone to impeach the divine goodness upon this account, and object against what hath been said on that subject. But here, such as find themselves disposed so to object, should reflect upon themselves, and consider what they themselves are. Are they good men that do thus object? Or are they such as are afraid to be so on this account, and are thereupon so very officious as to object this on the behalf of others, while they themselves are loath thereupon to become good, apprehending they shall not serve a good master, and are therefore willing to waive and decline his service? If they be men of this latter stamp and character, that do so object, it seems that their sense must be this, that they will never be good themselves, unless God will hire them to it by temporal rewards and emoluments, by indulging them to live a life of ease and pleasure and opulency in the world. And for them whose sense this is, I have but these things briefly to say to them:
1. That true goodness can never be so mercenary. They are never like to become good upon these terms, if God should give them their own terms.
2. I would have them consider what other choice they can have. If they will not serve God, and devote themselves to him, and admit to be such as he requires (that is, truly good), but upon these terms, what else will they do? What other master, or service, or way have they to make choice of? Can they, by their not being willingly subject to the governing power of God, exempt themselves from an unwilling subjection to his vindictive power? Whither will they betake themselves? will they leave God’s dominions? will they go beyond the bounds of his territories? whither will they fly? Neither earth, nor heaven, nor hell, can keep them out of his reach; as the Psalmist at large speaks it in that 139th Psalm, and the prophet Jeremiah in the 23rd chapter of his prophecy. “Am I a God at hand, and not a God afar off? Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” Is it to be a disputed thing between him and you, whether you shall serve him and comply with his good and acceptable will? And,
3. If God should give such men their terms, whereas they appear to be in the temper of their spirits bad enough already, they have a great deal of reason to think that would make them a great deal worse. It needs abundance of previous and preventing grace not to be the worse for a good condition, here in this world, as all experience shows. And,
4. Lastly, I would appeal to such, whether God is not, in such respects, abundantly good to them already. Hath he not given you breath, and being, and all things that you enjoy? How great are the favors that you partake of, in common with the rest of men! To instance in what the context mentions, “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.” What a case were you in, if God should put out the sun, and if he should turn the fruitful land in which you dwell, into universal barrenness, by continual withholding his rain? If he should turn your present health into continual sickly languishings, and your ease into tormenting pains, and your plenty into pinching wants and straits? And more than all this, if he should turn his invitations to you to pray and supplicate for higher, and those that may tend to eternal mercies, into prohibitions; and say to you, “Never pray, never supplicate, never look up, I will receive no addresses from you”? If his invitations to you to surrender yourselves, and become his, and take him for yours, should be turned into protestations against it, “I will never be your God, and you shall never be my people”? Think, while this is not the case, if God be not abundantly good to you already, so that upon your own account you have very little reason to contest the matter with him.
But, if good men do object this, as possibly against their more habitual frame, under the power of some temptation, they may be apt to do, as we find it was with the Psalmist in the 73rd Psalm; and the like offence and scandal good men are represented as, sometimes, apt to take at their own afflicted condition, compared with the prosperous state of worse men, against which much of that 37th Psalm is directed, and that 21st of Job; and the beginning of the 12th chapter of Jeremiah’s prophecy; let such but go into the sanctuary, as the Psalmist did (in that 73rd Psalm), retire themselves, consider the thing in the secret Divine presence, and commune with God about the matter, and not with their own souls, nor consult with flesh and blood, and let them but consider such things as these, briefly,
(1.) Whether this matter of fact be ordinarily and generally true, that the case of good men is worse than that of wicked men in external respects. It is a matter that deserves to be considered and inquired wisely about; and certainly, upon inquiry, it will rather be found otherwise; that is, except in the paroxysm of persecution against instituted religion (for it is very rare that men should be persecuted for natural); but “if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus,” he must expect to “suffer persecution.” I say, except in some such paroxysm of persecution upon such an account, for Christianity itself, as to those that live among pagans, or for this or that institution of them that live among Christians, that case being excepted which is not constant; ordinarily, it appears evident that the better men are, the better their slate and condition are in this world. Their religion obligeth them to that temperance, sobriety, and diligence in their callings, prudent and discreet management of their affairs, that in ordinary cases it is most plain and manifest, that there are much fewer who are ruined by their religion, than that are ruined by their wickedness, by their riot, and by their debauchery; more persons, more estates, and more families are ruined that way, if there be but a survey taken of the state of things in this world: and the apostle offers this very consideration (in that 1 Cor. 10:13, even to the very suffering Christians of that time), “There hath no temptation” (that is tentative affliction) “befallen you but what is common to men,” but what is human. It is true, the account is not common, but the matter of the affliction or the afflictions materially considered, are common to men. Are good men thrown into jails, and sometimes put to death for their religion? Truly, so are bad men for their wickedness, as frequently, and, if we should make a general computation, much more frequently. They suffer the same things very commonly, upon a less comfortable account. And,
(2.) Where this is really the very case, that the condition of God and holy men is, in this world, much worse than that of the worst men, as many times it is so, they are to consider the vastly different value of spiritual and temporal good things; and this is the great business of a Christian, to labor to have that spiritual sense in exercise, by which to be able to discern between good and evil, and to prefer the things that are more excellent; as those two scriptures compared together speak, Heb. 5:14. and Phil. 3:8. They ought to have their naked, unvitiated senses by which to discern between good and evil, and to abound in that judgment and sense, in all sense, by which they may distinguish the things that differ, and prefer (as that expression admits to be read) the things that are more excellent. And then, how much greater is the value of a sound and well tempered mind and spirit, above that of all earthly and worldly accommodations and enjoyments imaginable, which are but the gratifications of our flesh and external sense, at best. And,
(3.) Such are to consider what is the experience of Christians of all times, concerning the aptitude and useful subserviency of external afflictions to inward and spiritual advantage; they say, when they are in their calmer and more considering frames, that it is good for them that they were afflicted, and, that God hath done it in very faithfulness to them. And,
(4.) Lastly, It is God’s own declared end, in the temporal afflictions he lets befall his, and therefore, would have them count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations, that is, tentative afflictions, James 1:2. Count it all joy, because it made greatly for their perfection. The trial of your faith worketh patience, therefore count it all joy; implying, there is more of real good in that one single excellency of patience, than can be of evil in all the external afflictions, absolutely resigned and submitted to the divine pleasure. Here is so much of an inchoate heaven, such a heaven as our present state admits of, this one thing hath, as is not only enough to make us patient, but joyful, under the various temptations and trials of this kind, that we are apt to fall into, or lie under. And hereupon, where this sense hath been impressed upon the hearts of good men, they have thought the sufferings of the present time were not worthy to be compared with the end of them, which was to be wrought out thereby, as in that Rom. 8:18. “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This is my arithmetic, so I account, or this is my logic, so I reason; the word may be rendered either way, this is the rational estimate I make of this case, having turned it round, and viewed it on every side, and balanced things with things, that the sufferings of the present time, this now of time, this very point of time, are not worthy to be compared (alas, it is not to be named the same day), to the glory that is to be revealed. It is as nothing in the account, as if we should weigh a feather against a mountain. This is my rational estimate and judgment in this case. And, that God doth design the afflictions of this present state, as a preparation for the future and eternal state, we have most expressly laid down in that II Cor. 4:17. “The light afflictions which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It is a metathesis which is not usual in Scripture; do work for us, that is, indeed, do work us for it. And it is to be understood, principally, of subjective glory, not objective; for that can never be more or less to any: it is essentially the same in itself with divine glory, but subjective glory, not objective. It is essentially the same in itself with divine glory ; but subjective glory to be impressed, that is, more or less, according to the capacity and disposition of the subject. And we grow more capable, and are larger vessels, receptive of greater glory, as our temper is; and our temper is better, and made more receptive of larger and more glorious communications, even by the sufferings of this present time. By the light afflictions which are but for a moment, we are so much the more apt for the eternal weight of glory, which is to ensue; which we are not barely to be told, but to bear, answerable to the notion of weight. We are not only to be mere spectators of the glory there spoken of, but the subjects of it. And then, if this be all that God doth design by the afflictions that he lets befall good men here in this world, to refine them, to make them more partakers of his own holiness, and consequently of fuller glory, greater and higher measures of glory, is this any ground of taking up diminishing thoughts concerning his goodness? Yea, I might add,
It is that which his very relation doth oblige him to, even as he is our Father: your heavenly Father is perfect. For what a Father is he to us? or in what sense is he Father to his own? He is the Father of their spirits; so his word speaks contradistinguishingly of him to the fathers of our flesh. Of the flesh we have other fathers, Heb. 12:9. He is not the Father of our flesh; he is the Creator of it; but of our spirits he is the Father. He is the Father of them, both upon a natural and supernatural account; as they have his natural image, being intelligent and spiritual things like his own; and as his regenerate children have his holy image renewed in them. Now the very relation doth oblige him (if he be a Father to us, that is, to our spirits) more principally to mind the advantage of our spirits. That very relation doth not only admit, but require, that he should let us suffer in our flesh, if it may be for the advantage of our spirits ; and that this outward man should be beaten and shattered day by day, even unto perishing, if, while this is a doing and suffering, the inward man may be renewed day by day. He must take the principal care about that to which he is a Father. Affection must follow the relation; the relation is to our spirits, and the affection must be, principally, to our spirits.
But I shall insist no further on that part. It remains only to make somewhat of Use of what hath been said, especially touching this divine perfection of the goodness of God. And,
1. Be hereupon encouraged to cherish this apprehension concerning God, take heed that nothing ever shake your fixed belief and apprehension of this. And whatsoever reasonings do arise in your minds at any time, forelay this always, let it be always a thing forelaid in you. Yet God is good to Israel, as the Psalmist begins that 73rd Psalm. Nothing can be of greater importance, either to the liveliness and vigor, or even to the very substance and being, of religion, than a fixed, stable apprehension of the divine goodness: that religion is nothing, the soul whereof is not love. If love be not the very soul of your religion, your religion is a carcass, an empty nothing. But that love may be the soul of it, there must be a constant apprehension of the loveliness of the object. Labor then to have your souls possessed always with a deep and fixed apprehension of the divine goodness. Contemplate it in every thing that you behold, in every thing that you enjoy, yea, even in the lessening and qualifying of those evils that you suffer. Go up and down this world with hearts full of this thought; “the whole earth is full of his goodness.” Collect all the instances you can of the goodness of God, and keep by that means such an apprehension alive and in vigor concerning him. What a mighty spring would this be of cheerful, and joyful, and pleasant religion! Let no thought arise, but let it meet with a seasonable check, if it tend to any diminution of divine goodness. And,
2. Preserve a worshipping, adoring frame of spirit Godward upon this very account, having your hearts full of this apprehension and sense; labor always to be in a posture of adoration, apt and ready always to look up, carrying that as a motto engraven on your hearts, “I am less than the least of all thy mercies.” And again,
3. Endeavor as much as in you is, accordingly to look upon that immediate promanation of the divine goodness, his law; that which issues, which proceeds so directly from the goodness of God. Esteem it to be what really it is, the product and image of the divine goodness. Look upon him as absolutely, universally perfect, and consider the reasonableness of what is said concerning this law, in correspondency thereunto. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” Psalm 19:7. And considering this one single perfection of the Divine Being, his goodness, make a proportionable judgment concerning his law, in reference to that; that is, that it is an expression of his good and acceptable will: and labor, more and more, to prove that by a vital sense, by an experimental relish in your own spirits. O! how good is it to be what he would have me to be! what that most perfect rule of his doth require and oblige me to be! And,
4. Accordingly judge concerning the course of his providential dispensations. His law prescribes to us the way in which we are to walk; his providences make the way in which he walks; labor to apprehend goodness therein too. All his ways are mercy and truth. That is, you are to judge according to the series of his providences complexly taken, and as together they do make up one entire frame. And so, indeed, we are to make up our judgment concerning his law. Not by this or that particular precept, for it would be a very hard imposition upon the mind of a man, to judge and pronounce concerning the goodness of that command to pluck out the right eye, or cut off the right hand, or the right foot, abstractly taken, without reference to the conjunct precepts, and without reference to the end to which, altogether, they refer. And so, if you look upon providence, you are not to pronounce concerning this or that, separately and apart, considered by itself. As you would not make a judgment of the goodness of a piece of arras by looking on it folded up, where you can only discern a piece of a leg, or a piece of an arm, it may be, or the limb of a tree, but look upon it unfolded, and there see the entire frame of it all at once. So consider the providences of God, in reference one to another, and in reference to their end in which all things shall finally issue, and into which they shall result, and you must say as the Psalmist doth, “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.” And as Moses, in that triumphant song of his, in the 33rd Deuteronomy where-he tells us in the beginning, his design was to publish the name of the Lord, that is, to represent the glory of his attributes; “Because (saith he) I will publish the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness to our God: He is the rock, his work is perfect.” Take all together, you will see it will be perfect work at length, entire, all of a piece; and that nothing could have been spared out of that series and chain of providence that compose and make up the whole course. And then,
5. Endeavor that your knowledge of God may be practical, vital, unitive, and transforming, as touching this very thing, the divine goodness. O! how much to be lamented is it, that we should have such a notion of God in our minds to no purpose! the notion of so great a thing, a Being absolutely perfect and infinite, even in this perfection, goodness itself, immense goodness, lying in our minds, idle, dead, useless, and in vain; so that our hearts are in reference hereunto but a mere rasa tabula; there is a notion in our minds, but nothing correspondent impressed upon our hearts. Such an apprehension of God as this, if it were vital, lively, and operative, would transform us, make us aim continually to be such as he is, which I shall further press by and by. It would powerfully attract and draw us into union with him. What! shall I live at a distance from the Fountain of all goodness, immense goodness, goodness itself, love itself? God is love. He that believes the love of God, is hereupon drawn to dwell in God as he is love, considered under that notion, and so to have God to dwell in him: as the apostle expresseth it, I John 4:16. What mighty influence would this have upon our whole course, if we did go with lively, operative apprehensions up and down the world of the divine goodness! How should we disburden our souls of care! With what cheerfulness should we serve him! How little doubt should we have concerning the issue of things! of that glorious reward which a course of obedience, service, and fidelity to him, a little will be followed with at last. But that our knowledge of God, as to so great a thing as this, should be like no knowledge, as if we knew nothing, or as if we thought the quite contrary concerning him; methinks, this we should look upon as an insufferable thing, as a thing not to be endured, and so take up resolutions, dependent upon his grace, never to be at rest till our hearts were like this apprehension of God, that he is perfect in goodness. And hereupon further,
Make sure of your relation to him as your God, as your Father; and consider and contemplate his goodness with that very design, that you may be indeed stirred up to him at coming, without more ado, into that relation. We do not much concern ourselves so seriously to inquire touching the character of a person with whom we are never to have to do, with whom we have no concern, nor ever expect to have any. If we hear of any such as an excellent person, we hear such a thing of him with more indifferency of mind, “I do not know him, and I am like never to know him; and, be as good and as excellent as he will, I am never like to be the better for him.” But when I receive an account of one, as a most excellent person, who designs to adopt me at the same time for his son, and overtures are made to me for that purpose, I think myself highly concerned to inquire into the character of a person to whom I am to be related. And so should we consider the characters that we meet with of God; for we must either have him as our Father, or we must be children of a worse father or of the worst of fathers. Therefore, this should be hearkened unto, your heavenly Father is perfect, perfectly good, perfect in goodness, upon this account, that overtures are made to me in order to my becoming one of his children: I am to come into his family; this is the thing that is proposed to me. And should not I labor to know what a one he is, and to contemplate the representation that is made to me of him, upon this account? And,
7. Consider with highest admiration and gratitude, the greatness, the privilege, that you are or may be so related. As the case is stated, if this be not, there is nothing wanting but your own willing and joyous acceptance of the overture, falling in with it, resigning and giving up yourselves most absolutely and entirely to him; and taking his Christ for yours ; with him goes the sonship, that is, with the acceptance of his own eternal Son. John 1:12. “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed in his name.” And then, consider the greatness of the privilege, that you are, or may be, thus related to the Most High God as a Father, to the best, most perfect, and most excellent of beings. You may have him for your Father, and perhaps you have him so already. How great a privilege is this! To have him for your Father is to have all. He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son, Rev. 21:7. “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” God is to be your portion and inheritance, that if we suffer together with him (which is but a trifle not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed) we may be also glorified together, Rom. 8:17-18. Methinks, this should run in our minds every day ; we are either related to this blessed One as our Father, or we may be; we are invited and called by the Gospel (and it is the great design of this Gospel) into this blessed state. Methinks it should run in our minds all the day long, that that glorious and most excellent One should look down from heaven upon such an abject worm as I, and say to me, “Call me Father, take me for thy Father.” A heart that were full of the sense of this, would soon grow too big for all this world. What a trifle would this world be to that soul which were full of that sense; “God is become my Father, I have a Father in heaven, that doth whatsoever he will in heaven and in earth, and there is no withstanding him.” He can do what he will, and he will do nothing but what is kind and good to them that willingly consent to come into this comfortable relation to him. You see how distinguishingly such a case is spoken of in the next chapter, Matt. 6 in the latter end. Do not you so and so like the gentiles. Do not torture yourselves with cares -and thoughts, “what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, and what you shall put on,” and what shall become of your affairs and concerns in the world, and the like: the gentiles do so; after these things do the gentiles seek; but your heavenly Father knows what you need; you have a Father in heaven that knows all your concernments, and that minds all of them, with all wisdom, and all the tenderness and kindness imaginable: I would not have you be as if you had no Father, to put yourselves into the same condition with pagans and outcasts, and those that are without God in the world. And then,
8. Lastly, Imitate God in his imitable perfections, and especially in this his goodness. I say, imitate him with all the goodness that is possible, in all his perfections: “Be ye perfect, for your heavenly Father is perfect.” So I would shut up, bringing the exhortation in the text, and inferring reason together. And pray drive it to this one particular thing, to which the context draws and claims it, that is, unto love; and even unto such love as shall reach enemies themselves. You very well know, that God could have shown no love at all to any in all this world, but he must show it to an enemy: all were in enmity and rebellion against him. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” And this world was only possessed with such inhabitants, all sunk in carnality and earthliness, and deep oblivion of God, and full of anger and displeasure, upon being put in mind that there is One that claims a right over them, and that would have all their thoughts and their love: this they cannot endure; this carnalized race of creatures cannot bear this. “For the carnal mind is enmity against God.” And he could never have been kind to men but he must be kind to enemies. For all were become his enemies, affected liberty, and could not endure the thought that there should be a power and a Lord to prescribe to them. I pray, let us labor to imitate this great perfection of the divine goodness, even in this very application of it to enemies. This is the beauty and the glory of the Christian religion, the thing wherein it excels the precepts of the most refined paganism, and of that which was higher (as it was grown,) Judaism itself. “You have heard that it was said of old time, Thou shall love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy,” (as it is in the context) “but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” I never expect the Christian religion to flourish much in this world, till this appear and be exercised as the common temper of Christians. They are to be such a sort of men, as that all the world may be the better for. If you express never so much of unkindness towards them, if you use them hardly, they will bless you, they will pray for you, they will do you all the good they can, all the good and kind offices in their power. When this spirit comes to be revived among men, it will make the Christian religion (as I may say) grassari, mightily to prevail and grow upon the world. The world must fall before such a sort of men as this. But that it will never do while, in this respect, Christians are just like other men, as wrathful, as vindictive, as full of rage, and as full of revenge, as any body else. Christian religion must grow upon the world, by things that will strike the sense, that incur the most sensible observation of men. Everyone can tell and sees it when one is kind to them, and when they have good returned for evil. But there are two things most directly opposite to this temper, which Christians are wont too frequently to overlook, never to animadvert upon: the one is,
(1.) When they let their hearts tumultuate with too great fervor and anger against men, upon account of their profaneness and irreligiousness, and they think themselves warranted so to do: such a one is a wicked man, an open, visible enemy against God and Christ, a rebel against heaven. And so they allow themselves to let wrath have its vent and liberty towards such men, and upon such occasions. It was a great deal of zeal for Christ that the disciples discovered, when they would have had fire to fall down from heaven to vindicate his cause upon those Samaritans that would not receive him into their town. But, saith Christ, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of.” This is quite another thing from that spirit which I intend to introduce into the world, and which must breathe in, and animate, the religion that I am setting on foot among men. The other is,
(2.) Their confining their kindness and respects to men of such and such a character, to this or that party. It is a temper more grossly remote, more vastly different from what is enjoined upon us here; and the thing that our Savior animadverts upon in this context, as that wherein we do not only not exceed the Pharisees as such, but even publicans themselves, verse 20. We are told, that except our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of God; not even into the initial kingdom. As if he had said, “Ye are not fit for the Christian state, you do not come within the confines of Christianity, real Christianity, if your righteousness do not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. But when men do confine their respects and the kindness of their hearts to a party, this is not only to outdo the Pharisees, but even publicans and sinners, for they do so; if you love and salute them that love and salute you, if you are kind to them that are kind to you, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans and sinners the same? But “be ye perfect,” – (that is the contexture of this discourse) “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”