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WRITTEN IN THE YEAR I789.
Eccl. iii. 14. I know that whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever: nothing can he put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doth it, that men should fear before him.
WE may be sure that the Infinitely Great, Eternal, Omniscent Being, who is the First and the Last, the Almighty, does nothing for an end, or with a view to accomplish any design, which is temporary, and shall wholly cease and come to nothing, so that every thing which remains shall, in all respects, be just as it would have been had he not done it. For this would be infinitely unworthy of such a Being, infinitely beneath him, and unbecoming his character: it would be really more unbecoming and trifling, than for a man to do all he does through life for no end at all, were this possible; or for the greatest monarch on earth to spend his life in action for no higher and more important ends than those which children have in what they do. That which Chafes to exist in all its effects and consequences, so that 279the universe is in no respect; better or otherwise than if it had not been, is of infinitely less worth and importance, than that of which the consequence and good effect, or the end of which, is without end, or forever. Therefore the Infinitely Great, Wise and Good Being will do nothing but that which shall answer an end which never shall cease, so that the consequence and good effect of it shall exist forever.
If this visible world were to cease to exist, and every effect and consequence of its having existed were to cease forever, so that no end were to be answered by it but what took place during the existence of it; and no existence, or circumstance of existence, should be in any respect otherwise than if it had not existed; it would have been created, and preserved during the existence of it, in a great measure, if not altogether, in vain. It is certain no end would be answered worthy of the Infinite Creator. There would really nothing be gained by such a work; all would be lost. Therefore we may be sure that none of the works of GOD are of this kind, but every thing that he does, will, in the effect and consequence of it, exist forever, or the end to be answered by it will never cease.
The natural world which we behold, with all the works of man in it, is to come to an end, at least as to the form in which it now exists, when the end of the existence of it is answered, but that end which was designed to be accomplished by the creation and continuation of the existence of it will remain forever. The natural world, the sun, moon and stars, with this earth, and all the creatures and things contained in them, which are not capable of moral agency, and moral government—the natural world was created, and is upheld, for the sake of the moral world, and those creatures which are capable of moral government, and of conformity to God in moral exercises; as a house is built, not for its own sake, but for the sake of those who are to live in it. And when this world, having answered the end with respect to the moral world for which it was made and preserved, 280shall be burnt up, the moral world, and all moral agents, will continue forever, with all the effects and consequences of the natural world, respecting the moral world, which were designed to be produced by creation and providence.
Hence it is demonstrably certain that moral agents, at least some of them; and if some why not all? will exist without end; for they cannot answer the end of their existence, and the end of all those works of God which he has done for their sake, if they should cease to exist: they must therefore exist forever.
It will appear evident and certain, no doubt, if duly considered, that moral government cannot be perfectly or properly exercised, unless it be endless, and consequently, unless moral agents, the only subjects of this government, continue to exist forever. This is evident from the text we are considering, and what has been observed upon it. But the evidence of this arises from another view of this point. Moral government cannot be exercised without a law pointing out and requiring the duty of moral agents, and fixing the penalty of disobedience, and maintaining and executing this law, agreeable to the requirements and sanctions of it. The punishment which a transgression of the divine law deserves is endless evil or suffering; and therefore this must be the penalty of the law of God, and must be executed on the transgressor, unless something can take place to answer the same end; therefore he upon whom this penalty is executed, must exist forever, in order to suffer the penalty of the law. And although it be not essential to the law of God, that there should be an express promise of endless life to the obedient, yet the threatening of evil to the transgressor seems to imply favour to the obedient, and is inconsistent with putting an end to their existence, and depriving them of endless happiness, which in their view, and in reality, would bean infinite negative evil; and therefore must be inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of God, yea, with his distributive justice; for they deserve no evil, 281so long as they continue obedient. Therefore nothing but transgression can put an end to the existence and happiness of a moral agent: it hence follows that they who persevere in obedience mutt exist happy forever, and they who transgress must suffer evil without end; consequently every moral agent must exist forever, in order to the proper and full exercise of moral government. Therefore whatever God does respecting moral agents, (and he has respect: to these in all he does) in this sense, shall be forever; he has a view to an endless duration, and aims at an end which never shall cease, but mutt exist forever.
It has been observed, that the moral world is the end of all God’s works; and that the subjects of moral government must exist forever; and that, in this sense, all that God does shall be forever. But the subjects of moral government, and all the events that immediately relate to them, do not comprehend all the moral world: God himself must be considered as included in this everlasting, moral kingdom, as the Supreme Head and Eternal King of it. And he, being infinitely greater, more important and worthy of regard than any or all creatures, must therefore be the end of all that is done: that is, he must make himself the highest and last end, and do all for himself, as the scripture asserts: “The Lord hath made all things for himself.” The exercise, manifestation and display of his own perfections and glory must be the supreme end of all the works of God, which necessarily includes the greatest possible happiness of the obedient subjects of his moral kingdom; which therefore must be forever, or without end: for a temporary display of the Divine Glory, and the temporary happiness and glory of the moral kingdom of God, would be infinitely less than an eternal and increasing duration of these, and nothing in comparison with this. In this view, we see how whatsoever God doth is forever. His design in all he does is his own glory, in his everlasting kingdom. This is his end, and the issue of all is this, which shall have no end. The kingdom of 282 God Is an everlasting kingdom, and of his dominion and glory there will be no end; which is abundantly asserted in scripture, we all know. And this kingdom, glory and dominion is the end of all God’s works. Therefore every thing he doth shall be forever; it hath no end in his design, and in the effect and consequence. Nothing can be more certain than this.
2. It is asserted in these words, that God has fixed a plan of operation, including all his works, all he doth or will do in time and to eternity; and that he is executing this plan or design in all he doth: all his works having reference to this, and being included in it. This is implied in the former particular. For if in all God doth he hath respect to that which is endless, he must have formed a design, and fixed a plan of operation, which is endless, including all he will do, and all events, to eternity. This the scripture abundantly asserts: “He worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will. The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations:¨ [Psal. xxxiii. 11.] “He is in one mind, and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doth:” [Job xxiii. 13.] “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world:” [Acts xv. 18.] And, if we attend to the point, we cannot but know that it must be so, it being impossible that it should be otherwise; for to suppose the contrary is to suppose God is changeable, which is inconsistent with infinite perfection, and with his being infallible, and to be trusted in all cases. Indeed, if there were not a Being who is unchangeable, there would be no God. Besides, if God be infinite in power, knowledge, wisdom and goodness, which he certainly is, then he is able, and could not but fix upon a plan of operation, including all he would do, all his works of creation and providence, without end, or forever. He could not but propose an end of all his works, and lay the wisest plan to accomplish that end. Not to do this must manifest want of wisdom, or of ability, an4 therefore would be inconsistent with 283infinite power and wisdom. It is impossible he should not know what is wisest and best to be done in every instance to eternity: he is able to do it, for nothing can be in the way to prevent his doing it: and it is equally impossible he should be infinitely wise and good, and not fix upon and execute the wisest and best plan of operation. Nothing can be more evident and certain than this. Well may we join with Solomon, and say, “We know, that whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever.” He has proposed infinitely the best possible end, which cannot be accomplished in time, but by an everlasting series of works: he has fixed upon the wisest plan to answer this end, and all he doth has reference to this end: and the effect and consequence of all his works, for the sake of which they are done, will remain forever.
Let us now proceed to consider the following words: “Nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it.” These are part of the same sentence, and have respect to the foregoing, and assert, that nothing can be put or added to what God doth, or taken from it. In these words the following particulars are expressed or implied; which also imply each other.
1. These words contain a more strong and express declaration than the foregoing; That the divine plan of his endless operations, including every thing which he doth and will do to eternity, is unalterably fixed, so that it is impossible that any change or alteration should be made, in any respect, or in the least degree. His designs are fixed from eternity. He has determined what he will do, and what he will not do, in every instance, greater or less. And his plan admits of no alteration; nothing can be added to it, or taken from it. It has been observed, that this is abundantly asserted in scripture, and that reason teaches it must be so; and that to deny this, or ever doubt it, is to deny or doubt of the existence of a God, supreme, omnipotent, infinitely, intelligent, wise and good.284
2. These words imply that all things, and every event from the greatest to the least, from the first to the last, are included in the divine plan, and are unalterably fixed by the counsel and decree of God. This must be so, unless creatures and things may exist, and events may take place, independent of God, and with which his power and operation has no concern, without the least dependence on his determination and will, and, it may be, contrary to it; which no rational man can admit, as it is absolutely impossible.
If all the works of God are known to him, which they could not be, unless he had determined and fixed what he will do; then every thing, every event which shall take place or exist, must be known, and consequently certain, and made so by the divine decree, determining what he would do. If any one event, even the least that can take place, were not fixed, but uncertain whether it will take place or not; then what God will do, so far as his works respect: that event, must be uncertain, and cannot be known or fixed. Therefore God, by determining his own works, equally determined and fixed what every creature should be and do, as the latter is necessarily included in the former. The divine will and operation has respect to, and concern with, every thing, every event, even the least that takes place; and it comes to pass and actually exists by some act of his, without which it could not take place, whether it be in the natural or moral world. The existence, the time and circumstances of the existence, of every bird, even the least, and the time and means of its beginning and ceasing to exist, are all fixed by what God does. Every hair of our heads, and of every head, and creature, that ever did or shall exist, is made by God. He numbers them all, and orders every circumstance, the growth, length, bigness, life, decay and loss, or disposal, of each one. Every tree on the earth, every plant, leaf and spire of grass, he produces by his power, energy and care. He causes every drop of rain or hail, and every flake of snow, that falls, and determines the bigness, the shape and time of 285 the falling of each one. All these are the work of God, as are innumerable others, whether greater or left. These therefore must be all fixed front eternity, by Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.
And it is equally certain that every event, and all that comes to pass in the moral world, depends upon the will and determination of God, and could not exist, if he determined and did nothing concerning it. Every action of moral agents, and every perception, motion and every thought which takes place in their hearts or minds, is comprehended in what God doth, and is effected by his power and operation. “The heart of the king,” and consequently of all men, “is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Every thing in the moral world, even the least motion and thought of the heart, is of unspeakably more importance than the events in the natural world, and are as much dependent on the will and operation of God; and therefore must be as much fixed and certain. And this is necessarily implied, in God’s determining and fixing what he will do, so that there can be no alteration of his plan of operation; nothing put to it, or taken from it, for it comprehends all things, and all events, great and small, which shall take place and exist from the beginning of time, to eternity.
Thus certain is it from this text, as well as from innumerable other passages of scripture, and from the reason and nature of things, that God has, by determining what he would do, necessarily “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
3. These words assert that the divine plan of operation, which is endless, and includes all things and every event that ever did or shall take place, is the wisest and best that can be; so that to make any alteration in it, in any respect or the least degree, to take any thing from it, or add any thing to it, which is not included in it, would render it less perfect, wise and good. In this respect, “nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it,” 286 without hurting or marring it, and rendering it less perfect, wise and good; therefore it is impossible there should be the least alteration, in any thing or circumstance, so long as God is omnipotent, infinitely wise and good. “His work is perfect;” which includes the whole created universe, with every thing from the greatest to the least, and all events and circumstances of events, even the most minute and inconsiderable, which take place in time and eternity. It is impossible it should be otherwise, if God be omnipotent, infinitely wise and good. The work of such a Being must be, like himself, absolutely perfect. He must know what was the most wise and best plan, and therefore the most desirable. He was able to form and execute such a plan, and his wisdom and goodness must be pleased with it: which will answer the best end, and includes all possible good, and excludes every thing which would render it less perfect, and is, on the whole, undesirable. Of this we may be as certain as we can be that there is a God, who is. supreme, omnipotent, infinitely wise and good, who hath done, and will do, what he pleases, in heaven and on earth, and in all the created universe, and that forever.
Thus we find Solomon asserting, in the words under consideration, what he knew to be an important and most evident and certain truth, viz. that God’s plan of operation is endless, is unalterably fixed, and comprehends all things, and all events which ever exist or take place, and that this divine plan, including all the created universe, and every event and circumstance which will take place to eternity, is most wise and good, being absolutely perfect; so that nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it, without making it less perfect and good. This truth is abundantly asserted in divine revelation, and is evident to a demonstration from the reason and nature of things. And to deny or doubt of it, is in effect to deny or doubt of the being of a God, who is supreme, infinitely wise and good. This truth is concisely, though fully, expressed by the Assembly 287 Divines at Westminister, in their shorter catechism, in the following words: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his own will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. And he executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence. His works of providence are, his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
This is a doctrine of divine revelation, and most agreeable to reason, to wisdom, and benevolence; and they who exercise these, in any good degree, must be pleased with it. For, according to this, nothing does or can take place, but that which is wisest and best, and necessary for the greatest general good; every thing and every event, the greatest and the least, being under the direction of infinite wisdom, rectitude and benevolence, and ordained and fixed by these. To have such a plan, which includes all the works of God, and every event, motion and action in the creation, in time and to eternity, formed by infinite wisdom and goodness, exactly suited to accomplish the best end, including all possible good, and excluding every thing which, on the whole, is undesirable; to have such a plan, unalterably fixed forever, so that nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it, must be most agreeable to the upright, wise and good: and that person who understandingly opposes it, and whose heart is displeased with it, must be wholly destitute of all these.
This is suited to please the truly pious mind, to support and comfort such an one, and to excite all those affections and exercises in which true, genuine piety consists. And all the truths and facts included in this divine, unalterable plan, are adapted to promote and effect the most perfect virtue, piety and holiness: and were not this a truth, there could not be any such thing as piety or true religion among creatures.
This leads to consider and explain the concluding 288 words in the text, in which this is asserted: “And God doth it, that men should fear before him.”
By the fear of God, fearing him, or fearing before him, which is the same, is meant the exercise of that true piety and religion which is peculiar to good men, and distinguishes them from the wicked. In this sense the phrase is used in numerous places both in the Old Testament and the New, of which every one must be sensible who reads the Bible with attention and care. It is needless therefore to mention passages to prove it; I shall, however, cite one, which is in this book; [chap viii. 12, 13:] “Surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, because he feareth not before God.”
“God doth it, that men may fear before him;” That is, he has formed this wise and perfect plan of operation, which is unalterable, as the proper and only foundation of the exercise of piety and holiness by creatures; and every thing God does in executing this plan is suited to excite and promote this, and bring it to the greater perfection, which is included in his endless design; and holiness shall be exercised in the most perfect manner and degree, and flourish under the best advantages, in his kingdom, forever. This is God’s everlasting end, for which he does and orders every thing and event in the universe, viz. his own glory, manifested and displayed in the everlasting holiness and happiness of creatures, in his eternal kingdom. And the existence and knowledge of such a fixed and endless plan of divine operation is the only proper foundation for the exercise of true piety; it is suited to excite the exercise of holiness in creatures; and there cannot be any true piety which is exercised and practised in opposition to this truth, but all true religion is in perfect conformity with it.
This I shall endeavour to illustrate and prove by considering what true piety is, by mentioning the several branches of it, in which it is exercised; and, at the same time, shewing that these exercises of piety are consistent 289 with this truth, and naturally flow from it as the proper foundation of them.
I. Love to God. is necessarily included in true piety; so that where there is no degree of this there is no real religion. Indeed, this comprehends all the exercises of piety, and is the sum and whole of it, as every exercise of piety, called by different names, and differing in some respects, are only different modifications of this same affection of love. Therefore love to God is required, as comprehending every exercise of true piety. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” That is all the affection that is required, as it immediately respects God, and therefore includes the whole of true piety. This love consists in benevolence or friendly affection towards God, complacency and delight in him, and gratitude to him. Benevolence regards him as at the head of the universe, infinitely great, omnipotent and supreme; all the creation being as nothing, compared with him, and absolutely in his hands and at his controul, made and used for him; He being the only necessary and all important Being, his interest, honour and glory being the supreme end of all, while he is capable of infinite felicity, and actually possesses it, being unchangeable in his being, perfections, designs and happiness, infinitely wise, righteous and good;—I say, benevolence regards God as such a Being, and is gratified and pleased in the highest; degree in such a character; and the language of the benevolent heart is, “Let God reign forever in unchangeable felicity and glory: let him be glorified by all things, and his praise be without end; let his counsel stand forever, and let it be impossible that any thing should exist or take place but what he orders, and says. Let it be: Be thou exalted, O Lord, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth! Let his infinitely wise, righteous and benevolent will be done in heaven and earth, and through all his dominions, forever and ever, Amen.”290
Is it not easy to see, must it not appear with irresistible evidence, to all who will calmly attend, that every benevolent friend of God must be pleased that he has laid and fixed an unalterable plan, such as best pleased him, comprehending every thing and all events that are desirable, and necessary to answer the best purpose, to eternity, he being, in this, independent, and infinitely above the controul of creatures; so that it is impossible that it should not take place, in every particular, and most minute circumstance, just as he has determined from eternity, without a possibility of his being crossed or disappointed in any instance? And is not all this comprehended in the pious, benevolent boast and exultation of the Psalmist? “But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he pleased. For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven and in earth, in the seas, and in all deep places.” Such a Being, prosecuting, without a possibility of any mistake or hindrance, such a grand, comprehensive, eternal plan, formed and fixed by infinite wisdom and benevolence, must be the highest possible obje6l of the benevolence of man, and is most perfectly, and to the highest degree, suited to please and gratify such an affection; on which it may expatiate with the highest pleasure, and without limitation as to the object, and with increasing strength, forever.
But if there be no such supreme, independent Being, who is able to propose and effect the greatest possible good, and is infinitely engaged to do it, and has laid an unalterable plan, including every thing that is wise and good, and nothing but what is most agreeable to infinite benevolence, the whole being considered together, but many events have already taken place, the existence of which are disagreeable to infinite wisdom and benevolence, all things considered, which are not included in the most wise and benevolent plan, but have taken place independent of God, and exist contrary to his will that they should exist, and so that God will not be so much glorified nor so happy as he would have been had they 291 not taken place, and there will be much less good in the universe forever than there might have been had they been prevented; then there is no God to be loved, and be the object of benevolent, friendly affection, which shall be completely pleased and satisfied in him. For he must be either impotent and dependent, and unable to effect that which is most agreeable to wisdom and goodness, and therefore is disappointed and crossed, if he be wise and good; or he has no wisdom or goodness, though he is omnipotent, and so has suffered that to take place which was not best on the whole, that it should exist, and is contrary to benevolence and wisdom, when he was able to prevent it, if he pleased. If the latter were true, all must acknowledge he could not be the object of love, of benevolent, friendly affe6lion. And if the former, and not the latter, were true, all must be sensible that he could not be an object with which benevolent affection can be pleased and satisfied: but if it were exercised towards him, it must be in pity and grief for him, and inextinguishable sorrow that he was not able to lay and prosecute the best plan without interruption, but is dependent, disappointed and crossed, and most unhappy, and must be so forever! The benevolent friends to such a Being, and to benevolence, must be crossed and miserable, in proportion to the degree of their benevolence, while the enemies to such a Being, were it possible there could be such an one, which, blessed be God! it is not, would be gratified and triumph. And as such a Being must be infinitely less important and glorious, he must be an infinitely less worthy object of benevolence, than he whom the truth we are vindicating describes.
And surely every one who attends properly must see that, on this last supposition, such a Being could not be the object of the complacency and delight of a benevolent heart. This is clear, from what has been said respecting benevolence: for pious, holy complacency and delight in an object or character, is nothing different from the satisfaction and pleasure which benevolence has in that being or character. Therefore if there be any thing 292in a being contrary and displeasing to benevolence, and opposed to what that seeks, it must be equally opposed. to complacency and delight, and contrary to it. To impose the contrary is a flat contradiction.
It is equally apparent that the God who is exhibited in our text, as it has been now understood and explained, mud be the first and highest object of complacential love, as it has been shewn that he is suited to gratify and please benevolence to the highest degree; for the pleasure which the benevolent heart takes in any object, is the same with complacence and delight in that object, as has been just now observed. Therefore that being or character with which the benevolent heart is most pleased and gratified, is the supreme object of complacential love.
The benevolent heart must be pleased with unbounded, infinite benevolence, clothed with, omnipotence, fixing and executing an endless plan, including the highest possible good, in which God will be glorified in the. highest degree, and his servants and kingdom most happy and glorious forever, and which admits no evil but that which is necessary to answer the best end, and promote the greatest good, and render the system, the universal plan, infinitely better, more wise and beautiful, than it could be, were the evil excluded. Such a Being, of unchangeable perfection, infinite benevolence, wisdom, rectitude, truth and faithfulness, must be embraced by the benevolent heart, with the warmest and most strong affection; he must be chosen as the supreme good, as the object of the highest complacence and delight. God is exhibited to such a mind as such a Being, and in this amiable light, in forming and executing such a plan, comprehending all possible good, and including every thing that exists, and every event that shall take place to eternity; being exactly suited, in every respect, to manifest and display the divine perfection and glory, in the felicity and glory of his eternal kingdom, and which could not be altered, in the least degree, without rendering it less perfect and good. On 293 this Being, and on such a system, including all things that exist, or shall take place—on this absolutely and infinitely perfect Being, and his all-perfect work, the pious mind will dwell with increasing satisfaction and ever fresh delight forever and ever. But were there no unchangeable God, absolutely independent and sovereign, and doing whatsoever he pleases, forming and executing the wisest and best plan of operation to eternity, and including and fixing every event, there would be no such object of supreme affection and delight to the pious, benevolent mind, to be embraced with unreserved love, and unlimited or unalloyed satisfaction and pleasure. Yea, were this God and his plan of operation capable of any possible alteration or change, to eternity, it would give pain to the benevolent heart, and be an eternal impediment to perfect love and happiness.
The person whose heart is wholly selfish, and knows not what disinterested love means, and whose mind is consequently contracted down to his own little self, and fixed on his own personal concerns, does not extend his thoughts and affections to those grand objects, the glory of God, and the greatest general good of the universe. lie really loves nothing but himself; and he cannot be pleased with a God on whom he is wholly dependent, unless he knows, or thinks he knows, that he is wholly devoted to his interest, and will accomplish all his selfish desires and wishes. He must be displeased with, he must hate, a God who is of one mind, and cannot be turned by him; who has fixed his plan of working, including every thing that takes place; and who is unchangeably seeking the greatest general good of the universe, however inconsistent this may be with his particular interest and happiness; and who will not regard that, but give it up, whenever the greatest public good requires it; being determined, without a possibility of change, to punish forever every persevering enemy to his character and government. Such a creature cannot love any God, unless he will conform to his will, and is, in some measure at least, dependent on him, and waits on him 294 to know what he will choose and do, independent of God, before he can determine any thing respecting him; so that he himself shall independently turn the scale in every thing that concerns himself; and God must attend him as his tool or servant, to consult his interest, and answer his ends. The language of his heart is, “I would not have a God absolutely independent, and unchangeable in his designs and decrees, respecting me and my interest. What is the glory of God, and the general good, to me, if my own personal interest and happiness be not regarded and included; if my selfish inclination and will be not gratified, but crossed? I cannot love such a God.” Directly the reverse of this is the feeling and language of the benevolent heart, which has been represented above.
I proceed to consider love as it is exercised and expressed in gratitude; and to shew that the God of the Bible, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and is executing a plan in the most wise manner, suited to answer the best end, and which comprehends all his works, and every event through endless duration, that this God is the proper, infinite obje6b of the pious, everlasting gratitude of a benevolent heart. Benevolence or goodness, exercised and expressed, is the only object: of true, pious gratitude, and therefore it is found no where but in a benevolent heart, or, which is the same, in those who are friends to disinterested benevolence. The love of gratitude is essential to disinterested benevolence of a creature, as it is included in the very nature of it, as is the love of complacence, as has been shown. Wherever the benevolent mind sees the exercise of benevolence by any being, he is not merely pleased with it, but exercises gratitude towards that Being, and that whether he himself be the object of that benevolence, or any other being in the universe. For the benevolent man is a friend to universal being, capable of good; he wishes well to all: therefore, he who regards the good of being in general, and promotes the general good, or expresses his benevolence by doing 295good to any particular being, is the proper object of grateful love, and such benevolence is suited to excite it, and certainly will do it in every benevolent heart. It hence appears, that as the truth in our text is suited to excite the love of benevolence and complacency to the highest degree, as has been shewn, it will also excite true gratitude; and that every thing contrary to this truth, is opposed to the pious love of gratitude.
When the benevolent mind sees Infinite Benevolence designing and effecting the greatest possible good to being in general, and promoting the greatest happiness of the whole, who “is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works,” and beholds him decreeing and doing, and causing to be done, every thing that is necessary to answer and effectually secure this end, this eternal purpose; he finds unbounded scope for the highest: and most sweet gratitude to this Infinitely Good Being, who is glorifying himself to the highest degree, and producing the greatest possible happiness in the created universe forever. He gives thanks to God for his infinite goodness manifested in his works, and in his revealed design and fixed plan, including his own glory, and the highest good of the created universe. His mind is enraptured in gratitude to God for his regard and benevolence to the sum of all being, Himself, the first and the last, the Almighty, in that he has made all things for himself, for his own glory, and is unalterably determined, and infinitely engaged, to glorify himself by all his works, and by all creatures, and in conjunction with this to effect the greatest possible happiness of the creation. This manifestation of the divine holiness, and infinite benevolence, is the greatest, the supreme object of the gratitude and thankfulness of the pious, benevolent heart.
And when the pious, good man attends to the infinitely guilty and wretched state into which mankind have fallen, and how exceeding odious and vile they are, being total and obstinate enemies to God, his law and government, and violently opposed to all his benevolent 296designs; and beholds God so loving the world as to give his only begotten Son to save them, that whoever believes] on him should not perish, but have everlasting life; and that a most glorious, happy and eternal kingdom shall be raised out of the ruins of an apostate world, to the glory of divine grace; and that the greatest good shall be brought out of all the evil that has been, or will exist to all eternity, so that the issue shall be infinitely better than if there were no evil; and that this is all included in the eternal plan which was fixed by Infinite Wisdom and Goodness; when all this comes into view, it will excite the most sincere and strong exercises of grateful love, which will continue and increase forever.
And when the pious man attends to the goodness of God to him, in particular, and is sensible that it is the effect of God’s eternal counsel, and his benevolent design of good to him, and that it flows from him on whom he is absolutely dependent, who orders all things, so that his hand is to be seen in every event that takes place; all this is peculiarly adapted to excite his grateful love, while he says, “Not unto me, but unto thy name, be all the praise and glory.” And what a foundation is here laid for holy, increasing gratitude forever!
Gratitude to God consists in a true sense and pleasing approbation of the goodness of God to universal being, and to ourselves, and in making all the acknowledgements and returns of which we are capable, in loving and giving ourselves away to him, to be used for his service, glory and praise forever.
The man who has no disinterested benevolence, but is wholly selfish, is not capable of the least degree of this true gratitude. He can love those who love him, but this is nothing but self love, at bottom; for by the supposition, he seeks himself, and is devoted to none but himself in all his exercises, and is not pleased with benevolence for its own sake, or any farther than he may reap some personal benefit by it, to gratify his self love. He is displeased with that goodness which passes by him, and does good to others, or seeks and promotes the general good.297
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