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CONCERNING THE BEING AND PERFECTIONS OF GOD.
THOUGH the evidence of the existence of God be as clear and certain as that of our own, or of any thing else whatever, and it is one of the first dictates of reason, when offered to consideration, and attended to; and has by general consent been acknowledged by mankind in all ages, as most demonstrable and certain; yet it is most probable that even the knowledge, and general 40acknowledgment of this truth depends greatly, if not wholly on divine revelation. Mankind are so “alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts;” and so disposed by their depravity and wickedness to sink down into brutish ignorance and stupidity with regard to every thing invisible, that if they were not first told that there is a God, they would most probably grow up without believing, or ever thinking of this truth. The general acknowledgment of the being of God, is no evidence that it does not originate from divine revelation; for there are many things generally believed and practised in the heathen world, in their religion, which evidently depend on tradition; and though in many respects corrupted, had their original in divine revelation, handed down from Noah and his sons, or taken from the Jews, and the revelation given to them. But one instance shall be mentioned, viz. the practice of sacrificing beasts, or some animals, to appease the gods, or ingratiate themselves with them, which has so generally obtained in the heathen world; and which most certainly never would have been thought of by men, had not God first instituted it by revelation; and from that it was handed down, and the practice kept up among all nations, even long after they had lost, or corrupted, the original intent and design of such sacrifices. So the belief of the being of a God may derive from the same origin, and be handed down from generation to generation the same way. The following facts seem to favour this supposition, if they do not clearly prove it.
1. The absurd and ridiculous notions respecting God, or a plurality of gods, which have generally taken place in the heathen world: Such as the following, viz. That there are many gods both male and female—that they are embodied, like men and women—have carnal affections and lusts, and commit adulteries, rapes, &c.—have cruel hatred and contentions with one another—are taking advantage of each other by deceit and cunning, or by power to accomplish their own selfish, unreasonable inclinations and designs, &c. &c. All this can be well accounted for; on supposition their belief of the being of God depends chiefly on tradition; for this truth, 41 being thus handed down by tradition, would naturally and easily be corrupted, and blended with endless absurd notions, according to the foolish and wicked humours and inclinations of man; which has been the case of all religious truths among the heathen, which originated from revelation. But if we suppose all nations ill the heathen world believe the existence of God by reasoning themselves into it, and attending to the clear and abundant evidence there is of this; how can it be accounted for, that they should make no use of their reason in forming their notions of Deity and determining what kind of a being a God must be; but contrary to all the dictates of reason, and the clearest evidence, embrace the greatest absurdities? If their belief, in the first instance, be founded on the dictates of reason and evidence, why is reason wholly laid aside, in the latter; and as soon as they have reasoned themselves into the being of a God, make no further use of their reason; but most unreasonably believe there are many gods, and embrace the greatest absurdities respecting Deity?
2. Those people and nations who are most out of the reach of the instruction and influence of divine revelation, and of the traditions which originated from it, have the most faint belief, and make the least acknowledgment of the being of a God. And historians and travellers tell us that there are people, and even whole nations, among whom there is not any acknowledgment of a Deity, or the least appearance of the belief of any.1616 See Locke on the Human Understanding, Book I. Chap. IV. and the authors there quoted by him. Also Dr. Robertson’s History of South America. These are nations, which by their situation and circumstances, are most out of the way of receiving any advantage by revelation, and by being long unconnected, and without any intercourse with other nations, have by degrees lost all tradition relating to every thing invisible. This seems to be a proof that if mankind were without all the light and advantages of a revelation, and traditions which originate from it, they would not pay any regard to an invisible supreme Being, or entertain any belief or notion of such a being; but would, in every 42sense, “live without God in the world.” And, by the way, this may serve to shew what need mankind stand in, of a divine revelation, and that all religious light and knowledge originates wholly from this source.
3. There have been instances of persons who have been deaf from
their birth, and consequently dumb; and after they have arrived to adult or middle
age, have been able to hear and speak: And though before this, they attended public
worship with others, and appeared very devout; and often made those signs which
those with whom they conversed in this way, thought were expressions of their belief
of the being of God, and of their piety: Yet, when they came to hear and speak,
they declared, that +hey never had a thought that there was a God, until they could
hear, and were by that means informed. And there never has been an instance known,
of any such person’s declaring that he had any belief or thought of the existence
of a God, before he could hear and speak.1717 See President Clap’s Essay on the Nature and Foundation of Moral
Virtue. Page 42, &c. The following is transcribed from him, page 45. “I was well
acquainted with a Negro, who was a man of superior natural powers, and made a profession
of religion; who told me that he was born in the island of Madagascar, and lived
there till he was above thirty years old: And in all that time he never had a thought
of the being of a God, a Creator or Governor of the world, or of a future state
“Dr. Williots, in his sermon on the Light of Nature, relates a story of a man in France, who was born deaf and dumb; yet was very knowing, active and faithful in the common affairs of life: And upon a solemn trial before the bishop, by the help of those who could converse with him, was judged to be a knowing and devout christian, and admitted to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which he attended for many years, with all the signs of high devotion, such as elevation of hands, eyes, &c. At length a large quantity of hard wax was taken out of his ears; upon which he could hear; and, after a while, could speak and read. He then declared, that while he was deaf, he had no idea of a God, or maker of the world, or of a future state; and that all he then did, in matters of religion, was purely in imitation of others.”
Are not these facts an evidence that though the being, of God is so clearly manifested in the works of creation and providence, yet mankind, in their present fallen, corrupt state, would not discern and acknowledge this truth, had it not been otherwise revealed?
And since the nature of all sin, so far as it has dominion in the heart, is real Atheism, and a denial of the God who is above; and therefore the fool, the wicked man, always says in his heart, “There is no God:” and the 43 tendency of it is to darken and stupify the mind, or rather is itself blindness and stupidity, with regard to the being of God, and every thing invisible, and naturally shuts all these things out of the mind; it can be easily accounted for, that without a revelation, the reason of man, who is totally corrupt and sinful, will never suggest to him the being of a God, however evident and demonstrable this is to reason, when once suggested and revealed, and men can be excited and persuaded to attend to the evidence, and exercise their reason on the subject.
We will now take a short and summary view of the evidence there is of this great and fundamental truth of all morality and religion; and mention some of the arguments which offer themselves to our reason, when we attend to the subject. These are not long and intricate; but when the truth is once suggested to us, it becomes an object of intuition, in a sense, so that though there be reasoning in the case, it is so short and easy, that it strikes the mind at once, and it is hardly conscious of any reasoning upon it, and of the medium by which the evidence comes to the mind. Hence it is probable, that some have thought, doubtless without any good reason for it, that the existence of God is, what they call an innate idea, which is essential to the mind of man, and impressed on it, independent of all reasoning on the subject.
I. It is certain there is a God from our own existence, and the things we behold around us. There must be some cause of the existence of these things. They could not cause their own existence, or make themselves; because this is a contradiction. There must therefore be some invisible cause which existed before them, and was able to give them existence, and to uphold them when they were made. And this first cause, maker and preserver of all things, is God.
It is natural for the inquisitive mind, when it is necessarily led thus far, to inquire, how came God to exist? Or, what is the cause of his existence? If he be the first cause, he must be the cause of his own existence, which implies a contradiction, or he must exist without any cause, and without beginning, which is perfectly inconceivable; and we may as well suppose the world 44exists without a cause, and go no farther back for a cause; and then we find no evidence of the existence of God.
Answer, The first cause of all things we behold, must certainly exist without beginning, and so without any cause, that is antecedent to his existence, or that is without himself. Yet there may be a reason or cause of his existence within himself, viz. The necessity of his existence, so that he exists necessarily, there being no other possible way or supposition, or it being infinitely impossible it should be otherwise; universal non existence, being the greatest contradiction in nature.
If it should be said, this runs all into darkness; for we can no more conceive of God’s existing necessarily, and without beginning to exist, than we can of the world’s existing without a cause; and therefore gives no relief to the mind: An easy, and it is hoped, a satisfactory answer, is at hand. It is a plain contradiction to say, that the world and all things in it exist without a cause, or a reason why they exist, rather than not: But necessary existence, and existence without beginning, implies no contradiction or impossibility. It is granted, that each of them is to us incomprehensible; but this is so far from being any argument against the truth and reality of them, that it is rather an evidence in favour of them; for if there be a God, he must be incomprehensible, as he is an infinite being, and exists in a manner infinitely above us; therefore must be infinitely above and beyond the comprehension of finite minds. It is very unreasonable to object that against the being of a God, which certainly must be true if God exists.
II. The being of God is evident from the manner of our own existence, and of all things visible, viz. the design, contrivance and wisdom that appear in them. It would fill volumes fully to illustrate this argument from the works of creation and providence, as this design and wisdom appear in them all; and the more particularly they are considered, the more clear the wisdom appears and shines. Volumes have been written on the subject, and many more might be written, and yet the subject not be exhausted. But it is not consistent with the design of this work, to enter particularly into this subject. 45Every one must have observed so much of this, as to see the propriety and force of this argument, at first view, unless he be very criminally inattentive. The innumerable creatures and things which come under our observation appear to be contrived and formed to answer some end; and the numerous ranks of different animals are all furnished with provision for their own support and defence, and have members and organs suited to their situation, and to obtain, receive and use what is necessary for the support of their lives, &c. If we attend only to our own bodies, we shall find them so admirably contrived, and so curiously formed; and though of so many parts, each one is suited to the rest, and all so contrived as to form one harmonious system of animal life, without any defect or any thing superfluous; is it possible, if we make any proper use of our reason, that we should find ourselves inhabiting such bodies, without discerning the contrivance and wisdom of our make, and seeing and acknowledging the hand and skill of the wise Author of this frame, so curious in all its parts and movements? As well may we behold a most beautiful, well contrived palace, furnished with every thing convenient and comfortable to dwell in, having nothing useless, nothing wanting; and not have one thought of a wise skilful architect, who contrived and built it; or imagine this building might exist without the exertion of any design or wisdom and have no author and maker.
Surely we cannot survey ourselves and the world in which we are, and see the design and contrivance apparently running through the whole, and not be convinced that there must be a wise contriver and author who has made them. Not to think of and acknowledge this, is to be more like beasts, than rational creatures. The language of the Psalmist is most rational and natural, when contemplating the works of creation and providence. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all.”
III. The being of God is made evident by the holy scriptures. Not merely by being there abundantly asserted; but by the existence of such a book as the Bible. It is as much impossible there should be such a book, 46 were there no God, as that there should be such a world as we see, without an invisible cause. For it is as much beyond the power and skill of man, or any number of men, to form such a book, as it is to make the world. It is impossible that such a number of men, who lived in ages at such a distance from each other, should write so much, and not contradict themselves, nor each other; but agree and harmonize in every thing, were there no invisible, unerring, omniscient Being to direct and guide them: As impossible as it was that every stone and piece of timber in Solomon’s temple, should come together, and be exactly fitted to its place, so as to make one complete, harmonious building, without any design, or contrivance; but by mere accident or chance. The character of God there given is far above and beside the thought of man, and could no more be drawn by man, were there no such God, than the world can be made by him. And the law of God there given, and at last summed up and comprehended in one sentence, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself,” could no more be thought of and contrived by man, than the heavens and the earth could be planned and produced by him. The series of miracles wrought by those who said there was a God, and that Jehovah was the only true God; that he spake to them, and they did these wonders in his name, and by his power, are a standing proof of the existence of God.
But above all, the predictions contained in the Bible, with their exact and certain accomplishment, is a striking proof and demonstration of the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent Being. For it is as much beyond the art and power of men to foretel so many thousand events, so precisely answering the prediction, as it is for him to make the sun, moon and stars.
All these have been urged as proofs of the divinity of the scriptures, and they are equal proofs of the being of God. Therefore, though invisible things of God are clearly seen in the works of creation and providence, even his eternal power and godhead; so that all the nations who have not the Bible are left without excuse, which if they do not believe in, love and worship the true God: yet they who enjoy this book have more clear evidence 47 of the being of God, as well as unspeakably greater advantages to know his true character; and consequently are far more inexcusable than the heathen, if they do not believe.
Upon the evidence of the existence of God, two things may be observed.
1. Though this be as evident a truth as any whatsoever, and men may have a full rational conviction of it, while their hearts are opposite to it, and receive no impressions answerable to this truth, and the whole system of their affections and exercises of heart, are just as if this were not true, or directly contrary to it; yet do really say in their hearts, there is no God. Therefore we find this asserted in the scriptures, “The fool, (that is, the wicked man whose heart is wholly corrupt, as it is there explained) says in his heart there is no God.” Hence it is, that this conviction and profession, that there is a God, in multitudes of instances, has little or no effect on the heart and practice; but while they profess to know there is a God, in their hearts and in their works they deny him. In this case, the heart governs the man, and forms his true moral character, and not his speculative conviction and judgment, which is so weak and ineffectual that it flies, or vanishes, into nothing, before the strong fixed propensities of the ungodly heart, as a bubble is blown away by the strong blast of a furious wind.
2. Where the heart is upright and honest, and men have a proper taste and relish for moral truth, the evidence of the being of God is discerned in a true light. The being and true character of God appear to be a pleasing reality; they have a genuine and powerful impression on the heart, and its leading affections and exercises are answerable to the truth. Therefore the scriptures represent such only, as knowing God and believing in him; and others are spoken of as not knowing God, and saying in their hearts there is no God, and in their works denying him. The latter are in darkness, and walk in darkness which blindeth their eyes. The god of this world hath blinded their minds, so that they believe not, and the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, doth not shine unto them. But the light shines into the hearts of the former, and 48gives them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, ill the face of Jesus Christ. For where the being of God is truly discerned, his whole revealed character, or his glory, is in some good measure seen; and they who have not discerning and relish of this glory, which is true of all wicked men, have not that belief of the being of God which good men have, as their faith consists in mere speculation; which is not the true light. This is so plain, that a heathen has said, “The mind destitute of virtue, cannot see the beauty of truth.”1818 Hierocles.
This leads us to consider the character and perfections of God; or what God is. This is the must important subject in the whole compass of divinity, as right conceptions of God lay the best and only foundation for religious knowledge and right sentiments in general: And it is no doubt true, that all who agree in their sentiments respecting the divine character, will also agree in the same system of religious truth: And the origin of the difference and opposition of opinion that have taken place among professing christians, respecting the doctrines of Christianity, is their different and opposite notions of the character and perfections of God. Therefore the true knowledge of God is often mentioned in scripture as the sum of all knowledge, and comprehending all religious knowledge. This affords a good reason for our attending to this awful subject with great care and caution; with solemnity of mind, reverence and devotion, searching the holy scriptures, and praying that we may be saved from wrong and dishonourable conceptions of God; and obtain the true knowledge of him.
What are called the natural perfections of God, as distinguished from his moral perfections, are first to be considered. There is a general agreement respecting these, among those who enjoy divine revelation, as men are not so prone to prejudice and error on this head, as they are concerning the other. It will therefore be needless to enlarge here.
We are warranted by the scriptures, and it appears reasonable, to exclude every thing that implies any imperfection, when we consider what God is; and ascribe 49to him nothing that is not absolutely perfect in the highest degree. Therefore we must conceive God to be a pure spirit, which the scriptures assert: And hence we are certain that nothing corporeal, or that has any shape, figure or limits, is to be ascribed to him. Hence it is unreasonable and very dishonourable to God, to attempt to make any image or likeness of him, by any thing that has figure or shape, or to form or entertain any such notion in our minds. Moses gave a particular caution on this head to the people of Israel. “The Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude, only ye heard a voice. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire.” And this is expressly prohibited in the second command, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Therefore when God is spoken of in the scriptures as if he had bodily parts and members, hands, eyes, cars, mouth, &c.—these expressions are to be taken in a figurative sense, and mean no more than that God does see and hear, &c. which we perform by those members and organs; and not that he has eyes of flesh, or sees as man does: Such language being used as better suited to convey knowledge to our minds, in conformity to man’s way of speaking and conceiving.
In the scriptures God is represented as an infinite being, that he is, in every respect, without limits or bounds. His existence is infinite, or in him is an infinite degree of existence, so that all created existence is nothing when compared with him; and indeed is comprehended in him, and is really no addition to existence, it being only an emanation from him, the fountain and sum of all existence. And all his attributes and perfections are infinite, according to the scriptures. “His understanding is infinite,” and consequently every thing that can be attributed to him.50
And reason teaches that God must be infinite. He who exists without any cause, that is, without himself, or who exists of and from himself, from the necessity of his own nature; or, in other words, exists necessarily, must be infinite or cannot have any bounds or limits, in any respect; and that for these two plain reasons,
L He can be limited or bounded by no thing, because there can be nothing to limit him; no possible cause or reason of any kind of limitation; and therefore there can be none.
2. Necessary existence must be infinite; for as there can be nothing to bound this necessity, it must take place with respect to every possible degree of existence, and is as much a reason of infinite existence, as of any existence at all. If any existence be necessary, infinite existence is necessary; so that it is a plain contradiction to suppose that God exists of himself, or necessarily; and yet has but a limited degree of existence, or is not infinite.
Hence it appears that God exists without beginning, or end; or is eternal, as he is represented in the scriptures: For he who has no limits, but is infinite, can have neither beginning or end, or must be infinite in duration. And necessary existence must be eternal, because this same necessity cannot be limited as to time or duration; but is always the same. It is a contradiction to say that self existence, or which is the same, necessary existence, does not exist, or can cease to exist.
For the same reason God is unchangeable in all respects; which the holy scriptures abundantly assert. He who exists necessarily, and is infinite, must exist unchangeably in the most perfect manner and degree. Change, or alteration in any respect, necessarily supposes limitation and imperfection. And as God is eternal and immutable, he must be without any succession; for this supposes change, and an advance in years and increase of duration. God does not grow older; there is nothing first or last, no beginning or end, past or to come, with respect to him; he has no change or succession of ideas; but he inhabits or possesses eternity, without the least variation or shadow of turning.51
God is perfect and infinite in understanding and knowledge. He is omnipresent, which is necessarily implied in his infinite, unlimited existence.
God is almighty. He can do what he pleases, and nothing is impossible with him. And he must be absolutely and infinitely independent and all sufficient. All this is asserted in the scriptures, and it is easy to see they are essential to the character of God, who made and governs the world, and is to be trusted in all cases, and worshipped.
God is invisible. Invisibility is ascribed to him in the scriptures, as essential and peculiar to him: And the meaning is not merely, that he is invisible as all pure spirits are, not to be seen by our bodily eyes; but he is not to be seen by any created mind, by direct, immediate intuition; nor can he ever be seen thus to all eternity; but only as he reveals and manifests himself, ad extra, by his works, or some other medium, or exhibition. This seems to be asserted in the following words, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” It is to be observed, that the word man, is not in the original; but it is none, or no one hath seen God; and the assertion may be considered as extending to angels as well as men. St. Paul says, No man hath seen, nor can see God.
God is incomprehensible, by all finite minds. This is as evident and certain, as it is that what is finite cannot reach unto and comprehend infinity. But a little portion can be known of God, compared with the whole of his existence: And none, among men or angels, can by searching find out God to perfection; though under the best possible advantages, and possessed of the greatest abilities to search; and though they exert all their powers and strength to the utmost, and wisely improve every advantage to get knowledge, without intermission, and without end. Though they should make the swiftest progress imaginable in the knowledge of God, they would still fall infinitely short of fully comprehending all that is in God, or even any one thing. For however great and extensive this knowledge may be, in itself 52 considered; yet it is but finite, and therefore is infinitely less than the perfect, adequate knowledge of an infinite being. Creatures may have the true knowledge of God; they may know something of him, and what they know may be agreeable to the truth; but this is infinitely short of comprehending his being, or any of his attributes and perfections. This plain truth may well be improved to teach us modesty in our inquiries about God; and shew us the arrogancy and folly of those who refuse to believe any thing respecting the existence, character or works of God, which cannot be comprehended. Such, while they are valuing themselves, for their own reasoning abilities, are acting a most unreasonable part. How unreasonable are they who doubt of the being or any of the perfections of God, only because they cannot fully understand and comprehend how they can be. For if there be a God clothed with infinite perfection, he must be incomprehensible. They who will not believe in a God whose being and manner of existence are beyond their comprehension, must certainly have no true God; for what they reject, is essential to the true God; and were there nothing incomprehensible, it is certain there could be no God.
The moral perfections of God are next to be considered; or what the scriptures say of his moral character. As this is of the greatest importance to be known, we may be sure it is very clearly discovered, and precisely stated in divine revelation, whatever mistakes men may make about it, and however they may differ in their sentiments concerning those divine attributes. We have therefore the greatest reason and encouragement to search the scriptures with attention and care, and upright and honest hearts, that we may find the knowledge of God, in this part of his character.
The following general observations may be made concerning the moral perfections of God, before they are considered more particularly.
1. The infinite excellence, beauty and glory of God, consist wholly in his moral perfections and character. Infinite greatness, understanding and power, without any rectitude, wisdom and goodness of heart, if this were possible, would not be desirable and amiable; but 53worse than nothing, and infinitely dreadful. Therefore they who do not understand the true moral character of God, and discern the excellence and glory of it, have not the knowledge of God; his real amiableness and glory are hid from them. And this being true of all whose moral character is wholly evil, and who have hearts altogether opposed to the moral perfections of God, they are represented in the scriptures as not knowing God. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”1919 1 John ii. 4. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.”2020 Chap. iv. 8.
2. The moral character and perfection of God consists in his holiness. Holiness comprehends all that belongs to his moral character, and does not consist in any particular attribute, distinct from any other moral perfection. The holiness of God is his goodness, wisdom, justice, truth and faithfulness, &:c. It consists in these, and cannot be distinguished from them. Therefore they who have considered holiness as a distinct attribute of God, and have attempted to describe it as distinguished from goodness, wisdom, Sec. do not appear to have any distinct, clear ideas, and to be able to give any satisfactory or intelligible definition of it. It does not appear that the scriptures warrant any such distinction; but there the holiness of God means the goodness of his moral character in general. And we find that when it is applied to men, it denotes a virtuous moral character and conduct, and comprehends every thing morally good, even every branch of moral excellence. And should any one attempt to define the holiness of a man, as distinct from goodness, his love to God and his neighbour, his humility, righteousness and temperance, he not only would have no scripture warrant for it; but must run himself into the dark, and be altogether unintelligible to himself and others.
3. The whole of true holiness, or the moral excellence and perfection of God, is comprehended in love, or goodness, by whatever names it may be called. Where there is no love or goodness of heart, there is nothing morally good; and where this love or goodness is, there 54is every moral virtue and excellence, as necessarily involved and implied in it. Therefore infinite goodness is infinite moral perfection, and forms an absolutely perfect and infinitely excellent moral character. By this love and goodness is meant good will, with every affection necessarily implied in it; that universal benevolence which consists in a disposition to seek and promote the greatest possible general good and happiness, and all those affections and exercises, and that conduct in which this is expressed and acted out. What absolutely perfect and infinite benevolence and goodness implies, and contains in the nature of it; and that nothing can be added to it to form an infinitely excellent moral character, will be more particularly considered and evinced hereafter. But it is proper first to consider what evidence we have from the scriptures, that the divine, moral character, or the holiness of God, consists wholly in this.
1. The holy law of God, which is not only the standard of holiness, or of moral excellence and perfection in the creature, but an expression and transcript of divine holiness, requires nothing but love or goodness; so that he who loveth, as the law of God requires, is perfectly conformed to the law, which is the same with being perfectly holy: And this is perfect conformity or likeness to God in his moral character; for holiness in the creature is the moral image of God: Therefore God. says to men, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Jesus Christ has taught us that the holy law of God requires nothing but love, in the following remarkable words, “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. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Agreeable to this St. Paul says, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Nothing can be more expressly asserted than this, viz. that love, exercised to a proper degree, and expressed and acted out in all proper ways, forms a perfect moral character; and therefore that the divine moral character consists wholly in this.55
2. The apostle John says repeatedly that God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Here all the moral perfections of God are comprehended in love, and by this the whole of his moral character is expressed. If we know what love is, we know what God is; for God is love. And if we dwell in love, we are conformed to God, and he dwelleth in us, his moral image is formed in us by love.
3. When Moses besought God to shew him his glory; in answer to this petition, God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee.” And when he granted this petition, it is said, “The Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” The glory of God consists in his moral perfection and character: But when he proposes to shew this his glory to Moses, he mentions his goodness, and nothing else, “I will make all my goodness to pass before thee.” q.d. I have no glory to show but my goodness; this is the whole of my moral beauty and excellence. And when it is said, “he proclaimed the name of the Lord;” it means that he proclaimed his character, and declared that in which his moral perfection and glory did consist. And here is nothing but goodness or love mentioned. Love in the highest, most resplendent and glorious exercises and manifestations of it, in the pardon and salvation of sinners. Truth is indeed mentioned here; but not as any thing distinct from goodness or benevolence; but as that which is necessarily included in it. But this leads to a more particular consideration of the moral perfections of God, which are included in love or goodness.
1. Infinite wisdom is a moral perfection of God. Wisdom consists in discerning, and proposing the highest and best end, and fixing on, and pursuing the most proper and best way and means, in order to accomplish it. Infinite wisdom does this with infinite ease, and without any possibility of the least error and mistake. It is certain that this wisdom is a moral excellence, and belongs to the heart, and therefore does not consist 56in mere speculation, or that knowledge or understanding, which may be without any rectitude or goodness of disposition or heart. Satan, who has no moral goodness, has no wisdom. He does not discern and propose any good end, but the contrary; and is devising and pursuing methods to accomplish his evil designs. Therefore, however clear and right his speculations may be in some instances, and though he may be very subtil and cunning, he has no wisdom, and no true discerning in things of a moral nature; but all his proposals, designs and pursuits, are directly the reverse of wisdom. They are consummate folly and madness. Therefore the scriptures speak of wisdom, as a moral excellence; yea, as including all moral rectitude; and perfectly opposed to all folly or moral evil; and a wise and understanding heart, in the scriptures, means a moral excellence depending on the disposition of the heart, and not consisting in any knowledge and speculations which are consistent with a corrupt and evil heart. Of this every one who has attended to the Bible, must be sensible; it is therefore needless to produce passages here to prove it. This true wisdom is called light, in the scriptures; in which sense God is said to be light, and to dwell in light. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Wisdom and goodness, or benevolence, are not to be considered as distinct, and the former as independent of the latter. Where there is no benevolence there is no wisdom; for where benevolence or goodness is not, there no good end is proposed and pursued, or discerned. It is benevolence alone that seeks the highest general good, and proposes and pursues the best end; and where this is not, the true good is not discerned, and therefore the best end is not proposed, sought, or perceived. This therefore gives or contains all the light and discerning there is in true wisdom. If we have a just idea of benevolence or goodness of heart, and know what that is, we have an idea of true wisdom, the latter being necessarily included in the former. This will be evident to every one who considers and understands what benevolence is, and what is true wisdom; so that no farther proof of this point will be needed. This is agreeable to what is said in the scriptures of 57 benevolence and wisdom. There love or benevolence is represented as being or containing all that light and knowledge which is in true wisdom; and that where this love is not, there is not any degree of this light and discerning. “Every one that loveth, knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light: But he that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darkness.” Here love is said to be, or imply, all that light and discerning which is of a moral nature, in which true wisdom consists; therefore love is wisdom. Love is true light and discerning, and this is true wisdom. Love is the true knowledge of God, or implies it, and is essential to it. And in the knowledge of God true wisdom consists. “If thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding—thou shalt then understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God: For the Lord giveth wisdom.”2121 Prov. ii. 2, 5, 6.
Moreover, the scriptures teach us that wisdom, considered as proposing and pursuing a good end by the best means, consists in love. There it is said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And unto man he said, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, is understanding.” By the fear of the Lord, is evidently meant, true piety, or obedience to God, in keeping his commandments; which consists wholly in love, love to God and our neighbour. This, it is said, is true wisdom, and is the beginning of wisdom. There is no wisdom where there is no love to God, and wisdom begins in this, and this is wisdom itself. Therefore, according to the scriptures, love is wisdom and understanding. Agreeable to this, all true virtue and moral rectitude, which consists in love, is called wisdom, in the Proverbs of Solomon, and through the Bible; and the contrary is called folly: And the 58former is called understanding and knowledge, the latter darkness and ignorance.
Hence it appears, not only that wisdom is moral rectitude and excellence, and a moral perfection of God; but also that it is nothing more than benevolence or goodness, and is included in it; so that when it is said God is love, his wisdom is asserted, as well as his goodness; because love or goodness, is wisdom itself.
2. Justice or righteousness belongs to the moral character of God. This denotes in general the perfect and infinite rectitude of his will, in opposition to all injustice or unrighteousness. The scriptures constantly ascribe this to God, as essential to the perfection and glory of his character, as every one must be sensible who is acquainted with the Bible. “He is the rock, his work is perfect: For all his ways are judgment: A God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he.” “The Lord is righteous in all his ways.”
Righteousness often has a very extensive meaning in the scriptures, and seems frequently to be used to express the whole of the moral character and glory of God, or his moral rectitude in general; as it is also often used to express the moral character of a man who is conformed to God, or true holiness. “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Here righteousness and true holiness seem to mean the same thing, and the latter, true holiness, is put as exegetical of the former; because righteousness, expresses the whole of moral rectitude, both in God and the creature. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” that is, true holiness. But the instances of righteousness being used in the scriptures in this extensive sense, as including all moral goodness, are too many to be particularly mentioned here. Every one who has read the Bible knows that the words just and righteous are commonly used to denote that moral character, rectitude and holiness, by which good or holy men are distinguished from others. To be righteous, is to be right according to the rule, the holy law of God, the standard of all moral rectitude; and therefore must include universal holiness.59
But righteousness and justice are sometimes used in the scriptures in a more limited sense, both when applied to God and to men; and to be just or righteous, is to be disposed to do no wrong to any, and actually to do none; but to give to every one, every thing to which he has a right, and may justly claim as his due, and is therefore opposed to doing wrong or injuring any being, by withholding or taking from him that to which he hath a right, which is called injustice, or unrighteousness. Justice and righteousness of a judge, and when ascribed to God, as such also denote, judging according to truth between opposing and contending parties, justifying the innocent and injured, espousing, vindicating and maintaining his cause; and condemning and punishing the guilty and injurious, according to his desert; especially when this is necessary to vindicate the character and cause of the injured in the best manner, and to make proper restitution for the injury done. Not to do this would be to pervert justice and judgment.
This justice, righteousness or uprightness, is essential to a perfect moral character, and therefore must be included in infinite moral perfection. It is needless to him, who reads the Bible with attention, to say that justice, in this sense, is there constantly ascribed to God; and that he who overlooks this, or has wrong notions of it, must be ignorant of the moral character of God.
It is important to observe here, that God, in the exercise of justice, or righteousness, has a proper regard to himself, and is disposed to maintain the rights of Deity, and properly to resent all injuries done to him. Therefore he requires his rational creatures to love him with all their hearts, because this is his due; and has annexed to his law a threatening of a punishment, which is the just desert of the transgression of it, or of any injury done to him. This regard to himself, and disposition to assert and maintain his rights and character, is expressed, when he styles himself a jealous God, who is jealous for his holy name;2222 Ezekiel xxxix. 25. and will not give his glory to another, neither his praise to graven images:2323 Isaiah xliii. 8. “For my name’s sake will I defer my anger, and for my praise 60 will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake will I do it; for how should my name be polluted? And I will not give my glory to another.”2424 Isaiah xlviii. 9, 11. “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth, the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.”2525 Nahum i. 3.
It belongs to God to vindicate his own rights, his name and character, and see that justice is done to himself; for there is no other being who can have the care of this, or can do it, or see that it is done. But he who is most upright, infinitely righteous, and can do no wrong, and sees what is right in all cases, without any possibility of mistake, is every way qualified to judge, decide and act in this matter, and it becomes him to do it; and not to regard his own rights, and do justice to himself, would be infinitely unjust and wrong. As God is infinitely the greatest, and the sum and perfection of all being, and his character, interest and rights, are of infinitely the greatest worth and importance; to disregard his rights, and injure him, is infinitely the highest instance of injustice that can be; and the exercise of justice and righteousness, in the first place, and chiefly, respects him; and were it possible for God to disregard his own character, and not vindicate and maintain his own rights, he would be infinitely far from being just and righteous; and this would be a greater instance of injustice, than every possible injury to all creatures, can be. Therefore when God is said to be just, it necessarily includes his being just to himself, so that he w ill do himself no wrong, but will regard and maintain his own rights, and claim and secure the honour due to his name: and if he be injured by any, he will see that complete restitution is made, whatever it may cost him who does the injury. And at the same time he is infinitely engaged to administer justice through all his dominions, and not to injure any one of his creatures in the least degree. “The Judge of all the earth will do right.”
Before we leave this head, it must be particularly observed, that justice or righteousness, whether taken in a more extensive, or in a confined sense, is nothing really 61distinct from love or goodness; but is included in it, and essential to it, though it has been thus distinctly considered. For injustice is directly opposed to good will; and goodness will not injure any one. He therefore, who is perfectly good, must be perfectly just; and goodness always is, and always will be justice. And infinite benevolence or love disposes to maintain and vindicate the rights of all; to administer justice and judgment in all cases; to condemn and punish the injurious so far as is necessary to make compensation to the injured. For as universal goodness seeks the greatest general good, it can do no wrong; and is therefore opposed to all ill will, and every thing that is contrary to the rights of any being, and to the highest general good. Love, therefore, still appears to comprehend all moral rectitude and excellence; and justice or righteousness in the divine Being, is nothing but universal, infinite benevolence, considered with relation to particular objects, and as acted out in particular circumstances.
3. Perfect truth and faithfulness are essential to the moral character of God, and included in his holiness. His declarations are all perfectly agreeable to the truth: and none can be deceived by believing what he says. Whatever he promises may be relied upon with the greatest safety; and all his predictions, promises and threatenings he punctually and completely accomplishes.
And here again, it must be observed, that truth and faithfulness are not to be distinguished from goodness, as though there were any thing in them different from it, and not contained in it, and essential to it; for there is no foundation for this, and it would be contrary to the truth. He who is infinitely benevolent must be perfect and unchangeable in truth and faithfulness; for love or goodness is itself truth and faithfulness, acted out in that particular manner, and towards those particular objects in which it obtains this denomination. There can be no truth and fidelity, where there is no goodness; and where the latter is, there, in the same degree, is the former.
We have new had some view of the moral character of God, or his holiness; and find it to consist in love or 62goodness, wisdom, righteousness or justice, truth and faithfulness. And that all is comprehended in love or benevolence, there being not only nothing contrary to this; but nothing really distinct from it, and that is not essential to it: The whole being nothing but infinite goodness, in different views of it, and as it respects different objects; and on this account, and that we may better understand it, the scriptures speak of it by parts, and call the parts of this whole, by different names.
But this very important and interesting subject requires yet further consideration; and it is hoped the following observations will not be useless; but tend to cast more light upon it.
I. When it is said that the moral character of God, or his holiness, consists in love, in which sense “God is love,” universal, infinite benevolence or good will is meant by love, and all that which this necessarily implies. This has been supposed, and taken for granted, in all that has been already said on this subject; but needs to be more particularly explained, and made evident. When God is said to be love, it is evident that the love of benevolence, or the goodness of God, is here meant from the context, where the meaning of the apostle is explained. When it is said, “God is love,” the words immediately following are these, “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world , that we might live through him. Herein is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Here the love of benevolence or good will only, is mentioned as that in which the love of God was manifested and acted out: Therefore this is the love here intended, when it is said, “God is love.” It is love of good will to enemies, to men in a state of rebellion against God; and therefore the most disinterested, generous love and goodness. This is the love and goodness spoken of by Christ, when he says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is by the angels, called good will to men. This is the highest instance of the most pure disinterested benevolence or 63 goodness; in which God has made the clearest discovery of his infinite goodness, and so of all his moral perfections, that creatures have ever beheld. This benevolence has the highest good of being in general for its object: Being capable of life and happiness. It discerns what is the supreme, greatest good, and this it seeks and pursues with unerring wisdom; and being attended with omnipotence, all the infinite good, the proper object of infinite benevolence, which is discerned, willed and sought, must take place in the highest possible degree, without the least defect. This is universal benevolence; disinterested, unlimited, infinite goodness, which has the highest possible good of being in general for its object, that is, infinite good; which must infallibly take place, and be enjoyed forever.
II. This love of benevolence does not exclude, but necessarily includes, that which is called love of complacence; for he who is good, benevolent and friendly, must delight in goodness. He will not only take pleasure in the exercise of goodness; but will be pleased with benevolence wherever it exists. Therefore a complacency and delight in holiness, or moral excellence, is always implied in holiness. God is therefore represented in the scriptures as delighting and taking pleasure in the upright, in them that fear him, and are truly holy, and delighting in the exercise of loving kindness, judgment and righteousness. But it ought to be remembered that love of complacency is not the primary or chief part of holy love; for holiness must exist as the object of complacency, in order to the existence of the latter. And what can this holiness be, which is the object ox complacency and the spring of holy delight, but the love of benevolence or goodness? This is the primary and most essential part; yea, the sum of holy love, which implies the love of complacency in its nature; the latter being a branch and emanation from the former. Therefore when we think and speak of holy love, benevolence should be the primary and chief idea in our minds, as being the sum of all, and implying the whole: For holy complacency, is complacency in benevolence and a benevolent complacency. And if we leave benevolence out of our idea of the love of complacency, we have no 64idea of true holiness; nor understand the scriptures where they speak of holy love in God or creatures.
It is true indeed, that moral excellence, or the love of benevolence and complacency, may be the object of benevolence as well as complacency, for the more excellent any being is. the greater is his importance and worth, and his interest so much more valuable; and indeed, the more existence he has; for excellence is real existence: Therefore there will not only be more complacence and delight in such a being; but he is more the object of benevolence, in wishing him well, prosperous and happy, and doing him good if he stands in need, and there is opportunity; and in being friendly to his existence, prosperity and happiness, and rejoicing in the same. But this is not the primary object of benevolence, but what may be called the secondary object, which appears from what has been said; for benevolence is good will to being, and seeks the greatest good of the whole; and therefore loves those who have no excellence, and wishes well even to enemies; but is exercised in a stronger degree, and a peculiar manner, towards those beings who are themselves benevolent, and friends to the general good; while at the same time they are the only objects of complacence and delight.
III. Divine love or goodness is perfectly disinterested, in opposition to all self love, or selfishness. This is expressed by uprightness, or righteousness, and consists in it. Uprightness is ascribed to God in the scriptures, as essential to his character; yea, he is called “the most upright.”2626 Isaiah xxvi. 7. That is, perfectly, infinitely, and unchangeably so. This is opposed to partiality, which consists in self love, and is selfishness itself. True goodness, or love, is in its own nature uprightness, or disinterested, in opposition to this self love, which is in its nature partiality and unrighteousness, and contains in it the essence and sum of all that which is opposed to true holiness, that is, all sin. Therefore we must exclude from the love in which the divine holiness consists, all that can be properly called self-love, all selfish, partial, 65interested affection; and consider the holiness of God as infinitely opposed to all this.
IV. God himself is the object of his own love and goodness. Or, in the exercise of his love he has respect and regard to Deity as well as to creatures. This is necessarily implied in perfect, universal, infinite benevolence, which includes impartial uprightness and righteousness; for it would be infinitely otherwise, and the most partial, unrighteous affection, if there were no regard paid to the infinite fountain and sum of all being and perfection. That which is friendly to the greatest universal good of existence, and is most pleased and delighted with the highest moral perfection, must regard the interest of the supreme Head of the universe, and delight in the most perfect beauty and excellence. And it hence follows that God is the chief and supreme object of his own love and regard; and he loves and regards himself infinitely more than the whole creation, and makes himself his highest and last end of all: and therefore has made all things for himself, as the scriptures assert. This has nothing of the nature of what is called self-love in creatures; but is directly and perfectly opposed to it. There is not the least partiality and selfishness in it; but the contrary, and is uprightness and righteousness itself, as has been shown; for if God did not love and regard himself, his rights and interest, according to his own existence, importance and excellence, he would not be just, impartial and upright. Impartial, disinterested benevolence and affection must pay the greatest regard to the greatest and best being; and therefore to suppose this is partiality and selfishness is most unreasonable, and a direct contradiction.
This evident truth, which may be so easily demonstrated, ought to be impressed on our minds, and never forgotten; for if it be out of view, and wholly disregarded, we cannot have right conceptions of God, or understand the holy scriptures: and must be in darkness with respect to the most important doctrines of Christianity, and not know wherein true religion consists. Many, by making a mistake here, and considering the love of God as having no respect to himself, but wholly exercised towards 66his creatures, in seeking their good and happiness only, have conceived of him as an almighty tool or servant, existing only for the sake of his creatures, and seeking nothing but their happiness; and hence have gone into a scheme of doctrines and religion, which is wholly selfish, and as contrary to the holy scriptures, as darkness is to light.
Let it then be fixed and remembered, that God is love. He is infinite benevolence and goodness itself; and that he himself is the first, chief and last object of this love; so that he regards himself supremely and ultimately in all his works, and does every thing for himself, for his own sake: And that his wisdom and righteousness consist chiefly in this, as he would be neither just, faithful, nor wise, should he forget himself, and have no regard to his own rights and character, in any one thing that he does through all his dominions; and therefore to suppose he does, is to entertain the most dishonourable thought of him, which in the highest degree tarnishes and ruins his moral character. In the light of this truth, rightly understood, and cordially embraced, we shall have great assistance in finding the meaning of the holy scriptures; and determining what are the important doctrines there revealed, and see their consistence and beauty.
V. Infinite benevolence or goodness, which seeks and promotes the greatest good of the whole, is infinitely opposed to all malevolence or ill will, which opposes all the good of being, and tends to universal evil; and must be infinitely displeased with it. This is just as evident and certain, as it is that he who loves and is friendly to any particular character, or desirable object, is displeased with the contrary, and hates it, to as great a degree as he loves and is pleased with the other. And this displeasure and hatred is implied in his love to the opposite object and pleasure in it; and is really the same affection acting towards opposite objects.
He who is a friend to the greatest good, and therefore is pleased with such friendship, must be equally an enemy to ail who oppose this good, and proportionally displeased and angry with them. And this displeasure, hatred and anger, in a perfectly benevolent being, is nothing 67in nature different from benevolence. It is nothing but goodness opposing its contrary; which it must do, or else cease to be love and goodness.
Agreeable to this, the scriptures represent God, who is infinite love and goodness, to be in a proportionable degree displeased with all sin, which is in its nature opposition to benevolence, and to the general good. This is represented as the object of his implacable hatred; and as exciting his anger, indignation, wrath and fury. This is so far from leading us to conceive of any thing in God contrary to infinite love and goodness, or really distinct from it, that it is nothing more than benevolence acting according to its own nature towards objects that oppose it. For love of good is itself opposition to evil, and hatred of it, and benevolence must be displeased with ill will, and hate and oppose the same. Nor are these opposite or different affections; but the same affection, love, acting towards different objects.
This displeasure, anger and wrath of God against sin, and the sinner, may therefore with propriety be called a just, benevolent, kind displeasure; which is the same with holy displeasure; all proceeding from love, and implied in it. Therefore, when we read in the scriptures of the divine displeasure, anger, wrath, &c. we must not form the same idea of this, as we do of those passions, as they exist in man; for this would be to conceive of God as exercising affections and passions, contrary to love; and as very imperfect, changeable and miserable. We must exclude, in our minds, every thing that implies imperfection or change, and that is inconsistent with infinite benevolence and felicity; and understand those expressions in the scriptures, as meaning perfect, unchangeable opposition of God to everything in moral agents that is contrary to infinite benevolence or goodness; for which they are wholly blameable and answerable, and deserve to be punished. And these words are doubtless the best chosen, and most fit to convey to us this idea of infinite love, considered as opposed, injured and affronted by selfish creatures, and acting accordingly.
VI. The infinite love and goodness of God, which has been described above, which is opposed to every 68thing in creatures that is contrary to itself, and with which it is displeased, must be disposed to manifest this displeasure and opposition to sin, in all proper ways, and to punish the sinner according to his desert whenever this is necessary m order to show his displeasure, to assert and vindicate his own character, and secure and promote the greatest good of the whole. It is proper and desirable that infinite benevolence and goodness should be manifested and acted out, in all instances, where there is opportunity for it; and therefore in its opposition to sin. For if it does not appear how opposite the moral character of God is to all sin, it cannot be set in the most clear and advantageous light; but this cannot be done, if opposition to this character be not punished in any instance or way, according to its desert. Besides, when thus to punish is necessary, in order to support the character of God, and secure the general good; not to do it would be injustice to himself and the creation: Therefore to punish, in this case, is the proper and necessary exercise of justice and righteousness, which has been shewn is included in goodness, and is an exercise of the same. It is therefore evident, that God’s manifesting his displeasure and anger with the creature who is an enemy to his goodness, is not only consistent with infinite benevolence, but an expression and exercise of love and goodness itself; and it would be contrary to the nature and dictates of the most perfect goodness not to punish. And it may be added, such punishment is not the least evidence of want of benevolence to the creature who is punished. When a judge orders a criminal who is guilty of treason against his king and country, to be put to death, he does nothing contrary to perfect benevolence and goodness, but this very conduct is an expression of it, and dictated by goodness itself; for he herein acts as a friend to his king and country; and not to inflict this punishment would be unfriendly, and contrary to true goodness. Nor does he manifest any want of benevolence to the criminal, or of a proper regard for his life and welfare, by punishing him according to his deserts, when the public and general good requires it.69
The disposition of the Most High to inflict punishment, and his actually inflicting evil on his creatures, as a testimony of his displeasure at sin, and to vindicate his own character, is often called vengeance in the scriptures; and is represented by his taking or executing vengeance, and being avenged on his enemies. And in this view he is frequently called. The mighty and terrible God, with whom is terrible majesty, &c. If God were not disposed to punish his creatures for their rebellion against him, and never did inflict evil on any for their sin, vengeance or vindictive justice could not he ascribed to him, nor would there be any thing terrible in his character; which would be an imperfection, and inconsistent with infinite benevolence or goodness, as has been shown. Therefore they who form notions of a love and goodness, in which there is no wrath and vengeance to punish enemies, nor any terrible majesty; and ascribe such love to God, have conceptions of his moral character which are essentially wrong, and very dishonourable to him.
VII. It appears from what has been said, and from reason, as well as scripture, that the moral perfection of God, or the divine holiness, consists in one most simple, pure, uncompounded, unchangeable act; though to accommodate it to our imperfect way of conceiving, it be divided into parts, and a number of attributes, and called by different names, as it is exercised in different views and towards various and opposite objects.
Benevolence or goodness is mercy, grace, compassion, patience, long suffering, &c. And the same benevolence is wisdom, justice, truth, faithfulness, complacence, displeasure, anger and wrath, in different views, and as it respects different objects.
VIII. Absolute, uncontrollable sovereignty may be considered as included in the moral character of God. This is the same with omnipotent love or goodness; benevolence doing whatever it pleases, infinitely above any control or obligation to any other being. Omnipotence is indeed a natural perfection; but benevolence, clothed with omnipotence, or doing what it pleases, is the essence of God’s moral perfection, and if we leave out the idea of this sovereignty, we shall have not only an imperfect, 70but a wrong view of divine benevolence. Indeed, if we should conceive of divine sovereignty, as some seem to have done, as consisting in God’s doing what he will, merely because he will, and without any possible reason why he wills thus, rather than the contrary, this would be so far from a moral perfection, that it would be no perfection; but infinitely undesirable and unbecoming the Most High, representing him rather as an almighty despot and tyrant, than an infinitely wise and good being. Though God does what he pleases, and is infinitely above all obligation or control by creatures; yet he has a good reason for all his determinations, and always wills that which is most wise, and the dictate of infinite rectitude and goodness. It is most agreeable, desirable, and of infinite importance, that infinite goodness and wisdom should be sovereign goodness, that is, above all possible control, or obligation to creatures, which is inconsistent with its doing what it pleases, or with God’s “fulfilling all the good pleasure of his goodness.” All the friends of God who can confide in his goodness, wisdom and righteousness, must be pleased with this sovereignty, and rejoice that he is above all control, doing whatever he pleases, through all his dominions, and “working all things according to the council of his own will:” And the idea and acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God attends all their views and pleasing sense of his moral character. This is the same with rejoicing that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, which all good beings are represented to do; for to be under the least control, or involuntary obligation, is inconsistent with reigning, which consists in doing whatsoever he pleases. When it is said, however, that God reigns above all obligation to any, which is inconsistent with his doing what he pleases, it is not meant that he can in no instance be under obligation to his creatures. He may enter into voluntary obligation, by promise and covenant; for it may be truly said, that what God has promised he will do, he is obliged to fulfil. But all must be sensible that this is not in the least inconsistent with the most perfect sovereignty, as it has been now described.71
IX. God is independently, infinitely and unchangeably happy. And this may be considered as included in his moral perfection and character, and depending upon it; for his happiness is not properly a natural, but a moral good, and consists hi moral exercises and enjoyment. If God were not benevolence or love, he would not be happy; but his infinite greatness, understanding, &c. would render him infinitely miserable; therefore his moral character is essential to his felicity, and he is blessed forever, because he is unchangeably holy: And his happiness is a holy happiness. This attribute of God is essential to complete his infinitely glorious character; and is most pleasing and delightful to all his true friends; and their benevolence or good will to God is gratified and expressed in seeing and rejoicing in his infinite, unchangeable, independent felicity and blessedness; and adding their hearty amen to it, as St. Paul did when he spoke of it. “Who is over all, God blessed forever, Amen.”
Here it must however be observed, that when it is said God is independently happy, it is not meant that he takes no pleasure in his works of creation and providence, or delight in the holiness and happiness of his creatures; so that he would be as completely happy, were there no holy and happy creatures and no creation; for this is contrary to the scriptures, which represent God as pleased with his own works, and creating all things for his own pleasure; and as delighting in his holy creatures, and in exercising loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth. So that it is not strictly true, that creatures add nothing to the enjoyment or happiness of God, even his essential happiness; and that he would have been as completely blessed forever, as he really is, had there been no creatures, which has been too often asserted, even in solemn addresses to God. Though the creation, with all its attendants and eternal consequences, be essential to the infinite happiness of God, and he could not have been so happy without it, this does not suppose him in the least dependent on creatures for his happiness, or for any thing else; for the creation is absolutely, perfectly, and in all respects, dependent on him; being only an emanation from his 72infinite fulness; and he is as independent of his creatures, as if they never had existed, and he took no pleasure in them. Nor is this inconsistent with the eternal, unchangeable happiness of God; for he from eternity perfectly enjoyed the creation, and every event that will take place to all eternity, without any change or succession of past, present and future, with respect to himself.
The scriptures, indeed, speak of God as repenting that he had made man, and being grieved at his heart, which, when spoken of man, denote uneasiness and pain; but these expressions concerning God cannot reasonably be understood as meaning any such thing; and only denote that the great wickedness and misery of man are so contrary and displeasing to the holiness and goodness of God, that were he a man, or his goodness as limited and imperfect as that of man, it would be very grievous to him, and make him repent that man ever existed. And these words are doubtless wisely chosen, as best suited to convey this idea to us, and gives us a proper sense of the exceeding wickedness and misery of man in the sight of God; even so as to render his existence infinitely worse than nothing, should things take their natural course, and not be checked and overruled by infinite power and wisdom. If God speak to men, he must speak after the manner of men.
From the view we have now taken of the evidence of the existence of God, and his character and perfection, we may infer the following things.
1. What is meant by seeing God, or a true sensibility of his being and character. God is infinite power, knowledge, goodness, wisdom, justice and righteousness, unchangeable, eternal, every where present. To see God, is to have some proper discerning and sense of all these: and so as to make suitable impressions on the mind. And as the human mind is infinitely unequal to an adequate, comprehensive view of God; and cannot, at once, see all that it is capable of seeing, we view this infinite whole, by parts, and may sometimes attend to infinite power, more particularly, or to wisdom 73or goodness, and have a more affecting, pleasing sense of those, than of other perfections, though not excluding them. A discerning sensibility of any thing in God, is seeing him.
II. We hence learn what a foundation and source there is in the being and perfections of God, for the complete and eternal happiness of those who know and love him. In God there is every thing that is agreeable and desirable to an infinite degree, and no possible blemish or defect; nothing that can be in the least disagreeable, to a mind of a right taste and disposition. His whole character is superlatively beautiful, bright and excellent, and it is impossible it should be properly discerned and understood, without giving the most noble and highest kind of enjoyment! And perfect discerning and love of this infinitely excellent and glorious being, accompanied with an assurance of his love and favour, must be the most perfect and highest kind of happiness of which we are capable, or can have any conception. In this view, the truth and propriety of our Saviour’s words appear in a striking light. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” And as this infinitely excellent and glorious object is unchangeable, eternal and infinite, he whose happiness consists in the knowledge and enjoyment of him, must have not only a perfect and unfailing, but also an increasing happiness; for as the object of his knowledge and love is infinite, there is a foundation for an endless progression or increase of knowledge and love, which is the same with an endless increase of enjoyment and happiness.
III. We hence learn the amazing folly, wickedness and misery of those who are displeased with the divine character and real enemies to it. This is true of all those who dislike the laws of God, and are unwilling to be under his government, and obey him; for the government and laws of God are all like himself, and an expression of his own character.
There can be no greater crime, than direct opposition to God, and hatred of him, disaffection to his existence 74and character; for this must be criminal in proportion to the greatness of God, his importance to being in general, and the excellence of his character, and his authority over us, and his goodness exercised towards us. But he is infinitely great, and therefore his existence is of infinite worth and importance, and he is as excellent as he is great, is infinite love and friendship to being in general; and his authority over us is great in proportion to his greatness and perfection, our inferiority to him, and dependence upon him. And what is the just and certain consequence from this? If it be not that disaffection and opposition to him is infinitely criminal, that is, a crime of unlimited infinite magnitude; then it cannot be proved to be any crime at all. This is certain, if no reason can be given, or argument offered to prove that opposition to God, and rebellion against him, is wrong and criminal, which does not equally prove that the crime is infinitely great. Any one will doubtless be convinced of this, if he will attend to the point so much as to make a trial.
The misery of such must be great. If infinite perfection and excellence give them no pleasure, but uneasiness and pain, they are of course shut out of all true happiness, and they have no object that can afford them any enjoyment, suited to their natural capacity and strong desires; and therefore must, in all their pursuits of happiness, meet with continual, vexatious disappointment, which must constantly render them very unhappy. And if they persist in this disaffection to God, and opposition to him, and so fall under the just and proper manifestations of his displeasure, and are punished in suffering evil answerable to their crimes, they must necessarily be miserable beyond all conception, and without any end!
The folly of this is beyond all expression, and the greatest that can be. To turn away from the fountain of all good and perfection, and renounce the only object of true enjoyment and happiness, and seek it in a way in which it is not to be found, but issues in complete and endless misery: what instance of folly can be great like this! No wonder the scriptures call such fools, in an emphatical sense, as if this was the sum of all folly, 75and there were no fools but these. These, in the highest sense, and in the most striking manner, “call evil good, and good evil; put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” The scriptures speak of such in the following language. “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid: For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. For my people are foolish, they have not known me, they are sottish children, and have no understanding: They are wise to do evil; but to do good they have no knowledge.”
IV. This subject leads us to reflect upon the very criminal blindness and great delusion of those who say in their hearts, “There is no God.” The scriptures teach us there are such; and surely we must see the justice and propriety of calling them fools. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” That there should be any such of the human race, is very shocking and deplorable; but it is more so to have it asserted by God, that this is true of all mankind in their natural state! That all are here declared to be such fools naturally, is certain from the context, which is quoted by St. Paul, and applied to all men.2727 Ps. xiv. 3.—Rom. iii. 9, 12. What awful darkness and delusion must that be, in which they are, who, in the midst of the clearest light shining around them, do shut their eyes so as not to see the most evident and important truth, and to be quite blind to the most excellent, charming, glorious character! And that the heart of man should be thus stupid and blind, even when there is a rational conviction, and acknowledgment of the truth, is yet more shocking. This is the blindness of the heart, spoken of by St. Paul.2828 Eph. iv. 18. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” When the light that is in men is, through the moral disorders of the mind, turned into such darkness, how great is that darkness!
And this blindness and delusion must be criminal in proportion to the clear and abundant evidence of the truth, and the infinite importance and excellence of the 76object, which this darkness hides from the mind; for it is the blindness of the heart, and therefore a moral, voluntary blindness, and cannot be distinguished from disaffection and real opposition of the heart to the being and character of God; and consequently the whole of it is nothing but sin. In this light, therefore, the scriptures every where represent this sort of blindness and delusion, which originates from the heart, and consists essentially in the moral disorders and depravity of the mind. All sin is indeed moral darkness and delusion, it is opposed to all moral truth, and is in its own nature a sort of Atheism, as it does in all the exercises of it deny the God that is above. It is therefore so far from being unaccountable that the scriptures should assert, that they whose hearts are wholly under the dominion of sin, say in their hearts there is no God, that the reason of it may be easily seen; and it is most evident and certain, that it cannot be otherwise, and to assert the contrary is a very gross and palpable contradiction. When all the feelings and exercises of the heart are as if there were no pod, or are opposed to his being and moral character, then the heart says, there is no God: Therefore they who have no true virtue, no love to God, are in the scriptures said not to know God; but to be alienated from the life of God, and without God in the world.2929 Eph. ii. 12.—iv. 18.
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