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Thirdly. It remains now that we go on to the third head of the communicable perfections of God, to wit, those of the divine will, or which we may otherwise call his moral perfections, and the most principal of them which I shall (but briefly too) speak of, are these four, to wit, his holiness, his justice, his faithfulness and his goodness. And before I speak to them severally, I shall give you some general considerations concerning them, and which will also partly respect some of those that have been spoken to already under the former heads. As,
1. That when we distinguish the divine perfections into natural, intellectual and moral, the meaning is not as if those that were intellectual and moral were not also natural. But the first member in this distinction is larger and more comprehensive than the rest. All that are intellectual and moral are also natural perfections in the divine nature, but all that are natural are not intellectual and moral. And,
2. We are to consider this concerning them, that the divine perfections which are spoken of under the notion of attributes, they do suppose their subject to be such, as to which they can and they must agree: we speak now only of a subject of denomination not of a subject of inhæsion in a proper sense. But they do all suppose their subject, that is of predication, to be a spiritual Being, or they do suppose God to be a Spirit, and might, all of them, be brought as proofs and demonstrations (if it were needful) that he is so. He could not be intelligent if he were not a spirit, nor righteous, nor holy, nor just, nor true, for all the e do suppose such a subject of predication as to which such attributes or attributed perfections can and must agree. And therefore (as hath been intimated formerly) when we speak of the attributes and perfections of God, this doth not come among them, but is presupposed and necessarily presupposed. Those that are properly called attributes are spoken of in quale quid, not in quid as schoolmen do fitly enough say, though 96I do not need to trouble you with the explication of those terms.
3. You are to note this concerning them, that as they do suppose their suitable subject, so several of them do suppose others of them. As wisdom doth suppose knowledge, and holiness doth suppose wisdom; and justice, holiness, and faithfulness, justice, and so on. And again,
4. We are to consider that our conception of God and his nature and the properties belonging thereunto, cannot possibly take up things otherwise than by parts: and so all our conceptions of him must be inadequate, and when we have taken up as much as is possible it is but a small portion that we have taken up, or can admit into our minds. And therefore, we are to conceive concerning all these perfections of God that though it be unavoidable to us to apprehend diversly, yet we must apprehend them as all falling into one most simple nature and being: whence it is not to be thought strange that we find a coincidence in very great part indiversive of these perfections, that do (as it were) fall and run into one another. As there will be more occasion to take notice in those particulars that are mentioned. And,
5. You are to consider further that our notices of God must needs be in a great measure by reflection on ourselves. He hath been pleased to let us know that he created man at first after his own image. That is, after his natural image with the addition of his moral or holy image. And that he doth again regenerate and renew men after his own image, that is, his holy image, supposing the natural one, that being still supposed remaining, as the subject both of the corruption and of the restitution. This being so, we have the advantage of discerning much concerning the excellencies and perfections of the Divine Nature by reflecting upon ourselves. What we see by that reflection, we see as in a glass darkly, and indeed, when we are the glass we are a very dark one. But some resemblance, some image there is to be found, even with all there is the natural image of God, and with the regenerate there is the holy image renewed, though very imperfectly renewed, whereupon when we are to conceive of holiness, faithfulness, justice and goodness in God, our conception is much to be helped by these notions that we cannot but have of such things among men, these being, (as you have heard) of his communicable attributes that have the same name in him and in men, and the image and likeness of the same things. And,
6. Though there be somewhat of the divine image or likeness in men, yet this similitude is not to be considered without very 97great dissimilitude. It is true indeed, omne simile est dissimile, every like is also unlike, but there must he most of all when we are to compare things in God and in us. Though there be some similitude, the dissimilitude must be vastly great which we are to take along with us in speaking of each of those mentioned perfections of the divine will, and so we come to the particulars. And,
1. As to the HOLINESS OF GOD. That very term as it is applied to God, is of various significancy. And indeed, it is so as the term comes thence transferred unto creatures. Some times it signifies august, venerable, great, majestic. And the reason of the use of that phrase to such a purpose, that is, holy to signify august and venerable, is obvious: for as things that were holy were not to be violated, were not to be touched (as it were) by impure hands, not to be arrogated, not to be meddled with by any but those to whom they were appropriate, (in which respect, majesty hath been wont to be accounted a sacred thing that was not to be meddled with by any other, and the person a sacred person that was clothed therewith, not by any means in the world to be violated,) so with no very remote translation, holy or holiness being spoken of God doth signify the awfulness, the venerableness, of the Divine Nature. But yet, this is somewhat alien from holiness as it is a moral perfection: or as it is a perfection of the divine will. And therefore, as such we must consider it under its own proper and peculiar notion. It sometimes also, signifies firm, sure, unalterable. The sure mercies of David, (Isaiah lv.) the Septuagint renders it sacred, holy. But if we speak of holiness in the proper sense, as it is a perfection of the divine will, so it must needs, in the general notion, signify the rectitude of that will in all things, and so it must have two parts, a negative, and a positive part.
(1.) A negative; and so the divine holiness stands in purity, in being most perfectly free from any taint or defilement, from any thing of moral turpitude, in any kind or any degree. And that purity, the negative rectitude of the divine will which is carried in his holiness, comprehends two things, first, an enmity from all irrectitude, any taint, any turpitude: and secondly, an abhorrence and detestation thereof. Not only that the nature and will of God hath nothing impure, or that is not right adhering to it; but doth also detest and abhor to have. It signifies the aversion of the divine will, its perpetual, inflexible aversion from every thing that is evil, unworthy of it, unbecoming to it. And so whereas, holiness is spoken of in Scripture under the notion of light, that light is said to be without darkness, in the first place, (1 John i. 5.) “God is light, and 98with him is no darkness at all.” This is made the matter of solemn message to the sons of men: “And this is the message that we have from him and which we declare to you:” God hath sent this message to the world, this account of himself, that he is light and without any darkness at all, without the least mixture of any thing that is impure, or foul or unworthy of him. But then, as it is said in that place, speaking of the divine holiness under the notion of light, that it is without darkness: so it is, secondly, elsewhere, represented under the same notion as expulsive of it, declining it, hating it, as having with it a most inflexible and eternal aversion from every thing that is signified under the notion of darkness, unholiness being there signified by it. “What communion hath light with darkness?” It is drawn down to signify that there can be no communion between God and unholiness, the temple of God and idols. 2 Cor. vi. 16. And,
(2.) This holiness hath also its positive part which must comprehend two, the like things that have been mentioned concerning the negative part. That is, first the actual, perpetual rectitude of all his volitions, and all the works and actions that are consequent hereupon; and, secondly, an eternal propension thereunto, a love thereof, by which it is altogether impossible to that will, that it should ever vary from itself in this, as it can not in any other respect. That the determinations of that will are right in themselves, is out of question; and that, his word (and he best understands his own nature) testifies over and over. And then his propension, his eternal, unalterable propension of will to that which is right and good, that we find spoken of as a thing we must conceive too, as belonging to his holiness also; “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance doth behold the upright.” Psalm xi. 7. And so you have his hatred of all iniquity, and his love of universal rectitude, both mentioned together in one and the same breath, as it were; “Because thou lovest righteousness and hatest iniquity.” (it is spoken of Christ it is true, but spoken of him as God, (Psalm xlv. 7.) having said immediately before, “Thy throne O God, is for ever and ever”) therefore God, even thy God hath anointed thee.” He is the image of God, the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person. But here it may be said, when we place (as we cannot but do) the notion of holiness generally in rectitude, every thing of rectitude must have some measure or another, or some rule to which it is to be referred, and which it is to be judged by. What is then the measure and will of divine rectitude wherein holiness stands? 99This is the thing that hath been very variously discussed, and with a great deal more perplexity than there was cause for. These things you may take about it, that are all plain in themselves, and will be as much as will need to be, or can, in sum and substance, be said to it. As,
First. That the divine rectitude cannot be measured by any law, that refers to him properly so taken. A law properly taken, is the signification of the will of a superior concerning: an inferior. But it is out of question, God can have no superior, and so nothing can in a proper sense be a law to him. And a measure, it is prior to the thing measured, must be before it, but there can be nothing prior to God. Yet,
Secondly. In the borrowed sense, very plain it is that God is a law to himself; and it is the only conception concerning this matter, that it can admit of: nor is that to be thought at all strange, when those parcels and fragments of right notion that are left in the ruined nature of man, do yet leave him a law to himself, where he hath no other law, no written law extant before him: much more, when the notions of rectitude are most perfect, they may supply the place of a rule or measure by which the divine rectitude is to be measured. But,
Thirdly. His mere will, abstractly considered, cannot be this measure, as if the divine will might have made that which is right to be wrong, or that which is wrong to be right: this is altogether unconceivable and impossible, that that will, abstractly considered, should be to him the measure of right or wrong, or of good and evil. That is, as if one could suppose that an act of the will might alter the obligation that is upon an intelligent creature to love the best good; or could make it lawful or a duty to hate the highest and most perfect pulchritude and beauty. This cannot be: as we are told, it is impossible for God to lie. He cannot lie, as it is impossible to him to be unholy, as it is to be untrue. And therefore, that there are eternal reasons of moral good and evil is a most indubitable thing; that that which is right could not in its own nature, in the greatest instances but be so; and that thereupon, that the distinction must be admitted necessarily, of things that are good because God wills them, and of things that he wills be cause they are good. And so natural laws and positive, they come to have their distinction and diverse consideration. And then in the last place,
Fourthly. That it is equally absurd to suppose, that the ideas of right and wrong, or of moral good and evil, as they are a measure to God should have place any where but in him; that is, in his will, not abstractly considered, but in his will as it is 100everlastingly conformed to a wise mind. There cannot but be an everlasting conformity between the rectitude of the divine will and the divine word. And whatsoever he doth, he doth all things not because he will, but according to the counsel of his will. Ephes. i. 11. And indeed, the contrary apprehension, were to resolve all the divine perfections into nothing but sovereignty. It is the divine will that is the measure of good and evil, yet not abstractly considered, but as it doth agree with most perfect wisdom, and that unalterably thereupon, it is as impossible to him ever to will that which is not wise, as it is impossible to him ever to speak that which is not true. And so far, having given some account of the divine holiness, wherein it lies, you may collect in great part from what hath been said, this double property of it, not to mention more:
i. That his holiness is primary, all other holiness is but derivative, imparted. This is the fountain-holiness, the primary holiness. And,
ii. His holiness is essential. It agrees to him, not primarily only, but essentially too, as being altogether inseparable from his nature. Holiness in any creature was always to it an extra-essential thing. We have had instances of it even in the higher orders of God’s creatures. Man was created holy, but fell. Among the angels that were universally holy, many fell. So the holiness of the best of creatures is a thing in itself separable from its essence. But the divine holiness is most perfectly inseparable. I shall say no more upon this, (the course that I am upon did oblige me to great brevity in speaking to this head,) but only by way of Use.
1. To recommend it to you, that we may live in the adoration of God, considered under this notion: “Who is like thee among the gods, glorious in holiness?” Exod. xv. 11. “There is none holy as the Lord,” as Hannah speaks in that admirable song of hers, 1 Sam. ii. 2. How should we rejoice in the thoughts of this, that we have such an Object of worship, so perfectly, unexceptionably holy. And,
2. We ought to study the imitation of him herein, as the adoration of him upon this account, understanding the text as saying that to you, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” in holiness: “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” 1 Pet. i. 15, 16, referred (for so it is written, as the apostle speaks) to that Levit. xi. 44. and in divers other places.
3. Consider with what great gratitude the condescending goodness ought to be owned, that he should have a design to make such as we, like himself in this respect: we ought to acknowledge great kindness even in such a commandment, “Be 101ye holy for I am holy. I would fain have you like myself.” It speaks great love and good will to us, that he would have us imitate him. And,
4. It should make us willingly submit to any methods that he thinks fit to use, to bring us to that conformity to him in this respect; that we be gradually perfected herein, as he is most perfect. The state of our case requires that his methods should be sometimes rough and severe for this purpose. We have a great deal of dross about us. The fathers of our flesh, indeed, they correct (saith the apostle, Heb. xii. 9) “after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” A great word and work, (and which we ought to consider accordingly) that we might be partakers of his holiness! that is, that he might transform us into his image and likeness. What difficulties, what furnaces, what fires, what deaths would we not go through for this, that we might be made partakers of his holiness, to be in this respect, #s he is, perfect.
2. The next that I have mentioned of these four perfections of the divine will, is his JUSTICE. And justice is wont to be distinguished into universal and particular. But then,
(I.) As universal righteousness or justice doth comprehend particular justice in it, so it superadds somewhat distinguishing, as you shall see by and by. Therefore,
(2.) For particular justice, that is twofold. It is either commutative or distributive; for commutative justice, with God it can have no place, because he hath no equal: or there are none of the same order with him, that can make exchanges with him or that can transfer rights to him for any rights transferred from him: he can be debtor to none of his creatures. Who hath given him any thing, and it shall be recompensed to him again?” as Rom. xi. 35. It is a challenge to all the world. But it. is that part of particular justice, which is wont to be called distributive justice that properly agrees to him, that is, rectoral justice, magistratical justice, the justice of a governor, ruler, of a superior towards an inferior. And that useth to be divided into these two parts, praemiative and puniative: praemiative, that confers rewards, and puniative, that dispenseth punishments. For the former of these, whatsoever rewards God dispenseth must be all of grace, not at all of debt. He cannot be antecedently a debtor to his creatures, otherwise than by promise, and so his justice runs into his faithfulness, as you will see by and by. And supposing him to have bound himself by promise, then it is a piece of justice with him to make good his promise, and thereupon, the notion of righteousness doth obtain and take place, even in conferring 102 benefits. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.” Heb. vi. 10. And “it is a righteous thing with God,” not only to “recompense tribulation” to the troublers of his people, but also, those that are troubled rest with him. 2 Thess. i. 6, 7And “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” There is a piece of justice in it. It is, upon one account, the highest act of mercy imaginable, considering with what liberty and freedom the course and method were settled, wherein sins come to be pardoned: and it is an act of justice also, inasmuch as it is the observation of a method to which he had tied himself, and from which afterwards therefore, he cannot depart, cannot vary.
And then for punitive justice, this is most distinguishing of the justice of God, from his holiness abstractly considered. By his holiness he hates sin, and by justice he punisheth it. The one makes him hate it, the other obligeth him to animadvert upon it in a way of punishment, or inclines him to do so. And this he doth as a debtor to himself. Justice among creatures is conversant about the rights of other men; but in God it must be conversant about his own rights; because he is himself the Fountain of all rights. And there could be no such thing as right throughout the whole universe, if it had not its first fountain in God himself: and therefore, his justice must be the faithful guardian of the rights of his sovereignty and government, And thereupon, this justice doth not only allow him but oblige him to award to every transgression a just recompense of reward, as the Scripture speaks.
But of this, I shall say no more, save only, this word or two by way of Use, that is,
1 Let us have our souls so possessed with this apprehension of the divine justice as to dread it, and stand in great awe of it, knowing that we have to do with a God that will not be mocked, or trifled with by any; and who never confers favours upon any, so as to forget his just right; nor doth so exercise his mercy towards any as to depress and lose his sovereignty; of which sovereignty of his, as hath been said, his justice must always be a faithful guardian, and therefore, those that are nearest to him must know that if they transgress, his justice must have an exercise about them, even as punitive. There is such a thing as economical, punitive, family justice, by which, even where God is pleased to be related as a Father, he animadverts upon, and chastises and punishes the faults and follies of his own children, even those that are of his own house hold. Though you must distinguish of punishments, between those that are corrective and those that are vindictive, Vindictive 103punishments shall not have place there upon those that are, and have, a stated being in the family, that are of it and in it. But corrective punishment shall have place even there. And then, Not only dread divine justice, hut labour to engage it to be on your side. What a great blessing is that, to have even justice itself plead for us, and the state of our case brought to that pass that it may. If we confess our sins, that is, with a truly evangelical frame of spirit, he is faithful and just to for give us our sins: and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin. But I pass on,
3. To say somewhat of his FAITHFULNESS. And that also doth in great part run into justice, as justice doth in some part run into holiness. But so far as to superadd somewhat peculiar and distinguishing. The faithfulness of God is his veracity or his truth as it relates to his word, the conformity that is between his word and his mind. And whereas, his word, as his faithfulness that refers to it is twofold, assertory and promissory; so accordingly, must his faithfulness be understood. It stands either in declaring to us truly how things are, or how they shall be. It relates to his assertory word; that is, that he doth make a true representation to us of all things that are to be received by us as doctrines. Whereas, he is in no possibility of being deceived himself herein, so neither can he deceive us; God cannot lie. It is impossible to God to lie. So much, the light of a pagan could discern of God, even Balaam; “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” All the declarations that he hath made to us by way of assertion of things that we are to conceive are so and so, we are to look upon his truth and faithfulness as engaged herein. That is, he doth make a representation to us of things just as they are, and no otherwise, in what he saith to us of himself, in what he saith to us of Christ, in what he saith to us of his Spirit, and in what he saith to us of the way and course of duty wherein we are to walk, and the like. And whereas, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Revealer, the first Revealer of God and his mind to men, he is thereupon, called the faithful witness, as representing and testifying things just to be as they are, and no otherwise. It comes in among his glorious titles, “Jesus Christ, the first begotten from the dead, the Prince of the kings of the earth, the faithful witness:” that falls in among the rest. Rev. i. 5. God’s name is in him, that is, the same nature is in him where of the divine name is expressive. And therefore, in the whole gospel revelation we must conceive the highest faithfulness to be engaged. That which sums it up, “Jesus Christ came 104into the world to save sinners,” the apostle calls it “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,” (1 Tim. i. 15) most worthy to be received and believed. And then,
The word of God, to which this faithfulness hath reference is not only assertory but promissory; not only declaratory how things are, but how also they shall be. It is true, we may take in his threatenings too, unto which his faithfulness hath reference as well as his promises. But chiefly and principally, his faithfulness hath reference to his covenant. “He is the faithful God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for ever.” Deut. vii. 9. And “he will not alter the covenant that is gone out of his mouth, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail.” Psalm lxxxix. 33, 34.
And therefore, concerning this also, take so much of present Use. Is God perfect in this respect, most perfectly true and faithful, true to his word, his mind always agreeing most accurately with it? Then,
1. Trust this faithfulness of his. The object of trust is faithfulness most properly, the most immediate object. That which answers to faithfulness is faith. If he be faithful, he is to be believed, trusted in, and relied upon. In that passage of the apostle’s prayer that he might be delivered from wicked and unreasonable men, for all men have not faith; the most probable meaning of that, is, that have not faithfulness, (faith being there taken objectively,) that are not fit to be trusted; wicked and unreasonable men, upon whom we can place no trust, that are not fit to be believed. But we are never to admit a thought so diminishing or debasing concerning him whom we have taken to be our God, as if he were not fit to be trusted, as if his faithfulness could fail any whit. Our heavenly Father is perfect in this respect; therefore trust him perfectly, without vacillation, without wavering or suspenseful hearts. He cannot deny himself, he abides most faithful and therefore most securely to be relied upon by those that are, through his grace, enabled to give up themselves to him. He desires no more: give up yourselves to him, and you are safe on his part: rely upon him, for he is faithful; he will keep what you commit to him. And,
2. Imitate his faithfulness as well as trust it. Do you labour to be perfect herein? I pray let us all labour to be perfect in this as our heavenly Father is perfect, to wit, in faithfulness, both towards him and towards men
(1.) Towards him, O! how can we think it tolerable to break with him who is never apt to break with us! His faithfulness can never fail, why should ours so often fail? When 105we promise, when we engage, when we vow to live in his love, in his fear, in his communion; what shame should it cover our faces with, to be unfaithful towards him, who is constantly faithful towards us. And,
(2.) Towards men; imitate him there too: this would be the glory of our religion. It is the intolerable reproach of it, that there is so much falsehood among men, and even among them that profess the Christian name, among them who pretend to God as their God: saying he is their God who is the faithful God, most perfectly faithful. This makes a most deplorable state of things. “Help Lord” (saith the Psalmist) “for the faithful man faileth.” Psalm xii. 1. It makes the state of things so very dismal that all who understand themselves, think they have reason to cry to heaven, “Help, help, in such a sad case as this.” Help, Lord, the godly man fails, there is no faithfulness left in the world. We are undone in this case if God do not help, if we have not help from heaven. But what an ornament is it to the Christian name and profession, when the very words of such and such as do profess it, are reckoned stable as a pillar of brass. “I would no more distrust such a man’s word, than I would fear the falling of the heavens over me, or the sinking of the earth under me:” this would be the glory of our religion. O! then let us labour to be perfect in this respect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
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