|« Prev||Lecture XLV. Preached January 19, 1694.||Next »|
Good-will towards Men.
THE former branches of this verse, wherein these angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” have been opened, and something hath been said about this good-will towards men, both as it is general and special.
Now as to this general good-will of God to men, I shall,
1. Labour to evince it to you in an absolute consideration. And then, shall,
2. Speak in comparison of the way of his dealing with another sort of offending creatures, of an higher and nobler order than men. Now,
1. To evince this general good-will to men, according to the absolute consideration that is to be had of it, I shall make use of two sorts of mediums or arguments to that purpose,
(1.) Of such as are antecedent to a more express gospel revelation; and which will therefore respect them that have not the gospel, or that never had it. And,
(2.) Such as may be taken from the gospel itself, of which you have a summary, an epitome, in this same 26angelical proclamation from heaven: it Seeming suitable to the majesty of God, to make his angels, though not the ordinary ambassadors, yet the extraordinary ones, of this gracious declaration of his mind and counsel towards men.
But as to both these sorts of arguments, I have this to advertise you, that the main thing I shall propose to myself in alleging them, will not be so much the evincing of the truth in this matter: for that is clear in itself, shines in its own light; and indeed as to this part of God’s general good-will to men, or that which is usually called common grace, I can have no adversary, we have none to oppose us in this thing, except Atheists. It is true, indeed, as to the other part, (his special grace,) there we have very subtil adversaries; and when we come to that part, I do hope, through God’s assistance, we shall be enabled to maintain the truth against them. But here my more principal design is, to let you see, by the arguments I shall allege, (which will clear the truth too,) the mighty importance of what we are now asserting, and to what purpose it is that we ought to assert this general good-will of God to men. Indeed, that we shall have occasion more distinctly to shew, when we come to the use. But I shall hint some of the more eminent purposes now, that it may the more engage the attention of all our minds unto what is to be insisted on to this purpose.
It will be of most direct use to convince, and (if it will seem good to God so far to bless his word) to mollify the hearts of hardened sinners that have yet nothing of special grace appearing to them, or in them, so as to make way for that, it being God’s course to work methodically; and to make things, which have an aptitude thereto, subservient unto other things, that are to be consequent thereupon It would certainly induce any, that would use their thoughts, to look upon it as a black and horrid thing to be, in the course of my life, with an obstinate, obdurate heart fighting continually against goodness itself, and against kindness and good-will.
And it is of mighty importance, too, for the relieving of awakened and doubting souls, that may be hurried with terrors and temptations about their state God-wards; and who, though (it may be) special grace hath taken place in them, yet think it hath not; so as to let them see what relief is yet in their case, (as black as it looks to be,) while they are under the dispensation of more general and common 27grace, as hath a leadingness and tendency in it unto special.
And there is that too, which will be of general import to all of us, every day, to wit, that we may be brought more to value, and to savour, and relish those mercies which commonly go into the account, and under the census of common mercies, of which (God knows) we have too little sense. It is a most unaccountable absurdity, (that I have often reflected on in my own thoughts,) that very generally mercies should be thought less valuable, for that very reason for which they are the more valuable. And so it is commonly in reference to those that are called common mercies: they are less valued for, the self-same reason for which they should be more valued; that is, because they come in an ordinary and in a constant course. As health, because it is constant, or is more ordinary, with the most, it may be, it is for that very reason less valued: but every body that considers, knows, that for that very reason it is the more valuable. It is better sure to have continual health, than health intermitted. So the use of our senses, our sight, (for instance,) the noblest of all the rest, because it is a common mercy, therefore it is cheap, and of less account with the most. How great a thing would it be thought, if a man should see but one hour in the day! How would the return of that hour be longed for! Or if but one day in the year; O when will that day come! We need to have the value enhanced more with us of such things as are indications of God’s good-will towards men in general, that they may have their due weight with us, and that grateful savour and relish in our spirits which they challenge. And let us, therefore,
1. Upon such considerations go on to take notice of those arguments of the first rank, those which lie without the compass of the gospel-revelation, that were antecedent to that more explicit revelation of it, and do fill a larger sphere and region than that whither the gospel light diffuses and extends itself: for though it be true that the text hath a special reference to that glorious revelation which was now to commence, we are not to think that this good will was then first to commence, as if God did then but begin more distinctly and explicitly to own it, and speak it out; but there were not obscure indications of it before, and which did commonly obtain all the world over, even there where gospel light obtained not.
I shall, therefore, in speaking to that head of arguments, 28shew what it is that men might collect (if they would use their thoughts and understandings aright) from such appearances of divine favour towards them. And because that the reasonings of men may be looked upon as having an uncertainty in them, a sort of lubricity, and that we cannot with so much clearness conclude from mere arguings that are to be fetched from principles that lie without the compass of scripture; lest any one should think them infirm upon that account, I shall shew you, as we go along, how scripture doth strengthen the same sort of arguments; and how we are directed and prompted even by scripture itself, to make use of them to the same purposes. And that which I shall insist on, is,
1. The very nature of God, whereof all men that have the use of their understandings, have or are capable of having some notion or other. For he hath stamped more or less of his nature upon the very nature of man, upon the human nature that carries in it a signature of God. There is somewhat that may be known of God in men generally. But there is no notion of God that is more obvious unto any that do apprehend the existence of a Deity at large, than that he is the Best of Beings, the first seat of all goodness, kindness, and benignity. And this revelation of God, though it be natural, it is from himself, who is the author of all nature, and of this very nature in special; the immediate author, the author so as to be the exemplar of it to the human nature; that is a godlike nature in its first origination. And we are confirmed in it, that is not a false conception of God which we find to have obtained generally in the pagan world, Optimus Maximus, that hath been the common heathen language concerning him. But this is an impression from himself upon the mind of man, by which he is taught and instructed, even by nature itself, so to conceive of him.
And he speaks agreeably hereunto of himself, when he tells us his name. There is this sculpture, this signature of his name upon the minds of men every where, till men have studiously and industriously abolished and rased it out, which yet totally they cannot do neither; not so, but that the remainders of such a notion as this, cleaving to their minds, do fill their souls with so much the more horror by intervals, that they have been lately engaged in a course of wickedness, and in an hostility even against the Best of Beings, against Goodness itself. Those pangs which 29such do find at such times in their own spirits from a secret and remaining suspicion, that when they have done all they can to think God out of being, they have been but rolling a returning stone; they have been but labouring for the wind; they can effect nothing when the thoughts return upon them, when in spite of them they must be yet constrained to conceive with a certain formido, that God is, though it may have been the wish of their hearts, O that he were not! then the main engine of their torture must be the apprehended goodness of God: For,
Do but consider if indeed he is, (whom we would fain think into nothing if it were possible,) then it cannot be but he must excel in goodness; the first thing conceptible in his nature, must be goodness. Mere philosophy hath taught men so to think of God, to think of the God, as a notion antecedent unto that of power and might. They place that in the very summitude of all that excellency, which they ascribe to the Divine Being. And so when God himself will expressly tell us his name, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; though he will in no wise clear the guilty—a thing most consistent with the most excellent goodness; for that goodness were fatuity, were stolidity, that were unaccompanied with such a severity, that were unexpressive of it. So he speaks of himself, who best knows his own nature, Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7, 8. And the scripture is full of it elsewhere. That there is such a natural notion as this generally obtaining in the minds of men, is above all demonstration,—that it cannot but be so, that it must be so; for what is universal, must proceed from an universal cause; but there is no universal cause, but God alone. And then,
2. This good-will of God towards men, is to be further argued from his continuing of man (though apostate, though revolted from him) in a possession of those original excellencies of his nature, that were most essential to it, through the several successions of time so long. That is as to such excellencies as are essential to the nature of man, these he is pleased to continue man in the possession of from age to age, and from generation to generation, though he be a revolted apostate creature. He might have transformed him into another thing. Men might 30have produced monsters from one generation to another, and that as a mark of divine severity, for that once they did apostatize. Into what an horrid thing might man have been turned upon the first transgression; and so this habitable world be inhabited only by creatures that should be terrors to themselves, and one to another!
It may be said, that they are turned into worse than monsters by sin; and it is very true, they are so. But that is their own production, and not God’s; so they have made themselves, that is true: they are in a moral sense monsters; but so they are their miscreants; they might hare been so in a natural sense, and that could have been no injury or reflection upon the Author of their nature. Merely natural evil is justly punitive of, and doth animadvert upon that, which is moral.
But that it is not so; that man should be still as to his naturals, the same intelligent creature that he was; that he should from age to age appear upon the stage of this earth, with a mind and understanding capable of comprehending so great things; that this understanding power should be so many ways improveable; that the soul to which it belongs should be so commodiously lodged in a tabernacle so curiously wrought by divine art, with God’s own hand, and all the parts and members thereof written in his book; a contemplation, that put the psalmist into a transport, “Fearfully and wonderfully was I made, and that my soul knoweth right well. And how precious are thy thoughts to me, O God!” They were these thoughts that he was reflecting on, concerning the very frame, and make, and nature of man, in that 139th Psalm, and which he considers in so high a rapture of spirit.
We are encompassed with wonders, and we take no notice of them; that such creatures as we should spring up in a succession, a noble sort of creatures, God-like bearing the natural image of God upon us. Thug it is with man; though revolted, yet God lets him live upon this earth, and propagate, and continue his kind. Let him (saith he) wear my image, to put him in mind, and that they may put one another in mind, whence they were, and who was the original of life and being to him, and of that nature which they have: a strange indulgence, and a most emphatical argument of the divine benignity, that he will let such creatures go up and down in this world, with his 31image upon them, though they have fallen from him, and are universally engaged in a war and hostility against him!
You have heard, heretofore, (and I hope generally have not forgotten, at least cannot be ignorant,) of the necessary distinction of the natural image of God and the moral. And this is the wonder, that where the moral image of God is gone, men have put it away and blotted it out, that yet the natural remains. And God lets it be so, and lets such a sort of creatures still descend, and possess, and inhabit, this world; minds, spirits, so commodiously lodged in so aptly figured tabernacles of flesh, where they have so many organs for the use and improvement of the reasonable and immortal mind, that is put into those tabernacles as the inhabitant; by which it can exercise sense, and take in all the light, and lustre, and glory, of this world, and enjoy the sensitive objects wherewith it is so variously replenished. A continual argument of God’s benignity and good-will towards men: but especially that he continues him an intelligent understanding creature upon this earth. A thing that Pagans have been apprehensive of with gratitude; and it is a shame that we should not consider it more. It is that which history hath transmitted to us, concerning that noble Pagan, Plato, that when he lay a dying, he solemnly gave God thanks that he had made him a man, and not a beast; and that he had made him a Grecian, and not a Barbarian; and that he had made him to live in the time wherein Socrates lived, who was so great a luminary in his time.
But how great things have we to recount as additional to the human nature. The human nature itself is that which I am now principally pointing at, as an argument to us, of God’s good-will towards men, that he lets men continue as to their natural being, what they were through so many ages wherein they have been in an apostacy from him, and rebellion against him; especially when we consider that it is improveable; for religion hath its ground, its foundation in humanity, in the human nature; otherwise, a brute or a stone might be a capable subject of religion. But inasmuch as God doth continue the human nature, and make that descend, he doth thereby continue capable subjects of religion, and capable subjects of blessedness; since religion and felicity are the two most connatural things to one another in all the world. And thus scripture 32doth also teach us to recount with ourselves; to consider, to deduce, and make our collections from it, when it tells us of the spirit that is in man, and that the inspiration of the Almighty gives him understanding, to make him wiser than the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the field. And when we are elsewhere told that the spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, searching into the inward parts of the belly; to wit, into the most abstruse and hidden things, those that are most recondite within a man’s-self. And, again,
3. This is a further argument of God’s good-will towards men, generally considered, that they are taught and prompted even by nature itself, to consider and look upon God as some way related to them; to look upon him as upon a natural account, a father to them. For this is a true account. It is true, also, that there is a more special notion under which he is so to some, as we shall have occasion hereafter to shew; but he is so in a common notion too. So natural light hath taught men to account and reckon when they have spoken of God as the paternal mind. They have considered themselves as all having minds, and they have conceived of the divine mind, as the paternal mind, the Father of all those minds. They have spoken of themselves as God’s offspring, and you see the scripture quotes that from one of their writers, and approves and justifies the notion, Acts xvii. 28. “We are all his offspring, as one of your own Poets hath affirmed.” The thing is true, (saith he,) your own Poets have spoken thus concerning men, that they are the offspring of God: and they have apprehended the matter aright; they are so, he is upon a natural account a father to them: as Adam is said to be the Son of God on the same account.
And it is a conception that carries a gleam of light with it, that God should style himself the Father of spirits, but more particularly the God of the spirits of all flesh, as in that, Numbers xxvii. 16. It is true, that he is in a more particular way and sense the God of some. But they are his own words, to call himself also the God of all, of all spirits that inhabit and dwell in flesh. He doth not call himself the God of another sort of spirits, that inhabit not flesh, that have sinned against him, that are apostate spirits; (as the spirits of men also are;) but he calls himself the God of the spirits of all flesh, implying, that he hath not universally abandoned the spirits of men. As if he 33should have said. “I do not renounce, I do not quit all claim to them, I have affairs to transact with them, as I have not with those other spirits, that are thrown out of my sight, and bound up in chains of darkness, and reserved to the judgment of the great day;” as I shall have occasion more directly to speak, when I come to speak of God’s good will to men, considered comparatively with the course of his dispensation towards that other order of apostate creatures. And,
4. The constant exercise of God’s patience is a great argument of his good-will towards men. This is that whereof they not only have a notion in their minds, comprehended and included in that common notion of his benignity and goodness, but they have experience of it in fact; and it is from that I am now arguing: and it is a mighty cogent and convictive argument of God’s good-will, if it be but considered what men have to argue from, in reference hereunto, especially these two topics, their own guilt, and God’s power.
Their own guilt; whereof, since man hath been a sinner, he hath had some natural conscience of guilt always accompanying him. And more or less men have consciences accusing and excusing, by turns, as the matter lies in view before us, Romans ii. 15. Now let recourse be had to that topic of men’s own guiltiness, that hath deserved ill at the hands of God; this is a common notion with men. Many of your heathens, though they do not know how the apostacy came about, have generally granted that man was in a state of apostacy; that he is not in the state that he was at first made in, but in a degenerate sinful state; and it is spoken of as a thing common to men, what I noted to you but now, out of Romans ii. 15., that they carry accusing consciences about with them. I say, then, do but consider that topic, and from thence go to the other, that of the divine power: and nothing is more obvious to men, (if they will use their thoughts,) than to consider this, that he that made such a world as this, can easily right himself upon such creatures as we are in a moment, at his pleasure. Then lay but these two things together, (which are obvious to common apprehension,) that we are guilty creatures, and he is an omnipotent God; we have deserved that he should severely animadvert upon us, and he can do it at pleasure; hath it in his power to do it when he will; and yet we are spared. What doth all this signify, but a continual miracle of divine patience? And what is 34that to be resolved into, but divine goodness? “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God should lead thee to repentance?”
When we argue from hence to persuade sinners to turn unto God, do we argue from a feigned thing? Is it not a great reality from which we are thus directed to argue, when the Scripture itself gives us the direction? It teaches men so to consider the matter themselves, as in that, 2 Peter iii. 9, 10. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but he is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish; but that they may come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved.” And we are to account the long-suffering of the Lord salvation. What doth he bear with an offending creature for, in so continued a course, when he hath so many advantages against him, so many thunderbolts in command at a moment? Why doth he spare, when the creature is guilty, and he is mighty? And yet he spares: what judgment is to be made of all this? Why, the Apostle tells you: Count the long-suffering of the Lord salvation; to wit, that he doth use this method as an apt medium, as a proper means to bring men to consider: and if they will not consider, they are loading themselves with guilt; so much the more, when they will not consider what is so obvious, what lies so much in view before them. And I might add, again, this farther argument, from,
5. The common exercise of God’s bounty towards the children of men; that is, that he doth not only spare, but sustain them; not only withhold and keep off from them destructive evils, but supply them needful good things. That he should preserve this world in so much consistency, for the use and entertainment of offending and rebellious creatures, those that seldom or never take notice of him, and rarely ever give him thanks. That this earth should be so strangely fertile, through all the successions of time, and productive of so delicious things, so pleasant things; not only such things as are necessary for the support of human life, but such things as are delectable too, yielding a pleasing entertainment to man during his residence and abode here. Oh, the riches of the Divine goodness towards apostate, degenerate, fallen creatures! These very things have a ducture, a leadingness with them. When God doth immediately please and gratify sense, there is an aptitude in this to instruct minds to reach the understandings of men, to 35oblige and prompt men to consider whence all this is, and upon what terms, and for what ends and purposes.
There are divers other things congenerous to these, which I cannot go through with now, as the continual care that he takes of men’s lives, that he hath put a self-preserving principle into men. It is true, that is natural, but how came it to be so? It is from the Author of all nature, he could have made (if he had pleased) the contrary as natural; that he hath prompted men to live in societies for common mutual defence; that he hath so severely threatened the sin of homicide, of killing or destroying a man; and for that very reason, because he bears his image. “This creature of mine I will not have touched, for he carries my image upon him: I will not have any violence offered to my image.” That he did take so particular a care even of that wicked Cain himself; put his mark upon him, lest any finding him should slay him. It speaks a strange tendency of man, (though now an apostate,) that there is a peculiar sacredness put upon the life of man, beyond all other creatures that do inhabit this earth; because this is an improveable life; this is a thing that may be grafted upon; noble grafts may be inserted here into an human life; therefore, that I will have counted precious, and preserved as such; so as, that if any man shall make a breach upon the human life, he shall break through my law, which I set as a boundary and guard, to preserve so valuable and so precious a thing.
And then he takes such care for the keeping up of common order in this world, that he hath appointed magistracy, government, and laws, in order hereunto, that all may not run into confusion. They must break his laws before they can break one another’s peace; that he hath obliged men to the mutual love of one another, wherein, if it were observed and complied with, what a calm peaceful region would this world be! So that men might have an opportunity to consider, at leisure, the greater concernments of another world. He hath, as to this, done several things most highly becoming the goodness and benignity of a God towards such creatures as we were become.
And then the obligation that he holds men under unto natural religion, and the several exercises of it. Here is a mighty demonstration of his good-will towards men, that he will not dispense with them as to this thing; but as common as human nature is, so common is his law running in that nature, obliging men to some religion or other; in 36general to be religious, obliging them, unto the several principles and duties of natural religion; to trust in God, and to love him as their supreme good, with all their heart and soul, and might, and mind, which is a natural law: to pray to him, to praise him, and give him thanks. And that, whereas he is pleased to have an house, a dwelling here on earth, that house is called the house of prayer to all nations, and he will have all flesh come to him; and complains that they do not come to him, nor will come. When looking down upon the children of men, to see who inquires and seeks after God, he finds all gone out of the way, that they will not do this; that they will not say, Where is God my Maker? This he complains of.
All this carries a mighty argument in it, that there is still a good-will in heaven towards men on earth, as neglectful of God and themselves as the children of men are generally become. And it is necessary that men should understand, and now that when they are charged, when God doth so highly charge them with sinning against his goodness, it is not a nullity that they are charged to offend against, in all their neglects of God: and, in justice to him, we are obliged to heighten and magnify his goodness to men; that so such as will never be won and overcome by this goodness of his, may be so much the more glorious trophies to that Justice which will vindicate the wrong upon them at last.37
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