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The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
HE that undertakes to discourse of any of God’s attributes, must profess that he undertakes to discourse of that which he does not thoroughly under stand, if so be that he understands himself. For how can a finite comprehend an infinite? or how can any one express what he cannot comprehend? But of all God’s perfections, his mercy especially is a theme so great, that none but an infinite person can worthily enlarge upon it. However, since God is pleased to call us to the study and contemplation of himself, we may, I conceive, without any presumption or injury to his greatness, frame to ourselves the best apprehensions and discourses, that the condition of our nature can afford us of a thing, of which we have no explicit knowledge.
Now mercy, as it is ascribed to God, may be considered and taken two ways.
I. For the principle itself; which is nothing else but the simple, undivided nature of God, as it does manifest and cast abroad itself, in such and such acts of grace and favour to the creature. Which very same essence or nature, according to different respects, is called wisdom, justice, power, mercy, and the like.324
II. It is taken for the effects and actions flowing from that principle, by which it does so manifest and exert itself.
Which also admit of a distinction into two sorts.
1. Such as are general, and of equal diffusion to all.
2. Such as are special, and peculiarly relate to the redemption and reparation of fallen man; whom God was pleased to choose and single out from the rest of his works, as the proper object for this great attribute to do its utmost upon.
Now it was the former sense that was intended by the Psalmist in the text, as is evident from the universality of the words. It was such a mercy as spread itself over all his works; such an one as reached as wide as creation and providence. It was like the sun and the light, to shine upon all without exception. And therefore we are not at all concerned here to treat of the miracles of God’s pardoning mercy, as they display themselves in the satisfaction and ransom paid down by Christ for sinners: for it would be a great deviation from the design of the words, to confine the overflowing goodness of a Creator to the more limited dispensations of a Redeemer; and so to drown an universal in a particular.
For the prosecution of the words, there is no way that seems more easy and natural, and withal more full, for the setting forth of God’s general mercy to the creature, than to take a distinct, though short, survey of the several parts of the creation, and there in to shew how it exerts and lays itself out upon each of them.
1. And first, to begin at the lowest step of creature-325perfection. The divine goodness pours itself forth even upon the inanimate part of the creation: for look over the whole universe, and you shall find no one part of it but has its peculiar beauty and ornament. So that the Greek word κόσμος, which signifies the world, signifies also dress and ornament; as if the world were nothing else but a great union and collection of all beauties and perfections. The sun, the Psalmist tells us, comes every day dressed and adorned, like a bridegroom, out of his chambers in the east. He casts abroad a lustre too glorious to behold: it is enough that we can see it at a second hand, and by reflection. Nor can the night itself conceal the glories of heaven; but the moon and the stars, those deputed lights, then shew forth their lesser beauties: yet even those so great, that when weariness, and the lateness of the night, has invited some eyes to sleep, in the mean time the lights of it have kept others awake, to view their exact motion and admirable order. While the labourer lies down for his rest, the astronomer sets up, and watches for his pleasure. And then, if we consider the earth and the sea, we shall find them like two inexhaustible storehouses, exhibiting the riches of nature in a boundless, unmeasurable plenty; a plenty ennobled by two excellencies, fulness and regularity. So that the whole system of the world is but a standing copy and representation of the divine goodness, writing little images of itself upon every the least part and portion of this great body.
2. But secondly, to proceed further to plants and vegetables, which have a little higher advance of perfection, and enjoy something like life; that is, something that is enough to make them grow and 326 flourish: Consider the lilies, says our Saviour, Matt. vi. 28, how they grow; they toil not, they spin not; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them. And we read in the 30th verse, of God’s clothing the grass. It is some part of a father’s or a master’s bounty, when his sons or servants go splendidly clothed, and so carry the marks of his liberality upon their back. And then also, to preserve these things in a constant possession of that beauty that their first creation imparted to them, all the influences of the upper, and the virtues of the lower world are set on work; all the elements are employed, the planets engaged, and the sun himself rises betimes, and labours all day long, to give verdure and freshness to the least spire of grass, to convey sap and nutriment to every little plant or twig: so bountiful is the hand of Providence, to maintain the being that it once gave. So that it is here expressed not only by mercy, but by tender mercy; such an one as is proper to parents, who preserve their children with care and solicitude, supplying their necessities, and providing also for their conveniences. There is not the least flower but seems to hold up its head, and to look pleasantly, in the secret sense of the goodness of its heavenly Maker; which silent rhetoric, though we cannot hear, but only see, yet it is so full and expressive, that David thought he neither spoke impropriety, or nonsense, or a strong line, where he says, that even the valleys break forth into singing. And surely then it must be a song of praise and thanksgiving, a song of joy and triumph, for those liberal effusions of goodness, even upon these lower parts of the creation.327
But this goodness stops not here: but when those things seem to have finished their course, and then to wither and die, and at last bury themselves in the bowels of the same earth that bore them; why then, the same Providence vouchsafes them a resurrection and a return to life. Every season has, as it were, its commission and command from Heaven, to furnish the world anew with the very same things: and when the spring comes, the decrepit tree grows young and blossoms, the grass rises from the dead, and the flowers step forth, as if the whole winter’s interval had been but a sleep, and the places upon which they grew were indeed beds, without a metaphor. Thus the goodness of Heaven, while it provides for the creature, proceeds in a constant circle; and as a circle has no end, so neither has that. For it first produces these things into being, then preserves them, and at last, being dead, recovers them; and by that gives them some resemblance of an immortality, so far as the proportions of their nature will admit.
And if it be now said, What good can all this be to such creatures as have no sense of it? I answer, that every thing that is perfect and regular is a credit and a glory to itself, as well as to its author, whether it knows so much or no. Different natures have different capacities of good: things endued with sense and apprehension receive what is good by apprehending and being sensible of it. But to say, that therefore inanimate things, whose nature is wholly different, must do so too, or be utterly uncapable of good, this is a great fallacy and error in discourse; it being to rate the most different things by the same measure.328
For as the brutes are, in their way, capable of receiving the benefit and good that is properly fitted to their nature and condition, though they cannot take it in by the sublimer and higher apprehensions of reason; so these inanimate beings, that are void of sense, have also their proper good things belonging to them, though they cannot enjoy them by hearing, seeing, tasting, and the like, which are the peculiar fruitions of sensible creatures. The herb feeds upon the juice of a good soil, and drinks in the dew of heaven as eagerly, and thrives by it as effectually, as the stalled ox, that tastes every thing that he eats or drinks. Providence has suited each nature with its enjoyment; and therefore the tender mercies of God may be said to be over these things also.
3. From hence let us now, in the third place, advance a little higher, to the sensible parts of the creation, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air; amongst which we shall find even the chiefest and the strongest of them constant retainers and pensioners to the bounty of their Creator; the lion, who, one would think, was pretty well able to provide for himself: yet David tells us, Psalm civ. 21, that he still seeks his meat from God. And the young ravens too can call upon him in their way, and be heard and fed by him when they do call, through a strange providence.
How has God given every creature a power most particularly to pursue and compass that which makes for the welfare of its being! Where he denies strength, he usually gives sagacity and quickness of sense; and withal implants in every one a certain instinct, that teaches and prompts it to make use of that faculty 329in which its chief ability is seated. The ox, a creature of none of the most ready senses, has them yet ready enough to know how to defend himself, and will not encounter his adversary or assailant, as the mastiff does, with his teeth. The little bird has not strength to grapple with the hawk or the eagle; but it has agility of body to carry it out of reach, and smallness too to convey it out of sight. Nay, and if we consider the poor, helpless lamb, which has neither strength, nor wings, nor craft to secure itself by, but seems wholly offered by nature as a prey to any thing that will prey upon it; yet its great usefulness for the occasions of man’s life has entitled it to the care and protection of him whom it serves. So that the goodness of God has left nothing defenceless, but has sent every thing into the world well accoutred and provided, according to the exigence of those necessities that its nature is like to expose it to. And he that would do Providence right, in recounting fully what it has done for the creature in this particular, must, with Pliny, write a natural history.
4. In the fourth place, proceed we now one step further, and take a survey of rational creatures, men and angels. And first for man; who is, as it were, an epitome, or rather an union of the two worlds; as by his body relating to the earth, and by his soul to heaven: nothing can more declare the goodness of his Creator to him, than that he made him after his own image.
But passing over the bounty of God to man in his state of innocence, as not sufficiently to be expressed by any since the loss of it; I shall remark only those blessings and favours, which men, even since the fall 330 and apostasy of Adam, seem to enjoy upon the mere stock of the common mercies of Providence; which, we find, as to all the outward materials of happiness, makes no discrimination between the good and the bad; but causes the sun and the rain to visit the vineyard, as well when it is Ahab’s, as while it was Nabothe’s. And David says of the wicked, in several of his Psalms, that God fills their bellies with his hid treasures; that their eyes stand out with fatness, and that they have even more than heart can wish.
And surely to be rich, healthy, and honourable, are favours and blessings, and such as are the prizes that the most excellent and renowned part of the world strive for: yet experience will shew, that these are not the badges of saintship, or the certain marks of God’s peculiar mercies. A man may affront and offend all that is above him, and yet command and enjoy all that is beneath him: for were not the four monarchies of the world successively in the hands of heathens, who worshipped false gods, while they subsisted and flourished by the beneficence of the true? Nay, and to go even to Israel itself, were not almost all of its kings enemies to and contemners of that God, whose peculiar people they reigned over? Which shews, that they enjoyed these privileges and prerogatives, not upon the score of any federal endearment, or any interest in a promise that they could lay claim to. These and many other examples declare, that the benignity of Providence seems to be promiscuous and universal, and as undistinguishing as the air and the elements, which equally dispense themselves to the necessities of all.331
And now, we cannot but judge it an instance of a strange, and almost an invincible goodness, for a prince to clothe his rebels in scarlet, and to make his traitors fare deliciously every day. Yet the wicked and the profane ones of the world, who stand in the same defiance of the majesty and supremacy of Heaven, are treated with as great obligingness and favour by him, whom they so defy.
And besides, how many are the casual, unforeseen dangers, that the hand of Providence rescues them from! How many little things carry in them the causes of death! and how often are men, that have escaped, amazed that they were not destroyed! Which shews that there is an eye that still watches over them, that always sees, though it is not seen; that knows their strengths and their weaknesses, where they are safe, and where they may be struck; and in how many respects they lie open to the invasion of a sad accident. And though it be ten to one, but that in the space of a year or two a man is attacked by one or other of those many thousand casualties that he is obnoxious to; yet we see that most men make a shift to rub out, and to be safe, to grow old, and to be well. In a word, every man lives by a perpetual deliverance; a deliverance, which for the unlikelihood of it he could not expect, and for his own unworthiness, I am sure, he could not deserve.
5. And now, in the last place, we are arrived at the very top of the creation, the angels; those more lively and bright resemblances of the Deity, whose raised endowments and excellencies speak the goodness of their Creator to them in that degree, that it would nonplus the tongue of angels themselves to 332 express the greatness of the obligation. For compare a Solomon, an Aristotle, or an Archimedes, to a child that newly begins to speak, and they do not more transcend such an one, than the angelical understanding exceeds theirs even in its most sublime improvements and acquisitions.
Nothing but omniscience can outdo the knowledge of angels; a knowledge that dives into all the recesses of nature, and spies out all the secret workings of second causes by a certain and immediate view; which the quickest human intellect pursues by tedious meditation, dubious conjectures, short experiments, and perhaps after all is forced to sit down in ignorance and dissatisfaction.
Nor do they excel in knowledge only, but also in power and activity. Men indeed raise armies, and, by much ado and much time, rout an enemy or sack a city; but we shall find a destroying angel in one night slaying an hundred, fourscore, and five thousand men, 2 Kings xix. 35. So great is the force of those spiritual beings! For corporeal matter is not the proper cause of action, but remains sluggish and unmoved, till it receives motion by the impulse of an immaterial principle: nor does any philosophy prove, nor indeed can prove, that any thing that is merely body can move itself. So that the angelical essence, being free from any material mixture, is also free from all clogs and incumbrances. It is all pure action: and so must needs exert itself at an higher rate of force, than any of those bodily agents that we see and converse with.
Neither do the angels move by certain periods and steps of progression, as we are fain to do, who carry our own weights and hinderances about us; but they 333measure the vastest spaces and the greatest distances in the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, in a portion of time so short, that it falls under no mortal perception or observation. And for this cause were the cherubims in the tabernacle painted with wings, the best way that we have to express the greatest agility by: though the swiftness of an arrow out of a bow is no more to be compared to the speed of an angel, than the motion of a snail can be compared to that.
And now, as God has been so bountiful to the an gels, by ennobling them with such excellent qualities, so he has yet further manifested the same bounty to them in a double respect.
1. In respect of the place of their habitation or abode.
2. In respect of their employment.
1. And first, for the place of their abode: it is the highest heaven, the place of God’s immediate residence; even the presence-chamber of the Almighty. Matt. xviii. 10, In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father, says our Saviour: and Psalm lxviii. 17, The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; and the Lord is among them. They are (as I may so say) God’s menial and domestic servants; they are part of his family; they attend about his throne; and have the most exalted and direct fruitions of the beatific vision.
2. In the next place, as for their employment, that is twofold.
1. To be continually worshipping and speaking praises to God; to behold and admire him in the full brightness of his glory; to contemplate upon all his 334 ineffable perfections, and to be in a continual rapture and ecstasy upon such contemplation; expressing it in constant hallelujahs and adorations. In a word, their great business is to admire and to praise.
2. Their other employment is immediately to execute God’s commands about the government of the world: they are the great ministers of Providence, and it is their glory so to be; their service is their privilege: as in the courts of princes every attend ant is honourable, or at least thinks himself so. The angels are still despatched by God upon all his great messages to the world; and therefore their very name in Greek, which is ἄγγελος, signifies a messenger: in short, they have the most illustrious employment that can be, which is to be ambassadors extraordinary from the King of kings.
And thus I have traced the divine goodness to the creature, beginning at the lowest, and from thence ascending to the highest parts of the creation: which subject, though it has been general, yet, as to the use and improvement of it, may very well have a particular reference and application to us men. And therefore the deduction that I shall make from all the precedent discourse, shall be to instate and settle in our minds right thoughts of the natural goodness and benignity of God towards men.
How many and vast endearments might we draw from God barely as a Creator! Suppose there had never been any news of a redeemer to fallen Adam; no hope, no aftergame for him as a sinner: yet let us peruse the obligations that lay upon him as a man.
Was it not enough for him, who but yesterday was nothing, to be advanced into an existence, that is, 335into one perfection of the Deity? Was it not honour enough for clay to be breathed upon, and for God to print his image upon a piece of dirt? Certainly it would be looked upon as an high kindness for any prince to give a subject his picture: was it no act of love therefore in God to give us souls endued with such bright faculties, such lively images of himself, which he might have thrust into the world with the short and brutish perceptions of a few silly senses; and, like the beasts, have placed our intellectuals in our eyes or in our noses?
Was it no favour to make that a sun, which he might have made but a glowworm? no privilege to man, that he was made lord of all things below? that the world was not only his house, but his kingdom? that God should raise up one piece of earth to rule over all the rest?
Surely all these were favours, and they were the early, preventing favours of a Creator; for God then knew no other title, he bore no other relation to us: there was no price given to God, that might induce him to bid Adam rise out of the earth a man, rather than a spire of grass, a twig, a stone, or some such other contemptible superiority to nothing.
No; he furnished him out into the world with all this retinue of perfections, upon no other motive but because he had a mind to make him a glorious piece of work, a specimen of the arts of Omnipotence, to stand and glister in the top and head of the creation.
Which consideration alone,! should think, might be able to compose the murmurs and the grudgings that lie festering in many men’s hearts against God, caused by a surmise of God’s hard dealings with them. 336 In short, they paint God with dismal colours, and then they fly from him: they treat him with the basest of affections, which is suspicion, and look upon him as glad to take advantage against his creature.
But may we not say of such, Is this their kindness to their friend? Are these the best returns of gratitude that they can make to their Creator? For God, as their Creator, was their friend, had he never took upon him any other respect; their very production was an obligation, and their bare essence a favour above a recompence: for why should God put a greater lustre upon one piece of the chaos than upon another?
The fallen angels, who will never have any other relation to God, but as to a Creator, will upon this very score, had they no other sin to condemn them, stand inexcusably condemned for ingratitude, in that they sinned against that God that obliged them with so excellent a nature, with the nearest similitude to his own substance; that they sinned against him, who made them so able not to have sinned.
But now God’s relation of a Creator reflects the same obligation upon men that it did upon the an gels; and that so great, that though they chance to perish for their sins, yet they will go to hell obliged, and carry the marks of God’s favour with them to their very destruction.
Wherefore all the hard thoughts men usually have of God, ought by all means and arts of consideration to be suppressed: for the better effecting of which, we may fix our meditation upon these two qualities that do always attend them.
1. Their unreasonableness.
2. Their danger.337
1. And first for their unreasonableness; all such thoughts are not any true resemblances of our Creator, but merely our own creatures. All the sad appearances of rigour that we paint him under are not from himself, but from our misrepresentations: as the fogs and mists we sometimes see about the sun issue not from him, but ascend from below, and owe their nearness to the sun only to the deception of the spectator.
Is it possible for him, who is love itself, to be cruel, harsh, and inexorable; to sit in heaven contriving gins and snares to trapan and ruin his poor creatures; and then to delight himself in the cries of the damned, and the woful estate of tormented souls?
There is, I confess, a sort of men, sons of thunder, (but, by a new way, they thunder from hell, not from heaven,) who delight to represent God with all the terror and hostility to men, that their own base spirit and sordid melancholy can suggest. They so account him a maker, that they scarce allow him to be a preserver: they describe him as a father without bowels; they make him to triumph, and please, and as it were recreate himself in the confusion of all his works: as if our destruction had been the sole end of our creation, and God only made us, that he might afterwards have the pleasure of destroying us. As men use to nourish and breed up deer, and such kind of beasts, only that they may hunt and worry them.
With what pleasure may we hear some persons tell men that they are damned! Indeed with so much, that they seem to taste the expression more than if they had heard that they themselves should be saved; persons fitter to blow the trumpet upon mount Sinai, or, according to their old note, to curse 338 Meroz, than to proclaim the glad tidings of the gospel. But still, after such have said all, to bespatter God’s natural kindness to the sons of men, all their furious, blustering expressions will be found not to have been copied out from any such real harshness in God, but to have issued only from the fumes of an ignorant head and an ill-natured constitution.
The divine nature is the light and the refreshment of a rational creature; God is of all beings the most amiable, suitable, and desirable: all the loveliness, the beauty, and perfection that is diffused and scattered here and there through the whole creation, and which is so apt to excite and win our affections, is in an infinite, inexhaustible manner treasured up in God. And shall we now court the stream, and in the mean time throw dirt into the fountain?
Nay, to proceed further; the very design of a creation unanswerably speaks the goodness of the Creator. For why should he communicate himself? why should he diffuse any of those perfections which he was so fully master of by an ineffable acquiescence in himself? But his goodness was so vastly, so infinitely full, that he seemed unquiet and unsatisfied, till he had as it were disburdened himself by some communications of it. One would have thought that these perfections had been too rare to be communicated, so much as in resemblance, and that God would have folded them up within his own essence for ever; so that he who now contents himself with the prerogative of being the best and the greatest Being, might have been the only Being: but he chose rather to draw out, than only to possess his own fulness, to scatter something of his image upon the creature, and to see himself in effigy. From all 339which it follows, that hard, suspicious apprehensions of God are both injurious to him and unreasonable in themselves.
2. The other argument against men’s entertaining such thoughts of God is the consideration of their exceeding danger. Their malignity is equal to their absurdity: for whosoever strives to beget or foment in his heart such persuasions concerning God, makes himself the Devil’s orator, and declaims his cause, whose proper characteristic badge it is to be the great accuser or calumniator; for that is the force of the Greek word διάβολος.
And as he is the constant accuser of us to God, so, by a restless circle of malice, he is no less industrious and artificial in accusing God to us. The first engine by which he battered down our innocence, and brought sin into the world, was by insinuating into Eve’s mind thoughts that God rather envied than designed their happiness, in forbidding them to eat of that one tree: and we know what success it had, to bereave man of an almighty friend, only by a false supposal that he was his enemy.
Despair, which is the greatest instrument next to that of presumption, by which the Devil draws men headlong into the fatal net of perdition, how and by what means does he cause it? Why, by representing God to the soul like himself, a tyrant and a tormentor; by tragical declamations upon his vindictive justice: that he is one full of eternal designs of revenge, rigid and implacable, exacting the utmost farthing from a poor bankrupt creature, that is not worth it. By such diabolical rhetoric does he libel and disgrace God to the hearts of his creatures.
And he well knows, that by these arts he does 340 his business effectually; forasmuch as it is impossible for the soul to love God, as long as it takes him for an enemy and a destroyer. We should contradict the principles of our nature, should we love God so considered; it being unnatural to love any thing clothed with the proper motives and arguments of hatred. And as it is impossible for the understanding to assent to a known, apparent falsity; so it is equally impossible for the will to love, choose, and embrace God, considered as an adversary.
And from hence it is, that those who give directions to distressed, afflicted consciences, for the re-obtaining of comfort, wisely lay the foundation here; first of all, to fasten in the heart a deep and thorough persuasion of God’s natural goodness and benevolence to all his creatures, to mankind especially, one of the choicest and most beloved parts of the creation.
And by such thoughts we are to antidote the poison of the contrary; which of themselves would quickly ripen into blasphemy, and from thence pass into a confirmed malice against God; the proper sin and character of the Devil.
We are to assure ourselves of the infinite agreeableness of the divine nature to ours; that God’s goodness is not only full, but exuberant; the first is his glory, the second our advantage. Indeed so full is it, that when it is said, that God cannot shew or exercise mercy, it is not from any defect either in him or in that, but merely for want of a suitable object; he has always a liberality inclining him to give, but we have not always a capacity fitting us to receive.
But, as I shew at first, the divine goodness and 341mercy is a subject too large to be wielded by our short and imperfect discourses; for that which is over all his works may well be above all our words: and therefore we have cause to turn our descriptions of it into a petition for it, and to beseech God that we may come at length to enjoy what we are not able now to express.
To which God be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.342
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