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THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over al his works.—Psal. cxlv. 9.
THE subject which I have now proposed to treat of, is certainly one of the greatest and noblest arguments in the world—the goodness of God; the highest and most glorious perfection of the best and most excellent of beings, than which nothing deserves more to be considered by us, nor ought, in reason, to affect us more. The goodness of God, is the cause and the continuance of our beings, the foundation of our hopes, and the fountain of our happiness, our greatest comfort, and our fairest example, the chief object of our love, and praise, and admiration, the joy and rejoicing of our hearts; and therefore the meditation and discourse of it must needs be pleasant and delightful to us: the great difficulty will be, to confine ourselves upon so copious an argument, and to set bounds to that which is of so vast an extent; “The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.”
Which words are an argument, which the divine Psalmist useth, to stir up himself and others to the praise of God: at the 3d verse he tells us, that “the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised;” and he gives the reason of this, (ver. 8, 9.) from those properties and perfections of the Divine nature, which declare his goodness; “The Lord is gracious, and 560full of compassion, slow to auger, and of great mercy: the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works:” where you have the goodness of God declared, together with the amplitude and extent of it, in respect of the objects of it: “The Lord is good to all.”
In the handling of this argument, I shall do these four things:
First, Consider what is the proper notion of goodness, as it is attributed to God.
Secondly, Shew that this perfection belongs to God.
Thirdly, Consider the effects and the extent of it.
Fourthly, Answer some objections which may seem to contradict and bring in question the goodness of God.
First, What is the proper notion of goodness, as it is attributed to God.
There is a dry metaphysical notion of goodness which only signifies the being and essential properties of a thing; but this is a good word ill bestowed; for, in this sense, every thing that hath being, even the devil himself, is good.
And there is a moral notion of goodness; and that is twofold;
1. More general, in opposition to all moral evil and imperfection, which we call sin and vice; and so the justice, and truth, and holiness of God, are in this sense his goodness. But there is,
2. Another notion of moral goodness, which is more particular and restrained; and then it denotes a particular virtue, in opposition to a particular vice; and this is the proper and usual acceptation of the word goodness; and the best description I can give of it is this, that it is a certain propension 561and disposition of mind, whereby a person is inclined to desire and procure the happiness of others; and it is best understood by its contrary, which is an envious disposition, a contracted and narrow spirit, which would confine happiness to itself, and grudgeth that others should partake of it, or share in it; or a malicious and mischievous temper, which delights in the harms of others, and to procure trouble and mischief to them. To communicate and lay out ourselves for the good of others, is goodness; and so the apostle explains doing good, by communicating to others, who are in misery, or want: (Heb. xiii. 16.) “But to do good, and to communicate, forget not.” The Jews made a distinction between a righteous and a good man; to which the apostle alludes, (Rom. v. 7.) “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet, peradventure, for a good man some would even dare to die.” The righteous man was he that did no wrong to others; and the good man he who was not only not injurious to others, but kind and beneficial to them. So that goodness is a readiness and disposition to communicate the good and happiness which we enjoy, and to be willing others should partake of it.
This is the notion of goodness among men; and it is the same in God, only with this difference, that God is originally and transcendently good: but the creatures are, the best of them, but imperfectly good, and, by derivation from God, who is the fountain and original of goodness? which is the meaning of our Saviour, (Luke xviii. 19.) when he says, “There is none good, save one, that is God.” But though the degrees of goodness in God and the creatures be infinitely unequal, and that goodness which is in us be so small and inconsiderable, that, 562compared with the goodness of God, it does not deserve that name; yet the essential notion of goodness in both must be the same; else, when the Scripture speaks of the goodness of God, we could not know the meaning of it; and if we do not at all understand what it is for God to be good, it is all one to us (for aught we know) whether he be good or not; for he may be so, and we never the better for it; if we do not know what goodness in God is, and consequently when he is so, and when not.
Besides that, the goodness of God is very frequently in Scripture propounded to our imitation; but it is impossible for us to imitate that, which we do not understand what it is: from whence it is certain, that the goodness which we are to endeavour after is the same that is in God; because in this we are commanded to imitate the perfection of God; that is, to be good and merciful as he is, according to the rate and condition of creatures, and so far as we, whose natures are imperfect, are capable of resembling the Divine goodness.
Thus much for the notion of goodness in God; it is a propension and disposition in the Divine nature, to communicate being and happiness to his creatures.
Secondly, I shall endeavour to shew, in the next place, that this perfection of goodness belongs to God; and that from these three heads:
I. From the acknowledgment of natural light.
II. From the testimony of Scripture and Divine revelation. And,
III. From the perfection of the Divine nature.
I. From the acknowledgments of natural light. The generality of the heathen agree in it, and there is hardly any perfection of God more universally acknowledged by them. I always except the sect 563of the Epicureans, who attribute nothing but eternity and happiness to the Divine nature; and yet if they would have considered it, happiness without goodness is impossible. I do not find that they do expressly deny this perfection to God, or that they ascribe to him the contrary; but they clearly take away all the evidence and arguments of the Divine goodness; for they supposed God to be an immortal and happy being, that enjoyed himself, and had no regard to any thing without himself, that neither gave being to other things, nor concerned himself in the happiness or misery of any of them; so that their notion of a Deity was, in truth, the proper notion of an idle being, that is called God, and neither does good nor evil.
But, setting aside this atheistical sect, the rest of the heathens did unanimously affirm and believe the goodness of God; and this was the great foundation of their religion; and all their prayers to God, and praises of him, did necessarily sup pose a persuasion of the Divine goodness. Who soever prays to God, must have a persuasion or good hopes of his readiness to do him good; and to praise God, is to acknowledge that he hath received good from him. Seneca hath an excellent passage to this purpose; “He (says he) that denies the goodness of God, does not, surely, consider the infinite number of prayers that, with hands lifted up to heaven, are put up to God, both in private and public, which certainly would not be; nor is it credible, that all mankind should conspire in this madness of putting up their supplications to deaf and impotent deities, if they did not believe that the gods were so good as to confer benefits upon those who prayed to them.”564
But we need not infer their belief of God’s goodness from the acts of their devotion, nothing being more common among them than expressly to attribute this perfection of goodness to him; and, among the Divine titles, this always had the pre-eminence, both among the Greeks and Romans; ἐΰς τε μέγας τε, Deus optimus maximus, was their constant style; and in our language the name of God seems to have been given him from his goodness. I might produce innumerable passages out of the heathen authors to this purpose, but I shall only mention that remarkable one out of Seneca; Primus deorum cultus est deos credere; deinde reddere illis majestatem suam, reddere bonitatem, sine qua nulla majestas: “The first act of worship is to believe the being of God; and the next to ascribe majesty or greatness to him; and to ascribe goodness, without which there can be no greatness.”
II. From the testimony of Scripture and Divine revelation. I shall mention but a few of those many texts of Scripture, which declare to us the goodness of God, (Exod. xxxiv. 6.) where God makes his name known to Moses; “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Psal. lxxxvi. 5.) “Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive.” (Psal. cxix. 68.) “Thou art good, and dost good.” And that which is so often repeated in the Book of Psalms; “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever.” Our blessed Saviour attributes this perfection to God, in so peculiar and transcendent a manner, as if it were incommunicable: (Luke xviii. 19.) “There is none good, save one, that is God.” The meaning is, that no creature is capable of it, in that excellent 565and transcendent degree, in which the Divine nature is possessed of it.
To the same purpose are those innumerable testimonies of Scripture which declare God to be gracious, and merciful, and long-suffering; for these are but several branches of his goodness: his grace is the freeness of his goodness to those who have not deserved it: his mercy is his goodness to those who are in misery: his patience is his goodness to those who are guilty, in deferring the punishment due to them.
III. The goodness of God may likewise be argued from the perfection of the Divine nature, these two ways:
1. Goodness is the chief of all perfections, and therefore it belongs to God.
2. There are some footsteps of it in the creatures, and therefore it is much more eminently in God.
1. Goodness is the highest perfection, and therefore it must needs belong to God, who is the most perfect of beings. Knowledge and power are great perfections; but separated from goodness, they would be great imperfections, nothing but craft and violence. An angel may have knowledge and power in a great degree; but yet, for all that, be a devil. Goodness is so great and necessary a perfection, that, without it, there can be no other; it gives perfection to all other excellencies: take away this, and the greatest excellencies in any other kind would be but the greatest imperfections; and therefore our Saviour speaks of the goodness and mercy of God, as the sum of his perfections; what one evangelist hath, “Be ye merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful,” is rendered in an other, “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father 566which is in heaven is perfect.” Goodness is so essential to a perfect being, that if we once strip God of this property, we rob him of the glory of all his other perfections; and therefore, when Moses desired to see God’s glory, he said, he would make all his goodness to pass before him, (Exod. xxxiii. 19.) This is the most amiable perfection; and, as it were, the beauty of the Divine nature: (Zech. ix. 17.) “How great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!” Sine bonitate nulla majestas; “without goodness, there can be no majesty.” Other excellencies may cause fear and amazement in us; but nothing but goodness can command sincere love and veneration.
2. There are some footsteps of this perfection in the creatures, and therefore it must be much more eminently in God. There is in every creature some representation of some Divine perfection or other; but God doth not own any creature to be after his image, that is destitute of goodness. The creatures that want reason and understanding are incapable of this moral goodness we are speaking of; man is the first in the rank of creatures that is endowed with it, and he is said to be “made after the image of God, and to have dominion given him over the creatures below him;” to signify to us, that if man had not been made after God’s image, in respect of goodness, he had been unfit to rule over other creatures: because, without goodness, dominion would be tyranny and oppression; and the more any creature partakes of this perfection of goodness, the more it resembles God; as the blessed angels, who behold the face of God continually, and are thereby “transformed into his image, from glory to glory;” their whole business and employment is, to do 567good; and the devil, though he resembles God in other perfections, of knowledge and power, yet, because he is evil, and envious, and mischievous, and so contrary to God in this perfection, he is the most opposite and hateful to him of all creatures whatsoever.
And if this perfection be in some degree in the creature, it is much more in God; if it be derived from him, he is much more eminently possessed of it himself. All that goodness which is in the best-natured of the sons of men, or in the most glorious angels of heaven, is but an imperfect and weak representation of the Divine goodness.
The third thing I proposed to consider, was, the effects of the Divine goodness, together with the large extent of it, in respect of the objects of it: “The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works;” “Thou art good, and doest good,” says David, (Psal. cxix. 68.) The great evidence and demonstration of God’s goodness, is from the effects of it. To the same purpose St. Paul speaks: (Acts xiv. 17.) “He hath not left himself without witness in that he doeth good, and sends us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons.”
I shall consider the effects of the Divine goodness, under these two heads:
I. The universal extent of God’s goodness to all his creatures.
II. I shall consider more particularly the goodness of God to men, which we are more especially concerned to take notice of.
I. The universal extent of his goodness to the whole creation; “The Lord is good to all.” The whole creation furnisheth us with clear evidences and demonstrations of the Divine goodness; which way soever we cast our eyes, we are encountered with undeniable instances of the goodness of God; 568and every thing that we behold is a sensible demonstration of it; “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” says the Psalmist, (Psal. xix. 1.) And again, (Psal. xxxiii. 5.) “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” The whole frame of this world, and every creature in it, and all the several degrees of being and perfection, which are in the creatures, and the providence of God towards them all, in the preservation of them, and providing for the happiness of all of them in such degrees as they are capable of it, are a plentiful demonstration of the Divine goodness; which I shall endeavour to illustrate in these four particulars:
1. The universal goodness of God appears, in giving being to so many creatures.
2. In making them all so very good; considering the variety, and order, and end of them.
3. In his continual preservation of them.
4. In providing so abundantly for the welfare and happiness of all of them, so far as they are capable and sensible of it.
1. The extent of God’s goodness appears, in giving being to so many creatures. And this is a pure effect of goodness, to impart and communicate being to any thing. Had not God been good, but of an envious, and narrow, and contracted nature, he would have confined all being to himself, and been unwilling that any thing besides himself should have been; but his goodness prompted him to spread and diffuse himself, and set his power and wisdom on work, to give being to all that variety of creatures which we see and know to be in the world, and, probably, to infinitely more than we have the knowledge of. Now, it is not imaginable that God could have any other motive to do this, 569but purely the goodness of his nature. All the motives imaginable, besides this, must either be indigency and want, or constraint and necessity; but neither of these can have any place in God; and therefore it was mere goodness that moved him to give being to other things; and therefore all creatures have reason, with the four and twenty elders in the Revelations, to “cast their crowns before the throne of God, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure (that is, of mere goodness) they are and were created.”
(1.) Indigency and want can have no place in God; because he that hath all possible perfection, hath all plenty in himself; from whence results all-sufficiency, and complete happiness. So that the Divine nature need not look out of itself for happiness, being incapable of any addition to the happiness and perfection it is already possessed of: Ipse suis pollens opibus, nihil indiga nostri. We make things for our use, houses to shelter us, and clothes to keep us warm; and we propagate our kind, to perpetuate ourselves in our posterity: but all this supposeth imperfection, and want, and mortality; to none of which the Divine nature is liable and obnoxious.
Nay, it was not want of glory which made God to make the world. It is true, indeed, the glory of God’s goodness doth herein appear; and creatures endowed with understanding have reason to take notice of it with thankfulness, praise, and admiration: but there is no happiness redounds to God from it, nor does he feed himself with any imaginary content and satisfaction, such as vain-glorious persons have, from the fluttering applause of their creatures and beneficiaries. God is really 570“above all blessing and praise.” It is great condescension and goodness in him, to accept of our acknowledgments of his benefits, of our imperfect praises, and ignorant admiration of him; and were he not as wonderfully good, as he is great and glorious, he would not suffer us to sully his great and glorious name, by taking it into our mouths; and were it not for our advantage and happiness to own and acknowledge his benefits, for any real happiness and glory that comes to him by it, he could well enough be without it, and dispense with us for ever entertaining one thought of him; and, were it not for his goodness, might despise the praises of his creatures, with infinitely more reason than wise men do the applause of fools. There is, indeed, one text of Scripture which seems to intimate that God made all creatures for himself, as if he had some need of them: (Prov. xvi. 4.) “The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” Now, if by God’s making “all things for himself,” be meant, that he aimed at and intended the manifestation of his wisdom, and power, and goodness, in the creation of the world, it is most true that, in this sense, he “made all things for himself:” but if we understand it so, as if the goodness of his nature did not move him thereto, but he had some design to serve ends and necessities of his own upon his creatures, this is far from him. But it is very probable, that neither of these are the meaning of this text, which may be rendered, with much better sense, and nearer to the Hebrew, thus: “God hath ordained every thing to that which is fit for it, and the wicked hath he ordained for the day of evil;” that is, the wisdom of God hath fitted one thing to another, punishment to sin, the evil day to the evil doers.571
(2.) Nor can necessity and constraint have any place in God. When there was no creature yet made, nothing in being but God himself, there could be nothing to compel him to make any thing, and to extort from him the effects of his bounty: neither are the creatures necessary effects and emanations from the being of God, flowing from the Divine essence, as water doth from a spring, and as light streams from the sun: if so, this, indeed, would have been an argument of the fulness of the Divine nature, but not of the bounty and goodness of it; and it would have been matter of joy to us that we are, but not a true ground of thankfulness from us to God; as we rejoice and are glad that the sun shines, but we do not give it any thanks for shining, because it shines without any intention or design to do us good; it doth not know that we are the better for its light, nor did intend we should be, and therefore we have no reason to acknowledge its goodness to us.
But God, who is a Spirit, endowed with knowledge and understanding, does not act as natural and material causes do, which act necessarily and ignorantly; whereas he acts knowingly and voluntarily, with particular intention and design, knowing that he does good, and intending to do so freely, and out of choice, and when he hath no other constraint upon him but this, that his goodness inclines his will to communicate himself and to do good: so that the Divine nature is under no necessity, but such as is consistent with the most perfect liberty, and freest choice.
Not but that goodness is essential to God, and a necessary perfection of his nature, and he cannot possibly be otherwise than good: but when he communicates 572his goodness, he knows what he does, and wills and chooseth to do so.
And this kind of necessity is so far from being any impeachment of the Divine goodness, that it is the great perfection and praise of it. The Stoic philosophers mistaking this, do blasphemously advance their wise and virtuous man above God himself; for they reason thus; “A wise man is good out of choice, when he may be otherwise; but God, out of necessity of nature, and when he cannot possibly be otherwise than good.” But if they had considered things aright, they might have known that this is an imperfection in their wise man, that he can be otherwise than good; for a power to be evil, is impotency and weakness. The highest character that ever was given of a man, is that which Velleius Paterculus gives of Cato, that he was Vir bonus, quia aliter esse non potuit; “A good man, because he could not be otherwise:” this, applied to a mortal man, is a very extravagant and undue commendation; but it signifies thus much, that it is the highest perfection, not to be able to be otherwise than good; and this is the perfection of the Divine nature, that goodness is essential to it: but the expressions and communications of his goodness are spontaneous and free, designed and directed by in finite knowledge and wisdom.
This is the first. The second particular is, That God hath made all creatures very good, considering the variety, and order, and end of them. But this I shall reserve to another opportunity.
END OF VOL. VI.
J. F. Dove, Printer, St. John’s Square.
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