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THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.—Psal. cxlv. 9.
IN the handling of this argument, I proposed to do these four things:
First, To consider what is the proper notion of goodness, as it is attributed to God.
Secondly, To shew that this perfection belongs to God.
Thirdly, To consider the effects of the Divine goodness, together with the large extent of it, in respect of its objects. And,
Fourthly, To answer some objections which may seem to contradict, and bring in question, the goodness of God.
I have considered the two first; and in speaking to the third, I proposed the considering these two things:
I. The universal extent of God’s goodness to all his creatures.
II. More especially the goodness of God to man, 2which we are more especially concerned to take notice of, and be affected with.
The first of these appears in these four particulars:
1. In his giving being to so many creatures.
2. In making them all so very good; considering the number and variety, the rank and order, the end and design of all of them.
3. In his continual preservation of them.
4. In his providing so abundantly for the welfare and happiness of all of them, so far as they are capable and sensible of it.
The first of these I spoke largely to; I proceed to shew, in the
2. Second place, That the universal goodness of God appears in making all these creatures so very good, considering the number and variety, the rank and order, the end and design of all of them. His goodness excited and set a-work his power to make this world, and all the creatures in it; and, that they might be made in the best manner that could be, his wisdom directed his power; he hath made all things in number, weight, and measure; so that they are admirably fitted and proportioned to one another: and that there is an excellent contrivance in all sorts of beings, and a wonderful beauty and harmony in the whole frame of things, is, I think, sufficiently visible to every discerning and unprejudiced mind. The lowest form of creatures, I mean those which are destitute of sense, do all of them contribute, some way or other, to the use, and conveniency, and comfort, of the creatures above them, which being endowed with sense, are capable of enjoying the benefit and delight of them, which being so palpable in the greatest part of them, may reasonably be presumed, though it be not so discernible, concerning 3all the rest; so that when we survey the whole creation of God, and the several parts, we may well cry out with David, (Psal. civ. 24.) “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all.”
It is true, indeed, there are degrees of perfection in the creatures, and God is not equally good to all of them. Those creatures which are of more noble and excellent natures, and to which he hath communicated more degrees of perfection, they partake more of his goodness, and are more glorious instances of it; but every creature partakes of the Divine goodness in a certain degree, and according to the nature and capacity of it. God, if he pleased, could have made nothing but immortal spirits; and he could have made as many of these as there are individual creatures of all sorts in the world; but it seemed good to the wise Architect, to make several ranks and orders of beings, and to display his power, and goodness, and wisdom, in all imaginable variety of creatures, all of which should be good in their kind, though far short of the perfection of angels and immortal spirits.
He that will build a house for all the uses and purposes of which a house is capable, cannot make it all foundation, and great beams and pillars; must not so contrive it, as to make it all rooms of state and entertainment; but there must of necessity he in it meaner materials, rooms and offices for several uses and purposes, which, however inferior to the rest in dignity and degree, do yet contribute to the beauty and advantage of the whole: so, in this great frame of the world, it was fit there should be variety and different degrees of perfection in the several parts of it; and this is so far from being an impeachment 4of the wisdom or goodness of Him that made it, that it is an evidence of both: for the meanest of all God’s creatures is good, considering the nature and rank of it, and the end to which it was designed; and we cannot imagine how it could have been ordered and framed better, though we can easily tell how it might have been worse, and that if this or that had been wanting, or had been otherwise, it had not been so good; and those who have been most conversant in the contemplation of nature, and of the works of God, have been most ready to make this acknowledgment.
But then, if we consider the creatures of God with relation to one another, and with regard to the whole frame of things, they will all appear to be very good; and notwithstanding this or that kind of creatures be much less perfect than another, and there be a very great distance between the perfection of a worm, and of an angel; yet, considering every thing in the rank and order which it hath in the creation, it is as good as could be, considering its nature and use, and the place allotted to it among the creatures.
And this difference in the works of God, between the goodness of the several parts of the creation, and the excellent and perfect goodness of the whole, the Scripture is very careful to express to us in the history of the creation, where you find God represented, as first looking upon and considering every day’s work by itself, and approving it, and pronouncing it to be good; (Gen. i. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25.) at the end of every day’s work it is said, that “God saw it, and it was good:” but then, when all was finished, and he surveyed the whole together, it is said, (ver. 31.) that “God saw every thing that he 5had made, and behold, it was very good:” “very good,” that is, the best; the Hebrews having no other superlative. Every creature of God, by itself, is good; but take the whole together, and they are “very good,” the best that could be.
3. The universal goodness of God further appears in the careful and continual preservation of the things which he hath made; his upholding and maintaining the several creatures in being, in their natural state and order; those which have life, in life, to the period which he hath determined and appointed for them; in his preserving the whole world, his managing and governing this vast frame of things in such sort, as to keep it from running into confusion and disorder. This is a clear demonstration, no less of the goodness than of the wisdom and power of God, that for so many ages all the parts of it have kept their places, and performed the offices and work for which nature designed them; and that the world is not, in the course of so many thousand years, grown old and weak, and out of repair, and that the frame of things doth not dissolve and fall in pieces.
And the goodness of God doth not only take care of the main, and support the whole frame of things, and preserve the more noble and considerable creatures, but even the least and meanest of them. The providence of God cloth not overlook any thing that he hath made, nor despise any of the works of his hands, so as to let them relapse, and fall back into nothing, through neglect and inadvertency; as many as there are, he takes care of them all, (Psal. civ. 27, 28.) where the Psalmist, speaking of the innumerable multitude of creatures upon the earth and in the sea, “These (saith he; wait all upon thee, 6that thou mayest give them their meat in due season; that thou givest them, they gather; thou openest thine hand, and they are filled with good.” And to the same purpose, (Psal. cxlv. 15, 10.) “The eyes of all wait upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season; thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” The inanimate creatures, which are without sense, and the brute creatures, which, though they have sense, are without understanding, and so can have no end and design of self-preservation, God preserves them, no less than men, who are endowed with reason and foresight to provide for themselves: (Psal. xxxvi. 6.) “Thou preservest man and beast.” And, (Ps. cxlvii. 9.) “He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.” And so our Saviour declares to us the particular providence of God towards those creatures: (Matt. vi. 26.) “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” (Ver. 28, 29.) “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
And though all the creatures below man, being without understanding, can take no notice of this bounty of God to them, nor make any acknowledgments to him for it; yet man, who is the priest of the visible creation, and placed here in this great temple of the world, to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God, for his universal goodness to all his creatures, ought to bless God in their be half, and to sing praises to him in the name of all the inferior creatures, which are subjected to his dominion and use; because they are all, as it were, 7his family, his servants and utensils; and if God should neglect any of them, and suffer them to perish and miscarry, it is we that should find the inconvenience and want of them; and therefore we should on their behalf celebrate the praises of God; as we find David often does in the Psalms, calling upon the inanimate and the brute creatures to praise the Lord.
4. The universal goodness of God doth yet further appear, in providing so abundantly for the welfare and happiness of all his creatures, so far as they are capable and sensible of it. He doth not only support and preserve his creatures in being, but takes care that they should all enjoy that happiness and pleasure which their natures are capable of. The creatures endowed with sense and reason, which only are capable of pleasure and happiness, God hath taken care to satisfy the several appetites and inclinations which he hath planted in them; and according as nature hath enlarged their desires and capacities, so he enlargeth his bounty towards them; “he openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.” God doth not immediately bring meat to the creatures when they are hungry; but it is near to them, commonly in the elements wherein they are bred, or within their reach, and he hath planted inclinations in them to hunt after it, and to lead and direct them to it, and to encourage self-preservation, and to oblige and instigate them to it; and that they might not be melancholy and weary of life, he hath so ordered the nature of living creatures, that hunger and thirst are most implacable desires, exceeding painful, and even in tolerable; and likewise, that the satisfaction of these appetites should be a mighty pleasure to them. And 8for those creatures that are young, and not able to provide for themselves, God hath planted in all creatures a στοργη, a natural affection towards their young ones, which will effectually put them upon seeking provisions for them, and cherishing them, with that care and tenderness which their weak and helpless condition doth require: and reason is not more powerful and effectual in mankind to this purpose, than this natural instinct is in brute creatures; which shews what care God hath taken, and what provision he hath made, in the natural frame of all his creatures, for the satisfaction of the inclinations and appetites which he hath planted in them; the satisfaction whereof is their pleasure and happiness. And thus I have done with the first head I proposed, the universal extent of God’s goodness to his creatures: let us now proceed, in the
II. Second place, To consider more particularly the goodness of God to men; which we are more especially concerned to take notice of, and to be affected with it. And we need go no farther than our own observation and experience, to prove the goodness of God; every day of our lives we see and taste that the Lord is good; all that we are, and all the good that we enjoy, and all that we expect and hope for, is from the Divine goodness: “every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” (Jam. i. 17.) And the best and most perfect of his gifts he bestows on the sons of men. What is said of the wisdom of God, (Prov. viii.) may be applied to his goodness; the goodness of God shines forth in all the works of the creation, in the heavens and clouds above, and in the fountains of the great deep, in the earth and the fields, but its delight is with the sons of men. 9Such is the goodness of God to man, that it is represented to us in Scripture under the notion of love: God is good to all his creatures, but he is only said to love the sons of men. More particularly the goodness of God to man appears,
1. That he hath given us such noble and excellent beings, and placed us in so high a rank and order of his creatures. We owe to him that we are, and what we are: we do not only partake of that effect of his goodness which is common to us with all other creatures, that we have received our being from him; but we are peculiarly obliged to him for his more especial goodness, that he hath made us reasonable creatures of that kind which we should have chosen to have been of, if we could suppose that, before we were, it had been referred to us, and put to our choice, what part we would be of this visible world. But we did not contrive and choose this condition for ourselves, we are no ways accessary to the dignity and excellency of our beings: but God chose this condition for us, and made us what we are; so that we may say with David, (Psal. c. 3-5.) “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. O enter into his gates with thanks giving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and speak good of his name: for the Lord is good.” The goodness of God is the spring and fountain of our beings; but for that, we had been nothing; and but for his farther goodness, we might have been any thing, of the lowest and meanest rank of his creatures. But the goodness of God hath been pleased to advance us to be the top and perfection of the visible creation; he hath been pleased to endow us with mind and understanding, and made us capable of happiness, in the knowledge, 10and love, and enjoyment of himself. He hath curiously and wonderfully wrought the frame of our bodies, so as to make them fit habitations for reasonable souls, and immortal spirits; he hath made our very bodies vessels of honour, when of the very same clay he hath made innumerable other creatures of a much lower rank and condition: so that though man, in respect of his body, be akin to the earth, yet, in regard of his soul, he is allied to Heaven, of a Divine original, and descended from above. Of all the creatures in this visible world, man is the chief; and what is said of behemoth, or the elephant, (Job xl.) in respect of his great strength, and the vast bigness of his body, is only true absolutely of man, that he is, Divini opificii caput; “the chief of the ways of God, and upon earth there is none like him.”
The Psalmist takes particular notice of the goodness of God to man, in this respect of the excellency and dignity of his being; (Psal. viii. 5.) “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” And this advantage of our nature above other creatures we ought thankfully to acknowledge, though most men are so stupid as to overlook it; as Elihu complains, (Job xxxv. 10, 11.) “None saith, Where is God my Maker, who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and make thus wiser than the fowls of heaven?”
2. The goodness of God to man appears, in that he hath made and ordained so many things chiefly for our use. The beauty and usefulness of the creatures below us, their plain subserviency to our necessity, and benefit, and delight, are so many clear evidences of the Divine goodness to us, not only (discernible to our reason, but even palpable to our 11senses, so that we may “see and taste that the Lord is gracious.”
This David particularly insists upon as a special ground of praise and thanksgiving to God, that he hath subjected so great a part of the creation to our dominion and use: (Psal. viii. 6-8.) speaking of man, “Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field: the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” What an innumerable variety of creatures are there in this inferior world, which were either solely or principally made for the use and ser vice, pleasure and delight, of man! How many things are there, which serve for the necessity and support, for the contentment and comfort, of our lives! How many things for the refreshment and delight of our senses, and the exercise and employment of our understandings! That God hath not made man for the service of other creatures, but other creatures for the service of man, Epictetus doth very ingeniously argue from this observation; that the creatures below man, the brute beasts, have all things in a readiness, nature having provided for them meat, and drink, and lodging; so that they have no absolute need that any should build houses, or make clothes, or store up provision, or prepare and dress meat for them: “For, (says he,) being made for the service of another, they ought to be furnished with these things, that they may be always in a readiness to serve their lord and master; a plain evidence that they were made to serve man, and not man to serve them.”
And to raise our thoughts of God’s goodness to 12us the sons of men yet higher, as he hath given us the creatures below us for our use and convenience, so hath he appointed the creatures above us for our guard and protection, not to say for our service: (Psal. xxxiv. 7.) “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them;” and then it follows, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” And, (Psal. xci. 11, 12.) “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways: they shall bear thee up in their hands.” Nay, the apostle speaks as if their whole business and employment were to attend upon, and be serviceable to, good men; (Heb. i. 14.) “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
The goodness of God to men appears in his tender love, and peculiar care of us above the rest of the creatures, being ready to impart, and dispense to us the good that is suitable to our capacity and condition, and concerned to exempt us from those manifold evils of want and pain, to which we are obnoxious: I do not mean an absolute exemption from all sorts and degrees of evil, and a perpetual tenure of temporal happiness, and enjoyment of all good things; this is not suitable to our present state, and the rank and order which we are in among the creatures; nor would it be best for us, all things considered. But the goodness of God to us above other creatures, is proportionable to the dignity and excellency of our natures above them; for, as the apostle reasons in another case, “Doth God take care for oxen,” and shall he not much more extend his care to man? To this purpose our Saviour reasons: (Matt. vi. 26.) “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather 13into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” And, (ver. 30.) “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you?” And, (chap. x. 29-31.) “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” It is true, God hath a special care of his people and servants, above the rest of mankind; but our Saviour useth these arguments to his disciples, to convince them of the providence of God towards them, as men, and of a more excellent nature than other creatures.
And, indeed, we are born into the world more destitute and helpless than other creatures; as if it were on purpose to shew that God had reserved us for his more peculiar care and providence; which is so great, that the Scripture, by way of condescension, expresseth it to us by the name of love; so that what effects of care the greatest and tenderest affection in men is apt to produce towards one another, that, and much more, is the effect of God’s goodness to us; and this affection of God is common to all men (though, of all creatures, we have least deserved it), and is ready to diffuse and shed abroad itself, wherever men are qualified for it by duty and obedience, and do not obstruct and stop the emanations of it, by their sins and provocations.
And though the greatest part of mankind be evil, yet this doth not wholly put a stop to his goodness, though it cause many abatements of it, and hinder many good things from us; but such is the goodness of God, notwithstanding the evil and undutifulness 14of men, that he is pleased still to concern himself in the government of the world, and to preserve the societies of men from running into utter confusion and disorder; notwithstanding the violence and irregularities of men’s wills and passions, the communities of men subsist upon tolerable terms; and notwithstanding the rage and craft of evil men, poor and unarmed innocence and virtue is usually protected, and sometimes rewarded in this world, and domineering and outrageous wickedness is very often remarkably checked and chastised. All which instances of God’s providence, as they are greatly for the advantage and comfort of mankind, so are they an effectual declaration of that goodness which governs all things, and of God’s kind care of the affairs and concernments of men; so that if we look no further than this world, we may say with David, “Verily, there is a reward for the righteous, verily there is a God that judgeth the earth.”
I know this argument hath been perverted to a quite contrary purpose: that if goodness governed the world, and administered the affairs of it, good and evil would not be so carelessly and promiscuously dispensed; good men would not be so great sufferers, nor wicked men so prosperous, as many times they are.
But this also, if rightly considered, is an effect of God’s goodness, and infinite patience to mankind, that “he causeth his sun to rise, and his rain to fall upon the just and unjust;” that, upon the provocations of men, he does not give over his care of them, and throw all things into confusion and ruin: this plainly shews, that he designs this life for the trial of men’s virtue and obedience, in order to the greater reward of it; and therefore “he suffers men to walk 15in their own ways,” without any great check and control, and reserves the main bulk of rewards and punishments for another world: so that all this is so far from being any objection against the goodness of God, that, on the contrary, it is an argument of God’s immense goodness, and infinite patience, that the world subsists and continues, and that he permits men to take their course, for the fuller trial of them, and the clearer and more effectual declaration, of his justice, in the rewards and punishments of another life.
Fourthly, and lastly, The goodness of God to man kind most gloriously appears, in the provision he hath made for our eternal happiness. What the happiness of man should have been, had he continued in innocency, is not particularly revealed to us; but this is certain, that by wilful transgressions we have forfeited all that happiness which our natures are capable of. In this lapsed and ruinous condition of mankind, the goodness and mercy of God was pleased to employ his wisdom for our recovery, and to restore us not only to a new but a greater capacity of glory and happiness. And in order to this, the Son of God assumes our nature for the recovery and redemption of man; and the pardon of sin is purchased for us by his blood; eternal life, and the way to it, are clearly discovered to us. God is pleased to enter into a new and better covenant with us, and to afford us inward grace and assistance, to enable us to perform the conditions of it; and graciously to accept of our faith and repentance, of our sincere resolutions and endeavours of holiness and obedience, for perfect and complete righteousness, for His sake who fulfilled all righteousness.
This is the great and amazing goodness of God 16to mankind, that, when we were in open rebellion against him, he should entertain thoughts of peace and reconciliation; and when he passed by the fallen angels, he should set his affection and love upon the sinful and miserable sons of men. And “herein is the love of God to men perfected,” that, as he hath made all creatures, both above us, and below us, subservient and instrumental to our subsistence and preservation; so, for the ransom of our souls from eternal ruin and misery, “he hath not spared his own Son, but hath given him up to death for us;” him, whom “he hath commanded all the angels of God to worship,” and to whom he hath made subject all creatures in heaven and earth: him, “who made the world, and who upholds all things by the word of his power, who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.”
And after such a stupendous instance as this, what may we not reasonably hope for, and promise ourselves, from the Divine goodness? So the apostle hath taught us to reason; (Rom. viii. 32.) “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”17
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