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THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.—Psalm cxlv. 9.
IN handling this argument, I proceeded in this method;
First, To consider what is the proper notion of goodness.
Secondly, To shew that this perfection of goodness belongs to God.
Thirdly, I considered the effects of the Divine goodness, under these heads:
I. The universal extent of it, in the number, variety, order, end, and design of the things created by him, and his preservation, and providing for the welfare and happiness of them.
II. I considered more particularly the goodness of God to mankind, of which I gave these four instances:
1. That he hath given us such noble beings, and placed us in so high a rank and order of his creatures.
2. In that he hath made and ordained so many things chiefly for us.
3. In that he exerciseth so peculiar a providence over us above the rest, that though he is said to be “good to all,” he is only said to “love the sons of men.”
4. In that he hath provided for us eternal life and happiness. There only now remains the18
Fourth and last particular to be spoken to, which was, To answer some objections which may seem to contradict and bring in question the goodness of God; and they are many, and have (some of them especially) great difficulty in them, and therefore it will require great consideration and care, to give a clear and satisfactory answer to them, which, undoubtedly, they are capable of; the goodness of God being one of the most certain and unquestionable truths in the world. I shall mention those which are most considerable and obvious, and do almost of themselves spring up in every man’s mind; and they are these four: the first of them more general, the other three more particular.
First, If God be so exceeding good, whence comes it to pass, that there is so much evil in the world of several kinds; evil of imperfection, evil of affliction or suffering, and (which is the greatest of all others, and indeed the cause of them) evil of sin?
Secondly, The doctrine of absolute reprobation; by which is meant, the decreeing of the greatest part of mankind to eternal misery and torment, without any consideration or respect to their sin or fault: this seems notoriously to contradict, not only the notion of infinite goodness, but any competent measure and degree of goodness.
Thirdly, The eternal misery and punishment of men for temporal faults seems hard to be reconciled with that excess of goodness which we suppose to be in God.
Fourthly, The instances of God’s great severity to mankind upon occasion in those great calamities which, by the providence of God, have, in several ages, either befallen mankind in general, or particular nations; and here I shall confine myself to 19Scripture instances, as being the most certain and remarkable, or at least equal to any that are to be met with in history; as, the early and universal degeneracy of mankind, by the sin and transgression of our first parents; the destruction of the world by a general deluge; the sudden and terrible destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, by fire and brimstone from heaven; the cruel extirpation of the Canaanites, by the express command of God; and lastly, the great calamities which befel the Jewish nation, and the final ruin and perdition of them at the destruction of Jerusalem.
These are the objections against the goodness of God, which I shall severally consider, and, with all the brevity and clearness I can, endeavour to return a particular answer to them.
The first objection, which I told you is more general, is this: if God be so exceeding good, whence then comes it to pass, that there is so much evil in the world of several kinds? It is evident, beyond denial, that evil abounds in the world: “The whole world lies in evil,” says St. John, ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται, “lies in wickedness,” (so our translation renders it) is involved in sin; but, by the article and opposition, St. John seems to intend the devil: “We know (says he) that we are of God, and the whole world, ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται, is subject to the evil one,” and under his power and dominion. Which way soever we render it, it signifies that evil of one kind or other reigns in the world. Now, can evil come from a good God? “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing? Doth a fountain send forth, at the same place, sweet water and bitter? This cannot be,” as St. James speaks in another 20case. But all evils that are in the world, must either be directly procured by the Divine Providence, or permitted to happen; and, next to the causing and procuring of evil, it seems to be contrary to the goodness of God to permit that there should be any such thing, when it is in his power to help and hinder it.
Answer.—To give an account of this: it was an ancient doctrine of some of the most ancient nations, that there were two first causes or principles of all things, the one of good things, the other of bad; which, among the Persians, were called Oromasdes and Arimanius; among the Egyptians, Osiris and Typhon; among the Chaldeans, good or bad planets; among the Greeks, Ζεὺς and Ἅδης: Plutarch expressly says, that the good principle was called God, and the bad, Dæmon, or the devil; in conformity to which ancient traditions, the Manichees (a sad sect of Christians) set up two principles; the one infinitely good, which they supposed to be the original cause of all good that is in the world; the other infinitely evil, to which they ascribed all the evils that are in the world.
But, besides that the notion of an infinite evil is a contradiction, it would be to no purpose to suppose two opposite principles of equal power and force. That the very notion of an infinite evil is a contradiction will be very clear, if we consider, that what is infinitely evil must be infinitely imperfect, and, consequently, infinitely weak; and, for that reason, though never so mischievous and malicious, yet, being infinitely weak, and ignorant, and foolish, would neither be in a capacity to contrive mischief, nor to execute it. But admit that a being infinitely mischievous were infinitely cunning, and infinitely 21powerful, yet it could do no evil; because the opposite principle of infinite goodness being also in finitely wise and powerful, they would tie up one another’s hands: so that, upon this supposition, the notion of a Deity would signify just nothing, and by virtue of the eternal opposition and equality of these two principles, they would keep one another at a perpetual bay, and, being an equal match for one another, instead of being two deities, they would be two idols, able to do neither good nor evil.
But to return a more distinct and satisfactory answer to this objection: There are three sorts of evil in the world; the evil of imperfection, the evil of affliction and suffering, and the evil of sin.
And, first, for the evil of imperfection, I mean natural imperfections, these are not simply and absolutely, but only comparatively evil: now comparative evil is but a less degree of goodness; and it is not at all inconsistent with the goodness of God that some creatures should be less good than others; that is, imperfect in comparison of them; nay, it is very agreeable, both to the goodness and wisdom of God, that there should be this variety in the creatures, and that they should be of several degrees of perfection, being made for several uses and purposes, and to be subservient to one another, provided they all contribute to the harmony and beauty of the whole.
Some imperfection is necessarily involved in the very nature and condition of a creature; as, that it derives its being from another, and necessarily depends upon it, and is beholden to it, and is likewise of necessity finite and limited in its nature and perfections; and as for those creatures which are less 22perfect than others, this also, that there should be degrees of perfection, is necessary, upon supposition, that the wisdom of God thinks fit to display itself in variety of creatures of several kinds and ranks; for though, comparing the creatures with one another, the angelical nature is best and most perfect, yet it is absolutely best that there should be other creatures besides angels. There are many parts of the creation which are rashly and inconsiderately by us concluded to be evil and imperfect, as some noxious and hurtful creatures, which yet, in other respects, and to some purposes, may be very useful, and against the harm and mischief whereof we are sufficiently armed, by such means of defence, and such antidotes, as reason and experience are able to find and furnish us withal; and those parts of the world which we think of little or no use, as rocks and deserts, and that vast wilderness of the sea, if we consider things well, are of great use to several very considerable purposes; or, if we can discern no other use of them, they serve at least to help our dulness, and to make us more attentively to consider and to admire the perfection and usefulness of the rest; at the worst they may serve for foils to set off the wise order and contrivance of other things, and (as one expresseth it very well) they may be like a blackmoor’s head in a picture, which gives the greater beauty to the whole piece.
Secondly, For the evils of affliction and suffering; and these either befal brute creatures, or men endowed with reason and consideration.
1st, For those which befal the brute creatures; those sufferings which nature inflicts upon them are very few; the greatest they meet withal are from men, or upon their account, for whose sake they 23were chiefly made, and to whose reasonable use and gentle dominion they are consigned.
It is necessary, from the very nature of these creatures, that they should be passive, and liable to pain; and yet it doth in no wise contradict either the wisdom or goodness of God to make such creatures, because all these pains are, for the most part, fully recompensed by the pleasure these creatures find in life; and that they have such a pleasure and happiness in life is evident, in that all creatures, notwithstanding the miseries they endure, are still fond of life, and unwilling to part with it: no creature but man (who only hath perverted his nature) ever seeks the destruction of itself; and, since all brute creatures are so loath to go out of being, we may probably conclude, that if they could deliberate whether they should be or not, they would choose to come into being, even upon these hard conditions.
But, however that be, this we are sure of, that they suffer chiefly from us, and upon our account; we, who are their natural lords, having depraved ourselves first, are become cruel and tyrannical to them; nay, the Scripture tells us, that they suffer for our sakes, and “the whole creation groaneth, and is in bondage” for the sin of man. And this is not unreasonable, that, being made principally for man, they should suffer upon his account, as a part of his goods and estate, not as a punishment to them (which, under the notion of punishment, they are not capable of), but as a punishment to him who is the lord and owner of them, they being, by this means, become more weak and frail, and less useful and serviceable to him for whom they were made; so that the sufferings of the creatures below us are, 24in a great measure, to be charged upon us, under whose dominion God hath put them.
2dly, As for the afflictions and sufferings which befal men, these are not natural, and of God’s making, but the result and fruit of our own doings, the effects and consequences of the ill use of our own liberty, and free choice; and God does not willingly send them upon us, but we wilfully pull them down upon ourselves; for “he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men,” as the prophet tells us, (Lam. iii. 33.) Or, as it is in the Wisdom of Solomon, (chap. i. 12, 13.) “God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living; but men pull destruction upon themselves, with the works of their own hands.” All the evils that are in the world, are either the effects of our own sin, as poverty, and disgrace, pains, diseases, and death, which are sometimes more immediately inflicted upon men by a visible providence and hand of God, but are usually brought upon us by ourselves, in the natural course and order of things; or they are the effects of other men’s sins, brought upon us by the ambition and covetousness, by the malice and cruelty, of others: and these evils, though they are procured and caused by others, yet they are deserved by ourselves; and though they are immediately from the hand of men, yet we ought to look farther, and consider them as directed and disposed by the providence of God; as David did when Shimei cursed him; “God (saith he) hath bid him curse David,” though it immediately proceeded from Shimei’s insolence and ill-nature.
Now, upon the supposition of sin, the evils of affliction and suffering are good, because they are of great use to us, and serve to very goods ends and purposes.25
1. As they are the proper punishments of sin. Evil is good to them that do evil; that is, it is fit and proper, just and due: (Psal. cvii. 17.) “Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.” And it is fit they should be so; crooked to crooked, is straight and right. “A rod for the back of fools,” saith Solomon; and elsewhere, “God hath made every thing for that which is fit for it, and the evil day for the wicked man.”
2. As they are the preventions and remedies of greater evils. Evils of affliction and suffering are good for wicked men, to bring them to a sense of their sin, and to reclaim them from it, and thereby to prevent greater temporal evils, and preserve them from eternal misery; and not only good to the person that suffers, but likewise to others, to deter and affright them from the like sins; to prevent the contagion of sin, and to stop the progress of iniquity, upon which greater guilt and worse mischiefs might ensue; and they are good to good men, to awaken and rouse them out of their security, to make them know God and themselves better; they are almost a necessary discipline for the best of men, much more for evil and depraved dispositions; and we might as reasonably expect that there should be no rod in a school, as that there should be no suffering and afflictions in the world.
3. As they are the occasions and matter of many virtues. God teacheth men temperance by want, and patience by reproach and sufferings, charity by persecution, and pity and compassion to others by grievous pains upon ourselves. The benefit of afflictions, to them that make a wise use of them, is unspeakable; they are grievous in themselves, 26“Nevertheless (saith the apostle to the Hebrews) they bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness, to them that are exercised therewith.” David gives a great testimony of the mighty benefit and advantage of them, from his own experience; (Psal. cxix. 67.) “Before I was afflicted, went astray, but now have I kept thy word.” And, (ver. 71.) “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.”
4. The evils of suffering, patiently submitted to, and decently borne, do greatly contribute to the increase of our happiness. All the persecutions and sufferings of good men in this life, “do work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” And if they contribute to our greater good and happiness at last, they are good. The glorious reward of the sufferings which we have met with in this life, will in the next clear up the goodness and justice of the Divine Providence from all those mists and clouds which are now upon it, and fully acquit it from those objections which are now raised against it, upon account of the afflictions and sufferings of good men in this life, which “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in them.”
Thirdly, As for the evil of sin, which is the great difficulty of all, how is it consistent with the goodness of God, to permit so great an evil as this to come into the world? For answer to this, I desire these two things may be considered:
1. That it doth not at all contradict the wisdom or goodness of God, to make a creature of such a frame, as to be capable of having its obedience tried, in order to the reward of it; which could not be, unless such a creature were made mutable, and 27by the good or bad use of its liberty, capable of obeying or disobeying the laws of his Creator: for where there is no possibility of sinning, there can be no trial of our virtue and obedience; and nothing but virtue and obedience are capable of reward. The goodness of God towards us is sufficiently vindicated, in that he made us capable of happiness, and gave us sufficient direction and power for the attaining of that end; and it does in no wise contradict his goodness, that he does not, by his omnipotency, interpose to prevent our sin: for this had been to alter the nature of things, and not to let man be the creature he made him, capable of reward or punishment, according to the good or bad use of his own free choice. It is sufficient that God made man good at first, though mutable, and that he had a power to have continued so, though he wilfully determined himself to evil: this acquits the goodness of God, that “he made man upright,” but he found out to himself many inventions.
2. If there had not been such an order and rank of creatures as had been in their nature mutable, there had been no place for the manifestation of God’s goodness in away of mercy and patience: so that though God be not the author of the sins of men, yet, in case of their wilful transgression and disobedience, the goodness of God hath a fair opportunity of discovering itself, in his patience and long-suffering to sinners, and in his merciful care and provision for their recovery out of that miserable state. And this may suffice for answer to the first objection if God be so good, whence then comes evil?
The second objection against the goodness of God, is from the doctrine of absolute reprobation: 28by which I mean, the decreeing the greatest part of mankind to eternal misery and torment, without any consideration or respect to their sin and fault. This seems not only notoriously to contradict the notion of infinite goodness, but to be utterly inconsistent with the least measure and degree of goodness. Indeed, if by reprobation were only meant that God, in his own infinite knowledge, foresees the sins and wickedness of men, and hath from all eternity determined in himself, what in his word he hath so plainly declared, that he will punish impenitent sinners with everlasting destruction; or if by reprobation be meant, that God hath not elected all mankind, that is, absolutely decreed to bring them infallibly to salvation: neither of these notions of reprobation is any ways inconsistent with the goodness of God; for he may foresee the wickedness of men, and determine to punish it, without any impeachment of his goodness: he may be very good to all, and yet not equally and in the same degree: if God please to bring any infallibly to salvation, this is transcendent goodness; but if he put all others into a capacity of it, and use all necessary and fitting means to make them happy, and, after all this, any fall short of happiness through their own wilful fault and obstinacy; these men are evil and cruel to themselves, but God hath been very good and merciful to them.
But if by reprobation be meant, either that God hath decreed, without respect to the sins of men, their absolute ruin and misery, or that he hath decreed that they shall inevitably sin and perish; it cannot be denied, but that such a reprobation as this doth clearly overthrow all possible notion of goodness. I have told you, that the true and only 29notion of goodness in God is this, that it is a propension and disposition of the Divine nature, to communicate being and happiness to his creatures: but surely, nothing can be more plainly contrary to a disposition to make them happy, than an absolute decree, and a peremptory resolution to make them miserable. God is infinitely better than the best of men, and yet none can possibly think that man a good man, who should absolutely resolve to disinherit and destroy his children, without the foresight and consideration of any fault to be committed by them. We may talk of the goodness of God; but it is not an easy matter to devise or say any thing worse than this of the devil.
But it is said, reprobation is an act of sovereignty in God, and therefore not to be measured by the common rules of goodness. But it is contrary to goodness, and plainly inconsistent with it; and we must not attribute such a sovereignty to God, as contradicts his goodness; for if the sovereignty of God may break in at pleasure upon his other attributes, then it signifies nothing, to say that God is good, and wise, and just, if his sovereignty may at any time act contrary to these perfections.
Now, if the doctrine of absolute reprobation, and the goodness of God, cannot possibly stand together, the question is, which of them ought to give way to the other? What St. Paul determines in another case, concerning the truth and fidelity of God, will equally hold concerning his goodness; “Let God be” good, “and every man a liar.” The doctrine of absolute reprobation is no part of the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, that ever I could find; and there is the rule of our faith. If some great divines have held this doctrine, not in opposition to 30the goodness of God, but hoping they might be reconciled together, let them do it if they can; but if they cannot, rather let the schools of the greatest divines be called in question, than the goodness of God, which, next to his being, is the greatest and clearest truth in the world.
Thirdly, It is farther objected, that the eternal punishment of men, for temporal faults, seems hard to be reconciled with that excess of goodness, which we suppose to be in God.
This objection I have fully answered, in a discourse upon St. Matthew, (chap. xxv. 46.) and therefore shall proceed to the
Fourth and last objection against the goodness of God, from sundry instances of God’s severity to mankind, in those great calamities which, by the providence of God, have, in several ages, either befallen mankind in general, or particular nations.
And here I shall confine myself to Scripture instances, as being most known, and most certain and remarkable, or at least equally remarkable with any that are to be met with in any other history: such are the early and universal degeneracy of all mankind, by the sin and transgression of our first parents; the destruction of the world by a general deluge; the sudden and terrible destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, by fire and brimstone from heaven; the cruel extirpation of the Canaanites, by the express command of God: and, lastly, the great calamities which befel the Jewish nation, especially the final ruin and dispersion of them at the destruction of Jerusalem: these, and the like instances of God’s severity, seem to call in question his goodness.
Against these severe and dreadful instances of 31God’s severity, it might be a sufficient vindication of his goodness, to say, in general, that they were all upon great and high provocations; and most of them after a long patience and forbearance, and with a great mixture of mercy, and a declared readiness in God to have prevented or removed them, upon repentance; all which are great instances of the goodness of God: but yet, for the clearer manifestation of the Divine goodness, I shall consider them particularly and as briefly as I can.
1. As for the transgression of our first parents, and the dismal consequences of it to all their posterity: this is a great depth; and though the Scripture mentions it, yet it speaks but little of it; and in matters of mere revelation, we must not attempt “to be wise above what is written.” Thus much is plain, that it was an act of high and wilful disobedience to a very plain and easy command; and that, in the punishment of it, God mitigated the extremity of the sentence (which was present death), by granting our first parents the reprieve of almost a thousand years: and as to the consequences of it to their posterity, God did not, upon this provocation, abandon his care of mankind; and, though he removed them out of that happy state and place in which man was created, yet he gave them a tolerable condition and accommodations upon earth: and, which is certainly the most glorious instance of Divine goodness that ever was, he was pleased to make the fall and misery of man, the happy occasion of sending his Son in our nature for the recovery and advancement of it to a much happier and better condition than that from which we fell So the apostle tells us, at large, (Romans v.) that “the grace of God by Jesus Christ,” hath redounded 32much more to our benefit and advantage, than “the sin and disobedience of our first parents” did to our prejudice.
2. For the general deluge, though it look very severe, yet, if we consider it well, we may plainly discern much of goodness in it; it was upon great provocation, by the universal corruption and depravation of mankind: “The earth was filled with violence, and all flesh had corrupted its ways; the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually;” which is not a description of original sin, but of the actual and improved wickedness of mankind: and yet, when the wickedness of men was come to this height, God gave them fair warning, before he brought this calamity upon them, “when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah,” for the space of “a hundred and twenty years;” at last, when nothing would reclaim them, and almost the whole race of mankind were become so very bad, that it is said, “it repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth, and it grieved him at his heart;” when things were thus extremely bad, and like to continue so, God, in pity to man kind, and to put a stop to their growing wickedness and guilt, swept them away all at once from the face of the earth, except one family, which he had preserved from this contagion, to be a new seminary of mankind, and, as the heathen poet expresseth it, Mundi melioris origo, “The source and original of a better race.”
3. For that terrible destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone from heaven, it was not brought upon them till “the cry of their sin was great, and gone up to heaven;” until, by their unnatural 33lusts, they had provoked supernatural vengeance. And it is very remarkable, to what low terms God was pleased to condescend to Abraham for the sparing of them; (Gen. xviii. 32.) if in those five cities there had been found “but ten righteous persons, he would not have destroyed them for those ten’s sake.” So that we may say with the apostle, “Behold the goodness and severity of God!” Here was wonderful goodness mixed with this great se verity.
4. For the extirpation of the Canaanites, by the express command of God, which hath such an appearance of severity, it is to be considered, (hat this vengeance was not executed upon them, until they were grown ripe for it. God spared them for above four hundred years, for so long their growing impiety is taken notice of, (Gen. xv. 16.) where it is said that “the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full:” God did not proceed to cut them off until their case was desperate, past all hopes of recovery, until “the land was defiled with abominations,” and sur charged with wickedness to that degree, as to “spew out its inhabitants;” as is expressly said, Levit. xviii. 28. When they were arrived to this pitch, it was no mercy to them to spare them any longer, to heap up more guilt and misery to themselves.
Fifthly, and lastly, As for the great calamities which God brought upon the Jews, especially in their final ruin and dispersion at the destruction of Jerusalem; not to insist upon the known history of their multiplied rebellions and provocations, of their despiteful usage of God’s prophets whom he sent to warn them of his judgments, and to call them to repentance; of their obstinate refusal to receive correction, and to be brought to amendment, 34by any means that God could use; for all which provocations, he at last delivered them into their enemies hands, to carry them away captive: not to insist upon this, I shall only consider their final destruction by the Romans, which, though it be dreadfully severe, beyond any example of history, yet the provocation was proportionable; for this vengeance did not come upon them, until they had, as it were, extorted it, by the most obstinate impenitency and unbelief, in “rejecting the counsel of God against themselves,” and resisting such means as would have brought Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, to repentance; until they had despised the doctrine of life and salvation, delivered to them by the Son of God, and confirmed from heaven by the clearest and greatest miracles; and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. Nay, even after this greatest of sins that ever was committed, God waited for their repentance forty years, to see if in that time they would be brought to a sense of their sins, and to “know the things which belonged to their peace.” And no wonder if, after such provocations, and so much patience, and so obstinate an impenitency, the goodness of God at last gave way to his justice, and “wrath came upon them to the utmost.”
So that all these instances, rightly considered, are rather commendations of the Divine goodness, than just and reasonable objections against it; and notwithstanding the severity of them, it is evident that God is good, from the primary inclinations of his nature; and severe only upon necessity, and in case of just provocation. And to be otherwise, not to punish insolent impiety and incorrigible wickedness 35in a severe and remarkable manner, would not be goodness, but a fond indulgence; not patience, but stupidity; not mercy to mankind, but cruelty; because it would be an encouragement to them to do more mischief, and to bring greater misery upon themselves.
So that if we suppose God to be holy and just, as well as good, there is nothing in any of these instances, but what is very consistent with all that goodness which we can suppose to be in a holy, and wise, and just Governor, who is a declared enemy to sin, and is resolved to give all fitting discountenance to the breach and violation of his laws. It is necessary, in kindness and compassion to the rest of mankind, that some should be made remark able instances of God’s severity; that the punishment of a few may be a warning to all, that they may hear and fear, and, by avoiding the like sins, may prevent the like severity upon themselves.
And now I have, as briefly as I could, explained and vindicated the goodness of God; the consideration whereof is fruitful of many excellent and useful inferences, in relation both to our comfort and our duty: but these I shall refer to another opportunity.36
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