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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.
I HAVE made several discourses upon this argument of the goodness of God; shewing what it is; on what accounts we ascribe it to God; what are the effects and large extent of it to the whole creation, and more particularly to mankind; and, in the last place, considered the several objections which seem to lie against it. I proceed now to the application of this excellent argument, the consideration where of is so fruitful of useful inferences, in relation both to our comfort and duty. And,
I. This shews us the prodigious folly and unreasonableness of atheism. Most of the atheism that is in the world, doth not so much consist in a firm persuasion that there is no God, as in vain wishes and desires that there were none. Bad men think it would be a happiness to them, and that they should be in a much better condition if there were no God, than if there be one. Nemo deum non esse credit, nisi cui Deum non esse expedit; “No man is apt to disbelieve a God, but he whose interest it is that there should be none.” And if we could see into the hearts of wicked men, we should find this lying at the bottom, that if there be a God, he is just, and will punish sin; that he is infinite in power, and not to be resisted, and therefore kills them with his terror so often as they 37think of him: hence they apprehend it their interest that there should be no God, and wish there were none, and thence are apt to cherish in their minds a vain hope that there is none, and at last endeavour to impose upon themselves by vain reasonings, and to suppress the belief of a God, and to stifle their natural apprehensions and fears of him. So that it is not Primus in orbe deos fecit timor, “Fear that first made gods,” but the fear which bad men have of Divine power and justice, that first tempted them to the disbelief of him.
But were not these men as foolish as they are wicked, they would wish with all their hearts there were a God, and be glad to believe so: and the Psalmist gives them their true character, who can entertain any such thoughts or wishes; (Psal. xiv. 1.) “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God:” for they are fools who do not understand nor consult their true interest. And if this be true which I have said concerning the goodness of God, if this be his nature, to desire and procure the happiness of his creatures; whoever understands the true nature of God, and his own true interest, can not but wish there were a God, and be glad of any argument to prove it, and rejoice to find it true; as children are glad of a kind and tender father, and as subjects rejoice in a wise and good prince.
The goodness of God gives us a lovely character of him, makes him so good a father, so gracious a governor of men, that if there were no such being in the world, it were infinitely desirable to mankind, that there should be: he is such an one, Qualem omnes cuperent, si deesset; “As, if he were wanting, all men ought to wish for.” The being of God is so comfortable, so convenient, so necessary to the felicity 38of mankind, that (as Tully admirably says) Dii immortales ad usum hominum fabricati pene videantur; “If God were not a necessary being of himself, he might almost seem to be made on purpose for the use and benefit of men.” So that atheism is not only an instance of the most horrible impiety, but of the greatest stupidity; and for men to glory in their disbelief of a God, is like the rejoicing and triumph of a furious and besotted multitude in the murder of a wise and good prince, the great est calamity and confusion that could possibly have befallen them.
If the evidence of God’s being were not so clear as it is, yet the consideration of his goodness ought to check all inclination to atheism and infidelity; for if he be as good as he is represented to us, both by natural light and Divine revelation (and he is so, as sure as he is), if he tender our welfare, and desire our happiness, as much as we ourselves can do, and use all wise ways and proper means to bring it about; then it is plainly every man’s interest, even thine, O sinner! to whom, after all thy provocations, he is willing to be reconciled, that there should be such a being as God is; and whenever thou comest to thyself, thou wilt be sensible of thy want of him, and thy soul will “thirst for God, even the living God, and pant after him as the hart pants after the water-brooks;” in the day of thy affliction and calamity, “when distress and anguish cometh upon thee,” thou wilt flee to God for refuge, and shelter thyself under his protection, and wouldest not, for all the world, but there were such a being in it to help and deliver thee. Deos nemo sanus timet (says Seneca); furor est metuere salutaria; “No man in his wits is afraid there is a God: it is a madness to 39fear that which is so much for our benefit and advantage.” Human nature is conscious to itself of its own weakness and insufficiency, and of its necessary dependance upon something without itself for its happiness; and therefore, in great extremity and distress, the atheist himself hath naturally recourse to him; and he who denied and rejected him in his prosperity, clings to him in adversity, as his only support and present help in time of trouble. And this is a sure indication, that these men, after all their endeavours to impose upon themselves, have not been able wholly to extinguish in their minds the belief of God, and his goodness; nay, it is a sign, at the bottom of their hearts, they have a firm persuasion of his goodness, when, after all their insolent defiance of him, they have the confidence to apply to him for mercy and help, “in time of need:” and therefore, our hearts ought to rise with indignation against those who go about to persuade the belief of a thing so prejudicial to our interest, to take away “the light of our eyes, and the breath of our nostrils,” and to rob us of all the comfort and support which the belief of an infinite power, conducted by infinite wisdom and goodness, is apt to afford to mankind.
II. We should take great care of preventing and abusing this great goodness, by vain confidence and presumption. This is a provocation of a high nature, which the Scripture calls, “turning the grace of God into wantonness;” making that an encouragement to sin, which is one of the strongest arguments in the world against it. God is infinitely good and merciful: but we must not, therefore, think that he is fond and indulgent to our faults; but, on the contrary, because he is good, he cannot 40but hate evil. So the Scripture every where tells us, that “He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity;” that “the face of the Lord is against them that do evil: he is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with him: the foolish shall not stand in his sight; he hateth all the workers of iniquity.” He is ready to shew mercy to those who are qualified for it by repentance, and resolution of a better course: but as long as we continue impenitent, God is implacable, and will deal with us according to the tenor of his laws, and the desert of our doings. Despair is a great sin, but presumption is a greater: despair doubts of the goodness of God, but presumption abuseth it; despair disbelieves, but presumption perverts the best thing in the world to a quite contrary purpose from what it was intended.
III. The consideration of God’s goodness, is a mighty comfort and relief to our minds, under all our fears and troubles. Great are the fears and jealousies of many devout minds concerning God’s love to them, and their everlasting condition; which are commonly founded in one of these two causes, a melancholy temper, or mistaken notions and apprehensions of God; and very often these two meet together, and hinder the cure and removal of one another.
Melancholy, as it is an effect of bodily temper, is a disease not to be cured by reason and argument, but by physic and time: but the mistakes which men have entertained concerning God, if they be not set on and heightened by melancholy (as many times they are), may be rectified by a true representation of the goodness of God, confirmed by reason and Scripture. Many good men have had very hard 41and injurious thoughts of God instilled into them, from doctrines too commonly taught and received; as if he did not sincerely desire the happiness of his creatures, but had, from all eternity, decreed to make the greatest part of mankind, with a secret purpose and design, to make them miserable; and, consequently, were not serious and in a good earnest in his invitations and exhortations of sinners to repentance; and it is no wonder if such jealousies as these concerning God, make men doubtful whether God love them, and very scrupulous and anxious about their everlasting condition.
I have already told you, that these harsh doctrines have no manner of foundation, either in reason or Scripture; that God earnestly desires our happiness, and affords us sufficient means to that end; that he bears a more hearty good-will to us, than any man does to his friend, or any father upon earth ever did to his dearest child; in comparison of which, the greatest affection of men to those whom they love best, is “but as the drop of the bucket, as the very small dust upon the balance.” If we have right apprehensions of God’s goodness, we can have no temptation to despair of his kind and merciful intentions to us, provided we be but careful of our duty to him, and do sincerely repent and forsake our sins. Plainer declarations no words can make, than those we meet with in the Holy Scriptures, that “God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live;” that “he would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” that “he is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” that “he that 42confesseth and forsaketh his sin, shall have mercy:” that “if the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy, and will abundantly pardon.”
As for outward calamities and afflictions, the consideration of God’s goodness is a firm ground of consolation to us, giving us assurance, that God will either prevent them by his providence, or support us under them, or rescue us out of them, or turn them to our greater good and happiness in this world, or the next. St. Paul speaks of it as the firm belief and persuasion of all good men, that, in the issue, all their actions should prove to their advantage: “We know (says he) that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” And one of the greatest evidences of our love to God, is a firm belief and persuasion of his goodness: if we believe his goodness, we cannot but love him; and if we love him, “all things shall work together for our good.”
And this is a great cordial to those who are under grievous persecutions and sufferings,11 This Sermon was preached before the late happy Revolution. which is the case of our brethren in a neighbouring nation, and may come to be ours, God knows how soon. But though the malice of men be great, and backed with a power not to be controlled by any visible means, and therefore likely to continue; yet the goodness of God is greater than the malice of men, and of a longer duration and continuance. And thus David comforted himself when he was persecuted by Saul; (Psal. lii. 1.) “Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness 43of God endureth continually.” The persecution which Saul raised against him was very powerful, and lasted a long time; but he comforts himself with this, that “the goodness of God endures for ever.”
IV. The consideration of God’s goodness, is a powerful motive and argument to several duties.
1. To the love of God. And this is the most proper and natural effect and operation of the goodness of God upon our minds. Several of the Divine attributes are very awful, but goodness is amiable; and, without this, nothing else is so. Power and wisdom may command dread and admiration; but nothing but goodness can challenge our love and affection. Goodness is amiable for itself, though no benefit and advantage should from thence redound to us: but when we find the comfortable effects of it, when “the riches of God’s goodness, and long-suffering, and forbearance” are laid out upon us, when we live upon that goodness, and are indebted to it for all that we have and hope for; this is a much greater endearment to us of that excellency and perfection, which was amiable for itself. We cannot but love him who is good, and does us good; whose goodness extends to all his creatures, but is exercised in so peculiar a manner towards the sons of men, that it is called love; and if God vouchsafe to love us, well may this be “the first and great commandment, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”
2. The consideration of God’s goodness is likewise an argument for us to fear him; not as a slave does his master, but as a child does his father, who the more he loves him, the more afraid he is to 44offend him. “There is forgiveness with thee, (saith the Psalmist) that thou rnayest be feared:” because God is ready to forgive, we should be afraid to offend. “Men shall fear the Lord, and his goodness,” saith the prophet. (Hosea iii. 5.) And, in deed, nothing is more to be dreaded than despised goodness, and abused patience, which turns into fury and vengeance: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and long-suffering, and forbearance, (says the apostle) and treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God?”
3. The consideration of God’s goodness, is a powerful motive to obedience to his laws, and (as the apostle expresseth it) “to walk worthy of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, being fruitful in every good work.” This argument Samuel useth to the people of Israel, to persuade them to obedience; (1 Sam. xii. 24.) “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things he hath done for you.”
And, indeed, the laws which God hath given us, are none of the least instances of his goodness to us, since they all tend to our good, and are proper causes and means of our happiness: so that, in challenging our obedience to his laws, as acknowledgments of our obligation to him for his benefits, he lays a new obligation, and confers a greater benefit upon us. All that his laws require of us, is to do that which is best for ourselves, and does most directly conduce to our own welfare and happiness. Considering our infinite obligations to God, he might have challenged our obedience to the severest and harshest laws he could have imposed upon us: so that as the servants said to Naaman, “Had the 45prophet bid thee to do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? how much more when he hath only said, Wash, and be clean?” If God had required of us things very grievous and burthensome, in love and gratitude to him, we ought to have yielded a ready and cheerful obedience to such commands; how much more when he hath only said, Do this, and be happy. In testimony of your love to me, do these things which are the great est kindness and benefit to yourselves.
4. The goodness of God should lead men to repentance. One of the greatest aggravations of our sins is, that we offend against so much goodness, and make so bad a requital for it; “Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise!” The proper tendency of God’s goodness and patience to sinners, is to bring them to a sense of their miscarriage, and to a resolution of a better course. When we reflect upon the blessings and favours of God, and his continual goodness to us, can we choose but be ashamed of our terrible ingratitude and disobedience? Nothing is more apt to make an ingenuous nature to relent, than the sense of undeserved kindness; that God should be so good to us, who are evil and unthankful to him; that though we be enemies to him, yet, when we hunger, he feeds us; when we thirst, he gives us to drink; heaping, as it were, coals of fire on our heads, on purpose to melt us into repentance, and to over come our evil by his goodness.
5. The consideration of God’s goodness is a firm ground of trust and confidence. What may we not hope and assuredly expect from immense and boundless goodness? If we have right apprehensions of the goodness of God, we cannot possibly 46distrust him, or doubt of the performance of those gracious promises which he hath made to us; the same goodness which inclined him to make such promises, will effectually engage him to make them good. If God be so good as he hath declared himself, why should we think that he will not help us in our need, and relieve us in our distress, and comfort us in our afflictions and sorrows? If we may with confidence rely upon any thing to confer good upon us, and to preserve and deliver us from evil, we may trust infinite goodness.
6. The goodness of God is likewise an argument to us to patience and contentedness with every condition. If the hand of God be severe and heavy upon us in any affliction, we may be assured that it is not without great cause that so much goodness is so highly offended and displeased with us; that he designs our good in all the evils he sends us, and does not chasten us for his pleasure, but for our profit; that we are the cause of our own sufferings, and our sins separate between God and us, and withhold good things from us; that in the final issue and result of things, “all things shall work together for good” to us; and therefore we ought not to be discontented at any thing which will certainly end in our happiness.
7. Let us imitate the goodness of God. The highest perfection of the best and most perfect Being is worthy to be our pattern: this Scripture frequently proposeth to us; (Matt. v. 48.) “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” How is that? In being good, and kind, and merciful, as God is: “But I say unto you, (says our Lord) love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil, and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust:” and then it follows, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The same pat tern St. Paul proposeth to us; (Ephes. iv. 32.; and chap. v. 1.) “Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted; forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children, and walk in love.” We cannot in any thing resemble God more than in goodness, and kindness, and mercy, and in a readiness to forgive those who have been injurious to us, and to be reconciled to them.
Let us then often contemplate this perfection of God, and represent it to our minds, that, by the frequent contemplation of it, we may be transformed into the image of the Divine goodness. Is God so good to his creatures? with how much greater reason should we be so to our fellow-creatures? Is God good to us? Let us imitate his universal goodness, by endeavouring the good of mankind; and, as much as in us lies, of the whole creation of God. What God is to us, and what we would have him still be to us, that let us be to others. We are in finitely beholden to this perfection of God for all that we are, and for all that we enjoy, and for all that we expect; and therefore we have all the reason in the world to admire and imitate it. Let this pattern of the Divine goodness be continually before us, that we may be still fashioning ourselves in the temper of our minds, and in the actions of our lives, to a likeness and conformity to it.48
Lastly, The consideration of the Divine goodness should excite our praise and thankfulness: this is a great duty, to the performance whereof we should summon all the powers and faculties of our souls: as the holy Psalmist does; (Psal. ciii. 1, 2.) “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” And we should invite all others to the same work, as the same devout Psalmist frequently does; (Psal. cvi. 1.) “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” And (Psal. cvii. 8.) “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.”
And we had need to be often called upon to this duty, to which we have a peculiar backwardness. Necessity drives us to prayer, and sends us to God for the supply of our wants; but. praise and thanks giving is a duty which depends upon our gratitude and ingenuity; and nothing sooner wears off, than the sense of kindness and benefits. We are very apt to forget the blessings of God, not so much from a bad memory, as from a bad nature; to for get the greatest blessings, the continuance whereof should continually put us in mind of them, the blessings of our beings. So God complains of his people; (Deut. xxxii. 18.) “Of the God that formed thee thou hast been unmindful:” the dignity and excellency of our being above all the creatures of this visible world; (Job xxxv. 10, 11.) “None saith, Where is God my Maker, who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven;” the daily comforts and blessings of our lives, which we can continually receive, 49without almost ever looking up to the hand that gives them. So God complains by the prophet Hosea; (chap. ii. 8.) “She knew not that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold.” And is it not shameful to see how, at the most plentiful tables, the giving of God thanks is almost grown out of fashion? as if men were ashamed to own from whence these blessings came. When thanks is all God expects from us, can we not afford to give him that? “Do ye thus requite the Lord, foolish people and unwise?” It is just with God to take away his blessings from us, if we deny him this easy tribute of praise and thanksgiving.
It is a sign men are unfit for heaven, when they are backward to that which is the proper work and employment of the blessed spirits above: therefore, as ever we hope to come thither, let us begin this work here, and inure ourselves to that which will be the great business of all eternity: let us, with the four-and-twenty elders in the Revelation, “fall down before him that sits on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast our crowns before the throne,” (that is, cast ourselves) and ascribe all glory to God, saying, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast made all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created.”
To him, therefore, the infinite and inexhaustible fountain of goodness, the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation, who gave us such excellent beings, having made us little lower than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honour; who hath been pleased to stamp upon us the image of his own goodness, and thereby made us partakers of a Divine nature, communicating to us not only of the 50effects of his goodness, but, in some measure and degree, of the perfection itself; to Him, who gives us all things richly to enjoy which pertain to life and godliness, and hath made such abundant provision not only for our comfort and convenience in this present life, but for our unspeakable happiness to all eternity; to Him who designed this happiness to us from all eternity, and whose mercy and goodness to us endures for ever; who, when by wilful transgressions and disobedience we had plunged ourselves into a state of sin and misery, and had forfeited that happiness which we were designed to, was pleased to restore us to a new capacity of it, by sending his only Son to take our nature, with the miseries and infirmities of it, to live among us, and to die for us: in a word, to Him who is infinitely good to us, not only contrary to our deserts, but beyond our hopes; who renews his mercy upon us every morning, and is patient, though we provoke him every day; who preserves and provides for us, and spares us continually; who is always willing, always watchful, and never weary to do us good: to Him be all glory and honour, adoration and praise, love and obedience, now and for ever.51
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