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LECTURE XXV.1414   Preached December the 18th, 1691.

And this may suffice to be said, in answer to that first objection against the divine goodness, the eternal miseries of the most. And, indeed, the sum of all that can be said upon that account, doth amount to this, as if it were a thing inconsistent with the goodness of God, that he hath made such a creature as man, given him so excellent a being, made him after his own image, that is, endowed him with a reason and a will, in his very creation: and, that having made him such, he did not unalterably fix him in a good and happy state the first day, but that he thought fit to pass him through a state of probation into his final state; and upon this lapse and degeneracy, he did not do for every one in order to their recovery as he hath done for some. In answer whereto, you have these considerations laid before you.

But we pass on to the other objection; the temporal afflictions of good men. Some may be prone to impeach the divine goodness upon this account, and object against what hath been said on that subject. But here, such as find themselves disposed so to object, should reflect upon themselves and consider, what they themselves are. Are they good men that do thus object? Or are they such as are afraid to be so on this account, and are thereupon so very officious as to object this on the behalf of others, while they themselves are loth there upon to become good, apprehending they shall not serve a good master, and are therefore willing to wave and decline his service? If they be men of this latter stamp and character, that do so object, it seems that their sense must be this, that they will never be good themselves, unless God will hire them to it by temporal rewards and emoluments, by indulging them to live a life of case and pleasure and opulency in the world. And for them whose sense this is, I have but these things briefly to say to them:

1. That true goodness can never be so mercenary. They are never like to become good upon these terms; if God should give them their own terms.

2. I would have them consider what other choice they can have. If they will not serve God, and devote themselves to him, and admit to be such as he requires, (that is, truly good,) but upon these terms, what else will they do? What other master, or service, or way have they to make choice of? Can they, by 128their not being willingly subject to the governing power of God, exempt themselves from an unwilling subjection to his vindictive power? Whither will they betake themselves? will they leave God’s dominions? will they go beyond the bounds of his territories? whither will they fly? Neither earth, nor heaven, nor hell, can keep them out of his reach; as the Psalmist, at large, speaks it in that 139 psalm, and the prophet Jeremiah in the 23 chap. of his prophecy. “Am I a God at hand, and not a God afar off? Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” Is it to be a disputed thing between him and you, whether you shall serve him and comply with his good and acceptable will? And,

3. If God should give such men their terms, whereas they appear to be in the temper of their spirits bad enough already, they have a great deal of reason to think that would make them a great deal worse. It needs abundance of previous and preventing grace not to be the worse for a good condition, here in this world, as all experience shews. And,

4. Lastly, I would appeal to such, whether God is not, in such respects, abundantly good to them already. Hath he not given you breath and being and all things that you enjoy? How great are the favours that you partake of, in common with the rest of men! To instance in what the context mentions: “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.” What a case were you in, if God should put out the sun, and if he should turn the fruitful land in which you dwell, into universal barrenness, by continual withholding his rain? If he should turn your present health into continual sickly languishings, and your ease into tormenting pains, and your plenty into pinching wants, and straits? And more than all this, if he should turn his invitations to you to pray and supplicate for higher, and those that may tend to eternal mercies, into prohibitions; and say to you, “Never pray, never supplicate, never look up, I will receive no addresses from you?” If his invitations to you to surrender yourselves, and become his, and take him for yours, should be turned into protestations against it, “I will never be your God, and you shall never be my people?” Think while this is not the case, if God be not abundantly good to you already, so that upon your own account you have very little reason to contest the matter with him.

But, if good men do object this, as possibly against their more habitual frame, under the power of some temptation they may be apt to do, as we find it was with the Psalmist in the 73 psalm: and the like offence and scandal, good men are represented 129as, sometimes, apt to take at their own afflicted condition, compared with the prosperous state of worse men, against which, much of that 37th psalm is directed, and that 2lst of Job; and the beginning of the 12th. chap. of Jeremiah’s prophecy: let such but go into the sanctuary, as the Psalmist did, (in that 73d. psalm) retire themselves, consider the thing in the secret divine presence, and commune with God about the matter, and not with their own souls, nor consult with flesh and blood, and let them but consider such things as these, briefly,

(1.) Whether this matter of fact be ordinarily and generally true, that the case of good men is worse than that of wicked men in external respects. It is a matter that deserves to be considered and inquired wisely about; and certainly, upon inquiry, it will rather be found otherwise: that is, except in the paroxysm of persecution against instituted religion; (for it is very rare that men should be persecuted for natural but,) “if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus,” he must expect to “suffer persecution.” I say, except in some such paroxysm of persecution upon such an account, for Christianity itself, as to those that live among pagans, or for ibis or that institution of them that live among Christians, that case being excepted which is not constant; ordinarily, it appears evident that the better men are, the better their state and condition are in this world. Their religion obligeth them to that temperance, sobriety and diligence in their callings, prudent and discreet management of their affairs, that in ordinary cases it is most plain and manifest, that there are much fewer who are ruined by their religion, than that are ruined by their wickedness, by their riot, and by their debauchery; more persons, more estates, and more families are ruined that way, if there be but a survey taken of the state of things in this world: and the apostle offers this very consideration, (in that 1 Cor. x. 13. even to the very suffering christians of that time) “There hath no temptation,” (that is tentative affliction) “befallen you but what is common to men,” but what is human. It is true, the account is not common, but the matter of the affliction or the afflictions materially considered, are common to men. Are good men thrown into jails, and sometimes put to death for their religion? Truly, so are bad men for their wickedness, as frequently, and, if we should make a general computation, much more frequently. They suffer the same things very commonly, upon a less comfortable account. And,

(2.) Where this is really the very case, that the condition of good and holy men is, in this world, much worse than that of the worst men, as many times it is so; they are to consider the 130vastly different value of spiritual and temporal good things, and this is the great business of a christian, to labour to have that spiritual sense in exercise, by which to be able to discern between good and evil, and to prefer the things that are more excellent: as those two scriptures compared together speak; Heb. v. 14. and Phil. iii. 8. They ought to have their naked, unvitiated senses by which to discern between good and evil, and to abound in that judgment and sense, in all sense, by which they may distinguish the things that differ, and prefer (as that expression admits to be read) the things that are more excel lent. And then, how much greater is the value of a sound and well tempered mind and spirit, above that of all earthly and worldly accommodations and enjoyments imaginable, which are but the gratifications of our flesh and external sense, at best. And,

(3.) Such are to consider what is the experience of Christians of all times, concerning the aptitude and useful subserviency of external afflictions to inward and spiritual advantage: they say, when they are in their calmer, and more considering frames that it is good for them, that they were afflicted, and, that God hath done it in very faithfulness to them. And,

(4.) Lastly. It is God’s own declared end, in the temporal afflictions, he lets befal his, and therefore, would have them count it all joy, when they fall into divers temptations, that is, tentative afflictions. James i. 2. Count it all joy, because it made greatly for their perfection. The trial of your faith worketh patience, therefore, count it all joy; implying, there is more of real good in that one single excellency of patience, than can be of evil in all the external afflictions, absolutely resigned and submitted to the divine pleasure. Here is so much of an in choate heaven, such a heaven as our present state admits of, this one thing hath, as is riot only enough to make us patient, but joyful under the various temptations and trials of this kind, that we are apt to fall into, or lie under. And hereupon, where this sense hath been impressed upon the hearts of good men, they have thought the sufferings of the present time, were not worthy to be compared with the end of them, which was to be wrought out thereby, as in that, Rom. viii. 18. “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” This is my arithmetic, so I account, or this is my logic, so I reason s the word may be rendered either way, this is the rational estimate I make of this case, having turned it round, and viewed it on every side, and balanced things with things, that the sufferings of the present time, this now of time, this very point 131of time, are not worthy to be compared (alas, it is not to be named the same day,) to the glory that is to be revealed. It is as nothing in the account, as if we should weigh a feather against a mountain. This is my rational estimate and judgment in this case. And, that God doth design the afflictions of this present state, as a preparation for the future, and eternal state, we have most expressly laid down in that, 2 Cor. iv. 17. “The light afflictions which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It is a metathesis which is not usual in Scripture; do work for us, that is, indeed, do work us for it. And it is to be under stood, principally, of subjective glory, not objective; for that can never be more or less to any: it is essentially the same in itself with divine glory, but subjective glory, not objective, It is essentially the same in itself with divine glory; but subjective glory to be impressed, that is, more or less, according to the capacity and disposition of the subject. And we grow more capable, and are larger vessels, receptive of greater glory, as our temper is: and our temper is better, and made more receptive of larger and more glorious communications, even by the sufferings of this present time. By the light afflictions which are but for a moment, we are so much the more apt for the eternal weight of glory, which is to ensue; which we are not barely to be told, but to bear, answerable to the notion of weight. We are not only to be mere spectators of the glory there spoken of, but the subjects of it. And then, if this be all that God doth design by the afflictions that he lets befal good men here in this world, to refine them, to make them more partakers of his own holiness, and consequently of fuller glory, greater and higher measures of glory, is this any ground of taking up diminishing thoughts concerning his goodness? Yea, I might add,

It is that which his very relation doth oblige him to, even as he is our Father: your heavenly Father is perfect. For what a Father is he to us? Or in what sense is he Father to his own? He is the Father of their spirits; so his word speaks contradistinguishly of him, to the fathers of our flesh. Of the flesh we have other fathers. Heb. xii. 9. He is not the Father of our flesh; he is the Creator 6f it: but of our spirits he is the Father. He is the Father of them, both upon a natural and supernatural account, as they have his natural image, being intelligent and spiritual beings like his own: and, as his regenerate children, have his holy image renewed in them. Now the very relation doth oblige him (if he be a Father to us, that is, to our spirits,) more principally to mind the advantage of our spirits. That very relation doth not only admit, but require 132that he should let us suffer in our flesh, if it may be for the advantage of our spirits: and that this outward man should be beaten and shattered day by day, even unto perishing, if, while this is a doing and suffering, the inward man may be renewed day by day. He must take the principal care about that to which he is a Father. Affection must follow the relation; the relation is to our spirits, and the affection must be, principally, to our spirits.

But I shall insist no further on that part. It remains only to make somewhat of Use of what hath been said, especially touching this divine perfection of the goodness of God. And,

1. Be hereupon encouraged to cherish this apprehension concerning God, take heed that nothing ever shake your fixed belief and apprehension of this. And whatsoever reasonings do arise in your minds at any time, forelay this always, let it be always a thing forelaid in you. Yet God is good to Israel, as the Psalmist begins that 73 psalm. Nothing can be of greater importance, either to the liveliness and vigour, or even to the very substance and being of religion, than a fixed, stable apprehension of the divine goodness: that religion is nothing, the soul whereof is not love. If love be not the very soul of your religion, your religion is a carcass, an empty nothing. But that love may be the soul of it, there must be a constant apprehension of the loveliness of the object. Labour then to have your souls possessed always with a deep and fixed apprehension of the divine goodness. Contemplate it in every thing that you behold, in every thing that you enjoy, yea, even in the lessening and qualifying of those evils that you suffer. Go up and down this world with hearts full of this thought; “the whole earth is full of his goodness.” Collect all the instances you can of the goodness of God, and keep by that means, such an apprehension alive and in vigour concerning him. What a mighty spring would this be, of cheerful and joyful and pleasant religion. Let no thought arise, but let it meet with a seasonable check, if it tend to any diminution of divine goodness. And,

2. Preserve a worshipping, adoring frame of spirit Godward upon this very account, having your hearts full of this apprehension and sense; labour always to be in a posture of adoration, apt and ready always to look up, carrying that as a motto engraven on your hearts, “I am less than the least of all thy mercies.” And again,

3. Endeavour as much as in you is, accordingly to look upon that immediate promanation of the divine goodness, his law; that which issues, which’ proceeds so directly from the goodness of God. Esteem it to be what really it is, the product and image of the divine goodness. Look upon him 133as absolutely, universally perfect, and consider the reasonableness of what is said concerning this law, in correspondency thereunto. “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Psalm xix. 7. And considering this one single perfection of the Divine Being, his goodness, make a proportionable judgment concerning his law, in reference to that; that is, that it is an expression of his good and acceptable will: and labour, more and more, to prove that by a vital sense, by an experimental relish in your own spirits. O! how good is it to be what he would have me to be! what that most perfect rule of his doth require and oblige me to be. And,

4. Accordingly judge concerning the course of his providential dispensations. His law prescribes to us the way in which we are to walk; his providences make the way in which he walks; labour to apprehend goodness therein too. All his ways are mercy and truth. That is, you are to judge according to the series of his providences complexly taken, and as together they do make up one entire frame. And so, indeed, we are to make up our judgment concerning his law. Not by this or that particular precept, for it would be a very hard imposition upon the mind of a man, to judge and pronounce concerning the goodness of that command to pluck out the right eye, or cut off the right hand, or the right foot, abstractly taken, without reference to the conjunct precepts, and without reference to the end, to which, altogether, they refer. And so, if you look upon providence, you are not to pronounce concerning this or that, separately and apart, considered by itself. As you would not make a judgment of the goodness of a piece of arras by looking on it folded up, where you can only discern a piece of a leg, or a piece of an arm, it may be, or the limb of a tree, but look upon it unfolded, and there see the entire frame of it all at once. So consider the providences of God, in reference one to another, and in reference to their end in which all things shall finally issue, and into which they shall result, and you must say as the Psalmist doth, “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth. “Ancl as Moses, in that triumphant song of his, in the 32 Deut. where he tells us, in the beginning, his design was to publish the name of the Lord, that is, to represent the glory of his attributes; “Because (saith he) I will publish the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness to our God: He is the rock, his work is perfect.” Take all together, you will see it will be perfect work at length, entire, all of a piece; and that nothing could have been spared out of that series and chain of providence that compose and make up the whole course. And then,


5. Endeavour that your knowledge of God may be practical, vital, unitive and transforming, as touching this very thing, the divine goodness. O! how much to be lamented is it, that we should have such a notion of God in our minds to no purpose? the notion of so great a thing, a Being absolutely perfect and infinite, even in this perfection, goodness itself, immense goodness lying in our minds, idle, dead, useless and in vain; so that our hearts are in reference hereunto but a mere rasa tabula. There is a notion in our minds, but nothing correspondent impressed upon our hearts, such an apprehension of God as this, if it were vital, lively and operative, would transform us, make us aim continually to be such as he is, which I shall further press by and by. It would powerfully attract and draw us into union with him. What! shall I live at a distance from the Fountain of all goodness, immense goodness, goodness itself, love itself! God is love. He that believes the love of God, is hereupon drawn to dwell in God as he is love, considered under that notion, and so to have God to dwell in him; as the apostle expresseth it, 1 John iv. 16. What mighty influence would this have upon our whole course, if we did go with lively; operative, apprehensions up and down the world of the divine goodness! How should we disburden our souls of care! With what cheerfulness should we serve him! How little doubt should we have concerning the issue of things! of that glorious reward which a course of obedience, service, and fidelity to him, a little will be followed with at last. But that our knowledge of God, as to so great a thing as this, should be like no knowledge, as if we knew nothing, or as if we thought the quite contrary concerning him; methinks, this we should look upon as an insufferable thing, as a thing not to be endured, and so take up resolutions, dependant upon his grace, never to be at rest till our hearts were like this apprehension of God, that he is perfect in goodness. And hereupon further,

6. Make sure of your relation to him as your God, as your Father; and consider and contemplate his goodness with that very design, that you may be indeed stirred up to aim at coming, without more ado, into that relation. We do not much concern ourselves so seriously to inquire touching the character of a person with whom we are never to have to do, with whom we have no concern nor ever expect to have any. If we hear of any such as an excellent person, we hear such a thing of him with more indifferency of mind, “I do not know him, and I am like never to know him; and be as good and as excel lent as he will, I am never like to be the better for him.” But 133when I receive an account of one, as a most excellent person, who designs to adopt me at the same time for his son, and overtures are made to me for that purpose, I think myself highly concerned to inquire into the character of a person to whom I am to be related. And so should we consider the characters that we meet with of God; for we must either have him as our Father, or we must be children of a worse father, or of the worst of fathers. Therefore, this should be hearkened unto, your heavenly Father is perfect, perfectly good, perfect in goodness, upon this account, that overtures are made to me in order to my becoming one of his children: I am to come into his family; this is the thing that is proposed to me. And should not I labour to know what a one he is, and to contemplate the representation that is made to me of him, upon this account? And,

7. Consider with highest admiration and gratitude, the greatness, the privilege, that you are, or maybe so related. As the case is stated, if this be not, there is nothing wanting but your own willing and joyous acceptance of the overture, falling in with it, resigning and giving up yourselves most absolutely and entirely to him; and taking his Christ for yours; with him goes the sonship, that is, with the acceptance of his own eternal Son. John i. 12. “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed in his name.” And then, consider the greatness of the privilege, that you are, or may be thus related to the Most High God as a Father, to the best, most perfect, and most excellent of beings. You may have him for your Father, and perhaps you have him so already. How great a privilege is this! To have him for your Father is to have all. He that overcometh, shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Rev. xxi. 7. “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” God is to be your portion and inheritance, that if we suffer together with him (which is but a trifle, not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed) we may be also glorified together. Rom. viii. 17, 18. Methinks, this should run in our minds every day; we are cither related to this blessed One, as our Father, or we may be; we are invited and called by the gospel, (and it is the great design of this gospel) into this blessed state. Methinks, it should run in our minds all the day long, that that glorious and most excellent One, should look down from heaven upon such an. abject worm as I, and say to me, “Call me Father, take me for thy Father.” A heart that were full of the sense of this, would soon grow too big for all this world. What a trifle 136would this world be to that soul which were full of that sense; “God is become my Father, I have a Father in heaven, that doth whatsoever he will in heaven and in earth, and there is no withstanding him.” He can do what he will, and he will do nothing but what is kind and good to them that willingly consent to come into this comfortable relation to him. You see how distinguishingly such a case is spoken of in the next chapter, Mat. vi. in the latter end. Do not you so and so, like the gentiles. Do not torture yourselves with cares and thoughts, “what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, and what you shall put on,” and what shall become of your affairs and concerns in the world, and the like: the gentiles do so: after these things do the gentiles seek; but your heavenly Father knows what you. need; you have a Father in heaven that knows all your concernments, and that minds all of them, with all wisdom, and all the tenderness and kindness imaginable, I would not have you be as if you had no Father, to put yourselves into the same condition with pagans and outcasts, and those that are without God in the world. And then,

8. Lastly; Imitate God in his imitable perfections, and especially in this his goodness. I say, imitate him with all the goodness that is possible, in all his perfections: “Be ye perfect, for your heavenly Father is perfect.” So I would shut up, bringing the exhortation in the text, and inferring reason together. And pray drive it to this one particular thing, to which the context draws and claims it, that is, unto love: and even unto such love as shall reach enemies themselves. You very well know, that God could have shewn no love at all to any in all this world, but he must shew it to an enemy: all were in enmity and rebellion against him. “The carnal mind Js enmity against God.” And this world was only possessed with such inhabitants, all sunk in carnality and earthliness, and deep oblivion of God, and full of anger and displeasure, upon being put in mind that there is One that claims a right over them, and that would have all their thoughts and their love: this they cannot endure; this carnalized race of creatures cannot bear this. “For the carnal mind is enmity against God.” And he could never have been kind to men but he must be kind to enemies. For all were become his enemies, affected liberty, and could not endure the thought that there should be a power and a Lord to prescribe to them. I pray, let us labour to imitate this great perfection of the divine goodness, even in this very application of it to enemies. This is the beauty and the glory of the Christian religion, the thing wherein it excels the precepts of the most refined paganism, and of 137that which was higher, (as it was grown,) Judaism itself. “You have heard that it was said” of old time, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thy enemy:” (as it is in the context) “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” I never expect the Christian religion to flourish much in this world, till this appear and be exercised as the common temper of christians. They are to be such a sort of men, as that all the world may be the better for. If you express never so much of unkindness towards them, if you use them hardly, they will bless you, they will pray for you, they will do you all the good they can, all the good and kind offices in their power. When this spirit comes to be revived among men, it will make the Christian religion (as I may say) grassari, mightily to prevail and grow upon the world. The world must fall before such a sort of men as this. But that it will never do while, in this respect, christians are just like other men, as wrathful, as vindictive, as full of rage, and as full of revenge as any body else. Christian religion must grow upon the world, by things that will strike the sense, that incur the most sensible observation of men. Every one can tell and sees it when one is kind to them, and when they have good returned for evil. But there are two things most directly opposite to this temper, which christians are wont too frequently to overlook, never to animadvert upon: the one is,

(1.) When they let their hearts tumultuate with too great fervour and anger against men, upon account of their profaneness and irreligiousness; and they think themselves warranted so to do: such a one is a wicked man, an open, visible enemy against God and Christ, a rebel against heaven. And so they allow themselves to let wrath have its vent and liberty towards such men, and upon such occasions. It was a great deal of zeal for Christ, that the disciples discovered, when they would have had fire to fall down from heaven to vindicate his cause upon those Samaritans that would not receive him into their town. But, saith Christ, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of.” This is quite another thing from that spirit which I intend to introduce into the world, and which must breathe in, and animate, the religion that I am setting on foot among men. The other is,

(2.) Their confining their kindness and respects to men of such and such a character, to this or that party. It is a temper more grossly remote, more vastly different from what is enjoined upon us here; and the thing that our Saviour animadverts 138upon in this context, as that wherein we do not only not exceed the pharisees as such, but even publicans themselves, ver. 20. We are told, that except our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of God: not even into the initial kingdom. As if he had said, “Ye are not fit for the Christian state, you do not come within the confines of Christianity, real Christianity, if your righteousness do not exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. But when men do confine their respects and the kindness of their hearts to a party, this is not only to outdo the pharisees, but even publicans and sinners, for they do so; if you love and salute them that love and salute you, if you are kind to them that are kind to you, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans and sinners the same? But “be ye perfect;”—(that is the contexture of this discourse) “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

And so I have done with what I designed upon this subject, of the divine perfections or attributes; the next we come in course to, will be that of the divine decrees and purposes of God: and more especially concerning men, and with reference to them.

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