« VorigeDoorgaan »
hearing, the same skill will teach you how sound is propagated through the air, how the drum of the ear receives the stroke, how the auditory passage carries it to the brain. There can be no doubt either of the contrivance or object of it. The same of our smelling, tasting, speech, hands, and feet, and all our beneficial faculties. But now ask after any disease, or pain, or infirmity, and I defy any man to show you the train of contrivance to bring about, or contribute to that end. Ask after the gout, the stone ; no anatomy could ever show you a system of vessels or organization calculated to produce these. Can any say, this gland is to secrete the humor which forms the gout? this bag is to contain, this duct is to convey and disperse it round the body? And the like holds of any maladies of the human body. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching inay be incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it; or let it be called a defect in the contrivance, it is not the object of it. And this observation extends to many evils which are beside our subject. It is true of earthquakes, volcanos; they all show the effect of a visible train of contrivances. Now contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The disposition of the designer is to be judged of, not from the accidental effects of the contrivance, not from the inseparable consequences of the contrivance, nor from any other defect where it may be supposed liable to any, but from the end, aim, and object of the contrivance, which, in the works of nature, or, in other words, in the works of God, are always beneficial.
What I would add, by way of a concluding remark, is this ; that if there be other evils, which do not fall within the above observation, if there be the unmerited misery of the good and pious, and the still more unaccountable prosperity of the wicked, is it not more than probable that there will come a time when God will, as he certainly can, rectify the irregularity? Are not the thousand and ten thousand proofs of bounty and benevolence, which we see about us, enough to found a persuasion that the few examples which seem of a contrary cast will hereafter be cleared up, and contemplated so as to reduce the whole to one entire and uniform plan of love, and kindness, and good will to the work of his almighty hand ?
THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
Psalm XXXIII. 5.
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Having explained the argument by which the goodness of our Almighty Governor is proved from the light of nature; or, in other words, from those specimens of his intentions which we are able to observe, connect, and comprehend, in the world around us; I shall now proceed to state some of the many declarations of revelation, in which the same divine attributes, though under various forms, names, and modifications, are repeated and described. And these are material to be known and stated; for whatever intimation and reasonable evidence of God's goodness the order of the universe may furnish to a contemplative mind, it must be acknowledged that pointed proofs of the same kind are to be found in the revealed word of God, and the fidelity and certainty of that word is, in return, also proved by the light of nature ; for it is not conceivable, nor contended indeed by any, that a being who, in such remarkable instances, had testified his love to his rational creatures, and care for their happiness, should go about, by mysterious attempts, to mislead and deceive them in accounts of that which most nearly concerns them, and in which it is impossible for them to detect the deceit.
Now, the divine goodness, as it is excited towards the human species, parts itself into six great branches, justice, bounty, fidelity patience, placability, mercy; these all spring from the same root, the divine desire and provision for the happiness of his creatures; in other words, the love of God. We will now see what the scriptures have to tell us of each of them.
The justice of the Deity is the foundation of all religion; yet this was a point in which the apprehensions of many in ancient times labored under some uncertainty. Many of the vulgar, and some of the wise men, conceived of the Deity as not regulating the treatment of his creatures by any steady rules of justice, but as bestowing his favors capriciously, and actuated entirely by partial affections, such as we feel and conceive
towards one another. The scriptures, however, of the Old Testament strenuously combat this error, and describe him as a God of perfect righteousness, equity and justice. The song of Moses, as recorded in the thirtysecond chapter of Deuteronomy, and which some men have called the dying words of that illustrious lawgiver, begins with the subject; ‘I will publish the name of the Lord ; ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and righteous is he.' The book of Job was written expressly to vindicate the justice of God in those trying circumstances in which the impatience and infirmity of human nature is most apt to question it; in the calamity and affliction with which he is pleased to visit us. Certain expressions of that book are full to our purpose. •Far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should commit iniquity; for the works of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways. Yea, surely, God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.'
• Justice and judgment,' saith David, ' are the habitation of thy throne.' The Jews had been led to suspect what may be called the personal justice of God, in that he visited upon the children the iniquity of the fathers, or, as the proverb expresses it, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. The prophet Ezekiel, in the eighteenth chapter of that book, is authorized in the name of Almighty, God so far to repel the charges, as to show that the final destiny, the ultimate happiness or misery of each individual, was to depend upon his own conduct and behaviour, and nothing else ; · Behold, all souls are mine ; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Yet, saith the house of Israel, the ways of the Lord are unequal. Are not my ways equal, are not your ways une
The New Testament I shall quote for the two fundamental articles of divine justice, the future punishment of vice without respect of persons or station, and the future reward of virtue. • Thou treasurest up wrath,' saith St Paul, “ against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile ; but glory, and honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile; for there is no respect of persons with God.' Again, in another place, 'God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labor of love which ye have shown. These are satisfactory accounts of the divine justice; and it may be observed, that there is no foundation, in these accounts, for the opinion that justice is one thing in God, and another thing in man; and though we understand what justice means between man and man, we can argue nothing from that concerning the divine justice. This may be exceedingly different, though the expression describes the same quality in God, which we call justice in man; for suppose you were describing a just judge, or a just king, what else would you say of him, but that he rendered to every man according to his labor, that he forgot no man's work and labor, that he conferred glory, honor, and peace upon them that did good, tribulation and anguish upon them that worked evil, and this without respect or distinction of persons. This is the way you would describe justice in a man, and this is what the scripture says of God.
Next to the justice of God is his bounty, which is ascending one degree higher in the scale of goodness; for it is possible to be strictly just without generosity; and generosity built upon justice is an advance in moral excellence. But here I admit that it is not in the word of God we are disposed to seek for evidence of the divine bounty ; for no assurance, from however high authority, can persuade us that God is bountiful to his creatures, till we actually realize and feel this bounty ; nor need we look far; our bodies, our limbs and senses, our reason and faculties, the field, the air, the ocean, every flower, every animal; the lilies clothed with his vesture, the young raven fed by his hand, the young of every animal delighted with its existence, sporting amidst the gratification which God has provided for them all, provided by his power, contrived by his wisdom, fostered by his continual protection ; such unmerited and unasked for instances, require no additional amplification or authority from scripture. The scriptures, however, though they cannot add to the evidence of nature, agree with it.
He is there a God abundant in goodness, of great kindness, who will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly, who exerciseth loving kindness in the earth, who giveth unto all men liberally, and upbraideth not. One great addition, indeed, the scriptures make to the appearance of nature; one instance they unfold of divine bounty; one gift they tell us of which nature knows not; in that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should have everlasting life;' upon which St Paul remarks very reasonably and justly, that if he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also freely give us all things ?'
Another mark of the divine goodness, of infinite importance to us, is the divine fidelity in performing his promises, and bringing about what he has declared and threatened. This is a branch of benevolence, for true benevolence will not deceive. The divine constancy and veracity is finely expressed in that exclamation of the prophet Balaam; 'God is not a man that. he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it; or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?' Moses was careful to represent the God of Israel to that people, as a being in whose truth and faith they might implicitly depend; Know, therefore, that the Lord thy God he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him.' This was before they entered into the land of Canaan, and the arduous undertaking of subduing the inhabitants. Afterwards, when that business was accomplished, by a train of surprising miracles and assistances, Joshua, in his exhortation before his death, reminds them how signally and circumstantially the word of God had been fulfilled, and his truth maintained through all the awful scenes to which they had been witnesses ; .You know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not any thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God hath spoken among you ; all things are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed.' 'A God of truth,' a God of faithfulness, are titles perpetually ascribed to the Deity in the psalms and prophets; He will ever be mindful of his covenant;' He will not suffer his faithfulness to fail, and his truth endureth to all generations. The New Testament speaks in the same strain, with this difference, that it applies the faithfulness of God to our spiritual concerns; whereas the Old Testament has chiefly natural and temporal blessings and curses in view. . God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.' But above all, that divine consolation to all whose sufferings and needs tempt them to mistrust God; 'Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls unto him as unto: a willing and faithful creator.'