« PreviousContinue »
Another quality of the divine goodness to which the best are indebted, and by which alone the bad are permitted to continue in existence, is his patience and longsuffering. In that awful conference upon the Mount Sinai, between the Lord and Moses, when the commandments were delivered, God is pleased to introduce himself with a description of his own pature, which comprises this and many of the particulars we are now explaining; And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed ; The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by 00 means clear the guilty.' Thou, O Lord,' says the holy David,
art a God full of compassion and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.' After the building of the second temple, in the time of Zechariah, the nation of the Jews made solemn confession and thanksgiving to Almighty God, in which they acknowledged, as well they might, his exceeding bounty, forbearance, and longsuffering with that people. Our fathers,' say they, dealt proudly, and hardened themselves, and hearkened not to thy commandments; but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsakedst them not.' But is he a God of the Jews only ? are not all mankind the objects of his charity? The Lord is longsuffering towards all; namely, to all his human creatures, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Again ; Despisest thou,' says St Paul to the impenitent Jews, the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering?'.
Another propitious circumstance in the divine goodness is his placability and readiness to forgive the offences which are committed against him; but this must always be considered as subject to one condition, the repentance of the offender; for otherwise this attribute would undo and defeat all the rest; for a perfect facility of unconditional forgiveness would prove such an excuse for great wickedness, as would fill the world with misery and disorder. But placability, such as is consistent with the order of a moral governor studious for the happiness of the whole, is ascribed to God in both Testaments. It was not unknown to the Old, and the New is full of it; the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel is direct as to the first ; "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die ; all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him; in his
righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live?' The New Testament is full of it; Christ came to preach repentance and remission of sins, to seek and to save that which was lost; his baptism was the baptism of repentance; the great offer that both Christ and his apostles held out to the converts was forgiveness of the sins which were past, on faith and amendment. The fifth chapter of St Luke sets forth the complacency with which God receives returning sinners in a variety of forms; it is with the satisfaction with which a father receives a miserable and repenting child; · Verily I say unto you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.'
The last branch of divine goodness we consider is his mercy; mercy, in the common and general sense of the text, comprehends all those benevolent qualities which we have noticed. It is another name for his goodness. But there is one particular instance and exercise of mercy which is all I need name; and this is his tenderness and compassion to our infirmities, and the disadvantages of our state and condition ; Like as a father pitieth his own children,' saith the psalmist, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him ; for he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are but dust. St Paul, in the second chapter of the Ephesians, describes the future condition, both of himself, and of those whom he wrote to before their call and conversion to Christianity; Among whom we all had conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; but God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.'
Upon the whole, therefore, here is Almighty God described in the words which he himself, and his holy spirit, dictate and authorize. He is described as supremely good; and if any one asks what his goodness consists in, we answer that the scripture teaches us to place it in justice to his rational creatures, in dealing with every one according to his deserts, punishing the impenitent and unrighteous, remembering and rewarding our works and labors of love, in loving the whole creation; for, throughout the whole world, there is not a corner in which some instance of kind contrivance and provision for their happiness is not found ; in fidelity to his word, his promises and threats, in patience and longsuffering with our sins and provocation, in placability, or a disposition to pardon whenever pardon is consistent with the end and support of his
moral government; and lastly, in compassion and mercy to our infirmities and feelings, in condescension to the difficulties and defects under which we labor, in accepting and remembering our struggles with temptation, our feeble endeavours, if they are sincere, after amendment, our progress, though but very imperfect, in obedience and reformation.
THE ILLS OF LIFE DO NOT CONTRADICT THE
GOODNESS OF GOD.
Romans X. 23.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.
A child, if it reflect, will often be at a loss to account for the behaviour of its parents towards it; and a peevish and perverse child will often murmur and complain ; yet the same child, when it becomes a man, and looks back upon its youth and infancy, will see nothing in its parent's treatment of it but the greatest prudence and affection; will then discover the reason and the justice of what it once complained of, and discern the end and meaning of many things which at that time appeared so intricate and unaccountable. This hereafter may be our case, and probably will be so. We must wait for the great day of Christ's coming again, for the further enlargement of our understandings and more perfect comprehensioa of these subjects. In the mean time, nevertheless, many considerations which may conduce to set us at ease, and inspire us with trust and confidence in God's providence and goodness, are fit to be known and attended to.
To proceed, therefore; many of the complaints which we make against Providence are of such a nature as, one may say, can never be satisfied, and are therefore manifestly unreasonable; as, for instance, when we complain of the want of greater strength than we have, or of superior knowledge, or longer life, or immortality, or that we cannot move ourselves with greater speed, or get through our work in less time or with less trouble ; what is this but, in other words, to wish that we had been cre
ated angels? which is all one as if a brute, a horse, for instance, or a dog, should murmur that it was not born a man. The absurdity of this we see immediately. In like manner, a superior being, or an angel, might as well complain that it was not formed an archangel; and the archangel itself would have the same reason to complain that it was inferior to the Supreme Being who made it. Now all these complaints are of a kind, as I said before, never to be satisfied; for so long as there is any thing above us, which there always must be, any perfection we do not possess, any, however, that we can form a notion of, there would be the same reason for these complaints. Suppose a brute to complain that it has not the faculties or reason of a man ; in other words, that it is not a man. Suppose its own complaint gratified, suppose it to succeed, and the brute to become a man; would it cease to complain? Might it not still answer that it was without the properties and perfections of an angel? at least, it would have the same reason for its murmuring that we have. The evils, then, complained of, are called by divines the evils of imperfection; and it is agreed, I think, by all, that they are to be laid out of the case, as conveying no possible imputation upon the divine wisdom or goodness; for a complaint which cannot be satisfied, and which you must go on for ever with, must evidently be groundless and unreasonable in its principle. So then, the defects and imperfections of our nature are what Providence, so far as we can judge, must permit, and should never be repined at, nor any of the consequences of them ; which will take in a great part of our complaints, for many of them may be traced up to this.
The next consideration I shall propose, which makes a very material part of the subject, is this; that God thinks fit, and very wisely too, as we can in some measure understand, to govern the world by general rules and laws, which, however, like all general rules, must sometimes press hard upon individuals, and produce particular inconveniences. I will explain, as well as I can, what I mean by these general rules. There are, first, what we call laws of nature, which are in general observed to take place without interruption or regard to each particular effect that they may produce. Thus, by the law of nature, the sun rises and shines, though he shine perhaps on the fields of the wicked as well as the good. By the same law, a certain state of the air, which also is brought on by other regular causes, produces rain; rain, when it falls, swells the rivers ; the rivers, when they swell, may overflow and damage or lay
waste the neighbouring fields; and this falls equally on the vir. tuous and the sinner. All this comes to pass in consequence of the regular course of nature being suffered to take place ; and God does not see fit to interrupt or suspend this course for the particular prejudice that it may occasion to individuals. In like manner the tide ebbs and flows according to the constant order of its nature, though it may, thereby obstruct, it may happen, the ships of the good and virtuous merchant, or carry safe into port the wealth and property of those who little deserve it. We perceive, then, reason in such things as are constant and regular, as the flowing of the tides, the return of the seasons, and the like; but do not see resemblances of it in the more varied parts of nature, as winds and storms, hail and thunder and lightning, though there is the same reason for it, because these as much depend upon their causes, and are as much gove erned by a law, though unknown to us, as the other.
Now although great particular inconveniences may sometimes arise from these general laws of nature, yet I think it will be found to be for the common benefit of the world that they should be permitted to prevail; and for this reason amongst others, that it is upon their prevailing, that is, upon the course of nature going regularly on, that all the foresight we have of future events depends. We act, and determine, we prepare, we provide, in the expectation of those laws of nature going on as they have done; nor is it conceivable how we could act, prepare, or provide, if it was otherwise. How would the mariner, for instance, order his navigation, or settle bis voyage, if the flowing of the tide or blowing of the wind was to depend upon the convenience of the good and virtuous? How would the husbandman sow or plough either in hope or safety, if the rain must fall and sun shine only when it suited the grounds of the righteous and good ? It is easy to imagine what confusion must arise from so much irregularity and uncertainty. It is evidently to the advantage of the whole, that such a general order of things should be appointed and maintained in the world, that in what concerns our conduct and subsistence, we may look forward to, and form a judgment of, futurity. Though here we inust speak with caution. We intend not to say but that God can control and suspend the ordinary course of nature, direct the winds and storms, give or withhold the rain when be pleases, and as he pleases; nor do we dispute but that he often does so; sometimes openly, oftener when we do not know it. We may say, that he has appointed general rules and regular courses of things, and permits it to a certain degree, so as to