Page images

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 unequal 2' - 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 o'

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.”

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 nature, 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 no 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

« PreviousContinue »