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THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
Thou art good, and doest good.
- PSALM cxix 68
David was early and intimately acquainted with God. From his youth he delighted to contemplate upon the works
of God, and to trace all secondary causes to the first and supreme cause.
While he watched his flocks by night, and surveyed the shining orbs above, his pious heart led him to exclaim in the language of joy and praise, “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work.” He had an eye to see God in the works of providence, as well as in the works of creation. And the longer he observed the divine conduct towards himself and towards the rest of mankind, the more he was convinced of the goodness of God. He was able to say from his own experience and observation, in his nearest approach to God, “Thou art good, and doest good.” The plain import of these words is,
That God's goodness moves him to do good. I shall,
Goodness is the same in God as in man. In man it comprises every amiable, moral quality of the heart, and signifies the same as general benevolence, which is the essence of every virtuous or holy affection. There are benevolent and selfish affections; goodness consists in benevolent affections, and badness in selfish ones. God is love, and all his goodness consists in love; which is something entirely distinct from his power, or knowledge, or any other natural perfection. It is his heart. VOL. IV.
Goodness in every moral being lies in his heart, and consists in benevolent affections. But though the goodness of God lies in his heart, and consists in benevolent affections, yet, in various respects, it is superior to the goodness of all other beings. For,
1. His goodness is absolutely pure, and free from every thing of a selfish or sinful nature. Though some men are really good in this life, yet their goodness is mixed with a great deal of evil. Their benevolent affections do not flow in a constant, uninterrupted stream; but are often obstructed by unholy and unfriendly affections. They do not always feel the same love to God, nor the same love to man. Their hearts are composed of discordant and diametrically opposite exercises. Their goodness is like the morning cloud and early dew, which soon vanisheth away. But the goodness of God is constant, uninterrupted, and entirely free from every discordant affection. No selfish feeling ever existed in his heart. His heart is all goodness, and full of holy, kind, and benevolent affections. He is in scripture called the Holy One. His holiness consists in his goodness, and his goodness is without the least alloy, or impure mixture of unholiness, unrighteousness, injustice, or malevolence.
2. His goodness is not only pure, but permanent. The immutability of his goodness results from the immutability of his existence and natural attributes. His existence is immutable, because it is necessary and independent; and his power, knowledge, and wisdom are equally independent and necessary. And since his existence and all his natural attributes are immutable, we cannot see any cause or reason for any change in his goodness. All created beings are dependent in respect to their existence, and all their natural powers and faculties; therefore we can easily conceive that after they have possessed pure goodness, they may become partially or totally destitute of it. There is nothing incredible in the account we have of the angels, who kept not their first estate. Though they were created perfectly holy and good, yet they might lose their perfect goodness, and become entirely sinful. There is nothing incredible in the first apostacy of our first parents. Though they were formed in the moral image of their Maker, and were possessed of a pure heart, yet they were dependent for the continuance, as well as for the first existence of their moral rectitude. But we cannot conceive of any thing either without or within a self-existent and independent Being that should be a cause of intercepting, diminishing or destroying his goodness. We may therefore justly conclude that his goodness is permanent and immutable as his existence. David expressly declares that his goodness is unchangeable and everlasting. In the
hundred and thirty-sixth psalm, he devoutly and gratefully cries, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” And he repeats the declaration more than twenty-five times in this psalm. In the fifty-second psalm, he expressly asserts, “ The goodness of God endureth continually." And to the friends of God he says, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good: his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." His saithfulness cannot fail, because his goodness cannot fail; and both are permanent and immutable, as his necessary and eternal existence.
3. His goodness is universal, as well as pure and permanent. The goodness of men and angels is limited. It cannot extend any farther than their knowledge extends; and their knowledge is very imperfect. But God's knowledge is universal and unbounded. He knows himself and all his creatures, whether rational or irrational, and regards them all with a benevolent and impartial eye. He is good to the just and to the unjust, and to ihe meanest creature in the air, the earth, and the ocean. He is good to the fowls of heaven, the beasts of the earth, the fish of the sea, and to every living creature. He sees them all at one intuitive, comprehensive view, and feels truly benevolent to them all. He is, strictly speaking, “good unto all; and his tender mercies are over all his works.” He stands in the same relation to all his creatures, and feels the same kind and benevolent affections towards them all. His goodness pervades and fills the universe.
4. His goodness is perfect in degree, as well as in purity, permanency, and universality. His goodness bears proportion to all his other attributes. His benevolent feelings as much surpass the benevolent feelings of any or all of his creatures, as his power, his knowledge, and his wisdom surpass theirs. He loves with all his heart, with all his mind, and with all his strength. In this respect there is none good but God. His goodness, in point of strength and ardor, is infinitely superior to the goodness of any benevolent creature in the universe. Yea, there is a greater amount of goodness in one exercise of his benevolence, than in all the benevolent feelings of all benevolent creatures, through every period of their existence. loves his creatures infinitely more than they ever did, or ever will love him, or one another. I now proceed to show,
II. That the goodness of God moves him to do good. The psalmist ascribes the goodness of his conduct to the goodness of his heart.Thou art good, and doest good."
*« ” It is the heart that moves every intelligent being to act. A good heart
cannot fail to move a good being to do good. We have shown that God is a good being, and his heart governs all the other perfections of his nature, and lays him under a moral necessity of employing all his knowledge, wisdom and power to gratify his benevolent desires. Though the heathen philosophers, and many other learned men, have been ready to imagine that an eternal, independent, and perfectly happy being would have no possible motive to act, or produce any effect, yet it is much easier to conceive of his activity than of his inactivity. Goodness, or pure benevolence, is the most active principle in nature. We cannot conceive that an infinitely powerful and intelligent being, possessed of perfect benevolence, should never employ his wisdom and power to answer any benevolent purpose; or how God should exist from eternity to eternity, without displaying his great and glorious attributes in doing good. This then leads me to observe,
1. The goodness of God must have moved him to form, before the foundation of the world, the best possible method of doing the greatest possible good. His goodness must have moved him to employ his wisdom in the best possible manner. And it is the proper province of wisdom to form wise designs; that is, to devise the best ends, and the best means to accomplish them. The wisdom of God enabled him to discover, among all possible modes of doing good, that which was absolutely the best, and his perfect goodness disposed him to adopt that best mode of operation. Divine goodness laid the divine Being under a moral necessity of forming all his purposes of doing good as early as possible. When he saw what was best for him to do, he was morally obliged to do it; and he could no more neglect to determine to do all that his infinite wisdom saw best to be done, than he could cease to be perfectly wise and good. Not to determine to do the greatest good when he clearly saw what it was, would have been inconsistent with his perfect rectitude. As the goodness of God must have moved him to act, so it must have moved him to determine to act in the wisest and best manner, or to do the greatest good. There being no defect in his wisdom, nor in his goodness, nor in his power, these perfections united must have moved him to devise, fix and determine, the best possible way of doing the greatest good. It was impossible for God who was perfectly wise and good, to devise and adopt à plan of operation, which was not the best that could be devised and adopted. For the least defect or imperfection in the divine purposes would argue a natural or moral defect in his character. So that we may safely conclude that the perfect, immutable, and universal goodness of God did actually move him to devise and adopt the best possible method of doing the greatest possible good, before the foundation of the world.
2. The perfect goodness of God must have moved him to bring into existence the best possible system of intelligent creatures. It must have moved him to give existence to the best number of beings. The number could not be infinite, but must be limited. And in the limitation, there was room for the display of perfect wisdom and goodness, to devise and fix upon the best possible number. He must have fixed the exact number of angels, of men, and of animals, as well as the exact number of the heavenly luminaries and material objects. He must have determined what variety there should be in the natural and moral qualities of the moral system to make it the most perfect. And he must have determined to make just such a natural and moral world as he has actually made.
3. The goodness of God continually moves him to exert his power and wisdom in governing all his creatures and all his works in the wisest and best manner. His perfect goodness makes him the most active being in the universe. He is neither weary nor faint. He never slumbers nor sleeps. He constantly does all that is necessary for him to do, in order to govern the whole creation in the wisest and best manner. He is actively concerned in all the good that is done in every part of the universe. He guides the hands and hearts of all his creatures in all the good they do, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Notwithstanding the stupidity, ingratitude and disobedience of multitudes of his intelligent creatures, his goodness prompts him to pour down the blessings of his providence upon them in constant and copious streams. He satisfies the desires of every living creature, and fills the mouths of all mankind with food and gladness. He bestows as many and as great favors upon this sinful world as it is morally possible for him to bestow. He treats every individual creature as well as the good of his great system will allow. His impartial goodness leads him to regard the whole more than a part, and to govern individuals in subserviency to the good of his whole family in heaven and on earth. Though the goodness of God moved him to do great good in the works of creation, yet it has moved him to do unspeakably more good in the works of providence. He has been doing good every moment in every part of the universe for nearly six thousand years; nor is there a rational or irrational creature that has ever existed, but has felt the influence of his universal and constant goodness. But it may be farther observed,
4. That the perfect goodness of God must move him to make the intelligent universe as holy and happy as possible,