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1. From the works of creation and Providence, which come within our own view and observation, there is great reason to conclude, that the Author and Governor of the world, is a most benevolent being.
This, at least, appears to have been the opinion of holy men of old, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Paul and Barnabas, exhorting the men of Lystra to turn from pagan idols, to serve the living God, that made heaven and earth; who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, tell them, Acts xiv. 17, "Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons." Left not himself without witness of what? Of his goodness, as well as of his existence, is most evidently meant. So in the first chapter of Romans, speaking of heathen nations, which had only the light of nature, the apostle says, "That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and God-head: so that they are without excuse Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” It is here plainly supposed, that these Gentiles had sufficient evidence set before them in the works of creation, had they duly attended to it, to have covinced them, not only of the being and power of God, but also of his goodness. For, otherwise, how could they have been without excuse, in not glorifying him as God, or in not being thankful to him? One entitled to our gratitude, or worthy to be glorified, must be good, and not merely great.
David, likewise, long before, appears to have been of opinion that God's moral perfections, and particularly his goodness, might be learnt from his works, were men disposed to pay a proper attention to them,
and willing to believe the truth. He says, Psal. xix. 1-4, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work: Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."
But can the glory of God be thus declared, when no convincing evidence is given of his goodness? Can one who is not good, however infinite his understanding and power, be a glorious being? But in another Psalm, it is said expressly, "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." And in another, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom thou hast made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great.These all wait upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good."
And if we attentively consider the various capacities of animals, and more especially of mankind, for usefulness and enjoyment; and what suitable provision is every where made for their support and comfort, must we not be forcibly struck with the evidence thence arising, that the Creator and Preserver of all is a benevolent being?
It is true, we observe and experience a great deal of evil. But then, in many instances, we easily see that evil is the occasion of good; and good which we know not how it could have been brought about so well, if at all, in any other way. Generally, benevolent design is apparent through the works of creation and Providence. And though there be some creatures and events which have a contrary appearance, or which seem designed for doing hurt rather than good; yet this may well be imputed to our
ignorance of their uses and ends. Thus reason, with a very little modesty, might lead us to believe, if we had only the light of nature. But,
2. From the law and the prophets, we have much further evidence of the goodness of God, and greater reason to be satisfied that his nature is love.
All the precepts of the moral law, contained in the scriptures of the Old Testament, are evidently dictated by universal benevolence. That law enjoins nothing but what is beneficial, and forbids nothing but what is hurtful, not only to others, but even to ourselves. It is easy to see that the law, in every commandment of it, is good, as well as holy and just. It may easily be seen that "love is the fulfilling of the law" or that all the law and the prophets are comprehended in these two commandments; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Now the law of God, it must be supposed, is perfectly agreeable to his nature. Bad earthly rulers may, indeed, sometimes enact good laws. They may be obliged to do so, for the sake of their own popularity or safety. But can it be thought that an Almighty Legislator, who is absolutely independent, and who has nothing to fear from any of his subjects, would have given a system of laws enjoining that in which he himself delighteth not? or one not perfectly expressive of his own disposition?
3. The gospel, gives us still more abundant evidence of God's infinite goodness.
In this, he hath made known to us a wonderful way provided for sinners to escape the wrath to come, and to inherit eternal life. In this we have the strongest proof, of God's infinite concern for the good of creatures who hated him without a cause, and were justly hateful to him; and, at the same time, of his infinite concern for the support of that just
government, which is necessary for the general good of the universe. "In this was manifested the love of God," as it follows immediately after our text, "because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
In the gospel, also, much light is given respecting the permission of sin and misery; and concerning other things in the ways of God, which, without this clue, might have forever appeared dark and inexplicable. See 2 Tim. i. 10, "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." And Eph. iii. 10, "To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God."
In the gospel we are informed of the happy issue of present dark appearances; and that, by the fall and redemption of men, a wise plan is executing in the Providence of God, for the most glorious display, of his power, justice and grace, to the eternal admiration and increased happiness of all the holy part of the intelligent creation; and for thus, out of partial evil, producing the greatest universal good.
4. I know of nothing in the scriptures of the Old or New-Testament, which is not fairly reconcilable with believing, that God is love-the most perfect universal benevolence.
It is said, indeed, "For his pleasure, all things are, and were created." But it is his pleasure to do good.
God says, of every one called by his name, "I have created him for my glory: I have formed him, yea, I have made him." But it is for his glory to
create beings capable of enjoying good; to form them for happiness, and to make them happy.
It is said, "The Lord hath made all things for bimself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” But by the former part of this saying of Solomon, we need not understand, that God had an exclusive regard to himself in creation; so as to have no ultimate respect to the happiness of his creatures. That their good was one thing he had ultimately in view in creating many of them, we are plainly taught in the scriptures: though we are also there taught, that he regards himself, or his own glory, as the chief end of all his works. An ultimate end, is any thing which an agent aims at for its own sake, in however low a degree. There can be but one chief end of any action or undertaking; but ultimate ends there may be many. For instance, a man may build a house for himself, as the principal thing in view; and yet he may design it for the comfort of his family, for the accommodation of his friends occasionally, and for the lodging of strangers. The good of each of these others, may be an object in itself; and not merely in subserviency to the personal interest or honor of the owner and builder. So, it may very consistently be supposed, that God made all things for himself, as the chief end; while he had yet respect to the happiness of the creatures made, in different degrees, as an ultimate end. And if this were the case, as we are abundantly assured it was, he is then not to be thought selfish, as men count selfishness. Some have no ultimate object besides themselves, in any thing they do others make self their object, beyond what is equal and just. But neither of these need be supposed, or is to be understood, in regard to God. He values the good of all his creatures, in itself considered. He aims at their happiness as an ultimate object and he seeks his own glory above every thing else, no more than in equal proportion to its real superior importance.