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Benedict Pictet on God’s General Goodness and Love

September 26, 2007

Pictet:

With regard to what are called affection, although they do not properly exist in God, seeing they are connected with the ideas of passion or emotion, which argues weakness and mutability, and therefore would be contrary to the supreme happiness of God, yet are they attributed to him in the scripture, which speaks to men in their own style; but they do not designate, any passions or emotions, nor are to be understood as different wills or inclinations in the Deity, (for this would imply a changeableness in him,) but as acts of the same will, and denoting different relations of it. We will speak of the principal affections; and, first, of goodness. Now we call goodness that affection in God, by which he is inclined to communicate himself to his creatures. The scripture every where declares it, (Psalm xxxvi:6, 7; lxxiii.1; Acts xiv. 17); and even the heathen called their Jupiter Optimus Maximus, (very good and great); and, as Cicero observes, he is called optimus before maximus, because it is a greater and more acceptable thing, to do good to all, than to possess the greatest power. The first act of God’s goodness in time is creation; and because what is produced always depends on what produces it, the second act of goodness is preservation. This goodness, moreover, is either general, which embraces all creatures, or special, which regards human creatures, and most special, which regards the elect. Nor should it seem strange that God is not equally good towards his creatures, for in this inequality is displayed his sovereign freedom and dominion.

From the goodness springs the love of God, by which God is inclined towards the creature, and delights to do it good, and, as it were, to unite himself with it. There are three kinds of this love usually ascribed to God. The love of benevolence is that by which God is moved to will some good to his creature as a creature, without any regard to the excellence which may be in it. This kind of love is the same as his goodness, and by it God, from eternity, willed good to the creature, even though unworthy, and deserving of hatred. The love of beneficence is that by which God does good in time ; this expression in time must be noted, so that this love may be distinguished from the love of benevolence which is from eternity. The love of complacency is that by which God is inclined towards the creature that is just and holy. By the first kind of love, God elects us; by the second, he redeems and sanctifies us ; by the third, he rewards us being holy. Of this last Christ speaks, (John xiv. 21,) ” He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me; and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him.” With this love of God is connected his grace, by which he is induced to communicate himself to the creature, freely and of his own accord; not from desert or debt, or any other cause out of himself and not to add any thing to himself, but for the benefit of the object of this grace. For grace is nothing else but unmerited favour; it is always opposed to merit; ” If it be of grace, then it is no mare of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Rom. xi. 6.) Now this word grace is taken in scripture, sometimes for God’s favour, by which he chose us from eternity unto life, sometimes for the favour, by which he receives us in time, and accepts us in the Son of his love, some times for the effects of grace, or the ordinary gifts bestowed by God on believers, such as faith, hope, and charity, or for the extraordinary gifts which were miraculously bestowed in the first ages, for the edification of the church. This grace is accompanied by mercy or pity, concerning which the Psalmist speaks, (Psalm ciii. 8; cxlv. 2; also Lament, iii. 22, 23,) which, as existing in God, is not a sorrow or sadness of mind arising from the miseries or evils of others, but a ready disposition to succor the miserable. It does not spring from any external cause, such as usually stirs up this emotion in human beings, but from the sole goodness of God. The greatness of this pity is shewn by the extreme unworthiness of those who are the objects of it, compared with his majesty, by the number of the sins they have committed, and the greatness of their misery–by the severity of divine justice–by the eternal duration of this pity–and by its innumerable effects. Benedict Pictet, Christian Theology trans., by Frederick Reyroux, (Fleet Street London: R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1834), 84-86. [Italics Pictet, underlining mine.]

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