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John Dick on the Goodness of God: General and Special

May 20, 2008

 

Goodness of God–Idea of this Perfection: display of Goodness in the Creation of the Universe: and in his dispensation to Mankind–Existence of Physical Evil consistent with the Divine Goodness–Origin of Moral Evil–Display of Divine Goodness in Redemption.

By the goodness of God, we do not understand the general excellence of his nature, but that particular property or principle, which disposes him to communicate happiness to his creatures. It is in this sense that we pronounce it to be one of his essential attributes. It is necessary in conjunction with other attributes, to complete the idea of an all-perfect Being, and is the foundation of the trust, and love, and hope, with which he is regarded by men. We could think of him only with distant reverence, if we conceived that he took no interest in the well-being of his creatures; and the supposition that he was actuated by a principle of malevolence, would create dread of one infinitely superior to us, from whose pursuit it was impossible to escape. We should tremble at his power, which could torment and destroy us; at his wisdom, the contrivances of which for our injury we possessed no means of evading; at his immensity, which forced upon us the alarming thought, that to what. ever place we might flee for refuge, we should be always in the presence of an enemy. Goodness throws a mild and tranquillizing luster over the majestic attributes of his nature. It presents them to us under a friendly aspect; associated with it, they appear as so many powers, by which its benignant designs will be carried into full effect. We look up to him not only as a Sovereign, but as a Father; we feel emotions of gratitude rising in harmony with sentiments of veneration; we are emboldened to supplicate his favour, and to resign ourselves to his disposal. Goodness has been considered as one of his attributes by men of every nation, conducted no doubt to this conclusion by the proofs of his beneficence in the natural course of events. The ancient heathens called him the Best, as well as the Greatest of Beings. If some believed in the existence of a malevolent Being, because they observed much evil in the world, and knew not how otherwise to account for it, they also acknowledged another Being of an opposite character, the author of order and beauty, by whose bounty the wants of living creatures were supplied.

Goodness being a disposition to communicate happiness, regulated, however, in an intelligent Agent by wisdom, and in a moral Agent by a regard to purity and justice, we learn that, it belongs to God from a survey of hie works and dispensations.

The goodness of God is clearly deducible from the act of creation. We can conceive no other reason, in subordination to his glory, for the exertion of his power in giving life to so .many orders of creatures, and fitting up the earth to be a convenient habitation for them. This argument consists of two parts: the formation of sensitive beings capable of happiness, and the adaptation of the circumstances, in which they are placed to promote it. The production of the earth, with its division into sea and dry land, its vegetable covering, and its springs and rivers, would have afforded a proof of power, but not of goodness, if it had not been replenished with inhabitants who could be benefited by this arrangement; so that in reasoning concerning the goodness of God, we constantly refer to the provision made for the well-being of animals, rational and irrational, according to their respective natures and capacities. He did not create by a necessity of nature, as the sun gives light, or a fountain pours out its waters; but, being a free Agent, he exerted his power in consequence of counsel and design, and exerted it to such an extent, and in such a variety of ways, as were agreeable to himself. He did not create with the same view which leads a man to collect a retinue of friends and dependants, that he may be cheered by their company, and aided by their services; for he was sufficient to himself, infinitely and immutably blessed in the enjoyment of his own excellence. As we are confessedly not competent judges of the Divine counsels, it might be presumptuous to affirm that benevolence was the only motive of the creation, and it has been thought more proper to say, that the end was the glory of the Creator. But this is a general reason for all his works, and consequently throws no light upon a particular one. When we say that God does any thing for his glory, if we affix any distinct sense to our words, we must mean that he does it for the manifestation of his perfections. There is no inconsistency, therefore, in maintaining that goodness was the motive of creation, for this is only to say, that God purposed to display the benevolence of his nature in giving existence to other beings besides himself. It is true, that creation has eventually served to glorify all his perfections in the great scheme of providence, of which fallen men are the objects: but considering it by itself, and in its first intention, we are authorized to assert, that its primary design was the diffusion of happiness. What other idea us suggested by the contemplation of a system so regular and beautiful in all its parts, and teaming with life and enjoyment? Had not the Divine nature been communicative, God would have remained for ever alone; but now he beholds from his throne a scale of beings, ascending from the insect and the worm to the seraph and the archangel, all rejoicing in conscious existence, and partaking of the riches of his liberality. The eternal fountain has overflowed, and the universe is refreshed and gladdened by its stream. It is the saying of a heathen philosopher, that when God was about to make the world, he transformed himself into love.

The goodness of God may be inferred from the state in which living creatures are made. They are relatively perfect: that is, they are fitted for their place in creation, their peculiar mode of life, and the purposes which they were designed to serve. Nothing is wanting which is necessary for the preservation of life, for defense, the procuring of food, and motion from place to place. As this adaptation is a proof of wisdom, when considered in the relation of means to an end, so it is also a proof of goodness, as the obvious intention of it is the well-being of the animal. Had we found living creatures destitute of any of those members and organs of sense upon which their safety and comfort depend, birds without wings, fishes without sins, beasts without legs, we might have supposed that they were the productions of a Being who meant that they should languish in misery arid perish. The contrary conclusion must be drawn from the intention which has been evidently paid to their comfortable subsistence. He who has bestowed life, has rendered it a gift worthy of himself, by associating with it a variety of conveniences and pleasures. “If he had wished our misery,” says a celebrated writer, he might have made sure of his purpose, by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment, or by placing us amidst objects so ill suited to our perceptions, as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, every thing we tasted bitter, every thin we saw loathsome, every thing we touched a sting, every smell a stench, and every sound a discord. If he had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposition is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it. But either of these (and still more both of them) being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the supposition that God, when he created the human species, wished their happiness, and made for them the provision which he has made, with that view, and for that purpose.”1 These observations are applicable to the inferior animals as well as to men; and the adjustment of their constitution to their circumstances, so that they are capable of enjoyment from the objects around them, proves in the most satisfactory manner, that their Maker is a benevolent Being.

The goodness of God is displayed in the abundant provision which he has made for the wants of his creatures. ”The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou gives them their meat in due season. Thou opens thine hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing.”2 With the care and bounty of a parent, he provides for the members of his family. The various species of animals differ from each other, as much in their taste as in their form, insomuch, that the food which sustains one will not nourish another, and what one eagerly seeks another rejects with disgust. Substances which to us seem useless, and offensive to our senses, and if taken into our stomachs would be noxious, furnish wholesome and delicious nutriment to creatures differently constituted. The goodness of God is seen in the production of such a variety of substances, that none of the tribes of animals which it has seemed meet to his wisdom to create, might want its appropriate aliment. The guests at the table of providence hare no community of interests and feelings, but they all find entertainment; not one of them goes away disappointed. Many parts of the earth are not inhabited by men, yet in them the process of vegetation goes on from year to year; the sun shines, the rain falls, and the earth brings forth herbs and plants. It is not, however, to be thought that this is a mere waste. like the profusion of the spendthrift, who scatters his bounty where no good will be done. In the deserts there are myriads of insects, an I birds, and quadrupeds, which He who made them does not deem unworthy of his care; and as our Lord says, our heavenly Father feeds them.” If on digging into the earth, or penetrating into the fissures of the rock, you find living creatures to which such places afford a convenient abode, you also find, that he who assigned them these stations has not left them without the means of subsistence and enjoyment. What a delightful view of the Divine goodness is given by the regular succession of the seasons, the opening buds and blossoms of spring, the luxuriant growth of summer, the matured fruits and rich harvests of autumn! It is by this succession, that God prepares the ample and various feasts to which all his living offspring are invited. For them the sun ours out a flood of light and genial heat; for them the earth is endowed with unceasing powers of fertility; for them the winds bear life and health on their wings. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.” His riches are not exhausted upon the earth ; the ocean which surrounds it is also replenished with inhabitants, to whom his bounty extends. “So also is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships; there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. That thou gives them they gather: thou opens thine hand, they are filled with good.” 3

Once more: The goodness of God is manifest in the variety of natural pleasures, which he has provided for his creatures. By associating these with existence, he has made it truly a blessing, and acted in the character of benevolence, which happy itself, delights to see others happy. There seems, indeed, to be a high degree of pleasure attached to simple existence, as we may judge from the lively motions of young animals-the frisking of a lamb, for example-which appear to have no specific object, and to proceed from a certain indescribable satisfaction which they experience in the possession of life and activity. When in summer the air is filled with myriads of insects, which are almost constantly on the win wheeling in sportive circles, we have an evidence of the delight with which they pass their transitory duration, and a proof, not perhaps much attended to, but calculated to affect a reflecting mind, of the beneficence of the Deity. Their enjoyment is merely sensitive, but it is the only kind of which they are capable ; and it is goodness, rich in its treasures, and minute in its attentions, which thus adapts itself to every living nature. His goodness is farther displayed in the pleasure which animals derive from their food. This is a distinct consideration from the nourishment which it yields. It might have nourished without producing any sensation. We experience that food not only satisfies the appetite of hunger. but also gratifies our taste; and we have reason to think, that this gratification is enjoyed by the inferior animals, in an equal or a superior degree. How this pleasure is not at all necessary to the great design of food, the sustenance of the body; the substances which we use might have been as tasteless an water, without any diminution of their nutritive quality; the taste is super-added by our Maker to render our food pleasant as well as useful, and clearly shows attention to our animal comfort. We may draw the same conclusion from the means which he has provided for gratifying our other senses of sight, smell, and hearing. The earth! might have been as fertile as it is, although its surface had not been so delightfully variegated, and its productions had not been molded into such elegant forms. We might have lived, although there had been no blossoms and flowers painted with the moat beautiful colours, and exhaling sweet perfumes. We might have walked in the fields and woods, imbibing health and spirits from the pure atmosphere, although our ears had not been saluted with the music of birds, and other pleasing sounds. Whence this loveliness, this charm diffused over the face of nature? Whence those graces so profusely scattered around us, those agreeable accompaniments of natural objects, which do not render them more useful, but more attractive; which do not sustain life, but impart a higher relish to it! Surely we may say, that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all hie works;” that there are every where indications of a studious attention to the happiness of his creatures; that having designed this world for our habitation, he has furnished it with all conveniences and ornaments, to remind us how good he is, and how well entitled to our grateful homage.

What has been said chiefly relates to the lower animals, but has been mixed up with some observations illustrative of the Divine goodness to man. There are some things, however, which may seem to lead to the opposite conclusion, as the prevalence of disease and death among them, and particularly the fact, that some of them prey upon others. No man, I presume, will plead for the gift of immortality to the inferior creatures, and maintain that God cannot be good in bestowing a happy life, unless he prolong it for ever. Were not their number thinned by death, the earth would be overstocked, and leave no room for human inhabitants; and they themselves would perish tor want of subsistence, or in the furious conflicts to which the scarcity of food would give rise. If for wise reasons they are doomed to die, disease naturally results from this appointment, as the means of effecting dissolution, and cannot be objected to but on such grounds as might be alleged against their mortality itself. ft is part of the system, the unavoidable attendant of a body liable to decay and destruction. It is observable, that health is the rule, and disease is the exception, and that in the whole life of the animal, such is the overbalance of good as to make the evil almost disappear. Some animals prey upon others. But, hot to mention that this could have been prevented only by not creating carnivorous animals, and that v e are too imperfectly acquainted with the reasons of things, to pronounce that they might have been wanted without any injury to the system; I remark, that if animals were to die, this mode of terminating their life is not more inconsistent with goodness, than death by disease or by old age. The pain is not greater, and in many cases is less; and we mistake if we think that the fear of it disquiets their lives. Even men in countries abounding with ferocious animals, do not pass their time in continual apprehension, but grow familiar with danger; and still feebler is the impression up on irrational creatures, who have no forethought, and seem not to feel fear till danger is apparent. I do not say that these observations are a full solution of the difficulty; but if the facts on which the objection is founded, be considered as forming a small deduction from the sum total of goodness in this part of creation, attention to the other facts which have been mentioned, will leave no doubt in our minds, that this world is the work of a benevolent Being.

I now proceed to bring proofs of the goodness of God, exclusively f:om him dispensations to man. And here it will be necessary to turn our eyes from the present scene, although it exhibits many tokens of Divine benignity as we have partly seen, and to contemplate, by the light of revelation, the state in which man was originally placed. Although he was last created, yet he was not least. A high rank was assigned to him in the scale of being: God gave him more understanding than the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air.” He not only endowed him with reason, which is so much superior to instinct, but he communicated to him the most excellent wisdom, consisting in the knowledge of himself and his Maker, the relations subsisting between them, the whole extent of his duty, the true nature of happiness, and the hopes which he was authorized to entertain as a being made for immortality. His goodness was manifested in the moral or spiritual powers with which man was furnished, in the innate rectitude of his dispositions, his love of holiness, his desire for the chief good, and his supreme delight in it; in consequence of which he was capable of enjoying felicity, incomparably superior in kind and degree to that of the .inferior creatures, and did actually enjoy it under the smile of his Maker. It appeared in the dominion with which he was invested; a dominion which imparted not only preeminence, but authority and power, so that the other creatures were subject to him; and mi ht be used for his good according to the will of the Universal Parent. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the see, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Thus he was constituted lord of this lower world, and of all its riches; and it might be said, that as man was made for God, so the earth was made for man; every thing in it being placed at his disposal, and being intended to minister to him. Again, the goodness of God appeared in the covenant which he made with man, promising to reward his obedience with everlasting felicity. To such a recompense his obedience could not have entitled him independently of this stipulation, Obedience was a debt which he owed to his Creator, to whose service he was bound to devote the faculties which he had received from his bounty: so that, although he had fulfilled the whole law, he should have done only what it was his duty to do, and should have had no claim to a remuneration. This transaction, therefore, displayed great condescension, and also great benevolence, a regard to the happiness of man, which it would have probably augmented, and certainly could have rendered immutably secure; for when the term of trial was past, the Divine faithfulness and justice would have been pledged for its perpetual duration. It was the love of a father holding out to his son the highest reward which he could. confer, for doing what he was previously under the most sacred obligations to perform. Through his folly, man lost the noble prize set before him; but the event does not in any degree obscure the evidence of the benignity from which the offer of it proceeded; and at this distance, we ought to look back with grateful emotions upon the hope which animated our great progenitor in the commencement of his career, and the blessedness which might have descended as an inheritance to his children. The original state of man was a state of happiness. Peace and joy then wiped in his bosom, and a bright interminable prospect rose to his view. External nature was in harmony with his feelings, and shone with the glory of his Maker. In paradise, which the hand of God had prepared for him, all was beauty, and melody, and delight. This was the golden age of which poets have sung, when there was perpetual spring, the gentle breezes fanned the spontaneous flowers, the unploughed earth yielded its delicious fruits, the rivers flowed with milk and nectar, and honey distilled from the oak. But as poets also tell a new order of things succeeded, with a change of seasons, frost and burning heat, and stubborn soil, from which man. gained his subsistence by painful exertion.4 Yet even in this new state, which we know from Scripture to have been super-induced by sin, there are not wanting many proofs of the goodness of God.

When man transgressed the law of his Creator, a dispensation of unmixed wrath might have commenced. He had forfeited any claim to the blessings of life. Having been expelled from paradise, the abode of innocence and peace, he had no right to expect elsewhere a comfortable habitation, and might have found every region blasted by the curse which had been pronounced upon the earth for his sake. God, who for wise reasons had suspended the infliction of the threatened penalty and permitted him to live, might have doomed him and his posterity to a life of misery. When he condemned him to earn his bread with the sweat of his brow, he might have appointed his labour to be still more oppressive. He might have impressed upon every object the signatures of his displeasure, to call up at every step the remembrance of our quilt, and to keep us constantly in fearful apprehension of the day of vengeance and recompense. The earth might have continued to yield its various productions, but these might have been so changed as to afford no pleasure to our senses. Our situation might have resembled that of a criminal shut up in a gloomy dungeon till the day of execution, counting with sorrow the hours as they pass, and unvisited by a single ray of consolation. There might have been no intervals of ease, no sensations of joy; .horror might have surrounded us in terrific forms, and the presence of our fellow-men might have added to our torment. How different is the earth, smiling under the influences of heaven, teeming with abundance, and furnishing from its surface and its bowels the materials of varied enjoyment! The proofs of the Divine goodness formerly adduced, become more striking and impressive, when it is considered, that the place in which they are displayed in a rebellious world; that the objects of this beneficence are sinful creatures, who never suffer a single day to pass without offending their Benefactor, and, many of whom seem to have forgotten that he exists, except when they introduce his name to blaspheme it, and make no other use of his bounty but to outrage his laws, and plunge themselves deeper and deeper in depravity. “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”5

From this view of the present state of men, it is easy to account for some facts which appear to be inconsistent with the goodness of God, and have much perplexed those who are ignorant of revelation, or did not choose to be assisted by its light in their inquiries. From the existence of evil in creation, some hake inferred the existence of e malignant being, who is continually employed in counteracting the designs of the principle of good; but this exploded doctrine has been already considered, and need not retard us in our progress. Men are subject to pain, disease and death. Care and toil are necessary to procure a subsistence, and they not unfrequently prove abortive, from causes over which human power has no control. We experience inclement seasons, and dreadful havoc is made by tempests, earthquakes, and inundations. Such is the diversity of climate, that in one region intense cold prevails, and in another excessive heat, so that both are rendered unfit for the habitation of man. Some countries are barren, others are possessed by ferocious beasts and venomous reptiles. Here swarms of insects devour the fruits of the field; and then they so sting and torment the inhabitants, that they are compelled to abandon them, or spend their life in a state of continual discomfort.

The proper mode of answering this objection, is not to attempt to show, that some of these are not evils, that others admit of alleviation, and that upon the whole they are conducive to good. It would not be difficult to prove, that there are evils to which none of these suppositions is applicable. To tell us that venomous creatures are useful, because they extract poison from the earth in which it is lodged, is to trifle with us, by substituting a childish fancy for fact. To say that pain is useful, became it admonishes us of danger and excites us to take precautions against it, is to state what in many cases is true, but it is not a satisfactory answer, because it may be replied, that the benevolence might have adopted a different method, and we can have no idea that pain would have been necessary for this purpose in a state of innocence. The amount is, that pain is an evil, but is overbalanced by the good of which it is productive. But we are at present inquiring, why there is any evil at all! To insinuate that it is the effect of general laws, is to throw out a reflection upon the wisdom and the power of the Creator, as if he could not have established a system of laws which would not have thwarted and crossed one another. It is something like the solution of the ancient philosophers, who ascribed the existence of evil to the malignity or the stubbornness of matter. If evil was unavoidable, God is not omnipotent; if it might have been avoided, it is not enough to say that it is subservient to good, because we feel as much difficulty as ever to reconcile the admission of it with the idea of perfect benevolence. Those who attend to the true state of the case, will reason in a different manner. Acknowledging that there are real evils, they will contend that their existence is not inconsistent with the benevolence of the Author of nature, because the world in which they are found is inhabited by sinful beings. Had man continued in his original state, these evils would have been unaccountable; but no person who believes that God is just, can wonder that suffering should be the attendant of guilt. The character of God is moral, that is, he is holy as well as benevolent; and his goodness ought to be considered, not as a deposition b confer happiness indiscriminately, but to confer it upon the proper objects. It is a mixed dispensation under which we are placed, a dispensation of mercy and of judgment. While God exercises much patience and long-suffering towards men, he gives also tokens of his displeasure; and the true ground of surprise is, not that there is a portion of evil in their lot, but that there is so much good, because they deserve the one, but are altogether unworthy of the other.

With all the evils which belong b our condition, there can be no doubt that the balance of physical good greatly preponderates. The amount will be estimated in different ways, according to the temperament of different individuals. The cheerful man gives the colour of his own feelings to the surrounding scene, and all nature smiles to his eye; but to the melancholy man, it appears enveloped as in a dark shade. Judging soberly, and admitting all necessary deductions, we cannot but acknowledge that there is more happiness than misery. In general, the days of health are many, and those of pain and sickness are few. Our sorrows admit of much alleviation, and although keenly felt at the time, grow weaker and weaker, and at last cease to disquiet us. Enjoyment of one kind or other is within the reach of all; and even in conditions which seem the most unfavorable to it, there are sources of satisfaction of which others are not aware, as we see from the contentment, the cheerful looks, and the lively conversation of those who are placed in them. There is a pliability in the human mind, which adapts itself to circumstances, and makes the most of them, so that the poor have their pleasures as well as the rich, the labouring classes as well as those who are living at ease. All esteem existence blessing, and suicide is committed only when the mind is diseased, or the instinctive love of life is overcome by the extremity of pain, or the dread of approaching intolerable evil. The state even of fallen man beam ample testimony to the goodness of his Maker. It is, upon the whole, a happy world in which we live, although it is a world of sinners. God displays before our eyes the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and long suffering.

Physical evil is the consequence of moral evil. On this ground, God is justified in inflicting it, and its existence b not inconsistent with his goodness. But here a more formidable difficulty presents itself. Whence comes moral evil? How has it found a place among the works of God? and is the admission of it reconcilable to his goodness! Moral evil is the consequence of the abuse of moral liberty: if there had been no creatures endowed with free agency, its name would have been unknown. The question then is, whether it was consistent with his goodness to create free agents? and since it most be answered in the affirmative, because he has actually created them, it follows that they alone are responsible for the consequences. If they have used the power which he gave them for evil and not for good, which was the original design of it; if instead of employing this power to secure their own happiness as he commanded them, they have perverted it so as to subject themselves to suffering, no blame is imputable to him. He has done nothing which can impeach the benevolence of his nature. It is not the fault of a man, that the objects of him beneficence do injury to themselves by his gifts, which would have been of advantage to them, if they had applied them to the purpose which he intended. But if moral evil would be productive of disorder and misery, would it not hare been suitable to the character of a benevolent Being t6 have prevented it, aa it was undoubtedly foreseen! In answer to the question, I will not say with some, that God could not have prevented it without destroying liberty, and changing the nature of man; for the contrary is manifest from the state of the righteous in the world to come, who will be free, but no longer liable to sin. It has been asked, whether, upon the narrow view which we have of the works of God, and the whole system of the universe, we an pretend to judge that the present constitution, in this branch of it which free to free agents, is inconsistent with the wisdom and moral perfections of the Supreme Being? Shall we take upon us to say that the order of the creation, and the ends for which it was made, did not require that them should be such a rank of beings in it, constituted as we are, with understanding, liberty, and moral affections, but capable of sin, tempted to it, and thereby in danger of becoming unhappy through their own fault?” This may be called an appeal to our ignorance; but there is no occasion on which it may be made with greater propriety, than when we are inquiring into a fact in the Divine administration, the effects and consequences of which will last through an eternal duration, and may extend directly or indirectly to other worlds besides our own. In such a case, we may well acknowledge that the reasons of it are unknown to us, and it is better to avoid attempting to explain the permission of moral evil, than to give such an account of it as would represent the Maker of all in the light of an arbitrary Sovereign, who has sacrificed the happiness of a portion of his creatures to his own glory, or to give such an account as would impeach his justice and his goodness. Ignorant then, as we are, of the reason why moral evil was permitted, we cannot reasonably oppose the fact of its entrance into the world to the manifold proofs of the benevolence of the Deity. Let us rest upon what we know and feel, instead of perplexing ourselves with what we do not understand. It will, in the mean time, afford some relief to reflect that his wisdom has over-ruled it for the best and noblest ends, although we must beware of attributing to him what is so severely reprobated in man, the principle of doing evil that good may come. But good has come out of evil, the highest glory to God, and the highest happiness to man; and the brightest display of the Divine benevolence, is given in the plan from which such consequences have resulted.

The remaining part of this lecture will be devoted to some remarks upon the goodness of God in redemption. As manifested in this work, it is expressed by the terms, love, grace, and mercy, which exhibit it under different aspects Love is the same with benevolence or good will, a desire for the happiness of others giving rise to the use of due means for accomplishing it. Mercy presupposes sufferings, and is goodness exercised in relieving the miserable. Grace denotes its freeness, and represents its objects as guilty beings, who were utterly unworthy of it. It is also called the philanthropy of God, because he has passed by angels, and extended his favour to man.

Redemption originated in the goodness of God, at well as creation. If we cannot conceive any reason why he formed man at first, but a disposition to communicate life and happiness, we are led, a fortiori, to attribute to the same cause his interposition to save him from a state of misery. Man was not necessary to his Maker, who had existed alone from eternity. He could derive no benefit from his services, and the loss of our whole race could have been immediately supplied by the production of another. His purpose respecting him was antecedent to his fall and to his creation, for it was foreseen from eternity what use he would make of his liberty; and that the purpose was perfectly free, a spontaneous act of benevolence, is evident, because it was founded on the knowledge that he would so act as to subject himself to the curse. The permission of moral evil does not imply an approbation of it. The evils which it brings upon man in the present life are a testimony of the Supreme Ruler against it; and when we turn to his word, we find him speaking of it in terms of the utmost abhorrence. We must take into the account its contrariety not only to his will but to his nature, his infinite hatred of it, the just resentment which he must have felt at the insult of his authority implied in it, and the disorder which it had caused among his works, before we can form a due estimate of the goodness which prompted him to resolve upon the deliverance of the perpetrators of an evil of such magnitude, and upon their deliverance by such wonderful means. Misery, we are authorized to believe, excites his compassion ; and this fact is a decisive proof of the inconceivable benevolence of his nature, since it is certain, that he sees no misery in our world, which men do not most justly suffer, no misery which they have not incurred by their own voluntary forfeiture of his favour. Perhaps, our admiration of his goodness is lessened by the thought, that being his own creatures they had some sort of claim upon his compassion, or that it was beneath his majesty to pursue with relentless vengeance such insignificant offenders. This is undoubtedly the meaning of the language which we often hear, that he is too merciful to mark every thing amiss in the conduct of frail and erring mortals. But, if men were condemned by a just sentence, the notion of any obligation to relieve them must be given up; and whatever art may be used to alleviate their guilt, and to reduce it to a venial infirmity, their crimes, as estimated by his law, assume a different character, are acts of treason against his government, attempts to establish an independent dominion by which creatures shall rule, and their will shall be the law. The redemption of the human race redounds to the glory of God, which is the ultimate end of it as of all his works; but this view does not obscure the evidence of the disinterestedness of hi love. It is necessary that if God act, he should act in such a manner as is worthy of his infinite perfections; but he does not act from necessity, but in consequence of the sovereign determination of his will. He chooses this manner of manifesting his glory, and in the present case, might have displayed the severity of his justice, instead of the riches of his grace. The former method was preferred in his treatment of apostate angels. Men might have been involved in the same condemnation; or if it be supposed, that it became him to manifest his pardoning goodness in some region of the universe, salvation might have visited their dark abode and the earth might have been left under the curse. The reasons of this distinction are unknown; but in his conduct towards us, he has shown that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is a grateful spectacle to him, to be his creatures rejoicing in his love; and it is to love alone, to unsolicited and generous love, that we must attribute the last and best of his works, the redemption of a perishing world.

The means by which it was accomplished serve to demonstrate, how agreeable to him is the happiness of his creatures, and how earnestly he desires it Could a word have saved us from perdition, it would have been highly benevolent to pronounce it, as it was a proof of benevolence to call us and other living creatures into existence by a word, or a simple act of his will. But although nothing is difficult to his power, there are cases in which it cannot be immediately exercised; because other perfections of his nature are concerned in the effect, and a harmony among them must be previously established. Redemption is not an act of omnipotence alone, nor of love alone. It is not an act of creation, but of moral administration; and hence it exhibits a provision and combination of means, illustrative of the riches of his wisdom. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. “For God sent not his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”6 The person employed in accomplishing this design, the circumstances in which he appeared, and the work assigned to him, are so many distinct proofs of the incomprehensible goodness in which it originated. The title, Son of God, represents him not only as the object of strong and tender love, but as a divine person, and infinitely superior to the highest spirit in the scale of created being. Such was the Minister of mercy to our world; but his condition in it by no means accorded with his essential dignity. It was a condition of poverty and suffering, and it terminated by a death accompanied with every circumstance of cruelty and ignominy. By these surprising means was the benevolent purpose of Heaven carried into effect. The price of our redemption was blood, human blood indeed, but enhanced in value above all calculation, by-the personal greatness of the victim. It is only when we look beyond the external appearance, and contemplate the intrinsic excellence of the sufferer, that we can make an approach to a just conception of the transcendent love which provided such a sacrifice for the worthless race of man. And reflecting upon the character of our Saviour, and the relation in which he stood to our offended Creator, we must be sensible, that by appointing him to die for us, he has given a hi her demonstration of love, than if the whole system to which we belong had been offered up as an atonement for our sins.

The argument will be strengthened by a view of the design which such means were employed to accomplish. If we could tell what is implied in salvation, how many and how great are the evils from which we are delivered, how many and how great are the blessing with which we are enriched, we should be able to estimate the love from which it has emanated. Think of the miseries under which human nature now groans, and of the greater miseries which the guilty mind forebodes in the state of retribution; and remember, drat it was to rescue us from these, to abolish the curse, and chase away the shades of sorrow and despair, that the Son of the living God expired upon he cross. Think again of the good which man desires, and is capable of enjoying; of the peace and hope which tranquillize the heart, and cheer it with the opening prospect of glory; of the perfection which we shall hereafter attain, the transports of the righteous in the immediate presence and fruition of God, and of an eternity of pleasures always fresh and perpetually increasing; and remember, that it was to procure this inconceivable felicity for worthless men, to gladden the souls of thousands and millions, that the Son of the Blessed endured the agonies of death. Contemplating in thought what time will accomplish, we see the last and dreaded foe vanquished, and strip1 of his spoils; the grave giving up its dead, who leaving all their infirmities behind them, shall appear fair as in paradise, and fairer still than in that happy place; the earth purified and renovated to be once more the abode of innocence and joy; the choice of all generations united in one glorious assembly; angels associated with man, and God himself come down to dwell with them. “And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe. away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”7 Such is the delightful scene, to which our eye is directed by the light of prophecy. It is the reign of order and happiness, succeeding ages of turmoil and sorrow; it is an eternal spring after a long and dreary winter; it is the triumph of almighty love. Thus will terminate the revolutions of time, and the dispensations of heaven. Goodness infinite will fill all holy creatures with never-ending joy. It will be the jubilee of the universe. Everywhere will be heard the sound of praise, the songs of the redeemed, re-echoed by the happy spirits before the throne of God: “Blessing and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”8

“O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” Gratitude is the return justly expected from the objects of beneficence; but it is often withheld from our great Benefactor, for the strangest of all reasons, because his goodness is constant and abundant! It is lightly esteemed, because it is exercised towards us in the common course of events; it is not felt, because we daily experience it! The character of benevolence is impressed upon all his works. His goodness is a reason why men should love, and cheerfully obey him; and it renders those inexcusable who live without any acknowledgment of him, or dare to accuse his dispensations of unkindness. Sufferings they undergo, but not in such a degree as they deserve; mercies are bestowed upon them, of the least of which they are unworthy. Ours is a sinful world, but much happiness is enjoyed in it, and we have the hope of more, through the generosity of a Friend indeed, who h a abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel. John Dick, Lectures on Theology (New York: M.W. Dodd, 1850), 1:240-251.


 

1Paley’s Moral Philosophy, B. ii. c. 5.
2Ps. cxlv. 15, 16.
3Ps. civ. 24-28.
4Ovid. Metamorph lib. i. fab. 2, 3.
5Matth. v. 45.
6John iii. 16, 17.
7Rev. xxi. 34.
8Rev. v. 13.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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