Page images
PDF
EPUB

pects. 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

. Merey 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, as 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 forliori, 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. Per: haps, 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, aný 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 his 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 distinetion are unknown; but in his conduct towards us, he has shewn that he has no

VOL. I.-32

pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is a grateful spectacle to him, to see 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 effeci, and a harmony among them must be previously established. Redemption is not an aet 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."* 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 oor 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 higher 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 froin which we are delivered, how many and how great are the blessings 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, that 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 the

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 perpètually 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 stript 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. 66 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."* 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, reechoed by the happy spirits before the throne of God: “ Blessing and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”[

John iii. 16, 17.

cross.

“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 has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.

LECTURE XXV.

ON GOD.

Justice of God: distinguished into Absolute and Relative-Remarks on the notion of Absolute

Justice-Relative Justice respects Creatures: implies the giving of a Righteous Law, its enforcement with adequate Sanctions, and its Impartial Execution–Testimonies to this Attribute by Conscience, by Events in Providence, and by Redemption—Manifestation of it at the Last Judgment.

In treating of the Divine perfections, it is an obvious remark, that they are all essential and necessary to complete the idea of God; that is, of a Being possessed of every possible excellence. Not one of them could be wanting, without changing his character; so that if any of them is unintentionally or designedly omitted, the object of contemplation is not the true God, but a beRev. xxi. 34.

+ Rev. v. 13.

ing who owes his existence to human misconception. While reason requires us to acknowledge them all, and to adore the fulness of the Godhead, they are calculated to make different impressions upon our minds, all leading, however, to sentiments of admiration, reverence, and love. Some are objects of pleasing, and others of awful contemplation. Wisdom delights us by the excellence of its ends, and the fitness of its means. Goodness charms us by the richness and variety of its gifts. It sheds a loveliness and an interest over the works of God; and emotions of joy and gratitude are felt while we look at nature smiling under his influence, and displaying the care and beneficence of a parent. But when we turn our thoughts to the unspotted purity of his nature, and the justice which presides in his moral government, a new order of sentiments arises. In the apprehension of guilty creatures, he seems no longer to smile, but to frown upon his works. The easy, placable disposition, so soothing to our minds, so consoling when conscience obtrudes its fears upon us, in which we portrayed him from the consideration of his goodness alone, gives place to sterner features, and we tremble before him as an offended Ruler and a Judge. We have no wish to cultivate close intercourse with him ; we are repelled by the severity of his countenance, and would willingly withdraw to any distant place where we should be sheltered from his presence. Innocent creatures are affected in a different manner. In their eyes, justice gives a firmness and consistency to his character, and, if I may speak so, invests all his other perfections with an air of grandeur and majesty. But the criminal dreads justice; and Divine justice is more formidable than that of man, because it is associated with knowledge from which offenders cannot conceal themselves, and with power which they are unable to resist. From this cause have originated the attempts which have been made to deprive God of his attribute, or to soften it down into a form which will create less alarm; to prove that it is not so inflexible as some persons of harsh and gloomy minds believe; that it does not mark our sins with extreme strictness, that it will not rigidly insist upon its demands, and that when moved to displeasure it is easily pacified. But the speculations of men, which are suggested less by their reason than by their wishes, are an unsafe ground on which to rest our religious system. In all subjects, and partieularly in one of so much importance as the character of Him with whom we have to do, truth should be our aim, and the interests which might interfere with it should be dismissed from our thoughts. If we follow the guidance of unsophisticated reason, it will lead us to the same conclusion with the Scriptures, that God is just, as well as wise and good ; that he is not only the Maker and Preserver, but also the Ruler of the world; and that as power and wisdom are required to guide and sustain inanimate matter, and creatures withont reason, so justice is indispensable to the government of intelligent and moral agents, who are the proper subjects of law, and may deserve to be rewarded or punished. To deny his justice, is to wrest the sceptre from his hand, and to expose his government to contempt and insult by proclaiming impunity to his subjects. The many distinctions and relations, the knowledge of which justice supposes, must all be present to his infinite understanding, and we cannot conceive him to be, like his blind, weak, and miscalculating creatures, under any motive to disregard them. Now, when we take away ignorance, passion, and self-interest, real or imaginary, we remove all the causes of injustice.

The justice of God has been distinguished into absolute and relative, universal and particular. By the former is understood the rectitude of his nature, which leads him on all occasions to do what is right and equal; and the latter respects him in the character of a moral Governor, who will render to his subjects according to their desert. I do not see very clearly the nature of this distinction, which is not satisfactorily explained by those who adopt it, unless it be this, that absolute justice is expressive of what he is in himself, but relative justice considers him as standing in certain relations to his creatures, and acting according to the law which he has given to them.

It is certain, that God has an absolute dominion over his creatures. He might have created them or not, according to his pleasure; he might have given them a different nature, and have placed them in different circumstances. With respect to these things, there was no necessity that he should act or not act, that he should act in one way rather than in another. It is also certain, that he who created, had a right to annihilate his works; and might have done so, not only to inanimate matter, and living beings destitute of reason, but also to man, prior to any promise or engagement to prolong their existence. We surely will not deny to him who is Supreme, the liberty which we ourselves claim, to bestow our gifts for a limited time, and to resume them at pleasure. The gift of existence conveyed no right to the continuance of it. Creation was a free act of power, which did not lay the Creator under an obligation to exert it for ever, or for any definite period, in upholding what he had made. He gave man an immortal spirit; but we can conceive no reason, why he might not have given him a spirit which, like that of the lower animals, would be extinguished at the death of the body. The spirit of man is endowed with nobler powers, and is capable, as we apprehend, of endless improvement; but although its high rank is associated in our minds with the notion of its immortality, we are not able to prove that there is any necessary connexion between them. In consequence of those powers, man was qualified to perform rational service, to yield moral obedience; but might he therefore claim a right to live forever? This idea cannot be entertained, without forgetting that he is a creature, who owed all because he had received all, and after the best employment of his faculties was an unprofitable servant. If we reflect upon the absolute dependence of a created being upon the author of his existence, we shall be convinced that he never could acquire a claim to any thing more than what he actually enjoyed, and that at every moment, the right of the Creator to withdraw his support, and leave him to return to nothing, remained unaltered.

Thus far, I think, we may safely proceed; but when we venture farther, and inquire, whether God had a right to subject his creatures to suffering, considered merely as his creatures, we are involved in a conflict between opposite opinions. Some deny, and others affirm, and have not hesitated even to maintain, that by his absolute justice and dominion, God could inflict the greatest torments, even those of hell, upon the most innocent creature. We do indeed find that innocent creatures suffer, namely, the lower animals who are incapable of sin, and yet are subject to disease, and torture, and death. I acknowledge that there is difficulty here; but although the Scripture does not fully explain it, yet it gives a general notice that they suffer in consequence of their connexion with men. This is perhaps the meaning of these words: * The creature (or the creation) was made subject to vanity.”* We are not competent to say, how far, consistently with justice, those evils may have come upon them, as consequent parts of a system, on which a curse was pronounced for the sin of man, to whom that system was subservient, and who was placed at the head of it. Leaving out this case, as for the reason now stated, not distinctly an example of absolute dominion, we may say, that it seems harsh and revolting to affirm, that God might without injustice inflict everlasting misery upon an innocent creature. The addition of the epithet absolute to justice, does not alter the nature of the thing; it is still justicu although absolute; and I would ask them, what idea they entertain of justice, which could treat the innocent in the same manner as the guilty ? If this is

* Rom. viii. 20.

W

« PreviousContinue »