SERMON I.* The Goodness of God.
The Lord is Good to all, and his tender Mercies are over all his Works.
THE Subject which I have now proposed to treat of, is certain∣ly one of the Greatest and No∣blest Arguments in the World, the Goodness of God, the Highest and most Glorious Perfection, of the best and most Excellent of Beings, than which nothing deserves more to be consider∣ed by us, nor ought in Reason to af∣fect us more. The Goodness of God is the cause, and the continuance of our Beings, the Foundation of our Hopes, and the Fountain of our Hap∣piness; our greatest comfort, and our Page 2 fairest Example, the chief Object of our love and praise and admiration, the joy and rejoycing of our hearts; and therefore the Meditation and Discourse of it must needs be pleasant and delight∣ful to us; the great difficulty will be, to confine our selves upon so copious an Argument, and to set bounds to that which is of so vast an extent, the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are o∣ver all his works.
Which words are an Argument, which the divine Plalmist useth, to stir up himself and others to the praise of God: At the 3. v. he tells us, that the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; and he gives the reason of this, v. 8. and 9. from those Properties and Per∣fections of the Divine Nature, which declare his Goodness, the Lord is gra∣cious, and full of compassion, slow to an∣ger, and of great mercy; the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; where you have the Good∣ness of God declared, together with the amplitude and extent of it, in respect of the Objects of it; the Lord is good to all.
In the handling of this Argument, I shall do these four things.
Page 3First, Consider what is the proper Notion of Goodness, as it is attributed to God.
Secondly, Shew that this Perfection belongs to God.
Thirdly, Consider the Effects and the Extent of it.
Fourthly, Answer some Objections, which may seem to contradict and bring in question the Goodness of God.
First, What is the proper Notion of Goodness, as it is attributed to God.
There is a dry Metaphysical Notion of Goodness, which only signifies the Being and essential properties of a thing; but this is a good word ill bestowed; for in this sense, every thing that hath Being, even the Devil himself, is good.
And there is a Moral Notion of Goodness; and that is twofold.
1. More general, in opposition to all Moral evil and imperfection, which we call sin and vice; and so the Justice, and Truth, and Holiness of God, are in this sense his Goodness. But there is,
2. Another Notion of Moral Good∣ness, which is more particular and re∣strained; and then it denotes a particu∣lar Virtue in opposition to a particular Vice; and this is the proper and u∣sual Page 4 acceptation of the word Goodness; and the best description I can give of it is this; that it is a certain propension and disposition of mind, whereby a person is enclined to desire and procure the happi∣ness of others; and it is best understood by its contrary, which is an envious disposition, a contracted and narrow Spirit, which would confine happiness to it self, and grudgeth that others should partake of it, or share in it; or a malicious and mischievous temper, which delights in the harms of others, and to procure trouble and mischief to them. To com∣municate and lay out our selves for the good of others, is Goodness; and and so the Apostle explains doing good, by communicating to others, who are in misery, or want, Heb. 13.16. but to do good and to communicate forget not. The Jews made a distinction between a righteous and a good man; to which the Apostle alludes, Rom. 5.7. scarce∣ly for a righteous man, will one die; yet peradventure for a good man, one would even dare to die. The righteous man was he, that did no wrong to others; and the good man he, who was not only not injurious to others, but kind and Page 5 beneficial to them. So that Goodness is a readiness and disposition to commu∣nicate the good and happiness which we enjoy, and to be willing others should partake of it.
This is the Notion of Goodness a∣mong men; and 'tis the same in God, only with this difference, that God is originally and transcendently good; but the Creatures are, the best of them, but imperfectly good, and by deriva∣tion from God, who is the fountain and original of goodness; which is the meaning of our Saviour, Luke 18.19. when he says, there is none good save one, that is God. But tho' the degrees of Goodness in God, and the Crea∣tures, be infinitely unequal, and that Goodness which is in us, be so small and inconsiderable, that compared with the Goodness of God, it does not deserve that name; yet the essential Notion of Goodness in both, must be the same; else when the Scripture speaks of the Goodness of God, we could not know the meaning of it, and if we do not at all understand what it is for God to be good, it is all one to us (for ought we know) whether he be good or not; for he may be so, and Page 6 we never the better for it, if we do not know what Goodness in God is, and consequently when he is so, and when not.
Besides that the Goodness of God is very frequently in Scripture pro∣pounded to our imitation; but it is im∣possible for us to imitate that, which we do not understand what it is; from whence it is certain, that the goodness which we are to endeavour af∣ter, is the same that is in God, be∣cause in this we are commanded to i∣mitate the Perfection of God, that is, to be good and merciful as he is, ac∣cording to the rate and condition of Creatures, and so far as we, whose Natures are imperfect, are capable of resembling the Divine Goodness.
Thus much for the Notion of good∣ness in God, it is a propension and dispo∣sition in the Divine Nature, to commu∣nicate being and happiness to his Crea∣tures.
Secondly, I shall endeavour to shew, in the next place, that this Perfection of Goodness belongs to God; and that from these three heads.
I. From the Acknowledgments of Natural Light.
Page 7II. From the Testimony of Scripture, and Divine Revelation. And,
III. From the Perfection of the Di∣vine Nature.
I. From the Acknowledgments of Natural Light. The generality of the Heathen agree in it, and there is hard∣ly any Perfection of God more univer∣sally acknowledged by them. I al∣ways except the Sect of the Epicureans, who attribute nothing but Eternity and Happiness to the Divine Nature; and yet if they would have considered it, Happiness without Goodness is impossi∣ble. I do not find that they do expres∣ly deny this Perfection to God, or that they ascribe to him the contrary; but they clearly take away all the Evi∣dence and Arguments of the Divine Goodness; for they supposed God to be an immortal and happy Being, that enjoyed himself, and had no regard to any thing without himself, that neither gave Being to other things, nor concerned himself in the happiness or misery of any of them; so that their Notion of a Deity, was in truth the proper Notion of an idle Being, that is called God, and neither does good nor evil.
Page 8But setting aside this atheistical Sect, the rest of the Heathen did unani∣mously affirm and believe the Good∣ness of God; and this was the great foundation of their Religion; and all their Prayers to God, and Praises of him, did necessarily suppose a perswa∣sion of the Divine Goodness. Whoso∣ever prays to God, must have a per∣swasion, or good hopes of his readi∣ness to do him good; and to praise God, is to acknowledge that he hath received good from him. Seneca hath an excellent passage to this purpose,
But we need not to infer their belief of God's Goodness, from the acts of Page 9 their devotion, nothing being more common among them, than expresly to attribute this Perfection of Good∣ness to him, and among the Divine Titles, this always had the preemi∣nence, both among the Greeks and Ro∣mans; 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Deus optimus maxi∣mus, was their constant stile; and in our Language, the name of God seems to have been given him from his Goodness. I might produce innumera∣ble passages out of the Heathen Au∣thers to this purpose; but I shall only mention that remarkable one out of Seneca, primus deorum cultus est deos cre∣dere; deinde reddere illis majestatem suam, reddere bonitatem, sine quâ nulla majestas,
II. From the testimony of Scripture and Divine Revelation. I shall men∣tion but a few of those many Texts of Scripture, which declare to us the Goodness of God, Exod. 34.6. where God makes his Name known to Moses, the Lord, the Lord God gracious and merciful, long suffering, abundant in good∣ness Page 10 and truth. Psal. 86.5. Thou Lord art good, and ready to forgive. Psal. 119.68. Thou art good, and dost good. And that which is so often repeated in the Book of Psalms, O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever. Our blessed Saviour attributes this Perfection to God, in so peculiar and transcendent a man∣ner, as if it were incommunicable, Luke 18.19. There is none good save one, that is God. The meaning is, that no Creature is capable of it, in that excellent and transcendent degree, in which the Divine Nature is possest of it.
To the same purpose are those innu∣merable Testimonies of Scripture, which declare God to be gracious, and merciful, and long suffering; for these are but several Branches of his Good∣ness; his Grace is the freeness of his Goodness, to those who have not de∣served it; his Mercy is his Goodness to those who are in misery; his Pati∣ence is his Goodness to those who are guilty, in deferring the Punish∣ment due to them.
III. The Goodness of God may likewise be argued from the Perfection Page 11 of the Divine Nature, these two ways.
1. Goodness is the chief of all Per∣fections, and therefore it belongs to God.
2. There are some Footsteps of it in the Creatures, and therefore it is much more eminently in God.
1. Goodness is the highest Perfecti∣on, and therefore it must needs belong to God, who is the most perfect of Beings. Knowledge and Power are great Perfections, but separated from Goodness, they would be great Im∣perfections, nothing but craft and vio∣lence. An Angel may have Knowledge and Power in a great degree, but yet for all that be a Devil. Goodness is so great and necessary a Perfection, that without it there can be no other, it gives Perfection to all other excel∣lencies; take away this, and the greatest excellencies in any other kind, would be but the greatest imperfections. And therefore our Saviour speaks of the goodness and mercy of God, as the sum of his Perfections; what one Evangelist hath, be ye merciful, as your Father which is in Heaven is merciful, is rendred in another, be ye therefore per∣fect, as your Father which is in Heaven Page 12 is perfect. Goodness is so essential to a perfect Being, that if we once strip God of this property, we rob him of the Glory of all his other Perfections; and therefore when Moses desired to see God's Glory, he said, he would make all his goodness to pass before him. Exod. 33.19. This is the most amiable Perfection, and as it were the Beauty of the Divine Nature, Zach. 9.17. how great is thy goodness, how great is thy beauty? sine bonitate nulla majestas, without goodness there can be no majesty. Other excellencies may cause fear and amazement in us: but nothing but Goodness, can command sincere love and veneration.
2. there are some footsteps of this Perfection in the Creatures, and there∣fore it must be much more eminently in God. There is in every Creature some representation of some divine Perfection or other, but God doth not own any Creature to be after his image, that is destitute of Goodness. The Creatures, that want Reason and Un∣derstanding, are incapable of this Mo∣ral Goodness we are speaking of; Man is the first in the rank of Creatures, that is endowed with it, and he is Page 13 said to be made after the image of God, and to have dominion given him over the Creatures below him, to signifie to us, that if man had not been made after God's image, in respect of Goodness, he had been unfit to rule over other Creatures; because without Goodness, dominion would be Tyranny and Op∣pression. And the more any Creature partakers of this Perfection of Good∣ness, the more it resembles God; as the Blessed Angels, who behold the face of God continually, and are thereby trans∣formed into his image from glory to glory, their whole business and imployment is, to do good; and the Devil, tho' he resemble God in other Perfections of Knowledge and Power, yet because he is evil, and envious, and mischievous, and so contrary to God in this Per∣fection, he is the most opposite and and hateful to him of all Creatures whatsoever.
And if this Perfection be in some de∣gree in the Creature, it is much more in God; if it be derived from him, he is much more eminently possest of it himself. All that Goodness which is in the best natured of the Sons of Men, or in the most glorious Angels of Heaven, Page 14 is but an imperfect and weak repre∣sentation of the Divine Goodness.
The Third thing I proposed to con∣sider, was the Effects of the Divine Goodness, together with the large extent of it, in respect of the Objects of it, the Lord is good to all, and his tender Mercies are over all his Works; thou art good and dost good, says David, Psal. 119.68. The great evidence and demonstration of God's Goodness, is from the Effects of it. To the same purpose St. Paul speaks, Acts 14.17. He hath not left himself without Wit∣ness, in that he doth good, and sends us Rain from Heaven, and fruitful Seasons.
I shall consider the Effects of the Divine Goodness, under these Two Heads.
I. The universal extent of God's Goodness to all his Creatures.
II. I shall consider more particular∣ly the Goodness of God to Men, which we are more especially concern'd to take notice of.
I. The universal extent of his Good∣ness to the whole Creation, the Lord is Good to all. The whole Creation fur∣nisheth us with clear evidences and demonstrations of the Divine Good∣ness; Page 15 which way soever we cast our Eyes, we are encountered with unde∣niable Instances of the Goodness of God; and every thing that we behold, is a sensible demonstration of it; the Heavens declare the Glory of God, and the Firmament sheweth his handy work, says the Psalmist, Psal. 19.1. And again, Psal. 33.5. The Earth is full of the Goodness of the Lord. The whole Frame of this World, and every Creature in it, and all the several degrees of Be∣ing and Perfection, which are in the Creatures, and the Providence of God towards them all, in the preser∣vation of them, and providing for the happiness of all of them, in such de∣grees as they are capable of it, are a plentiful demonstration of the Divine Goodness, which I shall endeavour to illustrate in these Four Particulars.
1. The universal Goodness of God appears in giving Being to so many Creatures.
2. In making them all so very good, considering the variety, and order, and end of them.
3. In his continual preservation of them.
Page 164. In providing so abundantly for the welfare and happiness of all of them, so far as they are capable and sensible of it.
1. The extent of God's Goodness appears in giving Being to so many Creatures. And this is a pure effect of Goodness, to impart and communicate Being to any thing. Had not God been good, but of an envious, and narrow, and contracted nature, he would have confined all Being to himself, and been unwilling, that any thing be∣sides himself should have been: but his Goodness prompted him to spread and diffuse himself, and set his Power and Wisdom on work, to give Being to all that variety of Creatures, which we see and know to be in the World, and probably to infinite more than we have the knowledge of. Now it is not imaginable, that God could have any other motive to do this, but pure∣ly the Goodness of his Nature. All the motives imaginable besides this, must either be indigency and want, or constraint and necessity; but nei∣ther of these can have any place in God, and therefore it was meer Good∣ness,Page 17 that moved him to give Being to other things; and therefore all Crea∣tures have reason, with the four and twenty Elders in the Revelations, to cast their crowns before the throne of God, saying, thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure (that is of thy meer goodness) they are and were created.
(1.) Indigency and Want can have no place in God; because he that hath all possible Perfection, hath all plenty in himself; from whence re∣sults All-sufficiency and compleat Hap∣piness. So that the Divine Nature need not look out of it self for Hap∣piness, being incapable of any addi∣tion to the Happiness and Perfecti∣on it is already possest of, ipsa su∣is pollens opibus nihil indiga nostri. We make things for our use, Houses to shelter us, and Cloaths to keep us warm; and we propagate our Kind, to perpetuate our selves in our poste∣rity: But all this supposeth imper∣fection, and want, and mortality, to none of which the Divine Nature is liable and obnoxious.
Page 18Nay it was not want of glory, which made God to make the World. 'Tis true indeed, the glory of God's Goodness doth herein appear, and Creatures endowed with understand∣ing have reason to take notice of it, with thankfulness, praise, and admi∣ration: but there is no happiness re∣dounds to God from it, nor does he feed himself with any imaginary con∣tent and satisfaction, such as vain∣glorious persons have, from the flut∣tering applause of their Creatures and Beneficiaries. God is really above all blessing and praise. It is great conde∣scention and goodness in him, to ac∣cept of our acknowledgments of his benefits, of our imperfect praises, and ignorant admiration of him; and were he not as wonderfully good, as he is great and glorious, he would not suffer us to sully his great and glori∣ous Name, by taking it into our Mouths; and were it not for our ad∣vantage and happiness, to own and ac∣knowledge his benefits, for any real happiness and glory that comes to him by it, he could well enough be with∣out it, and dispense with us for ever entertaining one thought of him; and Page 19 were it not for his goodness, might despise the praises of his Creatures, with infinitely more reason than wise Men do the applause of Fools. There is indeed one Text of Scripture, which seems to intimate that God made all Creatures for himself, as if he had some need of them, Prov. 16.4. The Lord hath made all things for him∣self; yea even the wicked for the day of evil. Now if by God's making all things for himself, be meant, that he aimed at and intended the manifestation of his Wisdom, and Power, and Goodness in the Creation of the World, 'tis most true, that in this sense, he made all things for himself: but if we under∣stand it so, as if the Goodness of his Nature did not move him thereto, but he had some design to serve Ends and Necessities of his own upon his Creatures, this is far from him. But it is very probable, that neither of these are the meaning of this Text, which may be rendered with much better sense, and nearer to the He∣brew, thus, God hath ordained every thing, to that which is fit for it, and he wicked hath he ordained for the day Page 20 of evil; that is, the Wisdom of God hath fitted one thing to another, pu∣nishment to sin, the evil day to the evil doers.
(2.) Nor can Necessity and Con∣straint have any place in God. When there was no Creature yet made, no∣thing in Being but God himself, there could be nothing to compel him to make any thing, and to extort from him the effects of his bounty: Nei∣ther are the Creatures necessary ef∣fects and emanations from the Being of God, flowing from the Divine Es∣sence, as water doth from a Spring and as light streams from the Sun▪ If so, this indeed would have been an Argument of the fullness of the Divine Nature, but not of the boun¦ty and goodness of it; and it would have been matter of Joy to us tha• we are, but not a true ground o•thankfulness from us to God; a• we rejoyce and are glad that th• Sunshines, but we do not give it any thanks for shining, because it shine• without any intention or design t• do us good; it doth not know tha• we are the better for its light, nor di•Page 21 intend we should be, and there∣fore we have no reason to acknowledge its goodness to us.
But God, who is a Spirit endow∣ed with Knowledge and Understand∣ing, does not act as natural and ma∣terial Causes do, which act necessari∣ly and ignorantly, whereas he acts knowingly and voluntarily, with parti∣cular intention and design, knowing that he does good, and intending to do so freely and out of choice, and when he hath no other constraint up∣on him but this, that his goodness enclines his will to communicate him∣self, and to do good: So that the Divine Nature is under no Necessi∣ty, but such as is consistent with the most perfect Liberty and freest Choice.
Not but that Goodness is essenti∣al to God, and a necessary Perfecti∣on of his Nature, and he cannot possibly be otherwise than good: but when he communicates his goodness, he knows what he does, and wills and chuseth to do so.
And this kind of Necessity is so far from being any impeachment of Page 22 the Divine Goodness, that it is the great Perfection and praise of it. The Stoick Philosophers mistaking this, do blasphemously advance their wise and virtuous man above God himself; for they reason thus,
This is the first: the second parti∣cular is, that God hath made all Crea∣tures very good, considering the vari∣ety, and order, and end of them. But this I shall reserve to another oppor∣tunity.