ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
As we acquire knowledge of other beings, and of the relations which they hold to us, opportunity is given for the development of our moral principles, and the exercise of our moral feelings. It accords with the dictates of individual conscience, and with the moral judgments common to mankind, and with the teachings of God’s word, that the feelings which we exercise, and the actions which we perform towards others, should have regard to their characters and their relations to us. To understand our duty towards God, we must know his character. It is not enough to believe that he exists, but we should labour to acquire a knowledge of him. Let us, then, reverently inquire, Who is the Lord?
THERE IS BUT ONE GOD.
The heathen nations have worshipped many gods; but the inspired volume throughout inculcates the doctrine, that there is but one God. Moses said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord;” and, in the New Testament, the same truth is taught: “There is one God, and one Mediator;” “To us there is but one God.” It is not clear that the unity of God can be proved by natural religion. In some of the reasonings which have been relied on, the thing to be proved is assumed. The most satisfactory argument is derived from the uniformity of counsel, which appears in the works of creation and providence. The same laws of Nature prevail everywhere; so that, in passing from one region to another, we never feel that we have entered the dominion of another Lord. Light which emanates from the remote fixed stars, possesses the same properties, and obeys the same laws, as that which comes from the sun of our own system.
The proof from revelation is clear and decisive. It is true, that plural names of the deity are frequently used in the Old Testament; but it is manifest that they were not designed to teach the doctrine of polytheism. In Deut. vi. 4, the word “God” is plural, in the original Hebrew; but the whole passage contains the most unequivocal declaration of the unity of God. In Gen. i.1, the name “God” is plural, but the verb “created” is singular, and therefore bars out all inference in favour of polytheism. In several passages, plural pronouns are used when God speaks of himself. “Let us make man;” “Let us go down;” “The man is become as one of us;” these passages, and especially the last of them, cannot well be reconciled with the doctrine of God’s unity, so abundantly taught elsewhere, without supposing a reference to the doctrine of the trinity, which will be considered hereafter.
The unity of God renders his moral government one, uniting the subjects of it into one great empire. It leaves us in no doubt to whom our allegiance is due; and it fixes one centre in the universe to which the affections of all hearts should be directed. It tends to unite the people of God: as we have “one God,” so we have “one body, and one spirit.”
GOD IS A SPIRIT.
By our external senses we obtain knowledge of properties which belong to a class of substances called matter; such as extension, solidity or impenetrability, divisibility, figure, color. By consciousness, we have knowledge of our own thoughts and feelings; and there we ascribe to a substance, called mind, which is capable of perceiving, remembering, comparing, judging, reasoning, and willing. The distinction between these two classes of substances is recognised in the judgments of all men. We never attribute thought to fire, air, earth, or water; and we never conceive of mind as round or square, black or white. The properties which we discover in our own minds, we attribute to the minds of others; and we readily conceive the existence of these properties in beings of a different order. The term spirit is used to denote an immaterial and intelligent substance, or being; one which is without the peculiar properties of matter, and possesses properties analogous to those of the human mind. In this sense, God is a spirit. He is not extended, solid and divisible, like a rock, a tree, or a human body; but thinks and wills, in a manner free from all imperfection.
The texts of Scripture which directly teach the spirituality of God, are few. It may be inferred from Isaiah xxxi. 3: “The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit.” The foundation of the parallelism, in this passage, is that God is a spirit. It may be inferred, also, from, the language of Scripture, in which God is called the Father of spirits: “We have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?” A father and his children possess a common nature, and, as the fathers of our flesh, are flesh, so, the Father of our spirits, is spirit. There is one passage which teaches the doctrine expressly, “God is a spirit;” and this would be sufficient to prove it, if it were taught nowhere else.
It is no objection to the doctrine of God’s spirituality, that bodily parts, as hands, feet, eyes, &c., are ascribed to him. These are manifestly mere accommodations of language, because we have no words more suitable to express the operations of the divine mind. If it were inadmissible to speak of God’s eyes, because he has not material organs of vision, as we have, it would also be inadmissible to speak of God’s seeing, because he does not see by means of material light, as we do; or to speak of God’s thinking, because his thoughts are not as our thoughts.
The practical use of this doctrine is taught by Christ: “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” In offering him homage, it is not sufficient to come before him with a bended knee, or a prostrate body; but our minds, our spiritual nature, must render the homage, or it will be unacceptable to him.
The spirituality of God is the foundation of the second commandment in the decalogue: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” The reason assigned for this commandment is, that the Israelites saw no form when God manifested his presence to them at Mount Sinai. He appeared to them in cloud and fire. A pillar of cloud and fire went before the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness, as a token of the divine presence. This token appeared at the tabernacle; and afterwards in the temple built and dedicated by Solomon. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. We are not to understand from these things, that God is either cloud or fire. These are material, and not spiritual substances. As what is purely spiritual cannot be perceived by our bodily senses, God was pleased to employ these material symbols to give a sensible demonstration of this presence. For the same reason, he sometimes presented himself in human form. In all these material manifestations of himself, which are recorded in the Old Testament, there is reason to believe that it was the second person in the Godhead, who thus exhibited himself; the same that afterwards appeared in human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is called the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord’s presence, and yet he is called Jehovah; and the reverence due to Jehovah is claimed for him. A created angel is not entitled to this name, or this honour; but they both belong to the Son of God, the Angel of the Covenant, who, after his incarnation, was God manifest in the flesh. This opinion is confirmed by the teachings of the New Testament: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Of the Father, Jesus says, “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape;” and he said to his disciples, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” A comparison of these passages may satisfy us, that all the manifestations of the deity to human senses, whether visible or audible, were made in the person of the Son, or Word of God.
The spirituality of God contradicts the pantheistic notion that the universe is God. The universe is not spirit. In its material fabric, intelligence is displayed; but this intelligence does not belong to the material fabric itself, for matter cannot think or know. To present our religious devotions to the universe, is an idolatry not less degrading than that of the most stupid of the heathen nations. They worship stocks and stones; but this philosophy clothes every clod of earth with divinity, and entitles it to our worship. The heathen render divine honors to a few men, whom, for extraordinary merit they enroll among the gods; but this notion directs our worship to every man, and to every beast of the field. It is a notion perfectly adapted to crush the outflowings of the devotional heart, as they rise to the one, indivisible, spiritual intelligence, to whom alone divine worship is due.
The notion, that God is the Soul of the universe, may not be liable to precisely the same objection. But what does the proposition mean? The only sense in which we can possibly understand that God is the Soul of the universe, is, that he sustains a relation to the universe analogous to that which the human soul sustains to the body with which it is connected. But how extensive is this analogy? The soul did not create the matter of which the body is made; did not form the skilfully wrought parts of the wonderful machinery, or contrive their mysterious movements, which it studies with admiration, and comprehends only in very small part. The soul exercises but a very limited control over the body. The muscles of voluntary motion are under its command, and move at its will; and, in this fact, we may discover a faint analogy to the operation of Him, who worketh all things after the counsel of His will, and in whom every creature lives, moves, and has its being. An analogy so meager as this is not sufficient to justify the metaphorical language in which the proposition is stated. Yet, while we reject the proposition, we may derive from it a profitable suggestion. In our intercourse with the myriads of mankind, we perceive and acknowledge, in the movements of every human limb, in the changes of every human countenance, and in the words which fall from every human tongue, the power and intelligence of an operating human soul. Equally obvious, and infinitely more extensive, is the control which God exercises, at every moment, over every part of the universe. With a proper view of God’s spirituality, and of his operative control over the world and everything in it, our minds would hold intercourse with his mind, as direct and undoubted as that which we hold with the minds of our fellow-men, and one more constant, and more elevating and delightful.
GOD IS EVERYWHERE.
Every material thing in the universe is somewhere. The sun has its place; the earth also, and every grain of sand, and every drop of water. The drops of water may change their place perpetually, but every drop has, for each moment, its own place, to the exclusion of all other matter in the universe.
In our conceptions of the human mind we assign place to it also, though in a different manner. We do not attribute to it length, breadth, and thickness, as to a block of marble, which can be measured by feet and inches; but we conceive of it as present in the human body, with which it is connected, and absent from another, with which it is not connected. Each mind is operated on by impressions made on the organs of sense which belong to its own body; and operates by its volitions on the muscles of motion which belong to that body. In this view, we conceive of each mind as present in its own body, and not elsewhere; and we conceive of changing the place of the mind, while its connection with the body continues, only by a change in the place of the body.
When we conceive of finite spiritual beings as angels, we assign to each some place; because his operation, though not confined like that of the human mind, to a particular material body, is nevertheless limited. Such conception accords with the teaching of Scripture, in which angels are represented as moving from place to place, to execute the will of their Sovereign. So the angel came to Daniel, and to Peter; and so one is represented as flying through the midst of heaven.
We must not conceive of God’s omnipresence as if it were material. We say that the atmosphere is present at every part of the earth’s surface; but this is not strictly true. It is not the whole, but merely a small part of the atmosphere, which is present at each place; God is indivisible. We cannot say, that a part of his essence is here, and a part yonder. If this were the mode of God’s omnipresence in universal space, he would be infinitely divided and only an infinitely small part of him would be present at each place. It would not be the whole deity, that takes cognizance of our actions, and listens to our petitions. This notion is unfavorable to piety, and opposed to the true sense of Scripture: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.”
There are passages of Scripture which speak of God’s removing from one place to another; of his approaching and departing; of his dwelling in heaven, and of his coming near to his people, and taking up his abode with them. These are manifestly accommodations of language; just as when eyes or hands are attributed to him. They refer to the manifestations of his presence in his various works, and dispensations, in which such changes take place, as are appropriately and impressively expressed by this language.
When we deny a material omnipresence of God, as if his essence were divided and diffused; and when we maintain that the whole deity is everywhere present by his energy and operation, it is not to be understood that we deny the essential omnipresence of God. In whatever manner his essence is present anywhere, it is present everywhere. What the mode of that presence is, we know not. We know not the essence of the human mind, nor the mode of its presence in the body; much less can we comprehend the essence of the infinite God, or the mode of his omnipresence. To that incomprehensible property of his nature, by which he is capable of being wholly present at the same moment, with every one of his creatures, without division of his essence, and without removal from place to place, the name immensity has been given. The essence of God is immense or unmeasured, because it is unmeasurable. It is unmeasurable, because it is spiritual, and therefore, without such dimensions as may be measured by feet and inches; and because, in whatever sense dimensions may be ascribed to it, these dimensions are boundless. Time has a dimension not to be measured by feet and inches: and we may say of time, that it is omnipresent. The same moment exists in Europe and America, at Saturn, and the centre of the earth. The omnipresence of time does not explain the omnipresence of God, but it may help us to admit the possibility of omnipresence without division of essence, or removal of place. But the omnipresence of time is not immensity; for time has its measure, and a moment is not eternity.
It is not derogatory to the dignity and glory of God, that he is present everywhere. There are foul places where human beings would prefer not to be; but they do not affect the Deity as they affect men. The sun-beams fall on them without being polluted; and the holy God cannot be contaminated by them. There are scenes of wickedness from which a good man will turn away with abhorrence, and, in the figurative language of Scripture, God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil:” yet, in another place of scripture, language no less figurative teaches us that the eyes of God behold the evil as well as the good. He witnesses, while he abhors.
A man who sincerely believes the omnipresence of God, cannot be indifferent to religion. To realize that the moral Governor of the universe is ever near, in all his holiness and power, and as much present as if he were nowhere else, must awaken solicitude. When a sense of guilt oppresses, the presence of such companion becomes intolerable. The guilty man strives to flee from the presence of God, as Jonah did; but the doctrine of God’s omnipresence teaches him that the attempt is unavailing. The power conscience tormenting the guilty man, wherever he goes, is terrible; but the presence of the God against whom he has sinned, and whose wrath he dreads, is still more terrible. To the soul, reconciled to God, the doctrine is full of consolation. In every place, in every condition, to have with us an almighty friend, a kind father, is a source of unspeakable comfort and joy. We need not fear, though we pass through fire or flood, if God be with us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we may fear no evil. In every circumstance and trial, it conduces to holiness, to know that God is present.
GOD IS ETERNAL.
In our knowledge of the objects which surround us, we include not only their present state, but their continued existence, and the changes which they undergo. Some things pass before our eyes, as visions of the moment; others, as the rocks, the sun, the stars, outlast many generations of men. Few living creatures remain in life as long as man; but the shortness of his life is a subject of daily remark, and of impressive scriptural representations. The duration of the deity is exhibited in contrast thus: “Lord, make me know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth, and mine age is as nothing BEFORE THEE.” A thousand years, include many of the ordinary generations of mankind; yet, in comparison with God’s duration, they are said to be “as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” Tomorrow, while future, may appear to our view, as a duration of considerable length; but yesterday, when it is past, how short it is! An hour of the day, filled with a great variety of incidents, which it might require many hours to narrate, is lengthened out in our view; but how short, how contracted is a watch of the night, in which we sleep and awake, and know not that time has passed! Such to the view of God is the long period of a thousand years. To heighten our conception of God’s eternity, it is contrasted with the duration of those natural things which appear to possess the greatest stability: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning, has laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they shall perish, but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment: and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou are the same, and thy years shall not fail.” But when we have enlarged our conceptions to the utmost, they still utterly fail to comprehend the vast subject. We stretch our thoughts backward and forward; but no beginning or end of God’s existence appears. To relieve our overstretched imagination, and to stop the unavailing effort to comprehend what is incomprehensible, we bring in the negative idea—no beginning, no end. Duration without beginning and without end, becomes the expression of God’s eternity.
That every thing, except God, had a beginning, is a doctrine of revelation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This doctrine, philosophy cannot contradict, and perhaps cannot fully demonstrate. But there are manifestations of design, even in unorganized matter, in the kinds and quantities that exist, and the uses to which they are adapted. If matter is eternal, or a production of chance, why is it not all of one kind; and why are the kinds of it, and the proportionate quantities of each, so apparently the result of design? Revelation answers this by declaration, “In wisdom thou hast made them all.”
In contemplating God as the First Cause, we consider his existence uncaused. As we look back through duration past, till we find one existence that is without beginning, so we look back through the long chain of effect and cause, till we have found one existence that is without cause. Sometimes, however, the conception is clothed in language, that has not merely negative import. Not satisfied with the merely negative idea, without cause, learned men labor to assign a cause for God’s existence, and represent it as the cause of itself, or as including its cause within itself. They express this, by saying, that God is self-existent. This mode of expression accommodates our tendency to philosophize; but it perhaps conveys no other intelligible idea, than that God’s existence is without cause.
Another philosophical expression, God necessarily exists, seems to possess some deep meaning; but when we labor to explore its depths, we shall, perhaps, find in it no other intelligible idea, than that God exists, and has always existed. His existence has always rendered his non-existence impossible, because it is impossible for anything to be, and not to be, at the same time. If philosophy goes behind the existence of God, in search of a cause necessitating his being, she wanders out of her proper province. We may permit her to trace the relation of cause and effect, as far as that relation is to be found; but when she has arrived at the uncaused existence of the eternal One, we should say to her, thus far shalt thou go, and no further.
The eternity of God has been defined, existence without beginning, without end, and without succession. Time with us, is past, present and future; but God’s existence is believed to be a perpetual now. The subject is beyond our comprehension; but it is most reasonable to conclude, that God’s mode of existence differs from ours, as it respects time, as well as space; and that, as he exists equally at every point of space, without division of his immensity, so he equally exists at every moment of time, without division of his eternity. Possibly this may be intimated in the Scripture phrase, “inhabiteth eternity.” We dwell in time, a habitation with its various apartments; and we pass from one to another in order; but God’s habitation is undivided eternity. Our lifetime has its parts, childhood, boyhood, manhood, and old age; but God’s life is as indivisible as his essence.
GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE.
The doctrine of God’s eternity, and that of his unchangeableness, are nearly allied to each other; and if his eternity excludes succession, it must also exclude the possibility of change. Unchangeableness applies not only to his essence, but also to his attributes. His spirituality is ever the same, his omnipresence the same, and so of the rest. His purpose, also, is unchangeable; it is called “his eternal purpose.” He says: “My counsel shall stand.” He is said, in Scripture, to repent; but, in the same chapter in which it is twice said that God repented, it is also stated: “He is not a man, that he should repent.” We cannot suppose that the sacred writer intended to contradict himself palpably in the compass of a few verses. In accommodation to our modes of speaking, God is said to repent when he effects such a change in his work as would, in human actions, proceed from repentance. Repentance, in men, implies grief of mind, and change of work. The former is inconsistent with the perfection of God, but the latter is not. To destroy the world by the deluge, no more implied a change in God than to create it at first. Each set effected a great change, but in both God remained unchanged. No other language could so impressively represent God’s abhorrence of man’s wickedness to be the cause of the deluge, as that used by the sacred historian: “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
When we contemplate the shortness of human life, and the incessant change of everything with which we have to do on earth, and of ourselves, as we pass from the cradle to the grave, we may well exclaim, as we look up to the eternal and unchangeable God, “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him.” A sense of our comparative nothingness is eminently conducive to humility. A view of God’s eternity and unchangeableness is necessary to the due exercise of confidence in him. It is folly to trust in uncertain riches, and in the things which perish in the using of them; but we wisely put our trust in the living God. The men with whom we converse are passing away; the condition of life is perpetually changing; we are, in all our relations to earthly things, as if we were on the surface of a restless ocean; but God is as a rock amidst the fluctuating waters; and, while we repose unshaken confidence in him, our feet stand firmly, and we can look without dismay on the troubled scene around us. Men of age receive our reverence, and the counsels of their long experience are highly prized. Who will not reverence the Ancient of Days, the eternal God; and who will reject the counsel of Him “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”?
The immutability of God has been made a pretext for restraining prayer before him; but this is wrong. Even if the giving or withholding of the blessings desired were unaffected by the prayer, there still remains sufficient reason for perseverance in offering the petition. The devotional feeling is acceptable to God, and profitable to the soul. If prayer will not bring God to the soul, it will at least, bring the soul to God. A man in a boat, on a dangerous water, may be saved by means of a rope thrown to him from the shore. When he pulls, though the rock to which the other end of the rope may be fastened does not come to the boat, the boat comes to the rock. So prayer brings the soul to God.
But it is not true, that the giving or withholding of the blessing desired is unaffected by the petition presented. Though God is unchangeable, his operation changes in its effect on his creatures, according to their changing character and circumstances. The same sun hardens clay and softens wax. Adam was in God’s favor before he sinned; but afterwards was under his displeasure. When a man becomes converted, he is removed from under the wrath of God into a state of favor with him, and all things now work together for his good. In all this, God changes not. God has, in time past, bestowed blessings in answer to prayer, and his unchangeableness encourages the hope that he will do so in time to come. His whole plan has been so arranged, in his infinite wisdom, that many of his blessings are bestowed only in answer to prayer. The connection between the prayer and the bestowment of the blessing, is as fixed by the divine appointment as that between cause and effect in natural things. The unchangeableness of God, therefore, instead of being a reason for restraining prayer, renders prayer indispensable; for our weak petitions have their effect with God, according to his immutable purpose; and, to deny the possibility of this, would be to deny the efficacy of Christ’s intercession.
GOD KNOWS ALL THINGS.
In their stupidity, men have worshipped gods of wood and stone, which having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not; but the deity that the Bible makes known, is a God of knowledge. Even natural religion teaches that the maker and governor of the world must possess intelligence; and the degrading idolatry which worshipped birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things, was contrary to reason, as well as to revelation.
The MODE of God’s knowledge we cannot comprehend. Scripture and reason unite in teaching that his thoughts are not as our thoughts. We derive our best conception of his knowledge from our own mental operations; but we ought to be careful not to think
of him as altogether such an one as ourselves. As he differs from all creatures, in mode of presence and of duration, so he differs, in mode of knowledge, from all other intelligent beings.
God does not acquire knowledge after our mode. We acquire knowledge of external objects by means of our bodily senses; but God has no body, and no organs of sense like ours. We learn the less obvious relations of things by processes of reasoning, which are often tedious and laborious, but God has no labor to acquire knowledge, and suffers no delay in attaining it. All things are naked, and open to his eyes. We learn much by the testimony of others; but God is not dependent for knowledge on information received from any of his creatures. We obtain knowledge of our own mental operations by means of consciousness; and, as this is without any process of reasoning, and not by our bodily senses, or the testimony of others, it may give us the best possible conception of God’s mode of knowledge. All things which he knows are before his mind as immediately and completely as the states and operations of our minds are before our consciousness; but our best conceptions fall infinitely short of the incomprehensible subject. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his thoughts higher than our thoughts.
God does not hold his knowledge in possession, after our mode. The great store-house of our knowledge is memory, a wonderful faculty, with which the human mind is endowed. Without it, all knowledge would pass from the mind, as the image passes from a mirror, when the object producing it has gone by. But if God’s duration is without succession, there is, with him, no past to remember; and therefore memory, with him is something wholly different from what it is with us. His whole mode of life differs so widely from ours, that we cannot attribute human faculties to him, without degrading his divinity.
In our study of God’s attributes, it is important to remember, at every step of our progress, that they are all incomprehensible to us. We should do this, not only for the sake of humility, but to guard us against erroneous inferences, which we are liable to draw from our imperfect conceptions of the divine nature. It is instructive to notice how far the elements of these conceptions are derived from what we know of our own minds. No combination of such elements can possibly give us adequate conceptions of the eternal and infinite Mind. Even the Holy Scriptures, which reveal God to us, do not supply the elementary conceptions necessary to a perfect knowledge of God. They speak to human beings in human language, and the knowledge which they impart is sufficient for our present necessities, and able to make us wise to salvation; but we should remember, that human language cannot express to us what the human mind cannot conceive, and, therefore, cannot convey a full knowledge of the deity.
Much of human knowledge consists of mere negations. Frequent exemplifications of this occur in our study of the divine attributes. What God’s spirituality is, we cannot positively know; but we know that it is not matter. What God’s eternity is, we cannot comprehend but, in our labor to comprehend it, we stretch our positive conception of duration to the utmost possible extent, and at length seek relief in the negative ideas—without beginning, without end, without succession. These negations mark the imperfection of our knowledge. God’s knowledge is direct and positive, and he seeks no relief in the negations that we find so convenient.
God does not use his knowledge after our mode. For the proper directing of actions, knowledge is necessary, both of things actually existing, and of things, the existence of which is merely possible. Out minds possess both these kinds of knowledge to a limited extent, and use them in an imperfect manner. In the study of history and geography we acquire knowledge of things which are, or have been, in actual existence. Arithmetic treats of number, and geometry of magnitude; but these sciences do not teach the actual existence of anything. By reasoning from the abstract relations and properties of things, our minds are capable of determining what would, or might exist, in supposed cases; and, by this process, our knowledge extends into the department of things possible. This knowledge is necessary to choice; and, therefore, to voluntary action. If but one thing were possible, there would be no room for choice; and we must know the things possible, before we can choose. God has perfect knowledge of things possible, and these depend on his power. He has, also, perfect knowledge of things actual, and these depend on his will. He knew how many worlds he could create, and how many kinds of plants and animals; and out of these he chose what worlds, plants, and animals, should exist. According to our mode of conception, the knowledge of things possible precedes the will or purpose of God, and the knowledge of things actual follows it. But we dare not affirm that there is any succession of thought in the divine mind. How God uses his knowledge, in counsel, or in action, we cannot comprehend.
The EXTENT of God’s knowledge is unlimited. He knows all things; all things possible, and all things actual. He knows himself perfectly, though unknown by any other being. The attributes which we labor in vain to comprehend, he understands fully. His ways, to us unsearchable, are fully known to him from the beginning of his works. All creatures are known to him, and everything that appertains to them: the angels of heaven, the men who inhabit the earth, and every living thing, even to the sparrow, or young ravens, he knows, and carefully regards. The thoughts of the mind he understands, and the secrets of every heart he fully searches.
All events, past, present, or future, are known to God. Past events are said to be remembered by him; and he claims the foreknowledge of future events, challenging false gods to a comparison with him in this respect. His foreknowledge of future events is proved by the numerous predictions contained in the Bible, that have proceeded from him. It was given to the Israelites, as a rule for distinguishing a true prophet of the Lord, that his predictions should be fulfilled; but a foreknowledge of future events could not be imparted to them from the Lord, if the Lord himself did not possess it.
The mode of God’s foreknowledge we cannot comprehend. He sees present things not as man sees, and remembers the past not in the manner of human memory. It is, therefore, not surprising that we cannot comprehend the mode of his knowledge; and especially of his foreknowledge, in which we least of all, resemble him. We have some knowledge of the present and the past; but of the future we have no absolute knowledge. We know causes at present existing, from which we infer that future events will take place; but an absolute foreknowledge of these future events we do not possess. Some cause, of which we are now not aware, may intervene, and disappoint our expectation. The phenomena of nature, which we expect with the greatest confidence, such as the rising of the sun, the occurrence of an eclipse, are foreknown only on the condition that the present laws of nature shall continue to operate, without change or suspension. But the Author of Nature may interpose, and change the present order of things. On the supposition that God has a perfect knowledge of all the causes now operating; that there are fixed laws which determine the succession of events; and that God perfectly understands these laws; we may comprehend that God can infallibly predict things to come. No being but himself can interfere with the order of things which he has established. This mode of foreknowledge we can, in some measure, conceive; but the supposition which it involves, that all events take place according to an established order of sequence, many are unwilling to admit. They maintain that events dependent on the volitions of free agents, do not so occur; and, therefore, cannot be foreknown after this manner.
Some, who adopt the view last mentioned, deny that God foreknows future events, dependent on human volitions. They nevertheless attribute omniscience to him, and understand it to be the power of knowing all things. They say that, as omnipotence signifies a power to do all things, without the doing of them, so omniscience signifies the power to know all things, without knowing of them.. There is clearly a mistake here in language. As omnipotence signifies all power, so omniscience signifies all knowledge; and God does not possess omniscience, if he possesses merely the power to know, without the knowledge itself. But it may be questioned, whether, according to the theory, God has even the power to know. The power of God might have excluded such contingencies from existence; but, after having opened the door, it is difficult to understand how any power could foreknow, what things will enter, if they are in their nature unforeknowable. But the strongest possible objection lies against the theory, in that it is opposed to fact. God has predicted very many events dependent on innumerable volitions of free agents, and, therefore, must have foreknown them. Those who have advocated this theory, in connection with the opinion, that the duration of God is an eternal now, and that there is strictly speaking, neither foreknowledge nor after-knowledge with him; fix narrow limits to the divine omniscience. If God’s knowledge is unchangeable, and if he has no foreknowledge of contingencies, he can have no after-knowledge of them. But the whole history of mankind is dependent on contingencies; being filled with them, and events depending on them. All this must be a blank to the view of God. Men may know this history, and it may be written out in ten thousand volumes; but God knows it not, for, though he possesses the power to know, he has determined not to exercise it. How then shall God judge the world?
Human beings have two modes of knowing past events; one, by memory; the other, by inferring their existence from the effects which have followed. One man remembers that a house was burned down, having seen the flames of its combustion; another knows that it was burned down, because he sees its ashes. In one mode, memory runs back along the line of time; in the other, reason runs back along the line of cause and effect. The only mode which we have of knowing future events, is by the reasoning process. Whether God has a method, analogous rather to our memory or perception, than to our reason; it is impossible for us to determine. If he has, we cannot conceive of it, because there is nothing like it in ourselves; but the absence of such a power in us, by no means proves its non-existence in God. Some have imagined that God looks down the vista of time, and sees future events, as we see a traveller approaching when he is yet at a distance from us. But the cases are not analogous. We see the traveller coming, not having come; what is present, as to time, and not what is future. His arrival, the future event, we know only by a process of reasoning. The supposition is that God has an immediate perception of the future event, without any intervening process of reasoning. To say that he sees it, expresses this figuratively, but does not explain it.
The doctrine that there is no succession in the eternity of God, neither denies nor explains his foreknowledge. 1. It does not deny. Some have maintained that there is, strictly speaking, neither foreknowledge nor after-knowledge with God; and this may be admitted, if foreknowledge necessarily implies succession of thought. But the foreknowledge which we attribute to God, is not knowledge antecedent to something else in the divine mind, but knowledge antecedent to the event foreknown. From God’s knowledge predictions of future events have proceeded. Such knowledge, in a human mind, would be foreknowledge; and in human language this is its proper name. 2. It does not explain. The doctrine teaches that all times and events, past, present, and future, are alike present to God. The overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, and the prediction thereof by Isaiah, are both historical events; and, as such, are supposed to have been alike present to the mind of God from the beginning of the world. Now, the fact that the overthrow was present to the mind of God, could not be the cause of the revelation made to the prophet, and of the prediction which followed; for according to the doctrine, the prediction was already as much present to the mind of God as the event predicted; and therefore, its existence must be as much presupposed in the order of cause and effect. Hence, to account for this, or any other prediction, we are compelled to admit that God has a mode of foreknowledge, into the nature of which the doctrine of the perpetual now gives us no insight.
But why should we indulge ourselves in vain speculations, or exhaust ourselves with needless efforts? We are like children who wade into the ocean, to learn its depth by the measure of their little stature, and who exclaim, almost at their first step, O! how deep! Even Paul, when laboring to fathom this subject exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
In comparison with God’s infinite intelligence, how little is all human knowledge! We honor Newton, and other giants of intellect that have appeared in the progress of our race; but their highest glory was, to know a very little of God’s ways. Let every power of our minds bend before his infinite understanding, with deep humility and devout adoration. We study our own minds, and find in them much that we cannot explain; and when we use the little knowledge of them to which we can attain, in our labored efforts to understand something of God, an important part of its use consists in convincing us that we cannot find out God, and that his thoughts are not as our thoughts.
As intelligent beings, we may contemplate the omniscience of God with devout admiration; and as guilty beings, we should fear and tremble before it. He sees the inmost recesses of the heart. The hateful thoughts which we are unwilling a fellow-worm should know, are all known to him, and every thought, word, and deed, he remembers, and will bring into judgment. How terrible is this attribute of the Great Judge, who will expose the secrets of every heart, and reward every man according to his works, though unobserved or forgotten by men!
But with all the awe which invests it, this attribute of the Divine Nature, is delightful to the pious man. He rejoices to say, Thou, God, seest me. He prays, Try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me into the way everlasting. Gladly he commits himself to the guidance of him who has all knowledge. Conscious of his own blindness and darkness, he knows not which way to take, or what is best for him; but he puts himself, with unwavering confidence, into the hands of the omniscient God.
GOD IS ABLE TO DO WHATEVER HE PLEASES.
Our first idea of power, is probably derived from the control which we possess over our muscles, and the use which we make of them, to produce effects on things about us. Our limbs and voice become the instruments of our power; and, in the using of them for effecting our purpose, the notion of power arises. We transfer this notion, and incorporate it into the conception which we form of other intelligent beings like ourselves; and it thus becomes an element in our conception of the deity. In the material world, causes are followed by their effects in a manner similar to that in which effects are produced by the motion of our limbs; and the material causes are said to have power. It is thus we speak of the power of steam, or of an engine.
We know well that our power is limited. Many things which we attempt we fail to accomplish. To conceive of omnipotence, we introduce, as in other cases, the negative idea, without fail. This however, does not exclude the idea of attempt, desire, or will. It derogates nothing from the omnipotence of God, that he does not accomplish what he has no desire or will to accomplish. It is impossible for God to lie, or to deny himself; but these are things which he does not please to do, because they are inconsistent with his moral perfections. Nor would the doing of these things be any indication of supreme power. It is also true, that God cannot do things which imply contradiction in themselves; as, to make a thing to be, and not to be, at the same time; to make a circle to be at the same time a square, &c. If finite power fails to accomplish such things, it fails not because it is finite, but because the things are impossible. No measure of power could come nearer to success. Impotence is as good as omnipotence for accomplishing impossibilities.
We are filled with awe in contemplating the omnipotence of God. When we hear the voice of his thunder in the heavens, or feel the earth quake under the tread of his foot, how do solemn thoughts of things divine fill our minds! From the rending cloud, and the quaking earth, let us look back to the power which brought creation into being, and forward to that display of his power which we are to witness on the last day. Such a being, who will not fear? Our minds exercise their power through our bodies, to which, therefore, the immediate exercise of it is limited; for we cannot add one cubit to our stature, or make one hair white or black. But God has everything in the universe under his immediate and perfect control. He needs no instruments, no mechanical aid, no series of contrivances; but, at his will the thing is done, whether it be the production of an animalcule, or the creation of a world. At our will, a finger moves; but at the volition of God, a planet is launched in its orbit, with a force of which the cannon-ball gives but a very faint conception. Hurricanes, which sweep the earth, and lift up the dwellings, and the very bodies of men, in the air, have their power. The ocean, which sports with mighty ships, has its power. The volcano, which bursts forth with such awful grandeur, has its power. But when we have combined the force of air, ocean, and subterranean fire, we must multiply it by the number of such agencies which are operating, through all the worlds in the whole of God’s vast empire, before we can begin to conceive adequately of his omnipotence. Lo, these are parts of his ways; but the thunder of his power, who can understand?
GOD IS INFINITELY BENEVOLENT.
God’s goodness, as exercised towards his creatures, is often expressed in the Scriptures by the term love. Love is distinguished as benevolence, beneficence, or complacence. Benevolence is love in intention or disposition; beneficence is love in action, or conferring its benefits; and complacence is the approbation of good actions or dispositions. Goodness, exercised toward the unworthy, is called grace; toward the suffering, it is called pity, or mercy. The latter term intimates that the suffering, or liability to suffer, arises from the just displeasure of God.
Goodness implies a disposition to produce happiness. We are conscious of pleasure and pain in ourselves, and we know that we can, to some extent, cause pleasure or pain in others. Continued pleasure is happiness; continued pain, misery. God is able to produce happiness or misery, when, and to whatever extent he pleases. Which of these is it the disposition of his infinite nature to produce?
God’s goodness may be argued from the manifestations of it in the works of creation. The world is peopled with sentient beings, capable of pleasure; and sources of pleasure are everywhere provided for them. Every sense of every animal is an inlet of pleasure; and for every sense the means of pleasure are provided. What God gives them they gather. His open hand pours enjoyments into their existence at every moment. When we consider the innumerable living creatures that are, at this moment, receiving pleasure from the abundant and varied stores which his creating power has furnished; and when we reflect, that this stream of bounty has flowed incessantly from the creation of the world, we may well consider the fountain from which it has descended as infinite.
It demonstrates the goodness of God, that the pleasures which his creatures enjoy do not come incidentally, but are manifestly the result of contrivance. Food would nourish without the pleasure experienced in eating. We might have been so constituted as to be driven to take it by hunger, and to receive it with pain, but little less than that produced by the want of it. But God has superadded pleasure where it was not absolutely necessary, and has made the very support of animal existence a source of perpetual gratification.
It adds greatly to the force of this argument, that indications of malevolent design are not found in the works of God. Pain is, indeed, often experienced, but it never appears to result from an arrangement specially made for receiving it. There is no organ of our body to which we can point, and say, this was specially designed to give us pain.
Mere animal enjoyment is not the highest that God bestows. To his intelligent creatures he has opened another source in the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge. We need knowledge, as well as food; and we might be driven to seek it by a painful necessity, without deriving any pleasure from it. But here, again, the benevolence of the Creator is manifested. Pleasure is superadded when we acquire necessary knowledge; and, when the progress has reached the limit of our necessities, the pleasure does not cease. The intellectual appetite is never satiated to loathing.
But God has made us susceptible of far higher and nobler pleasure in the exercise of virtue and religion. To this he has adapted our moral nature, rendering us capable both of the exercise and the enjoyment. For the exercise of virtue and religion, the constitution of human society, and the various relations which we sustain in its organization, furnish abundant occasion; and in the moral sense of mankind, and the approbation which virtue extorts, even when the tribute is not spontaneously rendered, a source of enjoyment is opened. In the proper exercise of our moral powers, we are capable of loving and enjoying God; and, therefore, of experiencing a happiness that infinitely transcends all other enjoyment. This ocean of infinite fulness, this source of eternal and exhaustless happiness, gives the full demonstration of God’s infinite goodness. And this enjoyment, also, never cloys; but, with the progress, the delight increases.
The doctrine of God’s goodness, notwithstanding the abundance of its proofs, is attended with difficulties. Though sentient beings are not furnished with organs purposely prepared for the receiving of pain, they have organs for inflicting it, which are unquestionably the result of contrivance. The fangs of serpents, and the stings of insects, are instances of this kind; and to these may be added the talons and tusks, or beaks, with which carnivorous animals rend their prey. How is the existence of such pain-inflicting contrivances to be reconciled with the infinite goodness of God? How can we explain, in harmony with this doctrine, the suffering which animals endure from the violence of each other, from hunger, cold, and disease? Above all, how can we reconcile the innumerable miseries with which human society is filled, in every rank and condition of life? If God is infinitely good, why is human life begun in pain, and closed in pain, and subject to pain throughout its whole course?
These difficulties are of too much magnitude to be overlooked. They perplex the understanding, and disquiet the heart; and, therefore demand a careful and candid consideration. The following observations are offered, to guard the heart against their influence.
1. Admit the existence of the difficulties in their full force, and what then? Does it follow that God is a malevolent being? Were he so, the proofs of his malevolence would abound, as those of his goodness now do. We should everywhere find animal senses adapted to be the inlets of misery, and the objects of these senses all adapted to give pain. Does it follow that God is indifferent whether his creatures are happy or miserable? The numerous provisions which are made with a manifest reference to animal enjoyment, forbid this supposition. Does it follow that God is capricious? This conclusion is precluded by the fact, that what suffering there is in the world, runs throughout along with its enjoyments; the happiness and the misery are entwined with each other, and form parts of the same system. By summing up the whole, we discover that animal life has more enjoyment than suffering, and that its pains are, in most cases, incidental. In our daily experience, blessings are poured upon us incessantly; and when suffering comes, we are often conscious that it arises from our abuse of God’s goodness, and is, therefore, no argument against it. In many other cases, we find present suffering conducive to future good; and we have reason to believe that it would always be so, if we endured it with a proper spirit, and made a wise improvement of it. It becomes us, therefore, when sufferings occur, the beneficial tendency of which we cannot discover, to remember that we comprehend but a very small part of God’s way. We have found every other attribute of his nature incomprehensible to us, and it ought not to surprise us that his goodness is so.
The sufferings which we experience in ourselves, or see in others, become an occasion for the trial of our faith. To the understanding of a child, the discipline of his father may appear neither wise nor kind. Indulgences which are craved may be denied; and toils and privations, exceedingly unwelcome, may be imposed. In these circumstances, it is the child’s duty to confide where it cannot comprehend. So we should exercise faith in the wisdom and goodness of our heavenly Father, and believe that his ways are full of goodness, even when they are inscrutable. Enough of his goodness is seen elsewhere to satisfy us of its existence when mystery hides it from view.
2. It cannot be proved that an admixture of pain with the large measure of enjoyment which God bestows on his creatures, is inconsistent with his goodness. The insect of a day, and the immortal near the throne of God, derive their enjoyment from the same infinite goodness. If the short-lived insect should pass its few hours in the sunbeams without pain, and should be annihilated without pain, the difficulty which now embarrasses us would not apply to its case. Its existence, filled with enjoyment, would correspond with our notions of the Creator’s goodness; and the finiteness, or very small measure of its enjoyment, would not disprove the source to be infinite from which it proceeds. Now, if a creature of another kind should have enjoyments a hundred fold greater, with an abatement of one measure of pain, its existence, on the whole, is ninety-nine times more desirable than that of the insect. Shall we, then, deny that this existence proceeds from the goodness of the deity? If the pain forms a part of the same system with the pleasure, we must attribute them to the same author; and the animal that has ninety-nine measures of enjoyment remaining, has no more right to complain of the abatement of one by the endurance of pain, than the insect supposed would have to complain of the absence of ninety-nine measures which the more favored creature enjoys. This consideration may satisfy us that the presence of some pain, connected with a far greater amount of enjoyment, is not inconsistent with the doctrine that God is infinitely good. Furthermore, it is perfectly conceivable that pain itself may, in some cases, enhance our pleasures, as relief from suffering renders subsequent enjoyment more exquisite: and, in other ways, which we are unable to comprehend, pain may produce a beneficial result. In this view, the existence of pain cannot be inconsistent with the goodness of God.
3. Much of the suffering in the world is clearly the effect of sin, and is to be considered an infliction of divine justice. The justice of God claims scope for its exercise, as well as his goodness. The goodness of God is infinite, if it confers happiness as widely as is consistent with the other perfections of his nature. It is a favorite theory with some, that God aims at the greatest possible amount of happiness in the universe; and that he admits evil, only because the admission of evil produces in the end a greater amount of happiness than its exclusion would have done. According to this theory, justice itself is a modification of benevolence; and the pain suffered by one being, is inflicted from love to the whole. But whether justice be a modification of benevolence, or a distinct attribute, its claims must be regarded; and goodness does not cease to be goodness, because it does not overthrow the government of God, or oppose his other perfections.
Some persons attribute all the sufferings of brute animals to the sin of man, but the Scriptures do not clearly teach this doctrine; and we have shown that the pain which brutes endure, may be otherwise reconciled with the goodness of God. That animals suffer because of man’s sin, is clear in the cruelty which they often experience from human hands; but that all their sufferings proceed from this cause is not so clear. Unless the order of things was greatly changed at the fall of man, hawks had their claws and beaks from the day they were created, and used them before man sinned, in taking and devouring other birds for food; and, therefore, pain and death, in brute animals, did not enter the world by the sin of man. Brute animals have, on the whole, a happy existence. Free from anxiety, remorse, and the fear of death, they enjoy, with high relish, the pleasures which their Creator has given them; and it is not the less a gift of his infinite goodness, because it is limited in quantity, or abated by some mixture of pain.
4. It may be, that God’s goodness is not mere love of happiness. In his view, happiness, may not be the only good, or even the chief good. He is himself perfectly happy; yet this perfection of his nature is not presented to us, in his word, as the only ground, or even the chief ground, on which his claim to divine honor and worship rests. The hosts of heaven ascribe holiness to him, and worship him because of it; but not because of his happiness. If we could contemplate him as supremely happy, but deriving his happiness from cruelty, falsehood, and injustice, we should need a different nature from that with which he has endowed us, and a different Bible to direct us from that which he has given, before we could render him sincere and heart-felt adoration. In the regulation of our conduct, when pleasure and duty conflict with each other, we are required to choose the latter; and this is often made the test of our obedience. On the same principle, if a whole life of duty and a whole life of enjoyment were set before us, that we might choose between them, we should be required to prefer holiness to happiness. It therefore accords with the judgment of God not to regard happiness as the chief good; and the production of the greatest possible amount of happiness could not have been his prime object in the creation of the world. We may conclude that his goodness is not a weak fondness which indulges his creatures, and administers to their enjoyment, regardless of their conduct and moral character. It aims at their happiness, but in subordination to a higher and nobler purpose. According to the order of things which he has established, it is rendered impossible for an unholy being to be happy, and this order accords with the goodness of God, which aims, not at the mere happiness of his universe, but at its well-being, in the best possible sense.
If these views are correct, the miseries which sin has introduced into the world, instead of disproving the goodness of God, proceed from it, and demonstrate it. They are means used by the great Father of all, in the discipline of his great family, to deter from the greatest of all evils. Precisely this use the wisdom from above teaches us to make of his judgments and threatenings; and when these awful means have taught us the evil of sin, and have been blessed to us as means of sanctification, we may perceive in them a manifestation of God’s goodness.
5. To infer the infinitude of God’s goodness from it effects, we must view them in the aggregate. The perfection of his justice appears in its minute and precise adaptation to each particular case. Every part of his administration must, when brought to the line of rectitude for comparison, be found to agree with it precisely. But as in estimating the length of a line, we do not examine its parts, so the infinitude of God’s goodness must be judged from the aggregate of its effects, as we learn the power of God, not from a single grain of sand, but from the whole extent of creation.
To comprehend this vast subject, we need the infinite mind of God himself. In events which now appear to us dark and mysterious, the seeds of future benefits to his creatures may be wrapped up, which will bring forth their fruit hereafter, for the use of admiring and adoring intelligences. The parts of the great system are so wonderfully adjusted to each other, that no finite being dare say that this is useless, or that pernicious or hurtful. Why God has made precisely such orders of creatures as inhabit the world with us, and why he has appointed to them their various modes of life, with the advantages and inconveniences peculiar to each, we are wholly unable to say; and, if we undertake to say why he has made any creatures at all, we may assign a reason which we think we understand, but of which, in reality, we know but little. If the united intelligence of the universe could lift up its voice to God, as the voice of one creature, and say, “Why hast thou made me thus?” it would be daring impiety. How unbecoming then for man, who is a worm, to arraign the wisdom and goodness of his Maker!
The goodness of God is the attribute of his nature, which, above all others, draws forth the affection of our hearts. We are filled with awe at his eternity, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence; but we can imagine all these attributes connected with moral qualities which would render them repulsive. But the goodness of God, while it is awful and grand, is at the same time powerfully attractive. It is this, when understood in its proper sense, not as the mere love of happiness, that renders Jehovah the proper centre of the moral universe. It is this that attracts the hearts of all holy intelligences now in heaven, and that is drawing to that high and holy place whatever on earth is most lovely and excellent; and if the hearts of any repel this centre, and recede further from it, they are “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”
GOD IS A BEING OF INVIOLABLE TRUTH.
The truth of God includes veracity and faithfulness: –veracity in his declaration of things as they are, and faithfulness in the exact fulfilment of his promises and threatenings. Men often err in their testimony from mistake of facts, and fail through inability to fulfil promises which they have made with honest intentions. The omniscience of God renders mistake with him impossible; and his omnipotence and unchangeableness render the fulfilment of his intentions certain. Truth, as a moral attribute, is the agreement of what is spoken with the mind of the speaker. We never charge men with want of veracity, when they err in their testimony through mere mistake; or with want of faithfulness, when they fail to fulfil their promises entirely from inability. God’s testimony is true, because it agrees perfectly with his view of things, and that this view agrees with the actual state of things, results, not from his truth, but his omniscience. His promises are true because they agree precisely with his intentions; and that these intentions are exactly fulfilled, results from other attributes, as has been explained. Truth is understood for the most part to refer to something spoken or written; but the truth of God may be understood, in a wider sense, to denote the agreement of all the revelations or manifestations which he has made of himself, with his mind and character.
Because God’s manifestations of himself are true, it does not follow that they are complete and perfect. He showed his glory to Moses; but it was only a part of his glory that he exhibited, because Moses was unable to bear the full display. All manifestations to his creatures are necessarily limited; and they are made as seems good in his sight. Our knowledge of God, which is necessarily imperfect because of our weakness, is often erroneous, through our misuse of the manifestations which he has made. So the heathen world, when they knew God, glorified him not as God, but changed the truth of God into a lie.
When men abuse the knowledge of God which they possess, and the means of knowledge which he has afforded them, it is not inconsistent with his character to give them up, in righteous judgment, to their own hearts’ lusts. Because they receive not the love of the truth, God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie. So Ahab desired a false prophecy, and his prophets desired to gratify him, and God gave him up to be deceived. This is expressed, in the prophetic imagery of Scripture, by his sending a lying spirit into the prophets. Ahab was deceived; but it was in spite of the true word of God, by the prophet whom he rejected. Jeremiah complains that God had deceived him; but this, in the most unfavorable construction that can be put on his language, amounts to nothing more than an impatient exclamation of the prophet, under a severe trial.
We can have no knowledge of God, except by the manifestations he has made of himself. When we receive these, however made, as expressing to us the mind and character of God, we exercise faith in God. But when we close our understandings and hearts against these manifestations, or, through disrelish of them, misinterpret them in any manner, we are guilty of the great sin of unbelief, which rejects the testimony of God, and makes him a liar.
GOD IS PERFECTLY JUST.
Justice consists in giving to every one his due. It has been distinguished into Commutative and Distributive. Commutative Justice is fair dealing in the exchange of commodities, and belongs to commerce. Distributive Justice rewards or punishes men according to their actions, and appertains to government. In either view, justice relates to the distribution of happiness, or the means of procuring it, and presupposes a principle or rule to which this distribution should conform, and, according to which, something is due to the parties. Commutative Justice regulates the giving of one means of enjoyment in exchange for another, so as not to disturb the proportion of happiness allotted to each; but Distributive Justice rises higher, and respects the very allotment or distribution of happiness, giving to one, and withholding from another, according to rule. It is in the latter sense only that justice is attributed to God. It implies the existence of moral government; and it is the attribute which secures a faithful and perfect administration of this government.
Some have admitted another distinction, to which the name Public Justice has been given. This determines the character of God’s moral government, and the rules according to which it proceeds. It may be regarded as a question of definition, whether the existence and character of God’s moral government shall be ascribed to his justice or his goodness. As this government tends to the greatest good of the universe, there appears to be no reason to deny that it originates in the goodness of God; and if it be ascribed to his Public Justice, that justice may be considered a modification of his goodness.
In the moral government of God, men are regarded as moral and as sentient beings, and the amount of their enjoyments is regulated with reference to their moral character. The precise adaptation of this is the province of justice. In the blindness of human depravity, men claim enjoyments as a natural right, irrespective of their moral character and conduct. They reject the moral government of God, and seek happiness in their own way. This is their rebellion, and in this the justice of God opposes them. This is the attribute which fills them with terror, and arrays omnipotence against them. The moral government of God must be overthrown, and the monarch of the universe driven from his high seat of authority, or there is no hope of escape for the sinner. He would gladly rush into the vast storehouse of enjoyments which infinite goodness has provided and claim them as his own, and riot on them at pleasure; but the sword of justice guards the entrance. In opposition to his desires, the government of God is firmly established, and justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. Even in the present world, the manifestations of this government are everywhere visible; and it is apparent that there is a God, a God of justice, who judgeth in the earth; but the grand exhibition is reserved for the judgment of the great day. Conscience now, in God’s stead, often pronounces sentence, though its voice is unheeded; but the sentence from the lips of the Supreme Judge cannot be disregarded, and will fix the sinner’s final doom.
Although there are hearts so hard as to be unaffected by a sense of God’s justice, a right view of this awful and glorious attribute inspires that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. An abiding assurance that a just God sits on the throne of the universe, is indispensable to the proper exercise of piety.
GOD IS IMMACULATELY HOLY.
Goodness, truth and justice, are moral attributes of God. Holiness is not an attribute distinct from these; but a name which includes them all, in view of their opposition to contrary qualities. It implies the perfection of the assemblage;–the absence of every thing in it contrary to either of the properties included.
Men are unholy. Even the purest of men have their spots. It is useful to contrast the character of God, in this respect, with that of men. It increases our admiration and love, adds fervor to our devotion, incites to worship him in the beauty of holiness, and to imitate him in our character and lives. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
GOD IS INFINITELY WISE.
Knowledge and wisdom, though often confounded by careless thinkers, are different. Wisdom always has respect to action. Our senses are affected by external objects, and perceptions of them arise in the mind, which constitute a large part of our knowledge. We learn their properties and relations, and this knowledge, laid up in the memory, becomes a valuable store, from which we may take what may be necessary for use. But it is in using this store that wisdom is exhibited. When impressions from without have stirred the mental machinery within, that machinery, in turn, operates on things without. It is in the out-goings of the mind that wisdom has place, and is concerned in forming our plans and purposes of action. Our knowledge and moral principles have much influence in directing our conduct, and that man is considered wise, whose knowledge and moral principles direct his conduct well. Wisdom is therefore regarded as consisting in the selection of the best end of action, and the adoption of the best means for the accomplishment of this end.
God is infinitely wise, because he selects the best possible end of action. What the end is which Jehovah has in view in all his works, we cannot claim to comprehend. The scriptures speak of the glory of God as the end of creation and redemption, and we seem authorized to speak of this as the end of all his works; but what is the full import of the phrase, “the glory of God?” We suppose it to signify such a manifestation of his perfections, and especially of his moral perfections, as is supremely pleasing to himself, and therefore to all intelligent beings who are like-minded with him. But we are lost in the contemplation.
God is infinitely wise, because he adopts the best possible means for the accomplishment of the end which he has in view. In creation his wisdom made them all; and in redemption he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom. He worketh all things after the counsel of his will; and he is wise in counsel.
The wisdom of God is an unfathomable deep. His way is in the sea, and his path in the mighty waters. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! A child cannot comprehend the plans of a sage statesman; much less can the wisest of men comprehend the plans of the only wise God. We should ever bear this in mind when we undertake to inquire into the reasons of the divine procedure.
The question, why God permitted the entrance of sin into the world, has baffled the wisdom of the wise. As a being of perfect holiness, he hates sin with a perfect hatred. Having infinite power to exclude it from his dominions, why did he permit its entrance? As the benevolent Father of his great family, why did he permit so ruinous an evil to invade it? Was there some oversight in his plan, some failure in the wisdom of his arrangements, that rendered this direful disaster possible? As our faith is often perplexed with these questions, such observations as the following may be of use to assist its weakness.
1. Sin is in the world; and God is infinitely good and wise. The first of these propositions expresses a fact of which we have daily proof, before our eyes and in our hearts; the second is an indubitable truth of natural and revealed religion. Though we may be unable to reconcile these propositions, they are both worthy to be received with unwavering faith. No man, in his right mind, can doubt either of them.
2. The existence of sin is not to be ascribed to weakness in God. He could easily have barred it out of his dominions. He might have declined to make moral agents, and have filled the world with creatures possessing no moral faculties, and therefore incapable of sinning. Or, for aught that appears to the contrary, it was in his power to create moral agents, and so confirm them in holiness from the first, as to render their fall impossible. Or, on the very first appearance of sin in any one of his creatures, he might have at once annihilated the transgressor, and have prevented the evil from spreading, to the ruin of his subjects, or even remaining in his dominions. If we can, for a moment, entertain doubt on this point, his perfect control of the evil, now that it has obtained entrance into his dominion, is sufficient to confirm our faith. It has indeed entered. And the prince of the power of the air is combined with his numerous legions, to give it prevalence and triumph. But, to destroy the works of the devil, the son of God appeared in human nature. He chose the weakness of that nature for the display of his power, in crushing the head of the old serpent. Hence Christ is the power of God. In his deepest humiliation, in the hour while hanging on the cross, he triumphed over his foe, and gave proof of his triumphant power, by plucking the thief, who expired near him, from the very jaws of destruction. The cross exhibits the brightest display of omnipotence.
3. The existence of sin is not inconsistent with the justice of God. It is the province of justice to punish the sinner, but not to annihilate his sin. Justice, in the wide sense in which it is called Public Justice, and coincides with Goodness, will be considered, in its relation to this subject, in the next observation; but, in its ordinary sense, it supposes the existence of moral government, and moral agents, and, therefore, the possibility of transgression. Laws are made with reference to the lawless and disobedient; and the civil ruler would be armed with the sword in vain, if there could be no evil-doers to whom he might be a terror. Justice does not prevent the entrance of sin, but finds in it an occasion for its highest exercise. This attribute is displayed awfully and gloriously in the punishment of offenders. On seeing the destruction of Antichrist, and the smoke of his torment ascending up for ever and ever, the inhabitants of heaven are represented as saying: “Alleluia; for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” It is in the exercise of his punitive justice that they understand his government, and wherefore he is seated on the throne. Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
4. The existence of sin is not inconsistent with the goodness of God. Even those who explain goodness to be the love of happiness for its own sake, and understand utility, or the production of happiness, to be the foundation of virtue, do not conclude that God’s goodness must necessarily exclude moral evil from the world. On the contrary, they suppose that he will overrule the evil so as ultimately to produce a larger amount of happiness in the universe, than would have existed had moral evil never entered. If this be taken as a mere hypothesis, until it be disproved, it will be sufficient to answer objections; and the hypothesis cannot be disproved by a mind incapable of comprehending the infinite subject. If God’s goodness aims at the well-being of the universe, rather than at its happiness, another hypothesis, impossible to be disproved, may be made, that God overrules the existence of sin so as to produce most important moral benefits. What these may be, we cannot be expected to understand; but of one benefit, at least, we can form a conjecture. As God’s moral perfections are the glory of his character, so his moral government is the glory of his universal scheme; and it may, therefore, have been pleasing to his infinite mind to permit the entrance of sin, because it gave occasion for the display of his justice and moral government. It may accord best with his infinite wisdom, to confirm his obedient subjects in holiness, not by physical necessity, but by moral influence; and the display of his justice and moral government must be a most important means for the accomplishment of this end. How could the intelligences that are to expand for ever in the presence of this throne, have those moral impressions which are necessary to the perfection of their holiness, if they should for ever remain ignorant of his justice, and hatred of sin?
In contemplating this subject, it is important to keep in view, that God’s goodness is to be estimated by its aggregate effect. As including the love of happiness, it provides enjoyments for his creatures: in this life, innumerable and ever present, though not infinite, or unmixed; and in the life to come, what eye has not seen, or ear heard, or the heart of man conceived. This mass of enjoyment he has not thrown before his creatures, that each may secure to himself what he can; but infinite justice guards the distribution of it. The rule of distribution is that which Public Justice, or God’s goodness, considered as the love of well-being, has prescribed in the establishment of his moral government. Infinite goodness secures the greatest possible good from his universal administration, while perfect justice regulates all the details of the administration, in beautiful harmony with the grand design.
5. Although to do evil that good may come is reprobated in God’s word, yet to permit evil, which he overrules for good, accords with his method of procedure. It is said: “The wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain.” In this it is clearly implied that a portion of the wrath is unrestrained, or permitted, and is overruled for good. Paul asks, “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?” Endurance and long-suffering is the permission of the continuance of the evil; and the display of God’s justice and power thereby, is manifestly supposed in the Apostle’s question. The crucifixion of Christ, a deed perpetrated by wicked hands, was permitted by God. He was even delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This event has been overruled to good inconceivably great. Why may we not suppose that it accorded with infinite wisdom to permit the entrance of sin, with a view to the glorious scheme of redemption by the blood of Christ? Christ crucified is the wisdom of God. In his cross, the power, goodness, justice, and wisdom of God, are harmoniously and gloriously displayed. While we glory in the cross of Christ, we do not forget that the enemies of the cross are to perish. Mournful as the fact is, our hearts will fully approve the sentence which will be executed upon them when we shall hear it pronounced by the lips of the righteous judge. Such was the benevolence of Paul’s heart, that he was willing to lay down his life for the salvation of souls; yet so overpowering was his sense of Christ’s claim to the love of every human heart, that he did not hesitate to exclaim: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” If it accorded with his love of souls to pronounce this imprecation, it will accord with the benevolence of God to punish the enemies of Christ with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. If our minds now fail fully to approve the awful sentence, it is because we inadequately conceive the glory and loveliness of Christ.
It should fill us with joy, that infinite wisdom guides the affairs of the world. Many of its events are shrouded in darkness and mystery, and inextricable confusion sometimes seems to reign. Often wickedness prevails, and God seems to have forgotten the creatures that he has made. Our own path through life is dark and devious, and beset with difficulties and dangers. How full of consolation is the doctrine, that infinite wisdom directs every event, brings order out of confusion, and light out of darkness, and, to those who love God, causes all things, whatever be their present aspect and apparent tendency, to work together for good.
 Deut. vi. 4; Ps. lxxxvi. 10; Mark xii. 29, 32; John xvii. 3; Gal. iii. 20; Eph. iv. 6; 1 Tim. ii. 5; James ii. 19.
 Deut. vi. 4.
 1Tim. ii. 5.
 1 Cor. viii. 6.
 Gen. i. 26.
 Gen. xi. 7.
 Gen. iii. 22.
 Eph. iv. 4, 6.
 John iv. 24; Is. xxxi. 3; Heb xii. 9.
 Heb. xii. 9.
 John iv. 24.
 John iv. 24.
 Ex. xx. 4, 5.
 Deut. iv. 12-18.
 John i. 18.
 John v. 37.
 John xiv. 9.
 1 Kings viii. 27; Ps cxxxix. 7: Jer. xxiii. 23.
 Dan. ix. 23.
 Acts xii. 7.
 Rev. xiv. 6.
 Prov. xv. 3.
 1 Pet. iii. 12.
 Hab. i. 13.
 Prov. xv. 3.
 Deut. xxxii. 40; xxxiii. 27; Ps. ix. 7; xc. 2; cii. 27; cxlvi. 10; Isaiah lvii. 15; lxiii. 16; Jer. x. 10; Lam. v. 19; 1Tim. i. 17.
 1 Chron. xxix. 15; Job vii. 6: Job ix. 25, 26.
 Ps. xxxix. 4, 5.
 Ps. xc. 4.
 Heb. i. 10, 11, 12.
 Gen. i. 1.
 Ps. civ. 24.
 Is. lvii. 15.
 Num. xxiii. 19. Ps. cii. 27; Mal. iii.6; Heb. i. 12; xiii. 8; Jas. i. 17.
 Eph. iii. 11.
 Is. xlvi. 10.
 1 Sam. xv.
 Gen. vi. 6.
 Micah v. 2.
 Job xxxvii. 16; Ps. cxlvii. 5; Is xlii. 9; xlvi. 9, 10; Acts i. 24; Rom. xi. 33; Heb. iv. 13; 1 John iii. 20.
 1 Sam. ii. 3.
 Heb. iv. 13.
 Is. lv. 9.
 Is. .xli. 22.
 Deut. xviii. 22.
 Rom. xi. 33.
 Gen. xvii. 1; Job v. 9; Jer. xxxii. 17; Matt. xix. 26; Rev. i. 8; xix.6.
 Job xxvi. 14.
 Ex. xxxiv. 6; Ps. ciii. 2-8; Zech. ix. 17; Matt. vii. 11; Luke ii. 14; xii. 32; Rom. v.8; 1 John iv.8.
 Deut. xxxii. 4; Ps. cxix. 142; John viii. 26; Rom. iii. 4; Tit. i. 2; Heb. vi. 18; Rev. iii. 7.
 2 Thess. ii. 11.
 1 Kings xxii.
 Job xxxiv. 12; Ps. ix. 4: xcii. 15; Isaiah xxviii. 17; Rom. ii.6
 Ex. xv. 11; Lev. xi. 44; 1 Sam. ii. 2; Job iv. 18; Ps. v. 4, 5; xxii. 3: Isa. vi. 3; Hab. i. 13; Matt. v. 48; 1 John i. 5; Rev. iv. 8.
 Job iv. 18; xxxvi. 5; Ps. civ. 24; Prov. xxi. 30; Rom. xi. 33; 1 Cor. i. 25; 1 Tim. i. 17.
 Ps. civ. 24.
 Eph. i. 8.
 Eph. i. 11.
 Rom. xi. 33.
 Rev. xix. 6.
 Ps. lxxvi. 10.
 Rom. ix. 22.
 1 Cor. xvi. 22.