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natural or moral imperfection. These, therefore, we ought never to ascribe to the Deity.
Having briefly explained the doctrine of divine af. fections, I proceed to offer several considerations in support of it.
1. Benevolent affections form the moral beauty of the divine character. God is love. In this alone consists his moral excellence. His independence, almighty power, and, unerring wisdom, are mere natural perfections, but his benevolent feelings are moral beauties, Benevolence appears virtuous and amiable in any moral agent. It is the highest ornament of angels and men, and the supreme glory of the supreme Be
, ing. No natural excellencies can supply the place of benevolent feelings. This clearly appears in the case of the fallen angels. They still retain all the noble powers and faculties, with which they were created; but having lost their original benevolent feelings, they are become the most odious and detestable creatures in the universe. And could we only suppose, that the divine Being were totally divested of all these affections, which flow from universal benevolence, we could not dicover a single trait of moral beauty in his moral character. A malevolent being of infinite power and knowledge, would appear infinitely odious and terrible. And only take away all benevolent feelings from the Deity, and he would necessarily appear in this light, to all intelligent creatures. We have, therefore, just as much reason to believe, that God is possessed of affections, as we have, that he is possessed of any moral beauty or excellence.
2. Men are required to imitate their heavenly Father. This plainly supposes, that there is something in the kind Parent of the universe, which may be imitated. But the power, wisdom, and all the natural perfections of the Deity, are above imitation. There is nothing in the nature of God, which any of his creatures can imitate, except his benevolent feelings. These are imitable, and these he calls upon mankind to imitate. "Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Agreea
“ bly to this, the Apostle says, “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.” Our Savior also strongly inculcates the same duty. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that
, despitefully use you, and persecute you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them who love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Here Christ first requires men to imitate God, and then points out the proper way to imitate him; which is to feel as he feels, or to exercise the same tender and benevolent affections, which he exercises in the course of his common providence. It appears, therefore, from both the nature and exposition, of this divine command, that true and proper affections do really exist in the divine mind. Besides,
3. The Scriptures ascribe affections to God in the most plain and unequivocal terms. We often read of the heart of God, which means neither his power, nor wisdom, nor any natural perfection, but his kind and benevolent feelings. This is the proper sense of
. the word heart, and in this sense God uses it in ap
plication to himself. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Ze. boim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” The Scripture often speaks of God's being pleased and delighted; which plainly supposes, that he is possessed of affections, which are the highest source of mental enjoyment. We read, “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him." We are told, “The prayer of the upright is his delight.” And God himself declared by a voice from heaven at the babtism of Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." These representations are agreeable to our natural conception of him, who is God over all blessed forever. We furthermore find a great variety of particular affections ascribed to the Deity. To him is ascribed love: “God is love." To him is ascribed joy: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save thee, he will rejoice over thee with joy." To him is ascribed pity: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." To him is ascribed zeal: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." To him is ascribed anger: "The Lord is angry with the wicked every day.” To him is ascribed vengeance: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” word, we find every virtuous affection, that is, every affection, which can flow from pure benevolence, ascribed to God in Scripture. It appears, therefore, from revelation as well as from reason, that God is possessed of affections. But notwithstanding the plain and positive evidence in favor of this doctrine, it may be proper to take notice of some things, which may be said against it.
1. It may be said, that the passages, which ascribe
' affections to God, are figurative, and ought not to be taken in a literal sense.
This objection is more specious than solid.' We are never to depart from the literal sense of Scripture, without some apparent necessity. If any passage
will bear a literal sense, we ought to take it literally, unless the nature of the subject, or the connexion of the words, or some other texts of Scripture, require a figurative meaning. When God is represented as having bodily members, such as eyes, ears, hands, or feet, the dictates of reason and the general tenor of Scripture oblige us to understand the expressions in a figurative
But when God is said to have love, joy, pity, and all other benevolent affections, there is no occasion of departing from the plain and literal sense of the words. For, such affections are neither contrary to the nature of things, nor to the nature and character of an absolutely perfect Being. By all the just rules of interpretation, therefore, we are constrained to understand the passages, which ascribe affections to God, in their plain, obvious, literal sense.
2. It may be said, that affections are painful, and consequently cannot belong to God, who is perfectly happy.
is true, affections are always painful, when they cannot be gratified; and this is often the case among mankind. Sometimes their affections give them pain, because they want power to attain the objects of their desire; and sometimes because their desires are so selfish and inconsistent, that if they gratify one of their affections, they must necessarily mortify another. But since all the affections of the Deity are only different modifications of pure, disinterested benevolence, they admit of a constant and perfect gratification; and
since he is able with infinite ease to attain every desirable object, his affections are always gratified, and always afford him a source of complete and permanent felicity. But,
3. It may be asked, "How is this notion of divine affections compatible with that perfect immutability and simplicity, which all divines ascribe to the Deity? By the same act, say they, he sees the past, present, and future. His love and hatred, his mercy and justice, are one individual operation. He is entire in every point of space; and complete in every instant of duration. No succession, no change, no acquisition, no diminution. What he is implies not in it any shadow of distinction or diversity.
The subtle objector himself gives the following reply: “Though it be allowed, that Deity possesses attributes of which we have no conception; yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes, which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable; is a mind, which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or, in a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of terms to give it that appellation; and we may as well speak of limited extension without figure, or of numbers without composition.” Whatever this author might have intended by this answer, it appears very pertinent and conclusive.
But we may further observe here, that there is a plain distinction between such a mutability as does, and such a mutability as does not, imply imperfection. If God were to change his purposes or designs, this would be a blemish in his character; because this would imply a want of either power, or wisdom, or