LECTURE XI. - THE MORAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD (CONTINUED).
Veracity is that quality of the divine benevolence that disposes God to keep faith with his subjects. His veracity is the condition of our obligation to believe him. But how shall we prove the veracity of God? If God is at all veracious, he is perfectly and infinitely so. Truth has been defined to be the reality of things; and truthfulness, or veracity, a disposition to represent things as they are. It is plain that conformity to truth must be essential to the highest well-being of moral agents; and it is a universal conviction in the minds of all moral agents that veracity is a duty, and that conformity to truth is essential to the highest well-being of the universe.
We cannot prove the veracity of God by any external evidence; our knowledge of his ways is too limited to enable us to prove it from the facts of creation and providence known to us. Nevertheless we are sure that veracity is a quality of the divine benevolence. All men are certain of this; and this accounts for the fact that no man questions whether God is to be believed, if it is settled that he has spoken. The question is not, Is God to be believed? But, Has he spoken? and What has he said? The fact settled that God has spoken, and the interpretation agreed upon of what he has spoken, and all men consent by irresistible conviction to our obligation to believe him. His affirming his own veracity in the Bible would not to us be conclusive evidence that he is veracious, had we not the revelation of this in our own nature. He has so created us that we approve of veracity and abhor a liar. No man, however wicked, can approve of lying, or respect a lair. All men necessarily disrespect a liar; and all men would irresistibly disrespect God if they thought him a liar. But no man does, or can suspect God of lying. He has fastened the conviction of his veracity upon us by a necessary law of our being; it would shock us as blasphemy were God accused of lying. Therefore we do not need external proof of the veracity of God; for we have within us a proof that puts the question beyond all doubt. Our own nature proclaims it, and asserts it with an emphasis too strong and deep to be resisted.
It should be remembered that veracity is an attribute of benevolence. It expresses and reveals itself in keeping faith with his creatures for their good, and for the public good; its ultimate end always being the promotion of the highest good of being. The promises of God are of no value except upon the condition that veracity is one of his moral attributes. We trust his promises no farther than we have confidence in him in this respect. If we do not regard him as veracious - if it be not settled with us, not merely as a conviction, but if our will be not committed to this conviction and in the attitude of trusting him, that is of confiding in his veracity, his promises will not avail us. If we plead them, we shall not rest in them. Hence it is that his promises are so little used. Many there are whose hearts are not in sympathy with his veracity; whose hearts are not committed to this attribute of love. They do not confide in it; hence to them the promises are of no avail.
By this is intended unselfishness. When the disinterestedness of God is spoken of, it is not intended that he is not interested in his creatures; but rather that he is interested in them, but not for selfish reasons. He loves them with unselfish love; his goodwill to them is really goodwill to them. He seeks their good for their own sakes. He wills their well-being from an unselfish interest in them. But here the inquiry arises, how shall we know that unselfishness, or disinterestedness is a quality of the divine benevolence. I answer, first, it enters into the very conception of benevolence. Benevolence is good-willing, that is, willing the real good of being. On this the choice terminates. It is not the willing of the good of another for the sake of our own good; but it is making good an ultimate - that is, the good of being; and it is from regard to the being whose good we will. Therefore, it is in its own nature unselfish; it is chosen as an ultimate, and not because of its relation to ourselves. Good to self is not the end, but good to the being or beings whose good we will. But it should be said, that disinterested benevolence does not imply that we have no regard whatever to our own good. The command as it lies revealed in the conscience is, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Not, love thy neighbor and hate thyself; but love thy neighbor as thyself. Our own good is of as much value as the good of our neighbor; and the promotion of our own interest is as important - that is, may be as important - as the promotion of the good of any other. Furthermore, the securing of our own good is committed particularly to us; and we are held responsible for the securing of our own good.
But the way to secure this is by unselfishness; by laying no undue stress at all upon our own interest, and in regarding the interests of others in every instance according to their relative value. This same law is God's rule of conduct. Disinterested benevolence in him does not imply that he has in his willing no regard to his own good. This were infinite folly, and even wickedness in him. His is the supreme and infinite good. The aggregate of the good of all creatures cannot be brought into comparison with his; for his is infinite, and the good of all others is only finite, and therefore as nothing in comparison with his. Of course, God ought to love himself supremely, or to be supremely benevolent to himself. To will the good of others rather than his own would be to will the finite instead of the infinite; to reverse the true order of things, and prefer an infinitely less to an infinitely greater good in his regards. Disinterested benevolence, then, in God, must necessarily lay supreme stress upon his own good, because it is infinite.
So, when he requires his creatures to love him supremely, he only imposes the same law upon them that he does upon himself in this regard. All men knowing that God's is the supreme good, are certain that they ought to be supremely benevolent to him. That he may be blessed supremely, infinitely blessed, is what all men ought to wish with all their hearts. This is a universal conviction of moral agents, that they ought to love God supremely, to choose his pleasure rather than their own, to prefer his interest to their own and the interests of all other beings, and supremely to devote ourselves to the doing of his pleasure.
Let it be understood, then, that by disinterestedness in God, we mean that quality of his benevolence that disposes him to will the good of his creatures from regard to them; to lay just that stress upon their good which by its intrinsic importance renders reasonable. He has no selfish reason for promoting their good, but does it for their sake. And this is indeed the only possible way in which he could promote his own good. Were he selfish in his goodwill to others, this could not meet the demands of his own conscience and could not therefore result in his blessedness. It could be no real satisfaction to him to will the good of others selfishly, because the very selfishness of the willing would render it impossible for him to enjoy it. To will their good disinterestedly, for their sake, and promote their happiness rather than his own, is that which gives him enjoyment in this exercise, being conscious that he is disinterestedly willing their good for its own sake. He enjoys the good which he confers upon them. He seeks their well-being because he is interested in it; therefore when he promotes it and secures it, he is completely satisfied; he has that which he sought. He was interested in them; he sought to do them good for their sakes; and when he sees that he has secured that which he sought he is happy, and enjoys the good which he has conferred even better than they do. Hence Christ says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Thus it is that disinterested benevolence secures his own good in seeking the good of others. He promotes his own highest glory and happiness in disinterested devotion to the good and happiness of others. Just so it is with benevolence in all beings. This is the divine economy of disinterested benevolence. Every disinterestedly benevolent being promotes his own true happiness and interest best by unselfishly devoting himself to promoting the happiness of others; and thus while benevolence denies self, it therein and thereby promotes the good of self in the highest possible manner.
But how do we know, I inquire again, that this is a quality of the divine benevolence? This question I answered before by saying that disinterestedness enters into the very idea of benevolence. But now I observe, that we are so constituted as irresistibly to know that God is not selfish but benevolent, and that unselfishness is a quality of his benevolence. It is irresistibly affirmed by us, that God is good, perfectly and infinitely good; that unselfishness is essential to moral goodness, and that selfishness is sin; therefore all moral agents necessarily know and assume the unselfishness of God; and there is no such thing as really convincing them that he is selfish. We need not go into the outward universe, and into the history of his providence, to prove that he is unselfish. So little do we know of what he has done, and is doing, and will do in the universe, that historically we may not be able to demonstrate that he is unselfish; but he has not left himself without a witness in this case. He has impressed this conviction upon our very nature. This conviction is necessary and universal, and no moral agent can doubt it; and this is the end of all questioning upon the subject. To be sure the facts of the universe known to us strongly indicate the unselfishness of God; but to all these it might be answered, that we know not the ultimate end which God may have in view. All these arrangements for our happiness and well-being may be only such arrangements as slave-holders make for the health and comfort of their slaves; or as men make for their domestic animals, having self in view in all they do. They pamper their pets, and feed their slaves, and do all that they do with the design at last to promote their own interest and pleasure. Now it might be said, as it has been said, that the fitting up of this world so comfortably, and even so beautifully, might be consistent with a selfish ultimate design; so that skeptics may cavil in regard to the ultimate or perfect benevolence of God. But to put this beyond all question as a matter of conviction, God has given us a conscience which irresistibly assumes his unselfishness; so that we cannot persuade ourselves, nor can the devil persuade us, that God is selfish. We know irresistibly that he is not.
I further remark upon this subject, that questions like this can only be conclusively settled with us in the way in which they are settled. Our finiteness, our limited knowledge render it impossible for us to know enough of the ways of God, historically to settle the question beyond all doubt that he is unselfish. Therefore this question might be left in agonizing doubt, even in the minds of the highest order of finite intelligences, were it not revealed to them as an irresistible and certain conviction. It is an a priori intuition, or revelation of the fact of God's disinterestedness in the laws of their own being. This is satisfactory; this lays a broad foundation for the repose of faith. This is that which his creatures need; being unable to grasp and understand by an examination of his ways the whole history of his doings, they need a firm foundation upon which to rest. His government over moral agents is moral. The condition of sustaining it is implicit confidence in him; and this confidence in creatures needs a firmer basis of conviction than could be laid by what they can now, or do know historically, of his ways.
Many of his dispensations are not only involved in the greatest mystery, but are often exceedingly trying to us, and no doubt to all his creatures. He cannot give any such high policy of his government, and thus settle us upon the broad basis of historical facts; hence he has so created us that from the earliest moments of our moral agency, we affirm his disinterested benevolence, and that unselfishness or disinterestedness is a quality of his goodness. We assume this as a condition of affirming obligation to obey him. If we could doubt the one, we should deny the other.
Forbearance is that quality of the divine benevolence that disposes him to bear with the infirmities and even sins of his subjects. When they oppose him, trample on his authority, he is not hasty to take the forfeiture at their hands and punish them according to their deserts; but is slow to anger, waits, gives them time to consider, and bears long with their abuses. We are so created that we could not call a being perfectly or infinitely good who had not the attribute of forbearance. Of this attribute we can say that we have the evidence in our own experience that God is forbearing. It is also a matter of observation. We can gather multitudes of evidence in the facts around us of the forbearance of God. We know from our own consciousness that he has borne long with us; we see that he does the same with others; and here we have the evidence both of consciousness and sense that forbearance is one of the moral attributes of God. We also have this attribute given as an irresistible conviction. As we regard God as infinitely good, as infinitely and disinterestedly benevolent, we know that he will not be hasty and impatient, but will forbear as long as he wisely can.
This follows irresistibly from the fact of his unselfish benevolence, and is implied in it. This attribute is manifested in this world in a most striking manner. Its manifestation lies upon the very face of his dealings with ourselves and with all the world around us. Nay, the very existence of our sinful race is only a demonstration of the existence of this attribute, and an instance of its manifestation. Reflecting minds are often greatly affected by the manifestation of this attribute. It is truly marvelous that God should forbear to execute his wrath upon the rebellious and most provoking race of men. No fact is more visible on the face of the world than the forbearance of God as manifested to men.
By this is intended that quality of his benevolence that suffers himself to be abused, disobeyed, dishonored, for a long time, without executing vengeance. This attribute is also most strikingly manifested in our own history, and in the history of our race. No one surely can doubt that this is an attribute of the benevolence of God. Nay, he has often exercised it to such an extent as greatly to try the faith of some of his servants. He has borne and suffered so long as that, for a time, it was a temptation to them; and they have inquired whether there was a righteous God that ruled the universe. The seventy third Psalm affords a striking illustration of the trial which God's friends are sometimes subjected to by the exercise of his long-suffering.
Self-denial is that quality of benevolence that disposes us to deny ourselves some good for the sake of promoting a higher good of others; to forego some enjoyment or volunteer some suffering of our own as a means or condition of warding off the sufferings of others, and securing to them a greater good. It is manifest that this must be an attribute of disinterested benevolence. Disinterested benevolence is the willing of the good of being for its own sake; consequently it implies the laying the greatest stress upon the greatest good. It does not will good to self because it belongs to self, but the good of being for the sake of being in general. The highest practicable good is that which benevolence seeks; consequently it lays the greatest stress upon the greatest good. From its own nature, therefore, it will forego a less good to self for the sake of a greater good to others. It will volunteer to suffer a less evil for the sake of warding off a greater evil from others. It seeks to secure the highest good that can be secured to whomsoever it may belong.
Self-denial, therefore, for the good of others, when a greater good can thereby be obtained, is necessarily a quality of disinterested benevolence. This attribute of God is greatly manifested in this world. It was this attribute which was peculiarly manifested in the atonement of Christ. "God was manifest in the flesh;" gave his Son a voluntary substitute to suffer and die for guilty men. This was no doubt the most illustrious exhibition of self-denial ever seen in this world, and perhaps in the universe. Self-denial by no means implies selfishness, but always the reverse. True self-denial is the opposite of self-indulgence. It should be remarked that true self-denial is not inconsistent with the highest happiness of God or any other being. It is an attribute of benevolence; and if a benevolent being volunteers to prevent the greater suffering of another, or forego any particular form of good to self for the sake of promoting the higher good of others, this is by no means to deprive himself of any real ultimate good.
Nay, such self-denial as this really affords greater enjoyment than the refusal, under circumstances where it is demanded, could possibly yield. Nay, true self-denial is the only condition of enjoyment in a moral agent where it is demanded by the great law of benevolence. In the exercises of self-denial, if it be true and genuine, we are necessarily satisfied with ourselves. This is the condition of our highest personal enjoyment. Our enjoyment is not that at which we aim; for this would be no self-denial. The aim is to promote the good of others by denying ourselves. Benevolence is really sincere in making the sacrifice with a single eye for the sake of the end, that is, the greater good of others. Their good is the end; we give up a certain good of our own, or volunteer a certain suffering of our own, with the simple disinterested intent to promote their good. Now it is just because we are thus disinterested in this self-denial, because self-denial is real, intelligent, and genuine, that it produces satisfaction; and thus by reaction upon ourselves gives us even more satisfaction than is obtained by those for whom we deny ourselves. Thus it is that in the atonement of Christ, although the sacrifice on the part of God was real and great, nevertheless it must have been a source of infinite satisfaction to him; and hence it is said of Christ, that "for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame." He also declared that it was more blessed to give than to receive. The self-denial of God, then, must be a condition of his happiness, as it is the condition of his self-respect, the condition of his being infinitely and perfectly good.
But, let it be remembered, that self-denial in him, as in all other beings, is unselfish, as I have said. It was his love to the world, to sinners themselves, that led him to give his only begotten Son to redeem them. Christ laid down his life for our sakes; with the intention to bless us. From unselfish regard to us, he "endured the cross and despised the shame." Nevertheless, with the knowledge that it would promote his own happiness just in proportion as with a single eye he aimed to promote our happiness; just in proportion as he sought not his own interest, he secured it; just in proportion as he denied himself, he secured that at which he did not aim, to wit, his own highest honor and eternal satisfaction.
But how do we know that self-denial is an attribute of the divine benevolence? Suppose a skeptic who denies the atonement should ask how we know that God will deny himself. Skeptics often evince their great ignorance by the low and even blasphemous thoughts they entertain of God. They will often represent God as being infinitely too high to notice creatures so small as we are. They think it ridiculous to suppose that God would give his Son to die for such a race as that of man. They think it infinitely below his dignity to deny himself for our sakes. But this shows their vast ignorance, and how little they have thought of what is implied in the infinite goodness of God. It was not beneath the infinite dignity and divine greatness to create us, surely it is not beneath his dignity and greatness to care for us. Indeed, in this is his true greatness most strikingly manifested, that he cares and expresses his regard not only for the greater, but for the least of all his creatures. He stoops to number even the hairs of our heads; and not a sparrow can fall to the ground without his notice and commiseration. Who, after all, could call him supremely and infinitely good if he were unwilling to take pains to secure the eternal well-being of creatures whom he had made? Who could after all say that he met their whole ideal of moral perfection in its infinite extent, if he would refuse to volunteer even a suffering, and a great suffering, to save even his guilty and inexcusable enemies from eternal suffering? Who could say that their whole ideal of moral perfection was met by a being who would not stoop to the capacities, and miseries, and sufferings, and circumstances of every creature of his hand, to do them good? And especially where this self-denial must so commend itself to his own nature as really to conduce to his happiness at last, and ultimately to deprive him of no good; or in other words, where from the very nature of God and of self-denial, the exercise of self-denial would be really a source of blessedness to him? Indeed, this is the true idea of moral goodness, it finds its own blessedness in doing good.
To real perfect goodness, personal suffering to relieve others is a luxury. Self-denial for the promotion of the greater good of others is essential to securing the great end upon which the will has fastened; it is the only possible means of meeting our ideal of what we ought to be, and of securing that upon which our heart is set. Our very conception, then, of infinite goodness, is that self-denial must be an attribute of it. Such is our necessary conception of unselfish benevolence that this quality must belong to it; it must be disposed to forego a less good to self for the sake of the higher good of others. And this, I say again, is true economy; for the higher good in this case is in fact obtained, and obtained too without any ultimate loss to the individual sufferer, or the one who denies himself. From the very laws of his being, his sufferings and his self-denial will react and be a luxury to himself.
Impartiality as a moral attribute does not imply that all beings, whether virtuous or vicious, are to be treated alike, for this would be partiality. It would not be the treating of persons according to right reason; it would be making unreasonable discriminations; or rather demands. Impartiality is that quality of benevolence that disposes it to make no unreasonable discriminations; to treat all persons and all interests as the highest good of universal being demands; never showing any favoritism that is unreasonable or inconsistent with the law of right or benevolence.
I have said that it would be partiality, and not impartiality, to treat the righteous and the wicked alike in their ultimate destiny. The present is a state of probation, not of rewards and punishments. Here moral beings may be treated as not having finished their probation; hence God causes his sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good, and sends rain upon the just and upon the unjust. This attribute of God, from the very nature of a state of probation, is not uniformly manifested to us in this world. Indeed, so ignorant are we that to us it often seems that providential discriminations are unequal and partial. But they only seem to be so. It can never be shown that God is impartial in any of the discriminations which he providentially makes, or in the bestowment of his grace. The fact that one is rich and another poor, that one is born in this and another in another country, one in this age and another in that, one in the enjoyment of certain privileges of which others are denied; the fact that some have the Gospel and others have not - the facts around us are innumerable of both gracious and providential discriminations, the reasons of which are by no means always apparent to us. Nevertheless, it cannot be shown that God has not benevolent reasons for every one of these discriminations. If he has benevolent reasons, and is therefore obliged by the very law of benevolence thus to discriminate, if upon the whole he sees that these discriminations are wise and demanded by the highest good of being in general, then he is not partial but impartial. It can never, therefore, be shown that God is partial.
But how shall it be shown that he is impartial? I answer, first, it is implied in the fact of his infinite goodness and his unselfish benevolence. If he is infinitely wise and good, as we know he is, it is impossible for him, remaining good, to be otherwise than impartial in the sense already explained. He has benevolent reasons, and must have, for all the discriminations he makes in his treatment of his creatures; and this is impartiality; this we know intuitively to be a quality of unselfish benevolence.
Men are disposed to complain of God as if he were partial; and yet they know he is not. It is true that his dealings are often trying to our shortsightedness and ignorance, and especially to selfishness; but he has not left himself without a witness. We have within, if we will but reflect upon it, the irresistible conviction that God must have infinitely good reasons for all the discriminations which he makes, and for all his dealings with his creatures; that although, in this respect, clouds and darkness are round about him, yet impartial justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
Again, by beneficence is intended that quality of the divine benevolence that disposes God to great liberality and bountifulness in the bestowment of favors. In other words, it is that quality of his infinite benevolence that disposes him to exert his infinite attributes for the promotion of the well-being of his creatures. Benevolence is ultimate choice, is good-willing; beneficence is that quality that disposes to the carrying out of good-willing in the life and action in the promotion of that good upon which the ultimate choice terminates. This quality of the divine benevolence is very strikingly manifested in his works and providence. The whole creation in its laws and order and arrangement, are only so many manifestations of the beneficence of God.
By sovereignty is intended that quality of his benevolence that disposes him to act in accordance with his own discretion. He has nobody wiser than himself to consult, and takes no counsel of creatures in regard to the best way of serving the highest good. He, therefore, in creation, providence, and grace, bestows his favors in a manner that meets his own views of propriety and fitness. He never does injustice to anyone; he never omits any act of kindness or opportunity to do good to any of his creatures, where in his own judgment it would be wise and conducive to the highest general good for him to interpose. But he consults his own discretion. How else could he do? And the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite love directed by infinite wisdom.
Sovereignty is no arbitrary exercise of power on the part of God. It is not the doing of his own pleasure capriciously, or a disposition to do this or that way in a capricious manner; but it is simply that quality of his benevolence that disposes him to act in his own wisdom, in accordance with his own view of what is best to be done and most conducive to the highest good. If God were not sovereign in this sense, he would not be worthy of respect. It is no doubt his duty to exercise entire sovereignty in this respect in all his dealings with his creatures, never doing them an injustice, but bestowing favors according to his own discretion. And who can fail to see that such a sovereignty is worthy of God, and that the contrary would be infinitely unworthy of him? Who has a right even to desire that he should do other than exercise this sovereignty and act in accordance with his good pleasure?
It cannot be too distinctly borne in mind that God's attributes, natural and moral, are and must be revealed to our irresistible convictions by an a priori intuition, as the condition of our affirming our universal obligation to obey them and submit under all circumstances. To prove to ourselves or to others a posteriori the existence of these attributes in God, would require an amount of study and knowledge that few possess. God has not left us to the necessity of all this study before we affirm our obligation to obey and trust him, but has so constituted us that we necessarily affirm from the earliest development of reason, the existence and perfection of all his attributes. If we were really in doubt respecting the attributes of God, we should necessarily be in doubt regarding our obligation to obey, trust, and submit. But this we never can be. (This paragraph in different, hard to read writing, doubtless written during his old age).