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On the divine Benignity displayed in the Gospel.
We suppose that our readers will discern a very important connection between the subjects that have passed under distinct examination, in the course of our preceding Disquisitions, but, in so protracted a work, it may be necessary to refer, or to repeat, more than is desirable, in order to elucidate some subsequent principles, which are professedly founded upon others previously established. We are obliged to avail ourselves of this liberty, in order to do more ample justice to the important subject before us.
In our summary view of the arguments adduced in support of natural religion, we endeavoured to show that the character of Creator is strictly a relative character; that it intimately connects the great universal agent with all his works; for Power, Knowledge, Wisdom, and Goodness, respect existences and operations, actual or in prospect. We attempted
also to evince, that of all the divine perfections, Infinite Goodness is the most exalted. This is
strictly and eminently moral: On this, worth is inscribed in the most legible characters. No other attribute can exceed or equal it in dignity, or in importance. Knowledge, Wisdom, and Power are subservient to its purposes; and its purposes are to diffuse all possible happiness among susceptible beings. We have also shewn, when we were investigating the nature of Goodness, that its desires of diffusing good are boundless; and its exercises can only be limited by a limited capacity. A Being, therefore, of unrestrained power, incessantly possessing the disposition to communicate good, must be incessantly operative in its production.*
But, notwithstanding the unlimited extent of the divine Benignity; notwithstanding the immutability of the divine character, yet the Wisdom which always selects the most proper means, for the accomplishment of beneficent designs, will make a more open display of the attribute, which best corresponds with the particular state, circumstances, and character of its objects. Like the Sun it may be obscured, at one period, by clouds dark and menacing; at
* See Theological Disq. on Natural Religion, Chap. II.
another, it may shine with peculiar brightness upon particular districts; but it always retains. a plenitude of refulgence, diffusing its beneficial influence over every creature.
.When we were tracing the rise and progress of the social virtues, we took occasion to observe that Terror is the earliest and most powerful principle of action, in ignorant and savage minds. This has the strongest hold in dispositions the most sordid and selfish, which are always strangers to superior motives. When Hope is principally in exercise, it has some other good in prospect, beyond that of escaping from evil; and although it may be purely selfish in its nature, yet it leads out of abject servility; it sets an object of choice before the mind, and advances some steps in moral culture. We observed, that although Love is the last of the operative affections, it is the noblest, and most influential, where it duly operates. Where it is sincere and ardent, it inspires a grateful solicitude to please, which pervades the minutest ramifications of duty.*
These are the laws which the supreme Creator
*See Ethic. T. Part II. Disq. 2. ch. 3, for a developement of these principles.
has inscribed upon our nature; and we shall see that he has acted conformably to them in his government of the moral world.
It was according to these principles that the Being who is essential Goodness, chose to vail the benignity of his nature, behind the irresistible majesty of his power, during the ages of gross ignorance and depravity of manners. Irresistible Power, being the first, nay the only attribute that commands the attention of brutal minds. For with this is closely connected the apprehension of evil, or the dread of punishment. Such is the influence of Dread, that it is able to destroy the strongest of the natural affections; for it has frequently induced barbarians to sacrifice their offspring, to appease the supposed anger of their gods. It was in correspondence with this state of mind, that the Sovereign of the universe discovered himself to the world, chiefly as the Lord of Hosts, the God of battles, terrible in his judgments; that he was induced to manifest his irresistible might, by repeated judgments. It was Terror alone which compelled the Egyptians to emancipate their slaves, and assist them in their emigration. The Fear that fell upon the nations facilitated the conquests of the Hebrews, and gave them an earlier establishment in the land of Canaan.
The tremendous threats denounced
and reiterated chastisements, were more efficacious in preserving the Israelites, from being totally absorbed in the depravities of surrounding nations, than the most signal displays of the divine beneficence towards them.
That Being who destroyed the ancient world on account of the universal apostasy, suspended his exterminating judgments, respecting the Canaanites and the surrounding nations, until they were depraved beyond the power of reformation, by any natural means. But when their iniquities were full, and they became ripe for destruction, he shewed the terrors of his wrath. Yet, in the midst of his judgments, he manifested the discriminations of his mercy. Those among the Heathens whose attention was awakened, and who, by comparing the purity, dignity, and excellence of the Jewish religion, with the horrors that characterised their own, forsook the worshipping of images for the service of the true God, were, by the divine commands, cordially received; and they enjoyed many of the privileges and immunities of the Israelites ; and, if we may thus speak, he shewed personal respect for those Heathens who revered his name. Of this, examples have been given, respecting Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Darius. Thus far did the wisdom of the Most High permit his