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consequently, before we can with any precision ascertain the goodness of the Deity as it is now exerted towards man, it is necessary we should consider the two very different predicaments in which the human species stands with respect to its Creator, the first in its state of innocency, and the second after its disobedience, and the effect which that disobedience has produced on its nature. For though the goodness of God is in itself ever equal and the same, the exertion of that goodness, in the adıninistration of a wise and just Being towards an intelligent and free agent, must be adapted to his state and character, and in great measure be determined by the conduct of the individual to whom it is applied. The nature and degree of goodness therefore exerted by the Almighty towards man is to be estimated, not according to what it is in the power of God to exert, or by the greater degree in which it would certainly have been exerted, had man never disobeyed him, but according to what man, who is to be considered in this world as a reprieved culprit, deserves to have exerted towards him in his present fallen state. Therefore when we meet with in. stances in real life which seem to bear hard
on the goodness of God, before we suffer the beauty and splendor of this most amiable of all his attributes to be tarnished in our judgment, let us with humility, candour, and impartiality, examine, when all circumstances are fairly and coolly considered, in, such instances as the reason of man, without presumption, may be permitted to contemplate, whether the conduct of God could consistently with his wisdom and justice have been otherwise, and whether it may not be resolved into this conclusion; that God is as good to man as it is fitting he should be, considering man as a free agent, who, by the abuse of his freedom, has disobeyed his Creator, and by that disobedience is now a delinquent, who has so debased and infected his original nature with evil, that it is requisite, whilst he lives in this world in a state of probation, that he should suffer a degree of punishment, mortification, and discipline, as salutary medicines, absolutely necessary to purify his character, and to qualify it with that holiness, without which, the Scriptures assure us, no man shall see, God, or enjoy the happiness of heaven. And it is incumbent on us to consider whether this conduct, which by his disobedience man has
forced on God to observe, is not as great a proof of his goodness, in many instances, (especially towards men of proud, unjust, and passionate tempers,) as his blessings of health and prosperity ; more particularly as we have every reason to be of opinion, that the aim and intention of God with respect to man has a much stronger and more direct reference to his enjoyment of eternal than temporal happiness; and we have equal reason to believe from man's present nature and acquired depravity, that what we call misfortune and adversity has in truth and reality a very strong tendency to invite and awaken in the mind serious and solemn thoughts, to wean and detach it from sensual pleasures and pursuits, and to subdue pride and those irregular passions, which, till they are subdued, disqualify its attainment of that holiness and heavenly disposition of soul, which it is as agreeable to the reason of every man who entertains just ideas of the purity and holiness of God, as it is to the doctrine, of Scripture, that each person must possess before he can be admitted into the presence of the Deity.
I must therefore beg of the reader, whilst! he peruses this treatise, that he will con- ,
stantly keep in mind the present character, condition, and fallen state of man, before he suffers the goodness of God to be depreciated in his opinion : and this point settled between us, I now proceed to the elucidation of my first proposition.
PROPOSITION I. In this proposition I shall endeavour to refute those plausible objections which the rashness and inconsiderateness rather than the reason of man has presumed to advance against the goodness of God.
All the essential objections made against. the goodness and providence of God are, I believe, included in the five which follow.
First, It is alleged by John Calvin, that God has predestinated a large portion of the human race to everlasting misery and perdition, even before their birth, and of course, before there was a possibility of their having ever offended him.
Secondly, It is alleged, that there is a promiscuous and indiscriminate distribution made of the things of this life indifferently and equally to bad and good men ; à distribution unbecoming not only the goodness of God, but likewise the justice of a superintending providence.
Thirdly, It has been remarked, that the goodness of God is not reconcileable with the manifold evils which we see in the world, and with the wretched state and condition to which we behold a very large part of mankind apparently abandoned.
Fourthly, Events in human life are perpetually occurring of a nature entirely repugnant to what our reason would lead us to suppose could happen, if the world was governed by the providence of a wise and just God; and therefore the occurrence of these events justifies the adoption of the opinion, that human concerns are left to the guidance or decision of chance.
Fifthly, Some men have asserted it to be beneath the majesty of God, and inconsistent either with his dignity or happiness, to interest himself in the concerns of mankind.
These objections have always been considered as the most formidable ones that have ever been made against the goodness or providence of God.
OBJECTION I. In direct opposition to the goodness of God, it is asserted in the writings of a learned and celebrated divine of the reformed Church, that God has pre