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AFFECTIONS ESSENTIAL TO THE MORAL PERFECTION OF THE DEITY.
FOR God is love. 1 JOHN, iv. 8.
WHILE Simonides resided at the court of Syracuse, the king had the curiosity to ask him-What is God? The poet desired a day to consider the question; on the morrow he requested two days; and as often as he was called upon for an answer, he doubled the time. At length the king grew impatient, and demanded the reason of his conduct. It is, replied Simonides, because the more I consider the question, the more obscure it seems. Though creatures cannot comprehend the essence of their Creator, yet they may form some clear and just conceptions of his great and amiable attributes. The text exhibits the brightest part of his character. "God is love." This is a just and full description of his moral perfections. His holiness, justice, goodness and mercy, are but so many modifications of divine love. But in order to understand the full import of the text, we must still farther inquire what is meant by love, when ascribed to an absolutely perfect and immutable being. Here analogy is our only guide. We are obliged in this case to reason from love in man to love in the Deity. We all know by experience that love belongs to the heart, and not to the intellect. This naturally leads us to conclude that love in the Deity denotes a moral, and not an intellectual exercise, or that it belongs to his heart, and not to his understanding. Hence the declaration in the text that " God is love," plainly supposes that God is possessed of affections.
This doctrine needs both illustration and proof.
Many suppose that all propensities, inclinations, dispositions or affections are incompatible with the perfection of the divine. Some eminent divines, as well as metaphysicians, maintain this opinion; in which they seem to approach nearer to the sentiments of Epicurus, than to those of the sacred writers. Epicurus said, "The Deity could neither be influenced by favor, nor resentment; because such a being must be weak and frail; and also, that all fear of the power and anger of God should be banished, because anger and affection are inconsistent with the nature of a happy and immortal being." But in direct opposition to this sentiment, our doctrine is, that God has real and proper affections; that he is pleased with some objects, and displeased with others; that he feels and exercises love, pity, compassion, and every affection which can flow from perfect benevolence.
It must, however, be observed that God is a pure Spirit, who has no affections which resemble those bodily instincts and passions which are to be found in the present state of human nature. The best of men here on earth, carry about with them some remains of selfishness, pride, envy and other sinful passions. But God is perfect love, and all his affections are pure and clear as the crystal stream. There is a foundation for fear, and faith, and hope, and confidence, in the very nature of finite, dependent beings; but there is no foundation for these affections in the Supreme Being, whose power and knowledge are independent and unlimited. God is infinitely above all instincts, passions, or affections, which proceed from either natural or moral imperfection. These, therefore, we ought never to ascribe to the Deity.
Having briefly explained the doctrine of divine affections, 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 Being. No natural excellences 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 discover 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 to believe 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." Agreeably 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 Saviour 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 ye may be the children of your Father which 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 which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is 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 application 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 Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." The scripture often speaks of God's being pleased and delighted. This plainly supposes that he is possessed of affections, which