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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 baptism 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 for ever. We farthermore 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 : 6. 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.” In a word,
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
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 connection 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 sense. But when God is said to have love, joy, pity, and all other benevolent affections, there is no occasion for 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.
It 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 the 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 ascribed 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 subtile 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 farther 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 goodness. And if he should change his affections without any change in the object of them, this would also discover imperfection, and prove that his affections were wrong either before or after he changed them. If a man should love a person to-day and hate him to-morrow, or if he should hate a person to-day and love him to-morrow, without any alteration in the person's character, this would manifest a fickle and sinful disposition. But God is subject to no such mutability as has been mentioned. He never changes his purposes or designs; because these were formed under the influence of perfect goodness and unerring wisdom. Nor does he ever change his affections, unless the objects of them change; and in that case to change his affections argues no imperfection. If a man who was a sinner yesterday, becomes a saint to-day, it implies no imperfection in God to change his affections towards that person, and love him to-day whom he abhorred yesterday. The doctrine of divine affections, therefore, supposes no mutability in the Supreme Being but what is a beauty and perfection in his character.
1. This subject may give us some faint conceptions of the strength and ardency of the divine affections. God is infinite in all his attributes. His moral perfections bear a just proportion to his natural perfections. All his feelings are infinitely strong. His love is omnipotent love; his wrath is omnipotent wrath. The inspired writers, therefore, seize the boldest images in nature, to display the beauty and strength and terror of the divine affections. By the love of the bridegroom to the bride, they represent the love of God to his people. “ As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” By the pity of a father to his children, they represent the pity of God to the afflicted. “ As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." By the fondness of a mother for the infant of her womb, they represent the compassion of God to his church. “ Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." How terrible is the wrath of the furious beasts of prey! Yet their wrath is but a faint image of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God toward the wicked.“ Therefore I will be unto them, saith the Lord, as a lion; as a leopard by the way will I observe them. I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps, and I will rend the caul of their hearts, and there will I devour them like a lion.” God loves and hates with all his heart, with all his mind, and with all his strength. There is something infinitely amiable and awful in the divine affections.
2. In the view of this subject we may discover what it was which moved God to the work of creation. It is generally and justly supposed that God was perfectly blessed in the enjoyment of himself from all eternity; but perfect blessedness seems to exclude all motive to action. Why should a being move, who has nothing to gain by moving? Why should a being act, who has nothing to gain by acting? Why should a being exert himself, who has nothing to gain by his exertions? What then could move God, who was perfectly happy before the foundation of the world, to bring it into existence ? This difficulty will immediately vanish, if we only consider the source of the divine blessedness. God is love, and all his happiness flows from the perfect gratification of all his benevolent feelings. But these could never have been completely gratified without displaying all his perfections in the work of creation. God being from eternity all-sufficient and infinitely benevolent, must have had an infinitely strong propensity to exert his omnipotent power in the production of holiness and happiness. Hence it was morally impossible that he should have been perfectly blessed, without devising and performing the work of creation. The doctrine of divine affections, therefore, clearly shows us not only that God might have had some motive to create the world, but also that his own enjoyment, felicity, or blessedness, was that motive. 3. It
appears from what has been said, that God is pleased with the existence of every thing which takes place in the universe. His heart is in all his works. He feels interested in all events. And we know that the stronger the affections of any being are, the more pain and distress he feels whenever they are crossed or disappointed. If, therefore, all things do not take place just as the Deity desired and intended, his infinitely strong desires and affections are deeply wounded. But it is the universal voice of scripture, as well as the dictate of reason, that God is infinitely above the reach of pain, and enjoys the most perfect and permanent felicity. Though, therefore, there are ten thousand things constantly taking place in the world which are in their own nature disagreeable to the Deity, yet there never did and never will one single event exist, which, all things considered, he did not choose and intend should actually exist.
4. This subject suggests matter of great consolation to those who are interested in the divine favor. God hath set them as a seal upon his heart, and as a seal upon his arm. Though their love may wax cold, yet his love will never cease; though they may forget him, yet he will never forget them. He will keep them in the hollow of his hand, and guard them as the apple of his eye. He will cause all things to work together for their good. He will raise them as high in holiness and happiness as infinite power, wisdom and goodness can raise thern. With what joy and transport, therefore, may they look up to God and say, whom have we in heaven" but thee? and there is none upon earth that we desire besides thee. Thy favor is life, and thy loving kindness is better than life!
5. This subject warns sinners to flee from the wrath to come. God is angry with the wicked every day, and his wrath continually abides upon them. And though he now waits to be gracious to them, and endures them with much long-suffering and patience, yet, unless they repent and become cordially reconciled to him, he will whet his glittering sword, and his hand will take hold on judgment, and he will give them a just recompense of reward. It will be a terrible thing for sinners to fall into the hands of the living God, who is a consuming fire, and whose wrath will burn to the lowest hell. But God is now seated on a throne of grace. “ Let the wicked,” therefore, “forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”