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nevolence, according to common sense, is the soul of every virtue, or moral excellency.
Not that a good end, will sanctify unrighteous means; as some have infered from the benevolent system. Truth must never be violated, nor injustice done; because either of these would be destructive of general good. If men were at liberty to speak falsely or defraud, whenever they might think it would do more good than hurt, in particular cases, we could have no confidence in one another; and no man's property, or reputation, or life, would be in any safety. And if it were possible for God to lie, or to treat his creatures unrighteously, we could never trust in him, or know what to expect from him. Still, however, that neither justice nor truth, nor any thing else, is a virtue in man, or a moral perfection in God, further than it proceeds from a benevolent disposition, I believe, when duly thought of, must be the decision of every man's conscience. That God is love, as now explained, seems necessary to be believed, in order to a rational conviction of his being altogether lovely.
We will now pay a brief attention to the former part of our text; and inquire how it is to be understood, that be that loveth not, knoweth not God.
By him that loveth not, is evidently meant, one who has no true benevolence: nothing, in exercise or principle, of that love which is the fulfilling of the law. And under this character, it is plain, the apostle means to comprehend every unregenerate sinner: for in the next preceding verse he says, "Every one that loveth, is born of God."
But we are not to understand, that natural men, however entirely destitute of true benevolence, are incapable of every kind of knowledge of the Supreme Being. Of his natural perfections-his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, they may have as
just conceptions as good men have. And they may have some idea and conviction of God's moral perfections-his justice, truth and goodness.
There are two respects, however, in which it may be truly said, "He that loveth not knoweth not
1. Compared with good men, he has not a clear conception of what is meant by the divine benevolence. We get the idea of many things by experience, with an exactness which can no other way be obtained. Of one who has never felt hard pain, we say, He knows nothing what it is. We say the same of one who has never experienced parental affection. That no one can get the full idea of these feelings, without experiencing them, is indisputable. Thus also we get the most perfect knowledge of human nature. The apostle to the Corinthians says, "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him." He adds, "Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." Any endeavors to explain the divine benevolence, to one who has not been transformed into the likeness of it, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, must be somewhat, though not altogether, like attempting to give a blind man an idea of colors. The unrenewed, from the experience they have of humane compassion, of love for near relations, and of other partial friendships, may have some very faint partial idea of the feelings of Him who is good to all. Still however, they will be exceedingly apt to conceive of God, as though he were altogether such an one as themselves. Any one may be convinced, from analogy in other matters, that those who have been created after God in true holiness, will thence be able to form an idea of the holiness of God, with a degree of correctness, of which the unholy are incapable. But,
2. There is a kind of knowledge of God, which is entirely peculiar to good men. I mean, a heart-felt knowledge of his amiableness. He that loveth not, and has no disposition to God-like love, can have no delightful perception of any of the divine attributes ; however well they might be speculatively understood. This is that perception of which the apostle speaks, 2 Cor. iv. 6," For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ." This kind of knowledge, none but men of an honest and good heart, can possibly have. The carnal Jews had raised expectations of their promised glorious Messiah; yet, on his actual appearance, they received him not. It proved as was foretold in Isaiah: "When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him: He is despised and rejected." The reason is obvious. Their desires of salvation, and his saving designs, were far from coinciding. And a like opposition there always is, between the purposes of God, and the wishes of fallen men. He is good to all; they want to have him good only to themselves, and to their friends. He proposes to make them happy by turning them from their iniquities: it is their heart's desire and prayer, to have earthly riches and power, and liberty to enjoy the pleasures of sin.
To a mind universally benevolent, the universal benevolence of the great Parent of all, appears glorious but to a man of a totally selfish or partial disposition, it cannot so appear. No one can be pleased with a disposition in another to promote, that which he cares nothing about, or wishes not to have promoted.
Let us now see what useful inferences will follow, from the subject we have been considering.
1. From the things last said we may learn, that there is no impropriety in attempting to instruct the
unregenerate, in matters of religion; nor any reason why they should think it in vain to pay attention to divine instruction, because of the blindness of their hearts. They are not altogether like the horse and mule, which have no understanding. A rational conviction they may get, or may be given them, of God's all-seeing eye that is upon them, of his power and justice to punish them, and of his grace and mercy to save them; and such a conviction is one thing necessary, in order to their conversion and salvation.
2. It hence appears that the incapacity of sinners, while unrenewed, to come to the saving knowledge of God, is of such a nature as cannot render them at all excusable, in this kind of ignorance. It is owing merely to their total want of a benevolent disposition: and this is what we always condemn in others, and ought to condemn in ourselves. Yet,
3. It is evident from our text, and the things now said upon it, that the incapacity of those who have not been born again, to know God so as to love him, is such as can be removed by nothing but a radical change of heart. Did natural men only labor under misapprehensions concerning God, rectifying their mistakes would be enough to reconcile them to him. Were their blindness to his glory, owing to any weakness or disorder in their intellectual powers; a physical operation on the brain might be sufficient; or, if any thing supernatural were necessary, it would be only to give them better heads. But if the bottom of the difficulty with them, lies in their not being of a benevolent disposition; a better heart must be given them, before they can be brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light, or have any spiritual discernment of divine things.
4. From what has been said of the evidences set before us, that God is love, we may be helped to
judge where the truth lies, respecting the sufficiency of the light of nature, in matters of religion.
Infidel writers have often labored to prove, that the visible works of God teach us, with sufficient clearness, all that is needful to be known concerning him whence they conclude, that the Bible is unnecessary; and therefore, not from God.
In opposition to this, some of late have advanced, that from the light of nature, there is no reason to believe the moral perfections of God; or to think that he is a good being.
The first of these opinions ought to be rejected, I apprehend, as utterly unfounded and false but yet the last, it appears to me, is carrying the matter too far: farther than is needful, or safe, or true. The Bible itself, as hath now been observed, seems plainly to assert, that the glory of God is declared, by his works of creation and common Providence and that the heathen were without excuse, because that when they knew God, by these means, or might have known him, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful. Does not then asserting that, from the things which are seen, there is no reason to think that God is worthy to be glorified, or that we have any reason to be thankful to him, look like contradicting the scriptures, to show the necessity of them, and to induce men to believe them?
And if we attend to the works of nature ourselves, as holy men of old have done, will it not be rational to acknowledge, that all objections to the goodness of God, arising from apparent evils, amount to no more than difficulties, which reason alone would not be able to solve? But how often is it the case respecting most demonstrable truths, that there are things which seem irreconcilable with them? Even after revelation, and in revelation itself, there are some things hard to be reconciled. We must fall into very universal scepticism, if we will believe nothing till all difficulties can be removed. In the