The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATTRIBUTES OF LOVE.
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
34. Gratitude is another characteristic of Love.
This term also designates a state of the sensibility, or a mere feeling of being obliged or benefitted by another. This feeling includes an emotion of love and attachment to the benefactor who has shown us favor. It also includes a feeling of obligation and of readiness to make such returns as we are able, to the being who has shown us favor. But as a mere feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility gratitude has no moral character. It may exist in the sensibility of one who is entirely selfish. For selfish persons love to be obliged, and love those who love to oblige them, and can feel grateful for favors shown to themselves.
Gratitude, as a virtue, is only a modification or an attribute of benevolence or of good will. It consists in willing good to a benefactor either of ourselves or of others upon condition of favor bestowed. Gratitude always assumes of course the intrinsic value of the good willed as the fundamental reason for willing it. But it always has particular reference to the relation of benefactor as a secondary reason for willing good to him. This relation can not be the foundation of the obligation to love or will the good of any being in the universe; for the obligation to will his good, would exist if this relation did not exist, and even if the relation of persecutor existed in its stead. But gratitude always assuming the existence of the fundamental reason, to wit, the intrinsic value of the well-being of its object for its own sake, has, as I have just said, particular reference to the relation of benefactor; so particular reference to it that if asked why he loved or willed the good of that individual, he would naturally assign this relation as a reason. He would, as has been formerly shown, assign this as the reason, not because it is or can be or ought to be the fundamental reason, but because the other reason lies in the mind as a first truth, and is not so much noticed on the field of consciousness at the time as the secondary reason, to wit, the relation just referred to.
This attribute of benevolence may never have occasion for its exercise in the divine mind. No one can sustain to him the relation of benefactor. Yet in his mind, it may and no doubt does exist in the form of good will to those who are the benefactors of others, and for that reason, just as finite minds may be affected by that relation.
That love will ever have an opportunity to develop all its attributes and manifest all its loveliness and- take on every possible peculiarity, is more than we can know. All its loveliness can never be known nor conceived of by finite minds except so far as occasions develop its charming attributes. The love of gratitude finds abundant occasions of development in all finite minds, and especially among sinners of our race. Our ill-desert is so infinite, and God's goodness, mercy and long-suffering are so infinite and so manifested to us, that if we have any attribute of benevolence largely developed, it must be that of gratitude. Gratitude to God will manifest itself to God in a spirit of thanksgiving, and in a most tender regard to his. feelings, his wishes, and all his commandments. A grateful soul will naturally raise the question on all occasions, will this or that please God? There will be a constant endeavor of the grateful soul to please him. This must be; it is the natural and inevitable result of gratitude. It should be always borne in mind that gratitude is good will modified by the relation of benefactor. It is not a mere feeling of thankfulness, but will always beget that feeling. It is a living, energizing attribute of benevolence and will and must manifest itself in corresponding feeling and action.
It should also be borne in mind that a selfish feeling of gratitude or thankfulness often exists, and imposes upon its subject and often upon others who witness its manifestation. It conceals its selfish foundation and character and passes in this world for virtue; but it is not. I recollect well weeping with gratitude to God years previous to my conversion. The same kind of feeling is often no doubt mistaken for evangelical gratitude.
Benevolence is a unifying principle. The benevolent soul regards all interests as his own and all beings as parts of himself in such a sense as to feel obligations of gratitude for favors bestowed on others as well as himself. Gratitude, as an attribute of benevolence, recognizes God as a benefactor to self in bestowing favors on others. Benevolence regarding all interests as our own acknowledges the favors bestowed upon any and upon all. It will thank God for favors bestowed upon the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and for "opening his hand and supplying the wants of every living thing."
35. Wisdom is another attribute of benevolence.
Wisdom is love directed by knowledge. It consists in the choice of the best and most valuable end and of the most appropriate means of obtaining it. It is like all the other attributes, only benevolence viewed in a certain relation, or only a particular aspect of it.
Wisdom is a term that expresses the perfectly intelligent character of love. It represents it as not a blind and unintelligent choice, but as being guided only by the highest intelligence. This attribute like all the others is perfect in God in an infinitely higher sense than in any creature. It must be perfect in creatures in such a sense as to be sinless, but can in them never be perfect in such a sense as to admit of no increase.
The manifold displays of the divine wisdom in creation, providence and grace, are enough when duly considered to overwhelm a finite mind. An inspired apostle could celebrate this attribute in such a strain as this: "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!" The wisdom of the saints appears in their choice of an end. They choose invariably the same end that God does, but do not, for want of knowledge, always use the best means. This, however, is not a sinful defect in them, provided they act according to the best light within their reach.
Wisdom is a term that is often and justly used to express true religion and to distinguish it from every thing else.
It expresses both benevolence or good will and the intelligent character of that choice, that is, that the choice is dictated by the intelligence as distinguished from selfish choice or choice occasioned by the impulses of feeling.
36. Grace is another attribute of benevolence.
Grace is a disposition to bestow gratuitous favor, that is, favor on the undeserving and on the ill-deserving.
Grace is not synonymous with mercy. It is a term of broader meaning.
Mercy is a disposition to forgive the guilty. Grace expresses not only a willingness to pardon, but to bestow other favors.
Mercy might pardon but unless great grace were bestowed our pardon would by no means secure our salvation."Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display,
That drew the wondrous plan."
Grace does not wait for merit as a condition of bestowing favor. It causes its sun to shine on the evil and on the good and sends its rain upon the just and the unjust.
Grace in the saints manifests itself in acts of beneficence to the most unworthy as well as to the deserving. It seeks to do good to all whether meritorious or not. It seeks to do good from a love to being. It rejoices in opportunities to bestow its gratuities upon all classes that need them. To grace, necessity or want is the great recommendation. When we come to God his grace is delighted with the opportunity to supply our wants. The grace of God is a vast ocean without shore or bound or bottom. It is infinite. It is an ever overflowing ocean of beneficence. Its streams go forth to make glad the universe. All creatures are objects of his grace to a greater or less extent. All are not objects of his saving grace, but all are or have been the recipients of his bounty. Every sinner that is kept out of hell, is sustained every moment by grace. Every thing that any one receives who has ever sinned which is better than hell, is received of grace.
Repentance is a condition of the exercise of mercy. But grace is exercised in a thousand forms without any reference to character. Indeed, the very term expresses good will to the undeserving and ill-deserving. Surely it must have been a gracious disposition, deep and infinite, that devised and executed the plan of salvation for sinners of our race. A sympathy with the grace of God must manifest itself in strenuous and self-denying efforts to secure to the greatest possible number the benefits of this salvation. A gracious heart in man will leap forth to declare the infinite riches of the grace of God in the ears of a dying world. No man certainly has or can have a sympathy with Christ who will or can hesitate to do his utmost to carry the gospel and apply his grace to a perishing world. What! shall the gracious disposition of Christ prepare the way, prepare the feast; and can they have any sympathy with him who can hesitate to go or send to invite the starving poor? If Christ both lived and died to redeem man, is it a great thing for us to live to serve them? No, indeed: he only has the spirit of Christ who would, not merely live, but also die for them.
37. Economy is another attribute of benevolence.
This term expresses that peculiarity of benevolence that makes the best use, and the most that can be made of every thing to promote the public good. This attribute appears at every step in the works and government of God. It is truly wonderful to see how every thing is made and conducted to one end; and nothing exists or can exist in the universe which God will not overrule to some good account. Even "the wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain." A most Divine economy is every where manifest in the works and ways of God. If He is love, we might expect this. Nay if He is love, it is impossible that this should not be. He lives only for one end. All things were created and are ruled or overruled by Him. All things, then, must directly or indirectly work together for good. He will secure some benefit from every thing. Nothing has occurred, or will occur, or can ever occur to all eternity that will not in some way be used to promote the good of being. Even sin and punishment will not be without their use. God has created nothing, nor has He suffered any thing to occur in vain. There is nothing without its use. Sin, inexcusable and ruinous as it is, is not without its use. And God will take care to glorify Himself in sinners whether they consent or not. He says, "He has created all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil." That is, He created no man wicked, but He created those who have become wicked. He created them not for the sake of punishing them, but knowing that they would become incorrigible sinners, He designed to punish them, and by making them a public example, render them useful to His government. He created them, not because He delighted in their punishment for its own sake, but that He might make their deserved punishment useful to the universe. In this sense, it may be truly said, that he created them for the day of evil. Foreseeing that they would become incorrigible sinners, He designed, when He created them, to make them a public example.
God's glorious economy in husbanding all events for the public good, is affectingly displayed in the fact that all things are made to work together for good to them who love God. All beings, saints and sinners, good and evil angels, sin and holiness; in short there is not a being nor an event in the universe that is not all used up for the promotion of the highest good. Whether men mean it or not, God means it. If men do not mean it, no thanks to them whatever use God may make of them. He will give them, as he says, according to their endeavors or intentions, but He will take care to use them in one way or another for His glory. If sinners will consent to live and die for His glory and the good of being, well; they shall have their reward. But if they will not consent, He will take care to dispose of them for the public benefit. He will make the best use of them He can. If they are willing, and obedient, if they sympathize with Him in promoting the good of the universe, well. But if not, He can make them a public example, and make the influence of their punishment useful to His kingdom. Nothing shall be lost in the sense that God will not make it answer some useful purpose. No, not even sin with all its deformities and guilt, and blasphemy with all its guilt and desolating tendencies shall be suffered to exist in vain. It will be made useful in innumerable ways. But no thanks to the sinner; he means no such thing as that his sin shall be useful. He is set upon his own gratification regardless of consequences. Nothing is farther from his heart than to do good and glorify God. But God has His eye upon him; has laid His plans in view of his foreseen wickedness; and so surely as Jehovah lives, so surely shall the sinner in one way or another be used all up for the glory of God and the highest good of being.
Economy is necessarily an attribute of benevolence in all minds. The very nature of benevolence shows that it must be so. It is consecration to the highest good of being. It lives for no other end. Now all choice must respect means or ends. Benevolence has but one end; and all its activity, every volition that it puts forth, must be to secure that end. The intellect will be used to devise means to promote that end. The whole life and activity of a benevolent being is and must be a life of strenuous economy for the promotion of the one great end of benevolence. Extravagance, self-indulgence, waste, are necessarily foreign to love. Every thing is devoted to one end. Every thing is scrupulously and wisely directed to secure the highest good of God and being, in general. This is, this must be the universal and undeviating aim of every mind just so far as it is truly benevolent. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear."
There are many other attributes of benevolence that might be enumerated and enlarged upon, all of which are implied in entire obedience to the law of God. Enough has been said I hope to fix your attention strongly upon the fact that every modification of virtue, actual, conceivable or possible, is only an attribute or form of benevolence. That attribute is always a phenomenon of will and an attribute of benevolence. And where benevolence is, there all virtue is and must be, and every form in which virtue does or can exist, must develop itself as its occasions shall arise, if benevolence really exists.
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