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I do not very well understand what Mr. W. means by the phrase, if his love be himself. Does he suppose that love is not merely an attribute of God, but the divine substance, essence, or nature, as some German enthusiasts have wildly imagined? From some parts of the preceding paragraph one would think he has entertained such an idea. It is not countenanced, however, by the phrase, God is love; for it is also written, God is a Spirit, God is Light, &c. Now if we may say with propriety, Love is God, we may likewise affirm, Spirit is God, Light is God, &c. By this method of interpreting Scripture, we may soon have, as many Gods as the heathens had, and with natures as opposite to each other.
Mr. W. urges the immutability of the divine nature as a proof that the love of God to his creatures cannot become extinct; for, says he, "to suppose the love of "God to any of his creatures may become extinct, is, in "effect, to suppose that so much of himself may become "extinct, for he is love; that he may, so far, vary and "change; which is impossible." According to this logic, we may prove, not only that the love of God to his creatures cannot become extinct, but also that it cannot vary : for "to suppose a diminution of the love of God to any "of his creatures, is to suppose a diminution of himself, "for he is love; that he may so far vary and change; "which is impossible." And again, "to suppose an increase of the love of God to any of his creatures, is to suppose an increase of himself, for he is love; that he "may, so far, vary and change; which is impossible." From hence it follows, that the love of God to his creatures has no relation to their moral characters, but that he loves the devils as much now, as he did when they were angels of light doing his pleasure; and that he has the same love to a murderer while he is imbruing his hands in the blood of the innocent, as he has to a saint while zealously employed in the practice of piety and virtue.
The love of God is displayed in concert with his other perfections, and is never indulged to an extent that would hinder their harmonious operation. God is light, or holiness, as well as love; his love, therefore, cannot be inconsistent with his holiness. Mr. W. will allow that God loved the angels with delight before they sinned; but to say that his love to them was the same after they sinned, is, in other words, to say, that he taketh pleasure in unrighteousness, which is inconsistent with his holiness, and which is the damning sin of men. 2 Thess. ii. 12. It must therefore, be granted, that God's love of complacence towards his creatures becomes extinct with the extinction of virtue in them, and this spoils Mr. W's argument.*
Mr. W. thinks that "the sins of men cannot destroy "the love of God to them, because he hath demonstrated "his love to them in giving his Son to die for them, as "sinners." I grant that God loves sinners, but not as sinners; for that would be to love sin, which is perfectly contrary to his nature. It is no crime of ours that we come into the world with a sinful nature, and therefore it is not so wonderful that our being in such a state did not hinder God from loving us, and sending his Son to bring us to holiness and glory. For we cannot well suppose that a God of love would bring a race of rational beings into existence without affording them the means of virtue and happiness. But to infer from thence, that those who only abuse these means, instead of improving them, must still continue to be the objects of God's gracious regard, is a conclusion which the premises do
"God loves his creatures beyond the love of the tenderest and most "compassionate father; but always with this one exception, that he loves "virtue, righteousness, and goodness still better than them. And against "no sort of sinners do the Scriptures speak with greater indignation of "severity, than against those who presumptuously make the goodness of "God an occasion of sinning, and turning even the grace of God itself into "wantonness." Clarke's Sermons, vol. I. p. 219. 7th edition.
not warrant. But perhaps the doctrine of original sin, or derived depravity, may have no place in Mr. W.'s creed.
The bounds of that love which was manifested in the gift of Christ is fixed in the New Testament: "God so "loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but "have everlasting life." John iii. 16. I wish to know by what authority Mr. W. extends it to obstinate unbelievers and devils? It is a consideration calculated to excite our warmest gratitude, that "when we were yet "sinners Christ died for us ;" yet if as sinners we continue to oppose his gracious designs concerning us, the time may arrive, when "He that made us will not have "mercy on us, and he that formed us, will show us no "favour." Isa. xxvii. 11.
Dr. Ryland charged the Universalists with taking off an infinite weight from our motives against sin. To this Mr. Wright replied, that "the most powerful motive to "obedience is the strongest motive against sin; that love "is the only genuine principle of obedience; and that the government of God is not the reign of terror."*
The dispute is not about the strongest motive against sin; for, supposing love to operate most powerfully, it may still be true that the Universalists take off an infinite weight from our motives against sin, by destroying the force of the threatenings: and this Mr. W. has done by asserting that love is the only principle of obedience, and by excluding terror from the government of God. Mr. W. proceeds to the proof. "continue in rebellion against God?
"Why do sinners Because they have
no inclination to obey him. Why have they no inclina"tion to obey him? Because they do not love him. Why do they not love him? Because they are stran
'gers to his love; if they saw his loveliness, and per
* Examination, p. 18.
"ceived his love to them, they certainly would love and obey him. Can they be brought to love and obey God "by having their minds inspired with tormenting fear?"* In reply to the whole I observe,
1. Love is not the only genuine principle of obedience. Noah was moved with fear to build the ark, Heb. xi. 7. Jesus Christ inculcates the same principle upon his disciples: Fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Though love may be allowed to be the most noble principle, yet fear will appear to be equally necessary, when we consider the nature of man, and the circumstances in which he is placed.
2. The government of God is the reign of terror, to the finally impenitent; and the consideration of it is urged as a motive against sin. Knowing therefore the TERROR of the Lord, we persuade men. 2 Cor. v. 11.
3. If sinners saw God's loveliness, and perceived his love to them, they certainly would not all love and obey him, if we may judge of the future by the past: cause when they knew God, they glorified him not as God." Rom. i. 21. The Jews certainly perceived the amiableness of the Divine character, and his particular regard for their welfare, by a long train of gracious providences in their favour; and yet, as a nation, they did not love and obey him. The apostle Paul also speaks of some who despise the riches of Divine goodness, and harden their hearts against it, Rom. ii. 4, 5. If all men must be brought to virtue by a sight of God's loveliness, and of his love to them, and only that will bring them to it, what end can be answered by future punishment that is even limited in its duration? And why does not God make the discovery to them now? If they cannot be brought to love and obey God, by having their minds inspired with the tormenting fear of punishment, can it be done by the infliction of punishment? Why then are
*Examination, p. 18.
they punished at all? The fact is, that, in his zeal against endless punishment, Mr. W. has lost sight of both corrective and limited punishment, though they are the two chief corner-stones of his spiritual building. But I have proved above, that the terror of the Lord supplies a motive against sin: this motive is of infinite weight when urged by an anti-universalist: this motive, however, Mr. W. has neglected: we are therefore justified in charging him with taking off an infinite weight from our motives against sin.
But Mr. W. undertakes to show, that the charge properly belongs to his opponent's system. "That system, "(says he) which throws a thick veil over God's infinite "loveliness, by representing him as infinitely wrathful "and vindictive, is the system which takes off an infinite "weight from our motives against sin, by diminishing, "beyond calculation, the most powerful motives to "obedience."*
One would think that no man in his senses would be hardy enough to affirm that we take off an infinite weight from the motives against sin by representing God as threatening to punish it for ever; yet this is done under the pretence that the motive drawn from the love of God is diminished in the same proportion that vice is punished: if it were so, Mr. W.'s consequence would not follow; it would only prove that one motive is weakened as another is strengthened; so that, upon the whole, there would be no diminution of their weight against sin. But the motive drawn from the love of God is not diminished at all by the threatening of eternal punishment. On the ground of divine love, we teach that glory inconceivable in degree, and eternal in duration, will be the reward of obedience. Mr. W. cannot possibly make this motive stronger; and while he continues to reject the other, he must not be offended if we continue to prefer our charge against him.
* Examination, p. 10.