by James Usher
What is the first Point of Religion that we are taught in the Scriptures?
That there is a God.
Why do you make this the first Point?
Because the Scripture saith, He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, Heb. 11:6.
Have any called this into question at any time?
Yea, so saith the Prophet David: but he sheweth also that it was by wicked, proud, and foolish Men, whose lives were nothing else but abomination and corruption, (Psal. 10:4 and 14:1.)
What pretence of Reason might they have for this wicked imagination?
Because no Man ever saw God yet: By which foolish Argument they might deny also that there is any Wind, or that Man hath a Soul. For no Man yet ever saw them.
But how come you to perswade your self that there is such a God?
Beside infinite Testimonies of the Scriptures, as Gen. 1:1; Psal. 19:1, &c. the common consent of all Nations approveth this Truth, who rather worship any God or Gods, than none at all. And though Man by Nature doth desire to be exalted, and in respect of himself despiseth all other Creatures, as Wood and Stone: yet when a piece of Wood is framed out like a Man, and set in the Temple, and Man conceiveth an Opinion that it is a God, he falleth down and worshippeth it, (Esa. 44:15, 17.)
How then cometh it to pass that the Wicked say there is no God? (Psal. 14:1.)
First, Though upon a sudden passion they may seem to say so, as the Devil laboureth to tempt them; yet their very Conscience after doth check them.
Secondly, They deny rather God's Providence, than his Being; as appeareth by Psal. 10:4, 11.
What other Reasons have you to prove that there is a God?
God's Works of Creation and Providence both ordinary and extraordinary. For first, the glorious frame of the World, the Heavens, and the Earth, and the Sea, and all that is in them, must needs argue that their Maker was God, (Rom. 1:19, 20; Acts 14:17; Zech. 12:1.) it being evident that the World could not be made by the Creatures that are in it, neither could it make it self. As when a Man comes into a strange Country, and sees fair and sumptuous Buildings, and finds no Body there but Birds or Beasts; he will not imagine that either Birds or Beasts reared those Buildings, but he presently conceives that some Man either are or have been there.
The Creation of the Soul of Men, indued with Reason and Conscience, doth specially prove the same, Zech. 12:1.
The preserving of things created, together with the wonderful and orderly Government of the World, Day and Night, Summer and Winter, &c. manifestly convince the same. For Example: Bread is no better in it self than Earth; yet Man is preserved by Bread, and if he eat Earth, he dieth. The reason whereof must be attributed to the Blessing of God, giving to the one force and power to nourish more than to the other.
By the Order of Causes, even the Heathen Men have found out that there must be a God; seeing that of every Effect there must be a Cause, until we come to the first Cause, which is the Universal Cause of the Being of all Things, and is caused of none.
If we shall observe in God's Works an infinite Multitude, a wonderful Variety, (Psal. 104:24.) as amongst so many millions of Men, never an one like another in the compass of the Face; a most constant order, a seemly agreement, and an endless continuance or pleasant intercourse of things coming and going, and what exceeding Majesty is in them, we must needs attribute these things to a God.
The Consciences of Wicked Men after sin are perplexed with fear of being punished by some supream Judge, who disliketh and detesteth dishonest things, and exerciseth Judgment upon the Mind: Which maketh the most ungodly Miscreants, will they, nill they, to acknowledge and tremble at him, &c. (Rom. 2:15; Esa. 33:14 and 57:20, 21 and 66:24; Psal. 14:5 and 53:5.) For a Man that commits any Sin, as Murder, Fornication, Adultery, Blasphemy, &c. albeit he conceal the Matter never so close that no Man living know of it; yet oftentimes he hath a griping in his Conscience, and feels the very flashing of Hellfire: Which is a strong reason to shew that there is a God, before whose Judgment-Seat he must answer for this Fact.
There is a Devil that suggesteth Temptations against God into the Minds of Men, and sometimes also really possesseth their Bodies. Which is a sufficient Argument to prove that there is a God.
The death of the Wicked, with God's apparent Judgments upon them, (besides the terror of their Conscience (and the dreadful punishment executed even in this World upon many Atheists that have laboured to deny it, prove that there is a God. This is David's Argument, Psal. 9:16 and 58:10, 11.
The same appeareth by the rewards of the Godly; and the merciful preservation of those that trust in God, above and against natural means.
By the wonderful Miracles which God hath wrought for his Church.
By the foretelling of things to come so many thousand years before they were accomplished.
By the divers Revelations he hath made of himself to Men: As to Adam, Noah, Moses, &c.
This ground being now laid, that there is a God: What doth Christian Religion teach us concerning him?
It informeth us, first, Concerning his Nature; secondly, Concerning his Kingdom. And that respectively, as they have relation one to the other, (Acts 8:12 and 28:23.)
What is to be known concerning his Nature?
First, What his Essence is; and secondly, To whom or what Persons it doth belong. In the first he is considered in his Unity; in the second, in Trinity. The former whereof in the Hebrew Tongue is noted by the singular name of Jehovah, betokening the simplicity of Essence: The latter by the plural term of Elohim, importing a distinction of Persons in the Godhead.
Can we understand what the Essence of God is?
Very imperfectly. For all Nature is not able to teach us what God is in himself, neither can Man in Nature comprehend him, Job 36:26; 1 Tim. 6:16.
Why is not all Nature able to teach us what God is?
Because no Work is able perfectly to express the Worker thereof. But all Nature is a thing wrought by God; therefore it cannot perfectly teach us what God is.
How prove you that Man cannot comprehend him?
The less cannot comprehend the greater. But every Man is less than God; therefore no Man can comprehend God.
2. We cannot know the Things created; much less can we know the Creator. As for Example; We know that there are Angels, and that every Man hath a Soul; but what manner of things they are we know not.
The Scripture saith, The Judgments of God are past finding out, Rom. 11:3, 33. therefore much more is God himself past finding out. And the Joys of Heaven are unspeakable: Much more therefore is God himself unspeakable.
How then can he be known of us, being Incomprehensible?
Though his Substance be past finding out of Man or Angels, yet may he be known by his Properties and Actions, (Amos 4:13.) and we may conceive of him by his Name, (Exod. 33:19 and 34:5, 6; Psal. 145:1, 2, &c.) expressing what an one he is to us; though we are not able to know him according to the excellency of his Glorious Nature, only known unto himself, (Judg. 13:18.) therefore he said to Moses, Exod. 33:20. My Face, that is the Glory of my Majesty, (he doth not say, thou may'st not, or thou shalt not, but) thou canst not see; for there shall no Man see me, and live. But thou shalt see my back parts, (ver. 23.) that is, some small measure of my Glory, so far as thou art able to comprehend it. And even as Princes have their Secrets, whereunto all their Subjects are not made privy, neither is it lawful for them to search into them; and yet do they so far forth publish their Commandments as is profitable for them to know: So the Prince of all Princes hath his Secrets, unto which we are not privy, and into which we may not search; yet he hath so far revealed himself unto us (by his Works and Word) as is necessary and profitable for us to know, Deut. 29:29.
What doth the Scripture teach us concerning the Name of God?
Exod. 3:13. Moses asketh this question of God; Behold, when I shall come unto the Children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your Fathers hath sent me unto you: If they say unto me, What is his Name? What shall I say unto them? Whereunto God returneth this Answer in the next verse: I AM THAT I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the Children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
What learn you out of Moses his question?
First, That we be careful to be instructed in all things concerning our Calling, thereby to be able to answer all Doubts that may be moved. Secondly, That asking any thing concerning God, as of his Name or Nature, we must ask it of himself; who because now he speaketh not but by his Ministers, Interpreters of the Scriptures, (2 Cor. 5:20; Hos. 12:10.) we must have our recourse unto them.
What learn you out of God's Answer?
That the proper Name of God is, I am that I am; or (as the Hebrew soundeth) I will be what I will be; the Hebrews using the future time for the present, as that which noteth a continuance.
What is meant by these words?
Hereby is set forth the manner of the Being or Essence of God, far otherwise than the proper Names of Men; which declare either nothing of their Nature and Being, or else not the whole and full thereof.
Is there nothing of God to be known besides his Name?
Nothing as touching his Being, falling under our weak and shallow capacity.
What Names of God in the Scripture are derived from these words?
Two; the Name of Jehovah, and the Name Jah: Both which being drawn from this description of God, do set forth his Essence and Being. Teaching us, that his Eternal and Almighty Being (which no Creature is able to conceive) dependeth of no other Cause, but standeth of himself.
How is God only said to Be, seeing the Creatures have their Being also?
God is said only to Be, because he only is of himself: All other things have their Being of him, so that in comparison nothing had a Being but God. Therefore the Prophet saith, Esa 40:17. that all Nations before him are nothing, yea, to him less than nothing: And if Men be nothing, for whom the World was made, how much more are all other Creatures in Heaven and Earth nothing before him, and to him less than nothing?
Can you from hence define what God is?
He must have the Art and Logick of God himself, that must give a perfect definition of God: But he may in such sort be described, as he may be discerned from all false Gods and all Creatures whatsoever.
Why can there no perfect definition of God be given?
Forasmuch as God is in himself Eternal, Infinite, and Incomprehensible, the first Cause of all Causes and Effects, there can no definition be given of him. Seeing every Definition is an Explication of the Nature of the Thing defined, by words expressing the material and formal cause thereof. But of the first Cause there can be no Causes; therefore no words to express them. For these over-reaching terms of Thing, Being, Somewhat, Nature, &c. which seem to contain the word God, as well as all other things created by him, do not express any material cause of God: Neither do they contain these words God and Creature, as the general doth his Specials or Kinds, but are spoken of them equivocally; so that the term only, and not the definition of the term, doth agree to them. For in the Kinds or specials of one general, there is no priority of Nature, as is between the Cause and Effect.
Neither is this word Cause affirmed of God, but as a term of the Art of Logick. And if Substance be that which upholdeth Accidents, as Aristotle teacheth, neither may God be called a Substance, for that in him are no Accidents. But if Substance be taken generally for a Being, it may be said that God is a Substance; yet none otherwise than as he is a Being, Thing, Nature, &c. And if there be no material Cause, there can be no formal Cause of God. For although we read in the Scripture the form of God, Phil. 2:6. yet the form is not there taken for any Cause of God; but either for that which God indeed is, or for that Glory which of right belongeth unto him. For in speaking of God, whom no words of Man are able to express, the Holy Ghost oftentimes condescending to the weakness of our Understanding, useth such terms, as being known to Men do signifie something that is like to that, which God indeed is of himself; that we may understand so much as is expedient for us to know of him.
Whence may the Description of God he taken?
From the things whereby he doth manifest himself (called in Scripture his Name, Psal. 145:1, 2, 3, &c.) among which the chief principal are his Attributes or Properties.
What are the Properties or Attributes of God?
They are essential Faculties of God, according to the diverse manner of his working, 1 Pet. 3:12; 1 Joh. 4:16; Psal. 145.
Are they communicable with the Creatures?
No. Yet of some of them there are some shadows and glimpses in Men and Angels, (as Wisdom, Holiness, Justice, Mercy, &c.) other some are so peculiar to the Divine Essence, that the like of them are not to be found in the Creatures, as Simpleness, Infiniteness, Eternity, &c.
How may these Properties be considered?
They may be considered either in themselves as they are Essential, or in their Works or Effects, which are all perfect, either as they be Absolute, or as they be Actual. Absolute in himself, by which he is able to shew them more than ever he will, (as he is able to do more than ever he will do, Mat. 3:9. God is able of Stones to raise Children unto Abraham.) Actual, is that which he sheweth in the Creation and Government of the World, (as Psal. 135:7. All things that he will, he doth, &c.) Again, something we may conceive of his Essence affirmatively, knowing that all Perfections which we apprehend must be ascribed unto God, and that after a more excellent manner than can be apprehended: As that he is in himself, by himself, and of himself; that he is One, True, Good and Holy. But much more by denial, or by removing all Imperfections whatsoever: As of Composition, by the titles of Simple, Spiritual and Incorporeal; of all circumscription of Time, by the title of Eternal; of all bounds of Place, by that of Infinite; of all possibility of Motion, by those titles of Unchangeable, Incorruptible, and such like.
What Description can you make of God by these Properties?
God is a Spirit Eternal. Or more fully: God is a Spiritual Substance, having his Being of himself, infinitely Great and Good, John 4:24 and 8:58; Exod. 3:14 and 34:6, 7; Psal. 145:3, 8, 9.
What learn you hence?
To acknowledge both my Being and Well-being from him, and from him alone, Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 10:30; Ephes. 2:10.
What mean you when you say, That God is a Substance?
God is such a Thing as hath a being in himself, of himself, and which giveth a being to all other things.
What mean you by that addition of himself?
It hath a secret opposition to all Creatures which have a Being, but not of themselves: Whereas God alone is he, in whom we live, and move, and have our Being, Acts 17:28. which proveth that he alone hath his Being of himself.
How many things conceive you of God, when you say that he is a Spirit?
First, That he is a Living Substance.
Secondly, That he is Incorruptible.
Thirdly, That he is Incorporeal; without Body, Flesh, Blood, or Bones. For a Spirit hath no such Matter, Luke 24:39.
Fourthly, That he is Invisible, i.e. he hath not been seen with any mortal eye, neither can any Man possibly see him.
Fifthly, That he is Intangible, not felt.
Sixthly, That he is Indivisible, i.e. he cannot be divided.
How prove you that God is Invisible, and not to be seen with carnal Eyes?
That no Man hath seen God, is plainly set down, 1 John 4:12. That no Man can see God, is as plainly proved, Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16. and beside Scripture, the same is also manifest by Reason. For we cannot see our own Souls, which are ten thousand times a more gross substance than God: much less can we see God, which is a most pure and spiritual Substance.
Object. 1. We read, Gen. 18:1. that God appeared to Abraham: And, Deut. 5:24. that he shewed himself to the Israelites.
God gave them indeed some outward sights, whereby they might be certain of his Presence; and therefore it is said that the Lord appeared unto them, but his Substance or Essence they saw not. For to know God perfectly, is proper to God only, John 6:46.
Objection 2. We read, Gen. 1:26. that Man was made according to the Image of God. It would see in therefore that God is Corporeal and Visible, as Man is.
The Image of God consisteth not in the Shape and Figure of the Body, but in the Mind and Integrity of Nature, or (as the Scripture faith) in Wisdom, Righteousness and Holiness, Col. 3:10; Ephes. 4:24.
Obj. 3. Why then doth the Scripture attribute unto him Hands, Feet, &c.?
The Scripture so speaketh of him as we are able to conceive: And therefore in these and such-like Speeches, humbleth it self to our Capacity, attributing Members unto God to signifie the like Actions in him.
To what use serveth this Doctrine, That God is a Spirit?
It teacheth us, first, To worship him in Spirit and in Truth, Joh. 4:23, 24. Secondly, To drive away all fond Imaginations and gross Conceits of God out of our Hearts, and all Pictures and Similitudes of God out of our Sights: That we frame not any Image of him in our Minds, as ignorant Folks do, who think him to be an Old Man sitting in Heaven, &c. For seeing that God was never seen, whereunto shall he be resembled? Moses urged this Point hard and often to the Israelites; saying, Deut. 4:12. Ye heard the Voice, but saw no Similitude. And addeth, vers. 15. Take ye therefore good heed unto your selves: (He saith not only, Take heed; but, Take good heed: and, Therefore take good heed): For (saith he again) ye saw no manner of Similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the Fire. Then he cometh in the next four Verses to the thing that they must therefore take heed of: That ye corrupt not your selves, and make you a graven Image, the Similitude of any Figure, the Likeness of Male or Female, &c. See also Rom. 1:23.
How may the Attributes or Properties of God be distinguished?
Some do concern the Perfection of his Essence, some his Life; which in God be one and the same thing, distinguished only for our Capacity.
What call you the Perfection of God's Essence?
His absolute Constitution, by which he is wholly compleat within himself; and consequently needeth nothing without himself, but alone sufficeth himself, having all things from himself and in himself. Or thus: Perfection is an essential property in God, whereby whatsoever is in God is perfect, Gen. 17:1; Psal. 16:2 and 50:12; Rom. 11:35, 36.
What ariseth from hence?
All Felicity and Happiness: All endless Bliss and Glory.
What is the Felicity of God?
It is the Property of God, whereby he hath all fulness of delight and contentment in himself.
What learn you from the Perfection of God?
That he is to seek his own Glory, and not the Glory of any, in all that he willeth or willeth not, doth or leaveth undone.
What gather you thereof?
They are confuted that think God is moved to Will or Nill things in respect of the Creatures; as Men that seeing a miserable Man are moved to pity: whereas God of himself, and in himself, is moved to save or reject, (we speak here of Reprobation, not of Condemnation) to receive some, and to cast away others.
That all which he doth is perfect, howsoever he deal with us.
Wherein doth the Perfection of God's Essence principally consist?
In Simpleness, (or Singleness) and Infiniteness.
Why are these two counted the principal Properties of God?
Because they are not only incommunicable themselves, whereas those which concern the Life of God have some resemblance in the Creature) but also make all other Properties of God incommunicable.
What is Simpleness or Singleness in God?
It is an essential Property in God, whereby every thing that is in God is God himself. Therefore without parts, mixture or composition, Invisible, Impassible, all Essence: Whence he is not called only Holy, but Holiness; not only Just, but Justice, &c. Exod. 33:19, 20.
What gather you from hence?
First, That God hath no Qualities nor Adjuncts in him, as the Creatures have: But such as are attributed unto him for our Capacity, when it is his Nature this is such, 1 John 1:5; John 5:26. with John 14:6.
Secondly, That God's Essence or Substance cannot be augmented or diminished, that his Nature and Will cannot be changed; but he remaineth constant, without shadow of change, and will be always such as he hath been from all eternity, Numb. 23:19; James 1:17; Psal. 33:11; Esa. 46:10.
By what light of Reason may it be proved, that God is thus unchangeable?
Whatsoever is changed, must needs be changed either to the worse or to the better, or into a state equal with the former. But God cannot be changed from the better to the worse; for so he should become of perfect imperfect, And to exchange from the worse to the better, it is impossible also: For then he should have been imperfect before. Lastly, If he should alter from an equal condition to an equal, so that he should forego some good which before he had, and assume some other which before he had not; both before and after this change he should be imperfect, being destitute of some part of that good which appertained unto him, which to affirm is high blasphemy.
But divers things are objected against that immutability of God's Nature and Will: As, first, that in the Mystery of the Incarnation, God was made Man, which before he was not.
That was done, not by any conversion or change of the Divinity, but by the assumption of the Humanity.
Object. 2. If God cannot change his Mind; why is it said he repented that he made Man?
The Repentance attributed so often to God in the Scriptures, signifieth no mutation in God's Nature; but in his Actions immutably decreed from all Eternity. And the Scripture in this speaketh after our manner, that we may better understand what is the Nature of God against sin.
Declare how that is.
when we are grieved with any thing, we do then repent us that ever we did that thing for which we are grieved: And so is God said to repent him that ever he made Man, with whom he was angry; to shew that he was unfeignedly and highly displeased with the evil ways of Mankind.
Did not God then change his Mind when he drowned the World?
No. But then he did execute that which from everlasting he had decreed.
Object. 3. It is said, Exod. 32:14. The Lord changed his Mind from the evil which he threatned to his People.
That is still after the manner of Men. For Man, because he is but Man, cannot speak unto God but as a Man. And therefore God speaks again unto Man like a Man, because else Man should not understand what God is, nor what is his Will.
Shew me one Example hereof in the Scripture.
When Moses prayed for the Israelites, he used many Reasons to perswade the Lord, (but especially to confirm his own hope): At the last he said thus; Turn from thy fierce Wrath, and change thy Mind from this evil towards thy People. Thus did Moses speak to God, and if he had spoken to a mortal Man he could have said no more nor no less; for Man's Speech is according to his Capacity, and both are limited, and beyond himself he cannot go. Therefore when he sheweth what the Lord did, he saith, he changed his Mind: Which was as much as he could conceive of God concerning that Matter. Thus we speak, as well as we can, yet in a broken and imperfect speech to God; as little Children speak to their Nurses: And Almighty God speaks in a broken and imperfect Language to us again for our weakness and understandings sake, as the Nurse doth to the Child. For if the Nurse should speak so perfectly to the Child, as she could to one of greater capacity, the Child would not understand her: So if God should speak unto us as he could, and according to his own Nature, we were never able to understand him, nor conceive his meaning.
Object. 4. The Promises, and Threatnings of God are not always fulfilled; therefore it seemeth that sometimes he changeth his Mind.
His Promises are made with a condition of Faith and Obedience, Deut. 28:13. and his Threatnings with an exception of Conversion and Repentance, Psal. 7:12.
What use may we make of this Doctrine of the Simpleness and Unchangeableness of God's Nature?
First, It ministreth comfort unto the Faithful, for strength of their weak Faith: Whilst they consider that the Mercy and Clemency of God is in all perfection, and without change unto them. For this is the Foundation of our Hope and Comfort in this Life, That he doth not now love and now hate; but whom he loveth, to the end he loveth them, John 13:1.
Secondly, It giveth matter of terror unto the wicked, whilst they consider his Wrath and Severity against them to be in most full measure; the one and the other being God himself. It may also make us fear to offend him, because all his Threatnings are unchangeable except we repent.
What is Infiniteness?
It is an essential property of God, whereby all things in his Essence are signified to be without Measure and Quantity: And consequently, that the Substance of God, his Power and his Wisdom, and whatsoever is in him, is incomprehensible, Psal. 139:7; 1 Kings 8:27; Rom. 11:33.
Wherein doth the Infiniteness of God's Essence especially consist?
In Immensity or exceeding Greatness, and Eternity or Everlastingness.
What is his Immensity or exceeding Greatness?
It is an essential Property in God, whereby he containeth all things, and is contained of nothing, that either is or may be imagined: And consequently is free from increasing or decreasing, and all comprehension of place; being present every-where, both within and without the World, and filling all places wholly at all times with his presence. For he is in all places, in Heaven and in Earth, and the Sea and Hell, and all at one time; neither can he be contained in any compass of place, (as is a Man or Angel, or any other Creature) but he is in all places, and filleth all places at once, and is beyond all compass of place that we can imagine, 1 Kings 8:27; Psal. 139:7 and 145:3; Esa. 66:1 and 40:12; Jer. 23:24.
Is God every-where bodily?
No. For he hath no Body.
Is God every-where in speculation only?
No. For be worketh in every thing which he beholdeth.
How then is he every where?
He is every-where essentially. For his Essence is not contained in any place, because he is incomprehensible.
Doth he not remove himself from place to place?
He filleth Heaven and Earth, and all places, therefore he can neither depart from any Place, nor be absent from any place.
Is he not half in one half of the World, and half in the other half of the World?
No. But as the whole Soul is wholly in every part of the Body, so God is whole and wholly in every part of the World.
Object. 1. If God be every-where essentially, then he is in the most filthy Sink and Puddle.
1. It is no abasing of the Glory of his Majesty, to say that he is there: No more than it is to the Sun, whose Beams and Light are there; or to a Physician to be amongst those that are sick.
2. All the Creatures of God in themselves are exceeding good: And when he is in the most filthy Sink in the World, he is not in a more filthy place than our selves, whether we be sick or sound.
3. They are his Workmanship; and it is no abasement of the Workmaster to be amongst his Works.
Object. 2. If God be every-where; why is it said he dwelleth in the Heavens? Psal. 2:4.
Because his Glory and Majesty, which is every-where alike, shineth most perspicuously and visibly in Heaven.
Object. 3. It is said, Numb. 14:42. he is not amongst the wicked.
He is not amongst them with his grace and favour, to protect and defend them: but otherwise by his Power and Providence he is amongst them, to bridle their raging Affections, to plague their furious Obstinacy, and to dispose of their desperate Attempts to his own Glory and the good of his People.
Object. 4. If God be every-where at the same instant of time, how is he said to be sometimes nearer, further off? Esa. 55:6.
God is said to be near unto us, when by his Word or any other Means he offereth us grace and favour; and when he heareth and granteth our Prayers, as Moses saith, Deut. 4:7. What Nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord God is in all things that we call upon him for?
Object. 5. If God be in Hell, then all Goodness is there: for he is all Goodness; and so consequently there is no want of joy in the Damned.
The Damned in Hell feel no part of his Goodness, that is, of his Mercy and loving Favour, but of his Power and Justice. So that God is in Hell, by his Power, and in his Wrath.
To what purpose and use serveth this Doctrine of Immensity, or infinite Greatness of God?
The consideration thereof should put us in mind, that nothing which is vile and base should be offered unto God in the worship of him. Secondly, It serveth to drive all gross and idolatrous conceits of God out of our Minds: And to detect and bewray the impiety and blasphemy of those Persons, who either by making of Pictures (as they thought) of God, or by maintaining of them being made, or by suffering them to stand still (especially after it be known) have thereby denied God to be incomprehensible. For these Pictures and Resemblances of God which ignorant Men have forged in their own Brain, do tell us and say, That God may be comprehended and contained within a place, yea, in a small place, or in any place, as a Man or other Creature: which is most high Blasphemy against the Majesty of Almighty God.
What is his Eternity?
It is an Essential Property in God, whereby his Essence is exempted from all measure of time, and therefore is the first and the last, without either beginning or end of days, 1 Tim. 1:17; Esa. 41:4 and 44:6; Psal. 90:2; Rev. 1:8, 11.
In what respect is God called Eternal in the Scriptures?
That he hath been from all Eternity without beginning, is now, and shall be for all eternity without end.
That all times are present with him continually; and so nothing former nor latter, nothing past or to come.
That he is the Author of Everlastingness unto others. Because he hath promised to give his Children of his eternal Goodness, and to have a continual care of them through all Eternity: And will have a Kingdom in Angels and Men, whereof shall be no end.
Is it necessary that we should know this?
Yea: That we may here stay our selves with the certain hope of eternal life grounded upon his Eternity.
How may that hope be grounded upon his Eternity?
Very well. For God being Eternal, he can for ever preserve us: And seeing he hath promised, he will for ever preserve us, Psal. 48:14 and 103:17. Hereby likewise are we strengthened, not only in the immortality of our Soul, but also in the immortality of our Bodies after the Resurrection: considering that by his Everlastingness he giveth continual Being to such of his Creatures as he is pleased to give a perpetual continuance unto.
Why else is God said to be eternal?
That so he might be discerned from all other things created. For nothing is like unto God; as the Scripture testifie, Esa. 40:18; Psal. 113:5.
How is God said to be alone everlasting; seeing Angels and Souls of Men shall be also everlasting?
1. In regard of the time to come they are everlasting, but not in regard of the time past. For though they shall continue always, yet they had their beginning, which cannot be said of God; who therefore is called Alpha and Omega, Rev. 1:8.
2. Their continuance is, such as it is, not absolute and by it self, but proceeding from the Power of God, who is able (if so he pleased) to give unto them an end as well as a beginning. In which respect God is said only to have immortality, 1 Tim. 6:16.
Is it necessary we hold God to be Eternal, that so he may be discerned from all things created?
Yea, and we hold it in that respect for two causes.
First, Because certain Hereticks have thought either all the Creatures, or some of the Creatures at least, to be derived from the very Nature and Essence of God by propagation, as Children from their Mother's Womb.
Secondly, That all Idolatrous Cogitations of God may be excluded out of our Minds.
What is the Life of God?
It is an Essential Property of God, whereby the Divine Nature is in perpetual action, living and moving in it self. Hereof is that Speech in the Scripture so often used; The Lord liveth. Hereof likewise is that form of Asseveration or Oath, used so often both by God, Numb. 14:21; Rom. 14:11 and by Man, 1 Sam. 19:6; Jer. 4:2. As the Lord liveth. And hereof it is, that the Lord so ordinarily in the Scriptures hath the Name of the Living God, Psalm 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Heb. 3:12 and 10:31; 1 Tim. 6:17.
Why is God called a Living God?
For Four Causes. 1. Because he only hath life in himself, and of himself; and all other Creatures have Life from him, Psal. 36:9; 1 Tim. 6:16, 17; John. 5:26 with 14:19.
2. Because he is the only giver of Life unto Man, Gen. 2:7; Acts 17:28; John 1:4.
3. Because he is the God especially, not of the Dead, but of the Living, Mat. 22:32. for all live unto him.
4. To distinguish him thereby from all the false Gods of the Heathen, which have no life in them, Psal. 115:5, 6; Esa. 41:23; Acts 14:15.
What may be known as touching the Life of God?
As all Life is active in itself, so the chief Life (such as is in the highest degree to be attributed unto God) is operative in three Faculties and Operations, viz. in Understanding, Power, and Will.
What then be the Attributes, whereby this Life of God is signified?
His All-sufficiency, and his Holy Will: The former whereof comprehendeth his Omniscience or All-knowing Wisdom, and his Omnipotence or Almighty Power, Job 9:4, 19 and 12:13; Psal 147:5; Esa. 40:26, 27, 28; Prov. 8:14; Jer. 10:12 and 32:19; Dan. 2:20.
What is the knowledge or Wisdom of God?
It is an Essential Property of God, whereby he doth distinctly and perfectly know himself, and of and by himself all other things that are, were, shall be, or can be: understanding all things aright, together with the reason of them, Matth. 11:27; Heb. 4:13; Job 12:13; Psalm 139:11; John 21:17; 1 Tim. 1:17.
How many things do you conceive of God by this Attribute?
Four things. 1. That he knoweth all things. 2. That he can be deceived in nothing. 3. That he hath most wisely disposed and ordered all things; insomuch that he cannot justly be reproved in any of them. 4 That he keepeth not his Wisdom to himself, but bestoweth it upon his Creatures: So that whatsoever Wisdom they have, they have it from God.
After what sort doth God understand things?
Not by certain Notions abstracted from the things themselves, but by his own Essence: nor successively, (remembring one thing after another) or by discourse of Reason, but by one and the same eternal and immutable Act of Understanding, he conceiveth at once all things, whether they have been or not.
How great is this Wisdom of God?
It is Infinite, even as God is Infinite, Psal. 147:5; Esa. 40:28.
What are the Branches thereof, when it is referred to God's Actions?
Fore knowledge and Counsel, Acts 2:23.
What is the Fore-knowledge of God?
That by which he most assuredly fore-seeth all things that are to come, Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2. Though this be not properly spoken of God, but by reason of Men to whom things are past or to come.
Is this Fore-knowledge of God the cause why things are done?
No; but his Will.
What is the Counsel of God?
That by which he doth most rightly perceive the best reason of all things that are or can be, Job 12:12, 13; Prov. 8:14; Ephes. 1:9.
For the clearer knowledge of this Wisdom of God, what is there further to be considered?
For the better understanding of this Attribute, we must consider that the Wisdom of God is twofold. First, It is absolute: and we do so term it, because by it God can, and doth simply and absolutely know all things from all Eternity, Heb. 4:13; Psal. 94:11. Secondly, It is special; whereby he doth not only know his Elect Children as he knoweth all things else, but also he doth acknowledge them for his own; and doth discern them from others, and love them before others. 2 Tim. 2:19.
Of which do the Scriptures properly speak, when they attribute Wisdom to God?
They speak then of his Absolute Knowledge, whereby he doth not only know always and most perfectly himself, and the whole order of his Mind; but also understandeth and knoweth all his Works, and the works of all his Creatures, past, present, and to come, with all the Causes and Circumstances of all.
How do the Scriptures speak of this absolute Knowledge?
The Scriptures speak of it two ways: Either of the Knowledge it self, or else of the things known. And so they shew first, what and what manner of thing it is; and secondly, what things are known of God.
Now tell me what Knowledge is in God, and what Wisdom doth best agree to his Divine Nature.
The best way to find out that is first to consider what Wisdom and Knowledge doth not agree with his Nature and Essence: For his Knowledge and Wisdom are infinitely greater than any we can affirm to be in God.
How shall we find what Knowledge is not agreeing with his Divine Nature?
This is the best way. We must consider and set before us all the kinds of Knowledge, and all the ways and means whereby any Knowledge is to be attained unto amongst Men and Angels: Then shall we see that the Wisdom and Knowledge of God are far more excellent every way, than the most excellent that can be found or thought upon amongst Men and Angels.
Declare then by what ways and means we know a thing.
By two ways or means we do know all that we do know. One way is by our Senses, viz. by Hearing, Seeing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting; another way is by our Understanding.
Whether doth God know any thing by Senses or no?
He cannot. Because he is not as Man, but is a Spirit, and bodiless; and therefore hath no Senses.
Why then do the Scriptures speak of the Eyes, Ears, &c. of God?
Although the Scriptures do attribute Eyes to God, whereby he beholdeth all things, and Ears, whereby he heareth all things, &c. yet indeed he hath none of all these; but these be figurative Speeches used for our capacity and understanding, signifying that nothing is hidden from the Lord.
Whether then doth God know things by Understanding, or no?
Yes; but not as we do.
Why, what manner of Knowledge is that which we have by our Understanding.
It is either an Opinion, or a Belief, or a skill and learning.
What is an Opinion?
An Opinion is no certain and evident knowledge of a thing, but is still doubtful what to affirm or deny: And therefore such a Knowledge is not in God, for he knoweth certainly.
What manner of thing is Belief or Faith?
It is a certain, but not an evident Knowledge. For look what we believe only, that we do not see nor know by the Light of natural Understanding: Therefore it is no evident Knowledge, but it is a certain and true Knowledge, because he is most true which revealed it unto us. For Faith or Belief is a most certain Knowledge grounded upon the report of another.
Whether doth this kind of knowing things agree with the Nature of God or no?
No. For God knoweth all things in himself and of himself; but not by the report of another.
What say you to Skill and Learning, that is both a certain and evident Knowledge of things: Doth not that agree with the Nature of God?
Such Knowledge doth not agree with his Nature.
Because it cometh by Knowledge that went before, and is gotten by reasoning and debating of things, by defining and dividing, and by searching out the causes of things: But in God is neither before, nor after, first nor last; and God hath no knowledge after such a sort. Again, our Knowledge which way soever it be considered, whether it be a habit in us, or an action in us, is imperfect: For we know not all things, and these things which we do know we know not all at once, but one thing after another, and yet still but in part.
Declare then in a word how God doth know all things?
God doth most perfectly know and understand all things at one instant, without any conceipt of Mind altering this way or that way.
All our Knowledge is a thing distinguished from our Mind and Understanding: Is it so in God?
No. For the Knowledge or Wisdom of God is a most simple and perfect Essence, yea, it is his very Essence and Substance; and God is all Knowledge, all Wisdom, and all Understanding, infinitely more than all Men and Angels can conceive.
Doth God know and understand every thing particularly?
Yea: He knoweth the natures and properties of every particular thing.
How prove you that?
By the Scripture, and by Reason. For the Scripture saith, That God saw every thing that he made that it was Good: This is not spoken generally of all, but especially of every one Creature. Again, Reason makes it manifest by three Examples in the Scriptures, Gen. 1. First, Adam gave to every living thing a proper Name, Gen. 2:20. according to its proper Nature; whereby it appeareth that Adam had a distinct and particular knowledge of every thing: how much more then had God this special Knowledge of every particular thing, who gave to Adam whatsoever Wisdom and Knowledge he had?
Secondly,* Solomon's Wisdom and Knowledge was so great that he was able to dispute, and did thereby dispute of the nature of all Trees, Plants, Fishes, Fowl, Worms, Beasts, and all natural things, as one that was most skilful in them: How much more then doth God know all things and their natures particularly, who gave such Wisdom to Solomon?
Thirdly, Our Saviour Christ saith of the Father, That all our Hairs be numbred by him;* and that a Sparrow falleth not to the ground without the Will of our Heavenly Father. If not without his Will, then not without his Knowledge.
Whether doth God know all the motions of our Wills and our Thoughts?
Yea; God doth certainly know the Motions of the Will, and the Thoughts of the Heart in all Men, and the issue of them all. Which is manifest by these places of Scripture following, Gen. 6:5; Psal. 94:11; Prov. 21:1; Jer. 17:9, 10. Hereof it is that we cite him to be the Witness of our Hearts when we swear by him.
Whether hath God the knowledge of all Evils or no?
God knoweth all Evils and Sins, which lye lurking in all Mens Hearts. And this is manifest by these places of Scripture following, Gen. 6:5; Job 11:11; Psal. 90:8, 9.
What if he did not know all these Evils?
It is impossible but he must know them, for two causes. First, If he did not, his Knowledge would be imperfect. Secondly, If he did not know them, he could not be a Just Judge, neither could he reward every one according to his Works and Thoughts: Which to affirm were Ungodly and Blasphemous.
Object. That which is nothing cannot be known; but Sin and Evil is nothing, (for it is nothing else but a taking away, and failing of good, and it is a meer corruption) and therefore Sin and Evil cannot be known of God.
We know what is Evil, and we know Evil Things, and we do discern them from Good Things: But we know Evil only by his contrary, that is Good. As we know Nothing by Something, Darkness by Light, Death by Life, Sickness by Health, Vice by Vertue. Thus by the knowledge of Good, Evil is known unto us; and therefore seeing God (who is the chief Good) doth by himself know all Good things, he must of necessity also know and understand all the Evil that is contrary thereunto.
Whether may God know those things which are not?
God knoweth the things which are not; and he doth also truly know the things which shall never come to pass.
What Reason can you yield for this?
The Reason is; because he knoweth all things by his Essence: Therefore he knoweth all things which are subject to his Divine Essence and Power; and therefore also are possible, but shall never come to pass.
But doth he know them eternally, or in time?
He knoweth them all eternally: That is, for ever and ever, he knew, and doth know them; as the Scripture doth testifie, Ephes. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:19.
Can you make this manifest by an earthly comparison?
Yea. A Builder by virtue of his Art doth conceive in his Mind the form of a House, which House he will never build: how much more can God do the same? For God can make more Worlds; and he knoweth that he can, and yet he doth it not.
Again; although there were never an Eagle in the City, yet we can conceive in our minds what an Eagle is: much more doth God know all things which are not in act, and which never shall be.
Object. This is something which you say: But your last similitude of the Eagle doth not hold. For therefore we keep the knowledge of an Eagle in our minds, though all be gone, because the similitude of the Eagle which was sometimes in the City, doth still remain in our minds and understandings. But what similitude can there be in the Mind of God, of those things which are not, which never were, and which never shall be?
Yes; the very Essence and Similitude of God, is a Similitude of all those things that may be if he will, which he must needs know; for he doth most perfectly know himself. And thus if we consider his Power, or Almighty Essence, all things should be done which he can do and doth know.
Then whether is his Knowledge and Power the cause of all things, which are, which have been, and which shall be?
The only foreknowledge of God alone which the Grecians call Theorical Knowledge; that is, a Knowledge beholding all things, is not the cause of things; but his foreknowledge with his Will, which the Grecians call Practical Knowledge, that is, a Working Knowledge, that is the cause of things.
Whether may the Knowledge or Wisdom of God fail or be deceived at any time, or no?
The knowledge of God is most certain, and cannot any way be deceived. For all things are known of God as they are; and all things are as they are known of God: And therefore his Knowledge cannot any way be deceived, Heb. 4:13.
Object. But things do often change and alter: And therefore they are not always as they are known.
Although things be changed, and altered, yet God doth know thereof: and although they change and alter, yet his Knowledge doth never alter nor change, neither is it uncertain.
Whether may the Knowledge which God hath, be increased, diminished, or altered?
No; it cannot, it is always the same, firm and constant, and can by no means be increased, diminished, nor altered. For he neither forgetteth any thing, nor is ignorant of any thing, neither is any thing new unto him. For the Scripture saith, all things are always manifest in his sight. St. James saith, (1:17.) with God is no change, nor shadow of change. Therefore his Knowledge is always one and the same. Solomon saith, Many devices are in a Man's Heart, but the Lord's Counsel shall stand, Prov. 19:21.
But if his Knowledge be always one and the same, why doth the Scripture say, That the Lord will forget our sins, and blot them out of his remembrance, and remember them no more?
These and such-like phrases of Speech are not to be understood of the simple Knowledge of God, as though he should know them no more; but of his Judicial Knowledge unto Punishment. For although he doth know and remember our sins always most perfectly; yet he will not know them, nor remember them to bring them into Judgment, and so to punish us for them when we do truly repent: That is, they shall be no more judged or punished, or laid to our charge, if we be in Christ, than if he had quite and clean forgotten them, and never did remember them. And these Speeches serve to arm us against the despair and doubting of our Salvation, being truly in Christ.
Where is the Wisdom of God specially of us to be considered?
The Wisdom of God shineth unto us most clearly in his Works of Creation and Perservation of the World: and not only in his Works, but also in his Gospel, whereby he calleth and gathereth his Church out of the World, to be saved by his Son our Mediator Jesus Christ, Eccles. 3:11; Psal. 104:24; 1 Cor. 1:21.
Was this Saving Wisdom of God known to the Philosophers and natural wise Men of the World?
No; it was not, but only to the Children of God, Mat. 11:25.
Is the Wisdom of God to be perfectly conceived of us?
No; neither is it communicated to any Creature, neither can be. For it is unconceivable, as the very Essence of God himself is unconceivable and unspeakable as it is: And his Wisdom (as we have heard before) is his very Essence, that is, his very Godhead or God himself; and that it is unconceivable, the Scriptures do testifie, Psal. 147:5; Rom. 11:33.
What Use may we make of this Doctrine?
First, By this Doctrine of God's unspeakable Knowledge and Wisdom, the True God is discerned from all False Gods, and from all things made. For that is no God which hath not this Divine Knowledge and Wisdom, which the Scriptures do attribute to God.
Secondly, Seeing our God is such a God as knoweth all things that are done, said, or thought, and seeth into the most hidden corners and thoughts of our Hearts: We must study and learn thereby to drive all hypocrisie and dissembling from us, and learn to open our Hearts to God of our own accord, and to beseech him in his own Son's Name, to cleanse us from our secret Faults.
Thirdly, It must make us to walk always before the Lord according to his Will revealed in his Word, with great fear and reverence, as Men always in his sight and knowledge.
Fourthly, It serveth to confirm our Faith and Trust in the Providence of God. For although we know not what to do, nor how to do, nor what shift to make in dangers and necessities, yet God doth; and he hath knowledge enough for us, though we be ignorant; and his Wisdom shall succour our foolishness, if we do truly and faithfully serve him. Psal. 103:13, 14.
Fifthly, This should be our Consolation against the fear of Hell and despair, and should uphold in us the certainty of our Salvation: Because this Knowledge and Wisdom of God, joined with his Will to save us, is firm and constant; and he knowing all his Elect, will not lose one of them that are in Christ his Son, Joh. 17:12; 2 Tim. 2:19; Joh. 10:27, 28, 29.
What is the Omnipotency or the Almighty Power of God?
It is an Essential Property in God, whereby he is able to effect all things; being of Power sufficient to do whatsoever he willeth or can will, Gen. 35:11; Deut. 10:17; Nehem. 1:5; Job 8:3 and 9:4 and 11:7 and 42:2; Psal. 115:3; Dan. 4:35; Mat. 19:26; Luk. 1:37.
Are there any things which God cannot will or do?
Yea; three kind of things.
1. Such things as are contrary to his Nature: As to destroy himself, and not to beget his Son from Eternity.
2. Those things whose action argueth impotency, and are a sign of weakness, as to lie, Tit. 1:2. to deny himself, 2 Tim. 2:13. to allow wickedness, Hab. 1:13. to be forgetful, to do the works of a created Nature, &c. For the disability of such things confirmeth, not weakneth God's Omnipotency.
3. Such things as imply contradiction. For God cannot make a Truth false; or that which is, when it is not to be; or a Man to be a Man and a Stone at one and the same time; or Christ's Body to be a true Body, and yet to be in all places or divers places at once, and to be without circumscription and occupying of a place, which is the Essential Property of a Body. For one of these being true, the other must be false; and God, who is the Truth it self, cannot work that which is false and untrue. So that God's Omnipotency must always teach us that he is glorious, and true, and perfect, and not the contrary.
In what respects then is God said to be Almighty?
Because, 1. He is able to perform whatsoever he will, or is not contrary to his Nature, Psal. 135:6; Esa. 40:28.
2. He can do all things without any labour, and most easily, Psalm 33:9 and 148:5.
3. He can do them either with means, or without means, or contrary to means, as pleaseth him.
4. There is no Power which can resist him.
5. All Power is so in God only, that no Creature is able to do any thing, but as he doth continually receive Power from God to do it, Acts 17:28; Esa, 40:29 and 45:24; Dan. 2:20, 23; 1 Chron. 29:12; John 19:11; Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim. 4:17. So that there is no Power but what is from God.
What mean you when you say, All Power is in God? It should seem by that speech, that there are more Powers in God than one?
That we may rightly understand what Power is in God; it were very requisite that we did first consider how many ways this word Power is taken in the Scriptures.
Declare then how or in what sense it is taken in the Scriptures.
In the Scripture this word Power is taken two ways, or in two senses; sometimes for Authority, which is grounded upon Law, by which Authority one may do this or that if he be able to do it; sometimes it is taken for might and strength, or ability to do a thing if one hath Authority to do it. And these are distinguished by two words amongst the Grecians and the Latins. For when the Grecians speak of Power, that signifieth Authority and Right, Mat. 28:18. then it is called ἐξουσία: When they take Power for Strength, then it is termed by them δύναμις. Amongst the Latins being taken the first way, it is called Potestas: being taken the second way, that is, for Might or Strength, it is called Potentia; and in English we call them both Power.
It seemeth by your speech, that they are not only distinguished, but that they may also be separated the one from the other.
It is true, for so they are. As for Example, A King may have great force and strength, and by his great Power he may be able to overthrow and destroy a whole Country or Kingdom over which he hath no Authority. Again, some King hath Power, that is, Authority over his Rebels, and yet hath not Power, that is, strength enough to subdue them: So some perhaps have might and strength enough to govern and rule another Man's Wise, another Man's Children, or another Man's Servant, over which he hath no Power, that is Authority. And again, Fathers have Authority over their own Children; all Husbands over their own Wives; and all Masters over their own Servants: And yet all have not Power, that is, strength and ability to rule them.
I perceive by this which you have said, that in Creatures these two may be separated one from the other, and many times are: But what are they in God?
In God they are not divided, but distinguished. For he hath all Power, that is, all Authority over all things; and he hath all Power, that is, all strength, force, might and ability to do all things with all things at his good pleasure: and this Power is not given him, but he hath it in himself, and of himself, most perfectly, absolutely, and eternally.
But of what Power do we speak when we say, that God is Almighty? Whether do you mean his Right and Authority, or his Strength and Ability, or both?
Both are in God essentially: But when the Scripture speaketh of God's Omnipotency, it meaneth (and so do we) his Strength and Ability, whereby he is able to do whatsoever he will, not excluding his right.
If all Power and Might be in God; tell me how manifold is this Power which is attributed to God in the Scriptures?
To speak simply, the Power of God is but only one, and a must simple and single thing, which is his Essence and Substance: Yet for divers respects it is said to be manifold; and it may be considered two ways.
1. As it worketh always, and can work in God himself: For God in himself doth always understand, will, love, &c.
2. As it worketh out of God himself, in the Creatures: As when he created all things, and doth now work in governing all things, and can work if it please him, infinite things: And of this working of God's power, do the Scriptures properly speak when they call God Almighty.
How many ways may God's Power be considered, as it worketh in himself?
Two ways: First, As it is common to all the three Persons in the Trinity, that is, a Power whereby God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost doth understand himself, love himself, and work in himself: And these Actions do not differ from the Essence of God, for that in God there is nothing which is not his Substance.
Secondly, The other working in God himself, is that by which the Father doth beget eternally a Son of his own Nature and Substance equal to himself: And this Power of begetting the Son of God is proper only to the Father, and not to the Son and Holy Ghost.
How many ways do you consider the Power of God working out of himself?
That Power which hath relation or respect to things created is twofold: The first is a Power absolute, whereby he is able to do whatsoever he will; the other is a power actual, whereby he doth indeed whatsoever he will.
Where doth the Scripture speak of the absolute Power of God, by which he can do more than he doth if he would?
Of such a Power speaketh our Saviour Christ, I could pray to my Father, and he could give me more than twelve Legions of Angels; but he would not ask it, Mat. 26:53; Phil. 3:21.
How doth the Scripture speak of God's Actual Power?
Of this Power the Prophets and Apostles make mention, when they joyn his Power and his Promises together; that is, when they say he is not only able to perform, but doth and will perform indeed whatsoever he hath promised. And of this Power Paul doth speak when he saith, that God will have mercy upon whom he will: And everywhere in the Scriptures we read, that God hath done what he would, given to whom he would, Psal. 135:6.
How great is this working or mighty Power of God?
It must needs be high and very great; for it is infinite, and hath no end.
Declare how it is infinite.
It is Infinite two ways, or in two respects. First, In itself, and of it self it is Infinite.
Secondly, As it is extended to the Creatures, which may be called the Object of God's Power, it is also Infinite.
Why do you say it is infinite of it self, or of its own Nature?
Because the Power of God is nothing else but his Divine Essence; and the Essence of God is of his own Nature, by it self, and of it self Infinite.
Shew how God's Power is Infinite as it is extended to the Creatures.
Because the Power of God doth extend it self to Infinite things, therefore we say that it is Infinite.
Declare how that is.
I mean the things which God can perform or bring to pass by his Power are Infinite, and therefore his Power is Infinite. For God never made so many, nor so great things, but he could have made more, and greater if he would. As for Example; He adorned the Firmament with an innumerable company of Stars, and yet he could have decked it with more. And to speak in a word, God can always perform infinite things more than he doth, if he will: And therefore both in it self, and out of it self, it is Infinite.
Whether can this Omnipotency of God be communicated to any Creature?
No, it cannot. For to be truly and essentially Omnipotent, is proper to God only, and Omnipotency is God's Essence: And therefore whosoever is God is Omnipotent, and whosoever is Omnipotent must needs be God, whose Power is a chief Power Infinite: And the Power of any Creature is not infinite, but finite: And so consequently no Creature can be Omnipotent, except he would say that a Creature, or a thing created, can be both a Creature and a God, or a Creator too; which is both absurd and blasphemous.
If God can do all things, whether can he Sin or no? As to lie and to be unfaithful in his Promises, &c.
God cannot Sin, and yet for all that he is still Omnipotent: For to Sin is no part or point of Omnipotency, but of Impotency: To Sin is nothing else but to leave the right and perfect Way, or to fall from a right and perfect Action: Which sheweth want of Power to uphold himself that doth so. Which Power is not wanting in God, for he is Omnipotent; and being Omnipotent, he cannot go from Strength to Weakness, and from Perfection to Imperfection, &c. and therefore he cannot Sin.
By what Scripture can you prove this that you say?
The Apostle Paul is of that mind, 2 Tim. 2:13. If we believe not, yet abideth he faithful, he cannot deny himself. He doth not say he will not deny himself, but he cannot deny himself; and his reason is, because (as he saith himself) God is faithful, not only in his Will, but also by his Nature: And therefore sith God is faithful by Nature, he cannot but stand to his Promises which he made according to the good pleasure of his Will; and by Nature he is Omnipotent, therefore he cannot be Impotent: By Nature he is Good, and the chief Good, therefore he cannot become Evil, nor do Evil.
But whether can God be moved, or be subject to Passions or Sufferings, or no?
He cannot. For the Power whereof we speak, when we say that God is Omnipotent, is altogether Active and not Passive; neither can any Passive Power be in God. And to this effect speaketh St. Augustine, when he saith, Dicitur Deus Omnipotens faciendo quod vult, non patiendo quod non vult; that is, God is called Omnipotent in doing what he will, not in suffering what he will not.
Object. Some say that God can sin, but he will not; and that he can be subject to Passions, but he will not; and that he can do whatsoever can be imagined or thought, but he will not; what say you to those?
Of them I say nothing: but their Opinion is both foolish and ungodly. For God cannot do any thing which disagreeth from his Nature, and therefore he cannot sin, &c. Rom. 9:14. Not because his Will is against it, but because it is against his Nature and natural Goodness, 1 John 1:5; Deut. 32:4. therefore do the Scriptures deny any iniquity to be in God: And St. Augustine saith to that effect; Deus injusta facere non potest, quia ipse est summa justitia; that is, God cannot do unjust things, because he is most just, and Righteousness it self.
Object. But yet for all this, God doth in some sort will Sin: For he doth not permit it against his Will: And besides that he commanded some things which were sins; as Abraham to kill his innocent Son, and Shimei to curse David; did he not?
So far forth as God doth command, or will, or work anything, that thing is not sin in God: For he both willeth and worketh in great Wisdom, and according to his most holy Will: And therefore no action can be sin in God, but every action in God is most holy and good: And so saith the Scripture, Psal. 145:17.
To what use serveth the Doctrine of God's Omnipotency?
1. To sustain and strengthen our Faith, touching the certainty of our Salvation. Because God hath promised eternal Life to the Faithful: And he can do and he will do what he hath promised.
2. To teach us that we should not despair of any thing that God doth promise, either in respect of our own weakness, or in respect of the apparent weakness of the things that God hath sanctified for our good. For whatsoever God as a Father hath promised, that same as Almighty, he can and will see performed, Jos. 23:14; Numb. 23:19. This did strengthen Abraham's Faith greatly, for Paul saith thus of him; He did not doubt of the Promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in the Faith, and gave glory to God, being fully assured, that he which had promised was also able to do it, Rom. 4:20, 21.
3. To stir us up to pray, and to call for those things which God hath promised, without any doubting. For in our Prayers we ought always to have before eyes the Promises of God, and the Almightiness of God. The Leper was perswaded only of Christ's Power, he knew not his Will; and therefore he said: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean: And he was made clean, Matth. 8:2. How much more shall we obtain those things which we ask, if we be perswaded of his Power, and doubt not of his Promises.
4. It serveth both for a Spur to do well, considering that God is Able to save; and a Bridle to restrain from evil, seeing he hath Power to destroy. Fear not them, saith our Saviour, that can kill the Body, &c.
5. It serveth in prosperity to continue us in our Duties, that we abuse not God's Blessings: Because as he gave them, so he is able to take them away again, as Job acknowledgeth, Job 1:21.
6. To make us undergo the Cross with patience and chearfulness, and to hope for help in the midst of adversity and death; because he which hath promised to hear and help us, is able also to deliver us out of all our troubles, Psal. 50:15; John 10:29; Dan. 3:17, 18 and 4:32.
7. To keep us from despairing of any Man's Salvation, although he seem to be rejected of God; and to make us walk in Faith and Fear: Because God is able to raise him up that is down, and to cast us down that stand. And so Paul doth reason from God's Omnipotency, about the Rejection and Election of the Jews and Gentiles, Rom. 11:23, 25.
8. It serveth to confirm all the Articles of our Christian Faith; the sum whereof is contained in the Creed.
Thus much concerning the All-sufficiency of God. What is his Will?
It is an Essential Property of God, whereby of himself, and with one Act, he doth most holily will all things, approving or disapproving whatsoever he knoweth, Rom. 9:18; James 4:15; Ephes. 1:5.
What learn you of this?
First, That nothing cometh to pass by meer Hap or Chance but as God in his eternal Knowledge and just Will hath decreed before should come to pass.
Secondly, That whatsoever cometh to pass, though we know not the Causes thereof, and that it be contrary to our Wills, yet we should bear it patiently, and therein submit our Wills to the good Will and Pleasure of God.
How is the Will of God distinguished?
Into his secret or hidden, and his revealed or manifest Will. The former is known to himself: by which he willeth divers things, of which Man neither doth know nor is to ask a reason of. And of this the Scripture speaketh thus; If the Will of God be so, 1 Pet. 3:17. The latter, is the guide of Man in all his Actions: containing God's Commandments, wherein is set down what we ought to do, or leave undone; as also his Promises, which we ought to believe, Deut. 29:29.
Is not the Secret Will of God contrary to his Revealed Will?
No, in no wise. It differeth in some respect, but it is not another Will, much less contrary.
How differeth it?
The Secret Will of God considereth especially the end; the Revealed Will the things that are referred to the end. And the Secret Will of God is the event of all things: Where the Revealed Will is of those things only which are propounded in the Word; as to believe in Christ, and to be sanctified, &c. John 14:1; 1 Thess. 4:3.
It may seem that the Revealed Will of God is Sometimes contrary to it self: as when God forbiddeth Murder and Theft; yet God commandeth Abraham to kill his Son, and the Israelites to take the Goods of the Ægyptians.
Here is no contrariety: Because God in giving a Law to Man, giveth none to himself, but that he may command otherwise. Therefore the Law hath this exception; that it is always just, unless God command otherwise.
But it seemeth that the Secret Will of God is often contrary to the Revealed Will: seeing by the former many evil things are committed, and by the other all evil is forbidden.
In as much as by the Providence of God evil things come to pass, it is for some good of God's Glory, or good of the Church, or both: In which only respect they by the Providence of God are suffered to be done.
How then doth God will that which is good, and that which is evil?
He willeth all good so far as it is good; either by his effectual good pleasure, or by his revealed approbation: And that which is evil, in as much as it is evil, by disallowing and forsaking it. And yet he voluntarily doth permit evil, because it is good, that there should be evil, Acts 14:16; Psal. 81:12.
Is there any profit of this Knowledge of God's Will?
Yea; great profit for us to know what God will have us to do; and what he will do with us, and for us, is a thing wherein standeth our Salvation. Therefore we are willed by the Apostle to inquire diligently after the same, Rom. 12:2.
But the same Apostle, Rom. 11:34. before saith, Who hath known the Mind of the Lord, or who was his Counsellor? That is to say, none. Therefore it seemeth that the Will of God cannot be known; and consequently, that it may not be sought after.
Indeed by that we learn not to search into the secret Counsels of God, which he never revealed in his Word, neither hath promised to reveal in this World; but after the revealed Will of God, which he hath vouchsafed to make known in his Word, we may and ought to enquire of God. As for the Will and Counsel which he hath kept to himself, we may admire and adore it with Paul and David: But that we may not search after it, is manifestly proved by these places following, Acts 1:7; Exod. 33:18, 19, 20; Job 21:22.
Whether can God's secret Will be known, or no?
If he doth reveal it, it may.
How doth God reveal his Secret Will?
Two ways. Sometimes by his Spirit: As when he shewed his Prophets many of his Judgments that were to come. Sometime by the thing it self which he willeth, or by the effects of his Will: As when a thing doth fall out which was before unknown. As for Example; A Man doth not know before it come, whether he shall be sick or not, or of what Disease, or when, or how long: But when all these things are come to pass, then it is manifest what was God's Will before concerning the Matter.
Shew we what is our Duty in respect of this Secret Will of God.
Our Duty is twofold: First, We must not curiously search after the knowledge of it, but worship and reverence it.
Secondly, Before it be made manifest by the Effects, we must generally rest quietly in the same.
Shew me how by an Example.
Thus a Christian must resolve with himself; Whatsoever the Lord will do with me, whether I live or die, whether he make me rich or poor, &c. I rest content with his good Will and Pleasure.
What must we do when his Will is revealed unto us?
Then much more must we rest in it, and be thankful for it. As Job was, who said, The Lord hath given and taken, even as it pleaseth the Lord, &c. Job 1:21.
What call you the Revealed Will of God?
The Revealed Will of God is twofold: The one is that which is properly revealed in the Law, that is, what God requireth to be done of us; and therefore it is called the Law: And after this we must enquire. The other is in the Gospel, which sheweth God's Will towards us, and what he hath decreed of us in his eternal Counsel as touching our Salvation.
God indeed by his Law hath made it known what his Will is, that of us must be done and fulfilled: But hath he revealed in his Word what is his Will and Pleasure towards us?
Yea, he hath so: And that is proved by these places of Scripture following, Ephes. 1:5; Mat. 3:17; Joh. 5:39 and 6:40. and after this knowledge of this Will of God we must diligently enquire.
But whether may this Will of God be known of us, or no?
Yes, it may. For as it is revealed in the Scripture, so it is also confirmed and sealed before our eyes in the Sacraments, and the daily Benefits which we receive from the Lord.
And is this sufficient to perswade us to believe his Will?
No. For except the Lord doth perswade us by his Holy Spirit, we shall neither believe it nor know it; as appeareth by these places of Scripture, 1 Cor. 2:16; Mat. 11:25. But if we have the Spirit of God, there is no need to go up into Heaven, or to go beyond the Sea to know it, because the Word is near unto us, in our Hearts, as Paul saith, Rom. 10:6, 7, 8. For touching the Matter of our Salvation, the Will of God is so clearly laid open in the preaching of the Gospel, that it needs not to be more clear.
If at any time we cannot know nor understand this Will of God, as touching our Salvation, in whom is the fault?
The fault is in our selves: And the Reason is, because we are carnal and natural, and destitute of the Spirit of Christ. For Paul saith, The carnal and natural Man cannot perceive the things of God. But if the Spirit of Christ doth come and open our Understanding, and correct our Affections, we can no longer doubt of his Will. And therefore the Apostle immediately after addeth, and saith, But we have the Mind of Christ, 1 Cor. 2:16.
Whether is this Will of God made known to every one of God's Children particularly, or no?
Yes; it is. For Paul, having the Spirit of Christ, saith, That this Will of God was manifested unto him, Gal. 2:20. Christ loved me, and gave himself for me. And to the Corinthians he saith, But God hath revealed them (i.e. the Joys of Heaven) to us by his Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:10.
How doth this prove that we can have this Knowledge?
Very well. For if all the Elect are led by the same Spirit that Paul had, it will also perswade them of this Will of God, as well as Paul.
But how prove you that they have the same Spirit?
That the same Spirit is given to all the Elect, I prove it out of the Prophet Esay, who saith thus, My Word and my Spirit shall not depart from thy Mouth, nor from thy Seed for ever, Esa. 59:21. Which is such a Blessing, as no Blessing can be desired in this World greater, more excellent, or more heavenly. For when we are once armed with the knowledge of this Will of God, we shall pass though Fire and Water without any danger; (Esay 43:2.) we shall overcome the World and Death, and triumph over our Enemies, as Paul did, Rom. 8:38, 39.
Whether are there more Wills in God than one or no?
The will of God in some respects is but one, and in some respects it is manifold.
How is it but one?
For the better determining of this Point, we must first consider how many significations there be of this word, Will, in God.
It signifieth the Faculty or Ability of willing in God; and so it is God himself, and the very Essence of God; And so his Will is but one.
It signifieth the Act it self of Willing; and if it be so taken, it is all but one: For God doth that in one, and that eternal Act will whatsoever he will.
It signifieth the free Decree of his Will, concerning either the doing or the suffering of any thing to be done. If we take it in this sense, the Will of God is still but one, and that eternal and immutable.
May we call the Decree of God's Will, the Will of God?
Yea, very well. As the Testament of one that is deceased is called the last Will of the Testator; because it is the firm and last Decree of the Testator's Will and Mind, concerning the disposing of his Goods. And the Scriptures do make the Will of God, and the Counsel or Decree of his Will, to be all one: As appeareth in these places following, Esa. 46:10; Acts 4:27; Joh. 6:40.
How is the Will of God manifold?
There be two respects chiefly for which the Will of God is said to be manifold, or more than one.
First, For the divers kinds of things which God doth will: And hereof it is, that it is called sometime the Will of God concerning us, and sometime the Will of God done by us. The first is his favour and love towards us in Christ Jesus, in which he willeth and decreeth that we shall be saved through his Son: Of this Christ speaketh, John 6:40. The other which he will have done of us, is that which is expressed in his Word: And that is to believe in Christ, and to walk in his Laws. Of which David saith thus, Teach me to do thy Will, because thou art my God, Psal. 143:10. and Paul saith, Rom. 2:18. Thou knowest his Will, that is, his Law.
Which is the other respect for which God is said to have many Wills?
The Will of God is said to be manifold and divers: For that those things which he willeth, he doth seem to will them after divers sorts, and not after one and the same manner. First, After one manner he doth will good things; and after another manner he doth will evil things.
Shew how that is?
He willeth good things properly and absolutely by themselves, and for themselves; he willeth evil things for another end, Rom. 12:2. and that is for good too: And the first is called the Good will of God, and acceptable to himself; the latter is called the Permissive Will of God, or a voluntary permission God, because he is not compelled or constrained against his Will, to will them. Again, sometime he willeth simply and absolutely, sometimes he seemeth to will conditionally: And some things he revealeth at one time, some at another; and some things he doth for which he giveth a Reason, and the Reasons of some things are secret to himself only and for ever.
When then belike you grant that in God there be many Wills.
No, I deny that. For although in those aforesaid respects the Will of God is said to be manifold for our understanding, yet for all that, indeed and in truth the Will of God is but one only, and that most constant, eternal, and perpetual. As for Example; He willed some things in the Old Testament, he hath willed other things in the New Testament, yet one and the same Will in God decreed both. Again, his Will was, that some things in the Old Testament should last for a time, that is, to the coming of Christ: or, as the Apostle saith, to the time of Reformation, Heb. 9:10. but he willeth that the things of the New Testament shall last to the end of the World: And yet one Will in God decreed both these from everlasting. Again, although God seemeth to us to will some things absolutely and simply, and some things conditionally; yet in truth, to speak properly, all things whatsoever God willeth, he willeth absolutely that simply. And whereas he is said to will some things conditionally, that is to be referred to the manifestation of his Will. For there is not in God any Conditional Will, but only that which openeth his Will in this or that, or on this or that Condition: For a Condition in God is against the nature of his eternal Kingdom and Knowledge.
Object. God commandeth many things to be done which are not done: so that there is a Will declared in his Word, and there is another in him forbidding or hindring that which he commandeth in his Law; and therefore there are in God many Wills.
The things which God commandeth are of two sorts, some are absolutely commanded without any condition expressed or concealed; as that Moses should cause all things about the Tabernacle to be made according to the Pattern given him in the Mount. Other some things are commanded and set down with condition; as when Christ said, Mark 10:17, 19. If thou wilt inherit eternal Life, keep the Commandments. And the Law saith, Do this and this, if thou wilt live. And these are propounded conditionally to all, as well the Elect as the Reprobate. God his absolute Will is always one and the same.
And are they propounded to both after one sort?
No, not so. For although they be given to the Elect with Condition, yet the Will of God to them is absolute. For God's Will simply is, that all his Elect shall be saved, if not always, yet at the last; and because of their own strength they cannot do the Commandments of God, therefore God doth give them strength by his Spirit; and because by this strength they cannot do God's Will perfectly, therefore it is fulfilled for them by Christ, which is made theirs by Faith, and in whom God doth accept their broken and imperfect Obedience, as if it were whole and perfect. But as for the Wicked and Reprobates it is not so with them. For although God doth give them a Law to obey, and doth promise them Life if they do obey it: Yet his Will to them is not so absolute, that they shall keep it; neither shall they obtain the Promises either in themselves or in Christ.
Doth not God mock and delude the Reprobate, when he willeth them in his Law to do this and that, which yet is not his Will to be done?
No, he doth not delude them. For although he doth not shew what he will absolutely have done of them, which is properly his Will indeed; yet by his Law he doth teach what is their Duty, and the Duty of all Men: Adding moreover, that whosoever shall neglect and fail in this their Duty, he sinneth grievously against God, and is guilty of Death.
Can you make this plain by some Instance or Example, or any Parable in the Scripture?
Yea, it is manifest in the Parable of the King's Supper, and the bidden Guests. They which were first bidden and came not, were not deluded by the King; because he signified unto them what he liked, and what was their Duty; but yet he did not command that they should be compelled to come in, as the two sorts which were bidden afterwards. Where we see that the King's Will was not alike in bidding the first, as it was in the second: For in calling the latter sort, his Will was absolute that they should come indeed, and so caused, that they did come; but to the first he only signified what he liked if they had done it.
How do you apply this to the Matter in Question?
I apply it thus. As it cannot be said that the first bidden Guests were mocked by the King, although his will was not so absolute for their coming, as it was in calling and commanding the second sort of Guests: So it cannot be said that God doth delude and mock the Reprobate in giving them a Law to obey, although it be not his absolute Will that they should come and obey the Law. For it is sufficient to leave them without excuse, that they know what is acceptable to God, and what is their Duty to God; who hath absolute Authority and Power over them, and over all.
Object. God commandeth Pharoah to let Israel go, and yet his Will was to the contrary: Therefore there were two contrary Wills in God, one revealed, the other concealed.
It followeth not. For the Will of God was one only, and most constant, and that was that Israel should not be sent away by Pharaoh, and so that was fulfilled. As for the Commandment given to Pharoah, it was a Doctrine to reach Pharaoh what he must have done if he would avoid so many Plagues, and shewed him his Duty, and what was just and right to be done: but it was no testimony of the absolute Will of God.
Whether doth God will Evil or Sin, or no?
Before we answer to this Question, we must consider of three things.
How many ways Sin may be considered.
How many things are to be considered in Sin.
How many ways one may be said to will a thing.
Go to then; shew first how many ways Sin is to be considered.
Sin is to be considered three ways.
As it is of it self Sin, and striving against the Law of God.
As it is a punishment of Sin that went before: For God doth oftentimes punish one Sin with another.
As it is the cause of more Sin following, Rom. 1:26. for one Sin doth beget another, as one Devil calleth seven Devils, 2 Thess. 2:11.
Now declare how many things you do consider in Sin.
In every Sin there are three things.
The Action: And that is either Inward or Outward. The Action which we call Inward is threefold: Either of the Mind, as evil Thoughts; or of the Heart, as evil Affections and Desires; or of the will, as an evil choice, or consent to Sin.
The Actions which we call Outward, are the Actions or Work of the Senses fighting against the Law of God.
The second thing in every Sin, is the deformity or corruption of the Action; that is, when the Action doth decline from the Rule of God's Law: And this properly is Sin, or the form of Sin.
The third thing in every Sin, is the Offence or Guiltiness thereof, whereby the Party offending is bound to undergo Punishment. This Guiltiness and Obligation whereby we are bound to undergo the Penalty of Sin, hath its Foundation in Sin it self; but it ariseth from the Justice of God, Rom. 6:23. who in his Justice rewardeth Sin with Death, as Justice indeed giveth to every one his due.
Now come you to your third Point, and shew how many ways one is said to will a thing.
We are said to will a thing two ways; either properly, for it self; or improperly, for another end.
What mean you by a proper willing of a thing?
We do will a thing properly for it self, or for its own sake, when the thing which we will or desire is of its own nature to be wished and desired: As for the Body, Health, Food, Apparel, and such like; or for the Soul, Faith, Repentance, Patience, &c. We do will a thing improperly, when the thing which we will is not of it self to be wished, but yet we will have it for some good that may come thereof: As for Example, We will the cutting off some Member of the Body, not because of it self it is to be wished, but for the health of the Body which doth follow that cutting.
What difference is there between these two Wills?
There is great difference. For those things which we will properly, we love and approve them, we incline unto them, and we delight in them, but that which is known of it self to be evil, our Will is not carried unto that with love and liking, but doth decline from it. And whereas a Man willeth a Member of his Body to be cut off, we may rather call it a Permission than a Willing, and yet a willing Permission.
You have shewed how many ways Sin is to be considered, how many things are to be considered in every Sin, and how we are said to will a thing. Now let me hear what you say to the Matter in Question; that is, Whether God doth will Sin, or no?
Before I answer directly to your Question, I think it is not amiss to shew what every one must carefully take heed of in answering to this Question: For in answering there is danger.
Let me hear what Dangers must be avoided in answering.
There are two: And every one must avoid them, and sail between them as between two dangerous Rocks.
The first is this; We must take heed lest we make God the Author of Sin by affirming that he willeth Sin, as the Libertines do, and as Adam did, Gen. 3:12. for that were the next way, not only to put off our Sins from our selves, and lay them upon God, but also to cast off all Conscience of Sin, and all Fear of God; than which nothing can be more blasphemous against God, and pernicious to our selves.
What is the second thing to be avoided?
The other is this: We must take heed that we affirm not any evil to be in the World which God knoweth not of, or whether God will or no: For that were to deny God's Omnipotency, and All-knowledge.
These are two dangerous Rocks and Heresies indeed: But now I expect a direct Answer to the question.
That cannot be at once, but by going from Point to Point according to our former distinction of Sin, and Willing.
Very well then; declare first of all, what things God doth properly Will, which of themselves are to be willed.
God doth first and chiefly will himself; that is, his own Glory and Majesty, as the end for which all things are: And this he is said to will properly; that is, he loveth it, advanceth it, and delighteth in it. And to this purpose serve all those Scriptures which commanded us to sanctifie his Name,* and to adore his Glory, as in Esa. 48:11; Prov. 16:4; Rom. 11:36.
Besides himself, he doth properly will all other things which he made, and which he doth himself, insomuch as he doth approve them, and love them, as appeareth by these places following; God saw all that he made, and it was good, (Gen. 1:31.) and therefore gave a Commandment, that one should preserve another, by multiplying and increasing. Again, it is said, Whatsoever the Lord will, that he doth, (Psal 135:6.) therefore whatsoever he doth, that he wills: And although he hateth Evil, yet he doth properly will and love that Good which cometh of Evil; that is, his own Glory, and the Salvation of his People.
Whether doth God will Punishments or no?
Yea, his Will is the first and efficient cause of all Punishment: Which is proved by this Reason and Argument. Every good thing is of God; every Punishment being a Work of Justice is a good thing; therefore every Punishment is of God, and he doth will it.
What say you to the words in Ezekiel 18:23, 32. I will not the death of a Sinner?
That place is to be understood only of the Elect. For properly indeed God doth not will their Death, and therefore to keep them from Death, meaning eternal Death, he giveth them Repentance.
Whether doth God will Sin as it is a punishment of Sin that went before?
Yes, he doth: And it is usual with God to punish one Sin with another. As for Example; The hardning of Pharaoh's Heart was a sin in Pharaoh, and God brought it upon him, not as sin, but as a punishment of his former sins.
You say that in every Sin is an Action or Deed, which is either Inward, or Outward, whether doth God will that or no?
So far forth as it is an Action only, God doth will it: But not the corruption and deformity of the Action. For in him we live, move, and have our being, Acts 17:28.
But whether doth God will Sin properly, as it is a transgression of the Law, and a corruption in the Action, or no?
No, he doth not, neither can he; for it is against his Nature. And to this effect serve these places of Scripture following, Psal. 5:5; Heb. 1:9; 1 Joh. 1:5. and Reason doth confirm it many ways. For look what God doth will properly, he loveth and alloweth it: But God hateth and damneth Sin, as the Scriptures witness; and therefore he doth not will it properly, Zach. 8:17. Again, he hath sent his Son to take away the sins of the World, and to destroy the Works of the Devil; therefore he doth not will them. Lastly, If God should properly will Sin, then he must be the Author of Sin: But he is not the Author of Sin: For the Scriptures do never attribute sin unto God, but unto the Devil and unto Men, Rom. 9:14; 1 John 2:16.
But although God doth not properly will Sin, yet he doth willingly permit Sin; doth he not?
Yes. But for the better understanding how God doth permit Sin, we must consider how many ways, or in how many senses one is said to permit a thing: and that is three ways.
To permit, is sometime of two good things to grant that which is less good, although it were against our will. As for Example; A Man would bring up his Son in Learning, rather than in Warfare, or in any other Occupation; but because his Son hath more mind to an Occupation than to Learning, and doth crave of his Father to go to some Occupation, or to be a Soldier rather than a Doctor, his Father doth grant him his desire, but he had rather have him to be a Scholar; and this is a kind of a Permission and Suffering: But this Permission ought rather to be called a Will indeed; for that which is less good (yet because it is good) he doth will it, and approve it, and it is a true Object of his Will: And it may be called a Permission in respect of that Will which had rather have had the greater good.
And is thus God said to permit Sin in this sense?
No, by no means. For Sin (as it is Sin) hath no shew of good in it, which may be compared with a greater good.
Which is your second way of permitting?
Sometimes to permit, is to grant one Evil to go unpunished, that many and more grievous Evils thereby may be prevented; as many times Princes and Magistrates are wont to do: And so some do think that God hath granted some Sin to be done without danger or threatning of punishment, lest more and more heinous mischief should ensue.
And are not you of this mind?
No, God forbid I should. For the Apostle's Rule is both general and true, We must not do Evil that Good may come thereof, lest we be damned justly: therefore no Man may by the Law or God admit any sin to avoid another, Rom. 3:8.
What is your third way of permitting?
To permit, doth sometime signifie not to hinder and stop Evil when he may: and so God is said to permit Sin, because he could by his Grace hinder and prevent sins that none should be committed; and yet he doth willingly permit us in our Nature to Sin. That God doth thus permit Sin it is evident by these places of Scripture, Psal. 81:11, 12; Acts 14:16. That he doth permit them willingly, and not constrained thereunto, these places do shew, Rom. 9:19; Esa. 46:10.
For what cause doth not God hinder Sin, but permit it?
Not without cause; but that he may use our Sins (which is his infinite Goodness and Wisdom) to his own Glory: For hereby his Justice in punishing of Sin, and his Mercy in pardoning of Sin, is made manifest and known, to the great Glory of God, and Praise of his Name.
Whether doth God alter his Will at any time, or no?
For the better understanding of this Question, we must consider two things. First, How many ways our Will is changeable. Secondly, The Causes that move us to change our Wills.
Very well: Declare the first, How many ways our Wills are changeable?
The will of Man is changeable two ways: First, When we begin to will a thing which we did not will before. Secondly, When we leave to will that which we willed before.
Now shew what are the causes thereof: And first, Why a Man doth will that which he willed not before.
The causes of these are two. First, Our Ignorance: Because we know that to be good afterward which we knew not before to be good, and then we will that which we could not before; for ignoti nulla cupido, of that which is unknown there is no desire. The second cause ariseth from the alteration of Nature: As if that which was hurtful to us at one time, became profitable to us at another time; then we will have that at one time, which we would not at another: As for Example, In Summer our Will is inclined to cold places, but in Winter our will is altered, and doth affect and desire the warm.
Whether is there any such cause in God to make him change his Will, or not?
No; neither of these Causes can be in God. Not the first, for he doth most perfectly know all things from all eternity: Not the second, for there is nothing in God for which any thing may be found to be profitable or hurtful, he is always the same, having need of nothing; and therefore he cannot will any thing that is new to him, and consequently his Will is not changeable.
But what say you to the second way of changing our Will; that is, of leaving to will that which before we had determined: whereof cometh that?
For this there may be yielded two Reasons. 1. We do change our Wills of our own accord; because the latter thing doth seem to us to be better than the former. 2. Being constrained, or against our minds, we do oftentimes change our Wills; because our first Counsel was hindred by some cross event, that it could not have its due effect.
Whether are any of these two Causes in God, that for those he should change his Will?
No; God doth neither of his own accord, nor yet by constraint, change his Will: but his Decrees are, and ever have been, and always shall be fulfilled, and none shall hinder the Will of God; for it doth always remain one and the same. And this Doctrine is most strongly guarded and fenced with these Places of Scripture; Numb. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; Esa. 46:10; Rom. 11:29.
Paul saith, 1 Tim. 2:4. It is the Will of God that all Men should be saved, and come to the Knowledge of the Truth; and yet all are not saved: therefore God's Will is mutable?
If this Place be understood of God's Revealed Will, then the Sense is this: that God doth call all Men by the preaching of his Word, to the Knowledge of his Truth, and to Eternal Salvation, if they will believe in Christ. But if it be understood of the Secret Will of God, the Sense may be threefold. First, All Men, that is, of all sorts and degrees, he will have some. Secondly, So many as are saved, all are saved by the Will of God. Thirdly, Therefore, God willeth that all shall be saved; that is, all the Elect. For in the Scriptures this Word All is put sometimes for the Elect, without the Reprobate, as Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22.
What is there comprehended under the Holiness of God's Will?
Holiness is a general Attribute of God, in regard of all the special Properties of his Nature,* in respect whereof he most justly loveth, liketh, and preferreth himself above all. Unto which most Holy Will must be referred both Affections, (to speak according unto Man) as Love and Hatred; with their Attendants, (Goodness, Bounty, Grace and Mercy, on the one side; Displeasure, Anger, Grief, and Fury, on the other): and also the ordering of those Affections, by Justice, Patience, Long-suffering, Equity, Gentleness, and readiness to Forgive.
What Instructions do you draw from the Holiness of God?
1. That as every one cometh nearer unto him in Holiness, so they are best liked and loved of him: and consequently it should breed a Love in our Hearts of Holiness, and Hatred of the contrary.
2. That this ought to kill in us all evil Thoughts and Opinions which can rise of God in our Hearts; seeing that in him, that is Holiness it self, there can be no Iniquity.
Wherein doth the Holiness of God specially appear?
In his Goodness and Justice; Exod. 20:5, 6 and 34:6, 7; Nahum 1:2, 3; Jer. 32:18, 19.
From A Body of Divinity, or the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion