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I proceed now to the other Encouragement, taken from the Nature of God, considered as he is our heavenly Father. Or what Man is there of you, &c. In speaking to which Words, I shall apply myself to the three following Particulars.
i. To consider God's Goodness and Readiness to give good Things to us his Creatures.
But, 2. That he loves that we sliould ask him for those Things.
3. What Duties are incumbent upon us, from the Knowledge and Belief of this Paternal Affection in God, toward his poor Creatures.
But before I enter upon the Particulars, since they all rise from the Similitude in the Text of a Father's Readiness, not to deny good Things to his Children, when they alk him; it will be necessary, First, briefly to clear up this Comparison. As God is infinitely removed from our Sight and immediate Knowledge, the little Knowledge we have of him, is by the Help of Similitudes, taken from the Creatures. Particularly, there is nothing more resembles the Love of God to his Creatures, than that natural Love which they have for their Offspring. Moses compares God's Care of his People Israel to the Eagle's tender Care of her Young, Deut. xxxii. 11. As an Eagle fiirreth up her Nest, fiutterth over her Young, spreadeth abroad her Wings, taketb them, beareth them on her Wings; so the Lord alone did lead Israel. Especially the Goodness of God is resembled to that of Parents to their Children; to a Mother's Care for Tenderness; and to a Father's for Providence. To
come come then to the Simile in the Text, for our Encouragement to frequent and ardent Prayer, God is represented here as a kind Father, who, when his Son alks him useful Necessaries, would be loth to cheat him with hurtful Things, something resembling the other in Figure or Shape, but not at all of the same Beneficial Nature. And from hence he draws an Argument a fortiori. If ye then being evil, know how to give good Gifts unto your Children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven, give good 'Things to them that ask him?
The Similitude being thus cleared up; we may observe from it these Three Things.
1. That God's Goodness to those who pray to him, is really beyond any Thing we have to explain it by. We know nothing in Nature of a more sincere and steady Love than that is of Parents to their own Children, yet it is much allayed and abated by their other bad Qualities; by Passion and Ill-nature, by Lust and Drunkenness, and divers other Vices of the Parents. And where it is not abated in the Heart, it is often, curbed in the outward Expressions of it, by the Narrowness of their Fortune, and other Necessities of their outward Circumstances. Now though we should in our own Minds abstract all these Impediments from this Love, yet we must still believe that all created Love and Goodness, as to the Degree of it, falls infinitely short of God's Love and Goodness to his Creatures.
2. Another Thing we may observe from our Saviour's Deduction from this Simile is, that the Promise and Encouragement in the Text are to
Xou IV; M be be limited to good 'things: And this accounts for many of our Petitions, of which we cannot perceive that we have any Returns. For perhaps the Things we prayed for were not good in themselves, or not good for us; there is a great deal of Reason why it ought to be left to our heavenly Father's superiour Wisdom to decide whether it is fit to give us these very Things in kind, or to deny them, as being improper for us, or to answer our Prayers in something that is better, and more convenient.
3. A third Thing we may observe from this fame Way of arguing, is, that the Promise is not restrained to the Elect, sanctified Ones, who, in a more peculiar Sense are the Children of God; but is to be extended to all that pray to him, with the due Qualifications formerly described; for it is not here said, How much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good Things to his Children? This would only have created great Doubts and Scruples, that not being easy to be known who are the Children of God. But, for preventing all Scruple, it is said here, How much more/hall your Father which is in Heaven, give good things to them that ajk him? A plain Intimation, that the Encouragement is to all Men; to the Good, that they may so continue, and increase more and more in Grace; and to the Bad, that they may become Good. But it is time now to come to the Particulars, which I proposed to consider from the Words.
I. Thefirst was, God's Goodness and Readiness to give good Things to his Creatures. There is no Attribute of God more essential xo him, oc a that
that he seems more desirous we should know him by, than this. This is the chief Part of his Name, or Character, as it is described, Exod. xxxiv. 5, 6, 7. And the Lord descended in the Cloud, and proclaimed the Name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-Juff'ering, and abundant in Goodness and 'Truth. Keeping Mercy for Thousands, forgiving Iniquity, and Transgression, and Sin. This is the Attribute he recommends most to our Imitation, that we jhould be merciful, as he is merciful, Luke vi. 36. Without this all his other Attributes would be very terrible. Wisdom without Goodness, degenerates into an insidious Cunning; and Power without Goodness, is the Character of a Tyrant, or an Oppressor, or a Devil. But when infinite Goodness is joined to Almighty Power, and unerring Wisdom, it is the greatest Encouragement in the World to make our Application to such a Being. It was from this Goodness that God created the World; for it was not that he might thereby procure or contrive any Addition to his own Happiness, which was always infinite, but that he might communicate of his own Fulness to his Creatures. And it is from the fame Goodness that he supplies us with all Things pertaining to Life and Godliness. And not to stay upon the Enumeration of lesser Mercies; it was from this his Love and Goodness to poor lost Man, that he sent his dear Son Christ Jesus into the World, to recover them out of that wretched State and Condition, into which they had funk themselves; and, finally,
M 2 it it is owing to this Goodness, that for Christ's Sake he is ready and willing to bestow all Grace upon us, if we fervently ask it, and diligently use it. And this would lead me to the next Thing I proposed to consider, namely, that howsoever ready and willing God is to give good Things to us Men, he loves that we should address him for them by Prayer. But because there are some obvious Objections against this Doctrine of God's Readiness to give us good Things, it will be fit in the first Place to remove them.
This Doctrine then may seem inconsistent both with what perhaps ye may have heard, of a great Number of Men, without any Consideration of their antecedent Demerits, decreed before both to Sin and Misery; and to the scanty Measure of the Grace of God bestowed upon Men, without which they are not able of themselves to bring any Good to Perfection; howsoever they may have some imperfect Embryo's of it. But I think both these are easily answered; for as to the first, howsoever the Devil has propagated such a strange Notion, on Purpose to lay all the Blame of our Sin and Damnation upon God; there is nothing more certain, than that from the whole Tenour of the holy Scripture, our Destruction is only of ourselves; and that no Man will ever be condemned for any Thing, which it was not in his own Power, by the Grace of God, to have helped and prevented. And as for the scanty Measure of the Grace of God, that is likewise purely our own Fault, in that we do not more 2 fervently