21 February 2015

Who He Most Deeply Is

From one perspective all God's attributes are equally non-negotiable. For God to cease to be just would un-God him just as much as if he were to cease to be good.

But Thomas Goodwin and John Bunyan are convincing me that from another, deeper angle there are some things that pour out of the heart of God more naturally than others.

God is unswervingly just. But what is his disposition? What is natural to him?

Who is he?

Volume 2 of Goodwin's works is 500 pages devoted to sermons on Ephesians 2. He slows way down especially in the first 10 verses of this great chapter and reflects at length on the programmatic assurances of God's love and mercy. It is unspeakably wonderful.

Here's part of his reflection on the phrase "rich in mercy" in describing God in Ephesians 2:4.
It is his disposition to be merciful. It is his nature, his being.

The mercies of God in Scripture are called his bowels; now there is nothing so intimate or so natural to a man as his bowels are. And they are called his bowels because they are his inwards; and all that is within him, his whole being and nature inclines him to it. . . .

Mercy is his nature and disposition, because when he shows mercy, he does it with his whole heart. . . .

My brethren, though God is just, yet his mercy may in some respect said to be more natural to him than all acts of justice itself that God does show, I mean vindictive justice. In these acts of justice there is a satisfaction to an attribute, in that he meets and is even with sinners. Yet there is a kind of violence done to himself in it, the Scripture so expresses it; there is something in it that is contrary to him. 'I will not the death of a sinner'--that is, I delight not simply in it, for pleasure's sake. The Arminians slander the other party, accusing them of making God delight in the death of a sinner. No; when he exercises acts of justice, it is for a higher end, it is not simply for the thing itself. There is always something in his heart against it.

But when he comes to show mercy, to manifest that it is his nature and disposition, it is said that he does it with his whole heart. There is nothing at all in him that is against it. The act itself pleases him for itself. There is no reluctance in him.

Therefore in Lamentations 3:33, when he speaks of punishing, he says, 'He does not from his heart afflict nor grieve the children of men.' But when he comes to speak of showing mercy, he says he does it 'with his whole heart, and with his whole soul,' as the expression is in Jeremiah 32:41. And therefore acts of justice are called his 'strange work' and his 'strange act' in Isaiah 28:21. But when he comes to show mercy, he rejoices over them, to do them good, with his whole heart, and with his whole soul.
--Thomas Goodwin, Works, 2:179-80; language slightly updated

And this from the man who stood up and spoke more often (357 times) than any other Westminster divine at the creation of the Westminster standards in the 1640s, that great, precise, hell-believing, justice-affirming statement of faith. Goodwin was not mushy.

There is a kind of preaching that has not felt the heart of God for his fickle people, has not tasted what naturally pours forth from him, which for all its precision ultimately deadens its hearers. 

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