God's moral Excellency necessary, yet virtuous and praiseworthy.
Having considered the first thing proposed, relating to that freedom of Will which Arminians maintain; namely, Whether any such thing does, ever did, or ever can exist, I come now to the second thing proposed to be the subject of inquiry, viz. Whether any such kind of liberty be requisite to moral agency, virtue and vice, praise and blame, reward and punishment, &c.
I shall begin with some consideration of the virtue and agency of the Supreme moral Agent, and Fountain of all Agency and Virtue.
Dr. Whitby in his Discourse on the five Points, (p. 14.) says, " If all human actions are necessary, virtue and vice must be empty names; we being capable of nothing that is blameworthy, or deserveth praise; for who can blame a person for doing only what he could not help, or judge that he deserveth praise only for what he could not avoid?" To the like purpose he speaks in places innumerable; especially in his Discourse on the Freedom of the Will; constantly maintaining, that a freedom not only from coaction, but necessity, is absolutely requisite, in order to actions being either worthy of blame, or deserving of praise. And to this agrees, as is well known, the current doctrine of Arminian writers, who, in general, hold, that there is no virtue or vice, reward or punishment, nothing to be commended or blamed, without this freedom. And yet Dr. Whitby (p. 300.) allows, that God is without this freedom; and, Arminians, so far as I have had opportunity to observe, generally acknowledge, that God is necessarily holy, and his will necessarily determined to that which is good.
So that, putting these things together, the infinitely holy God -- who always used to be esteemed by God's people not only virtuous, but a Being in whom is all possible virtue, in the most absolute purity and perfection, brightness and amiableness; the most perfect pattern of virtue, and from whom all the virtue of others is but as beams from the sun; and who has been supposed to be, (being thus every where represented in Scripture,) on the account of his virtue and holiness, infinitely more worthy to be esteemed, loved, honoured, admired, commended, extolled, and praised, than any creature -- this Being, according to this notion of Dr. Whitby, and other Arminians, has no virtue at all; virtue, when ascribed to him, is but on empty name; and he is deserving of no commendation or praise; because he is under necessity, he cannot avoid being holy and good as he is; therefore no thanks to him for it. It seems, the holiness, justice, faithfulness, &c. of the Most High, must not be accounted to be of the nature of that which is virtuous and praiseworthy. They will not deny, that these things in God are good; but then we must understand them, that they are no more virtuous, or of the nature of any thing commendable, than the good that is in any other being that is not a moral agent as the brightness of the sun, and the fertility of the earth, are good, but not virtuous, because these properties are necessary to these bodies, and not the fruit of self-determining power.
There needs no other confutation of this notion, to Christians acquainted with the Bible, but only stating and particularly representing it. To bring texts of Scripture, wherein God is represented, as in every respect, in the highest manner virtuous, and supremely praiseworthy, would be endless, and is altogether needless to such as have been brought up in the light of the gospel.
It were to be wished, that Dr. Whitby and other divines of the same sort, had explained themselves, when they have asserted, that that which is necessary, is not deserving of praise; at the same time that they have owned God's perfection to he necessary, and so in effect representing God as not deserving praise. Certainly, if their words have any meaning at all, by praise, they must mean the exercise or testimony of esteem, respect, or honourable regard. And will they then say, that men are worthy of that esteem, respect, and honour for their virtue, small and imperfect as it is, which yet God is not worthy of, for his infinite righteousness, holiness, and goodness? If so, it must be, because of some sort of peculiar excellency in the virtuous man, which is his prerogative, wherein he really has the preference; some dignity, that is entirely distinguished from any Excellency or amiableness in God; not in dependence, but in pre-eminence; which therefore he does not receive from God, nor is God the fountain or pattern of it; nor can God, in that respect, stand in competition with him, as the object of honour and regard; But man may claim a peculiar esteem, commendation, and glory, to which God can have no pretension. Yea, God has no right, by virtue of his necessary holiness, to intermeddle with that grateful respect and praise, due to the virtuous man, who chooses virtue, in the exercise of a freedom ad utrumque; any more than a precious stone, which. cannot avoid being hard and beautiful.
And if it be so, let it be explained what that peculiar respect is, that is due to the virtuous man, which differs in nature and kind, in some way of pre-eminence, from all that is due to God. What is the name or description of that peculiar affection? Is it esteem, love, admiration, honour, praise, or gratitude? The Scripture every where represents God as the highest object of all these: there we read of the soul magnifying the Lord, of "loving him with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind, and with all the strength;" admiring him, and his righteous acts, or greatly regarding them, as marvelous and wonderful; honouring, glorifying, exalting, extolling, blessing, thanking, and praising him; giving unto him all the glory of the good which is done or received, rather than unto men; "that no flesh should glory in his presence;" but that he should be regarded as the Being to whom all glory is due. What then is that respect? What passion, affection, or exercise is it, that Arminians call praise, diverse from all these things, which men are worthy of for their virtue, and which God is not worthy of, in any degree?
If that necessity which attends God's moral perfections and actions, be as inconsistent with being worthy of praise, as a necessity of co-action; as is plainly implied in, or inferred from, Dr. Whitby's discourse; then why should we thank God for his goodness, any more than if he were forced to be good, or any more than we should thank one of our fellow-creatures who did us good, not freely, and of good will, or from any kindness of heart, but from mere compulsion, or extrinsical necessity? Arminians suppose, that God is necessarily a good and gracious being; for this they make the ground of some of their main arguments against many doctrines maintained by Calvinists; they say, these are certainly false, and it is impossible they should be true, because they are not consistent with the goodness of God. This supposes, that it is impossible but that God should be good: for if it be possible that he should be otherwise, then that impossibility of the truth of these doctrines ceases according to their own argument.
That virtue in God is not, in the most proper sense, rewardable, is not for want of merit in his moral perfections arid actions, sufficient to deserve rewards from his creatures; but because he is infinitely above all capacity of receiving any reward. He is already infinitely and unchangeably happy, and we cannot be profitable unto him. But still he is worthy of our supreme benevolence for his virtue: and would be worthy of our beneficence, which is the fruit and expression of benevolence, if our goodness could extend to him. If God deserves to be thanked and praised for his goodness, he would, for the same reason, deserve that we should also requite his kindness, if that were possible. " What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?" is the natural language of thankfulness: and so far as in us lies, it is our duty to render again according to benefits received. And that we might have opportunity for so natural an expression of our gratitude to God, as beneficence, notwithstanding his being infinitely above our reach, he has appointed others to be his receivers, and to stand in his stead, as the objects of our beneficence; such are especially our indigent brethren.