Read: Psalm 145:1-21
When I was a child, in common with many other children, I read C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. The best known of his books is probably “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, where we are introduced to Aslan – the Jesus-figure of the books – a great and awesome lion – the King of Narnia. The first we hear of Aslan in the book is when the four children are in the house of the Beavers, and Susan asks Mrs Beaver about Aslan – “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meet a lion.” Mrs Beaver replies, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, their either braver than most or else just silly.” Lucy, the youngest child then pipes up, “Then he isn’t safe”. But Mr. Beaver comes out with the one line I’m sure we all recognise from the book, “Safe, don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Lewis was a genius, and here he has summed up for us, in a nutshell, all we have been studying as we have gone through the Shorter Catechism Q. 4 – asking ‘what is God – God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Thus far, we have seen that our God isn’t a safe God – we can not, nor will we ever be able to come before Him without our knees knocking. But now we lift our thoughts onto a different level, seeing and understanding that our God is good. Good is a word which has lost it’s meaning with overuse, but in its original setting it is a beautiful and tender word.
Those men who wrote up the Shorter Catechism knew that the word ‘good’ was a loaded word, and that it carried with it many meanings. And so, over the next four weeks, I want to go through with you what I understand by the goodness of God. First, tonight, I want to look at the benevolence of God; next week, I want to look at the love of God; the next time, the mercy of God, and lastly, the grace of God. I don’t want to tire you of the subject of God, but also, I think it is good for us to get a firm grasp on the God we worship and love, and on whose mercy and grace we depend every day. Tonight, then, let’s look at the benevolence of God.
The benevolence of God is His goodness to every living creature. When it comes to mankind, His benevolence applies to His goodness to Christian and non-Christian alike. From Calvin onwards, most Reformed Theologians have talked about God’s common grace – His goodness reaching out to all men and creatures. I want to divide our thoughts about the goodness of God to all men into two sections:
1. Elements in the Bible’s Teaching on the Benevolence of God – there are three elements in the Bible’s teaching on the goodness of God to all creatures and all men:
(i) God’s Longsuffering – because of sin, mankind deserves the outpouring of the wrath of God. Adam and Eve deserved to be destroyed for rebelling against God. As a result of their sin, the earth was cursed. And yet, God shows patience and longsuffering with sinful mankind, suspending His judgement because, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:4 – “God our Saviour wants all men to be saved.” And so, in Romans 2:4 Paul speaks of God’s forbearance and patience even in the face of hardening impenitence.
(ii) God’s Blessings – despite our sin, God is good to all. Psalm 145:9 tells us that “The Lord is good to all, his mercy is over all that He has made.” Jesus said of God in Matthew 5:45 – “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” When speaking to the people of Lystra in Acts 14:17 Paul says, “he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons”. The human race receives everything it has from the good hand of God – all the way from the food we eat, to the praiseworthy characters of many who are not Christians, to even the great cultural, artistic and technological achievements of the human race. These find their origin in the benevolence of God.
(iii) God’s Restraints – our benevolent God does not allow sin to completely achieve its destructive work. Because of the benevolence of God, according to Donald MacLeod, “men do not become devils, earth does not become hell … society does not collapse … and life does not become impossible.” Because of God’s benevolence, human beings retain a small glimmer of God’s Law in their hearts – loving their wives and families and working for the civil good.
(iv) God’s Offer – God offers salvation through Christ to all men – regardless of whether they will take the offer up or not. After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples in Mark 16:15 – “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” 17th Century Preachers paraphrased this verse and wrote, “Go and tell every man that you have good news for him.” Paul wrote in 1Timothy 4:10 that the living God “is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.” The picture is of a village doctor – He is doctor to the whole village – anyone can go to him with their sicknesses – not all will, but that doesn’t mean to say that he isn’t their doctor. Jesus is the Saviour of the world – anyone can go to him with their sin – murderer, thief or gossip – and He can save them. But not everyone will go to Him. The point is that God sincerely offers salvation to all men. Some will not accept it, and some will.
God is good to His friends and to His enemies alike. His longsuffering, blessing, restraint and offer of salvation show His benevolence.
2. Applications of the Bible’s Teaching on the Benevolence of God – there are three obvious applications of the Bible’s teaching on the Benevolence of God:
(i) Praise God for the Simple Things – sometimes, we can be super-spiritual in the wrong way, in that we forget that many of the good things God has given us, He has given to all human beings. King David begins Psalm 145 by proclaiming, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever”, and, as the Psalm goes on, we find that one of the reasons for David’s praise is that God gives all their food at the proper time. He opens His hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing.” You only have to read Psalm 104 to realise how comprehensive the benevolence of God is. And so, it is incumbent upon us, as beneficiaries of God’s benevolence, to thank Him for what we may consider to be the simple things of life – food, drink, contentment, employment, the society in which we live, doctors who treat our illnesses, technological advances, good art. These all spring from the benevolence of God and we, as those who recognise this, must be quick to thank Him for them. Remember, even the Lord’s Prayer is concerned with our daily bread.
(ii) Do not be Too Quick to Judge – the writer of Psalm 73 had a problem. His feet were slipping because he began to envy the prosperity of the wicked. Evil men grew old and good men died young. The evil prospered, while the wicked suffered. The benevolence of God to all His creatures caused the Psalmist to stumble. He couldn’t understand why the same sun shone on his, and his neighbour’s garden, even though his neighbour was a murderer. Perhaps we can feel that way too, and we begin to wonder how a God who claims to love us could be so good to other people. But we must be slow to judge God on this basis. Similarly, we may dislike the fact, as Jonah did, that God could offer salvation to our enemies, or that God could be long-suffering in judging the wicked. But we must reserve judgment until all the facts are in – just like the Psalmist in Psalm 73:16-17 – “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” Do not be quick to believe that just because someone looks as if they are doing well in life that God is happy with them, and just because you aren’t doing so well in life that God isn’t happy with you. Although there are other factors involved, God’s benevolence means that He is good to all His creatures.
(iii) Praise God for His Patience – if God were not patient, then none of us would exist – God would have wiped out the human race with Adam and Eve. When we look back at our lives, and what we were like before we were Christians, how grateful we must be for the patience of God, for at any stage, He could have passed over us for salvation – but He didn’t. His patience led to our salvation. And so we must praise Him for that. And furthermore, God is patient with a view to the salvation of all human beings – He stays His hand of judgment. But He does this in order that more and more people will be saved. What will we do with the time He has given us – will we use it, as He is using it – to tell more people about Jesus, so that we won’t go to heaven alone, but will have many of our family and friends with us on that day? Praise God for His patience, but don’t abuse it by taking it for granted. Jesus could return at any moment, and will He find us about our master’s business or about our own?
The benevolence of God is a beautiful thing and we praise Him for it. God is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably good – praise Him then for the simple things, and praise Him for His patience – above all, praise Him that He we did not die before the Holy Spirit showed us Christ Jesus in all His beauty, and the way of salvation through Him. AMEN