The Goodness of God

Our Heritage | Volume 6, Issue 6 | November - December, 2000.

“Despisest thou the riches of his goodness… not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”-PAUL
These thoughts are taken from an article by Brother John Thomas published in the book “The Faith in the Last Days”. They are here reproduced in keeping with the Feature in this issue of The Lampstand dealing with the character of God.

The phrase “the goodness of God” is found occurrent in various places of the Holy Scriptures. It is not peculiar to the New Testament, but common to it and the Old. It occurs first in the writings of Moses, who, speaking of the effect of his narrative of Yahweh’s severity upon Egypt and deliverance of Israel upon the mind of his father-in-law, says: “And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptian”. From this the reader will perceive that the Lord’s goodness is comprehensive both of good and evil. It is not unmixed good—good, pure and absolute—but mixed and relative. If His goodness had been pronounced upon by the Egyptians, they would have characterized it as pure evil; because His goodness plagued them with grievous plagues, and destroyed their army with a terrific overthrow. But this pure and absolute evil upon Egypt was unqualified goodness to Israel; for it delivered them from a sore and cruel bondage and commenced the fulfillment of the “good thing” (Jer 33:14) which Yahweh had promised to Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob, and their seed. God’s goodness, then, is good in act and promise to His people; but only evil to them who afflict them, and blaspheme His Name.

God’s goodness to His people, and severity upon His enemies, are the necessary result of His peculiar character. Hence His goodness and character are inseparable; so that to declare “the name” of the Lord is at once to make known His character and goodness, which stand related as effect and cause. Because of this it is written, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”. Yahweh, therefore, descended in a cloud, and stood with Moses on Mount Sinai and proclaimed the attributes which constitute His character, saying, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and destroying not utterly the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon the children’s children unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exod 33:19; 34:6,7).

Such a God is Yahweh in His character, or relations of goodness to those whom He chooses for His people; but at the same time “a consuming fire” to His enemies (Heb 12:29). He is a great and absolute sovereign in all His doings, having mercy upon whom He will and hardening at His pleasure (Rom 9:18). He chose Israel for His people, or nation, to whom He granted a constitution, laws, and institutions, burdensome to be borne, but most agreeable to Himself, and promotive of His purpose in the manifestation of His goodness concerning them in the latter days (Acts 15:16). All His prom­ises emanate from the essential goodness of His nature, which is favour, forbearance, abounding in truth, faithfulness, pardoning, and corrective but not utterly destroying. His promises are made to Israel, and to Israel alone; nevertheless He has con­descended to invite those of all nations who believe His promises to share in them when the time shall arrive to perform them. To Israel He is gracious; to Israel He is long suffering; to Israel He is abundant in goodness and truth; for thousands of Israel He keeps mercy in store; He forgives Israel’s iniquity, transgression and sin; and He corrects Israel, but He does not utterly destroy him as his history shows even to this day. He hath not dealt so with any other nation. “Yahweh found Israel in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness: He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deut 32:10).

It is an attribute of Yahweh’s goodness to “keep mercy for thousands”. These thousands for whom mercy is kept are “those who love him and keep his commandments” (Exod 20:6)—the Israel of God in the higher import of the phrase. The mercy kept for them is the chesed styled the berith olahm chas­dai Dahwid, or Age covenant mercies of David, rendered by Lowth “an everlasting covenant, the gracious promise made to David”, which shall never fail (Isa 55:3). These gracious promises, or loving kindness, or mercy which Yahweh keeps for thousands, are based upon the chesed or mercy to Abraham, to which Mary and Zacharias refer in these words: “He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever”: “Yah­weh hath raised up a horn of salvation for us [Israel] in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been from the beginning of the age: that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us: to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He swore to our father Abraham, that he would grant us [Israel] that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Luke 2:54,55,69–75). The birth of Jesus was a proof that Yahweh remembered the mercy He had promised to Abraham and David. Jesus, the born king of the Jews, was the Horn or Power by which the nation is to be saved from all its enemies; he is therefore styled “a horn of salvation for Israel”. He has not saved them yet. They are still subject to the Horns of the Gentiles, and have no part in their native land. So long as their condition remains as it is, the mercy promised to Abraham and David continues unfulfilled. The resurrection of Jesus, however, is the earnest that it will be accomplished in the appointed time; and that he will certainly deliver them from the tyrants “who destroy the earth”… For thus saith Yahweh; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the House of Israel: neither shall the Priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offering, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually” (Jer 33:14–18; 23:5,6). This “good thing” is the subject-matter of the mercy promised to Abraham and David, which Yahweh, the fulfiller of promises, keepeth for thousands; and which is as certain to be communicated as that He exists, for “He magnifies his word above all his name” (Psa 138:2). That good thing in its details is abundantly spoken of by the mouth of all the Prophets through whom Yahweh hath kept alive the remembrance of it from the foundation of Israel’s Commonwealth. It is Israel’s Hope, and therefore the hope of the true Christian; for “salvation is of the Jews”.

Behold then, the promised goodness of God! An Immortal King shall reign and prosper in the land of Israel, and shall execute judgment and justice there over the twelve tribes and the obedient nations of the world, for a thousand years. This is the oath which Yahweh swore to Abraham, saying, “In thee and in thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”—a blessedness in the establishment of which Israel will have been delivered out of the hand of all their enemies, and henceforth enjoy the privilege of serving Yahweh without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of their mortal career. The nation of our adoption will then be the chief of all the nations dwelling safely in its own land. Gentiles by birth, but Jews by regeneration, the goodness of God promises us resurrection from among the dead, and exaltation to the highest honours of the State; as it is written, “The saints of the Most High shall possess the Kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever”.

God’s goodness leads to repentance. It leads believers to place themselves in such a relation to the truth that “repentance unto life” maybe “granted unto them” (Acts 11:18). The goodness of God is like to choice and goodly wares exhibited in a ba­zaar for sale. Their goodliness attracts the attention of passengers, and leads them to desire to possess them. The merchant grants their desire on certain conditions. They accept the terms, and receive the right of property in them; and he promises to put them in possession of them at an appointed time. The goodness of God which leads to repentance is exhibited in the gospel of the kingdom, and nowhere else; for this gospel is the grand theme of the word of God contained in the scriptures, old and new: and because it is displayed in that royal proclamation, therefore John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles before their Lord’s crucifixion, went through the towns and cities, and country parts of Judea, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, Repent; for the Majesty of the heavens is arrived” (Matt 3:2; 4:17,23; Mark 1:14,15; Luke 4:18, 43; 9:2,6). The kingdom and arrival of its king were preached to lead those who believed it to repentance. The goodness of God set forth in the doctrine of the kingdom was preached also after the Lord’s resurrection, to lead men to repentance, that they might be made meet for its inheritance; but the motive hereto, founded on the personal presence of the king, was not repeated. It could not be; for “the Majesty of the heavens” had departed into a far country (Luke 19:11,12). The apostles no longer said: “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”; but, “Repent: because God hath appointed a day in which he will rule the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance to all in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31)—in other words, “Repent; because the Majesty of the heavens, who hath departed, will come again to rule the world in righteousness”. This is now the glad tidings of the kingdom for repentance unto life.

A correspondent has asked about the “editorial” footnotes in the Our Heritage article by Brother John Carter appearing in the September/ October issue of The Lampstand. We advise that the entire article (including editorial footnotes) is an exact reproduction of what Brother Carter wrote as the late editor of The Christadelphian.