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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter XXII.--God's Attribute of Goodness Considered as Natural; The God of Marcion Found Wanting Herein. It Came Not to Man's Rescue When First Wanted.

The Five Books Against Marcion by Tertullian

Chapter XXII.--God's Attribute of Goodness Considered as Natural; The God of Marcion Found Wanting Herein. It Came Not to Man's Rescue When First Wanted.

But how shall (this) Antichrist be fully overthrown unless we relax our defence by mere prescription, and give ourselves scope for rebutting all his other attacks? Let us therefore next take the very person of God Himself, or rather His shadow or phantom, as we have it in Christ, and let Him be examined by that condition which makes Him superior to the Creator. And undoubtedly there will come to hand unmistakeable rules for examining God's goodness. My first point, however, is to discover and apprehend the attribute, and then to draw it out into rules. Now, when I survey the subject in its aspects of time, I nowhere descry it from the beginning of material existences, or at the commencement of those causes, with which it ought to have been found, proceeding thence to do whatever had to be done. For there was death already, and sin the sting of death, and that malignity too of the Creator, against which the goodness of the other god should have been ready to bring relief; falling in with this as the primary rule of the divine goodness (if it were to prove itself a natural agency), at once coming as a succour when the cause for it began. For in God all things should be natural and inbred, just like His own condition indeed, in order that they may be eternal, and so not be accounted casual and extraneous, and thereby temporary and wanting in eternity. In God, therefore, goodness is required to be both perpetual and unbroken, such as, being stored up and kept ready in the treasures of His natural properties, might precede its own causes and material developments; and if thus preceding, might underlie every first material cause, instead of looking at it from a distance, and standing aloof from it. In short, here too I must inquire, Why his goodness did not operate from the beginning? no less pointedly than when we inquired concerning himself, Why he was not revealed from the very first? Why, then, did it not? since he had to be revealed by his goodness if he had any existence. That God should at all fail in power must not be thought, much less that He should not discharge all His natural functions; for if these were restrained from running their course, they would cease to be natural. Moreover, the nature of God Himself knows nothing of inactivity. Hence (His goodness) is reckoned as having a beginning, if it acts. It will thus be evident that He had no unwillingness to exercise His goodness at any time on account of His nature. Indeed, it is impossible that He should be unwilling because of His nature, since that so directs itself that it would no longer exist if it ceased to act. In Marcion's god, however, goodness ceased from operation at some time or other. A goodness, therefore, which could thus at any time have ceased its action was not natural, because with natural properties such cessation is incompatible. And if it shall not prove to be natural, it must no longer be believed to be eternal nor competent to Deity; because it cannot be eternal so long as, failing to be natural, it neither provides from the past nor guarantees for the future any means of perpetuating itself. Now as a fact it existed not from the beginning, and, doubtless, will not endure to the end. For it is possible for it to fail in existence some future time or other, as it has failed in some past period. Forasmuch, then, as the goodness of Marcion's god failed in the beginning (for he did not from the first deliver man), this failure must have been the effect of will rather than of infirmity. Now a wilful suppression of goodness will be found to have a malignant end in view. For what malignity is so great as to be unwilling to do good when one can, or to thwart what is useful, or to permit injury? The whole description, therefore, of Marcion's Creator will have to be transferred to his new god, who helped on the ruthless proceedings of the former by the retardation of his own goodness. For whosoever has it in his power to prevent the happening of a thing, is accounted responsible for it if it should occur. Man is condemned to death for tasting the fruit of one poor tree, and thence proceed sins with their penalties; and now all are perishing who yet never saw a single sod of Paradise. And all this your better god either is ignorant of, or else brooks. Is it that he might on this account be deemed the better, and the Creator be regarded as all that the worse? Even if this were his purpose he would be malicious enough, for both wishing to aggravate his rival's obloquy by permitting His (evil) works to be done, and by keeping the world harrassed by the wrong. What would you think of a physician who should encourage a disease by withholding the remedy, and prolong the danger by delaying his prescription, in order that his cure might be more costly and more renowned? Such must be the sentence to be pronounced against Marcion's god: tolerant of evil, encouraging wrong, wheedling about his grace, prevaricating in his goodness, which he did not exhibit simply on its own account, but which he must mean to exhibit purely, if he is good by nature and not by acquisition, if he is supremely good in attribute and not by discipline, if he is God from eternity and not from Tiberius, nay (to speak more truly), from Cerdon only and Marcion. As the case now stands, however, such a god as we are considering would have been more fit for Tiberius, that the goodness of the Divine Being might be inaugurated in the world under his imperial sway!
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