§1. Definitions of God.
§2. Divine Attributes.
§3. Classification of the Divine Attributes.
§4. Spirituality of God. §
§ 6. Eternity.
§ 7. Immutability.
§ 9. The Will of God. §10.
The Power of God. § 11. Holiness of
§ 12. Justice.
§ 13. The Goodness of God.
§ 14. The Truth of God. §
§1. Definitions of
THE question whether God can be defined, depends for
its answer on what is meant by definition. Cicero1
says, "Est definitio, earum rerum, quae sunt ejus rei propriae, quam definire
volumus, brevis et circumscripta quaedam explicatio." In this sense God cannot
be defined. No creature, much less man, can know all that is proper to God;
and, therefore, no creature can give an exhaustive statement of all that God
To define, however, is simply to bound, to separate, or
distinguish; so that the thing defined may be discriminated from all other
things. This may be done (1.) By stating its characteristics. (2.) By stating
its genus and its specific difference. (3.) By analyzing the idea as it lies
in our minds. (4.) By an explanation of the term or name by which it is
denoted. All these methods amount to much the same thing. When we say we can
define God, all that is meant is, that we can analyze the idea of God as it
lies in our mind; or, that we can state the class of beings to which He
belongs, and the attributes by which He is distinguished from all other
beings. Thus, in the simple definition, God is ene perfectissimum, the
word ens designates Him as a being, not an idea, but as that which has
real, objective existence; and absolute perfection distinguishes Him from all
other beings. The objection to this and most other definitions of God is, that
they do not bring out with sufficient fulness the contents of the idea. This
objection bears against such definitions as the following: Ens absolutum,
the self-existent, independent being; and that by Calovius, "Dens est
essentia spiritualis infinita;" and Reinhard's2
"Deus est, Natura necessaria, a mundo diversa, summas complexa perfectiones et
ipsius mundi causa;" or Baumgarten's "Spiritus perfectissimus, rationem rui
ipsius rerumque contingentium omnium seu mundi continens;" or, that of Morus,
"Spiritus perfectissimus, conditor, conservator, et gubernator mundi."
Probably the best definition of God ever penned by man, is that given in the
"Westminster Catechism": "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and
unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and
truth." This is a true definition; for it states the class of beings to which
God is to be referred. He is a Spirit; and He is distinguished from all other
spirits in that He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being and
perfections. It is also a complete definition, in so far as it is an
exhaustive statement of the contents of our idea of God.
In what sense, however, are these terms used? What is
meant by the words "being," and "perfections," or "attributes" of God? In what
relation do his attributes stand to his essence and to each other? These are
questions on which theologians, especially during the scholastic period,
expended much time and labor.
Being of God.
By being is here meant that which has a real,
substantive existence. It is equivalent to substance, or essence. It is
opposed to what is merely thought, and to a mere force or power. We get this
idea, in the first place, from consciousness. We are conscious of self as the
subject of the thoughts, feelings, and volitions, which are its varying states
and acts. This consciousness of substance is involved in that of personal
identity. In the second place, a law of our reason constrains us to believe
that there is something which underlies the phenomena of matter and mind, of
which those phenomena are the manifestation. It is impossible for us to think
of thought and feeling, unless there be something that thinks and feels. It is
no less impossible to think of action, unless there be something that acts; or
of motion, unless there be something that moves. To assume, therefore, that
mind is only a series of acts and states, and that matter is nothing but
force, is to assume that nothing (nonentity) can produce effects.
God, therefore, is in his nature a substance, or
essence, which is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable; the common subject of
all divine perfections, and the common agent of all divine acts. This is as
far as we can go, or need to go. We have no definite idea of substance,
whether of matter or mind, as distinct from its attributes. The two are
inseparable. In knowing the one we know the other. We cannot know hardness
except as we know something hard. We have, therefore, the same knowledge of
the essence of God, as we have of the substance of the soul. All we have to do
in reference to the divine essence, as a Spirit, is to deny of it, as we do of
our own spiritual essence, what belongs to material substances; and to affirm
of it, that in itself and its attributes it is infinite, eternal, and
unchangeable. When, therefore, we say there is a God, we do not assert merely
that there is in our minds the idea of an infinite Spirit; but that, entirely
independent of our idea of Him, such a Being really exists. Augustine3
says, "Deus est quaedam substantia; nam quod nulla substantia est, nihil
omnino est. Substantia ergo aliquid esse est."
If, therefore, a divine essence, infinite, eternal, and
unchangeable, exists, this essence existed before and independent of the
world. It follows also that the essence of God is distinct from the world The
Scriptural doctrine of God is consequently opposed to the several forms of
error already mentioned; to Hylozoism, which assumes that God, like man, is a
composite being, the world being to Him what the body is to us; to
Materialism, which denies the existence of any spiritual substance, and
affirms that the material alone is real; to extreme Idealism, which denies not
only the reality of the internal world, but all real objective existence, and
affirms that the subjective alone is real; to Pantheism, which either makes
the world the existence form of God, or, denying the reality of the world,
makes God the only real existence. That is, it either makes nature God, or,
denying nature, makes God everything.
§2. Divine Attributes.
To the divine essence, which in itself is infinite,
eternal, and unchangeable, belong certain perfections revealed to us in the
constitution of our nature and in the word of God. These divine perfections
are called attributes as essential to the nature of a divine Being, and
necessarily involved in our idea of God. The older theologians distinguished
the attributes of God, (1.) From predicates which refer to God in the
concrete, and indicate his relation to his creatures, as creator, preserver,
ruler, etc. (2.) From properties, which are technically the distinguishing
characteristics of the several persons of the Trinity. There are certain acts
or relations peculiar or proper to the Father, others to the Son, and others
to the Spirit. And (3.) From accidents or qualities which may or may not
belong to a substance, which may be acquired or lost. Thus holiness was not an
attribute of the nature of Adam, but an accident, something which he might
lose and still remain a man; whereas intelligence was an attribute, because
the loss of intelligence involves the loss of humanity. The perfections of
God, therefore, are attributes, without which He would cease to be God.
Relation of the Attributes to
the Essence of God.
In attempting to explain the relation in which the
attributes of God stand to his essence and to each other, there are two
extremes to be avoided. First, we must not represent God as a composite being,
composed of different elements; and, secondly, we must not confound the
attributes, making them all mean the same thing, which is equivalent to
denying them all together. The Realists of the Middle Ages tended to the
former of these extremes, and the Nominalists to the other. Realists held that
general terms express not merely thoughts, or abstract conceptions in our
minds, but real or substantive, objective existence. And hence they were
disposed to represent the divine attributes as differing from each other
realiter, as one res or thing differs from another. The Nominalists,
on the other hand, said general terms are mere words answering to abstractions
formed by the mind. And consequently when we speak of different attributes in
God, we only use different words for one and the same thing. Occam, Biel, and
other Nominalists, therefore, taught that "Attributa divina nec rei, nec
rationis distinctione, inter se aut ab essentia divina distingui; sed omnem
distinctionem esse solum in nominibus." The Lutheran and Reformed theologians
tended much more to the latter of these extremes than to the former. They
generally taught, in the first place, that the unity and simplicity of the
divine essence precludes not only all physical composition of constituent
elements, or of matter and form, or of subject and accidents; but also all
metaphysical distinction as of act and power, essence and existence, nature
and personality; and even of logical difference, as genus and specific
In the second place, the theologians were accustomed to
say that the attributes of God differ from his essence non re, sed ratione.
This is explained by saying that things differ ex natura rei, when
they are essentially different as soul and body; while a difference ex
ratione is merely a difference in us, i. e., in our conceptions,
i. e., "quod distincte solum concipitur, cum in re ipsa distinctum non
sit." Hence the divine attributes are defined as "conceptus essentiae divinae
inadequatae, ex parte rei ipsam essentiam involventes, eandemque intrinsice
denominantes." Aquinas says, "Deus est unus re et plures ratione, quia
intellectus noster ita multipliciter apprehendit Deum, sicuti res
multipliciter ipsum representant." The language of the Lutheran theologian
exhibits the usual mode of reprosenting this subject: "Si proprie et accurate
loqui velimus, Deus nullas habet proprietates, sed mera et simplicissima est
essentia quae nec realem differentiam nec ullam vel rerum vel modoruni
admittit compositionem. Quia vero simplicissimam Dei essentiam uno adequato
conceptu adequate concipere non possumus, ideo inadequatis et distinctis
conceptibus, inadequate essentiam divinam repraesentantibus, eam apprehendimus,
quos inadequatos conceptus, qui a parte rei essentiae divinae identificantur,
et a nobis per modum affectionum apprehenduntur, attributa vocamus." And
again, "Attributa divina a parte rei et in se non multa sunt, sed ut ipsa
essentia divina, ita et attributa, quae cum illa identificantur, simplicissima
unitas sunt; multa vero dicuntur (1.) sugkatabatikw/j,
ad nostrum concipiendi modum, . . . . (2.) evnerghtikw/j,
in ordine ad effecta."5
The favorite illustration to explain what was meant by this unity of the
divine attributes, was drawn from the sun. His ray, by one and the same power
(as was then assumed) illuminates, warms, and produces chemical changes, not
from any diversity in it, but from diversity in the nature of the objects on
which it operates. The force is the same; the effects are different. The
meaning of these theologians is further determined by their denying that the
relation of attribute and essence in God is analogous to the relation of
intelligence and will to the essence of the soul in man; and also by the
frequently recurring declaration, borrowed from the schoolmen, that God is
actus purus. Schleiermacher goes still further in the same direction. With
him the divine attributes are mere Beziehungen, or relations of God to us. He
commonly resolves them into mere causality. Thus he defines the holiness of
God to be that causality in Him which produces conscience in us.
A third and less objectionable way of representing the
matter is adopted by those who say with Hollazius: "Attributa divina ab
essentia divina et a se invicem, distinguuntur non nominaliter neque realiter
sed formaliter, secundum nostrum concipiendi modum, non sine certo
This is very different from saying that they differ ratione tautum.
Turrettin says the attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but
virtualiter; that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature
for the several attributes ascribed to Him.
It is evident that this question of the relation of the
divine attributes to the divine essence merges itself into the general
question of the relation between attributes and substance. It is also evident
that this is a subject about which one man knows just as much as another;
because all that can be known about it is given immediately in consciousness.
This subject has already been referred to. We arc
conscious of ourselves as a thinking substance. That is, we are conscious that
that which is ourselves has identity, continuance, and power. We are further
conscious that the substance self thinks, wills, and feels. Intelligence,
will, and sensibility, are its functions, or attributes, and consequently the
attributes of a spirit. These are the ways in which a spirit acts. Anything
which does not thus act, which has not these functions or attributes, is not a
spirit. If you take from a spirit its intelligence, will, and sensibility,
nothing remains its, substance is gone; at least it ceases to be a spirit.
Substance and attributes are inseparable. The one is known in the other. A
substance wituout attributes is nothing, i. e., no real existence. What
is true of spiritual substances is true of matter. Matter, without the
essential properties of matter, is a contradiction.
We know, therefore, from consciousness, as far as it
can be known, the relation between substance and its attributes. And all that
can be done, or need be done, is to deny or correct the false representations
which are so often made on the subject.
The Divine Attributes do not
differ merely in our Conception.
To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of
Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the
divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their
effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God. Thus even Augustine
confounds knowledge and power, when he says,7
"Nos ista, quae fecisti videmus quia sunt: tu autem quia vides ea, sunt." So
says, "Non aliud est ei videre, aliud facere; sed visio illius voluntas ejus
est, et voluntas operatio." Thomas Aquinas9
says the same thing: "Deus per intellectum suum causat res, cum suum esse sit
suum intelligere." And again, "Scientia (Dei) causat res; nostra vero causatur
rebus et dependat ab eis." Even Mr. Mansel,10
to aggravate our ignorance of God, speaks of Him as "an intellect whose
thought creates its own object." It is obvious that, according to this view,
God is simply a force of which we know nothing but its effects. If in God
eternity is identical with knowledge, knowledge with power, power with
ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, we are using words without meaning when
we attribute any perfection to God. We must, therefore, either give up the
attempt to determine the divine attributes from our speculative idea of an
infinite essence, or renounce all knowledge of God, and all faith in the
revelation of Himself, which He has made in the constitution of our nature, in
the external world, and in his Word. Knowledge is no more identical with power
in God than it is in us. Thought in Him is no more creative than is thought in
us. Otherwise creation is eternal, and God creates everything -- all the
thoughts, feelings, and volitions of his creatures, good and evil; and God is
the only real agent, and the only real being in the universe. According to
this doctrine, also, there can be no difference between the actual and the
possible, for the one as well as the other is always present to the divine
mind. It would also follow that the creation must be infinite, or God finite.
For if knowledge is causative, God creates all He knows, and you must limit
his knowledge if you limit creation. It need hardly be remarked that this
doctrine is derogatory to God. It is not only a much higher idea, but one
essential to personality, that there should be a real distinction between the
divine attributes. That which from its nature and by necessity does all that
it can do, is a force, and not a person. It can have no will. The doctrine in
question, therefore, is essentially pantheistic. "However much," says
Martensen, "we must guard our idea of God from being degraded by anything that
is merely human, from all false Anthropomorphism, yet we can find in
Nominalism only the denial of God as He is revealed in the Scriptures. It is
the denial of the very essence of faith, if it is only in our thoughts that
God is holy and righteous, and not in his own nature; if it is we who so
address Him, and not He who so reveals Himself. We teach, therefore, with the
Realists (of one class), that the attributes of God are objectrvely true as
revealed, and therefore have their ground in the divine essence." There is a
kind of Realism, as Martensen admits, which is as destructive of the true idea
of God as the Nominalism which makes his attributes differ only in name. It
grants, indeed, objective reality to our ideas; but these ideas, according to
it, have no real subject. "The idea of omnipotence, righteousness, and
holiness," he says, "is a mere blind thought, if there be not an omnipotent,
righteous, and holy One."11
The Divine Attributes not to be
resolved into Causality.
It amounts to much the same doctrine, to resolve all
the attributes of God into causality. It was a principle with some of the
schoolmen, "Affectus in Deo denotat effectum." This was so applied as to limit
our knowledge of God to the fact that God is the cause of certain effects.
Thus, when we say God is just, we mean nothing more than that He causes misery
to follow sin; when we say He is holy, it only means that He is the cause of
conscience in us. As a tree is not sweet, because its fruit is luscious, so
God is not holy, he is only the cause of holiness. Against this application of
the principle, Aquinas himself protested, declaring, "Cum igitur dicitur, Deus
est bonus; non est sensus, Deus est causa bonitatis; vel Deus non est malus.
Sed est sensus: Id, quod bonitatem dicimus in creaturis, praeexistit in Deo;
et hoc quidem secundum modum altiorem. Unde ex hoc non sequitur, quod Deo
competat esse bonum, in quantum causat bonitatem; sed potius e converso, quia
est bonus, bonitatem rebus diffundit."12
And the Lutheran theologian, Quenstedt, says, "Dicunt nonnulli, ideo Deum dici
justum, sanctum, misericordem, veracem, etc., non quod revera sit talis, sed
quod duntaxat sanctitatis, justitiae, misericordiae, veritatis, etc., causa
sit et auctor in aliis. Sed si Deus non est vere misericors, neque vere
perfectus, vere sanctus, etc., sed causa tantum misericordiae et sanctitatis
in aliis, ita etiam et nos pariter juberemur esse non vere misericordes, non
vere perfecti, etc., sed sanctitatis saltem et misericordiae in aliis auctores."13
The Divine Attributes differ
Theologians, to avoid the blank ignorance of God which
must follow from the extreme view of the simplicity of his essence, which
requires us to assunie that the divine attributes differ only in our
conceptions, or as expressing the diverse effects of the activity of God, made
a distiniction between the ratio rationantis and the ratio
rationatae. That is, the reason as determining, and the reason as
determined. The attributes, they say, differ not re, but ratione;not
in our subjective reason only; but there is in God a reason why we think of
Him as possessing these diverse perfections. This idea, as before stated, was
often expressed by saying that the divine attributes differ neither
realiter, nor nominaliter, but virtualiter. If this be
understood to mean that the divimie perfections are really what the Bible
declares them to be; that God truly thinks, feels, and acts; that He is truly
wise, just, and good, that He is truly omnipotent, and voluntary, acting or
not acting, as He sees fit; that He can hear and answer prayer; it may be
admitted. But we are not to give up the conviction that God is really in
Himself what He reveals Himself to be, to satisfy any metaphysical
speculations as to the difference between essence and attribute in an infinite
Being. The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions
in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals Himself to his
creatures (or to Himself); just as our several faculties are different modes
in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness
and acts. It is an old saying, "Qualis homo, talis Deus." And Clemens
says, "If any one knows himself, he will know God." And Leibnitz expresses the
same great truth when he says,15
"The perfections of God are those of our own souls, but He possesses them
without limit. He is an ocean of which we have only received a few drops.
There is in us something of power, something of knowledge, something of
goodness; but these attributes are in entireness in Him." There is indeed
danger in either extreme, danger of degrading God in our thoughts, by reducing
Him to the standard of our nature, and danger of denying Him as He is
revealed. In our day, and among educated men, and especially among students of
philosophy, the latter danger is by far the greater of the two. We should
remember that we lose God, when we lose our confidence in saying Thou! to Him,
with the assurance of being heard and helped.
§3. Classification of
the Divine Attributes.
On few subjects have greater thought and labor been
expended than on this. Perhaps, however, the benefit has not been commensurate
with the labor. The object of classification is order, and the object of order
is clearness. So far as this end is secured, it is a good. But the great
diversity of the methods which have been proposed, is evidence that no one
method of arrangement has such advantages as to secure for it general
1. Some, as has been seen, preclude all necessity of a
classification of the attributes, by reducing them all to unity, or regarding
them as different phases under which we contemplate the Supreme Being as the
ground of all things. With them the whole discussion of the divimie attributes
is an analysis of the idea of the Infinite and Absolute.
2. Others arrange the attributes according to the mode
in which we arrive at the knowledge of them. We form our idea of God, it is
said, (1.) By the way of causation; that is, by referring to Him as the great
first cause every virtue manifested by the effects which He produces. (2.) By
the way of negation; that is, by denying to Him the limitations and
imperfections which belong to his creatures. (3.) By the way of eminence, in
exalting to an infinite degree or without limit the perfections which belong
to an infinite Being. If this is so, the attributes conceived of by one of
these methods belong to one class, and those conceived of, or of which we
attain the knowledge by another method, belong to another class. This
principle of classification is perhaps the one most generally adopted. It
gives rise, however, really but to two classes, namely, the positive and
negative, i. e., those in which something is affirmed, and those in
which something is denied concerning God. To the negative class are commonly
referred simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability; to the positive class,
power, knowledge, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Instead of calling
the one class negative and the other positive, they are often distinguished as
absolute and relative. By an absolute attribute is meant one which belongs to
God, considered in Himself, and which implies no relation to other beings; by
a relative attribute is meant one which implies relation to an object. They
are also distinguished as immanent and transient, as communicable and
incommunicable. These terms are used interchangeably. They do not express
different modes of classification, but are different modes of designating the
same classification. Negative, absolute, immanent, and incommunicable, are
designations of one class; and positive, relative, transitive, and
communicable, are designations of the other class.
3. A third principle of classification is derived from
the constitution of our own nature. In man there is the substance or essence
of the soul, the intellect, and the will. Hence, it is said, we can most
naturally arrange the attributes of God under three heads. First, those
pertaining to his essence; second, those referring to his intellect; and
third, those referring to his will, the word "will" being taken in its most
4. Others again seek the principle of classification in
the nature of the attributes themselves. Some include the idea of moral
excellence, and others do not. Hence they are distinguished as natural and
moral. The word natural, however, is ambiguous. Taking it in the sense of what
constitutes or pertains to the nature, the holiness and justice of God are as
much natural as his power or knowledge. And on the other hand, God is infinite
and eternal in his moral perfections, although infinity and eternity are not
distinctively moral perfections. In the common and familiar sense of the word
natural, the terms natural and moral express a real distinction.
5. Schleiermacher's method is, of course, peculiar. It
is based on the characteristic principle of his system, that all religion is
founded on a sense of dependence, and all theology consists in what that sense
of dependence teaches us. He does not treat of the divine attributes in any
one place, but here and there, as they come up according to his plan. Our
sense of dependence does not awaken in our consciousness a feeling of
opposition to God's eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence, or omniscience.
These, therefore, are treated of in one place. But we, as dependent creatures,
are conscious of opposition to God's holiness and righteousness. These,
therefore, belong to another head. And as this opposition is removed through
Christ, we are brought into relation to God's grace or love, and to his
wisdom. These form a third class.
That so many different principles of classification
have been adopted, and that each of those principles is carried out in so many
different ways, shows the uncertainty and difficulty attending the whole
subject. It is proposed in what follows to accept the guidance of the answer
given in the "Westminster Catechism," to the question, What is God? It is
assumed in that answer that God is a self-existent and necessary Being; and it
is affirmed of Him, I. That He is a Spirit. II. That as such He is infinite,
eternal, and immutable. III. That He is infinite, eternal, and immutable, (1.)
In his being. (2.) In all that belongs to his intelligence, namely, in his
knowledge and wisdom. (3.) In all that belongs to his will, namely, his power,
holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Whatever speculative objections may be
made to this plan, it has the advantage of being simple and familiar.
§4. Spirituality of
A. The Meaning of the
The fundamental principle of interpretation of all
writings, sacred or profane, is that words are to be understood in their
historical sense; that is, in the sense in which it can be historically proved
that they were used by their authors and intended to be understood by those to
whom they were addressed. The object of language is the communication of
thought. Unless words are taken in the sense in which those who employ them
know they will be understood, they fail of their design. The sacred writings
being the words of God to man, we are bound to take them in the sense in which
those to whom they were originally addressed must inevitably have taken them.
What is the meaning of the word "spirit?" or rather, What is the usus
loquendi of the Hebrew and Greek words to which our word "spirit"
corresponds? In answering this question, we learn what our Lord meant when he
said God is a Spirit. Originally the words x;Wr and
pneu/ma meant the moving air, especially the
breath, as in the phrase pneu/ma bi,ou;then any
invisible power; then the human soul. In saying, therefore, that God is a
Spirit, our Lord authorizes us to believe that whatever is essential to the
idea of a spirit, as learned from our own consciousness, is to be referred to
God as determining his nature. On this subject consciousness teaches, and has
taught all men, --
1. That the soul is a substance; that our thoughts and
feelings have a common ground, of which they are the varying states or acts.
Substance is that which has an objective existence, and has permanence and
power. Even Kant says: "Wo Handlung, mithin Thatigkeit und Kraft ist, da ist
auch Substanz," where operation, and consequently activity and power are,
there is substance.16
This is not only the common oonviction of men, but it is admitted by the vast
majority of philosophers. As before remarked, that there should be action
without something acting, is as unthinkable as that there should be motion
without something moving.
2. Consciousness teaches that the soul is an individual
subsistence. This is included in the consciousness of the unity, identity, and
permanence of the soul. It is not that we are conscious simply of certain
states of the soul, from which we infer its substance and subsistence; but
that such are the contents of the knowledge given to us in the consciousness
of self. Des Cartes famous aphorism, Cogito ergo sum, is not a
syllogism. It does not mean that existence is inferred from the consciousness
of thought; but that the consciousness of thought involves the consciousness
of existence. Des Cartes himself so understood the matter, for he says: "Cum
advertimus nos esse res cogitantes, prima quaedam notio est quae ex nullo
syllogismo concluditur; neque etiam cum quis dicit 'Ego cogito, ergo sum, sive
existo,' existentiam ex cogitatione per syllogismum deducit, sed tanquam rem
per se notam simplici mentis intuitu agnoscit."17
Mansel says: "Whatever may be the variety of the phenomena of consciousness,
sensations by this or that organ, volitions, thoughts, imaginations, of all we
are immediately conscious as affections of one and the same self. It is not by
any after-effort of reflection that I combine together sight and hearing,
thought and volition, into a factitious unity or compounded whole, in each
case I am immediately conscious of myself seeing and hearing, willing and
thinking. This self-personality, like all other simple and immediate
presentations, is indefinable, but it is so because it is superior to
This individual subsistence is thus involved in the consciousness of self,
because in self-consciousness we distinguish ourselves from all that is not
3. As power of some kind belongs to every substance,
the power which belongs to spirit, to the substance self, is that of thought,
feeling, and volition. All this is given in the simplest form of
consciousness. We are not more certain that we exist, than that we think,
feel, and will. We know ourselves only as thus thinking, feeling, and willing,
and we therefore are sure that these powers or faculties are the essential
attributes of a spirit, and must belong to every spirit.
4. Consciousness also informs us of the unity or
simplicity of the soul. It is not compounded of different elements. It is
composed of substance and form. It is a simple substance endowed with certain
attributes. It is incapable of separation or division.
5. In being conscious of our individual subsistence, we
are conscious of personality. Every individual subsistence is not a person.
But every individual subsistence which thinks and feels, and has the power of
self-determination, is a person; and, therefore, the consciousness of our
subsistence, and of the powers of thought and volition, is the consciousness
6. We are also conscious of being moral agents,
susceptible of moral character, and the subjects of moral obligation.
7. It need not be added that every spirit must possess
self-consciousness. This is involved in all that has been said. Without
self-consciousness we should be a mere power in nature. This is the very
ground of our being, and is necessarily involved in the idea of self as a real
It is impossible, therefore, to overestimate the
importanc of the truth contained in the simple proposition, God is a Spirit.
It is involved in that proposition that God is immaterial. None of the
properties of matter can be predicated of Him. He is not extended or
divisible, or compounded, or visible, or tangible. He has neither bulk nor
form. The Bible everywhere recognizes as true the intuitive convictions of
men. One of those convictions is that spirit is not matter, or matter spirit;
that different and incompatible attributes cannot belong to the same
substance. In revealing, therefore, to us that God is a Spirit, it reveals to
us that no attribute of matter can be predicated of the divine essence. The
realistic dualism which lies at the bottom of all human convictions, underlies
also all the revelations of the Bible.
B. Consequences of the
Spirituality of God.
If God be a spirit, it follows of necessity that He is
a person -- a self-conscious, intelligent, voluntary agent. As all this is
involved in our consciousness of ourselves as spirit, it must all be true of
God, or God is of a lower order of being than man.
It follows also that God is a simple Being, not only as
not composed of different elements, but also as not admitting of the
distinction between substance and accidents. Nothing can either be added to,
or taken from God. In this view the simplicity, as well as the other
attributes of God, are of a higher order than the corresponding attributes of
our spiritual nature. The soul of man is a simple substance; but it is subject
to change. It can gain and lose knowledge, holiness, and power. These are in
this view accidents in our substance. But in God they are attributes,
essential and immutable.
Finally, it follows from God's being a spirit, that He
is a moral as well as an intelligent Being. It is involved in the very nature
of rational voluntary being, that it should be conformed to the rule of right,
which in the case of God is his own infinite reason. These are primary truths,
which are not to be sacrificed to any speculative objections. It is vain to
tell us that an infinite spirit cannot be a person, because personality
implies self-consciousness, and self-consciousness implies the distinction
between the self and the not-self, and this is a limitation. It is equally
vain to say that God cannot have moral excellence, because moral goodness
implies conformity to law, and conformity to law again is inconsistent with
the idea of an absolute Being. These are empty speculations; and even if
incapable of a satisfactory solution, would afford no rational ground for
rejecting the intuitive truths of reason and conscience. There are mysteries
enough in our nature, and yet no sane muan denies his own personal existence
and moral accountability. And he is worse than insane who is beguiled by such
sophistries into renouncing his faith in God as a pcrsonal Spirit and a loving
The Scriptures confirm these
It need hardly be remarked that the Scriptures
everywhere represent God as possessing all the above-mentioned attributes of a
spirit. On this foundation all religion rests; all intercourse with God, all
worship, all prayer, all confidence in God as preserver, benefactor, and
redeemer. The God of the Bible is a person. He spoke to Adam. He revealed
himself to Noah. He entered into covenant with Abraham. He conversed with
Moses, as a friend with friend. He everywhere uses the personal pronouns. He
says, "I am," that "is my name." I am the Lord your God. I am merciful and
gracious. Call upon me, and I will answer you. Like as a father pitieth his
children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. O thou that hearest prayer,
to thee shall all flesh come. Our Lord has put into our lips words which
reveal that God is a spirit, and all that being a spirit implies, when He
teaches us to say: "Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy
kingdom come. Thy will be done." Everywhere the God of the Bible is contrasted
within the gods of the heathen, as a God who sees, hears, and loves. These are
not regulative, they are real truths. God does not mock us when He thus
presents Himself to us as a personal Being within whom we can have
intercourse, and who is everywhere present to help and save. "To human
reason," says Mansel, "the personal and the infinite stand out in apparently
irreconcilable antagonism; and the recognition of the one in a religious
system almost inevitably involves the sacrifice of the other."19
This cannot be so. According to the Bible, and according to the dictates of
our own nature, of reason as well as of conscience, God is a spirit, and being
a spirit is of necessity a person; a Being who can say I, and to whom we can
§ 5. Infinity.
Although God reveals Himself as
a personal Being capable of fell worship with man, whom we can worship and
love, and to whom wc can pray with the assurance of being heard and answered;
nevertheless He fills heaven and earth; He is exalted above all we can know or
think. He is infinite in his being and perfections. The ideas with which we
are most familiar are often those of which we are the least able to give an
intelligent account. Space, time, and infinity, are among the most difficult
problems of human thought. What is space? is a question which has never been
satisfactorily answered. Some say it is nothing; where nothing is space is
not; it is "negation defined by boundary lines;" others, with Kant and
Hamilton, say that it is "a condition of thought," "the subjective condition
of sensibility;" others that it is an attribute or accident of God; others
that it is that in which real existences can act and move. Notwithstanding
these conflicting statements of philosophers, and the real obscurity of the
subject, every man knows clearly and definitely what the word "space" means,
although no man may be able to define it satisfactorily. It is much the same
with the idea of infinity. If men would be content to leave the word in its
integrity, as simply expressing what does not admit of limitation, there would
be no danger in speculating about its nature. But in all ages wrong views of
what the infinite is, have led to fatal errors in philosophy and religion.
Without attempting to detail the speculations of philosophers on this subject,
we shall simply endeavor to state what is meant when it is said that God is
infinite in his being and perfections.
The Idea of Infinity not merely
Being, in this connection, is that which is or exists.
The being of God is his essemice or substance, of which his perfections are
the essential attributes or modes of manifestation. When it is said that God
is infinite as to his being, what is meant is, that no limitation can be
assigned to his essence. It is often said that our idea of the infinite is
merely negative. There is a sense in which this may be true, but there is a
sense in which it is not true. It is true that the form of the proposition is
negative when we say that no limit can be assigned to space, or possible
duration, or to the being of God. But it implies the affirmation that the
object of which infinity is predicated is illimitable. It is as much a
positive idea which we express when we say a thing is infinite as when we say
that it is finite. We cannot, indeed, form a conception or mental image of an
infinite object, but the word nevertheless expresses a positive judgment of
the mind. Sir William Hamilton and others, when they say that the infinite is
a mere negation, mean that it implies a negation of all thought. That is, we
mean nothing when we say that a thing is infinite. As we know nothing of the
inhabitants of the other planets of our system, if such there be, or of the
mode in which angels and disembodied spirits take cognizance of material
objects, our ideas on such subjects are purely negative, or blank ignorance.
"The infinite," Mansel says, "is not a positive object of human thought."20
Every man, however, knows that the propositions "Space is infinite," and
"Space is finite," express different and equally definite thoughts. When,
therefore, we say that God is infinite, we mean something; we express a great
and positive truth.
A. The Infinite not the All.
The infinite, although illimitable and incapable of
increase, is not necessarily all. An infinite body must include all bodies,
infinite space all portions of space, and infinite duration all periods of
duration. Hence Mr. Mansel says that an infinite being must of necessity
include within itself all actual and all possible forms or modes of being. So
said Spinoza, many of the schoolmen, and even many Christian theologians. The
sense in which Spinoza and Mansel make this assertion is the fundamental
principle of Pantheism. Mr. Mansel, as we have seen, escapes that conclusion
by appealing to faith, and teaching that we are constrained to believe what
reason pronounces to be impossible, which itself is an impossibility. The
sense in which theologians teach that an infinite being must comprehend within
it all being, is, that in the infinite is the cause or ground of all that is
actual or possible. Thus Howe21says,
"Necessary being must include all being." But he immediately adds, not in the
same way, "It comprehends all being, besides what itself is, as having had,
within the compass of its productive power, whatsoever hath actually sprung
from it; and having within the compass of the same power, whatsoever is still
possible to he produced." This, however, is not the proper meaning of the
words, nor is it the sense in which they are generally used. What the words
mean, and what they are generally intended to mean by those who use them is,
that there is only one being in the universe; that the finite is merely the
modus existendi, or manifestation of the Infinite. Thus Cousin says, God
must be "infinite and finite together at the summit of being and at its
humblest degree . . . ; at once God, nature, and humanity."22
Even some of the Remonstrants regard this as the necessary consequence of the
doctrine of the infinitude of the divine essence. Episcopius23
says, "Si essentia Dei sic immensa est, tum intelligi non potest quomodo et
ubi aliqua creata essentia esse possit. Essentia enim creata non est essentia
divina; ergo aut est extra essentiam divinam, aut, si non est extra eam, est
ipsa essentia illa, et sic omnia sunt Deus et divina essentia." "God is
infinite," says Jacob Bohme, "for God is all." This, says Strauss,24
is exactly the doctrine of the modern philosophy.
It has already been remarked in a previous chapter, in
reference to this mode of reasoning, that it proceeds on a wrong idea of the
infinite. A thing may be infinite in its own nature without precluding the
possibility of the existence of things of a different nature. An infinite
spirit does not forbid the assumption of the existence of matter. There may
even be many infinites of the same kind, as we can imagine any number of
infinite lines. The infinite, therefore, is not all. An infinite spirit is a
spirit to whose attributes as a spirit no limits can be set. It no more
precludes the existence of other spirits than infinite goodness precludes the
existence of finite goodness, or infinite power the existence of finite power.
God is infinite in being because no limit can be assigned to his perfections,
and because He is present in all portions of space. A being is said to be
present wherever it perceives and acts. As God perceives and acts everywhere,
He is everywhere present. This however, does not preclude the presence of
other beings. A multitude of men even may perceive and act at the same time
and place. Besides, we have very little knowledge of the relation which spirit
bears to space. We know that bodies occupy portions of space to the exclusion,
of other bodies; but we do not know that spirits may not coexist in the same
portion of space. A legion of demons dwelt in one man.
B. Infinitude of God in relation
The infinitude of God, so far as space is concerned,
includes his immensity and his omnipresence. These are not different
attributes, but one and the same attribute, viewed under different aspects.
His immensity is the infinitude of his being, viewed as belonging to his
nature from eternity. He fills immensity with his presence. His omnipresence
is the infinitude of his being, viewed in relation to his creatures. He is
equally present with all his creatures, at all times, and in all places. He is
not far from any one of us. "The Lord is in this place," may be said with
equal truth and confidence, everywhere. Theologians are accustomed to
distinguish three modes of presence in space. Bodies are in space
circumscriptively. They are bounded by it. Spirits are in space definitively.
They have an ubi. They are not everywhere, but only somewhere. God is
in space repletively. He fills all space. In other words, the limitations of
space have no reference to Him. He is not absent from any portion of space,
nor more present in one portion than in another. This of course is not to be
understood of extension or diffusion. Extension is a property of matter, and
cannot be predicated of God. If extended, He would be capable of division and
separation; and part of God would be here, and part elsewhere. Nor is this
omnipresence to be understood as a mere presence in knowledge and power. It is
an omnipresence of the divine essence. Otherwise the essence of God would be
limited. The doctrine, therefore, taught by the older Socinians that the
essence of God is confined to heaven (wherever that may be), and that He is
elsewhere only as to his knowledge and efficiency, is inconsistent with the
divine perfections and with the representations of Scripture. As God acts
everywhere, He is present everywhere; for, as the theologians say, a being can
no more act where he is not than when he is not.
The older and later theologians agree in this view of
the divine immensity and omnipresence. Augustine25
says God is not to be regarded as everywhere diffused, as the air or the
light: "Sed in solo coelo totus, et in sola terra totus, et in coelo et in
terra totus, et nullo contentus loco, sed in seipso ubique totus." Thomas
Deus "est in omnibus per potentiam, in quantum omnia ejus potestati subduntur;
est per praesentiam in omnibus, in quantum omnia nuda sunt et aperta oculis
ejus. Est in omnibus per essentiam in quantum adest omnibus ut causa essendi
sicut dictum est." Quenstedt says,27
"Est Deus ubique illocaliter, impartibiliter, efficaciter; non definitive ut
spiritus, non circumscriptive ut corpora, sed repletive citra sui
multiplicationem, extensionem, divisionem, inclusionem, aut commixtionem more
modoque divino incomprehensibili." The Bible teaches the infinitude of God, as
involving his immensity and omnipresence, in the clearest terms. He is said to
fill all in all, i. e., the universe in all its parts. (Eph. i. 23.)
"Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide
himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I
fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord." (Jer. ixiii. 23, 24.) "Whither shall I
go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up
into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the
sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me."
(Ps. cxxxix. 7-12.) It is "in Him we (i. e., all creatures) live, and
move, and have our being." (Acts xvii.
28.) Everywhere in the Old and in the
New Testamnent, God is represented as a spiritual Being, without form,
invisible, whom no man hath seen or can see; dwelling in the light which no
man can approach unto, and full of glory; as not only the creator, and
preserver, but as the governor of all things; as everywhere present, and
everywhere imparting life, and securing order; present in every blade of
grass, yet guiding Arcturus in his course, marshalling the stars as a host,
calling them by their names; present also in every human soul, giving it
understanding, endowing it with gifts, working in it both to will and to do.
The human heart is in his hands and He turneth it even as the rivers of water
are turned. Wherever, throughout the universe, there is evidence of mind in
material causes, there, according to the Scriptures, is God, controlling and
guiding those causes to the accomplishment of his wise designs. He is in all,
and over all things; yet essentially different from all, being over all,
independent, and infinitely exalted. This immensity and omnipresence of God,
therefore, is the ubiquity of the divine essence, and consequently of the
divine power, wisdom, and goodness. As the birds in the air and the fish in
the sea, so also are we always surrounded and sustained by God. It is thus
that He is infinite in his being, without absorbing all created beings into
his own essence, but sustaining all in their individual subsistence, and in
the exercise of their own powers.
§ 6. Eternity.
A. Scriptural Doctrine.
The infinitude of God relatively to space, is his
immensity or omnipresence; relatively to duration, it is his eternity. As He
is free from all the limitations of space, so He is exalted above all the
limitations of time. As He is not more in one place than in another, but is
everywhere equally present, so He does not exist during one period of duration
more than another. With Him there is no distinction between the present, past,
and future; but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him
duration is an eternal now. This is the popular and the Scriptural view of
God's eternity. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst
formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art
God." (Ps. xc. 2.) "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the
heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure:
yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change
them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall
have no end." (Ps. cii. 25-27.) He is "The high and lofty One that inhabiteth
eternity." (Is. lvii. 15.) "I am the first and I am the last; and besides me
there is no God." (Is. xliv. 6.) "A thousand years in thy sight are but as
yesterday when it is past." (Ps. xc. 4.) "One day is with the Lord as a
thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Pet. iii. 8.) He is "the
same yesterday, and today, and forever." (Heb. xiii. 8.) God is He "which is
[ever is], and which was, and which is to come." (Rev. i. 4.) Throughout the
Bible He is called the eternal or everlasting God; who only hath immortality.
The primal revelation of Himself to his covenant people was as the "I am."
What is taught in these and similar passages, is,
first, that God is without beginning of years or end of days. He is, and
always has been, and always will be; and secondly, that to Him there is
neither past nor future; that the past and the future are always and equally
present to Him.
B. Philosophical View.
These are Scriptural facts, and necessarily follow from
the nature of God as self-existent, infinite, and immutable. With these
representations the teaching of theologians for the most part agrees. Thus
Augustine says: "Fuisse et futurum esse non est in ea [scil. vita divina],
sed esse solum, quoniam aeterna est: nam fuisse et futurumn esse non est
"Nec tu tempore tempora praecedis, alioquin non omnia tempora praecederes sed
praecedis omnia praeterita celsitudine semper praesentis aeternitatis; et
superas omnia futura, quia illa futura sunt et cum venerint praeterita erunt;
tu autem idem ipse es, et anni tui non deficiunt."29
Aquinas, to the same effect says, "AEternitas est tota simul."30
Or, as the schoolmen generally were accustomed to say, "In aeternitate est
unicum instans semper praesens et persistens;" or, as they otherwise expressed
it, "Eternitas est interminabilis vitae simul et perfecta possessio." The same
view of this attribute is given by the later theologians. Thus Quenstedt says,
"AEternitas Dei est duratio vel permanentia essentiae divinae interminabilis,
sine principio et fine carens, et indivisibilis, omnem omnino successionem
The only thing open to question in these statements is,
the denial of all succession in the divine consciousness. Our idea of eternity
is arrived at from our idea of time. We are conscious of existence in space,
and we are conscious of protracted or continuous existence. The ideas of space
and duration are necessarily given in the consciousness of continuous
existence. We see also that events succeed each other, that their occurrence
is separated by a longer or shorter period of duration, just as bodies are
separated by a greater or less interval in space. We therefore know, from
consciousness or from experience, of no kind of duration which is not
successive. Instead of saying, as is commonly done, that time is duration
measured by succession, which supposes that duration is antecedent to that by
which it is measured, and independent of it, it is maintained by some that
duration without succession is inconceivable and impossible. As space is
defined to be "negation betwixt the boundary-lines of form," so time is said
to be "the negation betwixt the boundary-points of motion." Or, in other
words, time is "the interval which a body in motion marks in its transit from
one point of space to another."32
Hence, if there be no bodies having form, there is no space; and if there is
no motion, there is no time. "If all things were annihilated, time as well as
space must he annihilated; for time is dependent on space. If all things were
annihilated, there could be no transition, no succession of one object with
respect to another; for there would be no object in being, -- all would be
perfect emptiness, nothingness, non-being-ness. Under an entire annihilation,
there could be neither space nor time."33
The same writer34
elsewhere says, "Were the earth, as well as the other globes of space,
annihilated, much more would time be annihilated therewith."35
All this, however, is to be understood, it is said, of "objective time, that
is, of time as dependent upon created material conditions."36
As objective timelessness follows from the annihilation of material
existences, so timelessness as regards thinking personalities is conceivable
only on the destruction of thought. "We have seen that there can be a state of
timelessness for material creation, only by destroying its operation, that is,
its attribute of motion: precisely in analogy therewith, there can be a state
of timelessness for intellectual creation, only by destroying the laws of
intellect, that is, its operation of thinking."37If,
therefore, God be a person, or a thinking Being, He cannot be timeless; there
must be succession; one thought or state must follow another. To deny this, it
is said, is to deny the personality of God. The dictum, therefore, of the
schoolmen, and of the theologians, that eternity precludes succession -- that
it is a persistent, unmoving Now -- is according to this repudiated.
There are, however, two senses in which succession is
denied to God. Time first has reference to external events. They are ever
present to the mind of God. He views them in all their relations, whether
causal or chronological. He sees how they succeed each other in time, as we
see a passing pageant, all of which we may take in in one view. In this there
is perhaps nothing which absolutely transcends our comprehension. The second
aspect of the subject concerns the relation of succession to the thoughts and
acts of God. When we are ignoramit, it is wise to be silent. We have no right
to affirm or deny, when we cannot know what our affirmation or denial may
involve or imply. We know that God is constantly producing new effects,
effects which succeed each other in time; but we do not know that these
effects are due to successive exercises of the divine efficiency. It is,
indeed, incomprehensible to us how it should be otherwise. The miracles of
Christ were due to the immediate exercise of the divine efficiency. We utter
words to which we can attach no meaning, when we say that these effects were
due, not to a contemporaneous act or volition of the divine mind, but to an
eternal act, if such a phrase be not a solecism. In like manner we are
confounded when we are told that our prayers are not heard and answered in
time -- that God is timeless -- that what He does in hearing and answering
prayer, and in his daily providence, He does from eternity. It is certain that
God is subject to all the limitations of personality, if there be any. But as
such limitations are the conditions of his being a person and not a mere
involuntary force, they are the conditions of his infinite perfection. As
constant thought and activity are involved in the very nature of a spirit,
these must belong to God; and so far as thinking and acting involve
succession, succession must belong to God. There are mysteries connected with
chronological succession, in our nature, which we cannot explain. We know that
in dreams months may be compressed into moments, and moments extended to
months, so far as our consciousness is concerned. We know that it often
happens to those near death, that all the past becomes instantly present. Had
God so constituted us that memory was as vivid as present consciousness, there
would to us be no past, so far as our personal existence is concerned. It is
not impossible that, hereafter, memory may become a consciousness of the past;
that all we ever thought, felt, or did, may be ever present to the mind; that
everything written on that tablet is indelible. Persons who, by long
residence in foreign countries, have entirely lost all knowledge of their
native language, have been known to speak it fluently, and understand it
perfectly, when they came to die. Still more wonderful is the fact that
uneducated persons, hearing passages read in an unknown language (Greek or
Hebrew, for example), have, years after, when in an abnormal, nervous state,
repeated those passages correctly, without understanding their meaning. If
unable to comprehend ourselves, we should not pretend to be able to comprehend
God. Whether we can understand how there can be succession in the thoughts of
Him who inhabits eternity or not, we are not to deny that God is an
intelligent Being, that He actually thinks and feels, in order to get over the
difficulty. God is a person, and all that personality implies must be true of
Modern Philosophical Views.
The modern philosophy teaches that "Die Ewigkeit ist
die Einheit in dem Unterschiede der Zeitmomente -- Ewigkeit und Zeit verhalten
sich wie die Substanz und deren Accidentien."38
That is, Eternity is the unity underlying the successive momnents of time, as
substance is the unity underlying the accidents which are its manifestations.
Schleiermacher's illustration is borrowed from our consciousness. We are
conscious of an abiding, unchanging self, which is the subject of our ever
changing thoughts and feelings. By the eternity of God, therefore, is meant
nothing more than that He is the ground-being of which the universe is the
ever changing phenonmenon. The eternity of God is only one phase of his
universal causality. "Unter der Ewigkeit Gottes verstehen wir die mit allem
Zeitlichen auch die Zeit selbst bedingende schlechthin zeitlose Ursachlichkeit
To attain this philosophical view of eternity, we must accept the
philosophical view of the nature of God upon which it is founded, namely, that
God is merely the designation of that unknown and unknowable something of
which all other things are the manifestations. To give up the living, personal
God of the Bible and of the heart, is an awful sacrifice to specious, logical
consistency. We believe what we cannot understand. We believe what the Bible
teaches as facts; that God always is, was, and ever will be, immutably the
same; that all things are ever present to his view; that with Him there is
neither past nor future; but nevertheless that He is not a stagnant ocean, but
ever living, ever thinking, ever acting, and ever suiting his action to the
exigencies of his creatures, and to the accomplishment of his infinitely wise
designs. Whether we can harmonize these facts or not, is a matter of minor
importance. We are constantly called upon to believe that things are, without
being able to tell how they are, or even how they can be.
The immutability of God is intimately connected with
his immensity and eternity, and is frequently included with them in the
Scriptural statements concerning his nature. Thus, when it is said, He is the
First and the Last; the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, to-day, and
forever; or when in contrast with the ever changing and perishing world, it is
said: "They shall be changed, but thou art the same;" it is not his eternity
more than his immutability that is brought into view. As an infinite and
absolute Being, self-existent and absolutely independent, God is exalted above
all the causes of and even above the possibility of change. Infinite space and
infinite duration cannot change. They must ever be what they are. So God is
absolutely immutable in his essence and attributes. He can neither increase
nor decrease. He is subject to no process of development, or of
self-evolution. His knowledge and power can never be greater or less. He can
never be wiser or holier, or more righteous or more merciful than He ever has
been and ever must be. He is no less immutable in his plans and purposes.
Infinite in wisdom, there can be no error in their conception; infinite in
power, there can be no failure in their accomplishment. He is "the Father of
lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James i.
17.) "God is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man that He
should repent; hath He said and shall He not do it? or hath he spoken, and
shall He not make it good?" (Num. xxiii. 19.) "I am the LORD, I change not."
(Mal. iii. 6.) "The counsel of the LORD standeth forever; the thoughts of his
heart to all generations." (Ps. xxxiii. 11.) "There are many devices in a
man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand." (Prov.
xix. 21.) "The LORD of Hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so
shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand." (Is. xiv.
24.) "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the
beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My
counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." (Is. xlvi. 9, 10.) Those
passages of Scripture in which God is said to repent, are to be interpreted on
the same principle as those in which He is said to ride upon the wings of the
wind, or to walk through the earth. These create no difficulty.
Theologians, in their attempts to state, in
philosophical language, the doctrine of the Bible on the unchangeableness of
God, are apt to confound immutability with immobility. In denying that God can
change, they seem to deny that He can act. Augustine says, on this subject:
"Non invenies in Deo aliquid mutabilitatis; non aliquid, quod aliter nunc sit,
aliter paulo ante fuerit. Nam ubi invenis aliter et aliter, facta est ibi
quaedam mors: mors enim est, non esse quod fuit."40
Quenstedt uses language still more open to objection, when he says that the
immutability of God is "Perpetua essentiae divinae et omnium ejus perfectionum
identitas, negans omnem omnino motum cum physicum, tum ethicum."41
Turrettin is more cautious, and yet perhaps goes too far. He says: "Potestas
variandi actus suos, non est principium mutabilitatis in se, sed tantum in
objectis suis; nisi intelligatur de variatione internorum suorum actuum,
quos voluntas perfecta non variat, sed imperfecta tantum."42
The clause italicized in the above quotation assumes a knowledge of the nature
of God to which man has no legitimate claim. It is in vain for us to presume
to understand the Almighty to perfection. We know that God is immutable in his
being, his perfections, and his purposes; and we know that He is perpetually
active. And, therefore, activity and immutability must be compatible; and no
explanation of the latter inconsistent with the former ought to be admitted.
The Absolute Attributes of God
not inconsistent with Personality.
These attributes of infinity, eternity, and
immutability, are freely admitted by the modern philosophy to belong to the
absolute Being. But it is maintained that such a Being cannot be a person.
Personality implies self-consciousness. Self-consciousness necessarily implies
limitation, a distinction between the self and the not-self. Ohne Du kein Ich,
-- unless there be something objective and independent to which we stand
opposed, as subject and object, there can be no consciousness of self. But
nothing can be thus objective and independent in relation to the Absolute;
and, therefore, the Absolute cannot have any consciousness of self, and
consequently cannot be a personal Being. We have already seen (chap. iv.) that
this objection is founded on an arbitrary definition of the Infinite and
Absolute. It assumes that the Infinite must be all, and that the Absolute must
be alone, without relation to anything out of itself. It is here only
necessary to remark, in reference to the objection, (1.) That it may be
admitted as a fact that the slumbering consciousness of self in the human soul
is awakened and developed by contact with what is not only external to itself
but also independent of it. But God is not subject to that law. He is
eternally perfect and immutable; having in Himself the plenitude of life.
There is, therefore, no analogy between the cases, and no ground for inferring
in this case that what is true in us, who begin life as an undeveloped germ,
must be true in relation to God. (2.) In the second place, we have no right to
assume that even with regard to a finite intelligence created in the
perfection of its being, self-consciousness is dependent on what is
independent of itself. Such a being would of necessity be conscious of its own
feelings; for thought is a state of consciousness in an intelligent being. If
God, therefore, can make an intelligent being in the perfection of its limited
nature, it would be self-conscious even were it left alone in the universe.
(3.) Admitting it to be true that "without a Thou there can be no I," we know
that, according to the Scriptures and the faith of the Church universal, there
are in the unity of the Godhead three distinct persons, the Father, the Son,
and the Spirit; so that from eternity the Father can say I, and the Son Thou.
We must abide by the teachings of Scripture, and refuse
to subordinate their authority and the intuitive convictions of our moral and
religious nature to the arbitrary definitions of any philosophical system. The
Bible everywhere teaches that God is an absolute Being, in the sense of being
self-existent, necessary, independent, immutable, eternal, and without
limitation or necessary relation to anything out of Himself. It teaches
moreover that He is infinite; not in the sense of including all being, all
power, all knowledge in Himself, to the exclusion of all other intelligent
agents; but in the sense that no limit can be assigned to his being or
perfections, other than that which arises out of his own perfection itself. He
would cease to be infinite could He be unwise or untrue. It is to be
remembered that God is infinite and absolute as a spirit, and a spirit from
its nature is living, active, intelligent, self-conscious, and personal.
A. Its Nature.
By knowledge is meant the intellectual apprehension of
truth. It supposes a subject and object; an intelligent subject that
apprehends, and something true that is apprehended.
So far as we are concerned, knowledge is either
intuitive or discursive. Our senses give us immediate knowledge of their
appropriate objects; the understanding perceives intuitively primary truths;
our moral and aesthetic nature gives us the immediate cognition of things
right or wrong, and beautiful or deformed. Most of our knowledge, however, is
derived ab extra, by instruction, observation, comparison, deduction,
etc. In all cases there is the distinction between the mind which perceives
and the object which is perceived.
Such being the nature of knowledge, can there be
knowledge in God? Can there be this distinction between subject and object in
an absolute and infinite Being? Not only are the wicked and the worldly
disposed to think that God cannot know; that either He is too exalted to take
cognizance of earthly things; or that it is impossible even for an infinite
mind to embrace the universe and all its perpetual changes in his mental
vision; but the possibility of knowledge, in the ordinary and proper sense of
the word, is expressly denied to God by a large class of philosophers, and
virtually even by many theologians of the highest rank in the history of the
The Pantheistic Theory precludes
the possibility of Knowledge of God
1. As, according to the pantheistic theory, the
universe is the existence form of God, as the infinite comes to intelligent
consciousness and life only in the finite, there is and can be no knowledge in
the infinite as distinguished from the finite. God lives only so far as finite
beings live; he thinks and knows only so far as they think and know.
Omniscience is only the sum or aggregate of the intelligence of the transient
forms of finite beings. All this, as even Hamilton and Mansel admit,
necessarily flows from the idea of an absolute Being which precludes the
possibility of any such conditions or relations as are involved in
consciousness or intelligence. Strauss therefore says:43
"Not in Himself, but in finite intelligences is God omniscient, which together
constitute the fulness or completeness of all the possible forms or degrees of
knowledge." And Spinoza says:44
"Intellectus et voluntas, qui Dei essentiam constituerent, a nostro intellectu
et voluntate toto coelo differe deberent, nec in ulla re, praeterquam in
nomine, convenire possent; non aliter scilicet, quam inter se conveniunt canis,
signum coeleste, et canis, animal latrans." This subject was considered in the
chapter on Pantheism.
Knowledge and Power not to be
2. The possibility of knowledge in God is virtually
denied by those who deny any distinction between knowledge and power.
Knowledge, which is power, ceases to be knowledge; and therefore if
omniscience is only a different name for omnipotence, it ceases to be a
distinct attribute of God. It makes little difference whether we expressly
deny a given perfection to God, or whether we so determine it as to make it
mean nothing distinctive. It is deeply to be regretted that not only the
Fathers, but also the Lutheran and Reformed theologians, after renouncing the
authority of the schoolmen, almost immediately yielded themselves to their
speculations. Instead of determining the nature of the divine attributes from
the representations of Scripture and from the constitution of man as the image
of God, and from the necessities of our moral and religious nature, they
allowed themselves to be controlled by a priori speculations as
to the nature of the infinite and absolute. Even Augustine, as before stated,
says: "Nos ista, qum fecisti videmus, quia sunt: tu autem quia vides ea, sunt."45
Scotus Erigena says,46
"Voluntas illius et visio et essentia anum est."47
. . . . "Visio Dei totius universitatis est conditio. Non enim aliud est ei
videre, aliud facere; sed visio illius voluntas ejus est, et voluntas operatio."
Thomas Aquinas also says,48
"Deus per intellectum suum causat res, cum suum esse sit suum intelligere.
Unde necesse est, quod sua scientia sit causa rerum."
The Lutheran and Reformed theologians represent God as
simplicissima simplicitas, admitting of no distinction between faculty
and act, or between one attribute and another. Thus Gerhard says: "Deus est
ipsum esse subsistens, omnibus modis indeterminatum."49
"Solus Deus summe simplex est, ut nec actus et potentiae, nec esse et
essentiae compositio ipsi competat."50
"Essentia, bonitas, potentia, sapientia, justitia, et reliqua attributa omnia
sunt in Deo realiter unum."51
He also says: "In Deo idem est esse et intelligere et velle." In like manner
the Reformed theologian Heidegger52
says: "Voluntas ab intellectu non differt, quia intelligendo vult et volendo
intelligit. Intelligere et velle ejus idemque perpetuus indivisus actus." This
does not mean simply that in an intelligent being, every act of the will is an
intelligent act. He knows while he wills, and knows what he wills. The meaning
is, that knowledge and power in God are identical. To know a thing is, and to
will it, are the same undivided and perpetual act. From this it would seem to
follow, that as God knows from eternity He creates from eternity; and that
"all He knows, is." We are thus led, by these speculations, into pantheistical
views of the nature of God and of his relation to the world.
This mode of representation is carried still further by
the modern philosophical theologians. With Schleiermacher, all the attributes
of God are virtually merged into the idea of causality. With him God is ens
summum prima causa.53He
says that God's thinking and willing are the same, and that his omnipotence
and omimiscience are identical. When we say that He is omnipotent, we only
mean that He is the cause of all that is. And when we say that He is
omniscient, we only mean that He is an intelligent cause. His power and
knowledge are limited to the actual. The possible is nothing; it is the object
neither of knowledge nor of power. "Gott," says Schleiermacher, "weiss Alles
was ist; und Alles ist, was Gott weiss und dieses beides ist nicht zweierlei
sondern einerlei, weil sein Wissen und sein allmachtiges Wollen eines und
dasselbe ist," i. e., God knows all that is, and all is that God knows.
God, therefore, is limited to the world, which is the phenomenon of which He
is the substance.
Another philosophical view of this subject, adopted
even by those who repudiate the pantheistic system and maintain that God and
the world are distinct, is, that as God is immanent in the world, there is in
Him no difference between self-consciousness and world-consciousness, as they
express it, i. e., between God's knowledge of Himself and his knowledge
of the world. They therefore define omniscience by saying, "Insofern Gott
gedacht wird als die Welt mit seinem Bewusstseyn umfassend, nennen wir ihn den
That is, "So far as we conceive of God as embracing the world in his
consciousness, we call him omniscient." Whatever such language may mean to
those who use it, to the ordinary mind it conveys the revolting idea that all
the sins of men enter into the consciousness of God.
The Doctrine of the Scriptures
on this Subject.
The Scriptural view of this subject, which
distinguishes the attributes in God as distinct, and assumes that knowledge in
Him, in its essential nature, is what knowledge is in us, does not conflict
with the unity and simplicity of God as a spiritual being. There is a sense in
which knowledge and power, intellect and will, may be said to be identical in
man. They are not different substances. They are different modes in which the
life or activity of the soul manifests itself. So in God when we conceive of
Him as a spirit, we do not think of Him as a compound being, but as
manifesting his infinite life and activity, in knowing, willing, and doing.
What, therefore, we must hold fast to, if we would hold fast to God, is, that
knowledge in God is knowledge, and not power or eternity; that it is what
knowledge is in us, not indeed in its modes and objects, but in its essential
nature. We must remove from our conceptions of the divine attributes all the
limitations and imperfections which belong to the corresponding attributes in
us; but we are not to destroy their nature. And in determining what is, and
what is not, consistent with the nature of God as an infinitely perfect being,
we are to be controlled by the teachings of the Scriptures, and by the
necessities (or laws) of our moral and religions nature, and not by our
speculative notions of the Infinite and Absolute. God, therefore, does and can
know in the ordinary and proper sense of that word. He is an ever present eye,
to which all things are perfectly revealed. "All things," says the Apostle,
"are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Heb. iv.
13.) "The darkness and the light are both alike" to Him. (Ps. cxxxix. 12.) "He
that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not
see?" (Ps. xciv. 9.) "O Lord thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest
my down-sitting and my up-rising, thou understandest my thought afar off."
(Ps. cxxxix. 1, 2.) "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the
evil and the good" (Prov. xv. 3.) "Hell and destruction are before the Lord:
how much more then the hearts of the children of men?" (Prov. xv. 11.) "Great
is our Lord and of great power: his understanding is infinite." (Ps. cxlvii.
5.) "O house of Israel I know the things that come into your mind, every one
of them." (Ezek. xi. 5.) "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning
of the world." (Acts. xv. 18.) "The very hairs of your head are all numbered."
(Matt. x. 30.)
This knowledge of God is not only all-comprehending,
but it is intutive and immutable. He knows all things as they are, being as
being, phenomena as phenomena, the possible as possible, the actual as actual,
the necessary as necessary, the free as free, the past as past, the present as
present, the future as future. Although all things are ever present in his
view, yet He sees them as successive in time. The vast procession of events,
thoughts, feelings, and acts, stands open to his view.
This infinite knowledge of God is not only clearly and
constantly asserted in Scripture, but is also obviously included in the idea
of an absolutely perfect being. Such a being cannot be ignorant of anything;
his knowledge can neither be increased nor diminished. The omniscience of God
follows also from his omnipresence. As God fills heaven and earth, all things
are transacted in his presence. He knows our thoughts far better than they are
known to ourselves. This plenitude of divine knowledge is taken for granted in
all acts of worship. We pray to a God who, we believe, knows our state and
wants, who hears what we say, and who is able to meet all our necessities.
Unless God were thus omniscient, He could not judge the world in
righteousness. Faith in this attribute in its integrity is, therefore,
essential even to natural religion.
B. The Objects of Divine
Various distinctions are made by theologians as to the
objects of the divine knowledge.
1. God is said to know Himself and all things out of
Himself. This is the foundation of the distinction between the scientia
necessarta and the scientia libera. God knows Himself by the
necessity of his nature; but as everything out of Himself depends for its
existence or occurrence upon his will, his knowledoe of each thing as an
actual occurrence is suspended on his will, and in that sense is free.
Creation not being necessary, it depended on the will of God whether the
universe as an object of knowledge should exist or not. This distinction is
not of much importance. And it is liable to the objection that it makes the
knowledge of God dependent. Being the cause of all things, God knows
everything by knowing Himself; all things possible, by the knowledge of his
power, and all things actual, by the knowledge of his own purposes.
2. This distinction between the possible and actual, is
the foundation of the distinction between the knowledge of simple intelligence
and the knowledge of vision. The former is founded on God's power, and the
latter upon his will. This only means that, in virtue of his omniscient
intelligence, He knows whatever infinite power can effect; and that from the
consciousness of his own purposes, He knows what He has determined to effect
or to permit to occur. This is a distinction which the modern philosophical
theologians ignore. Nothing, according to their philosophy is possible, but
the actual. All that can be, either is, or is to be. This follows from the
idea of God as mere cause. He produces all that can be; and there is in Him no
causality for what does not exist.
The Actual and the Possible.
It seems to be an inconsistency in those orthodox
theologians who deny the distinction in God between knowledge and power, to
admit, as they all do, the distinction between the actual and possible. For if
God creates by thinking or knowing, if in Him, as they say, intelligere et
facere idem est, then all he knows must be, and must be as soon as He
knows or thinks it, i. e., from eternity. If, however, we retain the
Scriptural idea of God as a spirit, who can do more than He does; if we
ascribe to Him what we know to be a perfection in ourselves, namely, that our
power exceeds our acts, that a faculty and the exercise of that faculty are
not identical, then we can understand how God can know the possible as well as
the actual. God is not limited to the universe, which of necessity is finite.
God has not exhausted Himself in determining to cause the present order of
things to be.
C. Scientia Media.
Intermediate between things possible and actual, some
theologians assume a third class of events, namely, the conditionally future.
They do not actually occur, but they would occur provided something else
should occur. Had Christ come a thousand years sooner than the date of his
actual advent, the whole history of the world would have been different. This
is a popular mode of regarding the concatenation of events. It is constantly
said, that if Cromwell had been permitted to leave England; or, if Napoleon
had failed to escape from Elba, the state of Europe would have been very
different from what it is at present. God, it is assumed, knows what would
have been the sequence of events on any or every possible hypothesis. It is
therefore said that there must be in God, besides the knowledge of simple
intelligence by which He knows the possible, and the knowledge of vision by
which He knows the actual, a scientia media, by which He knows the
conditionally future. Illustrations of this form of knowledge, it is thought,
are found in Scripture. In 1 Samuel xxiii. 11, it is said that David inquired
of the Lord whether the men of Keilah would deliver him, should he remain
among them, into the hands of Saul; and was answered that they would. Here, it
is argued, the event was not merely possible, but conditionally certain. If
David remained in Keilah, he certainly would have been delivered up. Thus our
Lord said, that if his mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, the
people of those cities would have repented. Here again is declared what would
have happened, if something else had happened.
The Origin of this Distinction.
This distinction was introduced into theology by the
Jesuit theologians Fonseca and Molina; by the latter in his work "De Concordia
Providentiae et Gratiae Divinae cum Libero Arbitrio Hominis." Their object was
to reconcile the foreordination of God with the freedom of man, and to explain
the reason why some, and not others, were elected to eternal life. God foresaw
who would repent and believe, if they received the knowledge of the Gospel and
the gift of the Spirit, and these He elected to salvation. This theory of a
scientia media was, for a like purpose, adopted by the Lutheran and
Remonstrant theologians, but was strenuously opposed by the Reformed or
Augustinians. (1.) Because all events are included under the categories of the
actual and possible; and, therefore, there is no room for such a class as
events conditionally future. It is only possible, and not certain, how men
would act under certain conditions, if their conduct be not predeterminmod,
either by the purpose of God, or by their own decision already formed.
Besides, it is the fundamental principle of the theologians who adopt this
theory, or at least of many of them, that a free act must from its nature be
uncertain as to its occurrence. A free agent, it is said, can always act
contrary to any amount of influence brought to bear upon him, consistent with
his free agency. But if free acts must be uncertain, they cannot be foreseen
as certain under any conditions. (2.) The futurition of events, according to
the Scriptures, depends on the foreordination of God, whc foreordains whatever
comes to pass. There is no certainty, therefore, which does not depend on the
divine purpose. (3.) The kind of knowledge which this theory supposes cannot
belong to God, because it is inferential. It is deduced from a consideration
of second causes and their influence, and therefore is inconsistent with the
perfection of God, whose knowledge is not discursive, but independent and
intuitive. (4.) This theory is inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine of
God's providential government, as it assumes that the free acts of men are not
under his control. (5.) It is contrary to the Scriptural doctrine, inasmuch as
it supposes that election to salvation depends on the foresight of faith and
repentance, whereas it depends on the good pleasure of God. (6.) The examples
quoted from the Bible do not prove that there is a scientia media in
God. The answer of God to David, about the men of Keilah, was simply a
revelation of the purpose which they had already formed. Our Lord's
declaration concerning Tyre and Sidon was only a figurative mode of stating
the fact that the men of his generation were more hardened than the
inhabitants of those ancient cities. It is not denied that God knows all
events in all possible combinationis and connections, but as nothing is
certain but what he ordains to effect or permit, there can be no class of
events conditionally future, and therefore there can be no scientia media.
By conditionally future is meant what is suspended on a condition
undetermined by God.
Among the objects of the divine kniowledge are the free
acts of men. The Scriptures abundantly teach that such acts are foreknown.
Such knowledge is involved in the prediction of events which either concern
the free acts of men, or are dependent on them. If God be ignorant of how free
agents will act, his knowledge must be limited, and it must be constantly
increasing, which is altogether inconsistent with the true idea of his nature.
His government of the world also, in that case, must be precarious, dependent,
as it would then be on the unforeseen conduct of men. The Church, therefore,
in obedience to the Scripuires, has, almost with one voice, professed faith in
God's foreknowledge of the free acts of his creatures.
The Socinians, however, and some of the Remonstrants,
unable to reconcile this foreknowledge with human liberty, deny that free acts
can be foreknown. As the omnipotence of God is his ability to do whatever is
possible, so his omniscience is his knowledge of everything knowable. But as
free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may or may not be, they
cannot be known before they occur. Such is the argument of Socinus. This whole
difficulty arises out of the assumption that contingency is essential to free
agency. If an act may be certain as to its occurrence, and yet free as to the
mode of its occurrence, the difficulty vanishes. That free acts may be
absolutely certain, is plain, because they have in a multitude of cases been
predicted. It was certain that the acts of Christ would be holy, yet they were
free. The continued holiness of the saints in heaven is certain, and yet they
are perfectly free. The foreknowledge of God is inconsistent with a false
theory of free agency, but not with the true doctrine on that subject.
After Augustine, the common way of meeting the
difficulty of reconciling foreknowledge with liberty, was to represent it as
merely subjective. The distinction between knowledge and foreknowledge is only
in us. There is no such difference in God. "Quid est praescientia," asks
Augustine, "nisi scientia futurorum? Quid autem futurum est Deo, qui omnia
supergreditur tempora? Si enim scientia Dei res ipsas habet, non sunt ei
futurae, sed praesentes, ac per hoc non jam praescientia, sed tantum scientia
E. The Wisdom of God.
Wisdom and knowledge are intimately related. The former
is manifested in the selection of proper ends, and of proper means for the
accomplishment of those ends. As there is abundant evidence of design in the
works of nature, so all the works of God declare his wisdom. They show, from
the most minute to the greatest, the most wonderful adaptation of means to
accomplish the high end of the good of his creatures and the manifestation of
his own glory. So also, in the whole course of history, we see evidence of the
controlling power of God making all things work together for the best
interests of his people, and the promotion of his kingdom upon earth. It is,
however, in the work of redemption that this divine attribute is specially
revealed. It is by the Church, that God has determined to manifest, through
all ages, to principalities and powers, his manifold wisdom.
Of course those who deny final causes deny that there
is any such attribute as wisdom in God. It is also said that the use of means
to attain an end is a manifestation of weakness. It is further urged that it
is derogatory to God, as it supposes that He needs or desires what He does not
possess. Even Schleiermacher says: "Bei Gott is Allwissenheit und Weisheit so
ganzlich einerlei, dass die Unterscheidung keinen Werth hat, die Weisheit ware
nichts als auch wider absolute Lebendigkeit der Allmacht, also Alwissenheit."
Wisdom is omniscience, omniscience is omnipotence, omnipotence is simply
causality of all that is. Thus God sinks into the mere cause or ground of all
things. It is not thus the Scriptures speak. We are called on to worship, "The
only wise God." "O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made
them all," is the devout exclamation of the Psalmist. (Ps. civ. 24.) And in
contemplation of the work of redemption the Apostle exclaims, "O the depth of
the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom. xi. 33.)
§9. The Will of God.
A. The Meaning of the Term.
If God is a spirit He must possess all the essential
attributes of a spirit. Those attributes, according to the classification
adopted by the older philosophers and theologians, fall under the heads of
intelligence and will. To the former, are referred knowledge and wisdom; to
the latter, the power of self-determination, efficiency (in the case of God,
omnipotence), and all moral attributes. In this wide sense of the word, the
will of God includes: (1.) The will in the narrow sense of the word. (2.) His
power. (3.) His love and all his moral perfections. In our day, generally but
not always, the word "will" is limited to the faculty of self-determination.
And even the older theologians in treating of the will of God treat only of
his decrees or purposes. In their definitions, however, they take the word in
its wide sense. Thus Calovius56
says, "Voluntas Dei est, qua Deus tendit in bonum ab intellectu cognitum." And
Quenstedt defines it as "ipsa Dei essentia cum, connotatione inclinationis ad
Turrettin says, the object of the intellect is the true; the object of the
will, the good. Hence it is said, that God wills Himself necessarily, and all
things out of Himself freely. Although the word seems to be taken in different
senses in the same sentence, God's willing Himself means that He takes
complacency in his own infinite excellence: his willing things out of Himself,
means his purpose that they should exist. Although the theologians start with
the wide definition of the word, yet in the prosecution of the subject they
regard the will as simply the faculty of self-determination, and the
determinations themselves. That is, the power to will, and volitions or
purposes. It is altogether better to confine the word to this its proper
meaning, and not make it include all the forms of feeling involving
approbation or delight.
God then as a spirit is a voluntary agent. We are
authorized to ascribe to Him the power of self-determination. This the Bible
everywhere does. From the beginning to the end, it speaks of the will of God,
of his decrees, purposes, counsels, and commands. The will is not only an
essential attribute of our spiritual being, but it is the necessary condition
of our personality. Without the power of rational self-determination we should
be as much a mere force as electricity, or magnetism, or the principle of
vegetable life. It is, therefore, to degrade God below the sphere of being
which we ourselves occupy, as rational creatures, to deny to Him the power of
self-determination; of acting or not acting, according to his own good
B. The Freedom of the Divine
The will of God is free in the highest sense of the
word. An agent is said to be free, (1.) When he is at liberty to act or not to
act, according to his good pleasure. This is liberty in acting. (2.) He is
free as to his volitions, when they are determined by his own sense of what is
wise, right, or desirable.
Freedom is more than spontaneity. The affections are
spontaneous, but are not free. Loving and hating, delighting in and abhorring,
do not depend upon the will.
God is free in acting, as in creating and preserving,
because these acts do not arise from the necessity of his nature. He was free
to create or not create; to continue the universe in existence or to cause it
to cease to be. He is free also in keeping his promises, because his purpose
so to do is determined by his own infinite goodness. It is indeed
inconceivable that God should violate his word. But this only proves that
moral certainty may be as inexorable as necessity.
C. The Decretive and Preceptive
Will of God.
The decretive will of God concerns his purposes, and
relates to the futurition of events. The preceptive will relates to the rule
of duty for his rational creatures. He decrees whatever he purposes to effect
or to permit. He prescribes, according to his own will, what his creatures
should do, or abstain from doing. The decretive and preceptive will of God can
never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what
He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He
permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. This is more scholastically
expressed by the theologians by saying, A positive decretive will cannot
consist with a negative preceptive will; i. e., God cannot decree to
make men sin. But a negative decretive will may consist with an affirmative
preceptive will; e. g., God may command men to repent and believe, and
yet, for wise reasons, abstain from giving them repentance.
The distinction between voluntas beneplaciti et
signi, as those terms are commonly used, is the same as that between the
deeretive and preceptive will of God. The one referring to his decrees,
founded on his good pleasure; the other to his commands, founded on what He
approves or disapproves.
By the secret will of God, is meant his purposes, as
still hidden in his own mind; by his revealed will, his precepts and his
purposes, as far as they are made known to his creatures.
D. Antecedent and Consequent
These terms, as used by Augustinians, have reference to
the relation of the decrees to each other. In the order of nature the end
precedes the means, and the purpose of the former is antecedent to the purpose
of the latter. Thus it is said, that God by an antecedent will, determined on
the manifestation of his glory; and by a consequent will, determined on the
creation of the world as a means to that end.
By Lutherans and Remonstrants these terms are used in a
very different sense. According to their views, God by an antecedent will
determined to save all men; but, foreseeing that all would not repent and
believe, by a subsequent will He determined to save those who he foresaw would
believe. That is, He first purposed one thing and then another.
E. Absolute and Conditional
These terms, when employed by Augustinians, have
reference not so much to the purposes of God, as to the events which are
decreed. The event, but not the purpose of God, is conditional. A maw reaps,
if he sows. He is saved, if he believes. His reaping and salvation are
conditional events. But the purpose of God is absolute. If He purposes that a
man shall reap, He purposes that he shall sow; if He purposes that he shall be
saved, He purposes that he shall believe. Anti-Augustinians, on the other
hand, regard the purposes of God as conditional. He purposes the salvation of
a man, if he believes. But whether he believes or not, is left undetermined;
so that the purpose of God is suspended on a condition not under his control,
or, at least, undecided. A father may purpose to give an estate to his son, if
he be obedient; but whether the son will fulfil the condition is undetermined,
and therefore the purpose of the father is undecided. It is, however,
manifestly inconsistent with the perfection of God, that He should first will
one thing and then another; nor can his purposes be dependent on the
uncertainty of human conduct or events. These are questions, however, which
belong to the consideration of the doctrine of decrees. They are mentioned
here because these distinctions occur in all discussions concerning the Divine
Will, with which the student of theology should be familiar.
In this place it is sufficient to remark, that the
Greek word qe,lw, and the corresponding English
verb, to will, sometimes express feeling, and sometimes a purpose. Thus
in Matt. xxvii. 48, the words eiv qe,lei auvto,nare
correctly rendered, "if he delight in him." Comp. Ps. xxii. 8. It is in this
sense the word is used, when it is said that God wills all men to be saved. He
cannot be said to purpose or determine upon any event which is not to come to
pass. A judge may will the happiness of a man whom he sentences to death. He
may will him not to suffer when he wills him to suffer. The infelicity in such
forms of expression is that the word "will" is used in different senses. In
one part of the sentence it means desire, and in the other purpose. It is
perfectly consistent, therefore, that God, as a benevolent Being, should
desire the happiness of all men, while he purposes to save only his own
F. The Will of God as the Ground
of Moral Obligation.
The question on this subject is, Whether things are
right or wrong, simply because God commands or forbids them? Or, does He
command or forbid them, because they are right or wrong for some other reason
than his will? According to some, the only reason that a thing is right, and
therefore obligatory, is, that it tends to promote the greatest happiness, or
the greatest good of the universe. According to others, a thing is right which
tends to promote our own happiness; and for that reason, and for that reason
alone, it is obligatory. If vice would make us happier than virtue, we should
be bound to be vicious. It is a more decorous mode of expressing substantially
the same theory, to say that the ground of moral obligation is a regard to the
dignity of our own nature. It makes little difference whether it be our own
dignity of our own happiness, which we are bound to regard. It is self, in
either case, to whom our whole allegiance is due. Others, again, place the
ground of moral obligation in the fitness of things, which they exalt above
God. There is, they affirm, an eternal and necessary difference between right
and wrong, to which God, it is said, is as much bound to be conformed as are
his rational creatures.
The common doctrine of Christians on this subject is,
that the will of God is the ultimate ground of moral obligation to all
rational creatures. No higher reason can be assigned why anything is right
than that God commands it. This means, (1.) That the divine will is the only
rule for deciding what is right and what is wrong. (2.) That his will is that
which binds us, or that to which we are bound to be conformed. By the word
"will" is not meant any arbitrary purpose, so that it were conceivable that
God should will right to be wrong, or wrong right. The will of God is the
expression or revelation of his nature, or is determined by it; so that his
will, as revealed, makes known to us what infinite wisdom and goodness demand.
Sometimes things are right simply because God has commanded them; as
circumcision, and other ritual institutions were to the Jews. Other things are
right because of the present constitution of things which God has ordained;
such as the duties relating to property, and the permanent relations of
society. Others, again, are right because they are demanded by the immutable
excellence of God. In all cases, however, so far as we are concerned, it is
his will that binds us, and constitutes the difference between right and
wrong; his will, that is, as the expression of his infinite perfection. So
that the ultimate foundation of moral obligation is the nature of God.
§10. The Power of God.
A. The Nature of Power, or, The
Origin of the Idea.
We get the idea of power from our own consciousness.
That is, we are conscious of the ability of producing effects. Power in man is
confined within very narrow limits. We can change the current of our thoughts,
or fix our attention on a particular object and we can move the voluntary
muscles of our body. Beyond this our direct power does not extend. It is from
this small measure of efficiency that all the stores of human knowledge and
all the wonders of human art are derived. It is only our thoughts, volitions,
and purposes, together with certain acts of the body, that are immediately
subject to the will. For all other effects we must avail ourselves of the use
of means. We cannot will a book, a picture, or a house into existence. The
production of such effects requires protracted labor and the use of diverse
It is by removing all the limitations of power, as it
exists in us, that we rise to the idea of the omnipotence of God. We do not
thus, however, lose the idea itself. Almighty power does not cease to be
power. We can do very little. God can do whatever He wills. We, beyond very
narrow limits, must use means to accomplish our ends. With God means are
unnecessary. He wills, and it is done. He said, Let there be light; and there
was light. He, by a volition created the heavens and the earth. At the
volition of Christ, the winds ceased, and there was a great calm. By an act of
the will He healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the
dead. This simple idea of the omnipotence of God, that He can do without
effort, and by a volition, whatever He wills, is the highest conceivable idea
of power, and is that which is clearly presented in the Scriptures. In Gen.
xvii. 1, it is said, "I am the Almighty God." The prophet Jeremiah exclaims,
"Ah Lord God! behold thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great
power, and stretched out arm; and there is nothing too hard for thee." (Jer.
xxxii. 17.) God is said to have created all things by the breath of his mouth,
and to uphold the universe by a word. Our Lord says, "With God all things are
possible." (Matt. xix. 26.) The Psalmist long before had said, "Our God is in
the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He pleased." (Ps. cxv. 3.) And again,
"Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the
seas, and all deep places." (Ps. cxxxv. 6.) The Lord God omnipotent reigneth,
and doeth his pleasure among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the
earth, is the tribute of adoration which the Scriptures everywhere render unto
God, and the truth which they everywhere present as the ground of confidence
to his people. This is all we know, and all we need to know on this subject:
and here we might rest satified, were it not for the vain attempts of
theologians to reconcile these simple and sublime truths of the Bible with
their philosophical speculations.
C. The Negation of Power.
The sensuous school of philosophers deny that there is
any real efficiency or power in existence. Their principle is, that all
knowledge is derived from the senses; and consequently, that, as we cannot
know anything of which the senses do not take cognizance, it is
unphilosophical or unreasonable to admit the existence of anything else. Our
senses, however, do not take cognizance of efficiency. It cannot be felt, or
seen, or heard, or tasted. Therefore it does not exist. A cause is not that to
which an effect is due, but simply that which uniformly precedes it. All we
can know, and all we can rationally believe, is the facts which affect our
senses, and the order of their sequence; which order, being uniform and
necessary, has the character of law. This is the doctrine of causation
proposed by Hume, Kant, Brown, Mill, and virtually by Sir William Hamilton;
and it is this principle which lies at the foundation of the Positive
Philosophy of Comte. Of course, if there be no such thing as power, there is
no such attribute in God as omnipotence.
It is sufficient to say, in this connection, in
reference to this theory, (1.) That it is contrary to every man's
consciousness. We are conscious of power, i. e., of the ability to
produce effects. And consciousness has the same authority, to say the least,
when it concerns what is within, as when it concerns what affects the senses.
We are not more certain that our hand moves, than we are that we have the
power to move, or not to move it, at pleasure. (2.) This theory contradicts
the intuitive and indestructible convictions of the human mind. No man
believes, or can believe really and permanently, that any change or effect can
occur without an efficient cause. The fact that one event follows another, is
not the ultimate fact. It is intuitively certain that there must be an
adequate reason for that sequence. Such is the universal judgment of mankind.
(3.) The argument, if valid against the reality of power, is valid against the
existence of substance, of mind, and of God. This is admitted by the
consistent advocates of the principle in question. Substance, mind, and God,
are as little under the cognizance of the senses as power; and, therefore, if
nothing is to be admitted but on the testimony of the senses, the existence of
substance, mind, and God, must be denied. This principle, therefore, cannot be
admitted without doing violence to our whole rational, moral, and religious
nature. In other words, it cannot be admitted at all; for men cannot,
permanently, either believe or act contrary to the laws of their nature.
D. Absolute Power.
By absolute power, as understood by the schoolmen and
some of the later philosophers, is meant power free from all the restraints of
reason and morality. According to this doctrine, contradictions, absurdities,
and immoralities, are all within the compass of the divine power. Nay, it is
said that God can annihilate Himself. On this subject Des Cartes says, Deus
"non voluit tres angulos trianguli aequales esse duobus rectis, quia cognovit
aliter fieri non posse. Sed contra . . . . quia voluit tres angulos trianguli
necessario aequales esse duobus rectis, idcirco jam hoc verum est, et fieri
aliter non potest, atque ita de reliquis."58
This "summa indifferentia," he says, "in Deo, summum est ejus omnipotentiae
It is, however, involved in the very idea of power,
that it has reference to the production of possible effects. It is no more a
limitation of power that it cannot effect the impossible, than it is of reason
that it cannot comprehend the absurd, or of infinite goodness that it cannot
do wrong. It is contrary to its nature. Instead of exalting, it degrades God,
to suppose that He can be other than He is, or that He can act contrary to
infinite wisdom and love. When, therefore, it is said that God is omnipotent
because He can do whatever He wills, it is to be remembered that his will is
determined by his nature. It is certainly no limitation to perfection to say
that it cannot be imperfect.
In this view of the omnipotence of God, the great body
of the theologians, especially among the Reformed, agree. Thus Zwingle60
says: "Summa potentia non est nisi omnia possit, quantum ad legitimum posse
attinet: nam malum facere aut se ipsum deponere aut in se converti hostiliter
aut sibi ipsi contrarium esse posse impotentia est, non potentia." Musculus,61
"Deus omnipotens, quia potest quae vult, quaeque ejus veritati, justitiae
"Absolute possibilia sunt, quae nec Dei naturae, nec aliarum rerum extra Deum
essentiae contradicunt." This scholastic doctrine of absolute power Calvin63
stigmatizes as profane, "quod . . . merito detestabile nobis esse debet."
Potentia Absoluta and Potentia
There is a sense of the terms in which absolute power
is generally recognized among theologians. A distinction is commonly made
between the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinata of God.
By the latter is meant the efficiency of God, as exercised uniformly in the
ordered operation of second causes; by the former, his efficiency, as
exercised without the intervention of second causes. Creation, miracles,
immediate revelation, inspiration, and regeneration, are to be referred to the
potentia absoluta of God; all his works of providence to his
potentia ordinata. This distinction is important, as it draws the line
between the natural and supernatural, between what is due to the operation of
natural causes, sustained and guided by the providential efficiency of God,
and what is due to the immediate exercise of his power. This distinction,
indeed, is rejected by the modern philosophy. God in creating and sustaining
the world, does it as a whole. Nothing is isolated. There is no individual
act, but only a general efficiency on the part of God; and, consequently, no
particular event can be referred to his absolute power or immediate agency.
Everything is natural. There can be no miracle, and no special providence.64
E. Confounding Will and Power.
Another perversion of the Scriptural doctrine on this
subject is, that which denies any distinction between will and power, or
faculty and act, in God. It is said that it is unphilosophical to say that God
can do anything. We use the word "can" only in reference to difficulty to be
overcome. When nothing stands in the way, when all opposition is precluded,
then we no longer say, we can. It is, therefore, inconsistent with the nature
of an absolute Being to say that He is able to do this or that.65
It is further denied that willing can be ascribed to God, if any
difference be assumed between willing and doing. The ordinary definition of
omnipotence, Potest quod vult, is to be rejected. It is admitted, that
the distinction between will and power is unavoidable, if we determine the
nature of God from the analogy of our constitution. As will and power are
distinct in us, we are disposed to think they are distinct in Him. But this
method of determining the attributes of God heads to the destruction of the
true idea of an absolute being. In such a being, no such distinction can be
admitted; and therefore, in relation to God there can be no distinction
between the actual and the possible. Nothing is possible but the actual; and
all that is possible becomes actual. Strauss66
says, after Schleiermacher,67
that by the omnipotence of God is to be understood "not only that all that is
has its causality in God, but that everything is and occurs for which any
causality in God exists." Bruch68
says, that by the omnipotence of God is meant nothing more than that He is the
original ground and cause of all things. He quotes Nitsch69
as saying, that "The idea of omnipotence is the repetition and application of
the idea of God as creator of heaven and earth." Nitsch, however, does not
understand the passage in the sense put upon it; for he adds, in his note
commenting on the dictum of Abelard, "Deus non potest facere aliquid praeter
ea quae facit," that, if this means that the actual exhausts the resources of
God, it is to be rejected. The words of Abelard, nevertheless, correctly
express the doctrine of the modern German school of theologians on this
subject. Schleiermacher's language on this point is explicit and
comprehensive. "Alles ist ganz durch die gottliche Allmacht und ganz durch den
Naturzusammenhang, nicht aber darf die erstere als Erganzung der letztern
angesehen werden. Die Gesammtheit des endlichen Seins ist als vollkommene
Darstellung der Allmacht zu denken, so dass alles wirklich ist und geschieht,
wozu eine Productivitat in Gott ist. Damit fallt weg die Differenz des
Wirklichen und Moglichen, des absoluten und hypothetischen. Wollens oder
Konnens Gottes; denn dies fuhrt auf einen wirksamen und unwirksamen Willen und
letzterer kann bei Gott unmoglich statt finden; so wenig als Konnen und Wollen
getrennt sein konnen." That is, "Everything is entirely through the divine
omnipotence, and everything is through the course of nature. The former,
however, must not be regarded as supplementary to the latter. The aggregate of
finite things is the complete revelation of God's omnipotence, so that
everything is and occurs for which there is a productivity in God. Thus the
difference between the actual and the possible, between the absolute and
hypothetical willing and power of God, disappears, because this implies an
operative and inoperative will, but the latter is impossible in God; just as
little as willing and power can be separated."70
This passage is quoted by Schweizer,71
who adopts the views which it presents.
This Doctrine Destroys our
Knowledge of God.
In reference to this doctrine, it may be remarked, --
1. That it utterly confounds all our ideas of God. It
renders all knowledge of Him impossible. If will and power are identical, then
those words lose for us their meaning. We cannot know what God is, if this
doctrine be true; and if we know not what He is, we cannot rationally worship,
love, or trust Him.
2. The doctrine effectually destroys the personality of
God. A person is a self-conscious, self-determining being. But in denying will
to God, self-determination, and consequently personality, is denied to Him.
This consequence is admitted by the advocates of this doctrine. "If in God,"
says Strauss, "willing and power are identical, then there can be no freedom
of the will in God, in the sense of the Church theologians, who hold that it
was possible for God not to create the world, or to have created it other than
it is. If there be no ability in God to do what He does not do, there can be
no freedom of will or power of choice." "Mit diesem Konnen fallt auch die
Freiheit im Sinne eines Wahlvermogens hinweg."72
This, however, it is said, is not the doctrine of fate; for fate supposes an
ab extra necessity to which God is subject. If it does not teach fate,
it at least teaches inexorable necessity. Spinoza says, "Ea res libera dicetur,
quae ex sola suae naturae necessitate existit et a se sola ad agendum
determinatur. Necessaria autem, vel potius coacta quae ab alio determinatur ad
existendum et operandum certa ac determinata ratione."73
"Deum nullo modo fato subjicio, sed omnia inevitabili necessitate ex Dei
natura sequi concipio." In this sense the sun is free in shining. It shines
from the necessity of its nature. We think from a like necessity; but we can
think of one thing or another, changing the current of our thoughts at
pleasure. And thus we are free in exercising the power of thought. This
freedom is denied to God. He can think only in one way. And all his thoughts
are creative. He does, therefore, what He does, from a necessity of his
nature, and does all He is able to do. God, according to this doctrine, is not
a personal Being.
3. The Scriptures constantly represent God as able to
do whatever He wills. They recognize the distinction between the actual and
the possible; between ability and act; between what God does, and what He is
able to do. With Him all things are possible. He is able of stones to raise up
children unto Abraham.. He can send me, says our Lord, twelve legions of
4. As this is the doctrine of the Bible, it is the
instinctive judgment of the human mind. It is a perfection in us, that we can
do far more than we actually accomplish. With us the actual is not the measure
of the possible.
5. It is, therefore, a limitation of God, a denial of
his omnipotence, to say that He can do only what He actually brings to pass.
There is infinitely more in God than simple causality of the actual.
It is consequently an erroneous definition of
omnipotence to call it All-power, meaning thereby that all the efficiency in
the universe is the efficiency of God; which is not only a pantheistic
doctrine, but it makes the finite the measure of the infinite.
§ 11. Holiness
This is a general term for the moral excellence of God.
In I Sam. ii. 2, it is said, "There is none holy as the LORD;" no other Being
absolutely pure, and free from all limitation in his moral perfection. "Thou
Holy One of Israel," is the form of address which the Spirit puts into the
lips of the people of God. "Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy
hill; for the LORD our God is Holy." (Ps. xcix. 9.) "Holy and reverend is his
name." (Ps. cxi. 9.) "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst
not look on iniquity." (Hab. i. 13.) "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and
glorify thy name? for Thou only art Holy." (Rev. xv. 4.) Holiness, on the one
hand, implies entire freedom from moral evil; and, upon the other, absolute
moral perfection. Freedom from impurity is the primary idea of the word. To
sanctify is to cleanse; to be holy, is to be clean. Infinite purity, even more
than infinite knowledge or infinite power, is the object of reverence. Hence
the Hebrew word vAdq', as used in Scripture, is
often equivalent to venerandus. "The Holy One of Israel," is He who is
to be feared and adored. Seraphim round about the throne who cry day and
night, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, give expression to the feelings
of all unfallen rational creatures in view of the infinite purity of God. They
are the representatives of the whole universe, in offering this perpetual
homage to the divine holiness. It is because of his holiness, that God is a
consuming fire. And it was a view of his holiness which led the prophet to
exclaim, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and
I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the
king, the LORD of hosts." (Is. vi. 5.)
It is in their application to the moral attributes of
God, that the two methods of determining his nature come most directly into
conflict. If we allow ourselves to be determined in answering the question,
What is God? by the teachings of his Word, and the constitution of our own
nature; if we refer to Him, in an infinite degree, every good we find in
ourselves, then we can have no hesitation in believing that He is holy, just,
and good. But if the philosophical notion of the absolute and infinite is to
decide every question concerning the divine nature, then we must give up all
confidence in our apprehensions of God, as an object of knowledge. This
Strauss, the most candid of the recent philosophical theologians, frankly
admits. He says: "The ideas of the absolute and of the holy are incompatible.
He who holds to the former must give up the latter, since holiness implies
relation; and, on the other hand, he who holds fast the idea of God as holy,
must renounce the idea of his being absolute; for the idea of absolute is
inconsistent with the slightest possibility of its being other than it is. The
impossibility of referring moral attributes to God had been admitted by some
of the fathers of the Church."75
The Reasons urged for denying
Moral Attributes to God.
The grounds on which it is denied that moral attributes
can be predicated of God, are such as these : --
1. To assume that God can delight in good, and hate
evil, takes for granted that He is susceptible of impression ab extra,
which is inconsistent with his nature.
2. It is said that moral excellence implies subjection
to a moral law. But an absolute and infinite Being cannot be thus
subject to law. It is true that God is not subject to any law out of Himself.
He is exlex, absolutely independent. He is a law unto Himself. The
conformity of his will to reason is no subjection. It is only the harmony of
his nature. God's being holy, implies nothing more than that He is not in
conflict with Himself. On this point even the rationalistic theologian
Wegscheider says: "Minime Deus cogitandus est tanquam pendens ex lege ethics
vol eidem subjectus tanquam potestati cuidam alienae, sed Deus sanctus ipsa ea
lex est, natura quidam hypostatica indutus."76
3. It is said that moral excellence must be free. A
moral agent, to be holy, must voluntarily do right. But this implies that he
is able to do wrong. There must, therefore, be at least a metaphysical
possibility of God's being evil, or He cannot be good. But all possibility of
the Absolute being other than it is, is inconsistent with its nature. To this
it may be answered that the ideas of liberty and necessity are indeed
antagonistic; but that liberty and absolute certainty are perfectly
compatible. That an infinitely wise Being will not act irrationally, is as
absolutely certain as that the self-contradictory cannot be true. The one is
as inconceivable as the other. It is just as impossible that an infinitely
holy Being should be unholy as that light should be darkness. The
impossibility, however, is of a different kind. The former is what Augustine
calls the felix necessitas boni, which is the highest idea of freedom.
4. Strauss says that those who attribute moral
perfections to God, forget that a purely spiritual Being can have nothing of
what we call reason, wisdom, goodness, wrath, righteousness, etc. "Strictly
speaking," he adds "the ascription of moral attributes to God supposes that He
is material; and the most abstract theological ideas on the subject are really
founded on Materialism." This is founded on the assumption that spirit is
impersonal, a generic force, which becomes individual and personal only by
union with a material organization, just as the Realists define man to be
generic humanity, individualized and rendered personal by union with a given
It is surely most unreasonable to sacrifice to such
speculations all religion, and all confidence in the intuitive judgments of
the human mind, as well as all faith in God and in the Bible.
It is scarcely less destructive of the true doctrine,
to define holiness in God as the causality of conscience in us. That we are
moral beings is not admitted to be a proof that God has moral attributes. That
the sun produces cheerfulness in us is no proof that the sun is cheerful. But
if we know nothing of God except that He is the cause of all things, He is to
us only an inscrutable force, and not a Father, and not a God.
§ 12. Justice.
A. Meaning of the Word.
The word justice, or righteousness, is used in
Scripture sometimes in a wider and sometimes in a more restricted sense. In
theology, it is often distinguished as justitia interna, or moral
excellence, and justitia externa, or rectitude of conduct. In Hebrew
qyDic; means, in a physical sense, straight;
and in a moral sense, right, what is as it should be. And
hq'd'c. means rightness, that which satisfies the
demands of rectitude or law. The Greek word di,kaioj
has the physical sense of equal; and the moral sense of, conformed to
what is right; and dikaiosu,nhis either that which
divides equally, i. e., equity in the moral sense, or that which
satisfies the demands of right. The Latin justus and justitia
are commonly used in the wide sense for what is right, or as it should be.
defines justitia as "animi affectio suum cuique tribuens." This
definition he elsewhere amplifies, saying: "Justitia erga Deos religio, erga
parentas pietas, creditis in rebus fides, in moderatione animadvertendi
lenitas, amicitia in benevolentia nominatur."78
When we regard God as the author of our moral nature,
we conceive of Him as holy; when we regard Him in his dealings with his
rational creatures, we conceive of Him as righteous. He is a righteous ruler;
all his laws are holy, just, and good. In his moral government He faithfully
adheres to those laws. He is impartial and uniform in their execution. As a
judge he renders unto every man according to his works. He neither condemns
the innocent, nor clears the guilty; neither does He ever punish with undue
severity. Hence the justice of God is distinguished as rectoral, or
that which is concerned in the imposition of righteous laws and in their
impartial execution; and distributive, or that which is manifested in
the righteous distribution of rewards and punishment. The Bible constantly
represents God as a righteous ruler and a just judge. These two aspects of his
character, or of our relation to Him, are not carefully distinguished. We have
the assurance which runs through the Scriptures, that "The judge of all the
earth" must "do right." (Gen. xviii. 25.) "God is a righteous judge." (Ps.
vii. 11, marginal reading.) "He shall judge the world with righteousness."
(Ps. xcvi. 13.) "Clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and
judgment are the habitation of hs throne." (Ps. xcvii. 2.) Notwithstanding all
the apparent inequalities in the distribution of his favours; notwithstanding
the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous, the
conviction is everywhere expressed that God is just; that somehow and
somewhere He will vindicate his dealings with men, and show that He is
righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works.
B. Justice in its Relation to
As the sense of guilt is universal among men, and as
the manifestations of sin are so constant and pervading, it is mainly in its
relation to sin that the justice of God is revealed. Hence many theologians
define the justice of God as that attribute of his nature which is manifested
in the punishment of sin. Goodness, it is said, is manifested in bestowing
good, and justice in the infliction of punishment. Schleiermacher says,
"Justice is that causality in God which connects suffering with actual sin."79
Schweizer says, "We know God as just only through the punishment of sin."
Hegel says, "The manifestation of the nothingness of the finite as power, is
justice." This is the philosophical, statement of the principle that "Might is
Right," a principle which underlies the morals and religion of the modern
C. The Reformation of the
Offender is not the Primary Object of Punishment.
As the justice of God is specially manifested in the
punishment of sin, it is of primary importance to determine why sin is
One prevalent theory on this subject is, that the only
legitimate end of punishment is the reformation of the offender.
It is of course to be admitted, that the good of the
offender is often the ground or reason why evil is inflicted. A father
chastises a child in love, and for its good. And God, our heavenly Father,
brings suffering upon his children for their edification. But evil inflicted
for the benefit of the sufferer, is chastisement, and not punishment.
Punishment, properly speaking, is evil inflicted in satisfaction of justice.
That the good of the sufferer is not the primary end of
the infliction of punishment, is proved : --
1. Because the punishment of the wicked is always, in
the Scriptures, referred to the anger of God, and the chastisement of his
people to his love. The cases, therefore, are not analogous. This difference
of representation is designed to teach us that the wicked and the good do not
stand in the same relation to God, as objects of benevolence; but that the one
He punishes to testify his disapprobation and satisfy his justice, and the
other He chastises to bring them nearer to Himself.
2. In many cases the nature of the punishment precludes
the possibility of the good of the offender being the ground of its
infliction. The deluge, the destruction of the cities of the plain, and the
overthrow of Jerusalem, were certainly not designed for the benefit of the men
who suffered from those desolating inflictions. Much less can it be assumed
that the punishment of the fallen angels, and of the finally impenitent, is
intended to be reformatory.
3. Scripture and experience both teach that suffering,
when of the nature of punishment, has no tendency to reform. When suffering is
seen to come from a father's hand, and to be a manifestation of love, it has a
sanctifying power; but when it comes from the hand of God, as a judge and an
avenger, and is the expression of displeasure and a proof of our alienation
from God, its tendency is to harden and to exasperate. Hence the Apostle says,
that so long as men are under condemnation, they bring forth fruit unto sin;
and that, only when reconciled to God and assured of his love, do they bring
forth fruit unto God. The great New Testament prophet, in his vision of the
world of woe, represents the lost as gnawing their tongues with pain and
blaspheming God. The denunciation of punishment is addressed to fear, but fear
is not the principle of genuine obedience.
4. On this subject, appeal may be fairly made to the
common consciousness of men. Such is our moral hebetude that it is only
glaring offences which awaken our moral sensibilities, and reveal their true
nature. When any great crime is committed, there is an instinctive and
universal demand for the punishment of the criminal. No man can pretend that
the desire for his reformation is the feeling which prompts that demand. That
is not so much as thought of. It is the instinctive judgment of the mind that
he ought to suffer. It is not benevolence towards him which calls for the
infliction of punishment.
D. The Prevention of Crime is
not the Primary End of Punishment.
The doctrine that the only legitimate end of punishment
is the prevention of crime, has had great prevalence in the Church and the
world. It is the common doctrine of jurists. It is, of course, to be conceded
that the good of society and of the moral government of God, is one important
end of punishment in all governments, human or divine. It is, however, rather
an important collateral effect of the administration of justice, than its
immediate design. The doctrine in question merges justice into benevolence.
According to this way of thinking, it is only because God has a view to the
happiness of his rational creatures, that He visits sin within punishment.
This doctrine was adopted by some of the early fathers. In answer to the
objection that the Bible represented God as a vindictive being, because it
speaks of his anger and of his determination to punish, they said that He
punished only out of benevolence. Thus Clemens Alexandrinus80
says, "Men ask how God can be good and kind if He is angry and punishes? They
should remember that punishment is for the good of the offender and for the
prevention of evil." And Tertullian81
says: "Omne hoc justitiae opus procuratio bonitatis est." Origen,82
also to the same effect, says: "Ex quibus omnibus constat, unum eundemque esse
justum et bonum legis et evangeliorum Deum, et benefacere cum justitia et cum
Many later theologians take the same view. Leibnitz
defines justice to be benevolence guided by wisdom. Wolf, who modified the
whole system of theology in accordance with the philosophy of Leibnitz,
adopted the same view. So did Stapfer,83
who says: "Quando Deus ejusmodi malum triste ex peccato necessario se quens
creaturae accidere sinit, . . . dicitur peccatorem punire, et hoc seusu ipsi
tribuitur justitia vindicativa. In justitia punitiva bonitas cum sapientia
Notio justititae resolvitur in notionem sapientiae et bonitatis." Grotius, the
jurist, makes this idea of justice the fundamental principle of his great
work, "De Satisfactione Christi."
The Optimist Theory.
In this country the same view has been extensively
adopted, and made, as it must of necessity be, the controlling principle of
those systems of theology in which it is incorporated. It is assumed that
happiness is the greatest good; and hence that the purpose and desire to
promote happiness is the sum of all virtue. From this it follows, that this
world, the work of a God of infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, must be
the best possible world for the production of happiness; and, therefore, the
permission of sin, and its punishment, must be referred to the benevolence of
God. They are the necessary means for securing the greatest amount of
happiness. If happiness be not the greatest good; if holiness be a higher end
than happiness; if expediency be not the ground and measure of moral
obligation, it is obvious that this whole structure collapses.
Proof of the Scriptural
It is admitted that happiness is promoted by justice,
and therefore that it is contrary to a wise benevolence that men should be
allowed to sin with impunity. But justice cannot properly be merged into
benevolence. And that the promotion of happiness by the prevention of crime is
not the primary end of the infliction of punishment, is evident, --
1. From the testimony of every man's consciousness.
Every man knows that benevolence and justice, as revealed in his own
consciousness, are different sentiments. The one prompts to the promotion of
happiness, the other involves the instinctive judgment, that a criminal ought
to suffer for his crime. We do not stop to ask, or to think, what may be the
collateral effect on others of the infliction of punishment. Anterior to such
reflection, and independent of it, is the intuitive perception, that sin
should be punished, for its own sake, or on account of its inherent
ill-desert. These instinctive moral judgments are as clear and as trustworthy
revelations of the nature of God as can possibly be made. They force
conviction in spite of all speculative sophistries. Every man knows the
righteous judgment of God, that those who sin are worthy of death. If justice
and benevolence are distinct in us, they are distinct in God. If we, in
obedience to the nature which He has given us, intuitively perceive or judge
that sin ought to be punished for its own sake, and irrespective of the good
effect punishment may have on others, then such also is the judgment of God.
This is the principle which underlies and determines all our ideas of the
Supreme Being. If moral perfection be not in Him what it is in us, then He is
to us an unknown something, and we use words without meaning when we speak of
Him as holy, just, and good.
Argument from the Religious
Experience of Believers.
2. This sense of justice, which is indestructible in
the nature of man, and which, in common with reason and conscience, has
survived the Fall, is not only revealed in the ordinary experience of men, but
still more distinctly in their religious consciousness. What is commonly
called "conviction of sin," is only a modification, and higher form, of those
inward experiences which are common to all men. All men know that they are
sinners. They all know that sin, as related to the justice of God, is guilt,
that which ought to be punished; and that, as related to his holiness, it
renders us polluted and offensive in his sight. They also know, intuitively,
that God is just as well as holy; and, therefore, that his moral perfection
calls for the punishment of sin, by the same necessity by which He disapproves
of and hates it. Under the pressure of these convictions, and the
consciousness of their utter inability either to satisfy divine justice, or to
free themselves from the defilement and power of sin, men either tremble in
the constant looking for of judgment, or they look out of themselves for help.
When, under either the common or saving operations of the Spirit of God, these
sentiments are deepened, then their nature is more clearly revealed. A man,
when thus convinced of sin, sees that not only would it be right that he
should be punished, but that the justice, or moral excellence of God, demands
his punishment. It is not that he ought to suffer for the good of others, or
to sustain the moral government of God, but that he, as a sinner and for his
sins sought to suffer. Were he the only creature in the universe, this
conviction would be the same, both in nature and degree. Such is the
experience of men under the conviction of sin, as recorded in the Scriptures
and in the history of the Church. In many cases criminals under the pressure
of these feelings have delivered themselves to the officers of justice to be
punished. More frequently they resort to self-inflicted tortures to satisfy
the clamors of conscience. We have, therefore, an inward revelation, which can
neither be suppressed nor perverted, that justice is not benevolence.
The Sense of Justice not due to
3. That this sense of justice is not due to Christian
culture, or to the influence of peculiar forms of doctrine, but belongs to the
common consciousness of men, is plain. (a.) Because it is impressed
upon all human languages as far as known or cultivated. All languages have
different words for justice and benevolence. There could not be this
difference in the words, if the sentimenti themselves were not different.
Every one knows that when we say a man is just, we mean one thing; and when we
say he is benevolent, we mean another thing. (b.) All history as it
records the workings of human nature, reveals this innate sense of justice. We
everywhere hear men calling for the punishment of offenders, or denouncing
those who allow them to escape with impunity. No mass of men ever witness a
flagrant act of cruelty or wrong without an irrepressible manifestation of
indignation. The voice of nature, which in such cases is the voice of God,
demands the punishment of the wrong-doer. (c.) In all religions which
reveal the inward convictions of men, there are expiatory rites. Every
sacrifice for sin, the smoke from every altar, which has been going up through
all ages and from every part of the world, are so many attestations to the
truth of reason and of Scripture, that there is such an attribute as justice
in God, distinct from his benevolence.
Argument from the Holiness of
4. The truth of this doctrine may also be inferred from
the holiness of God. If He is infinitely pure, his nature must be opposed to
all sin; and as his acts are determined by his nature, his disapprobation of
sin must manifest itself in his acts. But the disfavour of God, the
manifestation of his disapprobation, is death, as his favour is life. It
cannot be that this essential opposition between holiness and sin should be
dependent for its manifestation on the mere ab extra consideration that
evil would result from sin being allowed to go unpunished. It might as well be
said that we should feel no aversion to pain, unless aware that it weakened
our constitution. We do not approve of holiness simply because it tends to
produce happiness; neither do we disapprove of sin simply because it tends to
produce misery. It is inevitable, therefore, that the perfection of the
infinitely holy God should manifest its opposition to sin, without waiting to
judge of the consequences of the expression of this divine repugnance.
5. The doctrine that the prevention of crime is the
only legitimate end of punishment, or that there is no such attribute in God
as justice, as distinguished from benevolence, rests on the assumption, before
remarked upon, that all virtue consists in benevolence; which again rests on
the assumption that happiness is the highest good; which makes expediency the
ground of moral obligation, and the rule of moral conduct. It is indeed a
solecism to use the word moral in such connections, for, on this
theory, the word has no meaning. A thing may be wise or unwise, expedient or
inexpedient, but in no other sense right or wrong. Wrong becomes right, and
right becomes wrong, as the greater amount of happiness flows from the one or
from the other. As this utilitarian theory of morals has been banished from
the schools of philosophy, it should be banished from systems of theology.
Argument from the Connection
between Sin and Misery.
6. The inseparable connection between sin and misery is
a revelation of the justice of God. That holiness promotes happiness is a
revelation of the relation in which God stands to holiness; and that sin
produces misery is no less a revelation of the relation in which He stands to
moral evil. This constitution of things depending on the nature and will of
God, proves that sin is evil in its own nature, and is punished for its own
sake. The law of God which includes a penalty as well as precepts, is in both
a revelation of the nature of God. If the precepts manifest his holiness, the
penalty as clearly manifests his justice. If the one is immutable, so also is
the other. The wages of sin is death. Death is what is due to it in justice,
and what without injustice cannot be withheld from it. If the prevention of
crime were the primary end of punishment, then if the punishment of the
innocent, the execution, for example, of the wife and children of a murderer,
would have a greater restraining influence than the punishment of the guilty
murderer, their execution would be just. But this would shock the mural sense
Argument from the Scriptural
Doctrines of Satisfaction and Justification.
7. The Scriptural doctrines of satisfaction and
justification rest on the principle that God is immutably just, i. e.,
that his moral excellence, in the case of sin, demands punishment, or
expiation. The Bible clearly teaches the necessity of satisfaction to justice
in order to the forgiveness of sin. Christ was set forth as a propitiation, in
order that God might be just in justifying the ungodly. This assumes that it
would be unjust, i. e., contrary to moral rectitude, to pardon the
guilty without such a propitiation. This necessity for a satisfaction is never
referred to expediency or to governmental considerations. If sin could have
been pardoned, without a satisfaction. the Apostle says, Christ is dead in
vain. (Gal. ii. 21.) If there could have been a law which could have given
life, salvation would have been by the law (Gal. iii. 21.)
Moreover, if there is no such attribute in God as
justice, as distinguished from benevolence, then there can be no such thing as
justification. There may be pardon, as the act of a sovereign remitting a
penalty and restoring an offender to favour; but no such thing as
justification, as an act of a judge proceeding according to law and
pronouncing the demands of justice satisfied. The Scriptures, however,
according to the almost unanimous judgment of the Church, pronounce that
justification is more than an act of executive clemency. Conscience is not
satisfied with mere forgiveness. It is essential to peace with God, that the
soul should see that justice is satisfied. This is the reason why the death of
Christ, why his blood, is so inexpressibly precious in the eyes of his people.
All the experience of the saints is a protest against the principle that
expiation is unnecessary, that sin can be pardoned without a satisfiction of
The whole argument of the Apostle in his Epistle to the
Romans is founded on the principle that justice is a divine attribute distinct
from benevolence. His argument is: God is just. All men are sinners. All,
therefore, are guilty, i. e., under condemnation. Therefore no man can
be justified, i. e., pronounced not guilty, on the ground of his
character or conduct. Sinners cannot satisfy justice. But what they could not
do, Christ, the Eternal Son of God, clothed in our nature, has done for them.
He has brought in everlasting righteousness, which meets all the demands of
the law. All those who renounce their own righteousness, and trust to the
righteousness of Christ, God justifies and saves. This is the gospel as
preached by Paul. It all rests on the assumption that God is just.
The doctrine of the vindicatory justice, which has this
clear evidence of its truth, in the moral nature of man, in the religious
experience of believers, and in the teaching and doctrines of the Scriptures,
has ever been considered as a turning point in theology.
E. Philosophical Views of the
Nature of Justice.
The teachings of the Scriptures, and the faith of the
Church, so far as the divine attributes are concerned, are founded on the
assumption that God is a personal Being. It is involved in that assumption,
not only that He possesses intelligence and moral character, but that he
thinks, feels, wills, and acts. It is, moreover, involved in the idea of
personality, that thinking, feeling, willing, and acting in God, are, in all
that is essential, analogous to what those terms signify in us. The modern
philosophy, however, teaches that, if God be an absolute Being, thinking,
feeling, willing, and acting are inconsistent with his nature. Hence, --
1. Some teach that God is only the original ground of
beings having in Himself no distinctive attributes. What we call the
attributes of God are only the attributes of finite creatures having the
ground of their being in God. That they are intelligent, moral, voluntary
agents, is no proof that the same is true of God. That the sun produces the
sensation of heat in us is no proof that it experiences the same sensation.
The attributes of God, therefore, are only different aspects of the causality
in Him which produces different effects. Justice, then, is not an attribute of
God; it is only the causality to which the connection between sin and
suffering is to be referred.
2. Others, while insisting that personality, and all
that it involves, are incompatible with the idea of an absolute Being, still
maintain that we are constrained, and bound, to believe in the personality of
God, on the authority of the Bible and of our own moral nature. But the Bible
reveals, it is said, not absolute, but only regulative truth; not what He is,
but what it is expedient for us to think He is. Justice in God, then, is for
us what generosity in a fairy is for nursery children.
3. Others again, while they admit personality in God,
make it a personality which precludes all willing, and all acting, except in
the form of law, or general, uniform efficiency. Justice in God, therefore, is
only a name for one form, or one mode, of the manifestation of the power of
God. As it is to be referred to his ordination, or to his nature, that fire
burns and acids corrode, so it is to be referred to his general efficiency
that sin produces misery. There is no special intervention of God, when fire
burns; and there is no special decision, or judgment on his part, when a
sinner is punished. Punishment is not the execution of a sentence pronounced
by an intelligent being on the merits of the case, but the operation of a
general law. Bruch (Professor of Theology in the Theological Seminary in
Strasbourg) is a representative of this mode of thinking. He professes Theism,
or faith in a personal God, but he teaches that the attributes of God are
nothing else (als die Modalitaten seiner ewigen Wirksamkeit) "than the modes
if his constant efficiency." Since among men justice is exercised in a
succession of special acts, it is erroneously inferred that there is a like
succession of acts of the will of God by which He approves or condemns. The
great difficulty, he says, arises from judging of God after the analogy of our
own nature. He admits that the Bible does this; that it constantly speaks of
God as a righteous judge, administering justice according to his will. In this
case, however, he adds, it is important to separate the real truth from the
imperfection of its Scriptural form. Penalties are not evils inflicted by a
special act of the divine will, but the natural consequences of sin, which
cannot fail to manifest themselves. There is an organic connection between sin
and evil. All the activity or agency of God is in the form of laws having
their foundation in his nature. Thus justice is simply that law, or uniform
mode of divine operation, by which sin is made its own punishment.85
Hence there is no distinction between natural and positive inflictions; the
deluge was either no punishment, or it was the natural consequence of the sins
of the antediluvians. Hence, there is no such thing as forgiveness. The only
possible way to remove the suffering is to remove the sin. But how is the sin
of theft or murder to be removed? We can understand how pride or envy may be
subdued and the suffering they occasion be escaped: but how can a past act be
removed? A man hardened in sin suffers little or nothing for a special
offence; the morally refined suffer indescribably. Thus, according to this
theory, the better a man is, the more severely he is punished for his sin.
Strauss is consistent enough to carry the principle out, and discard
altogether the ideas of reward and punishment, as belonging to a low form of
thought. He quotes and adopts the dictum of Spinoza: "Beatitudo non est
virtutis praemium, sed ipsa virtus."
4. Scarcely distinguished from the doctrine last
mentioned, is that presented by Dr. John Young.86
His doctrine is that there are certain eternal and immutable laws arising out
of the nature of things, independeimt of the will or nature of God, to which
He is as much subject as his creatures. One of these laws is, that virtue
produces happiness, and vice misery. The one is, therefore, rewarded, and the
other punished, by the necessary and immutable operation of that law, and not
by the will of God. God, therefore, ceases to be the ruler of the world. He is
Himself subordinate to eternal and necessary laws. That this doctrine is at
variance with the whole tenor of the Bible cannot be doubted. It is no less
opposed to the dictates of our own moral and religious nature. It is revealed
in that nature that we are subject, not to necessary and self-acting laws, but
to an intelligent, personal God, to whom we are accountable for our character
and conduct, and who rewards and punishes his creatures according to their
As a philosophical theory, this doctrine is much below
the standard of the German theologians. For they, as far as they are Theists,
admit that these immutable laws are determined by the nature of God, and are
the uniform modes of his operation. Indeed, as God and his creatures exhaust
the whole category of being, the "nature of things," apart from the nature of
God and of his creatures, seems to be a phrase without meaning. It is
tantamount to the "nature of nonentity."
§ 13. The
Goodness of God.
A. The Scriptural Doctrine.
Goodness, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes
benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. By benevolence is meant the disposition
to promote happiness; all sensitive creatures are its objects. Love includes
complacency, desire, and delight, and has rational beings for its objects.
Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable, and includes pity,
compassion, forbearance, and gentleness, which the Scriptures so abundantly
ascribe to God. Grace is love exercised towards the unworthy. The love of a
holy God to sinners is the most mysterious attribute of the divine nature. The
manifestation of this attribute for the admiration and beatification of all
intelligent creatures, is declared to be the special design of redemption. God
saves sinners, we are told, "That in the ages to come He might show the
exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ
Jesus." (Eph. ii. 7.) This is the burden of that Epistle.
As all the modifications of goodness above mentioned
are found even in our dilapidated nature, and commend themselves to our moral
approbation, we know they must exist in God without measure and without end.
In him they are infinite, eternal, and immutable.
The goodness of God in the form of benevolence is
revealed in the whole constitution of nature. As the universe teems with life,
it teems also with enjoyment. There are no devices in nature for the promotion
of pain for its own sake; whereas the manifestations of design for the
production of happiness are beyond computation. The manifestation of the
goodness of God in the form of love, and specially of love to the undeserving,
is, as just stated, the great end of the work of redemption. "God so loved the
world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him
should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John iii. 16.) "Herein is
love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the
propitiation for our sins." (1 John iv. 10.) The Apostle prays that believers
might be able to comprehend the height and depth, the length and breadth, of
that love which passes knowledge. (Eph. iii. 19.)
Love in us includes complacency and delight in its
object, with the desire of possession and communion. The schoolmen, and often
the philosophical theologians, tell us that there is no feeling in God. This,
they say, would imply passivity, or susceptibility of impression from without,
which it is assumed is incompatible with the nature of God. "We must exclude,"
"passivity from the idea of love, as it exists in God. For God cannot be the
subject of passivity in any form. Besides, if God experienced complacency in
intelligent beings, He would be dependent on them; which is inconsistent with
his nature as an Absolute Being." Love, therefore, he defines as that
attribute of God which secures the development of the rational universe; or,
as Schleiermacher expresses it, "It is that attribute in virtue of which God
According to the philosophers, the Infinite develops itself in the finite;
this fact, in theological language, is due to love. The only point of analogy
between love in us and love in the Absolute and Infinite, is
self-communication. Love in us leads to self-revelation and communion; in
point of fact the Infinite is revealed and developed in the universe, and
specially in humanity. Bruch admits that this doctrine is in real
contradiction to the representations of God in the Old Testament, and in
apparent contradiction to those of the New Testament. If love in God is only a
name for that which accounts for the rational universe; if God is love, simply
because He develops himself in thinking and conscious beings, then the word
has for us no definite meaninig; it reveals to us nothing concerning the real
nature of God. Here again we have to choose between a mere philosophical
speculation and the clear testimony of the Bible, and of our own moral and
religious nature. Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no
feeling in God, there can be no love. That He produces happiness is no proof
of love. The earth does that unconsciously and without design. Men often
render others happy from vanity, from fear, or from caprice. Unless the
production of happiness can be referred, not only to a conscious intention,
but to a purpose dictated by kind feeling, it is no proof of benevolence. And
unless the children of God are the objects of his complacency and delight,
they are not the objects of his love. He may be cold, insensible, indifferent,
or even unconscious; He ceases to be God in the sense of the Bible, and in the
sense in which we need a God, unless He can love as well as know and act. The
philosophical objection against ascribing feeling to God, bears, as we have
seen, within equal force against the ascription to Him of knowledge or will.
If that objection be valid, He becomes to us simply an unknown cause, what men
of science call force; that to which all phenomena are to be referred, but of
which we know nothing. We must adhere to the truth in its Scriptural form, or
we lose it altogether. We must believe that God is love in the sense in which
that word comes home to every human heart. The Scriptures do not mock us when
they say, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them
that fear Him." (Ps. ciii. 13.) He meant what He said when He proclaimed
Himself as "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and
abundant in goodness and truth." (Ex. xxxiv. 6.) "Beloved," says the Apostle,
"let us love one another: fot love is of God; and every one that loveth is
born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is
love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent
his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein
is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be
the propitiation con our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to
love one another." (1 John iv. 7-1l.) The word love has the same sense
throughout this passage. God is love; and love in Him is, in all that is
essential to its nature, what love is in us. Herein we do rejoice, yea, and
B. The Existence of Evil.
How can the existence of evil, physical and moral, be
reconciled with the benevolence and holiness of a God infinite in his wisdom
and power? This is the question which has exercised the reason and tried the
faith of men in all ages of the world. Such is the distance between God and
man, such the feebleness of our powers, and such the limited range of our
vision, it might seem reasonable to leave this question to be answered by God
himself. If a child cannot rationally sit in judgment on the conduct of his
parents, nor a peasant comprehend the affairs of an empire, we certainly are
not competent to call God to account, or to ask of Him the reason of his ways.
We might rest satisfied with the assurance that the Judge of all the earth
must do right. These considerations, however, have not availed to prevent
speculation on this subject. The existence of evil is constantly brought
forward by sceptics as an argument against religion; and it is constantly in
the minds of believers as a difficulty and a doubt. While it is our duty to
obey the injunction, "Be still and know that I am God," it is no less our duty
to protest against those solutions of this great problem which either destroy
the nature of sin or the nature of God.
Theories which involve the
Denial of Sin.
Most of the theories proposed to account for the
existence of evil, come under one or the other of the three following classes:
First, those which really or virtually deny the
existence of evil in the world. What we call evil is distinguished as physical
and moral, pain and sin. There is some plausibility in the argument to prove
that pain is not necessarily an evil. It is necessary to the safety of
sentient creatures. But pain exists far beyond the bounds of this necessity.
Such is the amount and variety of suffering in the world, of the just and of
the unjust, of infants and of adults, that no philosophy can smother the
conviction that the misery which weighs so heavily on the children of men, is
an appalling evil. There is no such trial to our faith, as to see an infant
suffering excruciating pain. If, however, pain could be removed from the
category of evil, sin is not so easily disposed of. The world lies in
wickedness. The history of man is, to a large degree, the history of sin. If
God be holy, wise, and omnipotent, how can we account for this widely extended
and long-continued prevalence of sin?
One solution is sought in the denial that sin is an
evil. In other words, it is denied that there is any such thing as sin. What
we so regard is, as some maintain, nothing more than limitation of being. To
be free from sin, we must be free from limitation, i. e.. infinite. It
is not an evil that one tree is smaller, less beautiful, or less valuable than
others; or that a plant has not the sensitive life of an animal; or that all
animals have not the rational powers of man. As in a forest, we see trees of
every shape and size, perfectly and imperfectly developed, and this diversity
is itself a good; so among men there are some more, and some less conformed to
the ideal standard of reason and right, but this is not an evil. It is only
diversity of development; the manifold forms of an endless life.
Others say that what we call sin is the necessary
condition of virtue. There can be no action without reaction; no strength
without obstacles to be overcome; no pleasure without pain; and no virtue
without vice. Moral goodness is mastery over moral evil. There cannot be one
without the other. All would be dead and motionless, a stagnant sea, were it
not for this antagonism.
Others again say that sin has only a subjective
reality. It is analogous to pain. Some things affect us agreeably, others
disagreeably; some excite self-approbation, some disapprobation. But that is
simply our own concern. God no more participates in our judgments than He does
in our sensations.
Others do not so expressly deny the existence of sin.
They admit that it is not only evil to us, but that it involves guilt in the
sight of God, and therefore should be punished. Nevertheless, they represent
it as arising necessarily out of the constitution of our nature. All creatures
are subject to the law of development -- to a "Werden." Perfection is a goal
to be reached by a gradual process. This law controls every sphere of life,
vegetable, animal, intellectual, and moral. Every plant is developed from a
seed. Our bodies begin in a germ; infancy is feeble and suffering. Our minds
are subject to the same law. They are, of necessity, open to error. Our moral
life is not an exception to this rule. Moral beings, at least those
constituted as we are, cannot avoid sin. It is incident to their nature and
condition. It is to be outlived and overcome. If the world be so constituted
and so directed that there is a continued progress toward perfection; if all
evil, and especially all sin, be eliminated by this progress, the wisdom,
goodness, and holiness of God will be thereby vindicated. Bruch89
asks, "Why has God (der heilige Urgeist) brought men into the world with only
the potentiality of freedom (which with him includes perfection), and not with
the actuality, but left that perfection to be attained by a long process of
development? The only answer to that question," he says, is, "that development
lies in the very nature of the finite. It must strive toward perfection by an
endless process, without ever reaching it in its fulness. We might as well ask
why God has ordained that the tree should be developed from a germ? or why the
earth itself has passed through so many periods of change, ever from a lower
to a higher state? or why the universe is made up of things finite, and is
itself finite?" He adds the further consideration, "that God, with the
possibility of sin, has provided redemption by which it is to be overcome,
banished, and swallowed up." "The annihilation of sin is the design of the
whole work of redemption. 'The Son of Man is come that He might destroy the
works of the devil.' (1 John iii. 8.) Sin, however, will disappear only when
not the individual alone, but when the whole race of man has reached the goal
of its destination, -- and when," he asks, "will this happen?"90
That question he leaves unanswered. On a following page, however, he quotes
as saying: "Divine revelation gives the only possible and satisfactory answer
to the question, how the existence of sin can be reconciled with the holiness
of God, an answer which satisfies not only our pious feelings, but our
anthropological and theological speculations, in that it makes known the truth
that God determined on the creation of beings, who, as free agents, were
subject to the possibility of sin, and who were through their own fault sunk
in evil, in connection with redemption; so that sin is only a transient,
vanishing phenomenon in the development of finite beings. This is the great
idea which pervades the whole of revelation; yea, which is its essence and its
It is obvious that all theories which make sin a
necessary evil, destroy its nature as revealed in Scripture, and in our own
Sin considered as the Necessary
Means of the Greatest Good.
A much more plausible theory, belonging to the class of
those which virtually, although not professedly, destroy the nature of sin, is
that which regards it as the necessary means of the greatest good. Sin, in
itself; is an evil; relatively, it is a good. The universe is better with it
than without it. In itself, it is an evil that the smaller animals should be
devoured by the larger; but as this is necessary to prevent the undue
development of animal life, and as it ministers to the higher forms thereof,
it becomes a benevolent arrangement. The amputation of a limb is an evil; but
if necessary to save life, it is a good. Wars are dreadful evils, yet the
world is indebted to wars for the preservation of civil and religious liberty,
for which they are a small price. Better have war than lose the liberty
wherewith Christ has made us free. Thus, if sin be the necessary means of the
greatest good, it ceases to be an evil, on the whole, and it is perfectly
consistent with the benevolence of God to permit its occurrence. This has been
a favorite method of solving the problem of evil in all ages. This is the idea
which Leibnitz wrought out so elaborately in his "Theodicee." It has been
adopted by many theologians who do not carry it on to its legitimate
consequences. Thus Twesten92
says: "If the world be absolutely dependent on the most perfect Being; if it
be the work of the highest love, power, and wisdom; and if it be constantly
controlled and governed by God, it must be absolutely perfect." Hence even
sin, although like pain an evil in itself, must on the whole be a good. It is
a necessary element in a perfect world. Twesten, therefore, says,93
"If the world, with the sin and misery which it contains, produces a greater
amount of good, and reveals the divine power and love more fully than could
otherwise be possible, then the consistency of the existence of evil with the
universal causality (or government) of God is thereby vindicated." The word
good in this connection, according to the common doctrine of optimists, does
not mean moral good, but happiness. The principle on which this theory is
founded was propounded in a posthumous treatise of President Edwards, in which
he taught that virtue consists in the love of being. This principle was
adopted and carried out by Drs. Hopkins and Emmons in their systems of
theology, which for many years had great influence in this country.
Objections to this Theory.
Plausible as this theory is, it is liable to many
1. In the first place, we have no right to limit the
infinite God. To say that this is the best possible world, is to say that God
can make nothing greater or better; which, unless the world be infinite, is to
say that God is finite. It is enough for us to believe that the world with its
finite results, is what God in his wisdom saw fit to call into existence; but
that it is the best He could make, is a gratuitous and derogatory assumption.
2. It is unscriptural, and contrary to our moral
reason, to make happiness the end of creation. The Bible declares the glory of
God, an infinitely higher end, to be the final cause for which all things
exist. It is the instinctive judgment of men, that holiness or moral
excellence is a greater good than happiness. But, on this theory, holiness has
no value except as a means of producing happiness. This cannot be believed,
except under a protest from our moral nature. The theory in question,
therefore, solves the problem of evil by denying its existence. Nothing is an
evil which tends to the greatest happiness. Sin is the necessary means of the
greatest good, and therefore is not an evil.
The Doctrine that God cannot
prevent Sin in a Moral System.
The second general method of reconciling the existence
of sin with the benevolence and holiness of God, is, not to deny that sin,
even all things considered, is an evil; but to affirm that God cannot prevent
all sin, or even the present amount of sin, in a moral system. It assumes that
certainty is inconsistent with free agency. Any kind or degree of influence
which renders it certain how a free agent will act, destroys his liberty in
acting. He must always be able to act contrary to any degree of influence
brought to bear upon him, or he ceases to be free. God, therefore, of
necessity limits Himself when He creates free agents. They are beyond his
absolute control. He may argue and persuade, but He cannot govern.
This doctrine that God cannot effectually control the
acts of free agents without destroying their liberty, is so contrary to the
Scriptures, that it has never been adopted by any organized portion of the
Christian Church. Some theologians avail themselves of it for an emergency,
when treating of this subject, although it is utterly at variance with their
general scheme. Twesten, for example, who, as we have seen, in one place
teaches that God voluntarily permits sin as the necessary means of the
greatest good, in another place94 says that
He cannot prevent it in a moral system. "Mit der Freiheit," he says, "war die
Moglichkeit des Misbrauchs gegeben; ohne jene zu vernichten, konnte Gott
diesen nicht verhindern." That is, without destroying liberty, God cannot
prevent its abuse. If this be so, then God cannot govern free agents. He
cannot secure the accomplishment of his purposes, or the fulfilment of his
promises. There is no security for the triumph of good in the universe. Angels
and saints in heaven may all sin, and evil become dominant and universal. On
this theory, all prayer that God would change our own hearts, or the hearts of
others, becomes irrational. All this is so contrary to the teaching of the
Bible, which everywhere asserts the sovereignty and supremacy of God,
declaring that the hearts of men are in his hand, and that He turns them as
the rivers of water; that He makes his people willing in the day of his power,
working in them to will and to do, according to his good pleasure; it is so
inconsistent with the promise to give repentance and faith, with the assertion
of his power to change the heart; it is so incompatible with the hopes and
confidence of the believer, that God can keep him from falling; and so
subversive of the idea of God as presented in the Bible and revealed in our
nature, that the Church has, almost with one accord, preferred to leave the
mystery of evil unexplained, rather than to seek its solution in a principle
which undermines the foundation of all religion.
The Scriptural Doctrine.
The third method of dealing with this question is to
rest satisfied with the simple statements of the Bible. The Scriptures teach,
(1.) That the glory of God is the end to which the promoticn of holiness, and
the production of happiness, and all other ends are subordinate. (2.) That,
therefore, the self-manifestation of God, the revelation of his infinite
perfection, being the highest conceivable, or possible good, is the ultimate
end of all his works in creation, providence, and redemption. (3.) As sentient
creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God's benevolence, so there
could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and
justice, if there were no sin. As the heavens declare the glory of God, so He
has devised the plan of redemption, "To the intent that now unto the
principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the
manifold wisdom of God." (Eph. iii. 10.) The knowledge of God is eternal life.
It is for creatures the highest good. And the promotion of that knowledge, the
manifestation of the manifold perfections of the infinite God, is the highest
end of all his works. This is declared by the Apostle to be the end
contemplated, both in the punishment of sinners and in the salvation of
believers. It is an end to which, he says, no man can rationally object. "What
if God, willing to show his wrath (or justice), and to make his power known,
endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
and that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy,
which He had afore prepared unto glory." (Rom. ix 22, 23.) Sin, therefore,
according the Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known
in its punishment, and his grace in its forgiveness. And the universe, without
the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light
of the sun.
The glory of God being the great end of all things, we
are not obliged to assume that this is the best possible world for the
production of happiness, or even for securing the greatest degree of holiness
among rational creatures. It is wisely adapted for the end for which it was
designed, namely, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of God. That
God, in revealing Himself, does promote the highest good of his creatures,
consistent with the promotion of his own glory, may be admitted. But to
reverse this order, to make the good of the creature the highest end, is to
pervert and subvert the whole scheme; it is to put the means for the end, to
subordinate God to the universe, the Infinite to the finite. This putting the
creature in the place of the Crcator, disturbs our moral and religious
sentiments and convictions, as well as our intellectual apprehensions of God,
and of his relation to the universe.
The older theologians almost unanimously make the glory
of God the ultimate, and the good of the creature the subordinate end of all
things. Twesten, indeed, says95
it makes no difference whether we say God proposes his own glory as the
ultimate end, and, for that purpose, determined to produce the highest degree
of good; or that He purposed the highest good of his creatures, whence the
manifestation of his glory flows as a consequence. It, however, makes all the
difference in the world, whether the Creator be subordinate to the creature,
or the creature to the Creator; whether the end be the means, or the means the
end. There is a great difference whether the earth or the sun be assumed as
the centre of our solar system. If we make the earth the centre, our astronomy
will be in confusion. And if we make the creature, and not God, the end of all
things, our theology and religion will in like manner be perverted. It may, in
conclusion, be safely asserted that a universe constructed for the purpose of
making God known, is a far better universe than one designed for the
production of happiness.
§ 14. The Truth of
Truth, is a word of frequent occurrence and of wide
signification in the Bible. The primary meaning of the Greek word
avlh,qeia(from av and
lh,qw) is openness; what is not concealed. But in
the Hebrew, and therefore in the Bible, the primary idea of truth is, that
which sustains, which does not fail, or disappoint our expectations. The true,
therefore, is, (1.) That which is real as opposed to that which is fictitious
or imaginary. Jehovah is the true God, because He is really God, while the
gods of the heathen are vanity and nothing, mere imaginary beings, having
neither existence nor attributes. (2.) The true is that which completely comes
up to its idea, or to what it purports to be. A true man is a man in whom the
idea of manhood is fully realized. The true God is He in whom is found all
that Godhead imports. (3.) The true is that in which the reality exactly
corresponds to the manifestation. God is true, because He really is what He
declares himself to be; because He is what He commands us to believe Him to
be; and because all his declarations correspond to what really is. (4.) The
true is that which can be depended upon, which does not fail, or change, or
disappoint. In this sense also God is true as He is immutable and faithful.
His promise cannot fail; his word never disappoints. His word abideth forever.
When our Lord says, "Thy word is truth," He says that all that God has
revealed may be confided in as exactly corresponding to what really is, or is
to be. His word can never fail, though heaven and earth pass away.
The truth of God, therefore, is the foundation of all
religion. It is the ground of our assurance, that what He has revealed of
Himself and of his will, in his works and in the Scriptures, may be relied
upon. He certainly is, and wills, and will do, whatever He has thus made
known. It is no less the foundation of all knowledge. That our senses do not
deceive us; that consciousness is trustworthy in what it teaches; that
anything is what it appears to us to be; that our existence is not a delusive
dream, has no other foundation than the truth of God. In this sense, all
knowledge is founded on faith, i. e., the belief that God is true.
The theologians are accustomed to say: (1.) "Veritas
Dei in essentia, est convenientia omnium eorum, quae ad naturam perfectissimi
pertinent eamque totam constituunt; qua ratione Deus verus opponitur fictis et
commentitiis." (Jer. x. 8, 10, 11; John v. 20, 21.) (2.) "Veritas Dei in
intellectu, est convenientia cogitationum cum objecto." . . . . (Job xi. 7;
Acts xv. 18.) (3.) "Veritas Dei in voluntate est convenientia decreti ac
propositi efficacis cujusque cum rationibus in intellectu probe cognitis et
judicatis." (Rom. xi. 33.) (4.) "Veritas Dei in factis, est convenientia
actionum cum proposito." (Ps. xxv. 10) (5.) "Veritas Dei in dictis,
quae singulatim vocari solet veracitas, est convenientia verborum omnium cum
recta cogitatione animique sententia, et efficaci voluntatis proposito." (Num.
xxiii. 19; 1 Sam. xv. 29; Tit. i. 2; Heb. vi. 18.) "Haec cernitur (a).
in doctrin's (Is. xvii. 17); (b), in praedictionibus, promissionibus,
ut et comminationibus. (Num. xxiii. 19.)"96
To the same effect the Reformed theologian Endemann,
says, "Veracitas Deo duplici sensu recte adscribitur, (1.) Quatenus nunquam
errat, quia est omniscius, nunquam errorem aliis significat, quia id repugnat
bonitati ejus. . . . (2.) Quatenus Deus ea actu sentit, quae verbis vel factis
entibus intelligentibus significat. Deus actionibus et sermonibus suis eum
intendit finem, ut sibi homines credant, confidant, etc., quem finem everteret
si semel a veritate discederet. Scriptura docet idem scil. quod Deus .
. . . [est] verax, immunis ab omni errore et mendacio. . . . Fidelis est Deus,
quatenus ingenue aliquid promittit; atque promissum certissimo complet. . . .
Severitatem Deo tribuimus quatenus comminationes suas implet."97
The philosophical theologians virtually deny that there
is any such attribute in God as truth. They say that what is intended by that
term is only the uniformity of law. The efficiency of God is always exercised
in such a way that we may confide in the regular sequence of events. In this
respect it may be said that God is true. Bruch98
admits "That this idea arises necessarily out of our religious consciousness,
inasmuch as we embrace with full confideuce what we regard as a divine
revelation, and are persuaded that God in due time will fulfil whatever He has
purposed, promised, or threatened. This confidence is in the strongest terms
often expressed in the sacred writings, and is the source of the firm faith by
which the Christian receives the revelation made in Christ; and of the
unshaken confidence with which he anticipates the fulfillment of the divine
promises." Nevertheless, although this idea of the truth of God has its
foundation in our own nature, and is so clearly recognized in Scripture, and
although it enters so deeply into the religious experience and hopes of the
believer, it is a delusion. There is no such attribute in God. It is
unphilosophical, and therefore impossible that there should be the
distinction, which must then be assumed, between purpose and act in the divine
mind. The ascription of truth or veracity to God rests, says Bruch, "on the
assumption of a distinction in Him between thought and its manifestation,
between his promises and threatenings, and their accomplishment, which not
only destroys the unity of the divine essence, but reduces Him to the
limitations and changes of time. . . . As the ascription of veracity to God
arises out of what we observe in ourselves, it bears the impress of
anthropomorphism, and has no claim to scientific recognition."99
He further objects to the ascription of truth to God, in the ordinary sense of
that term, because God works uniformly according to law, and therefore.
"properly speaking, there can be no such thing as promises oe threatenings
The idea is, that as God has established certain physical laws, and if men
comply with them they are well, if they violate them, they suffer for it; so
there are laws which determine the well-being of rational creatures: if we
observe those laws, we are happy; if we disregard them, we are miserable. God
has nothing to do with it, except as He established those laws and carries
them out. The philosophical idea, therefore, of the truth of God, is the
immutability of law, physical and moral. This view is still more definitely
presented by Schweizer.101
God from the beginning to the end of the world is one and the same causality;
this, in reference to the moral world, is his truth, veracitas, fidelitas,
in so far as the later revelations, or manifestations of this causality,
correspomid to what the earlier manifestations would lead us to expect. God,
according to this view, is not so much a person, as a name for the moral order
of the universe. There is, of course, some truth in this mode of
representation. The laws of God, by which He governs his creatures, rational
and irrational, are uniform. It is true that a man reaps what he sows; that he
receives here and hereafter the natural consequences of his conduct. If he
sows to the flesh, he reaps corruption; if he sows to the spirit, he reaps
life everlasting. But these laws are administered by a personal God, who, as
He controls physical laws so as to produce plenty or famine, health or
pestilence, as to Him seems fit, so also He controls all the laws which
determine the well-being of the souls of men, so as to accomplish his designs
and to secure the fulfilment of his promises and threatenings. The laws of a
well-ordered human government are uniform and impartial, but that is not
inconsistent with their human administration.
It is a great mercy that, at least in some cases, those
whose philosophy forbids their believing in the personality of God, believe in
the personality of Christ, whom they regard as a man invested with all the
attributes of the Godhead, and whom they love and worship accordingly.
§ 15. Sovereignty.
Sovereignty is not a property of the divine nature, but
a prerogative arising out of the perfections of the Supreme Being. If God be a
Spirit, and therefore a person, infinite, eternal, and immutable in his being
and perfections, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, He is of right its
absolute sovereign. Infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, with the right of
possession, which belongs to God in all his creatures, are the immutable
foundation of his dominion. "Our God is in the heavens; He hath done
whatsoever He pleased." (Ps. cxv. 8.) "All the inhabitants of the earth are
reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven,
and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say
unto him, What doest thou?" (Dan. iv. 35.) "All that is in the heaven and in
the earth is thine." (1 Chron. xxix. 11.) "The earth is the LORD's, and the
fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Ps. xxiv. 1.) "Thine
is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all." (1 Chron.
xxix. 11.) "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the
soul of the son is mine." (Ez. xviii. 4.) "Woe unto him that striveth with his
Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay
say to him that fashioned it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no
hands?" (Is. xlv. 9.) "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine
own?" (Matt. xx. 15.) He "worketh all things after the counsel of his own
will." (Eph. i. 11.) "Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to
whom be glory forever. Amen." (Rom. xi. 36.)
From these and similar passages of Scriptures it is
plain, (1.) That the sovereignty of God is universal. It extends over all his
creatures from the highest to the lowest. (2.) That it is absolute. There is
no limit to be placed to his authority. He doeth his pleasure in the armies of
heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. (3.) It is immutable. It can
neither be ignored nor rejected. It binds all creatures, as inexorably as
physical laws bind the material universe.
This sovereignty is exercised, (1.) In establishing the
laws, physical and moral, by which all creatures are to be governed. (2.) In
determining the nature and powers of the different orders of created beings,
and in assigning each its appropriate sphere. (3.) In appointing to each
individual his position and lot. It is the Lord who fixes the bounds of our
habitation. Our times are in his hands. He determines when, where, and under
what circumstances each individual of our race is to be born, live, and die.
Nations, no less than individuals, are thus in the hands of God, who assigns
them their heritage in the earth, and controls their destiny. (4.) God is no
less sovereign in the distribution of his favours. He does what He wills with
his own. He gives to some riches, to others, honour; to others, health; while
others are poor, unknown, or the victims of disease. To some, the light of the
gospel is sent; others are left in darkness. Some are brought through faith
unto salvation; others perish in unbelief. To the question, Why is this? the
only answer is that given by our Lord. "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth
good in thy sight."
Although this sovereignty is thus universal and
absolute, it is the sovereignty of wisdom, holiness, and love. The authority
of God is limited by nothing out of Himself, but it is controlled, in all its
manifestations, by his infinite perfections. If a man is free and exalted, in
proportion as he is governed by enlightened reason and a pure conscience, so
is he supremely blessed who cheerfully submits to be governed by the infinite
reason and holiness of God. This sovereignty of God is the ground of peace and
confidence to all his people. They rejoice that the Lord God omnipotent
reigneth; that neither necessity, nor chance, nor the folly of man, nor the
malice of Satan controls the sequence of events and all their issues. Infinite
wisdom, love, and power, belong to Him, our great God and Saviour, into whose
hands all power in heaven and earth has been committed.
1. De Oratore, i. 42, 189, edit. Leipzig, 1850, p.
2. Dogmatik, p. 92.
3. Emarratio in Psalmum, lxvii. I. 5, edit. Benedictines, vol. iv. p.
4. Theologia, part I. cap. viii. § 2, edit.
Leipzig, 1715, p. 426.
5. Ibid. II. cap. viii. § 2, p. 426.
6. Examen Theologicum, edit. Leipzig, 1763, p. 235.
7. Confessiones, XIII. xxxviii. 53, edit. Benedictines, vol. i. p. 410
8. De Divisione Naturae, iii. 29, edit. Westphalia, 1838, p. 264.
9. Summa, I. xiv. 8, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 30.
10. Limits, p. 195.
11. Dogmatik, p. 113.
12. Summa, I. xiii. 2, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 23.
13. Theologia, I. viii. § ii. 2, p. 481.
14. Poedagogus, III. i. edit. Cologne, 1688, p. 214 a.
15. "Theodicee" Prefacem, Works, p. 469, edit. Berlin, 1848.
16. Werke, edit. Leipzig, 1838, vol. ii. p. 173.
17. Meditationes de Prima Philosophia, Responsio ad Secundas Objectiones,
III., edit. Amsterdam, 1685, p. 74.
18. Prolegomena Logica, Boston, 1860, p. 123. See also McCosh's
Intuitions of the Mind, p. 143.
19. Limits, p. 148.
20. Prolegomena Logica, Boston, 1860, p. 52.
21. "Living Temple," Works, London, 1724, vol. i. p. 70.
22. History of Modern Philosophy, translated by Wight. New York, 1852,
vol. i. p. 113.
23. Institutiones Theologicae, IV. ii. 13, edit. Amsterdam, 1550, vol.
i. p. 294.
24. Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 556.
25. De Praesentia Dei seu Epistola CLXXXVII. iv. 14, edit.
Benedictines, vol. ii. p. 1023, d.
26. Summa, I. viii. 3, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 16.
27. Theologia, I. viii. § 1, p. 413.
28. Confessiones, IX. x. 24, edit. Benedictines, vol. i. p. 283, c.
29. Ibid. XI. xiii. 16, p. 338, a.
30. Summa, I. x. 4, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 16.
31. Theologia, I. viii. § I. xvii. p. 413.
32. Jamieson, p. 199.
33. Ibid. p. 163
34. Rev. George Jamieson, M.A., one of the ministers of the parish of Old
Machar, Aberdeen, The Essentials of Philosophy, wherein its constituent
Principles are traced throughout the various Departments of Science with
analytical Strictures on the Views of some of our leading Philosophers.
35. Ibid., p. 200.
38. Strauss, Dogmatik, i. p. 561.
39. Christliche Glaube, I. § 52, Werke,
edit. Berlin, 1842, vol. iii. p. 468.
40. In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus, xxiii. 9, edit. Benedictines, vol.
iii. p. 1952, b, c.
41. Theologia, I. viii. § I. xx. p. 414.
42. Locus III. xi. 9, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. i. p. 186.
43. Dogmatik, i. p. 575.
44. Ethices, I. xvii. Scholium, edit. Jena, 1803, vol. ii. p. 53.
45. Confessiones, XIII. xxxviii. 53, edit. Benedictines, vol. i, p.
46. De Divisione Naturae, III, 17, p. 235.
47. Ibid. 29, p. 264.
48. Summa, I. xiv. i, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 36.
49. Tom. i. loc. iii. cap. vi. § 43, p. 106, edit.
50. Ibid. cap. x. § 80, p. 119.
51. Ibid. chap. vii. § 47, p. 108.
52. Corpus Theologiae Christiane Tiguri, 1732.
53. Christliche Glabue, i. § 55. Werke,
edit. Berlin, 1842, vol. iii. p. 295.
54. Bruch, Die Lebre von den gottlichen Eigenschaften, p. 162.
55. De Diversis Quoestumibus ad Simplicaianum, II. ii. 2, edit.
Benedictines, vol. vi. p. 195, a. Compare also what he says on this subject,
De Civitate Dei, XI. xxi.: Ibid. vol. vii. p. 461.
56. Systema Locurum Theologicorum, tom. ii. cap. 9; Wittenburg, 1655,
57. Theologia, I. viii. § 1, xxvii. p. 418.
58. Meditationes. Responsiones Sextae, vi. edit. Amsterdam, 1685, p.
59. Ibid. p. 181.
60. De Providentia Dei, Epilogus. Opera, edit. Turici, 1841,
vol. iv. p. 133.
61. See Loci Communes Theologici, edit. Basle, 1573, pp. 402-408.
62. Systema Theologiae, lib. I. cap. v. 4; edit. Hanoviae, 1603, p.
63. Institutio, III. xxiii. 2, edit. Berlin, 1834, part ii. p. 148.
64. Strauss, i. p. 592; Schliermacher, I. § 54. Werke,
edit. Berlin, 1842, vol. III. p. 285.
65. Bruch, p. 155.
66. Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 587.
67. Glaubenslehre, I. § 54.
68. Die Lehre von den gottlichen Eigenschaften, p. 154.
69. Christlichen Lehre, p. 160.
70. Gess, Uebersicht uber das System Schliermacher's, p. 88.
71. Glaubenslehre, I. p. 263.
72. Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 487.
73. Ethices, i. def. vii. edit. Jena, 1803, vol. ii. p. 36.
74. Epistola xxiii. Ibid. vol. i. 513.
75. "So wollen also die Begriffe des Absoluten und des Heiligen nicht
zusammengehen; sondern wer das Absolute festhalt, der lost die Heiligkeit auf,
welche nur an einem in Relation gestellten Wesen etwas ist; und wer es
umgekehrt mit der Heiligkeit ernstlich nimmt der tritt der Idee der
Absolutheit zu nahe, welche durch den leisesten Schatten der Moglichkeit,
anders zu sein als sie ist, verunreinigt wird. Diese Einsicht in die
Unanwendbar keit moralischer Attribute aut Gott hatten schon einzelne
Kirchenvater . . . erkanute. -- Dogmatik, vol i. p. 595.
76. Institutiones, p. 273.
77. De Finibus, v. 23, 65, edit. Leipzig, 1850, p. 1042.
78. Partitiones Oratoriae, 22, 78, edit. ut sup. p. 194.
79. Christlichen Glaube, § 84, Works,
Berlin, 1843, vol. iv. p. 465.
80. Paedag gus, I. viii; edit. Cologne, 1688, p. 114, c. and p. 115.
81. Adversus Marcionem, II. 10; edit. Basel, 1562, p. 179, seu II. 13;
edit. Leipzig, 1841, iii. p. 90. Bibliotheca, Gerdorf, vol. vi.
82. De Principiis, II. v. 3; edit. Paris, 1733, vol. i. p. 88, a.
83. Institutiones, i. 153; edit. Tiguri, 1743, p. 154.
84. Ibid. p. 154.
85. See the section on the "Gerechtigkeit Gottes" in Bruch's Lehre von den
Gottlichen Eigenschaften, pp. 275-296.
86. Light and Life of Men.
87. Eigenschaften, page 240.
88. Christlichen Glaube, § 166; Works,
Berlin, 1843, vol. iv. p. 513.
89. Eigenschaften, p. 266.
90. Eigenschaften, p. 269, 270.
91. Von der Sunds und Erlosung, p. 21, Stud. der Ev. Geistl.
Wurtembergs. vol. ii. part 2, Stuttgart, 1835.
92. Dogmatik, ii. p. 121.
93. Ibid. p. 130.
94. Dogmatik, ii. p. 137.
95. Dogmatik, vol. ii. p. 89.
96. Hollaz, Examen Theologicum, edit. Leipzig, 1763, pp. 243, 244.
97. Compendium Theologicum, I. § 33; edit.
Hanoviae, 1777, pp. 97, 99.
98. Eigenschaften, p. 250.
99. Eigenschaften, p. 250.
100. Ibid. p. 252.
101. Glaubenslehre, vol. i. p. 443.