“God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, true, good, just, holy, chaste, merciful, most free, of immense wisdom and power, different from the bodies of the world, and all creatures.”
1. What definition of Religion has been already given?
We have said that it is “man’s cheerful recognition and joyful service of a Supreme Personality, based on the consciousness of reconciliation and a community of interest with Him” (Chapter 1, Question 13).
2. What kind of relation does this imply?
A personal relation, an attitude or disposition of one person to another. It is not the mere acceptance of a certain number of principles, as when one learns a system of philosophy or commits to memory a list of axioms. Nor is it the experience of a particular class of emotions or delight in peculiar forms of sentiment. Nor is it the recognition of a certain number of rules of conduct, as obligatory. Religion has its intellectual, its emotional, and its ethical sides, because they are all involved in the personal relation, in which the very essence of religion consists.
3. What does a personal relation involve?
A certain identity or likeness between the objects which it comprehends, viz., personality. God is a person. Man is a person. Religion is a relation of man to God.
4. What is meant by “a person”?
Whatever can say “I.” It expresses itself in self-consciousness and self-determination, or freedom. (See Chapter 3, 38-40.)
5. What, therefore, is essential to the very conception of religion?
Not merely reliance on some “great unknown,” but a vivid conception of man’s affinity with God, as the basis of all his relations to Him. As man was created in God’s image, it is impossible to think of God except by beginning with what is implied in this image, and rising from this common basis to that in which God must be distinguished from man. As God has theomorphized man, man, within certain limits, cannot do otherwise than anthropomorphize God. Holy Scripture both follows this mode of presentation, and guards against its abuse.
6. Against what errors is the conception of God as a personality arrayed?
Against Pantheism which teaches that God is the universal substance, and that man, as well as the universe is only one form of His manifestation, a mere phenomenon of God. Against all systems which would represent God as the mere force or thought of the universe. Against Polytheism which, on the one hand, by multiplying gods, denies a Supreme Being, and, on the other, abuses the anthropomorphic process by investing God with the limitations and infirmities of men, and even of lower creatures (Rom. 1:23). Against Agnosticism which denies the possibility of any knowledge of God, and Atheism which absolutely denies his existence.
7. But is not the conception of God as a person in conflict with the Christian doctrine of the Three Persons in one Essence or Being?
No. For Natural Revelation knows nothing of the Son or Holy Spirit, and even the Father it does not know as “father”; but, nevertheless, all the teachings of natural religion point to God as person. Nor does the ampler and purer revelation made of God in Christ in any way disprove this. Religion is the communion of man with God the Father apprehended and reconciled through the Son; with the Son as Redeemer and Revealer of the Father’s will; and with the Holy Ghost, as Teacher, Governor and Comforter. What natural religion gropes after as one Person, supernatural revelation declares to be not one Person, but Three Persons in one Being.
8. Can God be defined?
The answer depends upon what is meant by “a definition. “ If “a definition” be full and complete, it would be equivalent to circumscribing God, which is impossible. In this sense, to define is to trace limits or boundaries, which would conflict with God’s infinitude. But if it be the condensation into a few words, of what Holy Scripture declares to be His essential and distinguishing properties or attributes, this can be done.
9. What definitions then can be given?
“God is an infinite spiritual substance.” Here “substance” denotes the widest class or genus, while “spiritual” distinguishes this from “material” substances. The word “infinite” indicates the specific difference distinguishing God from other “spiritual substances.” Angels are “finite spiritual substances.” Nevertheless such definition is inadequate, as there is a form of Pantheism which would accept it. The term “intelligent” if inserted would partially guard against such misconception. So God may be defined as “an absolute substance,” distinguishing Him from all substances that are dependent on Him.
Or enumerating the distinguishing qualities, relations and works of God, we have the definition of the Augsburg Confession:
“One divine essence, eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible.”
10. Can such definition be further expanded?
Yes, as by Melanchthon, in his Loci Communes, which Chemnitz has admirably analyzed and grouped under four heads:
(a) A clause referring to essential attributes:
“God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, true, good, just, holy, chaste, merciful, most free, of immense wisdom and power, different from the bodies of the world, and all creatures.”
(b) A clause referring to the relations or properties and notions of persons:
“One in substance and nevertheless three in persons, the Father Eternal, who, from eternity, has begotten from His own essence, the Son, His image; the Son, the coeternal image of the Father, begotten of the Father from eternity; and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from eternity from Father and Son.”
(c) A clause referring to the will of God, as manifested in a universal action:
“And that this Eternal Father, with His coeternal Son and the Holy Ghost, coeternal with the Father and the Son, has created and preserves heaven and earth, things visible and invisible, and all creatures.”
(d) A clause referring to the will of God, as manifested in a special action, viz., in favors towards the Church:
“And that this eternal, only one and true God, within the human race, which He created according to His image and for certain obedience, has chosen through this Son a Church that it may be holy and blameless before Him, on account of, through and in the Son, whom He has appointed Head of the Church, His body; and that the Son has sent from the Father and Himself, the Holy Ghost, as the Ouickener and Sanctifier of the Church.”
Such a description of God is a brief summary of all Theology.
11. Is this latter mode of definition widely adopted?
Yes. An example is found in the Westminster Large Catechism:
“God is a Spirit, in and of Himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”
12. Why is “the Name of God” so frequently mentioned in Holy Scripture?
Because no one can apprehend God in His essence or as He is.
John 1:18 — “No one hath seen God at any time.”
Ex. 33:20 — “There shall no man see me and live.”
1 Tim. 6:16 — “Dwelling in light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see.”
Deut. 4:12 — “Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.”
13. What then is the Name of God?
All that God wants us to know concerning Himself in this life. It is the sum and substance of God’s revelation to man of what God is.
14. Explain Scripture passages in which the term occurs.
When the Psalmist sings (Ps. 8:1), “How excellent is thy name in all the earth,” he celebrates the glory of the revelation of Himself which God has made. When he declares, “They that know thy name, shall put their trust in thee,” he means, “they who have learned to know Thee as Thou hast condescended to reveal Thyself.” “To remember and to praise God’s Name” is to take to heart and proclaim what God has made known. The Name of God is hallowed “when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as children of God, lead holy lives, in accordance with it.”
15. Distinguish between “the Name” and “the Names” of God?
“The Name” stands for God’s entire revelation up to the^ time in which the word is used. “The Names” are particular designations, expressing either His being, or some prominent attribute, relation or work of God.
16. How are they classified?
Such as Jehovah, Jah, Adonai, Elohim, El, in the Old, and Theos in the New Testament. Their etymology is obscure, although often stated with a great degree of confidence. Jehovah, the incommunicable name of the Old Testament, is widely, although not with certainty, ascribed to the Hebrew verb meaning “to be,” and interpreted according to Ex. 3:14, as “he who is what he is,” implying the independence, freedom, immutability, eternity and faithfullness of God, as contrasted with the dependence and mutability of creatures.
As when God is designated by one of His attributes, as “The Almighty” (particularly frequent in Job).
Expressing certain relations, as “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” the Creator,” “Preserver,” “the Searcher of hearts,” etc.
17. What are the attributes of God?
The various forms or modes in which the divine essence is expressed, or the various ways in which the one and simple divine Being has revealed Himself as subsisting.
18. Are they then accidental?
There are no accidents in God.
19. Are they factors into which the essence of God has been resolved?
This would conflict with the simplicity or impartibility of God.
20. What then are they?
Qualities inseparable from God’s being.
21. By what threefold method is the idea of the Divine Attributes gained?
By Causality, Eminence and Negation.
22. State this more fully.
(a) By way of causality
We reason from the effect to its source. All the perfections required for what He has done and is doing are ascribed to God.
(b) By way of eminence
We ascribe to God in the highest degree all the perfections we see in creatures.
(c) By way of negation
We deny to God the limitations and defects inherent in creatures.
23. How may the Divine Attributes be classified?
Into Absolute or Immanent, and Relative or Transient.
24. Define them.
Absolute or Immanent Attributes pertain to God as He is in Himself. They cannot in any form or measure, be ascribed to creatures, and, therefore, are absolutely incommunicable.
Relative attributes imply a relation of God to a created world. They are by analogy communicable, because they have their counterpart in creatures.
The former are sometimes called Negative, because they deny the imperfections found in creatures, and the latter Positive, because they affirm the existence in the highest degree of the excellent qualities found in creatures in a lower degree.
25. Enumerate the Absolute Attributes.
Independence, Simplicity, Infinity and Immutability.
26. What is meant by Independence?
That God depends upon no cause outside of Himself, but that He is of Himself, and all-sufficient. This attribute is sometimes called “Aseity” (from Latin, a from, and se, himself).
Is. 43:10, 11 — “I am he. Before me, there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am Jehovah.”
Ex. 3:14 — “And God said unto Moses: I am that I am.” Marginal Reading: “I am, because I am.”
27. What is meant by Simplicity?
That God is without all composition, and cannot be resolved into parts. Whatever is in God, is God. There are no accidents. Neither can the attributes be regarded as other than the Essence of God, but only as the one essence variously expressed, or regarded. To regard the essence of God as the sum of the attributes, or to resolve the essence into the various attributes, would conflict with the simplicity of God. Simplicity includes spirituality (John 4:24) invisibility and incomprehensibility; since to see and comprehend an object, in this life, we must be able to consider it in its elements, part by part.
28. What is meant by Infinity?
That all of God’s perfections are without end or limit.
Ps. 145:3 — “His greatness is unsearchable.” Job 11:7, 8 — “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than Sheol, what canst thou know?”
Infinity is not so much a separate attribute, as a characteristic of all the divine attributes. 29. What is Infinity, when regarded with respect to temporal relations?
Eternity, i. e., God’s absolute transcendence of time.
Ps. 90:1, 2 — “Even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” 1 Tim. 1:17 — “Now unto the king, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
30. What is implied by Eternity?
Not only that God is without beginning and end, but also without succession, or differences of time. The attribute of simplicity shows that nothing of God’s life passes away with time, but that, at every moment, He possesses whatever we have throughout our lives successively. What we have in parts, God has as a whole. To Him, past, present and future are one Now. Nothing can be past or future in One, whose life continues the same and unchanged. Possessio vitae tota simul.
31. What is Infinity, when regarded with respect to spatial relations?
Immensity, i. e., God’s absolute transcendence of space. He can be neither measured nor enclosed by it.
Jer. 23:24 — “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Jehovah.” 1 Kings 8:27 — “Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee.”
32. What is the positive side of Immensity?
33. In how many ways is God omnipresent?
(a) By His power.
Acts 17:28 — “In him we live and move and have our being.”
(b) By His knowledge.
Heb. 4:13 — “All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
(c) By His essence.
“Ps. 139:7-10 — “Whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven thou art there: if I make my bed in Sheol, 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.”
34. Which of these is Omnipresence in the proper sense?
Only the last. God’s presence is more than that of the sun, which penetrates all things with its rays, while it is far remote, or that of one whose influence works long after he has died.
35. But is not God described in Holy Scripture as coming and going?
This does not imply any real absence of His essence, but refers only to different modes of presence. God is said to be present in a peculiar way, when He manifests His presence by certain works, especially when He confers and increases spiritual gifts, or otherwise makes known His providential care of the regenerate; or when by signal judgments He declares His wrath against the ungodly.
Ex. 20:24 — “In every place, where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
John 14:23 — “If a man love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
Is. 66:15 — “For behold Jehovah will come with fire, and his chariots shall be like the whirlwind, to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire.”
The omnipresence of God considered relatively or with respect to creatures, is God’s efficacious energy exercised in connection with His immensity. This energy admits of different degrees. But the relation of the substance of God to the substance of the creature is not nearer at one time, and more remote at another.
36. How is this distinction designated?
We distinguish between the essential and the operative omnipresence. Abelard, the Socinians and Deists have denied the former, and taught that God is in heaven as to His essence, and is on earth only potentially.
37. But does not the omnipresence of God conflict with His simplicity?
By no means. He is not present by extension or expansion, as a cloud may cover a valley or a province, with part shadowing part; but all God is everywhere. Nothing can be so small within which God is not; nothing so vast that He does not circumscribe.
38. What different modes of presence are there?
Firstly, that of a body in space, where each atom of the object corresponds to a point within a conceived area. This is known as Circumscriptive or Local Presence.
Secondly, that of a finite spirit, within space. As spirit or soul is simple, and not resolvable into parts, its presence at a place is not to be estimated according to spatial relations. This is known as Definitive Presence.
Thirdly, that of God, or the Infinite Spirit, like finite spirit in simplicity, but unlike all other spirit, in transcending every limitation. This is known as Repletive Presence. The omnipresence of God is repletive. “Totus in rebus omnibus, totus in singulis, totus in se.”
39. What is the Immutability of God?
That attribute according to which He is subject to no change or variation, whether of essence, or of accident, of attribute or of purpose. There is no conversion into another essence, no passion or corruption, no decrease or increase, no alteration or local mutation.
Rom. 1 -.23 — “The glory of the incorruptible God.”
1 Tim. 1:17 — “The King eternal, immortal, invisible.
James 1:17 — “The Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor shadow that is cast by turning.”
Num. 23:19 — “God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent: Hath he said and will he not do it? Hath he spoken, and will he not make it good?”
Mal. 3:6 — “I, Jehovah, change not.”
Ps. 102:26, 27 — “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.”
40. But did not Creation imply or produce a change in God?
No. For from all eternity, it was His will to create the world. There was no change in God. The change was in the creature. What before was not then came into being.
41. Did not Incarnation imply or produce a change?
In like manner, this was what God had willed from all eternity. The Word became flesh, not by the change of divinity into humanity, but by the assumption of flesh by the person of the Word.
42. Is not God sometimes described as repenting?
This expression is used to declare not a change in God, but in a relation caused by a change in man. When a ship changes its course, the needle of its compass continues to point north, but, in order to do so, it necessarily assumes a different angle when regarded from the line of the ship’s motion. The change is not in God’s purpose, but in the event; not in His will, but in the object willed; not in God’s disposition, but in the external work and result, where He has left a certain amount of free agency to man, or to other second causes. These second causes remaining unchanged, God is unchanged. The second causes varying, God’s immutability requires what may seem to be externally, but in reality is not, a change.
43. How about unfulfilled promises and conditions?
They are not absolute, but adjusted to conditions which man has not met.
Jer. 18:7-10 — “At what instant 1 shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; if that nation concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I, shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build up and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith 1 said that I would benefit them.”
44. What distinction must be observed touching all such conditions?
That it is one thing for God to change His will, and quite another for Him to will the change of anything. When He willed to change the Old Covenant for the New, and to abrogate Levitical rites and ceremonies, it was a change which He had determined and decreed from eternity, and instead of being a change of will, was the execution of that will and purpose.
45. What are the Relative Attributes?
Perfections of Life, Intellect and Will, in God existing in an infinite, and communicable to creatures in finite measure.
46. What is the Life of God?
The inner energy of His being, ever active within God, and imparting movement and efficacy to created things. Life as an inner principle is declared by
John 5:26 — “As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the. Son also to have life in himself.”
Jer. 10:10 — “He is the living God, and an everlasting king.” 1 Tim. 6:16 — “Who only hath immortality.” Ps. 42:2; 84:2 — “For the living God.”
Life as imparted to others:
Acts 14:15-17 — “That ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that in them is” (i. e., Life in Nature), “who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways” (i. e., Life in History), “and yet he left not himself without witness in that he did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness” (Life in Providence).
Acts 17:28 — “In him, we live and move and have our being.”
47. What Attributes are ascribed to the Divine Intellect?
Knowledge and Wisdom. Since they are infinite the former is generally known as Omniscience, while the latter is expressed in the term “the All-wise God.”
48. What is Omniscience?
That, by which God by a simple act knows Himself, and all things outside of Himself, whether present, past, future or possible.
Matt. 11:21 — “If the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Cf. 1 Sam. 23:12.
Ps. 139:1, 2, 3 — “Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”
Ps. 15:3 — “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.”
49. What is meant by “a simple act”?
As there is no succession of thought or act in God, His knowledge is not derived by any process of reasoning, or discursive methods, as from effects to causes, or from particulars to generals. All the attributes of His being belong to His Omniscience. “It is an absolute, simple, eternal, infinite, simultaneous, unchangeable and perfect intuition” (Heppe).
Is. 40:13 — “Who hath directed the spirit of Jehovah, or being his counsellor, hath taught him.” Cf. Rom. 11:34.
50. What difference is there between God’s knowledge of Himself and His knowledge of all beyond and besides?
The former is natural and necessary, and could not have been otherwise; the latter is free, and dependent upon the determination of His will either causatively or permissively.
51. Where is God’s knowledge of future contingencies which never occurred declared?
John 3:20 — “God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.”
52. What is the Wisdom of God?
His most exquisite skill in so adjusting causes to effects, and means to ends that the purposes of His good and gracious will are never thwarted.
Rom. 11:33 — “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out!”
Job 12:13 — “With God is wisdom and might; he hath counsel and understanding.”
Rom. 16:27 — “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever.”
53. Before enumerating the Attributes or Perfections of the Divine Will, state whether there be a difference be.ween the Divine Essence and the Divine Will.
The Divine Will is the Divine Essence directed towards the Good, and against the Evil, known by the Divine Intellect.
54. Is the Divine Will determined by any process or succession of thought?
As the Divine Intellect by one, simple act knows all things (see above Question 49) so by one volition God from eternity wills all that He wills. Distinctions are made in accommodation to our comprehension, which do not exist in the will itself.
55. By what is the Divine Will characterized?
By the attributes pertaining to the Divine Essence, of which the Absolute Attributes above enumerated (Quest. 25 sqq.) are particularly to be regarded. It is independent, because God is independent; simple, because God is simple; eternal, because God is eternal; immutable, because God is immutable.
56. What distinctions, however, have been made?
Distinctions founded on the diverse classes of objects comprehended in God’s will, or which express the diverse modes with which He wills them. They are:
(a) Into Natural and Free.
The Natural Will is the expression of His Nature. He necessarily wills what is described by His attributes. The Free is that by which He wills what He might have willed otherwise, as the creation of the world, the incarnation, the redemption of the human race, the call of Paul as an apostle.
(b) Into Efficacious and Inefficacious.
This is an Augustinian distinction, which must be most carefully guarded. The Efficacious Will is one that is inevitably fulfilled, as the will to reward the godly, and punish the wicked, the will of Christ to give Himself for lost men (John 10:18), and to rescue some souls from ruin. The Inefficacious, is one which is not fulfilled, since it has regard to conditions with which man does not comply, Thus it is the will of God that all should be saved ( i Tim. 2:4). But it is not God’s will that any man should be saved against his own will, or that the freedom of man’s will to resist God’s gracious will concerning Himself should be destroyed. There are barriers which even God does not will to overcome. Nevertheless when men perish, it is not because of lack of efficacy in the Divine Will, but because they do not appropriate the divine efficacy exerted upon them.
(c) Into Will of the Sign and Will of the Purpose.
The former is in reality the expression or declaration of the Will; the latter is the Will in the proper sense. The former is God’s Will as declared through outward signs; the latter, the Will, as it exists in God. The former, Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, refers to the Revealed Word of God; the latter, to God’s pure Majesty, or hidden counsel. Examples of “will of the sign” are Matt. 6:10, ‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,” where “will” means, “Whatever Thou commandest, or declarest that Thou wishest to be done,” and I Thess. 4:13, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,” i. e., “This is the commandment or sign of the divine will, viz., your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication.” In general it may be said, that “the will of the sign” is that by which God indicates to men what He wants them to do; and “the will of the purpose,” that by which He has determined or decreed what He wants man to do, or what He wants to be done to men. Thus by the will of the sign, God wanted Abraham to make all prepations for slaying Isaac, while by the will of His purpose, He determined to preserve his life. The will of the sign has been distributed by the Scholastics into five spheres or modes: “With respect to evil: Prohibition and permission. With respect to good: Precept, advice and operation.” God declares, they say, that He wills something either by Himself or through others. If by Himself, directly, it is when He effects something; this is called “operation.” If by Himself, indirectly, it is when He does not hinder or prevent an operation; this is called “permission.” But if God declares He wants something done by another, this occurs either by directly commanding what He wants done and prohibiting the contrary, or by a persuasive induction, viz., advice or counsel. Accurately speaking, however, “the will of the sign,” is nothing more than “the sign of the will.” For whatever God commands, prohibits, promises, threatens or does, is a sign of His will, although not of His entire purpose. The sign reveals what is nearest us, but not the remoter springs whence it flows. The will of the sign proceeds from the will of the purpose. The two can never be opposed to each other. The “will of the purpose” passes ultimately into “the will of the sign,” when faith is replaced by knowledge, and what is obscure at one stage of revelation becomes clear at another (Eph. 3:5; 4:13; 1 Cor. 13:12; John 13:7).
(d) Into Revealed and Secret.
This is only a better statement of the distinction which has just been explained.
For the secret will:
Rom. 11:33, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out.”
For the revealed will:
John 6:40, ‘This is the will of my Father that every one that beholdeth the Son and believeth on him should have eternal life.”
Deut. 29:29, “The secret things belong unto Jehovah, our God, but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.”
(e) Into Absolute and Conditioned.
The former is without; and the latter, with conditions. It was by His Absolute Will, that God determined to create the world; for He willed this without condition. It is also by His Absolute Will, that they whom He foresees as believing on Him until the end, shall be saved; for this also is without condition (Chapter 9, 15). But it is by His Conditioned Will, that He wills the salvation of all men; for the condition is faith (Chapters 9, 16; 41. 15, 16).
(f) Into Absolute and Ordinate.
The former is without, and the latter with regard to second causes. The Ordinate, while at first sight, equivalent to the conditioned, is found, on reflection, to differ. God wills that man’s physical life be nourished by food and drink, and that his spiritual life be quickened and sustained by the Means of Grace. In both cases there is an order of agencies through which God works. It is the conditioned will of God that men be saved if they believe; it is His ordinate will that they believe, viz., that from the Means of Grace rightly used, they obtain faith. God’s will to create the world by His word was ordinate, but not conditioned. So also His will to raise the dead at the last day by the voice of the Archangel, is also ordinate. The meaning of “Absolute” must, therefore, be decided by determining whether it be the antithesis of “conditioned” or of “ordinate” (Chapter 41:15).
(g) Antecedent and Consequent.
The former refers to a disposition of God determined without regard to any circumstances; the latter to one in which circumstances or conditions on the part of the creature, are regarded.
Matt. 23:37 — “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”
Here man’s will is represented as frustrating the will of God. By His Antecedent Will, God would save Jerusalem. But a condition intervenes and an order must be observed. Man retains the power to resist God’s will, and not comply with the condition, and fall in with the order which God’s will has arranged. Hence it is God’s will both that Jerusalem should be saved, and that it should not be saved. According to His Antecedent Will, that it should be saved. According to His Consequent, that it should not be saved, but be left to its sins.
57. We are now ready to hear an enumeration of the Attributes of the Divine Will?
Power, Justice and Truth, Goodness and Love, and Holiness.
58. What is God’s Power?
He is Omnipotent, that is, He can do whatever He wills.
Matt. 19:26 — “With God, all things are possible.”
Luke 18:27 — “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
Ps. 115:3 — “Our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he pleased.”
Ps. 135:6 — “Whatsoever Jehovah pleased that hath he done.”
59. Can God do what is wrong?
Heb. 6:18 — “It is impossible for God to lie.”
60. Is not His power, therefore, limited?
No. For God does not will, and cannot will what is contrary to His nature, or what would imply any imperfection. Mortality or liability to death, fallibility or liability to deception, mendacity or the power of deceiving and defrauding men, instead of implying power imply the lack of power. Every attribute ascribed to God, is a declaration that its opposite cannot be conceived of as possible.
2 Tim. 2:13 — “He cannot deny himself.”
61. Against what further misunderstanding is God’s Omnipotence to be guarded?
Against every form of contradiction, e. g., as if it could be His will to make the deeds of the past matters that had never existed. Nevertheless what may seem contradictory and may actually be such within the sphere of the natural world, often is not such within the sphere of the supernatural.
Eph. 3:20 — “Unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.”
62. What is the Justice of God?
That according to which God wills, approves, does and commands what is prescribed in His Law, and hates and punishes whatever conflicts with it.
Deut. 32:4 — “A God of faithfullness and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
Ps. 145:17 — “Jehovah is righteous in all his ways.”
Ps. 119:137 — “Righteous art thou, O Jehovah, and upright are thy judgments.”
63. But does not this elevate the Law above God Himself?
No. For the Law is only the expression of God’s nature. As declared to men in time, it is only the revelation of the immanent law, or standard, existing within God from all eternity.
64. Is a thing then good because God has willed it, or has God willed it because it is good?
This question may be otherwise stated as asking whether the will of God, or His essence and attributes are the standard of right and wrong.
For man it is enough to know that God has so willed a thing. For since there is complete harmony between the will and the attributes of God, whichever be regarded as the original, the result must be the same.
65. But the question still arises: Is a thing good for no other reason than that it has been willed and commanded by God? Are Truth and Love, for example, virtues only because of God’s command?
Some things are good entirely because of God’s will and command, as the rites and ordinances of the Ceremonial Law, which had only temporary validity, and whose observance was condemned after the period had transpired for which they were appointed (Gal. 5:2).
66. But how in regard to matters of permanent and immutable morality, such as are declared in the Moral Law?
They are rooted in God’s own nature. Their ultimate standard, therefore, is not the will, but the very nature of God Himself. The highest grade of righteousness in man is the image of God, in which man was created.
Eph. 4:24 — “The new man that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
While therefore the observance of ceremonies and all positive commands are good and right only because God has willed them, other things God wills because they are right and good, as love to God and one’s neighbor. Even though God had not prescribed them in any express commandment, they would not cease to be right and obligatory upon us.
67. In what different ways is the Divine Justice exercised towards men?
Either in prescribing or in executing laws. Laws are prescribed (Legislative Justice) both in conscience and in Scripture. They are executed (Distributive Justice) either by rewarding the good (Remunerative Justice) or by punishing the wicked (Retributive Justice).
68. Is God’s Retributive Justice essential or accidental?
It belongs to God’s very nature to hate and punish sin. No sin can permanently escape punishment, just as no good can fail of reward.
Ex. 34:6, 7 — “A God that will by no means clear the guilty.” Ps. 5:5 — “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not sojourn with thee.”
Ex. 23:7 — “I will not justify the wicked.”
Hab. 1:13 — “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil.”
Cf. 1 Tim. 5:24, 25.
69. What attribute is most closely connected with Justice?
Truth. For the Justice of God is God’s being true to His nature. The truth of God is the conformity of His statements with reality, and His fidelity in fulfilling promises and threatenings.
See Deut. 32:4 (Quest. 62); Heb. 6:18 (Quest. 59).
70. What is the Goodness of God?
(a) On the one hand, His being absolutely perfect.
Luke 18:19 — “None is good, save one, that is God.” Mark 5:48 — “Your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
(b) His will to impart this perfection to others, the self-communication of all his moral excellences to creatures.
James 1:17 — “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
1 Cor. 4:7 — “What hadst thou, which thou didst not receive?” Rom. 2:4 — “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
(c) His attraction of men to Himself as to the Highest Good.
Ps. 73:25, 26 — “Whom have 1 in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
71. What does the Goodness of God include?
His Love, i. e., His delight in His creatures, and His craving for their welfare, a reflection of a similar but higher relation between the Persons of the Trinity.
1 John 4:8— “God is love.”
1 John 3:16 — “Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us.”
John 17:24 — “Thou lovedst me before the foundations of the world.”
72. What different forms are there of this love?
(a) Love of benevolence
God’s disposition from eternity towards a creature, prior to any good that can move this love (John 3:16).
(b) Love of beneficence
By which He carries this love of benevolence into effect, in working His good will for and in it (Eph. 5:25).
(c) Love of complacency
By which He delights in the fruits of the love of beneficence as they are seen by Him in regenerate men.
Heb. 11:5 — “For he hath had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing unto God.”
73. What is the first form in which this love is known?
Grace, i. e., God’s love regarded as gratuitous; His favor shown without regard to man’s merit, and in spite of man’s demerit. Rom. 11:6 — “But if it be by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.”
Rom. 3:24 — “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Chapter 9, 9sqq.)
74. Is the word used in Holy Scripture in any other sense?
Yes, by customary figure of speech, for gifts bestowed by this grace. Of these, some are ordinary, as in I Cor. 15:10:
“I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not 1, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Others are extraordinary and miraculous.
Eph. 4:7 — “But to each one of us was the grace given, according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” 1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 8.
75. What distinction in grace was made by the Scholastics?
Into Grace gratuitously given (Gratia gratis data) and Grace making grateful or acceptable (Gratia gratum faciens). By the use of the former, man, it was taught, could gain relative merit, entitling him to the latter. As we shall see afterwhile, nothing recommends man to the consideration of God but the righteousness of Christ. The grace gratuitously given, and the grace making acceptable, cannot, therefore, be distinguished.
76. What distinction with a better Scriptural foundation was also current?
Into Prevenient, Operating and Co-operating Grace. “Prevenient” grace precedes man’s desire or care for salvation; “Operating” grace works within man Repentance and Faith”; “Co-operating,” attends the exercise, by the regenerate, of the new powers which operating grace has implanted. It is readily seen that the distinctions are not of the grace itself but of man’s various relations to this grace, and of the process whereby the Christian life within man begins and grows to perfection.
77. In what other form is this Love known?
As Mercy, or God’s disposition to relieve the miserable, the divine compassion.
Luke 1:78 — “The tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us.”
Eph. 2:4 — “God being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.”
Ps. 103:8 — “Merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness.”
78. Is there yet another form?
Yes. God is long-suffering. By this, it is meant that He defers inflicting merited punishment, in order to afford an opportunity for repentance.
Rom. 2:4 — “Despiseth thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
2 Pet. 3:9 — “The Lord is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Rev. 2:21 — “I gave her time, that she should repent.”
79. What is the Holiness of God?
That which separates and distinguishes Him from all that is not God; the conformity of His will with His nature; the sum of His moral attributes.
Is. 6:3 — “And one cried to another and said: Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts.” 1 Pet. 1:16 — “It is written, Ye shall be holy: for I am holy.”