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CHAPTER VI: DIVINE ATTRIBUTES
The Attributes of God are those peculiarities which mark or define the mode of his existence, or which constitute his character.
They are not separate nor separable from his essence or nature, and yet are not that essence, but simply have the ground or cause of their existence in it, and are at the same time the peculiarities which constitute the mode and character of his being.
As they are not separable from his essence, so they are not to be regarded as so many different powers and peculiarities or faculties, which so belong to God that he is "composed of different elements." Hedge, 1:369. This would take away the simplicity of the divine nature and make it compound and therefore divisible and changeable.
But, on the other hand, they are not simply our different conceptions of God. They have existence independently of his creatures. There is some true foundation in God himself for the distinctions between them, so that, when we speak of God as wise, we do not only say that we conceive of him differently than when we call him just, but we mean that there is that in God which makes it proper that we should conceive of him under the different aspects of wisdom and justice.
Various divisions have been made of the attributes of God.
1. One is into communicable and incommunicable.
The communicable attributes are those which, to a limited degree, he can also bestow upon his creatures. Such are power, knowledge, wisdom, love, holiness, &c.
The incommunicable are those which cannot thus be bestowed, but which, of necessity, exist only in God. Such are self-existence, immutability, and infinity including immensity and eternity.
2. Another division is into relative and absolute. The relative are those which may be exercised towards objects which are without, the absolute, which exist only in connection with God.
3. Still another division is into transient attributes, or such as pass over to his creatures, and immanent, or such as ever remain in God alone.
4. A fourth division is into positive and negative attributes, the positive being those which ascribe perfections to God, and the negative those which deny imperfections.
These four divisions are however identical. The attributes ranked under the communicable are also placed among the relative, and the transient, and the positive, and those defined as incommunicable are classified as absolute, and immanent, and negative.
5. A further division has been made into the natural and moral attributes.
By the natural attributes are meant those which describe the mode of his existence without respect to personal character; by the moral, those which describe his character.
Dr. Charles Hedge justly objects to this division because the "word natural 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."--Sys. Theol., Vol. I., pp. 375, 376.
In the discussion of the divine attributes, those which belong to the incommunicable, or absolute, or immanent, or negative class will first be considered. These are simplicity, which denies composition; infinity, which, either as eternity denies limitation as to time, or as immensity denies it as to space; and immutability, which rejects all possibility of change in God. After that will be taken up, in the order named, the communicable, relative, transient, or positive attributes of power, knowledge, wisdom, holiness, goodness, love, truth and justice. The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to the simplicity and infinity of God.
THE SIMPLICITY OF GOD.
By this we mean, that the nature of God, comprising his essence and his attributes, is simple or uncompounded pure spirit.
It means more than his unity, for the latter expresses only the fact that there is but one being, that is, God. Were God both matter arid spirit, or compounded in any other way, his unity would not be affected.
Were there but one man in the world, we should ascribe to him unity, and if there could be but one we should ascribe essential unity.
It means more than the spirituality of God, for that includes only that he must be spiritual, and, also, as we have seen, that he should be purely spiritual.
But there is nothing contradictory in the idea, that created spirits might have a composite spiritual nature, composed, for example, of mind, soul and spirit, as three distinct essences, or that a spiritual nature should have a spiritual body, as well as a spiritual soul.
But in God there can be no composition, and therefore his spiritual nature must be uncompounded. Even his attributes and his nature must be in such a manner one, that his attributes essentially inhere in that nature and are not capable of separation from it, which really makes them one with that nature.
The reasons for this are:
1. Because composition (or a putting together,) involves possibility of separation. But this would involve destructibility, and changeableness, each of which is inconsistent with absolute perfection and necessary existence.
2. Composition involves a time of separate existence of the parts compounded. If so, then there was a time when God did not exist, because the parts of his nature had not been united, or, when he existed imperfectly, not having yet received to his essential nature the additions subsequently made; all of which is inconsistent with absolute perfection and necessary existence.
3. If the parts have been compounded, it has been done by some force from without, or has been a growth in his nature. They have not been added from without, because God is independent, and therefore cannot be affected from without. Besides all outward form and all else than God had its origin in him, and he existed as God before it. They have not been a growth in him, for, if so, he is not unchangeable. Any such addition to God or growth in him is also inconsistent with absolute perfection and necessary existence.
In ascribing simplicity to God, therefore, we declare that his nature is so purely or simply one as not to be compounded of separate substances, as matter and spirit, or even of the same substance, in different forms, or of a substance with separable attributes; and we assert that even his attributes are one with his essence, and that he is not only essentially spiritual, but also essentially wise, and good, and holy, and just, and true, and almighty, and omnipotent.
INFINITY OF GOD.
When we say that God is infinite, we deny to him all limitation in his nature or essence. We are conscious of the finite nature of our soul as well as of our body; it has limitations as to place, time and capabilities. In arriving at the idea of the perfect being by way of negation, we deny all such limitation in him, and therefore ascribe to him infinity as to time and space, as well as infinite perfection in his mode of existence, in his power, wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness and truth.
The infinity of God as to time is called
By this we mean:
(1.) That he has no beginning nor end.
(2.) That with him there is no succession of moments.
It is difficult to attain any conception of the mode of existence which is thus ascribed to him. It is so different from our own. Yet a brief consideration of what is involved in the nature of God must convince us that the idea which we express by these statements is just and true.
1. As to the statement that he has no beginning nor end.
When we say that we shall live forever, we can understand how a life once begun may never be completed.
But it is difficult to conceive of a life which goes back equally forever as one may go forward. The past is always completed, and as completed, must be measurable. That which has been by succession of moments or days must have had some first day or moment with which it began. We can form no other conception of it.
That division of eternity, therefore, which is called eternity a parte post we can comprehend; but the complement of it, the eternity a parte ante, which is united with it to express infinite duration, is felt at once to be an attempted conception of the mind to express the eternity which we know must be true, and yet which we perceive is inadequately conceived as well as incorrectly expressed.
While, therefore, we know that God has had no beginning, we see that his mode of existence cannot have been one in which he has had in the past that ever continuing indefinite duration which corresponds to what may be ours in the future.
2. When we say that during some period a certain being has always existed and will always exist, we mean that there has not only been no moment in that period when he has not existed and will be none in which he will not exist, but that during that period he has been and will be existent in a constant succession of moments. There is at all times, after the beginning, a past and present, and will be, until the end, a future. One moment passes away, and another succeeds. But with God there can be no succession of moments.
(1.) Because then he would have had a beginning, which is opposed to his infinity.
(2.) Because then he would not he unchangeable, for that would be true of him to-day which was not yesterday and will not be tomorrow.
(3.) He would not be perfect because something could be added to him from day to day. He would become older. He would have new experiences. Indeed there would be either increase or diminution of his power, wisdom, etc.
The schoolmen attempted to express the eternity of God by saying that it is "punctum stans" or "nunc semper stans."
This is the conception of eternity which we strive to attain. Our difficulty in doing so is that we can no more conceive of duration without succession than we can of an eternity a parte ante. But we see that in this conception we are not arriving at a thought in itself erroneous, as in the other case, but are simply recognizing the fact that God's mode of existence, as to time, is different from ours. Ours has succession of moments, increase in the length of the period, is not all of it possessed at the same time, has had beginning and might have an end, and has a past and future as well as present. God has no succession, no increase of life, is possessed of the whole of his existence at once, and eternally possessed, has had no beginning, can have no end, and lives in the present only, having no past or future.
This accords with the statements of Scripture. God is always spoken of in the present.
He calls himself I AM. His name Jehovah has been supposed mystically to express this.
The psalmist says: "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. 90:2.
Thus our Lord, when he would declare his equality with the Father, uses the present tense for each. "My Father worketh even until now, and I work." John 5:17.
So also in like manner he declared his divinity by saying, "Before Abraham was, I am." John 8:58.
A question arises, what then is the relation of time and eternity to each other?
Time is not a part of eternity, for if it were, eternity must have succession, viz.: before time, during time, after time.
They are in reality different modes of existence which are unlike each other, time being suited to the measurement of creation periods and creature life. True eternity belongs only to the life of God.
While time, however, is not a part of eternity, it co-exists with it.
Through the divine purpose all its events have been eternally present with God, and as well known and realized by him as though actually existent. And, in the actual existence of time, it has been present actually with God and with eternity, although not constituting a part of eternity.
The nature of these relations we cannot understand. Our ideas are vague, and the language in which we would convey them is incapable of expressing even what we perceive and know. But while this is true, we have no question as to the possibility of better knowledge in the future on this point. The difficulty is in reality no greater than in the connection between the immensity and omnipresence of God. Yet from the knowledge of the presence of our spirits as compared with that of our bodies, we comprehend the fact of the omnipresence of God with all created things, while the space in which they exist is no more a part of his immensity than is time a part of his eternity.
Corresponding to the infinity of God in respect to time, is his infinity in respect to space, which is called
God is not confined to space any more than he is measured by time.
Space must have its limitations because its existence is commensurate only with the universe. Where there is no creation, there can be no space nor time. But creation cannot be infinite, but must have its bounds, impossible as it may be for us to imagine the nonexistence of space. In our mode of existence, space and time are so necessary that we cannot even deny their existence without using words which involve that existence. Thus if we say, "Where there is no universe, there is no space," the very words "where" and "there" involve the notion of space.
But notwithstanding this, we know that, just as time is the period, so is space the location, in which creation exists.
When, therefore, we speak of God's immensity, we mean more than his filling all space, just as when we speak of his eternity, we mean more than his existing throughout all time.
We can only express the idea by the fiction of infinite space, as in the other, we have done by that of infinite time.
Immensity is the absolute attribute of God to which corresponds the relative one
By this word we express the relation of God as present with creation.
He is present everywhere. He is present at one and the same time everywhere.
His presence is not merely contact, but energy and power.
It is not merely through his knowledge of it, or the exertion of his power upon it, but he fills it with his essence.
He fills it, not as part to part, but the whole infinite deity is entirely, undividedly present, at each point of creation, in each moment of time.
The following valuable questions and answers are taken from the Outlines of Theology, by Dr. A. A. Hodge, p. 141, of the new edition.
"What are the different modes of the divine presence?
"God may be conceived of as present in any place, or with any creature, in several modes; first, as to his essence; second, as to his knowledge; third, as manifesting that presence to any intelligent creature; fourth, as exercising his power in or upon his creatures. As to essence and knowledge his presence is the same everywhere and always. As to his self-manifestation and the exercise of his power, his presence differs endlessly in different cases, in degree and mode. Thus God is present to the church as he is not to the world. Thus he is present in hell in the manifestation and execution of righteous wrath, while be is present in heaven in the manifestation and communication of gracious love and glory.
"How may it be proved that he is everywhere present as to his essence?
"That God is everywhere present as to his essence is proved from Scripture. 1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 17:27, 28. And from reason. (1.) It follows necessarily from his infinitude. (2.) From the fact that his knowledge is his essence knowing, and his actions are his essence acting, yet his knowledge and his power reach to all things.
"State the different relations that bodies, created spirits and God sustain to space.
"Turretine says: 'Bodies are conceived of as existing in space circumscriptively, because, occupying a certain portion of space, they are bounded by space upon every side. Created spirits do not occupy any portion of space, nor are they embraced by any; they are, however, in space definitely as here and not there. God on the other hand is in space repletively, because in a transcendent manner his essence fills all space. He is included in no space; he is excluded from none. Wholly present to each point he comprehends all space at once."
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