|« Prev||Lecture XIX. Preached June 12, 1691.||Next »|
But now in the next place I shall speak further to you of some of the most eminent and noted of those attributes and perfections of God which are comprehended in this general one, and concerning the order of speaking to them, I shall not be much solicitous. Some distinguish them into negative and positive. But that distinction I reckon less material; because that those they call negative ones are so only verbally, there being somewhat most really positive, that is comprehended under such negative terms, as infinite and immortal and immense and the like. They are usually distinguished into communicable and incommunicable, as hath been occasionally told you already; the former whereof, being those attributes of God of which there is some image and resemblance under the same name among the creatures.
The Incommunicable Attributes are those whereof there is no direct resemblance among the creatures, nor the very name thereof justly or properly to be given 10 any among them or to any thing that is to be found among them. And for this distinction of the divine attributes, they speak very properly and congruous to the nature of the thing, who tell us, that in the description of God, the former sort of these attributes (the communicable ones) do serve to express his nature more generally, or serve to supply the room of a generus in a definition. And that the incommunicable attributes serve to supply the place of a difference in a definition restraining (as it is the business of a difference to do) that general nature, that is presupposed.
And others again distinguish these several ways, that is, some do call every thing a divine attribute, which may be any way affirmed concerning God. When some others of them do only mean by a divine attribute, that which is affirmed concerning him, (as the logicians are wont to speak) “Loquiter quid” not “in quo;” as when it is said, “God is a Spirit.” that they do not reckon a divine attribute which is only to answer the question, What he is? But those things only are to be called attributes, or divine perfections, that do speak more distinguishably concerning his nature, to shew what a one he is, or what a peculiar sort or kind of being he is. And so for one class of divine attributes some reckon his natural proper ties which do some way specify his nature.64
And then for the second kind, the faculties which, (according to our way of conceiving things) we must attribute to him. And then for a third sort, the exercises that do reside in those several faculties, and for a fourth, those that do imitate the affections that are in us belonging to the rational nature, as it is to be found with us, such as love, anger, desire, delight or the like.
I do not think fit indeed that we should tie ourselves to any such distribution. What I mentioned before, of communicable attributes and incommunicable, carries its own evident reason with it, and its own light to every one that observes things. There are some divine excellencies whereof there is an image and resemblance in the creatures fitly mentioned, under the same name in him and in them, though they do not signify the same thing in them as they do in him, but only the image or resemblance of such a thing. And then there are those that are incommunicable, and which neither in name nor in likeness can agree to the creature. This is a very plain distinction, obvious to any one that considers.
For his incommunicable attributes they are such as these, and I shall but only mention them. As,
1. His Simplicity, absolute uncompoundedness, all excellencies and perfections meeting, and being united in him, in the absolute unity of his own Nature without division, without composition and without mixture.
2. His Immutability, by which he is always invariably, eternally what he is. “I Am what I Am.” without “shadow of turning,” (as the apostle James’s emphatical expression is) there being not so much as the shew of a change.
3. His Self-existence, or (which is all one) his necessary existence, or the necessity of his existence. That perfection of the Divine Nature, by which he is so, as that it is simply impossible for him not to be, or ever not to have been, his essence involving existence in it, so as it is not with any thing besides; for as to any created being, it may be, or it may not be; it may exist or not exist. But it is peculiar to the Divine Being to exist necessarily, so as that it cannot but exist: that is the same thing with self-existence, not existing from another, but existing only from himself. And,
4. His Infiniteness, which comprehends divers things in it; for the infinity of the Divine Being, it is either extrinsical or intrinsical: extrinsical as it imparts some kind of relation to somewhat ad extra, or without, and so the extrinsical infiniteness of God is two fold: that which respects time and that which respects space. That which respects time is eternity, 65and that infinitely exceeds all the measures of time. Consider God’s duration in reference to time, and his duration is eternal, which is founded in his self-existence, or his necessary existence, was told you before. His being, is of that peculiar kind or hath that peculiar excellency belonging to it that could never not be; and therefore must exist from eternity, and must be to eternity. This is his extrinsical infiniteness in reference to time. And there is his infiniteness in reference to space, which is extrinsical too. It is somewhat supposed without, or besides himself; though but supposed or but imagined. All that space which the Divine Being doth occupy and possess: and this is his immensity. In reference to time, his infiniteness speaks eternity, in reference to space his infiniteness speaks immensity, that which some understand to be his omnipresence. And indeed, it is mostly so, but not wholly, for omnipresence even as presence is a relative term, and refers to somewhat with which it may be said to be present, and so the divine presence can refer to nothing besides himself, without the compass of the created universe, for there is nothing without that, that he can be present to. But his immensity hath an infinitely further reference, that is, to all the boundless, imaginable space (only imaginable) through which the Divine Being diffuseth itself. For not only is it truly said concerning him. He fills heaven and earth, “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” Jer. xxiii. 24. But also, “the heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him.” as it is said in that seraphical prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple “Will God indeed dwell with men on the earth, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain?” And so his infiniteness in reference to space, it doth, without any limits, go beyond and transcend this vast created universe, be that as vast as it can be supposed to be: and it must be supposed to be very vast indeed, by all that do set themselves to consider what is by human indication or inquiry to be found most considerable, and who allow themselves the liberty ever to think of that vast extent of created being, in comparison whereof not only our earth is but a point, but even that vortex that covers this part of the world to which the earth belongs, is but a mere point, that which contains our sun, and the other planets; all that is but a mere point in comparison of the rest of the universe. Consider that, and the vast extent thereof, and you must yet consider, all this is but a mere point in comparison of the vast amplitude of the Divine Being, concerning which we are to conceive there is not any point of conceivable space any where, but there the Divine Being is, and still infinitely beyond it. And indeed, it is fit we should give great 66scope to our thoughts, that we may as far as possible conceive in this respect worthily and greatly concerning that God whom we serve and whose name we bear, and to whom we profess to be devoted ones.
But then there is his intrinsical infiniteness besides, that is, his infiniteness considered not with reference to any thing without him, but in reference to what he is in himself. And so it signifies the unfathomable profundity and depth of his essence, including all being itself, in all the kinds, in all the degrees, and in all the perfections thereof; so as that there is no being of any kind, or of any sort, which his being doth not some way or other comprehend, virtually at least: his, being the radical Being from which all other beings spring.
Concerning these Incommunicable Attributes, or perfections of the Divine Being, I shall say no more to you than only to give you this summary and short account that I have given, because in our demonstrating the existence a God it was impossible not to speak to these things: that was a thing not to be done without mentioning such things as these, even somewhat too in a way of demonstration, that demonstrating of them we might give some account of the Being whose existence we are to demonstrate. But now there are sundry other divine attributes that I shall speak a little more distinctly to, and which lie under that other head of
Communicable Attributes, and which therefore are more familiar, and ought to be so to ourselves, as having some image, some resemblance of them, under the same names, in us; all, either have, or ought to have; some indeed have and cannot but have a resemblance in every intelligent creature, yea (and further than so) in every animate creature. And for those that fall under a moral consideration, they are such as ought to be in us, though they be not. These perfections of God are distinguished into natural, intellectual, and moral; or of his nature, mind, and will.
First. I shall consider his natural perfections: and,
1. I shall begin with that perfection of the Divine Nature whereof there is in us some kind (and ought to be in other kinds) a resemblance or image under the same name. And that is, the Divine Life, the life of God. I do not mean it now in that sense wherein it is a thing either derived to us, or prescribed to us. As in the one or the other, or both of these senses, that expression must be used and understood, (Eph. iv. 18.) “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them s and because of the blindness of their hearts,” speaking of the Gentile world, and those 67Ephesians themselves, while as yet they were in a state of gentilisrn. I do not, I say, speak of that life now which God requires us to live, and which he makes his own children to live. But I speak of that life which he lives himself; and in respect whereof he is so frequently in Scripture called “the Living God,” that excellency of his Being, which he many times attests, to add weight and solemnity and emphasis unto his protestations to men, to assure them that this is so, or not so, or. that this f that he doth, or doth not, or will do, or will not do. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” And so, upon sundry like occasions, that form of protestation is used by him: “As I live I will do so or so, or it is so and so;” which intimates this, to be a most glorious excellency of the Divine Being, and that which he lays a mighty stress upon himself, and would have us to do so too. It is that which should highly raise our thoughts and apprehensions of the Divine Being, to consider him as the living God: and therefore the properties of that life by which he lives, (after the general conception of life itself,) would be worth our while a little to stay upon. We can have no other general conception of life, but that it is a self-active principle. It speaks a sort of self-activeness in the subject wherein it is: and so, being spoken of God, it attributes that to him in the highest perfection that can be thought, and indeed doth suppose it to be in him, in a perfection infinitely beyond what we can conceive: that is, that he is by the excellency of his own Being, a perpetual fountain of life to himself, It is that which is included in the notion of a spirit, though it is not expressive of all that is signified by that notion. It is but an inadequate conception of what is carried in the notion of a spirit. A spirit, it is, as such, (though that be not all) a self-active being, a being of self-actuating vigour, that can move itself within itself. And that is the most full and distinct conception that we have of life. But taking that for the general conception, there are peculiar excellencies of the Divine Life, that distinguish it from life any where else. As,
(1.) His is absolutely self-originate. No other life is so; but his is absolutely self-originate. All other life is derived, participated, even such creatures to which life is essential, yet their life is but participated; for admit, life is essential, (as it is to all created spirits as such) yet inasmuch as their being is participated and derived, so is their life too; and their being, being a spiritual being, (though a created being) life is so essential to it, for if it ceaseth to live it ceaseth to be, and so its life and being are not separable things. It is not so with that life which our bodies do partake of; even in ourselves, our 68bodies and our souls have two very distinct sorts of life, our bodies have but a borrowed life, a united life which they borrow from the soul that is within them, and unto which they are united. That soul may retire and part, and then the body dies, and yet it is the same body that it was before: so that if it cease to live, it doth not thereby cease to be. These bodies of ours may cease to live, though not cease to be, because their life is a borrowed life from another: they have it from the soul. But the soul, that hath life in itself, essential to it; so that it can not cease to live, but it must cease to be. But though it be so, yet its essence and life are but derived from that great Original Life, and from that great Original Being whose life we now speak of. He is the well-spring of life, (Psalm xxxvi. 9.) “With thee is the fountain of life.” It is equally impossible, as was said before, for him either to cease to live, or cease to be; where as to us this impossibility is only supposed, it is only a suppositive impossibility. If we should cease to live, we should cease to be too, in reference to these souls of ours. But it is positive as to God, that he can neither cease to live nor cease to be. His is therefore an absolute self-original Life. He hath life in himself, or by himself, as that expression is, John v. 26. “As the Father, (who we are told is our Father) which is in heaven is perfect.” perfect in this respect, hath life in himself, a perpetual spring of life within himself, so hath the Son life in himself, as he is God, and as he is God-man; life to communicate and derive from himself to quicken whom he will, as it is in that context. And then,
(2.) This life of God, as it is a self-original, so it is a self-communicative life; it is a self-communicating life. Not in the same kind, but it doth contain in itself eminently that life which it makes others to live, which it imparts unto creatures. Indeed they cannot live that same life, for life being essential unto him in whom it originally is, to communicate his life were to communicate his essence, and so we make the creature, God which is impossible. But he contains eminently in himself that life by which, formally, he makes the creature live. And so in that respect, the Divine Life, is self-communicative, causual, efficient, making those to live to whom he doth impart it. With him is the well-spring of life. Now these two things are carried in the notion of a fountain: 1st. That there be a perpetual spring in it, and 2nd. that there be a communication and eflux, a deriving of streams from that spring. These two things are carried in the very notion of a fountain. And so as he is the well-spring of life it imports,69
[1.] That life that is in him to be self-original, he is the perpetual Spring of it, in himself and to himself. And then,
[2.] Self-communicative, continually deriving streams issuing and flowing out to the creatures, so as to quicken whom he will, as it is said, “the Son doth, in that,” John v. 20. And
[3.] This life of God is an indeficient life; a life that cannot decay, a life that cannot fail, a life that cannot languish, life always in the highest perfection, every thing in God being God, and therefore no more capable of diminution or decay, than the being of God is, which, as you have heard, is a necessary being, and therefore can never be otherwise than as he is, never more perfect, nor ever less perfect. And,
[4.] It is universal life. The life which belongs to the Divine Being, is universal; that is, it carries all kind of life eminently in it, not formally but eminently. You know that there is a great variety of the kinds of life among the creatures; but all comes from one Fountain, and therefore that life which doth belong to the blessed God himself, it must be a universal sort of life, a universality of life, all kinds of life are summed up there, not formally but eminently, there being no kind of life that is lived by any creature, from the most excellent to the most mean and abject, but the power of giving it, the power of imparting it, being in himself who is the Original of life: he hath it within his own power to make that creature live this or that sort of life suitable to the capacity of its own nature, and it is observable to this purpose, that in that passage, Psalm xlii. 8. where the psalmist saith, “my prayer shall be to the God of my life;” in the Hebrew it is plural, to the God of my lives. And you know, a man (and more may be said in this kind concerning a holy man, a saint) lives several sorts of lives, as he lives a vegetative life, first the life of a plant, and then the sensitive life; the life of an animal, and then the rational life; the life of a man, and then, if he be a saint, as you know the Psalmist was, a holy life. Now all these lives are comprehended together in this one Fountain. “My prayer shall be to the God of my lives.” It is he that makes me live all these several ways that I do live. As I live the life of a plant, I have it from him: as I live the life of an animal, I partake that life from him: as I live the life of a man, a rational creature, I still partake that life from him; and as I live the life of a saint, a holy man, I partake that life from him too, which carries the nearest resemblance with it of his own life.
And thus we are to conceive of our Father which is in heaven, to be perfect in respect of this high and glorious excellency of life; self-original life, self-communicative life, indeficient 70life and universal life, that contains all sorts and kinds of life eminently in itself.
And now to make some Use of this subject of the life of God, how highly should this raise our thoughts concerning that God whose name we bear, concerning our Father that is in heaven. It must highly serve to recommend him to us,
1. As the Object of our worship. What a glorious object of worship have we! How may our souls solace themselves every time we go to worship in the contemplation of this, “I am going to worship the living God!” So he is pleased to distinguish himself from the false gods, by this same epithet of the living One. Therefore, we have living and true, put together distinctly concerning him. 1 Thes. i. 9. “To serve the living and true God.” And it is with reference to the consideration of him as the glorious Object of our worship, that the apostle speaks of him, in Acts xiv. 15. when those ignorant barbarians, among whom he was, would have done worship unto him and Barnabas, he runs in among them and saith “Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with yourselves, and preach to you that you should turn from these vanities to the living God, who made heaven and earth and all things therein. “Our business is to bespeak you to be worshippers of the living God alone.” Thus doth the word magnify him above the inanimate, senseless deities of the pagan world, who were wont to worship stocks and stones and the works of their own hands; and bow down and pray to a god that could not save. And how should we magnify to ourselves the Object of our worship, under this notion, and admire and bless God that he hath revealed himself to us, so as we are not left altogether ignorant whom we are to worship, that we do not worship altogether we know not what. We know the Object of our worship carries in it the reason of its own being worshipped, which renders it a rational worship. He is the living and so the true God whom we worship.
2. How highly should it recommend him to us as the Object of our trust. “Therefore we labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe. 1 Tim. iv. 10. and chap. vi. 17. “Charge them which be rich in this world that they trust not in uncertain riches but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” How heart satisfying an Object of trust have we in this respect, considering God as the living God, the Fountain of an indeficient, never failing self-original and universal life, in all the excellencies and perfections of life.71
3. What an Object of fear have we even in this conception of God, or from this divine attribute. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb. x. 31. A man may be angry with me, and he dies and then his anger dies with him; but it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands who never dies, the hands of the everlasting God. Who would not value his favour as that wherein stands life? It should mightily raise our apprehensions concerning God to conceive of him so. And,
4. It highly recommends him to us as the Object of our imitation. For this is one of the divine excellencies or perfections, whereof there is a mimesis, a resemblance under the same name in us. We do all of us live (as was said) several sorts of lives wherein we do resemble God. But we should most of all resemble him in a holy life, such of us who are raised from death to life, or shall be so. And herein it is the duty of every believer to resemble him. This is matter of precept, a thing capable of being put into a command. It is no matter of duty to us to imitate him in the other kinds of life, but In this kind of life it is matter of duty to imitate him in it, that is, in the perfection of that life which is therefore called the life of God, because it is prescribed us by God, enjoined us by God and it is that wherein we are to imitate God. And therefore, it is called, even as it is in us, “the life of God.” Ephes. iv. 18. Others not yet reconciled to God, not brought home, but remain in their natural, unconverted state, they are “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their hearts.” We are to consider God, the living God, as the Object of our imitation: and therefore, should reflect with just severity upon ourselves; “Do we pretend a relation with the living God, and say he is our God? O! then what mean our dead prayers, our dead duties, our dead hearts! that we let them be dead, and do not strive and wrestle and contend with them, to get them up to this raised perfection of life wherein we are to resemble God, and to express a visible conformity to him!” It is a severe rebuke which is put upon the Sardian church. “Thou hast a name to live and art dead.” It is plain, he doth not speak of a total death, or as if there was nothing of spiritual life among them, for in the next words he saith, “be watchful and strengthen the things that remain which are ready to die.” There were great degrees of deadness, but strengthen (saith he) the remains of life, “the things that remain that are ready to die,” and see how it is enforced, “for I have not seen thy works perfect before God.” Your heavenly Father is in this 72respect perfect, as he is the living God, as life is in him in the highest pitch of perfection and excellency: “but I have not found your works perfect before me, as your heavenly Father is perfect;” therefore, “strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die;” that your life may shine in lustre and glory more suitably and conformably unto the divine life, unto the life of God himself. But now,
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