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STUDIES ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
By Davis W. Huckabee
THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD
“The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:23-24). In this text we see one of the intensely practical reasons for understanding the attributes of God.
This one—the spirituality of God—has important bearings upon man’s worship of God, for if one does not understand that God is spiritual and that the worship of Him must conform to that spirituality, one may be tempted to have a mere formal and ritualistic worship. Indeed, this verse probably indicts the worship of ninety percent of professing Christianity because they rise no higher than formal and ritualistic worship.
Here is a most solemn and suggestive statement: “True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The implication is that there will be false worshippers that will be manifest by their worship not measuring up to this standard. Consider the contrasts implied here: true worshippers are contrasted by implication with those that worship falsely. This worship is of the Father, as opposed to any other objects of worship. But inasmuch as another of God’s attributes is the unity of the Godhead, worship of the Father implies the worship of the Son and of the Spirit as well. This worship is in spirit as opposed to a mere formalistic or ritualistic worship. And finally, worship in truth is opposed to worshipping falsely, or insincerely.
- CONSIDER THE DEFINITION.
“Spirit” is frequently used as the opposite of body, or of anything of a material nature. In man, though body and spirit are united for a time, the spirit is not dependent upon the body, but the body is upon the spirit. The spirit can exist without the body, but the body cannot exist without the spirit, as shown in James 2:26.
This implies, negatively, that (a) God is not matter. Spirit is not a refined form of matter but an immaterial substance, invisible, uncompounded, indestructible. (b) God is not dependent upon matter. It cannot be shown that the human mind, in any other state than the present, is dependent for consciousness upon its connection with a physical organism. Much less is it true that God is dependent upon the material universe as his sensorium. God is not only spirit, but he is pure spirit. He is not only not matter, but he has no necessary connection with matter. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 249-250.].
The declaration of this text is that God is spirit, as the inspired text says, for there is no definite article here, and the Greek language has no indefinite article “a” or “an” as in English. But not all spirits are of God, for there are also unclean spirits, demon spirits, the spirit of the world, the spirit of the Antichrist, etc. It might be well to retain the reading “God is a spirit” lest any that might have imbibed a pantheistic spirit might hold wrongly that all spirits are somehow a part of the Divine Spirit. And this is a common belief in many of the Eastern religions.
“Spirit” is not only a part of a thing, but it is the most important part of it, and the word had come to be used in the sense of the very essence of a thing, without which that thing ceases to be. Hence the word is used in Revelation 19:10 of the very essence of prophecy. This is also seen in 1 Corinthians 2:11 where the spirit of a man is his essential being which alone constitutes him a man and gives him knowledge of himself. At no time do we see this meaning borne out so clearly as when we stand at the bedside of a dying person and see the change that takes place when the spirit departs from the body. A moment before that body was alive and animated: then the spirit departs and the body is henceforth just a piece of corrupting clay, soon to be absorbed back into the dust of the earth. What has all this to do with the spirituality of God? Just this: the term refers to God in His essential being, as immaterial, invisible and indivisible.
The nature of God is the foundation of worship; the will of God is the rule of worship; the matter and manner is to be performed according to the will of God. But is the nature of the object of worship to be excluded? No; as the object is, so ought our devotion to be, spiritual as he is spiritual... God is a Spirit; that is, he hath nothing corporeal, no mixture of matter, not a visible substance, a bodily form. He is a Spirit, not a bare spiritual substance, but an understanding, willing Spirit, holy, wise, good, and just. Before, Christ spake of the Father, (v. 23), the first person of the Trinity; now he speaks of God essentially: the word Father is personal, the word God essential; so that our Savior would render a reason, not from any one person in the blessed Trinity, but from the Divine nature, why we should worship in spirit, and therefore makes use of the word God, the being a Spirit being common to the other persons with the Father. [Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon The Existence And Attributes of God, Vol I, pp. 178-179.].
God is not a man, nor is He like unto man. To think so is to completely reverse the Bible teaching about the attributes of God. Man was made in God’s image and likeness; God is not made in man’s image. Nor is God simply a glorified man, and all men incipient gods, as Mormons and other false religions teach. Such is nothing more than the old paganism revived and revamped and renamed. 1 Samuel 15:29 and other texts tell us in no uncertain terms that, “God is not a man.” And as if in anticipation of the objection that “Well, yes, He is not now a man, but He used to be,” (Ps. 90:2), denies that He has ever been man in His essential being, for it says: “Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”His immutability, to be considered later in this study, proves as much also.
We readily grant the fact of the incarnation of the Son of God, but this was the enrobement in a human body of one Person of the Godhead. But even in this, there was not a laying aside of His Deity during this time, but He continued to be God in the fullest sense during the time of His incarnation. This no more detracts from His Godhood than the departure of man’s spirit from a body detracts from his manhood. For in both instances it is the spirit that constitutes one what he is. The body only houses the real being, which lies in the spirituality of the being.
That true spirituality consists in a total immateriality, is shown by the Lord’s own words to His disciples after His resurrection, when they, still not comprehending the fact of the resurrection, thought Him to be a spirit. To show them that He had a real body, albeit a glorified one, He said in Luke 24:38-39: “Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”
The spirituality of God lies in that He is a pure spirit, having no material body, nor parts thereof. Perhaps there will be the immediate question, “But what about all those texts of Scripture that describe God in the same terms that man’s body is described?” This is what is called an anthropomorphism (from anthropos—man, and morphae—form), a describing of God in human terms. After all, we can only understand the unknown in terms of the known, and God allows Himself to be described in human terms, for this is the only way that man can understand what He is. These human terms are used only in a figurative sense.
(They) denote some act and action, or attribute of his: thus his face denotes his sight and presence, in which all things are... His eyes signify his omniscience and all-seeing providence... His ears, his readiness to attend unto, and answer the requests of his people, and deliver them out of their troubles... His nose and nostrils, his acceptance of the persons and sacrifices of men... His mouth is expressive of his commands, promises, threatenings, and prophecies delivered by him... His arms and hands signify his power, and the exertion of it. [John Gill, Body of Divinity, p. 32.].
To take such terms as these in a literal sense is to humanize God, and to ignore His spirituality, and thus to have a wholly inadequate view of Him. For those that try to take these in a literal sense, also often follow on, like the pagans of old, and attribute also to God base and unworthy human characteristics such as passion, forgetfulness, ignorance, etc., so that the ultimate end of such beliefs is utter atheism.
God’s spirituality is to be seen in that many of the other Divine attributes are based upon this. For example, nothing material could ever be omnipresent, for everything material is local. Nor could it be immutable, since change is the constant characteristic of all that is material. This fact would then, mitigate against God’s perfection, since change is always either for the better, and so, implies that one was not perfect before, or else is for the worse, and so, implies that one was not constantly perfect. Since everything that is material is confined to time, and eventually passes away, God’s eternity also requires His spirituality. And so we could go on and on.
God’s spirituality is intimated in that He is the creator of spirits, (Num. 16:22; Eccl. 12:7; Zech. 12:1; Heb. 12:9). “He is the creator of spirits. But spirit is the highest order of existence and its creator must himself have the nature which belongs to that order.” [J. P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 60.].
But spirituality consists in more than merely a nebulous, will-o-the-wisp essential being. Though the word “spirit” is frequently used in modern terminology in a loose way to refer to something of only a shadowy reality, such is not the original meaning and use of the word. Therefore it is necessary to pass on to consider some other things implied in the spirituality of God.
- CONSIDER THE DELINEATION.
By this we mean to simply trace out in detail the different elements that are parts of the spirituality of God. There are, we believe, at least three other attributes of God that are manifestations of the spirituality of God. These are life, personality and will. Life is a very important part of the spirituality of God, as it is of the spirituality of man. Indeed, James 2:26 shows that life is the very essence of spirituality when it says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Spirituality then consists in having life, and God is frequently represented as the “Living God,” as opposed to the false deities that have no life in them. (See Jer. 10:10; 1 Thess. 1:9). Nor, is this life a derived life. He is the source of life to all living things, yet He Himself had no beginning of life. He is the only underived life as says John 5:26: “The Father hath life in Himself.” This touches upon another of God’s attributes, which we will deal with in more detail later, namely, His self-existence.
God’s being is underived. His is a self-caused existence. His existence is independent of everything else. The self-existence of God is implied in the name “Jehovah,” which means “the existing one,” and also in the expression “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14), which signifies that it is God’s nature to be... Self-existence is a mystery that is incomprehensible to man; yet a denial of it would involve us in a greater mystery. [T.P. Simmons, Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, p. 64.].
The statement of John 5:26 that the Father has life in Himself had already been preceded by the statement in John 1:4 concerning Christ that, “In Him was life.” And texts such as Romans 8:2; Galatians 6:8 speak of the Holy Spirit as the source of life also, so that we are assured that all three Persons of the Godhead have this same self-existent life. Man’s life, and indeed the life of all creation, is a derived life, as Acts 17:25 and 28 declares, and God alone is the source of it, both as a spiritual life, and as a mere physical life. In the light of Psalm 36:9: “With thee is the fountain of life,” and Psalm 66:9: “Which holdeth our soul in life,” we see the intensely practical aspect of understanding these attributes of God. He is the source of all life, physical and spiritual, and He alone can sustain one in life. Therefore we ought to recognize this blessed attribute of God, and glorify Him for having made us a partaker of it. Saints need to remember that, “His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” (2 Pet. 1:3). Without this—no salvation, no acceptable worship, no service, no hope. Nothing is lacking in God’s provision because of the perfection of God’s attributes.
Personality is another part of the spirituality of God, yet this attribute is frequently overlooked or ignored by man because the generality of mankind has relegated God to a far off, dark corner of the mind. And He is treated as if He were only a vague influence, or a barely remembered acquaintance from the dim past. Personality means those characteristics that make one to be a real person, and includes self-consciousness and self-determination.
These two ideas of personality and spirituality are closely related. Some people have difficulty in thinking of personality apart from physical form or space relations. But when we come to see what is involved in personality, we realize that the essence of personality is spiritual, not physical or material. Perhaps it would not be wrong, then, to say that God can be perfect personality because the essence of his being is spiritual rather than material. [W.T. Connor, Christian Doctrine, pp. 79-80.].
It is the misuse of the word “spirit” that has caused many to fail to realize that God’s spirituality implies His personality as well, for many use “spirit” in a very vague way. But every revelation of God to man suggests His personality for He deals in very personal ways with men. His revelation of Himself as “I AM THAT I AM,” (Ex. 3:14), was a manifestation of His personality, and because of His perfect self-consciousness and perfect self-determination, He alone has a perfectly developed personality.
The idea of personality originates in our consciousness of self—of ego as distinguishable and distinct from all that is non-ego; analysis of the idea shows that its contents or elements consist of intelligence, will and conscience. Thus personality consists of free moral reason, of self-determinating intelligence under the domination of moral law; and free moral intelligence can only be thought of as personal. God, therefore, the infinite intelligence, self-conscious and self-determined, must be conceived of as personal—as personal will, acting with absolute freedom and absolute rectitude. [E.G. Robinson, Christian Theology, p. 62.].
The will of God is another part of His spirituality, and this is but another way of expressing His perfect self-determination. Despite man’s constant denial of, and attempted disannulling of the will of God, He still rules in the affairs of men without let or hindrance.
God’s hidden will is peremptory and absolute, and therefore cannot be hindered from taking effect. God’s will is nothing else than God Himself willing, consequently it is omnipotent and unfrustrable... Whatever comes to pass, comes to pass by virtue of this absolute omnipotent will of God, which is the primary and supreme cause of all things. [Jerome Zanchius, Absolute Predestination, pp. 15, 16.].
Because he judges by the sight of the eyes, rather than by the declarations of the Word of God, man often thinks, in his arrogance and pride, that he has frustrated the will of God, but this is not so. Scripture frequently declares that God continually works out His will, and He often uses man’s own rebellion to do so. (See His absolute sovereignty taught in 1 Sam. 2:1-10; 2 Chr. 20:6; Job 23:13-15; Ps. 33:8-11; 103:19; 115:3; 135:6; Prov. 16:4; 19:21; 21:1; Eccl. 3:14; Isa. 14:24, 27; 43:13; 46:10; Lam. 3:37; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 11:27; John 17:2; Acts 4:26-28; Rom. 9:11-18; Eph. 1:11; Phil. 2:13, etc.). These are only a very few of the many, many texts that declare that God’s will—His determinate counsel, that is,—is always accomplished. Against these, there is not one text that even intimates that man’s will ever triumphs over God’s determinate counsel. Yes, we are aware that Scripture frequently shows that man exercises what he thinks is his own free will, and that he often resists the revealed will of God in doing so. But that he never successfully resists the determinate counsel of God is just as clearly shown. Hence, we must carefully distinguish between God’s will of desire that is expressed in every command that God gives, and His decretive will, or decreed will, which never fails to come to pass. Every person is tested as to whether he will obey or not by every Divine command or duty that comes to him. This is how sin is determined, but when God decrees something to come to pass, the human will is never a factor in it. When man wills to do good it is always because of what Philippians 2:13 teaches—God’s effectual power moving him to both will and to do God’s will. But when man wills to do evil, and seems to succeed in it, it is always because of what Psalm 76:10 teaches. God often allows evil because He has determined to bring good out of it, and to get praise unto Himself thereby, as is shown that He did in Acts 4:26-28.
Man’s misunderstanding of the will of God can be traced, first to an egotistical view of his own abilities, and second to an ignorance about this two-fold nature of God’s will. God’s will may be: (1) Revealed in the Word, which tests human response to it. God’s revealed will is always resisted only through His forbearance. (2) His secret will, which is the same as His determinate counsel, and which He determined upon in eternity past, is always accomplished in God’s own good time. We can know God’s determinate will only as we see it being fulfilled and accomplished, for it often seems to be being frustrated. This is always holy, just, good, and right, and so, it manifests the spirituality of His being, and that He is perfect in all His attributes. His very nature prevents Him ever doing anything evil.
In all his outward acts, as well as in those within, he is governed by his own nature. That nature, and that will, must always be in unison. As he is infinitely wise, so must his will and action be directed toward wise ends in the use of wise means. His infinite justice forbids that he should will or do anything contrary to the strictest justice. The God of truth must also purpose in accordance with truth and faithfulness. [J. P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 109.].
Conclusion: God’s attributes are all glorious and perfect, and they are all revealed and exercised for the good of those that submit to God in repentance and faith. Against the unrepentant and unbelieving, all of God’s attributes are arrayed for a different purpose. He will use them to bring wrath and indignation upon them. In which class do you belong?
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