Follow us on Twitter | Report Error | + Larger Font | + Smaller Font | Print This Page
STUDIES ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
By Davis W. Huckabee
THE INFINITY OF GOD
“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 hell; what canst thou know?” (Job 11:7-8). Although the word “infinite” is not used here, it is implied in these questions. Indeed, this word appears only one time in Scripture concerning God: “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite,” (Ps. 147:5). Yet, the thought of God’s infinity runs throughout all the Scriptures. We have only to understand the meaning of the term to realize this.I. CONSIDER THE DEFINITION.
By infinity we mean, not that the divine nature has no known limits or bounds, but that it has no limits or bounds. That which has simply no known limits is the indefinite. The infinity of God implies that he is in no way limited by the universe or confined to the universe; he is transcendent as well as immanent. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 254.].
God is infinite. In its negative sense, His infinity implies that the bounds which confine us do not confine Him, whether in respect of knowledge or of power, of space or time. In its positive sense, infinity indicates that God possesses every perfection in its complete and absolute fullness, so as to contain exhaustively all that belongs to the conception of those perfections. [A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel, p. 26.].
This attribute of God sometimes is known by the term “absoluteness.” It speaks of God’s divine perfection in every realm. The following Scriptures reveal some of these. Psalm 147:5 (cited above) refers to His Infinite Knowledge;Infinite Power: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable,” (Ps. 145:3). Infinite Wisdom “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Infinite Righteousness: “My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof,” (Ps. 71:15). Infinite Glory:“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” (Isa. 6:3). This same text, and others like it, in the three-fold ascription of holiness to God, reveals His infiniteholiness. This could be extended greatly, for every aspect of God’s being is infinite.
This term [absoluteness—DWH] denotes an idea that we cannot dispense with in our thought of God. The infinity of God means about the same thing. By the absoluteness of God is meant that he is not dependent on anything outside himself; by his infinity we denote the unlimited fullness and perfection of his being. [W.T. Connor, Christian Doctrine, p. 80.].
But the very fact of God’s absoluteness in every area of His being presents a solemn warning to us of our own utter inability to fully know, understand and appreciate who and what God is. This is where the mistake of the humanistcomes in. He thinks that his puny little mind is sufficient to understand God, and he will not allow anything or anyone to exist that he himself cannot understand and explain, and he tries to pull God down from His infinity of being to the level of human understanding and knowledge.
We do not presume to explain or understand the being of God or His infinite attributes—no man or angel can do so. “Who, by searching, can find out God?” Could we comprehend Him we should make Him altogether like ourselves. We are finite; our God is infinite. How can the finite comprehend the infinite? A thousand times easier could a drop measure the waters of all the seas. [J.R. Graves, The Seven Dispensations, p. 29.].
Yet the fact that we cannot fully comprehend the perfections of God should not hinder us from gaining all the knowledge that we can of Him, for every advance in knowledge of God will increase our faith in Him, and this is always pleasing in His sight.
Human reason is finite, and therefore unable to comprehend what is infinite. Indeed, it is unable to comprehend in full many objects that are strictly finite, as, for example, the ocean. Yet it can know, in part, that which is truly infinite as well as that which is indefinitely great. For a reality which is, in some respects, infinite and indefinable may be, in other respects, definable... The study of theology is, throughout, a study of the relations of finite beings to an infinite Being; and therefore great caution is necessary. Better leave many blanks in the system than go beyond the warrant of facts. [Alva Hovey, Manual of Systematic Theology, pp. 13, 14.]
One of our reasons for this study of the attributes of God is that we may better understand who and what God is. For though a knowledge of God’s attributes will reveal His almost inconceivable greatness, and thereby reveal our utter nothingness by contrast, yet it will also reveal that these attributes are manifested for our good. Because of the perfection of God’s being, He needed nothing outside of Himself, but He reveals Himself to His creation that men might see and understand that all that God is, is arrayed for man’s welfare if man will but submit to Him. This the humanist refuses to do, for he is intent upon glorifying himself, and he can only think that man is great if he refuses to contemplate the true greatness that is manifested in God’s attributes. Hence he either ignores, or else plays down, the greatness of God as manifested in a right view of His attributes, and tries to make man’s wisdom or will the great limiter of God. Such a view proceeds upon great ignorance of the attributes of God, and especially this one of the infinity of God. God cannot be both infinite, yet limited by anything outside of Himself.
Because of the very meaning of infinite, it has to do with all of the other attributes of God. But in this study we will restrict our study of it to those absolute attributes of self-existence,immutability,unityand plurality, and reserve our study of God’s infinity as regards His relative attributes until later.II. CONSIDER THE DELINEATION.
In tracing out God’s absolute infinity, we come first of all to His self-existence. This simply means that He is the uncaused, first Cause of all creation, and that He is independent of all creation, needing nothing. “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things,” (Acts 17:24-25).
This is what is implied in the name by which He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM,” (Exod. 3:14). The Septuagint (Greek) version renders this “I, even I, am the existing One.”
This signifies the real being of God, his self-existence, and that he is the Being of beings; as also it denotes his eternity and immutability, and his constancy and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, for it includes all time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am. [John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 262.].
There is a depth here which no finite mind can fathom. “I am that I am”
announced that the great God is self-existent, beside whom there is none time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am. [John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 262.].
There is a depth here which no finite mind can fathom. “I am that I am” announced that the great God is self-existent, beside whom there is none else. Without beginning, without ending, “from everlasting to everlasting” He is God. None but He can say “I am thatI am”—always the same, eternally changeless. [A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, p. 29.].
Because of His self-existence, God is also an independent Being, for He has no needs that are not supplied by Himself. Indeed, even before He had created the first atom of matter He was self-sufficient, and was complacent in Himself. Man, being such a totally dependent creature, finds it hard to even visualize this attribute of God. And being a fallen creature, he is unwilling to confess his nothingness that he might partake of God’s fullness. Because everything that we know of has had a beginning which was caused by something outside of itself, some have thought that the same must be true of God. Others have sought to account for God’s existence by saying that He is the cause of Himself or that He originated Himself. This is an absurdity! Better to honestly recognize that God is infinitely above man. That nothing can adequately represent God but God Himself. That He is without beginning or ending, self-existent, self-sufficient, and independent. Better to recognize by faith that “In the beginning God...” and no explanations go further back than that. It is an act of unbelief and presumption to go beyond Scripture proof in this matter or any other.
Some think that the Hebrew word shaddai,which is rendered “Almighty” in all of its forty-eight appearances, has the meaning of all-sufficient,and the ways in which it is used seems to give sufficient scope for it to have this meaning.
It was the name by which He made himself known to the patriarchs, designed to convey the sense of “all-sufficient,” (Ps. 16:5-6; 73:25); and accordingly, in harmony with the object of this manifestation, the Lord announces himself as El Shaddai—a mighty promiser of blessings—this name, used only in the progressive development of the covenant, being a pledge of their fulfillment. Nothing was more appropriate or more needful to be kept before the mind of Abram than that the Divine Being, on whose word he relied, was able to do things which seemed above and contrary to nature. [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, Vol. 1, on Gen. 17:1.].
This almighty, self-existence of God is intimately associated with His attribute of eternal life that is resident in Him by nature, as declared: “The Father hath life in Himself,” (John 5:26). The importance of this, and that it is a fundamental fact, is seen in that He sometimes swears by His own self-existence when He would establish a fact by an oath, saying “As I live, saith the Lord,” (Num. 14:21, 28; Heb. 6:13), etc. Behold the grace of God that though He cannot lie, yet He takes an oath on His self-existence in order to assure man of His integrity.
In the boundless range of human and angelic thought there will never be found a deeper mystery than the self-existence of God. It defies finite comprehension. God alone knows how he exists, why he exists, why he has always existed, and why he will exist for ever. [J. M. Pendleton, Christian Theology, p. 43.].
Immutabilityis another aspect of the Infinity of God. This term simply means to be unchangeable. In this attribute we see hope held out to man in the proof-text of it in, “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” (Mal. 3:6). If Jehovah were as changeable as the gods of the heathen, no one would ever know when God was pleased and when He was angry, for the pagan deities, being copied after humans, were very changeable. Another declaration of God’s immutability is in James 1:17: “...with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” The statement in Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” is the declaration of Jesus’ immutability, and so, is a claim that He is absolute deity, for of none but God is this predicable. This attribute is related to God’s eternity of being.
Immutability is commonly treated of as an attribute distinguishable from Eternity, and is usually predicated of the modes of the Divine existence—of the nature and purposes of God, eternity being strictly applied to the Divine existence, or the being of God as such; but an eternity of being is inconceivable, which does not, by the very conditions of its independence of time and change, also necessitate the conception of eternity of nature and purpose; in other words, the proper attribute of Eternity, in the comprehensive Scripture sense of it, includes the more limited conception of Immutability. [E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, p. 72.].
This attribute is also based upon the fact of God being a pure spirit, for whatsoever is material, by its very composition, is subject to change and deterioration. Pure spirit alone is above change, and not even created spirits are so, for the angels, though spirits, were mutable creatures, and some of them “kept not their first estate,” (Jude 6), that is, they changed for the worse.
However, the immutability of God does not mean that God does not have different plans for different times and circumstances, nor that He does not deal in different ways with different people. But this simply means that God makes no mistakes so as to have to go back and start over, nor that He had to change His eternal purpose in order to meet some exigency brought about unexpectedly by His creatures. To believe so would be to deny the perfection of God. “Immutability is implied in infinity and perfection. Any change, either for the better or for the worse, implies either prior or subsequent imperfection and finiteness.” [T. P. Simmons, Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, p. 65.].
But immutability must not be conceived as immobility, fixedness, rigidity. It is not inability to act variously in various conditions. The unchangeable God holds an unchangeable purpose, but steadiness of purpose requires variety in execution. Just for the reason that God is the unchangeable One, steadily working out the purpose that expresses his real self, he must act in a thousand ways, varying his action with the occasion for action, while he himself changes never. The inexhaustible versatility of the divine mind is the true expression of its changelessness. [W.N. Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology, pp. 88-89.].
We may best think of the immutability of God, then as that self-consistency which runs through all his activities. He is changeless in wisdom, holiness, and power. For this reason he is infinitely flexible and adaptable in the execution of his purpose... We may sum up the meaning of his immutability then when we say it is his moral and personal self-consistency in all his dealing with his creatures. The tune of a simple song like “Home, Sweet Home” may be played on an instrument “with variations.” But through all the variations the tune runs in self-consistent unity to the end. God’s immutability is like the tune. It is his self-consistency manifesting itself in endless variations of method. [E.Y. Muffins, The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression, pp. 223-224.].
It is to be acknowledged that there are statements in Scripture that at first glance appear to be changes made by God in His attitudes or purposes. And some people, willing to believe the worst of God, and always on the outlook for imperfections in God’s character, claim that these are evidences that God is not immutable. However the proper attitude should always be to recognize God’s perfection, whether we can understand all about His ways or not. And if there is the possibility of an explanation for these seeming inconsistencies, we should accept it.
The passages of Scripture which seem at first sight to ascribe change to God are to be explained in one of three ways: (a) As illustrations of the varied methods in which God manifests his immutable truth and wisdom in creation... (b) As anthropomorphic representations of the revelation of God’s unchanging attributes in the changing circumstances and varying moral conditions of creatures... (c) As describing executions, in time, of purposes eternally existing in the mind of God. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 258.].
God’s infinity is also seen in His unity.There are many Scripture texts of this, such as: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord,” Deut. 6:4. “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me?” (Isa. 46:9). John 5:44 says literally “The only God.” “...there is none other God but one,” (1 Cor. 8:4). And, there are numerous other such texts the multiplying of which will not strengthen the above.
The unity of God is integrated with and based upon other of the attributes of God, as, for example, His spirituality, for we may infer from the fact that He is a pure Spirit that He is also simple, undivided and indivisible. His attribute of omnipotence and almightiness also suggests His unity, for there could not be two separate and individual gods, each possessed of allpower, for then they would have to divide the all power between them. And there are others of the Divine attributes that also argue for the unity of God.
Against polytheism, tritheism, or dualism, we may urge that the notion of two or more Gods is self-contradictory; since each limits the other and destroys his godhood. In the nature of things, infinity and absolute perfection are possible only to one. It is unphilosophical, moreover, to assume the existence of two or more Gods, when one will explain all the facts. The unity of God is, however, in no way inconsistent with the doctrine of the Trinity; for, while this doctrine holds to the existence of hypostatical, or personal, distinctions in the divine nature, it also holds that this divine nature is numerically and eternally one. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 259.].
The unity of God is fundamental to all correct worship, and is the basis of the first two laws of the Decalog, the first law prohibiting the worship of any other gods, since none other exist. And the second prohibiting the worship through any visible representations of this one true God, since the use of images easily and quickly degenerates into polytheism, as each image comes to be viewed as an individual god.
God’s infinity is to be seen as a plurality,or a trinity in unity. Actually, trinitymeans tri-unity or, “three in one,” so that it involves both unity and trinity. If it is asked, How we may explain this concept, we must honestly admit that we cannot do so, for nothing but God can adequately explain God, and only a Divine revelation of this doctrine can give us understanding of it. It must be accepted by faith.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of mysterious grandeur, which defies the comprehension of every finite mind, and must be received as true on the authority of the Bible. The wisest men have most readily confessed their inability to explain Trinity in Unity or Unity in Trinity. [J. M. Pendleton, Christian Theology, p. 65.].
Sometimes it is objected that “The word Trinity is nowhere to be found in Scripture.” To which we reply that neither is any other English theological term. The English words are all simply equivalent terms to the original Hebrew and Greek words. However, the doctrine of the Trinity of God is perhaps the most commonly set forth doctrine in Scripture, for every appearance of “God” in the Old Testament when it translates the Hebrew term Elohimbears witness to it. This Hebrew word is a compound word made up of Elor Eloah,a single noun that means “The Mighty One.” It is used in instances where only one Person of the Godhead is meant, as in Habakkuk 3:3 where Christ’s return is set forth. This single usage is of relatively rare usage, for much more commonly this word has the suffix –im on it which puts the word in the plural. A word of explanation. In English we have two numbers, singular, referring to one of something, and plural, referring to two or more of something, but the Hebrew language is different. The Hebrew language has three numbers, singular, referring to one, dual, referring to two, and plural, referring to three or more. Thus, every one of the literally hundreds of appearances of Elohimin the Old Testament may be correctly translated “The Mighty One that is revealed in Three or more Persons.”
Of course, Scripture itself limits the true God to only three Persons, for the personal name of this one true God is Jehovah, (Isa. 42:8) (“LORD” in capital letters shows that in the Hebrew text the word in Jehovah, not Adonai, as when the word is spelled “Lord”). Only three Persons are known by this personal name Jehovah, as we see in “Jehovah the Spirit,” (Isa. 11:2) and “Jehovah the King of Israel, and His redeemer, Jehovah of hosts,” (Isa. 44:6). That proves that Jehovah Elohim is a Trinity as is implied every time that “Elohim” is the word translated “God.”
Objectors to the doctrine of the Trinity sometimes make much of the word “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4, as if this automatically made a Trinity of Persons impossible, but it is most interesting to notice that this same Hebrew word (echad)is used in Numbers 13:23. Here was “one (echad)cluster of grapes that had so many individual grapes on it that it took two men to carry it. That is plurality in unity.
Though it does not devolve upon the writer to explain the modeof the Divine existence—how trinity can exist in unity—and there is certainly no subject more entirely above our comprehension than this; yet it seems, to my mind, that the teachingsof the Sacred Scriptures are no more difficult to conceive of than it is to form the conception of the uncreated existence of the oneinfinite, eternally self-existing Person or Essence. We are finite and are equal to the comprehension of only finite things; and, being more accustomed to employ our minds upon them, we are wont to lay our finite measures and comparisons upon the infinite; in fact, we have no other standard of admeasurement. [J. R. Graves, The Seven Dispensations, p. 47.].
There is nothing in nature that exactly corresponds to the Trinity in the Godhead, for God is infinitely above nature. Perhaps the egg might serve as a rather poor illustration, for while it is comprised of shell, white and yoke, yet all three comprise only one egg. This only vaguely illustrates the matter, but there is nothing in creation that really illustrates the Trinity. Yet the Bible frequently declares that God is both one, yet is manifested in Three Persons. How do we reconcile these two? We do not, for friends do not have to be reconciled, and these two doctrines are friends and not enemies at all. The difficulty all lies in man’s unbelief, not in his mental ability. It is man’s responsibility to believe what God reveals about Himself, not to try to reason out whether that revelation is logical or reasonable to our sin distorted minds.
Nor does the doctrine of the Trinity rest upon 1 John 5:7, as some so-called “unitarians” claim. We say “so-called,” for Trinitarians are truly Unitarians as well. This verse says, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” It is an extreme case of ignorance of the Word of God to think that this is the only verse that teaches the Trinity of God. Nothing could be further from the truth as already noted. And it must be said in all honesty that this verse is a very questionable reading, since it appears in no Greek manuscriptearlier than the fifteenth century. True, it appears in some Latin manuscripts earlier than this, but Latin is not the language of inspiration, but the language of Catholicism.Inspiration only spoke in Hebrew and Greek. Apparently originally this statement was only a marginal comment by a copyist, but was then introduced into the Greek text almost fifteen hundred years after inspiration closed the canon of Scripture.
Not only so, but this statement does not harmonize with unquestionably inspired Scriptures elsewhere when we consider that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in bearing witness to the truth was not to be in heaven, but on earth, (John 15:26; 16:13). Nor will it do to try to account this as having to do with the Spirit’s omnipresence, for this is not what is under discussion here, but His ministry of witnessonly that is under discussion in all three of these places. Note this clearly set forth in 1 John 5:8. Sadly, many have so idolized the King James Version and some of the manuscripts it is based upon that they are willing to bring in contradictions of Scripture to justify their erroneous position. And we would not be misunderstood here. We certainly believe in the total, verbal inspiration of Scripture, but this is not found anywhere except in the majority of the ancient manuscripts. No English translation is inspired as is clearly seen by the many variations from the inspired original languages.
There are many Scriptures that clearly show that God is a pluralityof Personsyet without contradicting the unity of His essence.“God” who, in the beginning, created all things, represents the uni-plural Hebrew noun elohim,as noted before. This is in harmony with Ecclesiastes 12:1 where “Creator” is plural. The same thing is true of “maker” in Job 35:10, Psalm 149:2 and Isaiah 54:5. God, the creator and maker of all things is shown to be a plurality, yet also a unity. John 1:1-3 is a commentary on Genesis1:1.
Of this Logos, in one short sentence John predicates three essential elements of divinity: (1) Absolute eternity of being, “In the beginning was the Word.” (2) Distinct personality, “And the Word was with God”—two persons together. (3) The nature or essence of Deity, “And the Word was God.” The absence of the article in the Greek before “God” in the third predicate clearly shows the meaning. The phrase is not, “the Word was the God,” but “the Word was God,” i.e., in nature or essence. [B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol X, p. 51.].
The Jehovah Witnesses (falsely so-called) would render this, “The Word was a god,” (New World Translation). But in this they are inconsistent with their own translation of Isaiah 44:6, 8 which reads, “This is what Jehovah has said, the King of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, am the first and I am the last, and beside me there is no God...And you are my witnesses. Does there exist a God beside me? No, there is no Rock. I have recognized none.” Thus, Jehovah Himself makes it clear that these are false witnessesregarding Him, for He does not agree with their purported witness concerning Him.
It is clear that this One that is called God in John 1:1 is the same One that is called Jehovah elsewhere. Jehovah is not a title like “God” but is the personal Name of the true God, yet texts such as Isaiah 11:2 and Isaiah 44:6 make it clear that there are three Beings all named Jehovah: “And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him...” “Thus saith Jehovah the King of Israel, and His redeemer Jehovah of hosts...” (Literal rendering.) This establishes beyond debate to all that accept the Bible that the one true God is at least a plurality. As noted before the Hebrew language has singular (one), dual (two) and plural (three or more) in its noun endings. But the dual is never used of God, but the plural is commonly used. And when we consider such texts as Isaiah 48:16 we see the Trinity of God in full revelation, for this text says: “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am and now the Lord God, and his spirit, hath sent me.”
Here we have (1) God’s existence from the beginning. (2) His revelation of Himself. (3) His ever-present existence. Note “there am I,” and compare with Exodus 3:14. (4) The Lord God and His Spirit united in a ministry of sending out Another. (5) This harmonizes with Jesus’ oft repeated statement that He was sent to earth by His Father, (John 5:36; 6:29, 57), etc.
The doctrine of the Trinity may be expressed in the six following statements: 1. In Scripture there are three who are recognized as God. 2. These three are so described in Scripture that we are compelled to conceive of them as distinct persons. 3. This tripersonality of the divine nature is not merely economic and temporal, but is immanent and eternal. 4. This tripersonality is not tritheism; for where there are three persons, there is but one essence. 5. The three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are equal. 6. Inscrutable yet not self-contradictory, this doctrine furnishes the key to all other doctrines. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 304.].Generally speaking, those that use the unity of God as an excuse to deny the Trinity of God, are not so much interested in understanding God, as in limiting Him. Most of them thereby relegate Him to the position of almost being an obscure, disinterested spectator on the sidelines of history with little contact or concern with what the creation does.
Bible Study Courses
© Copyright 2004-2012 Providence Baptist Ministries
http://www.pbministries.org. All rights reserved.