Follow us on Twitter | Report Error | + Larger Font | + Smaller Font | Print This Page
STUDIES ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
By Davis W. Huckabee
THE PERFECTION OF GOD
Perfection is something that man knows nothing about, for he has never had any experience in perfection. Indeed, he can only theorize about it, and understand it only as mental concept, for everything in creation falls far below the level of perfection. This is not to impugn God’s work in creation, for the day that each thing was created, it was pronounced “good,” (Gen. 1:4,10,12,18,21,25), and the whole creation was viewed as “very good,” (Gen. 1:31). The creation was good in God’s sight in that it was fitted to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, but it was not perfect because it had within it the seeds of its own corruption and dissolution. That which is only temporarily perfect is not perfect at all.
It is to be granted that in Scripture many things are called “perfect” but generally the word used does not mean perfect in an absolute sense but rather means complete, mature, adequately fitted for the end for which it was devised. In the absolute sense, perfection can only be predicated of God, Who alone is eternal, immutable and self-existent. Even goodness in a limited sense is not truly predicated of man by nature, for Jesus taught that God alone is absolutely good in “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God,” (Matt. 19:16-17). Jesus was not denying His own deity here, but was rather responding to the man’s own incorrect assumption, for the man did not believe Jesus to be God, yet he gave a flattering title to Him that belongs to God only in an absolute sense.
The perfection of God is the logical consequence of those attributes of God that we have already studied, and those that we have yet to study, for each of these exist in God alone in the fullest degree.
Nothing can be plainer than that the positing of a perfection is equivalent to the exclusion of an imperfection. Whatever has the perfection is shut out from the imperfection. As regards the item of self-limitation, that implies only that the infinite, forming plans in unblemished wisdom and entering upon their execution, may be found by self-consistency to shape action in conformity with the plans. [H. C. Sheldon, System of Christian Doctrine, p. 34.].
No perfection of Deity is wanting in him; as appears from what has been under consideration. There is a fullness of the Godhead which dwells in Christ, and the same therefore must be in each divine person, and especially in God, essentially considered; and every attribute of his is perfect. [John Gill, Body of Divinity, p. 122.].
This is partly what was meant when we talked about the infinity or absoluteness of God. In His essential nature, God goes beyond man’s ability to even imagine all that He is, for He transcends all that man can know or think. He is absolute, and man is hardly capable of conceiving of absoluteness even in God.
The word “absolute” is an immeasurable word. It is a word of infinite dimensions. You cannot measure it. And, properly speaking, it is a word that cannot define qualities that may be included in any category of human values. The Absolute is God. That is, the Last, the Final, the Utmost, the Ultimate, the Infinite. There is nothing more beyond that. And there is but One in Whose nature anything can be found in the absolute degree. The end of all perfection, of all estimation, of all computation, is absolute. [T. T. Shields, The Doctrines of Grace, p. 15.].
Several texts that present God as perfect are as follows: “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he,” (Deut. 32:4): “As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him,” (Ps. 18:30; see also 2 Sam. 22:31): “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48).
Many other texts could be cited that declare the perfection of God’s ways or work, for only perfection can result from a perfect Being. Job implied this when he said in Job 28:3, “He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection,”for an imperfect being could not search out, understand and exhaust perfection. If God be God in any sense of the word, He must also be perfect in all His characteristics.
The characteristics thus ascribed to him, reveal him, therefore, to us, as an infinite existence, without other limitations than are found in his own nature, or essence, who, as Absolute, cannot be dependent, but must be the source and Sovereign of all else; and, as the Unconditioned, cannot be subject to time, and space, and matter, and must therefore exist without possibility of growth, or increase, and without that succession of periods, such as yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and those measures of space, and location, which belong to matter. The God, therefore, who is thus proclaimed to be unknowable is at least known as a self-existent spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all the perfections that belong to his nature. Let but the least evidence appear that there is a God, and at once this nature may be ascribed to him. [J. P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 11.].
As we have before observed, God, by His very nature, is perfect in all of His attributes. If He were not, He would not be God. But for the purposes of our present study, we must limit our study, and therefore we will consider His perfection only as it relates to four areas: Truth, Love, Holiness and Wrath.
The truth of God, in its widest sense, is a perfection which qualifies all his intellectual and moral attributes. His knowledge is infinitely true in relation to its objects, and his wisdom unbiased either by prejudice or passion. His justice and his goodness, in all their exercises, are infinitely true to the perfect standard of his nature. In all outward manifestations of his perfections to his creatures, God is always true to his nature—always self-consistently divine. This attribute, in its more special sense, qualifies all God’s intercourse with his rational creatures. He is true to us as well as to himself; and thus is laid the foundation of all faith, and therefore of all knowledge. It is the foundation of all confidence,—first, in our senses; second, in our intellect and conscience; third, in any authenticated supernatural revelation. [A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 129.].
The perfection of God’s truth is set forth in both Deuteronomy 32:4 and Psalm 18:30 (quoted before). As a God of truth, He cannot lie, as man so frequently does, (Num. 23:19), nor does He ever have occasion to have to change or modify His eternal purpose, and so, His immutability is tied in with this attribute. When a man lies about something, he must continually prop up the original lie with other lies, but he who speaks the truth does not have to worry about remembering what he said originally, for he knows that truth always harmonizes with all other truth. A lie, on the other hand, always clashes with all the truth in the world.
All truth is ultimately from God, whether that truth is mathematical, scientific, historical, logical, moral, religious, or whatever, and so any contact that we have with truth in any realm, is a contact with God Himself. No truth ever clashes with God. We do read, however, of “science (knowledge—gnosis) falsely so called,”(1 Tim. 6:20), which does oppose God and truth. Satan, the great counterfeiter, has frequently counterfeited truth in order to confuse people and deceive them into turning from God. This is a part of his character as the “father of lies,” (John 8:44).
God is declared to be Truth in 1 John 5:20, which further shows that men can only know this God who is Truth through His Son, Jesus Christ. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true.”Observe carefully that this does not say that God is faithful,as if describing some action of His, but rather it is describing what He is in His essential being. To understand and believe this is to give us greater confidence in God.
Truth in God is not a merely active attribute of the divine nature. God is truth, not only in the sense that he is the being who truly knows, but also in the sense that he is the truth that is known. The passive precedes the active; truth of being precedes truth of knowing. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 261.].
The perfection of God’s attribute of truth is such, that not only does He never lie to men, but also He declares all truth that is necessary for men to know God and to fulfill his responsibility as God’s creature. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law,” (Deut. 29:29). This being so, then this God Who is perfect truth, is also a God of revelation as He reveals Himself and His truth to man through the Holy Scriptures. Most people are tragically ignorant of God simply because they are ignorant of God’s Word that reveals God in His perfection.
In the Holy Scriptures God has made a full discovery of Himself and a complete disclosure of His will. There His glories are set forth in their meridian clarity and splendor. The Word is a glass in which the character and perfections of God may be seen, and in order to become better acquainted with Him we need to more diligently peruse the same. Alas that so very few of this generation do so. [A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Revelation, p. 71.].
The practical value of this attribute of God’s perfection of truth is in the fact that He is worthy of our trust, for He has never failed a single trusting soul; nor can He. As truth personified, He must respond in blessings to all that look to Him as the truth and that rely upon the truth that He reveals to man. Truth and trustworthiness thus are united.
As in the idea of Jehovah, who is absolutely immutable, so also in the idea of the Holy One in virtue of its ethical meaning, the attribute of truth and faithfulness is given (compare Isa. 49:7; Hosea 11:9). “Trustworthiness and truthfulness, together with righteousness, are the main elements of human honesty, and are the necessary foundation of confidence. Thus God is trustworthy, in the very highest sense. He shows Himself so when He swears by himself (Gen. 22:16).” In the Old Testament this attribute is specially emphasized in referring to the divine word of promise,and the agreement of the divine action therewith. [R. F. Wiedner, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 75-76.].
God proclaims truth, practices truth and loves truth because truth is one of His own characteristics. This also explains His hatred of all kinds of falsehood: they are the very opposite of His character, and are His bitterest enemies, and would, if possible, pull Him down from His high and holy throne.
Another blessed fact about this attribute is that it is claimed by Christ when He said in John 14:6: “I am... the truth.” Again, it must be observed that He did not simply say, “I am of the truth,” nor “I proclaim the truth,” nor, “I am truthful,” but He made the same claim that was made for Jehovah in other places. Christ, being the truth, is manifestly Divine for He has Divine attributes. This is brought out in the remainder of 1 John 5:20 which we did not quote earlier: “... and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God,and eternal life.” The immediate antecedent of this demonstrative pronoun is Jesus Christ, who is shown thereby to be both the true God and eternal life. To be in Christ by the new birth, is therefore to be of the truth and to possess eternal life.
The perfections of God are also manifested in that He is love. 1 John 4:8 says that “... God is love,” and thereby shows that this is one of the basic characteristics of His being, just as truth is. But love in God is not that sticky sentimentality that many give the name to. Neither is it that subjective sexuality that so distracts modern people. Nor is it yet that subjective submission of the being to feelings of the mind and heart. God’s love, being perfect, has none of the shortcomings of human love.
That God’s perfect love is the basis of His dealings with mankind is manifest from such texts as “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16): “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8): And, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10:).
Jesus Christ reveals God by demonstrating what God is in himself by outward act. God is holy love. Without this he would not be God. A mere declaration to us that he is holy love would not and could not be a revelation of God as holy love. Love is incomplete save in act. Love is demonstrated only in the deed which corresponds to the emotion. The incarnation of God in Christ was the divine act which was necessary if God was to give us a revelation of himself which contained the essential elements of his being. [E.Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, p. 171.].
But that this love of God was not an afterthought in Him, nor a latter day emotion drawn forth by man’s dilemma, is shown by such texts as “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee,” (Jer. 31:3). God’s love for His chosen ones is an eternal love, formed in eternity past before man had any existence except in the mind and purpose of God. And all God’s gracious activities in time spring from this love, so that as He effectually draws men to repentance and salvation, it is an evidence of this attribute of Divine love for them. God’s love, being perfect, has degrees in it, or rather is of different kinds, depending upon the character of the objects of it.
Love is benevolent. It is a principle of good will. It wishes good to its objects. But true benevolence is not only wishing well, but also doing well to others. Love acts on behalf of others. On the natural plane God does good to all men. His blessings are universal. He sends the rain on the just and the unjust, (Math 5:45). The rain and fruitful seasons are an expression of his good will to men. The general benevolence of God to all men is what we might call the divine love on its lowest plane of manifestation. We see God’s love acting in our behalf especially in the redemptive work of Christ. Christ came as an expression and revelation of the love of God. God so loved that he gave. He gave the best that he had—his only begotten Son. [W.T. Connor, Christian Doctrine, pp. 98-9
Indeed there may be kinds of love that God exercises which have nothing to do with His redemptive processes, but are simply His natural love that is directed even to the most undeserving of His creatures.
There are five kinds, which vary according to the object upon which love is exercised. The attribute in God is the same; but it is in its exit, or in its termination, that it assumes these different forms. 1. There is the love of complacency or approbation. This is exercised toward a worthy object in which excellencies are perceived... 2. The second kind of love is the love of benevolence, which corresponds to the idea of God’s goodness toward his creatures... 3. The third form of love is the love of compassion. This corresponds to our idea of pity. It is benevolent disposition to those who are suffering or in distress... 4. A fourth form of the love of God corresponds to what we call mercy. This can only be exercised toward sinners. Its very nature contemplates guilt in its objects... 5. The fifth form of love is that of affection. This differs from that of complacency inasmuch as it does not always demand a worthy object. [J.P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pp. 93-97.].
God’s perfect love is inconceivable to mankind because man’s ideas of love are always tinctured with selfishness. It is beyond our comprehension that God could love unless there was at least a little something in the object of that love that drew it forth. In man’s lexicon of theological ideas, the highest form of love is that which gives up its life for friends or at least for “good” people, (John 15:13). But the greatness of God’s perfect love is seen in that it is willing to die for one’s enemies that are bad, yea, worthless, (Rom. 5:6-8). Who can fathom the love of God? It is beyond human comprehension, for it is, like God, perfect. But, bless God we do not have to understand it to enjoy it. We have only to receive it by faith. Is God’s love operative in you?
Another of the perfections of God is His holiness.This is more than mere moral purity, which might be a purely negative characteristic. God’s holiness is both negative —He hates all evil—and positive—He loves all that is truly good, and He works to bring the good about.
Holiness in God is conformity to his own perfect nature. The only rule for the divine will is the divine reason; and the divine reason prescribes everything that is befitting an infinite Being to do. God is not under law, nor above law. He is law. He is righteous by nature and necessity... God is the source and author of law for all moral beings. [W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol 1, p. 362.].
Some of the Scripture statements of God’s holiness are as follows. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” (Isa. 6:3). “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exod. 15:11). “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy,” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Not only so, but God’s holiness is seen in the frequent admonitions to His people to be holy because of their relation to Him, or because this is required by those that would stand in His presence, (Ps. 15:1-5; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:7; Heb. 12:14).
Because of the frequency of references to the holiness of God throughout the Bible, the manifestations of His anger toward those that are not holy, His admonitions to believers to be holy, and His work to accomplish this in them, some have called holiness “the chief attribute of God.” And while it is uncertain whether this is an appropriate designation, it is as clear as the noonday sun that holiness is a very important matter with the Lord. And he that would live an unholy life takes special issue with the holy God that has commanded holiness: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit,” (1 Thess. 4:7-8).
Finally, God’s perfections are to be seen in His Wrath. Does this sound like a strange statement? If so, it is only because of the humanistic drivel that has been continually promulgated by a syrupy and sentimental clergy that have little conceptions of God’s attributes. References to God’s wrath will be found to appear in Scripture many times—more times, in fact, than many other subjects that no one questions to be Divine attributes. In reality, God’s wrath is a corresponding attribute to His holiness, and there could be no true holiness if there were not a holy hatred of all evil in God.
The punitive righteousness of God leads him to administer the affairs of his kingdom in accordance with strict justice. He punishes the guilty for their transgressions. His wrath is aroused by the iniquity of men, and he will mete out to transgressors the due reward of their sins, (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:6-16)... With God wrath is not angry passion. It is not vindictiveness or hatred. The wrath of God is his resistance against sin, his reaction against wrongdoing. This reaction expresses itself in the death-penalty for sin. [E. Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, pp. 233, 323.].
Some misguided preachers have attempted to show a contrast between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, as if they were two different and diverse deities. They do this because they claim that the God that is revealed in the New Testament is a God of love and compassion only, while the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger and wrath. But besides ignoring the fact that thereby they impute contradiction to the Word of the one and only true God, these also contradict some plain teaching about the character of God as revealed in both divisions of the Bible. For one thing, God’s mercy is much more frequently set forth in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. For another, God’s wrath is often and clearly set forth in the New Testament. Contemporary with the first preaching of the gospel by the first New Testament preacher, there was sounded forth the wrath of God as the only alternative to repentance. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,” (Matt. 3:7-8). And this from a man “sent from God, whose name was John,” (John 1:6).
And Paul, in the immediate context of his reference to the glorious gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16) was moved to say in verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” It is to be noticed here that this wrath of God “is revealed” as a present thing, not “has been revealed,” as if it were all in the past.
The main difference in the Old Testament and the New Testament outlooks on God’s wrath is that in the Old Testament God frequently brought a speedy physical judgment upon sinners, while now God frequently seems to ignore sin for a time. But in reality He simply has reserved the wicked unto the judgment of the last day, there to receive the full manifestation of His wrath against sin. But this has always been God’s message of warning from earliest times, (Jude 14-15). The fact that judgment does not immediately fall on sinners is no sign that God has no wrath for them. It is just that God is manifesting another of His attributes—His longsuffering—and that the time for judgment has not yet come, (Rev. 6:16-17), but it will come in God’s own good time.
God’s wrath is perfect for it is based in a perfect knowledge of all the facts and circumstances, and God deals in perfect justice, for He always does only what is right, (Gen. 18:25. Yea, God’s wrath has long been tempered with His longsuffering, as He has waited and given sinners the time and opportunity to repent of sin. But God’s justice requires that sin be punished, but man is given a choice. He can receive God’s Substitute Who bore the wrath of God, not against any sins of His own, for He had none, but against the sins of all those that ever shall trust Him as Savior.
In his atoning death, therefore, we are not to conceive of God’s wrath as poured out upon Christ’s head and directed against him as a personal sinner Christ endured the wrath of God only in the sense that he permitted the sin-death principle to operate in him. Wrath was already acting against sinful men. Christ endured it because he entered the estate of sinful man and endured death which is the expression of God’s wrath and the penalty for their sin. [E.Y. Muffins, The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression, p. 323.].
Or, if man rejects God’s Substitute, then he must bear his own punishment to the Nth degree. But none can accuse God of any wrongdoing, for His love moved Him to provide an adequate redemption for all that would humbly receive it. Have you received His gracious salvation from sin?
Bible Study Courses
© Copyright 2004-2012 Providence Baptist Ministries
http://www.pbministries.org. All rights reserved.