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STUDIES ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
By Davis W. Huckabee
THE RELATIVE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
This is the third division of the Relative Attributes. The first division had to do with God’s relation to time and space, and was the attributes of Eternity and Immensity. The second related specifically to God’s creation, and were the attributes of Omnipresence, Omniscience, and Omnipotence. This third division relates to moral beings and God’s relation to them. Under the infinity of God we considered God’s attribute of immutability, but this applies to this present division of attributes as well.
As to the moral attributes of the divine character, they also are unchangeable. They bear the stamp of perfection. If God, however, could change in his moral attributes, it would imply imperfection in his moral character. If, for example, he could become a better being than he is, it would imply that he is not perfect in goodness. If he could be more just, then justice has not reached its climax in him. If he could be more faithful to his word, his veracity is not perfect. If he could be more holy, it follows that he is not infinitely holy now. [J.M. Pendleton, Christian Doctrines, p. 47.].
God is not only the authority for all right, He is also the example of all right, for though He is possessed of all power, yet this is not the basis for what is right and wrong. He could not make something to be right simply because He has absolutely sovereign power. Right is right, not just because He has decreed it to be so, but rather because He Himself is perfection in righteousness. He rules in righteousness because in His basic nature and character He is righteous and He loves righteousness and He works to achieve righteousness in His creation.
There will be a certain amount of duplication in this division to what has already been considered under the Perfections of God, but there we considered those attributes as they existed absolutely in God, while here they will be considered in respect to their relation to moral beings. The very fact that men and angels are creatures that are capable of being moral beings implies that their Creator is a moral Being as well. The stream cannot rise higher than its head.
In judging what are the attributes of God we are entitled to learn from our idea of a perfect being. From the creation we learn that God must be adequate to the universe that he created and is conducting; adequate to all its needs, in power, wisdom, and character. From Christ we learn that he is perfectly good. From the two sources together we conclude that God must be the most perfect being that can be conceived. [W.N. Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology, p. 77.].
While it is true that the very creation itself bears witness to an omnipotent source back of it, yet none could know of the higher characteristics of this Creator apart from a Divine revelation of Himself as a moral Being. Such a revelation is made in the form of Christ the living Word, and the Bible, the written Word.
Whilst the eternal power and Godhead of the Most High are clearly seen in the things that are made, the Scriptures announce to us another class of divine attributes, of which the mere works of creation, as such, contain no trace; and which no amount of merely intellectual capacity and research could either discover or apprehend... Further, these attributes are all characteristic of relations of community. Righteousness, truth, justice, goodness, love,—all these are indicative of moral relations between parties. [Samuel J. Baird, The Elohim Revealed, p. 228.].
The first of these moral attributes that we wish to consider now is that of God’s Veracity, including His faithfulness. Veracity has to do with honesty, truthfulness and reliability.
In God’s veracity we have the guarantee that our faculties in their normal exercise do not deceive us; that the laws of thought are also laws of things; that the external world, and second causes in it, have objective existence; that the same causes will always produce the same effects; that the threats of the moral nature will be executed upon the unrepentant transgressor; that man’s moral nature is made in the image of God’s; and that we may draw just conclusion from what conscience is in us to what holiness is in him. We may therefore expect that all past revelations, whether in nature or in his word, will not only not be contradicted by our future knowledge, but will rather prove to have in them more of truth than we ever dreamed. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 288.].
This is nothing more than saying that God will prove faithful to the promises that He has made to men, and that no one will ever be able to reproach God for not having kept His Word. This attribute is intimately associated with other of the Divine attributes, as for example, omniscience and omnipotence. For how could God ever make a statement that proves untrue if He has all knowledge of all possible contingencies, and all power to adjust those circumstances so that they will harmonize with His ordained purposes. The fact of the matter is, one must accept or reject almost all of the attributes together. They cannot be separated one from another and made to antagonize with one another. To hold that any two of the attributes of God are antagonistic, or even to hold that they do not actually work together, is to show ignorance of what the Scriptures teach about them.
There are numerous Scriptures that teach the veracity of God in all of His revelations in nature and in grace. The following are but a bare sampling. “God is not a man, that he should repent,” (Num. 23:19). “...thy truth reacheth unto the clouds,” (Ps. 108:4). “...thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name,” (Ps. 138:2). “God is true,” (John 3:33). “Let God be true, but every man a liar,” (Rom. 3:4). “And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform,” (Rom. 4:21). “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:28). “God is faithful,” (1 Cor. 1:9). “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen...” (2 Cor. 1:20). “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it,” (1 Thess. 5:24). “...God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began,” (Titus 1:2) “By two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,” (Heb. 6:18). “He is faithful that promised,” (Heb. 10:23). “...as unto a faithful Creator,” (1 Pet. 4:19).
The text in Romans 8:28 points up the fact that God has an eternal purpose (see Eph. 3:7-11) of good for all those that are His chosen and called ones, but we cannot know this apart from faith in the veracity of God. The verses following this show that the certainty of this good rests upon God’s sovereign outworking of His eternal purpose that He has revealed in His Word. Thus, His power and His truth are united together, and they are an encouragement to our faith, but our faith would be pointless were it not for the veracity of God, and His faithfulness to His promises.
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). His word which He pledged to the fathers He redeemed in every act of His providence... He is true (2 Sam. 7:28); His words are pure (Ps. 12:6); he hateth falsehood (Prov. 15:26); what he says he really means. On this depend both the law and prophecies. References to God’s fidelity and truth are uncommonly frequent all through the O.T. [Schultz, quoted in R. F. Weidner, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 75-76.].
All of the text that we have adduced bear out the fact of the truthfulness and faithfulness of God to His promises which He has revealed to man, especially to those whom He has chosen for His own, and they prove the reliability of the Word of God. At the same time, this attribute of God challenges us to believe His every promise that He has declared, and to rest upon it.
The next attribute of God to be considered is that of God’s mercy, including His goodness. Someone has distinguished between grace and mercy by saying that, “Mercy is not getting the bad that we deserve, while grace is getting the good that we do not deserve.” The word “mercy” always implies that the one who is shown mercy has deserved something much worse than he received, and the fact that he has not received what was, in justice, due to him, is the essence of that mercy. Thus, no one can truly desire Divine mercy until he has come see himself as God sees him—sinful, depraved, rebellious, and wholly deserving of eternal perdition. Hence, the modern failure to preach the broken law, and the curse attendant upon it, ill fits most people to realize their need of Divine mercy and grace.
Mercy is the withholding of penalty, the pardoning of the transgressor. Grace goes further and bestows all positive good. Mercy and grace are the negative and positive aspects of love toward the sinful. Mercy takes the bitter cup of penalty and pain from the hand of the guilty and empties it. Grace fills it to the brim with blessings. Mercy spares the object; grace claims it for its own. Mercy rescues from peril; grace imparts a new nature and bestows a new standing. Mercy is God’s love devising a way of escape. Grace is the same love devising ways of transforming its object into the divine likeness and enabling it to share the divine blessedness. [E.Y. Mullins, The Christian Religion In Its Doctrinal Expression, p. 239.].
Realization of God’s mercy is one of the best ways to keep from having the wrong attitude toward ourselves and our standing before God. For if we realize that we are accepted, not because of any worthiness on our part, but wholly by the mercy and grace of our Savior, we will not likely develop the proud and self-sufficient attitude that so commonly characterizes much of the religious world today. Humanistic preachers have, for several generations, so exalted man’s supposed greatness and magnificence that many people have concluded that somehow man really deserves to be rescued from his self-chosen course of sin and rebellion, if indeed, he is really a sinner at all. But such an attitude is inconsistent with even the usage of the words “grace” and “mercy,” both of which imply unworthiness.
Some of the many Scriptures that set forth the mercy of God are as follows, and the very first appearance of this word in the Bible associates it with Divine grace. “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life,” (Gen. 19:19). “...thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not,” (Neh. 9:17). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies,” (Ps. 25:10). “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about,” (Ps. 32:10). “...I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David,” (Isa. 55:3). (Quoted in Acts 13:34 as fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection.) “...I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” (Matt. 9:13). “His mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation,” (Luke 1:50). “...the Father of mercies...” (2 Cor. 1:3). “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,” (Eph. 2:40. “...according to his mercy he saved us...” (Titus 3:5). “...according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again...” (1 Pet. 1:3).
2 Corinthians 1:3 speaks of God as the source of mercy, and He is indeed the source of all heavenly mercies. But more so, He is also the source of human mercies as well, for when man shows mercy to one of God’s own, it is because God has moved him to do so, as is shown in Nehemiah 1:11 and Ezra 7:28; 9:9. Where in all this is “Man’s indomitable free will” of which he likes so much to boast?
God’s attribute of mercy is frequently set forth in its connection with His gracious redemption, as in Exodus 34:6-7; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8-12 and; Joel 2:12-14. So much so, that the one place that God promised to meet with sinners in the Tabernacle and be propitiated toward them was that which was called the “mercy seat,” and this was a type of Christ Who is the true Mercy Seat—the place where sinners are reconciled to God. Thus, in Christ “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” (Ps. 85:10), for He fully honored the justice of God, yet at the same time wrought out a merciful plan whereby the sinner might be justified, as declared in Romans 3:24-26.
It was on the basis of a sacrifice that God would accept that the penitent publican prayed in Luke 18:13, for “be merciful” is the verb form of the word rendered “propitiation” in Romans 3:25, and “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5. It is the same word rendered “make reconciliation” in Hebrews 2:17. His prayer was therefore one for mercy on the basis of a blood sacrifice that would purge away his sin. This is the only hope for real, lasting mercy that any one of us has. Have you sought it by faith?
Finally, then, there is God’s attribute of Justice, that includes His righteousness. The following definitions will help our understanding of it.
This attribute sustains a relation to holiness not unlike that of act to disposition. It is the outward or active exhibition of the Holiness of God in its relations to the character and conduct of his creatures. [E.G. Robinson, Christian Theology, p. 80.].
Justice is the impartial award to every one of that which is suitable to him, the rendering of his own to every man. What is due is determined by what a man is; and what he is includes his capacity to become better. Conduct is both an exposition of what one already is, and an intensification of the same. [E.H. Johnson, Outline of Systematic Theology, pp. 73-74.].
Because of what He is in and of Himself, God could not close His eyes to sin. His intrinsic holiness demanded that He deal with it as it deserved to be dealt with, and punish it to the very utmost demand of His holy Law. But there was one way in which God could accomplish two desired goals—to be just, and yet at the same time to pronounce man to be righteous before Him—and that was through the substitutionary death of His beloved Son.
It was the justice of God that made it necessary for Christ to die in order
that men might be saved. The justice of God makes it impossible for God to let sin go unpunished. The death of Christ made it possible for. Him to be just and yet the justifier of believing sinners (Rom. 3:26). In the sacrifice of Jesus the Scripture was fulfilled which says: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). The salvation of believers is an act of grace toward them; yet it is an act of justice to Jesus Christ who died in the stead of all who will ever believe. [T.P. Simmons, Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, p. 70.].
Some of the Scriptures that set forth God’s justice are these: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). “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). “...thou hatest all workers of iniquity,” (Ps. 5:5). “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day,” (Ps. 7:11). “...there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me,” (Isa. 45:21). “The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity,” (Zeph. 3:5). “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation...” (Zech. 9:9). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9). “...Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints,” (Rev. 15:3).
It is noteworthy that the last three of these texts are all spoken of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that obviously He is held forth as having the same attribute of justice that the Father does. And this is only what we would expect in the light of our previous studies of the attributes, almost all of which have been specifically shown to be possessed by Christ also.
Just a few verses further on from this last cited text, we see an exemplification of God’s righteousness in the execution of His wrath upon a Christ-rejecting and Christian-persecuting world. Here Revelation 16:5-7 says: “And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shall, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.” Here is an instance of Divine recompense—payment back in kind. All sin draws forth a punishment that corresponds to the character of the sin, so that it is a recompense.
When we remember that God’s justice involves giving man just what he deserves, and remembering also that the Scripture teaches that all men are guilty of gross sins before God, how chilling it is to hear professed Christian pray “Lord, give me what is just and right.” This is a prayer for eternal perdition, and can only be prayed by one that is either an utter fool, or one that is fearfully deceived. Justice is the one thing that no sinner wants. Our one hope must ever be the grace and mercy of a just and sovereign God. Anything else will eventuate in one’s utter and certain damnation.
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