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STUDIES ON GOD’S ATTRIBUTES
By Davis W. Huckabee
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1). Someone has called this the most profound statement in the Bible, and this is doubtless true, for here we have: (1) The absolute beginning of time. (2) The absolute beginning of all created things. And, (3) The absolute First Cause of all things.
It has been observed that the Bible nowhere sets forth an argument for the existence of God. This is because God’s existence is a self-evident fact, seen in every area and aspect of the Creation as well as elsewhere. The Psalmist of old bore witness to this fact in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork? Observe that he took only one part of the creation, yet he declared that this showed, not just the bare existence of God, but showed His glory. And in Romans 1:19-20 men are shown to be without excuse before God for the simple reason that the whole creation evidences God’s existence by His attributes that are seen therein. Thus, though the Bible does not set forth a systematic argument for God’s existence, it everywhere argues His existence in that it reveals His attributes on almost every page of the Holy Writ.
It is important that we know what we are looking for in our study of the attributes of God, else we shall miss some of them through failure to recognize them when we come to them. What do we mean by “attributes”? “The attributes of God are our modes of conceiving of him.” [E.G. Robinson, Christian Theology, p. 67.]. “If he is God, his necessary powers must act in certain ways, and he must have a certain character. These modes of activity and qualities of character are known as attributes.” [W.N. Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology, p. 75.].
Regarded as conceptions in the human mind, the attributes of God are the qualities which we attribute to him; but considered with respect to the divine essence, they are so much as we learn concerning its kind through the relations of God to dependent beings. [E.H. Johnson, Outline of Systematic Theology, p. 63.].
The term attribute, in its application to persons or things means something belonging to persons or things. The attributes of a thing are so essential to it that without them it could not be what it is; and this is equally true of the attributes of a person. If a man were divested of the attributes belonging to him, he would cease to be a man, for these attributes are inherent in that which constitutes him a human being. If we transfer these ideas to God, we shall find that his attributes belong inalienably to him, and, therefore, what he is now he must ever be. His attributes are his perfections, inseparable from his nature and constituting his character. [J.M. Pendleton, Christian Theology, p. 42.].
The Attributes of God are those peculiarities which mark or define the mode of his existence, or which constitute his character. They are not separate nor separable from his essence or nature, and yet are not that essence, but simply have the ground or cause of their existence in it, and are at the same time the peculiarities which constitute the mode and character of his being. [J.P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, p. 65.].
To the divine essence, which in itself is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, belong certain perfections revealed to us in the constitution of our nature and in the Word of God. These divine perfections, which are called attributes, are essential to the nature of a divine Being and necessarily involved in our idea of God... The perfections of God, therefore, are attributes without which He would cease to be God. [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, (Abridged Edition), p. 135.].
The attributes of God, then, are simply the manifestations of the character and being of God, by which we can know God for what He is. “The eternally indivisible light of absolute perfection inevitably breaks out, for our finite vision, into different colors: in God’s attributes His nature reveals itself.” [J.J. van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, pp. 251-252.].
Is it important to study the attributes of God? Put the question in another form, and the absurdity of the question is manifest. Is it important to know Who and What God is. All faith is based upon the knowledge of God, and the more we know about God’s character, the more we will be capable of faith in Him, for all true knowledge of God contributes to faith in Him. Those who know the least about God fear Him most, and vice versa but not in the good and required sense of fearing God. To know God in the perfection of His being is to love Him, but it is hard to love what is unknown. The attributes of God are not all of the same kind and nature, and for this reason it is usual to find them divided into two classifications.
It is common to divide the attributes of God into two classes. This aids both memory and understanding. To these divisions various pairs of names have been given, such as communicable and incommunicable; immanent and transient; positive and negative; natural and moral; absolute and relative. [T. P. Simmons, Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine, p. 64.].
By Absolute or Immanent Attributes, we mean attributes which respect the inner being of God, which are involved in God’s relations to himself, and which belong to his nature independently of his connection with the universe. By Relative or Transitive Attributes, we mean attributes which respect the outward revelation of God’s being, which are involved in God’s relations to the creation, and which are exercised in consequence of the existence of the universe and its dependence upon him. [A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 247.].
To the negative class are commonly referred simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability; to the positive class, power, knowledge, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Instead of calling the one class negative and the other positive, they are often distinguished as absolute and relative. By an absolute attribute is meant one which belongs to God considered in Himself and which implies no relation to other beings; by a relative attribute is meant one which implies relation to an object. They are also distinguished as immanent and transitive, as communicable and incommunicable. These terms are used interchangeably. [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Abridged Edition), p. 136.].
The following classification of the attributes of God under these two divisions, with a break down into further divisions, is also from A. H. Strong (ibid. p. 248) with some additions (*) by the present writer.
God is Spirit, 1. Absolute or Immanent Attributes: A. Spirituality, involving: (a) Life, (b) Personality, (c) Will*. Infinite, B. Infinity, involving: (a) Self-existence, (b) Immutability, (c) Unity, (d) Plurality*. Perfect, C. Perfection, involving: (a) Truth, (b) Love, (c) Holiness, (d) Wrath*. The Source, 2. Relative or Transitive Attributes: A. Related to Time and Space: (a) Eternity, (b) Immensity. Support, B. Related to Creation: (a) Omnipresence, (b) Omniscience, (c) Omnipotence. And End of all things. C. Related to Moral Beings: (a) Veracity and Faithfulness, or Transitive Truth. (b) Mercy and Goodness, or Transitive Love. (c) Justice and Righteousness, or Transitive Holiness.
In respect to all the attributes of God, it should always be borne in mind that: 1. Whatever our analysis or classification, every attribute has its special significancy for man. It is to him that God reveals himself, and through whatever medium the revelation comes, its single object is to communicate to rational and moral beings as complete and harmonious conceptions as possible of the entire Godhead. 2. Of all the attributes, the moral are incomparably most important. Every other attribute is of moment only as connected with moral issues. It is for moral results that God reveals himself to man, and preeminently for these that God in his word reiterates so frequently and emphatically the moral character of both himself and man. 3. In treating of the attributes we can never be too careful not to exalt one at the expense of another. Each is always qualified by every other. There can be no conflict between them. God is indivisibly one and perfect, and cannot contradict himself. 4. There is a comprehensive conception of God as the One infinitely perfect, personal Being, the Source and Archetype of all other beings, to which every other conception should be made to conform. [E.G. Robinson, Christian Theology, p. 82.].
In our study of God’s attributes, it is important to remember, at every step of our progress, that they are all incomprehensible to us. We should do this, not only for the sake of humility, but to guard us against erroneous inferences, which we are liable to draw from our imperfect conceptions of the divine nature. It is instructive to notice how far the elements of these conceptions are derived from what we know of our own minds. No combination of such elements can possibly give us adequate conceptions of the eternal and infinite Mind. Even the Holy Scriptures, which reveal God to us, do not supply the elementary conceptions necessary to a perfect knowledge of God. They speak to human beings in human language, and the knowledge which they impart is sufficient for our present necessities, and able to make us wise to salvation; but we should remember, that human language cannot express to us what the human mind cannot conceive, and, therefore, cannot convey a full knowledge of the deity. [John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology And Church Order, pp. 68-69.].
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