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  • Adam Clarke's CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY -
    Part 3 - ATTRIBUTES OF GOD


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    Part 3 ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

    This Jehovah is a Being of such infinite perfections, that no defect in him can be imagined; nor can we conceive any thing that might raise, improve, or exalt his nature. Because he is an infinite fullness, nothing can be added: and because he fills all space -- the heavens and the earth, and inhabits eternity -- nothing can be taken away from him. Whatever exists must necessarily be his creature, or an effect produced by him, the supreme First Cause. As he is independent and self sufficient, he needs nothing that he has made. From eternity he existed without any other kind of being; and when he chose to create innumerable beings of endlessly varied natures, and possessing various degrees of relative perfection, he still continued to be the same independent being; all others deriving their existence and support from him.

    UNITY. -- There is ONE GOD, who is self-existing, uncreated, infinitely wise, powerful, and good; who is present in every place; and fills the heavens, and earth, and all things. Now, as THIS ONE God is eternal, that is, without beginning or end, and is present everywhere, and fills all space, there can be only ONE such Being; for there cannot be two or more eternals, or two or more who are present everywhere, and fill all things. To suppose more than one supreme source of infinite wisdom, power, and all perfections, is to assert that there is no supreme Being in existence. A plurality of eternal beings would resemble a plurality of universes, eternities, and infinite spaces; all which would be contradictory and absurd.

    SPIRITUALITY. -- We must not attempt to form conceptions of the supreme Being as if confined to form, to any kind of limits, to any particular space or place. As JEHOVAH, he is in every respect inconceivable; -- no mind can grasp him; -- he is an infinite Spirit; -- equally in every place, and in all points of duration; -- he cannot be more present in one place than in another, because he fills the heavens and the earth, though the manifestations of his presence may be more in particular places and especial times. His working shows that he is here and present; though he would be no less present, were there no apparent working. He is not like man, though, in condescension to our weakness, he represents himself often as possessing human members and human affections. When a thing is said to be done by the finger, the hand, or the arm of God, -- this only points out degrees of power manifested in performing certain works of mercy, providence, deliverance, &c. And these degrees of power are always in proportion to the work that is to be effected. The finger may indicate a comparatively slight interference, where a miracle is wrought; but not one that is stupendous: the hand, one where great power is necessary, accompanied by evident skill and design: and the arm, one in which the mighty power of God comes forward with sovereign, overwhelming, irresistible effect. When the shoulder is attributed to him, it points out his almighty sustaining power, -- maintaining his government of the world, and of his church; supporting whatever he has made; -- so his heart represents his concern for his own honor, for the welfare of his followers, and for the afflicted and distressed.

    This one infinite and eternal Being is a Spirit: that is, he is not compounded, nor made up of parts; for then he would be nothing different from matter, which is totally void of intelligence and power. And hence he must be invisible; for a spirit cannot be seen by the eye of man: nor is there any thing in this principle contradictory to reason or experience. We all know there is such a thing as the air we breathe, as the wind that whistles through the trees, fans and cools our bodies, and sometimes tears up mighty trees from their roots, overturns the strongest buildings, and agitates the vast ocean: but no man has ever seen this air or wind; though every one is sensible of its effects, and knows that it exists. Now, it would be as absurd to deny the existence of God because we cannot see him, as it would be to deny the existence of the air or wind because we cannot see it.

    God is a Spirit: he is nothing like man, nothing like matter, nothing like any of the creatures that he has made. For, although he be a Spirit, and he have created innumerable spirits, yet he has nothing in common with them. He is a SPIRIT, an impalpable substance of a widely different kind. As far as his nature transcends all created nature; so far does his spirituality transcend the spirituality of all created spirits.

    Spirit is defined, "an uncompounded, immaterial substance." Let us not be alarmed at the word substance, which many compound with matter. Substance is subsistence, whether material or immaterial; but spirit is immaterial substance, and consequently uncompounded and indivisible. And from the ineffable spirituality of the divine Nature, we can at once conceive that he has no parts: he is unlimited, infinite, and eternal. He cannot be seen by the eye; but he may be perceived by the mind. He is not palpable to the hand; but he may be felt by the soul. By his mighty working, the most powerful and salutary changes may be wrought in the mind, which it at once perceives to be supernatural, and which, from the holiness of the effects, it knows to be the work of God.

    ETERNITY. -- What is most interesting is the name by which God was pleased to make himself known to Moses and the Israelites, a name by which the supreme Being was afterward known among the wisest inhabitants of the earth; he who IS and who WILL BE what he is. This is a proper characteristic of the divine Being, who is, properly speaking, the only BEING, because he is independent and eternal; whereas, all other beings, in whatsoever forms they may appear, are derived, finite, changeable, and liable to destruction, decay, and even to annihilation. When God, therefore, announced himself to Moses by this name, he proclaimed his own eternity and immateriality; and the very name itself precluded the possibility of idolatry, because it was impossible for the mind, in considering it, to represent the divine Being in an assignable shape; for who could represent BEING or existence by any limited form? And who can have any idea of a form that is unlimited? Thus, then, we find that the first discovery which God made of himself was intended to show the people the simplicity and spirituality of his nature; that while they considered him as BEING, and the cause of all BEING, they might be preserved from all idolatry for ever. The very name itself is a proof of a divine revelation; for it is not possible that such an idea could have entered into the mind of man, unless it had been communicated from above. It could not have been produced by reasoning, for there were no premises on .which it could be built, nor any analogies by which it could have been formed. We can as easily comprehend eternity as we can being, simply considered in and of itself, when nothing of assignable forms, colors, or qualities existed, beside its infinite and illimitable self.

    All time is as nothing before him, because in the presence as in the nature of God all is eternity; therefore nothing is long, nothing short, before him; no lapse of ages impairs his purposes, nor need he wait to find convenience to execute those purposes. And when the longest period of time has passed by, it is but as a moment or indivisible point in comparison of eternity.

    OMNIPOTENCE. -- Every attribute of God is equal. Each is infinite, eternal, unoriginated, and without bound or limit. Such is the potency of God, it can do all things that do not imply absurdity or contradiction; it can do any thing in any way it pleases; and it can do any thing when it pleases; and it will do any thing, that is necessary to be done, and should be done, when it ought to be done, and when the doing of it will most manifest his own glory: and his glory is chiefly manifested in promoting the happiness, and saving the souls of men.

    What is nature but an instrument in God's hands? What we call "natural effects" are all performed by supernatural agency; for nature, that is, the whole system of inanimate things, is as inert as any of the particles of matter of the aggregate of which it is composed, and can be a cause to no effect but as it is excited by a sovereign power. This is a doctrine of sound philosophy, and should be carefully considered by all, that men may see that, without an overruling and universally energetic providence, no effect whatever can be brought about. But beside these general influences of God in nature, which are all exhibited by what men call general laws, he chooses often to act supernaturally; that is, independently of, or against, these general laws, that we may see that there is a God who does not confine himself to one way of working, but with means, without means, and even against natural means, accomplishes the gracious purposes of his mercy in the behalf of man. Where God has promised, let him be implicitly credited, because he cannot lie; and let not hasty nature intermeddle with his work.

    If there be laws which God has imposed on the universe, whether they be general or particular, they must have their action and efficiency from HIMSELF; and whatever be the mode according to which he governs, he himself must be the energy by which the government is administered; and therefore it is not general not particular laws which govern the world, but the great, wise, and holy God, governing according to a particular mode of his own devising; and according to which he is disposed to work. Properly speaking, he governs, not by either general or particular laws, but by his own infinite wisdom, adapting his operations to all those circumstances and occurrences which are ever before him, and ever under his direction and control; "from seeming evil still educing good -- and better still in infinite progression." As all matter and spirit were created by him, and all that he has created' he upholds, so all matter and spirit are governed by him. Every thing, therefore, is under his continual superintendence or governance: and as that governance is wise, holy, and good, so whatever is governed by it is governed in the best manner, and conducted to the best end.

    It is granted that sin has a mighty power; and that Satan, who arms himself with the vile affections of man, and rules in the uncleanness of the heart, has a mighty power also. But what is power, however great, however malevolent, however well circumstanced to accomplish the purposes of its malevolence, when opposed by infinite Potency! All power must originally emanate from God. Power, in the above sense, must be lodged in, and must be exercised by, some intelligent being. Now, all such things, as well as others, must be dependent on Him who is the Fountain whence they were: derived. Hence, they can neither exist nor act, but as he wills or permits: and hence it is evident he can at any time counteract, or suspend, or destroy all exertions of all finite beings. Therefore, be the power of sin and Satan what it may, this can be no objection against the destruction of sin in the heart of man. He is ABLE to do THIS.

    It is the prerogative of God alone to save the human soul. Nothing less than unlimited power, exerted under the direction and impulse of unbounded mercy, can save a sinner.

    The resurrection of the dead is a stupendous work of God; it requires his might in sovereign action: and when we consider that all mankind are to be raised and changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, then the momentum, or velocity, with which the power is to be applied, must be inconceivably great. All motion is in proportion to the quantity of matter in the mover, and the velocity with which it is applied. The effect here is in proportion to the cause and the energy he puts forth in order to produce it. But such is the nature of God's power in action, that it is perfectly inconceivable to us.

    Every thing is equally easy to that Power which is unlimited. A universe can be as easily produced by a single act of the divine Will as the smallest elementary part of matter. I have no doubt that the power or strength of the divine nature was the attribute principally contemplated by our rude ancestors, and indeed by all the primitive inhabitants of the earth, Hence colossal statues, immense rocks, and massive temples were dedicated to this power or strength, which at last the licentious imagination of man personified and adored, in a monstrous human form, under the name of Hercules, among the Greeks and Romans; Baal, among the Canaanites; Bramah, among the ancient Hindus, &c.; and Tuisco, &c., among our Teutonic and Celtic ancestors; and hence every strong man was supposed to be the principal favorite of the Deity, and to be under the peculiar direction of this strength or power. It was this which gave rise to the histories of Hercules, Theseus, Bellerophon, and the giants of different countries.

    OMNIPRESENCE. -- Darkness and light, ignorance and knowledge, are things that stand in relation to us: God sees equally in darkness as in light; and knows as perfectly, however man is enveloped in ignorance, as if all were intellectual brightness. What is to us hidden by darkness, or unknown through ignorance, is perfectly seen and known by God; because he is all sight, all hearing, all feeling, all soul, all spirit -- all in ALL, and infinite in himself. He lends to every thing; receives nothing from any thing. Though his essence be not impartible, yet his influence is diffusible through time and through eternity. Thus God makes himself known, seen, heard, felt; yet, in the infinity of his essence, neither angel, nor spirit, nor man, can see him; nor can any creature comprehend him, or form any idea of the mode of his existence. And yet vain man would be wise, and ascertain his foreknowledge, eternal purposes, infinite decrees, with all operations of infinite love and infinite hatred, and their objects specifically and nominally, from all eternity, as if himself had possessed a being and powers co-extensive with the Deity! O ye wise fools! -Jehovah, the Fountain of eternal perfection and love, is unlike your creeds, as he is unlike yourselves, forgers of doctrines to prove that the Source of infinite benevolence is a streamlet of capricious love to thousands, while he is an overflowing, eternal, and irresistible tide of hatred to millions of millions, both of angels and men! The anti-proof of such doctrine is this:-- He bears with such blasphemies, and does not consume their abettors. "But nobody holds these doctrines." Then I have written against nobody; and have only to add the prayer, May no such doctrines ever disgrace the page of history; or farther dishonor, as they have done, the annals of the church!

    It is strange that the doctrine of real, absolute, and external space, should have induced some philosophers to conclude it was a part or attribute of God, or that God himself was space; inasmuch as incommunicable attributes of the Deity appeared to agree to this; such as infinity, immutability, indivisibility, and incorporeity; it being also uncreated, impassive, without beginning or ending:-- not considering that all these negative properties belong to NOTHING. For nothing has no limits; cannot be moved, nor changed, nor divided: nor is it created, nor can it be destroyed.

    It is, therefore, his presence that constitutes this space, without which it could not exist: and since every particle of space is always, and, in every indivisible moment, everywhere, the Creator and Lord of all things cannot be never or nowhere.

    He is omnipresent, not only virtually, but substantially; for POWER without SUBSTANCE cannot exist.

    All things are contained and move in or by him, but without any mutual passion: he suffers nothing from the motions of bodies; nor do they undergo any resistance from his omnipresence.

    OMNISCIENCE. -- God is infinitely wise. He knows himself, and what he has formed, and what he can do. He well knew how to construct his word so as to suit it to the state of all hearts; and he has given it that infinite fullness of meaning so as to suit it to all cases. And so infinite is he in his knowledge, and so omnipresent is he, that the whole creation is constantly exposed to his view; nor is there a creature of the affections, mind, or imagination, that is not constantly under his eye. He marks every rising thought, every budding desire.

    "The manifold wisdom of God;" that multifarious and greatly diversified wisdom of God; laying great and infinite plans, and accomplishing them by endless means, through the whole lapse of ages; making every occurrence subservient to the purposes of his infinite mercy and goodness. God's gracious design to save a lost world by Jesus Christ could not be defeated by any cunning, skill, or malice of men or devils. Whatever hindrances are thrown in the way his wisdom and power can remove; and his infinite wisdom can never want ways or means to effect its gracious designs. BENEVOLENCE. -- Entertain .just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth, Do not conceive of him as being actuated by such passions as men; separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful. Consider that he can neither be like man, feel like man, nor act like man. Ascribe no human passions to him; for this would desecrate, not sanctify him. Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space, vacuity, heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Avoid the error of the heathens, who bound even their Di Majores, their greatest gods, by fate, as many well meaning Christians do the true God by decrees. Conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree that implies it: this is not only a human passion, but a passion of fallen man. Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did or ever can hate any of those whom he made in his own image, and in his own likeness, so as by a positive decree to doom them, unborn, to everlasting perdition; or, what is of the same import, pass them by without affording them the means of salvation, and consequently rendering it impossible for them to be saved. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and by so doing you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without rigor or severity on the one hand, or capricious tenderness on the other: in a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he hates nothing that he has made; and has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. The system of humanizing God, and making him, by our unjust conceptions of him, to act as ourselves would in certain circumstances, has been the bane both of religion and piety; and on this ground infidels have laughed us to scorn. It is high time that we should no longer, "know God after the flesh;" for even if we have known Jesus Christ after the flesh, we are to know him so no more.

    "God is love:" and in this an infinity of breadth, length, depth, and height is included; or rather all breadth, length, depth, and height are lost in this immensity. It comprehends all that is above, all that is below, all that is present, all that is past, and all that is to come. In reference to human beings, the love of God in its breadth is a girdle that encompasses the globe, or a mantle in which it is wrapped up. Its length reaches from the eternal purpose of the mission of Christ, to the eternity of blessedness which is to be enjoyed by the pure in heart in his ineffable glories. Its depth reaches to the lowest-fallen of the sons of Adam, and to the deepest depravity of the human heart; and its height to the infinite dignities of the throne of Christ.

    Whatever is good is from God; whatever is evil is from man himself. As from the sun, which is the father or fountain of light, all light comes; so from GOD, who is the infinite Fountain, Father, and Source of good, all good comes. And whatever can be called good, or pure, or light, or excellence of any kind, must necessarily spring from him, as he is the only source of all goodness and perfection. God dispenses his benefits when, where, and to whom he pleases. No person can complain of his conduct in these respects, because no person deserves any good from his hand. God never punishes any but those who deserve it; but he blesses incessantly those who deserve it not. The reason is evident: justice depends on certain rules; but beneficence is free. Beneficence can bless both the good and the evil; justice can punish the latter only. Those who do not make this distinction must have a very confused notion of the conduct of divine Providence among men.

    Philanthropy is a character which God gives to himself: while human nature exists, this must be a character of the divine nature. God loves man: he delighted in the idea when formed in his own infinite mind; he formed man according to that idea, and rejoiced in the work of his hands. When man fell, the same love induced him to devise his redemption, and God the Saviour flows from God the Philanthropist.

    It cannot appear strange that God should will all men to be saved; for this necessarily follows from his willing the salvation of any. For that nature has not been divided, and every portion of it falls equally under the merciful regards of the Father of the spirits of all flesh.

    As God is "not willing that any should perish," and as he is "willing that all should come to repentance," consequently he has never devised nor decreed the damnation of any man, nor has he rendered it impossible for any soul to be saved, either by necessitating him to do evil, that he might die for it, or refusing him the means of recovery, without which he could not be saved.

    The will of God is infinitely good, wise, and holy. To have it fulfilled in and among men, is to have infinite goodness, wisdom, and holiness diffused throughout the universe; and earth made the counterpart of heaven.

    Will in GOD is that which he chooses or determines to do or leave undone. Now, as an excellent, perfect, and wise Being cannot will, or wish, or desire any thing that is not good, wise, useful, and proper to be done, so the will of God is ever influenced by his goodness; therefore he can never make a bad or improper choice, nor determine any thing that is not good in itself; and good or proper to all those who may be the objects of its operation. As will implies desire, and God's nature is good, so his will or desire must be good, -- good in itself, and. good to all those whom it affects: hence he must be good in all his actions, and good to all his creatures, in all his determinations and providential dispensations toward them.

    "God is love;" an infinite Fountain of benevolence and beneficence to every human being. He hates nothing that he has made. He cannot hate, because he is love. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He has made no human being for perdition, nor ever rendered it impossible, by any necessitating decree, for any fallen soul to find mercy. He has given the fullest proof of his love to the whole human race by the incarnation of his Son, who tasted death for every man. How can a decree of absolute, unconditional reprobation of the greater part, or any part of the human race, stand in the presence of such a text as this? It has been well observed that, although God is holy, just, righteous, &c., he is never called Holiness, Justice, &c., in the abstract, as he is here called LOVE. This seems to be the essence of the divine nature, and all other attributes to be only modifications of this. It has ever been a matter of astonishment to me that any soul of man, partaking at all of the divine nature, or knowing any thing of the ineffable love and goodness of God, should have ever indulged the sentiment, or have labored to prove, that the God whose name is Mercy, and whose nature is Love, and "who hateth nothing that he hath made," should, notwithstanding, have a sovereign, irrespective, eternal love to a few of the fallen human race; together with a sovereign, irrevocable, and eternal hatred to the great mass of mankind; according to which the salvation of the former, and the perdition of the latter, have been, from all eternity, absolutely and irrevocably fixed, preordained, and decreed!

    JUSTICE. -- All the divine perfections are in perfect unity and harmony among themselves: God never acts from one of his attributes exclusively, but in the infinite unity of all his attributes. He never acts from benevolence to the exclusion of justice; nor from justice to the exclusion of mercy. Though the effect of his operations may appear to us to be in one case the offspring of power alone; in another, of justice alone; in a third, of mercy alone; yet, in respect to the divine nature itself, all these effects are the joint produce of all his perfections, neither of which is exerted more or less than another.

    God's justice can have no demands but what are perfectly equitable: his justice is infinite righteousness, as totally distant from rigor, on the one hand, as from laxity or partiality on the other. Should it be said that "the wretched state of the sinner pleads aloud in the ear of God's mercy, and this is a sufficient reason why his mercy should be exercised;" I answer, that his wicked state calls as loudly in the ears of God's justice, that it might be exclusively exercised; and thus the hope from mercy is cut off. Besides, to make the culprit's MISERY, which is the effect of his sin, the reason why God should show him mercy, is to make sin and its fruits the reason why God should thus act. And thus, that which is in eternal hostility to the nature and government of God must be the motive why he should, in a most strange and contradictory way, exercise his benevolence to the total exclusion of his justice, righteousness, and truth.

    All those who have read the Scriptures with care and attention know well that God is frequently represented in them as doing what he only permits to be done. So, because man has grieved his Spirit, and resisted his grace, he withdraws that Spirit and grace from him, and thus he becomes bold and presumptuous in sin. Pharaoh made his own heart stubborn against God, Exodus ix, 34, and God gave him up to judicial blindness, so that he rushed on stubbornly to his own destruction. But let it be observed that there is nothing spoken here of the eternal state of the Egyptian king; nor does any thing in the whole of the account authorize us to believe that God hardened his heart against the influence of his own grace, that he might occasion him so to sin that his justice might consign him to hell. This would be such an act of flagrant injustice as we could scarcely attribute to the worst of men. He who leads another into an offense that he may have a fairer pretense to punish him for it, or brings him into such circumstances that he cannot avoid committing a capital crime, and then hangs him for it, is surely the most execrable of mortals. What then should we make of the God of justice and mercy, should we attribute to him a decree, the date of which is lost in eternity, by which he has determined to cut off from the possibility of salvation millions of millions of unborn souls, and leave them under a necessity of sinning, by actually hardening their hearts against the influences of his own grace and Spirit, that he may, on the pretense of justice, assign them to endless perdition? Whatever may be pretended on behalf of such unqualified opinions, it must be evident to all who are not deeply prejudiced, that neither the justice nor sovereignty of God can be magnified by them. Even justice itself, on the ground of its holy and eternal nature, gives salvation to the vilest who take refuge in Christ's atonement; for justice has nothing to grant, or Heaven to give, which the blood of the Son of God has not merited.

    HOLINESS. -- "God is light;" the source of wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and happiness; "and in him is no darkness at all;" no ignorance, no imperfection, no sinfulness, no misery, And from him wisdom, knowledge, holiness, and happiness are received by every believing soul. This is the grand message of the gospel, the great principle on which the happiness of man depends. Light implies every essential excellence, especially wisdom, holiness, and happiness. Darkness implies all imperfection, and principally ignorance, sinfulness, and misery. Light is the purest, the most subtle, the most useful, and the most diffusive of all God's creatures; it is, therefore, a very proper emblem of the purity, perfection, and goodness of the divine nature. God is to human souls what light is to the world. Without the latter, it would be dismal and uncomfortable, and terror and death would universally prevail; and without an indwelling God, what is religion? Without his all-penetrating and diffusive light, what is the soul of man? Religion would be an empty science, a dead letter, a system unauthoritated and uninfluencing; and the soul a trackless wilderness, a howling waste, full of evil, of terror and dismay, and ever racked with realizing anticipations of future, successive, permanent, substantial, and endless misery.

    Nothing can humble a pious mind so much as scriptural apprehensions of the majesty of God. It is easy to contemplate his goodness, loving kindness, and mercy: in all these we have an interest, and from them we expect the greatest good. But to consider his holiness and justice, the infinite righteousness of his nature, under the conviction that we have sinned, and broken the laws prescribed by his sovereign Majesty, and feel ourselves brought as into the presence of his judgment seat: who can bear the thought. If cherubim and seraphim veil their faces before his throne, and the holiest soul cries out, -

    "I loathe myself when God I see, And into nothing fall;"

    what must a sinner feel whose conscience is not yet purged from dead works, and who feels the wrath of God abiding on him? And how, without such a Mediator and Sacrifice as Jesus Christ is, can any human spirit come into the presence of its Judge? Those who can approach him without terror know little of his justice, and nothing of their sins. When we approach him in prayer, or in any ordinance, should we not feel more reverence than we generally do?

    Though all earth and hell should join together to hinder the accomplishment of the great designs of the Most High, yet it shall all be in vain -- even the sense of a single letter shall not be lost.

    The words of God, which point out his designs, are as unchangeable as his nature itself.

    * * * * * * *

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