NATURAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
I am to show:
FIRST. What is meant by a natural attribute.
SECOND. What are some of the natural attributes of God.
First. What is meant by a natural attribute.
A natural attribute is that which pertains to a thing by a natural necessity, or whatever is attributable to it, as essential to its existence and nature. The natural attributes of God are those qualities, capacities, elements, susceptibilities, and natural perfections that constitute whatever we know of his nature and essence.
Second. Some of the natural attributes of God, etc.
Having established the divine authority of the Bible, we are, from this point in our inquiries, at liberty to quote it freely as a matter of record, and as conclusive evidence of what it plainly and unequivocally asserts. The natural attributes of God may be discovered, and their existence proved by the light of nature. But the infinity of these attributes, at least some of them, can only be fully and unanswerably proven from the Bible.
I. The Eternity of God.
1. I will show what is meant by the eternity of God, and also prove that eternity is an attribute of God.
By the eternity of God is meant:
(1.) That he is without beginning.
(2.) That he will never cease to be.
(3.) That he is eternal in such a sense as to grow no older.
(4.) That eternity is to God what present time is to us.
(1.) That he is without beginning, has been already established in the proof of his existence as a first cause of all things.
(2.) That he can never cease to be is certain:
a. Because he is self-existent. Self-existence is necessary existence. But necessary existence cannot cease to be. He cannot destroy himself. No created power can destroy him. He cannot fail or die with age, as he grows no older. If he did, there is no proof that a mere spirit can fail with age. As he exists independently of any cause, it is naturally impossible that he should cease to exist; for there can be no cause of his non-existence or ceasing to exist. His ceasing to exist, then, would be an event without a cause, which is absurd and naturally impossible.
b. The Bible fully declares, that God is without beginning or end; i.e. that he is absolutely eternal. He is spoken of as the "eternal God." And the Bible fully and unequivocally, in many ways, declares his eternity.
(3.) He is eternal in such a sense as to grow no older. If he grows older, it is intuitively certain that he had a beginning:
a. Because, if his age can be at all reduced, by subtracting years or ages, it can be exhausted.
b. If he grows older, his age can be reduced as certainly as ours can.
c. If anything can be added to his age, then something can be subtracted from it; and it can be reduced to nothing. If anything could be added to or subtracted from space, so as to make more or less of the aggregate, it could be reduced to nothing.
d. If God grows older, he was once comparatively young. If comparatively young, he was once really young. And if once young, he began to be.
e. If he grows older, he has had new thoughts, exercises, and experiences, in the same sense that we have. In this case it is intuitively certain, that his knowledge commenced, and has increased with his age.
f. If his exercises and experiences are progressive, or if succession can be predicated of them, it is intuitively certain, that not only his knowledge has increased, but his holiness has increased, and both of them must forever increase.
g. If there is succession in God's existence and exercises, it is intuitively certain that he never was, never will be, never can be, infinite in age, knowledge, experience, holiness, or happiness.
h. If succession can be predicated of God's existence and mental states, it is intuitively certain, that he is not only not infinite, but that he is infinitely less than infinite---that when compared with eternity, he is but a babe, or infinitely young---when compared with omniscience, he is infinitely ignorant---and when compared with infinite blessedness, his happiness falls infinitely short of it. And that in all these particulars, he will forever remain as far from infinite as he now is, or ever has been.
i. If succession can be predicated of his existence, the existence of every moment must be dependent upon the existence of the preceding moment. He exists this moment, because he existed the moment previous. This involves the absurdity of an infinite series of dependencies. If succession can be predicated of his mental states or exercises, this would involve the same absurdity.
j. There is no need of supposing God's existence to be successive like ours; because, eternity past and future to us, all that we call duration, really exists at present, as much and in the same sense as all space exists. In respect to space, the terms before, behind, and the ideas represented by the words above, below, right, left, there, etc., are only relative; and apart from finite existences, these words have no meaning. Remove all finite existences, and there could be no room for any such language.
With respect to the existence of God, there is no right, left, up, down, there, behind, before, etc. There is here and there to all finite existences; but to God everything is here. So in respect to what we call duration. Times past and future are relative, and respect only finite existences, or such existences as began to be. They cannot possibly respect a being who never began to be, and who grows no older. He can no more pass on through duration, than through space. Neither space nor duration can have any meaning with him, except as it respects finite existence. All space is to him here, a single point where he exists. All eternity is to him now, or that point which is filled up by his present experience. With respect to his existence, he cannot say, yesterday---tomorrow---when I was young--- when I am older. And when he speaks of his acts or existence, with respect to duration, as being past or future, he must mean by it just what he would mean, should he speak of his existence or acts in respect to place. If he speaks of working here or there, in this or that place, it does not imply that God is confined to place, or has locality. Nor when he speaks of things as past or future, ought we to understand him as speaking thus in respect to himself. In respect to all finite existences, there is in fact locality, time, and place, past and future. But to affirm these things as true of God, is to suppose him finite instead of infinite.
(4.) Eternity is to God as present time is to us.
a. By time, as it respects ourselves, we mean that portion of duration which commences with our birth and ends with our death.
b. By past time, we mean that portion of this period, through which we have passed and of which nothing remains to us but the remembrance.
c. By present time, we mean that point indicated by present consciousness; the point at which that mental state of which we are conscious is in exercise.
d. Our mental states or exercises are single, and successive, And by past, present, future, we refer to the order in which they or the occasions of them occur.
e. Time to us is the progression of existence and experience. Present time is that which is filled up by our present experience and consciousness. Successive exercises are successive experience. Successive experience is increasing knowledge. Succession, therefore, belongs to a finite being.
f. But God is not a finite being. He cannot be omniscient, and yet obtain knowledge from experience. Succession cannot therefore be predicated of him, either in relation to his existence or mental states. He always has the same mental state or consciousness. He can have no new thoughts, as there is no possible source from which to derive them. He can have no new affections or emotions, as He can have no new ideas or knowledge.
Therefore, his present consciousness is his eternal consciousness, and eternity is to him what present time is to us. God's existence is infinite, both in respect to duration and space. This is expressly declared in the Bible; and if it were not true he is infinitely less than infinite. As it respects God's existence then, space has no other idea than here. And eternity has no other idea than now. All here and there must respect such existences as are not omniscient. All past and future must respect such existences as are not eternally self-existent, and always equally and eternally old.
Omnipresence, to us, means both here, there, anywhere, and everywhere. But to God, it means only here. So eternity to us, means all past, present and future duration. But to God it means only now. Duration and space, as they respect his existence, mean infinitely different things from what they do when they respect our existence. God's existence and his acts, as they respect finite existence, have relation to time and place. But as they respect his own existence, everything is here and now. With respect to all finite existences, God can say I was, I am, I shall be, do, will do; but with respect to his own existence, all that he can, say is, I am, I do.
g. The Bible seems to favor this view of the subject, although it would guard against pressing our minds with such a metaphysical nicety. Thus God calls himself "I AM." Christ says, "Before Abraham was, I AM." To him a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years. A thousand years here is a definite for an indefinite period. As when God says the cattle on a thousand hills are his, he means the cattle on all hills are his. This I understand to be an expression of the same kind. Its connection plainly leads us to this inference, that by a thousand years we are to understand all time, of which it is said, that it is as one day, or as present time to God.
2. I will now notice some objections to this view.
Obj. I. We can form no conception of an existence, to which there is no succession.
Ans. 1. The difficulty of this conception lies in our finite and progressive existence. All our thoughts, exercises, and experience, and knowledge, are progressive. Consequently we can form no positive conception of the modus existendi of a being, to whom succession does not appertain. Nor is this difficulty attributable to any want of perfection in our creation. As we are finite and began to be, it was impossible that God should create us in a manner that would obviate this difficulty. We once had no existence. We must therefore begin to be. Everything, therefore, with respect to us must be successive. Nor is this a difficulty that need be injurious to us. For we conceive of God with sufficient accuracy for all practical purposes, when we conceive of his existence as coeval with all other existences and events.
2. We can form no other conception of infinity, than that it exists and is that which is unlimited; and of course, that a positive conception of it is inconceivable by finite minds. To say that we have a positive conception or idea of infinity is a contradiction, as it supposes there is a whole of infinity, which implies a bound or limit; which contradicts the true meaning of infinity.
3. Although we can form no positive idea or conception of infinity; yet we can see that to speak of it as incapable either of increase or diminution, is a contradiction. So, although we can have no positive idea of the eternal, self-existence of God; yet we can see, that to say he began to be, is absurd and contradicts his eternity. So, although we can have no positive idea of his existence and mental states, as not successive; yet we can see that succession in his existence and mental states, involves the absurdity, that he grows older--- that he was once young---that he began to be---that he never was and never will be an eternal being---that he never was and never can be an infinite being---that he never can, in the least degree, approach towards being eternal in his duration, or infinite in his knowledge or happiness.
Obj. II. God always speaks just as if his existence and acts were successive.
Ans. He must of course speak of them as they appear and really are to us, or we should receive no ideas from what he says.
Obj. III. God sees things as they are or as they are not. Now as events do really occur in succession, they must appear so to him.
Ans. To us they occur in succession, but not to him. To us they have relation to place, but not to him. To us they occur before, behind, in time past, present, or future; but to him they occur here, and they occur now.
Obj. IV. It confounds and overturns all our methods of reasoning, with respect to the reality of events.
Ans. Events really are, with respect to us, what they appear to be. Our reasonings concerning the reality and existence of things, may be just as it respects ourselves and as it respects God. And yet, as it regards time and place, everything may be here and now to him, while to us they are spread through immensity and eternity. In other words, God is infinite and we are finite. We must always conceive of things, and reason as finite beings. He will always conceive of things, and reason as an infinite being, apprehending realities as they are to us, and in the relation they sustain to us in regard to time and place, and also having that infinitely different view of them that respects his own infinite existence.
II. God's omniscience.
By the omniscience of God is not meant, merely the capacity of knowing all things. A distinguished commentator has defined omniscience to be a capacity to know whatever is wise to be known. This definition was resorted to, to avoid the inference of personal election from the fore-knowledge of God. Omnipotence, says this commentator, (not to use his words, but his idea,) is not the absolute doing of all that is do-able; but ability to do whatever is wise to be done. Omnipotence, therefore, in its exercises, is directed by wisdom. So omniscience, he says, is under the direction of wisdom. And while God's omnipotence does not do what is unwise to be done, just so omniscience does not know what is unwise to be known. To this statement it is sufficient to reply, that the thing must be previously known, before wisdom could decide whether the knowledge of it would be wise or unwise. But omniscience is the absolute knowledge of all existences, even, and things, actual or possible.
1. His works afford the most convincing evidence of a degree of knowledge, to which certainly a finite being can fix no bounds.
2. His providential government of the universe, strengthens and confirms this proof.
3. Prophecy would seem to prove that God must really be omniscient. Multitudes of the prophecies respect the future exercises and conduct of free moral agents. And a being who can with certainty predict the events of all time and eternity, foreseeing the end from the beginning, in respect to the exercises, and character, and destiny of moral agents, must be omniscient.
4. The administration of moral government, depends upon the exact knowledge which he possesses of the state of mind of every moral being in the universe, and of the exact result in which every movement of his government and providence will terminate.
5. His works of grace, in searching the heart, and bringing about the conviction, conversion, and salvation of sinners, must prove him omniscient.
6. The Bible expressly ascribes omniscience to him:
John 21:17: "Thou knowest all things."
John 2:24, 25: "But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man."
John 16:30: "Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God."
Psalms 139:1-6: "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compasses my path, and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."
1 Chronicles 28:9: "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever."
Romans 8:27: "And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
1 Corinthians 2:10: "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
Revelation 2:23: "And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto everyone of you according to your works."
III. The omnipresence of God.
By omnipresence is meant essential ubiquity. Some understand by the omnipresence of God, not essential ubiquity, but that he merely knows all things. They object to the idea of his essential ubiquity, that it predicates extendibility of God. And that to say that God is everywhere essentially present, is to maintain that only a part of God is in any one place.
Again, they object, that mind has no relation to place, any more than an hour has. To these objections I answer:
1. They confound mind with matter. God is a real existence; an hour is not. Existence must certainly and necessarily sustain relation to space or place. An hour does not, cannot. God must sustain relation to place, but not the same relation that matter does. Matter fills that portion of space occupied by it, to the exclusion of other material substances. God occupies all space, but not in such a sense as matter occupies space.
2. These objections exclude the idea of God's being anywhere. Whereness is a necessary idea suggested by the idea of existence, or substance. With respect to the first objection, that essential ubiquity implies that only a part of God is in any one place, it is nonsensical, when applied to mind. The fact is, that wherever mind is, there all the attributes of mind are, and may be exercised, whether in any one point of space or occupying all space.
The proof of the essential ubiquity of God is:
(1.) His works of creation and providence. It is certain, that he must exist wherever he works or exercises any personal agency. It is not supposed that the universe is infinite.
Therefore his presence throughout the universe would not prove him absolutely omnipresent. But if he can exist in more places than one at the same time; if he can and does exist in every part of the universe at the same time, the inference is fair, that he may be and is omnipresent.
(2.) The Bible speaks of God as being present in every part of the universe. Psalms 139:7-10: "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me."
It is impossible for us to know how extensive the universe is. But, as has been said, absolute omnipresence is a legitimate inference, from creation, providence, and the Bible.
IV. The omnipotence of God.
By the omnipotence of God is meant:
1. Not an ability to perform contradictions.
2. But an ability to accomplish whatever is an object of physical power.
The proof of God's omnipotence is:
1. The works of creation.
2. Sustaining and governing the physical universe.
3. The Bible ascribes omnipotence to God. Job 42:2: "I know that thou canst do everything." He is frequently called the Almighty.
V. The Spirituality of God.
By the spirituality of God, we understand that his existence or substance is immaterial---a substance or existence possessing properties essentially different from those of matter.
The proof of the spirituality of God is:
1. One of the properties of matter is solidity. If God were material, no other material being could exist. As he is omnipresent he would of course, if he were material, exclude all other material existences.
2. If God is material, it is impossible that he should not exhibit any one property of matter.
3. The Bible expressly affirms that "God is a Spirit."
VI. Immutability of God.
By immutability is meant the unchangeableness of the nature of God. That he is naturally unchangeable, is evident, because:
1. His existence is necessary, and necessarily just what it is.
2. He did not create and cannot change his own nature.
3. As his existence, as it is, depends on no cause, change in his nature is naturally impossible, as a change in his nature would be an event without a cause.
1. God's natural attributes are just such as perfectly qualify him to sustain the office of Universal Ruler of the universe.
2. His moral character must be a matter of infinite interest and importance to the universe.
3. His praise-worthiness does not depend upon the existence of his natural attributes, but upon the use he makes of them.
4. Omniscience does not render the existence of events necessary.
5. Omnipotence does not render universal salvation certain nor probable.
6. Natural omnipotence affords no proof that sin could have been prevented under a moral government.