RPM, Volume 16, Number 43, October 19 to October 25, 2014

Systematic Theology

By R. L. Dabney, D. D., LL. D.

Chapter 12: Revealed Theology: God and His Attributes

Names and Titles applied to God.
God's Attributes, Defined, Classified.
Scriptural evidences of God's Unity, Spirituality, Simplicity, Immensity, Eternity and Immutability.
Scriptural account of Knowledge and Wisdom.
Meaning of His Simple, His Free, and His Mediate Knowledge.
Free Knowledge of the Future Acts of Free Agents.
Scriptural Evidence of His Will and Power.
Omnipotent over Free Agents.
Distinction between Decretive and Preceptive Will.
Antecedent and Consequent Will.
His Will Absolute.
Is God's Will the sole source of Moral Distinctions God's Moral Attributes.
Absolute and Relative, Distributive and Punitive Justice Defined and Proved from Scripture.
God's goodness.
Its Relations to His Love, His Grace and His Mercy.
Scriptural Proofs.
Truth and Faithfulness Defined and Established.
God's Holiness.
Defined and Proved.
God's Infinitude.
[Lectures 13 & 14 & 15]

Section Two—Basic Doctrines of the Faith

Chapter 12: Revealed Theology: God and His Attributes


Syllabus for Lectures 13 & 14:

1. Give the derivation and meaning of the names applied to God in the Scriptures.

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 4. Breckinridge's Theology, Vol. i, p. 199. Concordances and Lexicons.

2. What is the meaning of the term, God's attributes, and what the most common classifications of them?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 5, c.f. Dick, Lecture 21. Breckinridge, Vol. i, p. 260, c.f. Hodge, Syst. Theol. Vol. i, pp. 369—372. Thornwell, Lecture 6, pp. 162, 166, and 167, c.f.

3. What are the scriptural evidences of God's unity, spirituality, and simplicity?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 3, 7. Dick, Lectures 17—18.

4. What are the Bible proofs of God's immensity?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 9. Dick, Lecture 19.

5. What the Scriptural proof of God's eternity?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 10. Dick, Lecture 17.

6. Prove from Scripture that God is immutable.

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 2. Dick, Lecture 20. See on whole, "Charnock on the Attributes."

Lecture 14:

1. What is the Scriptural account of God's knowledge and wisdom? What is the meaning of His simple, His free, His mediate knowledge? Does God's free knowledge extend to the future acts of free agents?

Renew of Breckinridge's Theology by the author. Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 12, 13. Dick, Lectures 21, 22. Watson's Theo. Inst., pt. ii, chs. 4, 28, Sect. 3. Dr. Chr. Knapp, Sect. xxii.

2. Do the Scriptures teach God to be a voluntary being? What limitation, if any, on His will? Prove that He is omnipotent. Does God govern free agents omnipotently?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 14, 21, 22. Dick, Lecture 23. Watson, Theo. Inst. pt. ii, chs. 28, Sect. 3, 4. Knapp, Sect. xxi.

3. What is the distinction between God's decretive anal preceptive will, Is it just? Between His antecedent and consequent will? Are His volitions ever conditioned on anything out of Himself 7?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qus. 15, 16, 17. Knapp, Sect. xxv and xxvi.

4. Is God's will the sole source of moral distinctions?

Turrettin, Loc iii, Qu. 18.

Infallibility of Scriptures Assumed.

In approaching the department of Revealed Theology, the first question is concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures. This having been settled, we may proceed to assume them as inspired and infallible. Our business now is merely to ascertain and collect their teachings, to systematize them, and to show their relation to each other. The task of the student of Revealed Theology, is, therefore, in the first place, mainly exegetical. Having discovered the teachings of revelation by sound exposition, and having arranged them, he is to add nothing, except what follows "by good and necessary consequence." Consequently, there is no study in which the truth is more important, that "with the lowly is wisdom."

God's Names Reveal Him.

The New Testament, and still more, the Old, presents us with an interesting subject of study, in the names and titles of God, which they employ to give our feeble mind a conception of His manifold perfections. The names Yahewh, El, Lord, God and Hosts in the Hebrew, and Kurio, Ugisto, Pantokrator, in the Greek, give, of themselves, an extensive description of His nature. For they are all, according to the genius of the ancient languages, significant of some quality, and are when rightly interpreted, proof texts to sustain several divine attributes. Yahweh Jehovah with its abbreviation, Hy:, which most frequently appears in the doxology, I AM has ever been esteemed by the Church the most distinctive and sacred, because the incommunicable name of God. The student is familiar with the somewhat superstitious reverence with which the later Hebrews regard it, never pronouncing it aloud, but substituting it in reading the Scriptures, by the word Adonay. There seems little doubt that the sacred name presents the same radicals with I AM the future of the substantive verb [to come to pass] This is strikingly confirmed by Exodus 3:14, where God, revealing His name to Moses, says "I am that I am" is His name. For we have here, in form the first person future of the substantive verb, and our Saviour, John 8:58, claiming the incommunicable divinity, says, imitating this place: "Before Abraham was, I AM." In Ex. 6:2, 3, we learn that the characteristic name by which God commissioned Moses was Jehovah. This is an additional argument which shows, along with its origin, that the name means self—existence and independence.

This the Incommunicable Name.

Such a meaning would, of itself, lead us to expect that this name, with its kindred derivatives, is never applied to any but the one proper God, first, because no other being has the attribute which it signifies. A further proof is found in the fact that it is never applied as a proper name, to any other being in Scripture. The angel who appeared to Abraham, to Moses, and to Joshua (Gen. 18:1; Ex. 3:2—4; Josh. 5:13; 6:3), was evidently Jehovah—Christ. When Moses named the altar Jehovah—nissi (Ex. 17:15), he evidently no more dreamed of calling it Jehovah, than did Abram, when he called a place (Gen. 22:14), Jehovah—jireh. And when Aaron said concerning the worship of the calf: "To—morrow is the feast of Jehovah," he evidently considered the image only as representative of the true God. But the last and crowning evidence that this name is always distinctive, is that God expressly reserves it to Himself. (See Ex. 3:15; 15:3; 20:2; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 13:8; 48:2; Amos 5:8; 9:6.) The chief value of this fact is not only to vindicate to God exclusively the attribute of self—existence; but greatly to strengthen the argument for the divinity of Christ. When we find the incommunicable name given to Him, it is the strongest proof that he is very God.

Other Names.

Adon (mara, Aramaic), is the equivalent of the Greek Kurio. Its meaning is possession and dominion, expressed by the Latin Dominus, which is its usual translation in the Vulgate, both in the Old and New Testaments, and, unfortunately, is the usual translation of Jehovah also. Hence has arisen the suppression of this name in our English version, where both are translated Lord; and Jehovah is distinguished only by having its translation printed in capitals, (LORD).

Shadday is also a pluralis excellentiae, expressing omnipotence. Sometimes, as in Job 5:17, it stands by itself; sometimes, as in Gen. 17:1, it is connected with la, (where it is rendered "God Almighty"). This seems to be the name by which He entered into special covenant with Abram. It appears in the New Testament in its Greek form of Pantokrator Rev. 1:8.

Elyon, is said to be a verbal form of the verb "to ascend," and is rendered in Psalms 9:3and 21:8, "Most High." This name signifies the exaltation of God's character.

Hosts, is frequently used as an epithet qualifying one of the other names of God, as —Jehovah of hosts (i. e., exercituum). In this title, all the ranks or orders of creatures, animate and inanimate, are represented as subject to God, as the divisions of an army are to their commander.

Communicable Names.

We come now to what may be called the communicable names of God; the same words are also I used to express false and imaginary Gods or mighty men, as well as the true God. It is a striking peculiarity, that these alone are subjected to inflection by taking on the construct state and the pronominal suffixes. They are El expressing the idea of might, and Elowahh singular and plural forms of the same root, probably derived from the verb uwl /ool/ —to be strong. The singular form appears to be used chiefly in books of poetry. The plural (a pluralis majestatis), is the common term for God Theos , Deus, expressing the simple idea of His eternity as our Maker, the God of creation and providence.

Gathering up these names alone, and comprehending their conjoined force according to the genius of Oriental language, we find that they compose by themselves an extensive revelation of God's nature. They clearly show Him to be self—existent, independent, immutable and eternal; infinite in perfections, exalted in majesty, almighty in power, and of universal dominion. We shall find all of God implicitly, in these traits.

The Scriptures give to God a number of expressive metaphorical titles (which some very inaccurately and needlessly would classify as His Metaphorical attributes, whereas they express, not attributes, but relations,) such as "King," "Lawgiver," "Judge," "Rock," "Tower," "Deliverer," "Shepherd," "Husbandman," "Father," and so on. These cannot be properly called His names.

Attributes What? Identical With Essence.

God's attributes are those permanent, or essential, qualities of His nature, which He has made known to us in His word. When we say they are essential qualities, we do not mean that they compose His substance, as parts thereof making up a whole; still less, that they are members, attached to God, by which He acts. They are trait qualifying His nature always, and making it the nature it is. The question whether God's attributes are parts of His essence, has divided not only scholastics, Socinians and orthodox, but even Mohammedans, affecting, as it does, the proper conception of His unity and simplicity. We must repudiate the gross idea that they are parts of His substance, or members attached to it; for then He would be susceptible of division, and so of destruction. His substance is a unit, a monad. God's omniscience, e. g., is not something attached to His substance, whereby He knows; but only a power or quality of knowing, qualifying His infinite substance itself. To avoid this gross error, the scholastics (including many Protestants), used to say that God's essence, and each or every attribute, are identical, i. e., that His whole essence is identical with each attribute. They were accustomed to say, that God's knowing is God, God's willing is God, or that the whole God is in every act; and this they supposed to be necessary to a proper conception of His simplicity. This predication they carried far as to say, that God's essence was simple in such sense as to exclude, not only all distinctions of parts, or composition, but all logical distinction of substance or essence, entity and essence, and to identify the essence and each attribute absolutely and in a sense altogether different from finite spirits.


Now, as before remarked, (Lecture 4, Nat. Theol.) if all this means anything more than is conceded on the last page, it is pantheism. The charge there made is confirmed by this thought: That if the divine essence must be hence literally identified with each attribute, then the attributes are also identified with each other. There is no virtual, but only a nominal difference, between God's intellect and will. Hence, it must follow, that God effectuates all He conceives. This not only obliterates the vital distinction between His scientia simplex and scientia visionis; but it also robs God of His freedom as a personal agent, and, if He is infinite by His omniscience, proves that the creation, or His works, is infinite. Here we have two of the very signatures of pantheism. But further, this identification of the distinct functions of intelligence and will violates our rational consciousness. There is a virtual difference between intellection, conation, and sensibility. Every man knows this, as to himself; and yet he believes in the unity of his spirit. It is equally, or more highly, true of God, The fact that He is an infinite spiritual unit, does not militate against this position, but rather facilitates our holding of it; inasmuch as this infinitude accounts for the manifold powers of function exercised, better than our finite spirituality. It will be enough to add, in conclusion, that the fundamental law of our reason forbids our really adopting this scholastic refinement. We can only know substance by its attributes. We can only believe an attribute to be, as we are able to refer it to its substance. This is the only relation of thought, in which the mind can think either. Were the reduction of substance and attribute actually made then, in good faith, the result would be incognoscible to the human intellect.

God is infinite, and therefore incomprehensible, for our minds, in His essence (Job 11:7-9). Now, since our only way of knowing His essence is as we know the attributes which (in our poor, shortcoming phrase) compose it, each of God's attributes and acts must have an element of the incomprehensible about it. (See Job 26:14; Ps. 139:5, 6; Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33.) One of the most important attainments for you to make, therefore, is for you to rid your minds for once and all, of the notion, that you either do or can comprehend the whole of what is expressed of any of God's attributes. Yet there is solid truth in our apprehension of them up to our limited measure—i. e, our conception of them, if scriptural, will be not essentially false, tent only defective. Of this, we have this twofold warrant: First, that God has told us we are, in our own rational and moral attributes, formed in His image, so that His infinite, are the normae of our finite, essential qualities; and second, that God has chosen such and such human words (as wisdom, rectitude knowledge), to express these divine attributes. The Bible does not use words dishonestly.

Are the Separate Attributes of Infinite Number?

Another question has been raised by orthodox divines (e.g., Breckinridge), whether since God's essence is infinite, we must not conceive of it as having an infinite number of distinct attributes. That is, whatever may be the revelations of Himself made by God in word and works, and however numerous and glorious the essential attributes displayed therein, an infinite number of other attributes still remain, not dreamed of by His wisest creatures. The origin of this notion seems to be very clearly in Spinozism, which sought to identify the multifarious universe and God, by making all the kinds, however numerous and diverse, modes of His attributes. Now, if the question is asked, can a finite mind prove that this circle of attributes revealed in the Scriptures which seem to us to present a God so perfect, so totus teres et rotundus, are the only distinct essential attributes His essence has, I shall freely answer, no. By the very reason that the essence is infinite and incomprehensible, it must follow that a finite mind can never know whether He has exhausted the enumeration of the distinct qualities thereof or not, any more than He can fully comprehend one of them. But if it be said that the infinitude of the essence necessitates an infinite number of distinct attributes, I again say, no, for would not one infinite attribute mark the essence as infinite? Man cannot reason here. But the same attribute may exhibit numberless varied acts.

Classification of Attributes.

In most sciences, classification of special objects of study, is of prime importance, for two reasons. The study of resemblances and diversities, on which classification proceeds, aids us in learning the individuals classified more accurately. The objects are so exceedingly numerous, that unless general classes were formed, of which general propositions could be predicated, the memory would be overwhelmed, and the task of science endless. The latter reason has very slight application, in treating God's attributes; because their known number is not great. The former reason applies very fairly. Many classifications have been proposed, of which I will state the chief.

Into Communicable Attributes.

First. The old orthodox classification was into communicable and incommunicable. So, omniscience was called a communicable attribute, because God confers on angels and men, not identically His omniscience, or a part of it, but an attribute of knowledge having a likeness, in its lower degree, to His. His eternity is called an incommunicable attribute, because man has, and can have nothing like it, in any finite measure even. In some of the attributes, as God's independence and self-existence, this distinction may be maintained; but in many others to which it is usually applied, it seems of little accuracy. For instance, God's eternity may be stated as His infinite relation to duration. Man's temporal life is his finite relation to duration, and I see not but the analogy is about as close between this and God's eternity, as between man's little knowledge and His omniscience.

Into Relative and Absolute.

Second. Another distribution, proposed by others, is into absolute and relative. God's immensity, for instance, is His absolute attribute; His omnipresence, His corresponding relative attribute. The distinction happens to be pretty accurate in this case, but it would be impossible to carry it through the whole.

Into Natural and Moral.

Third. Another distribution is into natural and moral attributes; the natural being those which qualify God's being as an infinite spirit merely—e.g., omniscience, power, ubiquity; the moral, being those which qualify Him as a moral being, viz., righteousness, truth, goodness and holiness. This distinction is just and accurate, but the terms are bungling. For God's moral attributes are as truly natural (i. e., original,) as the others.

Best Classification.

The distribution into negative and positive, and the Cartesian, into internal (intellect and will) and external, need not be more than mentioned. Dr. Breckinridge has proposed a more numerous classification, into primary, viz: those belonging to God as simply being; essential, viz: these qualifying His being as pure spirit; natural, viz: those constituting Him a free and intelligent spirit; moral, viz: those constituting Him a righteous being; and consummate, being those perfections which belong to Him as the concurrent result of the preceding. The general objection is, that it is too artificial and complicated. It may be remarked, further, that the distinction of primary and essential attributes is unfounded. Common sense would tell us that we cannot know God as being, except as we know Him as spiritual being; and dialectics would say that the consideration of the essentia must precede that of the esse. Further, the subordinate distribution of attributes under the several heads is confused.

The distribution which I would prefer, would conform most nearly to that mentioned in the third place, into moral and non-moral. The Westminster Assembly, in this case as in many others, has given us the justest and most scientific view of this arrangement, in its Catechism: "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justness, goodness and truth," This recognizes a real ground of distinction, after which the other tentative arrangements I have described, are evidently groping, with a dim and partial apprehension. There is one class of attributes (wisdom, power, purity, justice, goodness and truth), specifically and immediately qualifying God's being. There is another class (infinitude, eternity, immutability), which collectively qualify all His other attributes and His being, and which may, therefore, be properly called His consummate attributes. God is, then, infinite, eternal and immutable in all His perfections. In a sense, somewhat similar, all His moral attributes may be said to be qualified by the consummate moral attribute, holiness—the crowning glory of the divine character.

Unity of God.

What we conceive to be the best rational proofs of God's unity and simplicity, were presented in a previous lecture on Natural Theology; we gave the preference to that from the convergent harmony of creation. Theologians are also accustomed to argue it from the necessity of His excellence (inconclusively), from His infinitude (more solidly). But our best proof is the Word, which asserts His exclusive, as well as His numerical unity, Deuteronomy 6:4;

1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 44:6; Mark 12:29-32; 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:6; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5; Deut. 32:39; Is. 43:10-11; 37:16, and so on.

He Is A Spirit.

The spirituality of God we argued rationally, first, from the fact that He is an intelligent and voluntary first cause; for our understandings are, properly speaking, unable to attribute these qualities to any other than spiritual substance. We found the same conclusion flowed necessarily from the fact, that God is the ultimate source of all force. It is implied in His immensity and omnipresence. He is Spirit, because the fountain of life. This also is confirmed by Scriptures emphatically (See Deut. 4:15—18; Ps. 139:7; Isa. 31:3; John 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:17). This evidence is greatly strengthened by the fact, that not only is the Father, but the divine nature in Christ, and the Holy Spirit, also are called again and again Spirit. (See, for the former, Rom. 1:4; Heb. 9:14. For the latter, the title Holy Spirit, Pneuma, everywhere in New Testament, and even in Old.) We may add, also, all those passages which declare God, although always most intimately present, to be beyond the cognizance of all our senses (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27).

His Simplicity.

The simplicity of God, theologically defined, is not expressly asserted in the Bible. But it follows as a necessary inference, from His spirituality. Our consciousness compels us to conceive of our own spirits as absolutely simple; because the consciousness is always such, and the whole conscious subject, ego, is in each conscious state indivisibly. The very idea of dividing a thought, an emotion, a volition, a sensation, mechanically into parts, is wholly irrelevant to our conception of them; it is impossible. Hence, as God tells us that our spirits were formed in the image of His, and as He has employed this word, Pneuma to express the nature of His substance, we feel authorized to conceive of it as also simple. But there are still stronger reasons for: First. Otherwise God's absolute unity would be lost. Second. He would not be incapable of change. Third. He might be disintegrated, and so, destroyed.

We are well aware that many representations occur in Scripture which seem to speak of God as having a material form, (e.g., in the theophanies) and parts, as hands, face, and so on, and so on. The latter are obviously only representations adapted to our faculties, to set before us the different modes of God's workings. The seeming forms, angelic or human, in which He appeared to the patriarchs, were but the symbols of His presence.

Immensity and Omnipresence.

The distinction between God's immensity and omnipresence has already been stated. Both are asserted in Scriptures. The former in 1 Kings 8:27, and parallel in Chron.; Isa. 66:1. The latter in Ps. 139:7-10; Acts 17:27-28; Jer. 23:24; Heb. 1:3. It follows, also, from what is asserted of God's works of creation and providence, and of His infinite knowledge (See Theol. Lecture 4).


God's eternity has already been defined, as an existence absolutely without beginning, without end, and without succession; and the rational evidences thereof have been presented. As to the question, whether God's thoughts and purposes are absolutely unconnected with all successive duration, we saw, when treating this question in Natural Theology, good reason to doubt. The grounds of doubt need not be repeated. But there is a more popular sense, in which the punctum stans, may be predicated of the divine existence, that past and future are as distinctly and immutably present with the Divine Mind, as the present. This is probably indicated by the striking phrase, Isa. 57:15 and more certainly, by Ex. 3:14, compared with John 8:58; by Ps. 90:4, and 2 Peter 3:8. That God's being has neither beginning nor end is stated in repeated places—as Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:1, 2; 102:26—28; Isa. 41:4; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 1:12; Rev. 1:8.


That God is immutable in His essence, thoughts, volitions, and all His perfections, has been already argued from His perfection itself, from His independence and sovereignty, from His simplicity and from His blessedness. This unchangeableness not only means that He is devoid of all change, decay, or increase of substance; but that His knowledge, His thoughts and plans, and His moral principles and volitions remain forever the same. This immutability of His knowledge and thoughts flows from their infinitude. For, being complete from eternity, there is nothing new to be added to His knowledge. His nature remaining the same, and the objects present to His mind remaining forever unchanged, it is clear that His active principles and purposes must remain forever in the same state; because there is nothing new to Him to awaken or provoke new feelings or purposes.

Our Confession says, that God hath neither parts nor passions. That He has something analagous to what are called in man active principles, is manifest, for He wills and acts; therefore He must feel. But these active principles must not be conceived of as emotions, in the sense of ebbing and flowing accesses of feeling. In other words, they lack that agitation and rush, that change from cold to hot, and hot to cold, which constitute the characteristics of passion in us. They are, in God, an ineffable, fixed, peaceful, unchangeable calm, although the springs of volition. That such principles may be, although incomprehensible to us, we may learn from this fact: That in the wisest and most sanctified creatures, the active principles have least of passion and agitation, and yet they by no means become inefficacious as springs of action—e.g., moral indignation in the holy and wise parent or ruler. That the above conception of the calm immutability of God's active principles is necessary, appears from the following: The agitations of literal passions are incompatible with His blessedness. The objects of those feelings are as fully present to the Divine Mind at one time as another; so that there is nothing to cause ebb or flow. And that ebb would constitute a change in Him. When, therefore, the Scriptures speak of God as becoming wroth, as repenting, as indulging His fury against His adversaries, in connection with some particular event occurring in time, we must understand them anthropopathically. What is meant is, that the outward manifestations of His active principles were as though these feelings then arose.

Objections Answered.

God's immutability is abundantly asserted in Scriptures (Num. 23:19; Ps. 102:26; 33:11; 110:4; Isa. 46:10; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17; Heb. 6:17; 13:8).

Some suggest that the doctrine of God's immutability is inconsistent with the incarnation of the Godhead in Christ, with God's work enacted in time through Christ, and they claim it is especially inconsistent with the evidence of His creation, and with His reconciliation with sinners when they repent.. To the first, it is enough to reply, that neither was God's substance changed by the incarnation—for there was no confusion of natures in the person of Christ—nor was His plan modified; for He always intended and foresaw it. To the second, the purpose to create precisely all that is created, was from eternity to God, and to do it just at the time He did. Had He not executed that purpose when the set time arrived, there would have been the change. To the third, I reply, the change is not in God: but in the sinner. For God to change His treatment as the sinner's character changes, this is precisely what His immutability dictates.

God's Knowledge and Wisdom.

THE difference between knowledge and wisdom has been already defined as this: Knowledge is the simple cognition of things; wisdom is the selecting and subordinating of them to an end, as means. Not only must there be the power of selecting and subordinating means to an end, to constitute wisdom, but to a worthy end. Wisdom, therefore, is a higher attribute than knowledge, involving especially the moral perfections. For when one proceeds to the selection of an end, there is choice, and the moral element is introduced. Wisdom and knowledge are the attributes which characterize God as pure mind, as a being of infinite and essential intelligence. That God's knowledge is vast, we argued from His spirituality, from His creation of other minds; (Ps. 94:7-10), from His work of creation in general, from His omnipresence; (Ps. 139:1-12), and from His other perfections of power, and especially, of goodness, truth and righteousness, to the exercise of which knowledge is constantly essential. Of His wisdom, the great natural proof is the wonderful, manifold, and beneficent contrivances in His works of creation (Ps 114:2-4), and providence. That God's knowledge is distinct, and in every case intuitive, never deductive, seems to flow from its perfection. We only know substances by their attributes; God must know them in their true substance: because it was His creative wisdom which clothed each substance with its essential qualities. We only learn many things by inference from other things; God knows all things intuitively; because there can be no succession in His knowledge, admitting of the relation of premise and conclusion.


We may show the infinite extent of God's knowledge, by viewing it under several distributions. He perfectly knows Himself (1 Cor. 2:11). He has all the past perfectly before His mind, so that there is no room for any work of recollection (Is 41:22; 43:9). This is also shown by the doctrine of a universal judgment (Eccl. 12:14; Luke 8:17; Rom. 2:16; 3:6; 14:10; Matt. 12:36; Ps. 61:8; Mal. 3:16; Rev. 20:12; Jer. 17:1). All the acts and thoughts of all His creatures, which occur in the present, are known to Him as they occur (Gen. 16:13; Prov. 15:3; Ps. 147:4, 5; 34:15; Zech. 4:10; Prov. 5:21; Job 34:22; Luke 12:6; Heb. 4:13). Especially do the Scriptures claim for God a full and perfect knowledge of man's thoughts, feelings and purposes—however concealed in the soul (Job 34:21; Ps 134; Jer. 17:10; John. 2:25; Ps. 44:21, and so on.).

Scientia Simplex. What?

God also knows, and has always known, all that shall ever occur in the future (See Isa. 13:9; Acts 15:18). Of this, all God's predictions likewise afford clear evidence. The particularity of God's foreknowledge even of the most minute things, may be seen, well defended. Turrettin, Loc. 3, Qu. 12, 4-6.

Or, adopting another distribution, we may assert that God knows all the possible and all the actual. It is His knowledge of the former, which is called by the scholastics scientia simplicis intelligentia: Its object is not that which God has determined to effectuate (the knowledge of which is called "free" or scientia visionis;), but that which His infinite intelligence sees might be effectuated, if He saw fit to will it. (The scholastics call it His knowledge of that which has essentia, but not esse.) That God has an infinite knowledge of possibles, other than those He purposes to actualize, no one can doubt, who considers the fecundity of this intelligence, as exhibited in His actual works. Can it be, that those works have exhausted all God's conceptions? Further, God's wise selection of means and ends, implies that conceptions existed in the divine mind, other than those He has embodied in creation or act, from among which He chose.

Theodicea Thence.

The Formalist Divines of the school of Wolff (as represented by Stapfer, Bulfinger, and so on), make much of this distinction between God's knowledge of the possible and the actual, to build a defense of God's holiness and benevolence in the permission of evil. Say they, Scientia simplicis intelligentiae, is not free in God. He is impelled by a metaphysical necessity, to conceive of the possible according to truth. It is God's conception which generates its essentia; but about this, God exercises no voluntary, and therefore, no moral act of His nature. God's will is only concerned in bringing the thing out of posse into esse. But the esse changes nothing in the essentia; determines nothing about the quality of the thing actualized. Therefore God's will is not morally responsible for any evil it produces. This pretended argument scarcely need, exposure. It is Realistic in its whole structure. The plain answer is, that the thing or event only in posse, is nonexistent, with all its evils. God's will is certainly concerned in bringing. it out of posse and esse. And unless God is bound by fate, His will therein is free. It is, however, perfectly correct, to say that the object of God's free knowledge owes its futurition primarily to His will. Had He not purposed its production, it would never have been produced; for He is sovereign first cause. Now, if He willed it, of course He foreknew it.

God Knows All Acts of Free Agents With A Scientia Visionis.

This leads us to the often asked question: Whether acts contingent, and especially those of rational free agents, are objects of God's scientia visionis, or of a scientia media. This is said to have been first invented by the Jesuit Molina, in order to sustain their semi—Pelagian doctrine of a self-determining will, and of conditional election. By mediate foreknowledge, they mean a kind intermediate between God's knowledge of the possible (for these acts are possessed of futurition), and the scientia visionis: for they suppose the futurition and foreknowledge of it is not the result of God's will, but of the contingent second cause. It is called mediate again: because they suppose God arrives at it, not directly by knowing His own purpose to effect it, but indirectly; by His infinite insight into the manner in which the contingent second cause will act, under given outward circumstances, foreseen or produced by God. The existence of such a species of knowledge the Calvinists deny in toto. To clear the way for this discussion, I remark, first, that God has a perfect and universal foreknowledge of all the volitions of free agents. The Scriptures expressly assert it (Ezek. 11:5; Isa. 48:8; Ps. 139:3, 4; 1 Sam. 23:12; John 21:18; 1 John 3:20; Acts 15:18). It is equally implied in God's attribute of heart-searching knowledge, which He claims for Himself (Rev. 2:23, et passim). It is altogether necessary to God's knowledge and control of all the future into which any creature's volition enters as a part of the immediate or remote causation. And this department of the future is so vast, so important in God's government, that if He could not foreknow and control it, He would be one of the most baffled, confused, and harassed of all beings, and His government one of perpetual uncertainties, failures, and partial expedients. Finally, God's predictions of such free acts of His creatures, and His including them in His decrees, in so many cases, show beyond dispute that He has some certain way to foreknow them. See every prophecy in Scripture where human or angelic acts enter. Where the prediction is positive, and proves true, the foreknowledge must have been certain. For these reasons, the impiety of early Socinians in denying God even a universal scientia media, is to be utterly repudiated.

No Scientia Media. Its Error.

In discussing the question whether God's foreknowledge of future acts of free agents is mediate in the sense defined, I would beg you to note, I that the theological virus of the proposition, is in this point: That in such cases, the foreknowledge of the act precedes the purpose of God as to it, i. e., They say God purposes, because He foresees it, instead of saying with us, that He only foresees because He purposes to permit it. Against this point of the doctrine, Turrettin's argument is just and conclusive. Of this the sum, abating His unnecessary distinctions, is: First. These acts are either possible, or future, so that it is impossible to withdraw them from one or the other of the two classes of God's knowledge, His simple, or His actual. Second. God cannot certainly foreknow an act, unless its futurition is certain. If His foreknowing it made it certain, then His knowledge involves foreordination. If the connection with the second cause producing it made it certain, then it does not belong at all to the class of contingent events! And the causative connection being certain, when God foreordained the existence of the second cause, He equally ordained that of the effect. But there are but the two sources, from which the certainty of its futurition could have come. Third. The doctrine would make God's knowledge and power dependent on contingent acts of His creatures, hence violating God's perfections and sovereignty. Fourth. God's election of men would have to be in every case conditioned on His foresight of their conduct (what semi—Pelagians are seeking here). But in one case at least, it is unconditioned; that of His election of sinners to redemption (Rom. 9:16, and so on.).

To God Nothing Is Contingent.

But in a metaphysical point of view, I cannot but think that Turrettin has made unnecessary and erroneous concessions. The future acts of free agents fall under the class of contingent effects, i. e., as Turrettin concedes the definition, of effects such that the cause being in existence, the effect may, or may not follow. (He adopts this, to sustain his scholastic doctrine of immediate physical concursus, of which more, when we treat the doctrine of Providence.) But let me ask: Has this distinction of contingent effects any place at all, in God's mind? Is it not a distinction relevant only to our ignorance? An effect is, in some cases, to us contingent; because our partial blindness prevents our foreseeing precisely what are the present concurring causes, promoting, or preventing, or whether the things supposed to be, are real causes, under the given circumstances. I assert that wherever the causative tie exists at all, its connections with its effect is certain (metaphysically necessary). If not, it is no true cause at all. There is, therefore, to God, no such thing, in strictness of speech, as a contingent effect. The contingency (in popular phrase, uncertainty), pertains not to the question whether the adequate cause will act certainly, if present; but whether it is certainly present. To God, therefore, whose knowledge is perfect, there is literally no such thing as a contingent effect. And this is true concerning the acts of free agents, emphatically; they are effects. Their second cause is the agent's own desires as acting upon the objective inducements presented by Providence; the causative connection is certain, in many cases, to our view, in all cases to God's. Is not this the very doctrine of Turrettin himself, concerning the will? The acts of free agents, then, arise through second causes.

True Distinction of This Knowledge.

The true statement of the matter, then, should be this: The objects of God's scientia visionis, or free knowledge, fall into two great classes: First. Those which God effectuates per se, without any second cause. Second. Those which He effectuates through their natural second causes. Of the latter, many are physical—e.g., the rearing of vegetables through seeds, and to the latter belong all natural volitions of free agents, caused by the subjective dispositions of their nature, acting on the objective circumstances of their providential position. Now in all effects which God produces through second causes, His foreknowledge, involving as it does, a foreordination, is in a certain sense relative. That is, it embraces those second causes, as means, as well as the effects ordained through them. (And hence it is that "the liberty or contingency of second causes is not taken away, but rather established.") Further, the foreknowledge which purposes to produce a certain effect by means of a given second cause, must, of course, include a thorough knowledge of the nature and power of the cause. That that cause derived that nature from another part or act of God's purpose, surely is no obstacle to this. Here, then, is a proper sense, in which it may be said that God's foresight of a given effect is relative—i. e., through His knowledge of the nature and power and presence of its natural, or second cause.

May not relative knowledge be intuitive and positive? Several of our axioms are truths of relation. Yet, it by no means follows, therefore, as the semi—Pelagian would wish, that such a foreknowledge is antecedent to God's preordination concerning it. Because God, in foreordaining the presence and action of the natural cause, according to His knowledge of its nature, does also efficaciously foreordain the effect.

God's Relative Knowledge.

When, therefore, it is said that God's foreknowledge of the volitions of free agents is relative in this sense, i. e., through His infinite insight into the way their dispositions will naturally act under given circumstances, placed around them by His intentional providence, the Calvinist should by no means flout it; but accept, under proper limitations. But the term mediate is not accurate, to express this orthodox sense; because it seems to imply derivation subsequent, in the part of God's cognition said to be mediated, from the independent will of the creature. The Calvinist is the very man to accept this view of a relative foreknowledge with consistency. For, on the theory of the semi—Pelagian, such a foreknowledge by insight is impossible, volitions being uncaused, according to them; but on our theory, it is perfectly reasonable, volitions, according to us, being certain, or necessary effects of dispositions. And I repeat, we need not feel any hyperorthodox fear that this view will infringe the perfection of God's knowledge, or sovereignty, in His foresight of the free acts of His creatures; it is the very way to establish them, and yet leave the creature responsible. For if God is able to foresee that the causative connection, between the second cause and its effect, is certain; then, in decreeing the presence of the cause and the proper external conditions of its action, He also decrees the occurrence of the effect. And, that volitions are not contingent, but certain effects, is the very thing the Calvinist must contend for, if he would be consistent. The history of this controversy on scientia media presents another instance of the rule; that usually mischievous errors have in them a certain modicum of valuable truth. Without this, they would not have strength in them to run, and do mischief.

God's Will and Power Omnipotent Over Free Agents Also.

We should apprehend no real distinction between God's will and His power; because in our spirits, to will is identical with the putting forth of power; and because Scripture represents all God's working as being done by a simple volition (Ps. 33:9; Gen. 1:3). That God is a free and voluntary being, we inferred plainly from the selection of contrivances to produce His ends, and of ends to be produced; for these selections are acts of choice. He is Universal Cause, and Spirit.

What is volition but a spirit's causation? Of His vast power, the works of creation and providence are sufficient, standing proofs. And the successive displays brought to our knowledge have been so numerous and vast, that there seems to reason herself every probability His power is infinite. There must be an inexhaustible reserve, where so much is continually put forth. Finally, were He not omnipotent, He would not be very God. The being, whoever it is, which defies His power would be His rival. The Scriptures also repeatedly assert His omnipotence (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 1:8; Jer. 27:17; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37; Rev. 19:6; Matt. 6:13). They say with equal emphasis, that God exercises full sovereignty over free agents, securing the performance by them, and upon them, of all that He pleases, yet consistently with their freedom and responsibility (Dan. 4:35; Prov. 21:1; Ps. 76:10; Phil. 2:13; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:11 and so on.). The same truth is evinced by every prediction in which God has positively foretold what free agents should do; for had He not some way of securing the result, He would not have predicted it positively. Here may be cited the histories of Pharaoh (Ex. 4:21; 6:1; of Joseph, Gen. 24:5; of the Assyrian king, Isa. 10:5—7; of Cyrus, Isa. 14:1; of Judas, Acts 2:23, and so on, and so on.). It is objected by those of Pelagian tendencies, that some such instances of control do not prove that God has universal sovereignty over all free agents; for they may be lucky instances, in which God managed to cause them to carry out His will by some expedient. To say nothing of the texts quoted above, it may be answered, that these cases, with others that might be quoted, are too numerous, too remote, and too strong, to be hence accounted for. Further, if God could control one, He can another; there being no different powers to overcome; and there will hardly be a prouder or more stubborn case than that of Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar. A parallel answer may be made to the evasion from the argument for God's foreknowledge of man's volitions, from His predictions of them. Once more, if God is not sovereign over free agents, He is of course not sovereign over any events dependent on the volitions of free agents, either simultaneous or previous. But those events make up a vast multitude, and include all the affairs of God's Government which most interest us and concern His providence. If He has not this power, He is, indeed, a poor dependence for the Christian, and prayer for His protection is little worth. The familiar objection will, of course, be suggested, that if God governs men sovereignly, then they are not free agents. The discussion of it will be postponed till we treat of Providence. Enough meantime, to say, that we have indubitable evidence of both, of the one from consciousness, of the other from Scripture and reason. Yet, that these agents were responsible and guilty (Isa. 10:12; Acts 1:25). Their reconciliation may transcend, but does not violate reason—witness the fact that man may often influence his fellowman so decisively as to be able to count on it, and yet that act be free, and responsible.

Omnipotence Does Not To Self-Contradictions.

We have seen (Natural Theology) that God's omnipotence is not to be understood, notwithstanding the emphatic assertions of Scripture, that all things are possible with Him, as a power to do contradictions. It has also been usually said by Theologians that God's will is limited, not only by the necessary contradiction, but by His own perfections. The meaning is correct, the phrase is incorrect. God's will is not limited; for those perfections as much ensure that He will never wish, as that He will never do, those incompatible things. He does absolutely all that He wills. But hence explained, the qualification is fully sustained by Scripture (2 Tim. 2:13; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; James. 1:13).

Secret and Revealed Will Distinguished.

I have argued that God's will is absolutely executed over all free agents; and yet Scripture is full of declarations that sinful men and devils disobey His will! There must be, therefore, a distinction between His secret and revealed, His decretive and preceptive will. All God's will must be, in reality, a single, eternal, immutable act. The distinction, therefore, is one necessitated by our limitation of understanding, and relates only to the manifestation of the parts of this will to the creature. By God's decretive will, we mean that will by which He foreordains whatever comes to pass. By His preceptive, that by which He enjoins on creatures what is right and proper for them to do. The decretive we also call His secret will, because it is for the most part (except as disclosed in some predictions and the effectuation) retained in His own breast. His preceptive we call His revealed will, because it is published to man for his guidance.

Although this distinction is beset with plausible quibbles, yet every man is impelled to make it; for otherwise, either alternative is odious and absurd. Say that God has no secret decretive will, and He wishes just what He commands and nothing more, and we represent Him as a Being whose desires are perpetually crossed and baffled, yea, trampled on, the most harassed, embarrassed, and impotent Being in the universe. Deny the other part of our distinction, and you represent God as acquiescing in all the iniquities done on earth and in hell. Again, Scripture clearly establishes the distinction. Witness all the texts already quoted to show that God's sovereignty overrules all the acts of men to His purposes (Add. Rom. 11:33, to end: Prov. 16:4; Deut. 29:29). Special cases are also presented (the most emphatic possible), in which God's decretive will differed from His preceptive will, as to the same individuals (Ex. 4:21—23; Ezek. 3:7, 23:31). These authentic cases offer an impregnable bulwark against Arminian objections; and prove that it is not Calvinism, but Inspiration, which teaches the distinction.


The objections are, that this distinction represents God as either insincere in His precepts to His creatures, or else, as having His own volitions at war among themselves, and that, by making His secret will decretive of sinful acts as well as holy, we represent Him as unholy. The seeming inconsistency is removed by these considerations. "God's preceptive will." In this phrase, the word will is used in a different sense. For, in fact, while God wills the utterance of the precepts, the acts enjoined are not objects of God's volition, save in the cases where they are actually embraced in His decretive will. All the purposes which God carries out by permitting and overruling the evil acts of His creatures, are infinitely holy and proper for Him to carry out. It may be right for Him to permit what it would be wrong for us to do, and therefore wrong for Him to command us to do. Not only is it righteous and proper for an infinite Sovereign to withhold from His creatures, in their folly, a part of His infinite and wise designs; but it is absolutely unavoidable; for their minds being finite, it is impossible to make them comprehend God's infinite plan. Seeing, then, that He could not give them His whole immense design as the rule of their conduct, what rule was it most worthy of His goodness and holiness to reveal? Evidently, the moral law, requiring of them what is righteous and good for them. There is no insincerity in God's giving this law, although He may, in a part of the cases, secretly determine not to give unmerited grace to constrain men to keep it. Remember, also, that if even in these cases men would keep it, God would not fail to reward them according to His promise. But God, foreknowing that they would freely choose not to keep it, for wise reasons determines to leave them to their perverse choice, and overrule it to His holy designs. I freely admit that the divine nature is inscrutable; and that mystery must always attach to the divine purposes. But there is a just sense in which a wise and righteous man might say, that he sincerely wished a given subject of his would not transgress, and yet that, foreseeing his perversity, he fully purposed to permit it, and carry out his purposes thereby. Shall not the same thing be possible for God in a higher sense?

Antecedent and Consequent Will.

There is a sense in which some parts of God's will may be said to be antecedent to, and some parts consequent to His foresight of man's acts—i. e., as our finite minds are compelled to conceive them. Hence, although God's will acts by one, eternal, comprehensive, simultaneous act, we cannot conceive of His determination to permit man's fall, except as a consequence of His prior purpose to create man (because if none were created, there would be none to fall), and of His decree to give a Redeemer, as consequent on His foresight of the fall. But the Arminian Scholastics have perverted this simple distinction hence, making the antecedent act of God's will precede the view had by God of the creature's action; and the consequent, following upon, and produced by that foresight, the purpose to create man was antecedent, to punish his sin consequent.

I object, that this notion really violates the unity and eternity of God's volition. Second. It derogates from the independence of God's will, making it determined by, instead of determining, the creature's conduct. Third. It overlooks the fact that all the parts of the chain, the means as well as the end, the second causes as well as consequences, are equally and as early determined by, and embraced in, God's comprehensive plan. As to a sequence and dependency between the parts of God's decree, the truth, so far as man's mind is capable of comprehending, seems to be this: That the decree is in fact one, in God's mind, and has no succession; but we being incapable of apprehending it save by parts, are compelled to conceive God, as having regard in one part of His eternal plan to a state of facts destined by Him to proceed out of another part of it, This remark will have no little importance when we come to view supralapsarianism.

God's Will Absolute.

God's purposes are all independent of any condition external to Himself in this sense; that they are not caused by anything ab extra. The things decreed may be conditioned on other parts of His own purpose, in that they embrace means necessary to ends. While the purposes have no cause outside of God, they doubtless all have wise and sufficient reasons, known to God.

Is God's Will the First Rule of Right?

Some, even of Calvinists, have seemed to find this question very intricate, if we may judge by their differences. Let us discriminate clearly then, that by God's will here we mean his volition in the specific sense, and not will in the comprehensive sense of the whole conative powers. The question is perspicuously stated in this form: Are the precepts right merely because God commands, or does He command, because they are in themselves right? The latter is the true answer. Let it be understood again; that God's precepts are, for us, an actual, a perfect, and a supreme rule of right. No Christian disputes this. For God's moral title as our Maker, Owner and Redeemer, with the perfect holiness of His nature, makes it unquestionable, that our rectitude is always in being and doing just what He requires. Let it be understood again, that in denying that God's volition to command is the mere and sole first source of right, we do not dream of any superior personal will, earlier than God's and more authoritative than His, instructing and compelling Him to command right. Of course, we repeat, no one holds this; God is the first, being the eternal authority, and He is absolutely supreme.

Does one ask: Where, then, did this moral distinction inhere and abide, before God had given any expression to it, in time, in any legislative acts? The answer is, in the eternal principles of His moral essence, which, like His physical, is self-existent and eternally necessary.


Having cleared the ground, I support my answer hence: First. God has an eternal and inalienable moral claim over His moral creatures, not arising out of any legislative act of His, but immediately out of the relation of creature to Creator, and possession to its absolute Owner. For instance, elect angels owed love and honor to God, before He entered into any covenant of works with them. This right is as unavoidable and indestructible as the very relation of Creator and rational creature. This moral dependence is as original as the natural dependence of being. Hence, it is indisputable that there is a moral title more original than any preceptive act of God's will. Second. We cannot but think that these axioms of ethical principle are as true of God's rectitude as of man's: a. That God's moral volitions are not uncaused, but have their (subjective) motives. b. That the morality of the volitions is the morality of their intentions. We must meet the question there, as to God, just as to any rational agent. What is the regulative cause of those right volitions? There is no other answer but this: God's eternally holy dispositions; His necessary moral perfections. Now, then, if a given precept of God is right, His act of will in legislating it must be right, and must have its moral quality. If this act of divine will is such, it must be because its subjective motives have right moral quality. Hence we are, per force, led to recognize moral qualities in something logically prior to the preceptive will of God, viz: in His own moral perfections. Third. Otherwise, this result must follow, which is an outrage to the practical reason: That God's preceptive will might, conceivably, have been the reverse of what it is, and then the vilest things would have been right, and holiest things vile. Fourth. There would be no ground for the distinction between the "perpetual moral" and the "temporary positive" command. All would be merely positive. But again: the practical reason cannot but see a difference between the prohibition of lying, and the prohibition of eating bacon! Fifth. No argument could be constructed for the necessity of satisfaction for guilt, in order to righteous pardon; so that (as will be seen) our theory of redemption would be reduced to the level of Socinian error. And, last, God's sovereignty would not be moral. His "might would make His right."


Syllabus for Lecture 15:

1. Define and prove from Scripture God's absolute and relative, His distributive and punitive justice.

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 19. Dick, Lecture 25. Ridgeley, Body of Divinity, Qu. 7, p. 164. Watson's Theol. Institutes, pt. ii, ch. 7, Sect. (I.) Chr. Knapp, and so on.

2. What is God's goodness? What the relation of it to His love, His grace and His mercy? What Scriptural proof that He possesses these attributes?

Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 20. Dick, Lecture 24. Ridgeley, Qu. 7, p. 168, and so on. Charnock, Disc. xii, Sect. 2, 3, (pp. 255—287). Watson's Theol. Inst., pt. ii, ch. 6. Knapp, 28, 2.

3. Define and prove God's truth and faithfulness, and defend from objections.
Dick, Lecture 26. Ridgeley, Qu. 7, p. 186, and so on. Watson's Theol Inst. pt. ii,

4. What is the holiness of God? Prove it. Dick, Lecture 27. Charnock, Disc. xi, Sect. I, (pp. 135-144). Ridgeley, Qu. 7, p. 100, and so on.

5. Prove God's infinitude.

Turrettin, Loc iii, Qu. 8, 9. Thornwell, Vol. i, Lecture 4.

Moral Attributes God's Chief Glory.

WE have now reached that which is the most glorious, and at the same time, the most important class of God's attributes; those which qualify Him as an infinitely perfect moral Being. These are the attributes which regulate His will, and are, therefore, so to speak, His practical perfections. Without these, His infinite presence, power, and wisdom would be rather objects of terror and fear, than of love and trust. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive how the horror of a rational being could be more thoroughly awakened, than by the idea of wicked omnipotence wielding all possible powers for the ruin or promotion of our dearest interests, yet uncontrolled alike by created force, and by moral restraints. The forlorn despair of the wretch who is left alone in the solitude of the ocean, to buffet its innumerable waves, would be a faint shadow of that which would settle over a universe in the hands of such a God. But blessed be His name, He is declared, by His works and word, to be a God of complete moral perfections. And this is the ground on which the Scriptures base their most frequent and strongest claims to the praise and love of His creatures. His power, His knowledge, His wisdom, His immutability are glorious; but the glory and loveliness of His moral attributes excelleth.


God's distinct moral attributes may be counted as three—His justice, His goodness, and His truth—I these three concurring in His consummate moral attribute, holiness.

Justice Defined.

God's absolute justice is technically defined by theologians as the general rectitude of character, intrinsic in His own will. His relative justice is the acting out of that rectitude towards His creatures. His distributive justice is the quality more precisely indicated when we call Him a just God, which prompts Him to give to every one his due. His punitive justice is that phase of His distributive justice which prompts Him always to allot its due punishment to sin. No Christian theologian denies to God the quality of absolute justice, nor of a relative, as far as His general dealings with His creatures go. We have seen that even reason infers it clearly from the authority of conscience in man; from the instinctive pleasure accompanying well-doing, and pain attached to ill-doing; from the general tendency which God's providence has established, by which virtue usually promotes individual and social well-being, and vice destroys them; and from many providential retributions where crimes are made to become their own avengers. And Scripture declares His rectitude in too many places and forms, to be disputed (Ps. 71:15; Ezra 9:15; Ps. 19:9; 145:17; Rev. 16:7, and so on, and so on, Ps. 89:14; Hab. 1:13).

Is God's Punitive Justice Essential? Different Theories.

It is upon the punitive justice of God that the difference arises. As the establishing of this will establish a fortiori, the general righteousness of God's dealings, we shall continue the discussion on this point. The Socinians deny that retributive justice is an essential or an immutable attribute of God. They do not, indeed, deny that God punishes sin; nor that it would be right for Him to do so in all cases, if He willed it; but they deny that there is anything in His perfections to ensure His always willing it, as to every sin. Instead of believing that God's righteous character impels Him unchangeably to show His displeasure against sin in this way, they hold that, in those cases where He wills to punish it, He does it merely for the sinner's reformation, or the good of His government. The new school of divines also hold that while God's purpose to punish sin is uniform and unchangeable, it is only that this form of prevention against the mischiefs of sin may be diligently employed, for the good of the universe. They hold that His law is not the expression of His essence, but the invention of His wisdom. Both these opinions have this in common; that they resolve God's justice into benevolence, or utility. The principle will be more thoroughly discussed by me in the Senior Course, in connection with the satisfaction of Christ. I only remark here that such an account of the divine attribute of justice is attended by all the absurdities which lie against the Utilitarian system of morals among men, and by others. It is opposed to God's independence, making the creature His end, instead of Himself, and the carrying out of His own perfections. It violates our conscience, which teaches us that to inflict judicial suffering on one innocent, for the sake of utility, would be heinous wrong, and that there is in all sin an inherent desert of punishment for its own sake. It resolves righteousness into mere prudence, and right into advantage.

Affirmative View.

Now Calvinists hold that God is immutably determined by His own eternal and essential justice, to visit every sin with punishment according to its desert. Not indeed that He is constrained, or His free agency is bound herein; for He is immutably impelled by nothing but His own perfection. Nor do they suppose that the unchangeableness is a blind physical necessity, operating under all circumstances, like gravitation, with a mechanical regularity. It is the perfectly regular operation of a rational perfection, coexisting with His other attributes of mercy, wisdom, and so on, and therefore modifying itself according to its object; as much approving, yea, demanding, the pardon of the penitent and believing sinner, for whose sins penal satisfaction is made and applied, as, before, it demanded his punishment. In this sense, then, that God's retributive justice is not a mere expedient of benevolent utility, but a distinct essential attribute. I argue, by the following scriptural proofs:

Proved By Scripture.

(a.) Those Scriptures where God is declared to be a just and inflexible judge (Ex. 34:7; Ps. 5:5; Gen. 18:25; Ps. 94:2; 1:6; Isa. 1:3, 4; Ps. 96:13, and so on.). (b.) Those Scriptures where God is declared to hate sin (Ps. 7:11; Ps. 5:4, 6; 14:7; Deut. 4:24; Prov. 11:20; Jer. 44:4; Isa. 61:8). If the Socinian, or the New England view were correct, God could not be said to hate sin, but only the consequences of it. Now, God has no passions. Drop the human dress, in which this principle is stated; and the least we can make of this fixed hatred of God to sin, is a fixed purpose in Him to treat it as hateful.

By the Law.

(c.) From God's moral law, which is the transcript of His own essential perfections. Of this law, the penal sanction is always an essential part (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 5:12; Ex. 20:7).

This fixed opposition to sin is necessary to a pure Being. Moral good and evil are the two poles, to which the magnet, rectitude, acts. The same force which makes one pole attract the magnet, makes the other pole repel it. The Northern end of the needle can only seek the North pole, as it repels the Southern. Since sin and holiness in the creature are similar opposites, that moral action by which the right conscience approves the one, is the counterpart of its opposition to the other. It is as preposterous to claim that God's approval of right is essential to His perfection, but His disapproval of wrong, is not; as to tell us of a magnet which infallibly turned its one end to the North star, but did not certainly turn its opposite end to the Southern pole. Socinians, like all other legalists, claim that God's approval of good works is essential in Him. It should be added, that this essential opposition to sin, if it exists in God, must needs show itself in regular penal acts: because He is sovereign and almighty; and He is Supreme Ruler. If He did not treat sin as obnoxious, His regimen would tend to confound moral distinction. To all this corresponds the usual picture of God's justice in Scripture (Rom. 2:6-11; Prov. 17:15). The ceremonial law equally proves it; for the great object of all the bloody sacrifices was to hold forth the great theological truth that there is no pardon of the sinner, without the punishment of the sin in a substitute (Heb. 9:22).

By Christ's Death.

(d.) The death of Christ, a sinless being who had no guilt of His own for which to atone. We are told that "our sins were laid upon" Christ; that "He was made sin," that "He suffered the just for the unjust," "that God might be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly" that "the chastisement of our peace was upon Him," and so on. (Isa. 53:5-11; Rom. 3:24-26; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Pet. 3:18, and so on.). Now, if Christ only suffered to make a governmental display of the mischievous consequences of sin, then sin itself was not punished in Him, and all the sins of the pardoned remain forever unpunished, in express contradiction to these Scriptures. Moreover, the transaction at Calvary, instead of being a sublime exhibition of God's righteousness, was only an immoral farce. And finally, not only is God not immutably just, but He is capable of being positively unjust, in that the only innocent man since Adam was made to suffer most of all men!

Objection, That Magistrates Pardon. Answer.

The particular phase of the argument from God's rectoral justice, or moral relations to the rational universe as its Ruler, will be considered more appropriately when we come to the doctrine of satisfaction, as also, Socinian objections. One of these, however, has been raised, and is so obvious, that it must be briefly noted here. It is that the righteousness of magistrates, parents, masters and teachers, is not incompatible with some relaxations of punitive justice; why then, should that of our Heavenly Father be so, who is infinitely benevolent; who is the God of love? The answer is, that God's government differs from theirs in three particulars. They are not the appointed, supreme retributors of crime (Rom. 12:19), and their punishments, while founded on retributive justice, are not chiefly guided by this motive, but by the policy of repressing sin and promoting order. Second. They are not immutable, either in fact or profession; so that when they change their threats into pardons without satisfaction to the threatening their natures are not necessarily dishonored. Third. They are not omniscient, to know all the motives of the offender, and all the evidences of guilt in doubtful cases, so as to be able exactly to graduate the degree and certainty of guilt. These three differences being allowed for it, it would be as improper for man to pardon without satisfaction, as God.

God's Benevolence, Etc.

God's goodness is, to creatures, one of His loveliest attributes; because it is from this that all the happiness which all enjoy flows, as water from a spring. Goodness is the generic attribute of which the love of benevolence, grace, pity, mercy, forgiveness, are but specific actings, distinguished by the attitude of their objects, rather than by the intrinsic principle. Goodness is God's infinite will to dispense well—being, in accordance with His other attributes of wisdom, righteousness, and so on, and on all orders of His creatures according to their natures and rights. Love is God's active (but passionless) affection, by which He delights in His creatures, and in their well being, and delights consequently in conferring it. It is usually distinguished into love of complacency, and love of benevolence. The former is a moral emotion (though in God passionless), being His holy delight in holy qualities in His creatures, cooperating with His simple goodness to them as creatures. The latter is but His goodness manifesting itself, actively. The first loves the holy being on account of his excellence. The second loves the sinner in spite of his wickedness. When the student contrasts such texts as, Ps. 7:2.; Rom. 5:8, he sees that this distinction must be made. Grace is the exercise of goodness where it is undeserved, as in bestowing assured eternal blessedness on the elect angels, and redemption on hell-deserving man. And because all spiritual and holy qualities in saints are bestowed by God, without desert on their part, they are called also, their graces carismata. Pity, or simple compassion, is goodness going forth towards a suffering object, and prompting, of course, to the removal of suffering. Mercy is pity towards one suffering for guilt. But as all the suffering of God's rational creatures is for guilt, His compassion to them is always mercy. All mercy is also grace; but all grace is not mercy.

Are All the Moral Attributes Only Phases of Goodness?

Many theologians (of the Socinian, New England and Universalists schools) overstrain God's goodness, by representing it as His one, universally prevalent moral attribute; in such sense that His justice is but a punitive policy dictated by goodness, His truth but a politic dictate of His benevolence, and so on. Their chief reliance for support of this view is on the supposed contrariety of goodness and retributive justice; and on such passages as: "God is love," and so on. To the last, the answer is plain, if an exclusive sense must be forced upon such a text, as makes it mean that God has no quality but benevolence, then, when Paul and Moses say, "Our God is a consuming fire," we should be taught that He has no quality but justice; and when another says, "God is light," that He is nothing but simple intelligence, without will or character. The interpretation of all must be consistent intersupposed incompatibility of goodness and justice, we utterly deny. They are two phases, or aspects, of the same perfect character. God is not good to a certain extent, and then just, for the rest of the way, as it were by patches; but infinitely good and just at once, in all His character and in all His dealings. He would not be truly good if He were not just. The evidence is this very connection between holiness and happiness, so intimate as to give pretext for the confusion of virtue and benevolence among moralists. God's wise goodness, so ineffably harmonized by His own wisdom and holiness, would of itself prompt Him to be divinely just; and His justness, while it does not necessitate, approves His divine goodness.

Scriptural Proofs of God's Goodness.

The rational proofs of God's goodness have been already presented, drawn from the structure of man's sensitive, social and moral nature, and from the adaptations of the material world thereto (see Natural Theol. Lecture 4.). To this I might add, that the very act of constructing such a creation, where sentient beings are provided, in their several orders, with their respective natural good, bespeaks God a benevolent Being. For, being sufficient unto Himself, it must have been His desire to communicate His own blessedness, which prompted Him to create these recipients of it. Does any one object, that we say He made all for His own glory; and, therefore, His motive was selfish, and not benevolent? I rejoin: What must be the attributes of that Being, who hence considers His own glory as most appropriately illustrated in bestowing enjoyment? The fact that God makes beneficence His glory, proves Him, in the most intrinsic and noble sense, benevolent.

When we approach Scripture, we find goodness, in all its several phases, profusely asserted of God (Ps. 145:8, 9; 1 John 4:8; Ex. 34:6; Ps. 33:5; 52:1; 103:8; Ps. 136; James 5:11; 2 Pet. 3:15, and so on.).

Crowning Proof From Redemption.

But the crowning proof which the Scriptures present of God's goodness, is the redemption of sinners (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16; 1 John 3:1; 4:10). The enhancements of this amazing display are, first, that man's misery was so entirely self—procured, and the sin which procured it so unspeakably abominable to God's infinite holiness; second, that the misery from which He delivers is so immense and terrible, while the blessedness He confers is so complete, exalted and everlasting; third, that ruined man was to Him so entirely unimportant and unnecessary, and moreover, so trivial and little when compared with God; fourth, that our continued attitude towards Him throughout all this plan of mercy is one of aggravating unthankfulness, enmity and rebellion, up to our conversion; fifth, that God should have given such a price for such a wretched and hateful object, as the humiliation of His own Son, and the condescending work of the Holy Spirit; and finally, that He should have exerted the highest wisdom known to man in any of the divine counsels, and the noblest energies of divine power, to reconcile His truth and justice with His goodness in man's redemption. Each of these features has been justly made the subject of eloquent illustration. In this argument is the inexhaustible proof for God's goodness. The work of redemption reveals a love, compassion, condescension, so strong, that nothing short of eternity will suffice to comprehend it.

The greet standing difficulty concerning the divine goodness has been already briefly considered (Lecture v, iv).

God's Truth and Faithfulness.

God's truth may be said to be an attribute which characterizes all God's other moral attributes, and His intellectual. The word truth is so simple as to be, perhaps, undefinable. It may be said to be that which is agreeable to reality of things. God's knowledge is perfectly true, being exactly correspondent with the reality of the objects thereof. His wisdom is true, being unbiased by error of knowledge, prejudice, or passion. His justice is true, judging and acting always according to the real state of character and facts. His goodness is true, being perfectly sincere, and its outgoings exactly according to His own perfect knowledge of the real state of its objects, and His justice. But in a more special sense, God's truth is the attribute which characterizes all His communications to His creatures. When those communications are promissory, or minatory, it is called His faithfulness. This attribute has been manifested through two ways, to man: the testimony of our senses and intelligent faculties, and the testimony of Revelation. If our confidence in God's truth were undermined, the effect would be universally ruinous. Not only would Scripture with all its doctrines, promises, threatenings, precepts, and predictions, become worthless, but the basis of all confidence in our own faculties would be undermined; and universal skepticism would arrest all action. Man could neither believe his fellowman, nor his own experience, nor senses, nor reason, nor conscience, nor consciousness, if he could not believe his God.

Evidences of It, From Reason.

The evidences of God's truth and truthfulness are two-fold. We find that He deals truly in the informations which He has ordained our own senses and faculties to give us, whenever they are legitimately used. The grounds upon which we believe them have been briefly reviewed in my remarks upon metaphysical skepticism. God has so formed our minds that we cannot but take for granted the legitimate informations of our senses, consciousness, and intuitions. But this unavoidable trust is abundantly confirmed by subsequent experiences. The testimonies of one sense, for instance, are always confirmed by those of the others, when they are applied, e.g., when the eye tells us a given object is present, the touch, if applied, confirms it. The expectations raised by our intuitive reason, as e.g., that like causes will produce like effects, are always verified by the occurrence of the expected phenomena. Hence a continual process is going on, like the "proving" of a result in arithmetic. Either the seemingly true informations of our senses are really true, or the harmonious coherency of the set of errors which they assert is perfectly miraculous.

From Scripture.

The second class of proofs is that of Scripture. Truth and faithfulness are often predicated of God in the most unqualified terms (2 Cor. 1:18; Rev. 3:7; 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; Deut. 7:9; Heb. 10:23; Titus 1:2). All the statements and doctrines of Scripture, so far as they come within the scope of man's consciousness and intuitions, are seen to be infallibly true; as, for instance, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God," that we "go astray as soon as we be born, speaking lies," and so on, and so on. Again, Scripture presents us with a multitude of specific evidences of His truth and faithfulness, in the promises, threatenings, and predictions, which are contained there; for all have been fulfilled, so far as ripened.

The supposed exceptions, where threats have been left unfulfilled, as that of Jonah against Nineveh, are of very easy solution. A condition was always either implied or expressed, on which the execution of the threat was suspended.

The apparent insincerity of God's offers of mercy, and commands of obedience and penitence, held forth to those to whom He secretly intended to give no grace to comply, offers a more plausible objection. But it has been virtually exploded by what was said upon the secret and decretive, as distinguished from the revealed and preceptive will of God. I shall return to it again more particularly when I come to treat of effectual calling.

God's Holiness.

When places, Mount Zion, utensils, oils, meats, altars, days, and so on, are called holy, the obvious meaning is, that they are consecrated—i. e., set apart to the religious service of God. This idea is also prominent, when God's priests, prophets, and professed people, are called holy. But when applied to God, the word is most evidently not used in a ceremonial, but a spiritual sense. Most frequently it seems to express the general idea of His moral purity (Lev. 11:44; Ps. 145:17; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16), sometimes it seems to express rather the idea of His majesty, not exclusive of His moral perfections, but inclusive also of His power, knowledge and wisdom (Ps. 22:3; 98:1; Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). Holiness, therefore, is to be regarded, not as a distinct attribute, but as the resultant of all God's moral attributes together And as His justice, goodness, and truth are all predicated of Him as a Being of intellect and will, and would be wholly irrelevant to anything unintelligent and involuntary, so His holiness implies a reference to the same attributes. His moral attributes are the special crown; His intelligence and will are the brow that wears it. His holiness is the collective and consummate glory of His nature as an infinite, morally pure, active, and intelligent Spirit.

God's Infinity.

We have now gone around the august circle of the Divine attributes, so far as they are known to us. In another sense I may say that the summation of them leads us to God's other consummate attribute—His infinitude. This is an idea which can only be defined negatively. We mean by it that God's being and attributes are wholly without bounds. Some divines, indeed, of modern schools, would deny that we mean anything by the term, asserting that infinitude is an idea which the human mind cannot have at all. They employ Sir W. Hamilton's well known argument that "the finite mind cannot think the unconditioned; because to think it is to limit it." It has always seemed to me that the plain truth on this subject is, that man's mind does apprehend the idea of infinitude (else whence the word?), but that it cannot comprehend it. It knows that there is the infinite; it cannot fully know what it is. God's nature is absolutely without bound, as to His substance (immense), as to His duration (eternal), as to His knowledge (omniscience), as to His will, (omnipotence), as to His moral perfections (holiness). It is an infinite essence.


First. One of the consequences which flows from these perfections of God in His absolute sovereignty, which in so often asserted of Him in Scripture (Dan. 4:35; Rev. 19:16; Rom. 9:15-23; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11). By this we do not mean a power to do everything, as e.g., to punish an innocent creature, contradictory to God's own perfections; but a righteous title to do everything, and control every creature, unconstrained by anything outside His own will, but always in harmony with His own voluntary perfections. When we call it a righteous title, we mean that it is not only a dunami" but an exousia, not only a physical potentia, but a moral potestas. The foundations of this righteous authority are, first, God's infinite perfections; second, His creation of all His creatures out of nothing; and third, His preservation and blessing of them. This sovereignty, of course, carries with it the correlative duty of implicit obedience on our part.

Second. Another consequence which flows from the infinite perfections of God is that He is entitled not only to dispose of us and our services, for His own glory, but to receive our supreme, sincere affections. Just in degree as the hearts of His intelligent creatures are right, will they admire, revere, and love God, above all creatures, singly or collectively.

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