II. Who, and What is God?

God cannot be defined, for the reason that he is immense, and because we are ignorant of his essence. We may, however, describe him to a certain extent from the revelation which he has been pleased to make of himself ; yet in giving a description of God we must be careful to include in it those attributes, representations and peculiar works, which distinguish him from all false deities. God is philosophically described as an eternal mind or intelligence, sufficient in himself to all felicity, the best of beings, and the cause of good in nature. A theological and more complete description of God, the one which the church receives, is the following : God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, different from all creatures, incomprehensible, most perfect in himself, immutable, of immense power, wisdom and goodness ; just, true, pure, merciful, bountiful, most free, hating sin which is, the eternal Father, who from eternity begat the Son in his own image ; the Son, who is the co-eternal image of the Father; and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, as has been divinely revealed by the sure word delivered by the Prophets and Apostles, and divine testimonies ; that the eternal Father, with the Son and Holy Ghost, did create heaven and earth, and all creatures, is present with all creatures, that he may preserve and rule them by his providence, and produce all good things in them; and that from the human race, made after his own image, he hath chosen and gathers unto himself an everlasting church, by and for the sake of his Son, that by the church this one and true Deity may, according to the word revealed from heaven, be here known and praised, and glorified in the life to come ; and that he is the judge of the righteous and the wicked.

This theological description of God, which the church gives, differs from the philosophical description, 1. In perfection, because it contains certain things unknown to men by nature, such as the distinction which exists “between the persons of the Godhead, election, and the gathering of the church through the Son. It also explains more fully those things which are known from nature. 2. In its effect, inasmuch as men cannot by the mere light of nature arrive at a true knowledge of God, nor be excited thereby to holiness or to the love and fear of God.

This same description teaches that the true God, whom the church worships, may be distinguished from false gods in three ways : by his attribute*, personal distinctions, and works. God has declared by his works that he is such an one by nature as his attributes import. He also shows that there are three persons in one divine essence, since, according to his works, which are works either of creation, or of redemption, or sanctification, God has different titles attributed to him, and to each person of the Godhead there is a peculiar name applied. God, therefore, differs from idols, First, by his attributes. Out of the church no attribute of God can be rightly and fully known. Even his mercy is not properly known by those who are out of the church, because the Son is not known, or the doctrine concerning him is corrupted. Nor do they know his justice, because the wicked do not believe that God is so greatly offended at sin that any satisfaction was needed, or that redemption could be effected only by the death of his Son. Nor can the wisdom of God be known without the church, because the principal part of it is found in his word, which the Gentiles had not. The same thing may be said of the truth of God, because we do not gain a knowledge of his promises from nature ; and so of all the divine attributes. The church, however, attributes to God, in the highest -degree, righteousness, truth, goodness, mercy, loving kindness ; which attributes of God the various sects are either entirely ignorant of, or, if they have any knowledge of them, they misrepresent them.

Secondly, by the personal distinctions of the Godhead. The heathen philosophers and sectarists neither know nor acknowledge that there are three persons in one divine essence. The church, however, acknowledges and calls upon the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, subsisting in three persons, as he has revealed himself in his word.

Thirdly, by his works. Those who are without the church have no proper knowledge of the creation and government of all things, much less have they a correct knowledge of the work of redemption and sanctification through the Son and Holy Spirit. The true God is, in these respects, distinguished from idols. The knowledge of God, which his word reveals to the church, is also different from that which the heathen have obtained from the light of nature. A short explanation of the description of God, as given by the Church. God is an essence, that is, a thing which neither springs from, nor depends upon any thing else, but exists of and by itself alone, and is the cause of existence to every thing else. God is for this reason called Jehovah, as if to say, that he exists from himself, and causes all other things to exist.

Spiritual: that is, incorporeal, invisible, and imperceptible by the senses ; also, living or existing from himself, and quickening all things else.

Obj. 1. But God has often appeared to men ; therefore his nature cannot be spiritual in the sense just explained. Ans. God, in these appearances, merely assumed a bodily form for the time, without exhibiting his proper substance, which no man hath or can see. Obj. 2. But he was seen face to face. Ans. This, however, does not mean that God was perceptible to the natural eye, but that there was a clear perception of him by the mind. Obj. 3. But the Scriptures very frequently attribute to God the various parts and members of the human body. Ans. These representations of God are to be understood figuratively, as spoken after the manner of men. Obj. 4. But it is said that man was made in the image of God. Therefore God cannot be spiritual, as explained above. Ans. The image of God, in which man was created, consisted not in the shape or form of the body, but in the essence of the soul, in its powers and integrity.

Intelligent: The human mind, with the notions or general conceptions which it has, which are from God, proves that he is endowed with this attribute. “ He that planted the ear, shall he not hear ? “ (Ps. 94 : 9.)

Eternal: that is, having an existence without beginning or end. “ From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” (Ps. 90 : 2.)

Different from all creatures and things. God is not nature itself, nor matter, nor form, nor any part of nature, but the efficient cause of all things ; neither is his essence mixed or blended with other things ; it is different from and unlike every thing else. Obj. 1. All things are from God ; therefore they cannot be different from him. Ans. All things are indeed from God, but only by having been created by him out of nothing. Obj. 2. We are the offspring of God. Ans. But only in respect to a resemblance of properties, and by creation. Obj. 3. The saints are born of God. Ans. This is, however, by regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Obj. 4. We are made partakers of the divine nature, according to the apostle Peter. (2 Pet. 1 : 4.) Ans. This means nothing more than that God dwells in us, and that we have a conformity with him. Obj. 5. Christ is God, and has a divine body. Ans. But this is by virtue of the hypostatical union and glorification.

Incomprehensible: God is incomprehensible ; 1. As it respects our thoughts or knowledge of him. 2. In the immensity of his essence. 3. In the communication of his essence, in number one and the same.

Most perfect in himself. 1. Because he alone has all things necessary to perfect felicity, so that nothing can be added unto him to increase his glory or happiness. 2. Because he has all these things in and from himself.

3. Because he is also sufficient for the happiness of all other creatures. Obj. 1. But God is said to have made all things for himself. Ans. God created all things, not for the purpose of benefiting himself, but for the purpose of communicating himself to his creatures. Obj. 2. But God employs his creatures in effecting his designs. Ans. This he does not from any want or necessity in the case, but that he may honor his creatures by making them dispensers of his bounty, and co-workers with himself. Obj. 3. We are bound to worship God. Ans. This we owe to God, and results in our good. Obj. 4. To whom that is given which is his due, to him something is added. Ans. This, however, is not true in regard to that which is due according to the order of justice, and which contributes to the happiness of the giver. Obj. 5. God delights in our obedience. Ans. This he does in as far as our obedience is an object, and not in as far as it is an efficient cause of joy.

Immutable. God is immutable ; 1. In his essence. 2. In his will. 3. As it respects place, because he is immense. Obj. 1. But God is said to have repented of those things which he did. Ans. This is spoken figuratively. Obj. 2. God has often promised and threatened things which he did not perform. Ans. These promises and threatenings were always conditional. Obj. 3. But God changes his precepts, observances, and works. Ans. He changes them according to his eternal decree.

Omnipotent. 1. God can do all things which he wills to do. 2. He does them by his will alone, without any difficulty. 3. He does them, having all things in his own power. Obj. But there are many things which God cannot do, as to sin, to lie, to contradict himself, &c. Ans. But these things are indicative of weakness and imperfection.

Of immense wisdom. This shows itself, 1. In seeing and understanding himself, and all things out of himself, with one view or glance, perfectly and at all times. 2. In being the cause of all knowledge in angels and men.

Of immense goodness. 1. The nature of God is such as has been revealed in the law and the gospel. 2. He is the cause and pattern of all goodness in his creatures. 3. He is the supreme good. 4. He is essentially good.

Just. God is just; 1. In respect to his general justice, willing and doing unchangeably those things which he has prescribed in his law. 2. In respect to his particular justice, according to which he distributes unchangeably suitable rewards and punishments. 3. In that he is the rule and pattern of righteousness in his creatures. Obj. 1. God sends evil upon the righteous and good upon the wicked. Ans. This, however, will not always be the case : eventually it shall be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. Obj. 2. God does not immediately punish the wicked. Ans. He defers punishment in their case for various reasons. Obj. 3. It ought never to go ill with the good. Ans. Not with those who are perfectly good, which is not the case with any one in this life. Obj. 4. God does certain things contrary to the law. Ans. He takes away certain things from his general will by his special, which he has a right to do, as he is bound by no one. Obj. 5. God bestows unequal rewards upon men who are placed hi similar circumstances. Ans. He does not, how ever, give to any one his just desert.

True. 1. God has a true and certain knowledge of all things. 2. He does not will or speak things contradictory. 3. He does not dissemble or deceive. 4. He never changes his mind. 5. Whatever he says he brings to pass. 6. He enjoins truth and veracity upon all. Obj. 1. But God has foretold things which he did not intend to bring to pass. Ans. These things were spoken conditionally. Obj. 2. God deceived the prophets. Ans. He, in his just judgment, delivered them over to the devil, that they should be deceived.

Pure. 1. His nature is most pure. 2. He loves and commands that which is pure. 3. He greatly detests and severely punishes all manner of uncleanness, whether it be internal or external. 8. He distinguishes himself by this notable mark from devils and wicked spirits. “ This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication ; that every one of you possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” “Defile not yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled.” (1 Thes. 4:3, 4. Levit. 18:24.)

Merciful. God s mercy appears in this: 1. That he wills the salvation of all men. 2. That he defers punishment, and invites all to repentance. 3. That he accommodates himself to our infirmity. 4. That he redeems those who are called into his service. 5. That he gave and delivered up to death his only begotten Son. 6 . That he promises and does all these things most freely out of his mercy. 7. That he confers benefits upon his enemies, and such as are unworthy of his regard. Obj. 1. But God seems to take pleasure in avenging himself upon the ungodly. Ans. Only in as far as it is the execution of his justice. Obj. 2. He refuses mercy to the ungodly. Ans. Only to such as do not repent. Obj. 3. He does not save all when he has the power. Ans. God acts thus that he may exhibit Ms justice with his mercy. Obj. 4. He does not exercise his mercy without a sufficient satisfaction. Ans. Yet he has most freely given his Son, that he might make satisfaction by his death.

Bountiful. God is said to be bountiful ; 1. Because he creates and preserves all things. 2. Because he confers benefits upon all, even upon the wicked. 3. Because of the free and boundless love which he exercises towards his creatures, especially to man. 4. Because of the love which he cherished towards the church, and in giving eternal life and glory to his people. Obj. 1. But the Scriptures speak of God as cherishing anger. Ans. He is angry with sin arid depravity, but not with his creatures. Obj. 2. God often inflicts punishment upon his creatures. Ans. Only upon such as are impenitent.

Most free. God. is most free ; 1. From all guilt, misery, obligation, servitude and constraint. 2. He wills and does most freely and righteously all things, and wills and does them when and in what manner he pleases. Obj. 1. Second causes work necessarily, and yet they do not work without God. Ans. The necessity here spoken of is a necessity of consequence depending upon the first cause. Obj. 2. But God is unchangeably good. Ans. God is unchangeably good by a necessity of immutability, and not of constraint. Obj. 3. But what God has once decreed he wills necessarily. Ans. He wills them immutably, but not constrainedly. Obj. 4. God does not always do what he wills, as, “ How often would I, and ye would not.” (Luke 13 : 33.) Ans. These and similar declarations show what God delights in, but not what he has fully purposed to do.

Hating sin : that is, God is terribly displeased with sin, and will punish it temporally and eternally.