Revealed Theology:—God and His Attributes. 


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, Lect. 21. Breckinridge, Vol. i, p. 260, c.f. Hodge, Syst. Theol. Vol. i, pp. 369-372. Thornwell, Lect. 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, Lects. 17-18.

4. What are the Bible proofs of God's immensity?
Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 9. Dick, Lect. 19.

5. What the Scriptural proof of God's eternity?
Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 10. Dick, Lect. 17.

6. Prove from Scripture that God is immutable.
Turrettin, Loc. iii, Qu. 2. Dick, Lect. 20. See on whole, "Charnock on the Attributes."

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 systematise 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."

1. 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 hw:hoy] H:y lae yn:roa} syIhola,] yd"v" and jwOab;x] hwO:hy] in the Hebrew, and κυριος, υξιστος, παντοκρατορ 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. HwO:hy] Jehovah with its abbreviation, Hy:, which most frequently appears in the doxology, Hy:—Wll]h" 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 Yg:doa}. There seems little doubt that the sacred name presents the same radicals with HwO:hy], the future of the substantive verb Hy:h:. This is strikingly confirmed by Exodus 3:14, where God, revealing His name to Moses, says:— hy<h]a, rv<a} hy<h]a<"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." 4 In Exodus 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 (Genesis 18:1; Exodus 3:2-4; Joshua 5:13; 6:3), was evidently Jehovah-Christ. When Moses named the altar Jehovah-nissi (Exodus 17:15), he evidently no more dreamed of calling it Jehovah, than did Abram, when he called a place (Genesis 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 Exodus 3:15; 15:3; 20:2; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 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.

y:ndoa} Lord, is the equivalent of the Greek Κυριος. 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).

yd"V" is also a pluralis excellentiæ, expressing omnipotence. Sometimes, as in Job 5:17, it stands by itself; sometimes, as in Genesis 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 παντοκρατ ωρ Revelation 1:8.

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

JwOab;x] Hosts, is frequently used as an epithet qualifying one of the other names of God, as jwOab;x] hwO:hy] —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 lae expressing the idea of might, and HwO"la<] singular and plural forms of the same root, probably derived from the verb lWa —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 Θεος, 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, (Lect. 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 in cognoscible 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; Psalm 139:5, 6; Isaiah 40:28; Romans 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 normæ 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.

(a. 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.

(2. 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.

(3. 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.

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.

Best Classification.

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 recognises 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 6:41 Kings 8:60Isaiah 44:6Mark 12:29-321 Corinthians 8:4Ephesians 4:6Galatians 3:201 Timothy 2:5Deuteronomy 32:39Isaiah 43:10-1137:16, 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 Deuteronomy 4:15-18Psalm 139:7Isaiah 31:3John 4:242 Corinthians 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, Romans 1:4Hebrews 9:14. For the latter, the title Holy Spirit, Πνευμα, 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 cognisance of all our senses (Colossians 1:151 Timothy 1:17Hebrews 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, Πνευμα to express the nature of His substance, we feel authorised 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.; Isaiah 66:1. The latter in Psalm 139:7-10Acts 17:27-28Jeremiah 23:24Hebrews 1:3. It follows, also, from what is asserted of God's works of creation and providence, and of His infinite knowledge (See Theol. Lect. 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, Isaiah 57:15 and more certainly, by Exodus 3:14, compared with John 8:58; by Psalm 90:4, and 2 Peter 3:8. That God's being has neither beginning nor end is stated in repeated places—as Genesis 21:33Psalm 90:1, 2102:26-28Isaiah 41:41 Timothy 1:17Hebrews 1:12Revelation 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 analogous 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.

God's immutability is abundantly asserted in Scriptures (Numbers 23:19Psalm 102:2633:11110:4Isaiah 46:10Malachi 3:6James 1:17Hebrews 6:1713:8).

Objections Answered.

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.

4 This derivation is illustrated by a comparison, plausible and interesting, if not demonstrative, with the Greek and Latin names of God, Σευς, and Jove. By consulting Genesis 24.4, and many other places, we learn that God was known to Abraham and his family by the name Jehovah. In Genesis 26.28, we see that the Canaanites under Abimelech, of Gerar, still retained some knowledge of the true God, under the same name. The Phoenician mythology is the parent of the Grecian, as the Phoenician alphabet is of the Greek. Now the votaries of the comparative philology of modern days, will have Σευς derived (by a change of Ζ to its cognate D) from the sanscrit root, Dis, whose root meaning was supposed to be splendour. To the same source they trace θεοςDeus, Divus, Dies, and so on. This source may plausibly answer for the last named words. But as to Σευς and Jove, may not another etymology be more probable? As is confessed by some of the best Greek scholars, that Σευς is from Σεω, the primary meaning of which is fervere, and that this verb is closely cognate to ζαω, "I live," and Ζωη, "life." Notice, then, the strange resemblance, almost an identity, between "Jehovah," and "Jove." The latter, with pater, makes the Latin nominative Jupiter-Jov-Pater -father Jove. If this origin is true, then we have the Greek name of the chief God, Ζευς, involving the same fundamental idea, "The Living One"-the self-existent source of life. This is much more explanatory of the early myths touching Jove, as the "Father of Gods and men," than the primary idea of the supposed sanscrit root.