by A. A. Hodge
1. What are the three methods of determining the attributes of the divine Being?
1st. The method of analyzing the idea of infinite and absolute perfection. This method proceeds upon the assumption that we are, as intelligent and moral agents, created in the image of God. In this process we attribute to him every excellence that we have any experience or conception of, in an infinite degree, and in absolute perfection, and we deny of him every form of imperfection or limitation.
2nd. The method of inferring his characteristics from our observation of his works around us and our experience of his dealings it ourselves.
3rd. The didactic (instructional) statements of Scripture, the illustration of his character therein given in his supernatural revelation and gracious dispensations, and above all in the personal revelation of God in his Son Jesus Christ.
All these methods agree and mutually supplement and limit each other. The idea of absolute and infinite perfection, which in some sense is native to us, aids us in interpreting Scripture ––and the Scriptures correct the inferences of the natural reason, and set the seal of divine authority upon our opinions about the divine nature.
2. To what extent can we have assurance that the objective reality correspondence with oursubjective conceptions of the divine nature?
There are upon this subject two opposite extreme positions which it is necessary to avoid.1st. The extreme of supposing that our conceptions of God either in kind or degree are adequate to represent the objective reality of his perfections. God is incomprehensible to us in the sense (a) that there remains an immeasurably greater part of his being and excellence of which we have and can have no knowledge, and (b) in the sense that even what we know of him we know imperfectly, and at best conceive of very
inadequately. In this respect the imperfection of the knowledge which men God is analogous in kind, though indefinitely greater in degree to the imperfection of the knowledge which a child may have of the life of a great philosopher or statesman dwelling in the same city. The child not only knows that the philosopher or statesman in question lives––but he knows also in some real degree what that life is––yet that knowledge is imperfect both in respect to the fact that it apprehends a very small proportion of that life, and that it very imperfectly comprehends even that small proportion. 2nd. The second extreme to be avoided is that of supposing that our knowledge of God is purely illusory, that our conceptions of the divine perfections can not correspond in any degree to the objective reality. Sir Wm. Hamilton, Mr.
Mansel, and others having proved that we are forced to think of God as " first cause," as "infinite," and as " absolute," proceed to give definitions of these abstract terms, which they there show necessarily involve mutual contradictions, of which the human reason is intolerant. They then conclude that our con-ceptions of God can not correspond to the real objective exist-ence of the divine being. "To think that God is as we can think him to be is blasphemy." The last and highest conse-cration of all true religion, must be an altar—Agnw>stw| qew|~ — -"To the unknown and unknowable God" (Sir William Hamilton's " Discussions," p. 22).
They hold that all the representations of God conveyed in the Scriptures, and the best conceptions we are with the aid of scripture able to form in our minds, do not at all correspond to the outward reality, but are designed simply to be accepted not as actual scientific knowledge, but as regulative assumptions "abundantly instructive in point of sentiment and action" and practically sufficient for our present needs; "sufficient to guide our practice, but not to satisfy our intellect––which tell not what God is in himself,but how he wills that we should think of him. " – Mansel’s " Limits of Religious Thought," p. 132.
This view, although not so intended, really leads to skeptical if not to dogmatic atheism. (1) It is founded upon an artificial and inapplicable definition of certain abstract notions entertained by philosophers concerning the " absolute " and the "infinite." As shown below, Question 6, a true definition of the absolute and infinite, in the sense in which the Scriptures and the unsophisticated minds of men hold God to be absolute and infinite, involves no contradictions or absurdities whatsoever. (2) It will be shown below, Questions 3 and 5, that there is adequate ground for the assumption that as intellectual and moral beings we are really and truly created in the image of God and therefore capable of knowing him as he really exists. (3) If our consciousness and the Sacred Scriptures present us illusory conceptions as to whatGod is, we have no reason to trust to their assurance that God is. (4) This principle leads to absolute skepticism. If our Creator wills that we should think of him as he does not really exist, we have no reason to trust our constitutional instincts or faculties in any department. (5) This principle is immoral since it makes a false representation of the divine attributes the regulative principle of man’s moral and religious life. (6) The highest and most certain dictates of human reason necessitates the conviction that moral principles, and the essential nature of moral attributes, must be identically the same in all worlds and in all beings possessed of a moral character in any sense. Truth and Justice and loving–kindness must be always and only the same in Creator and creature, in God and man.
3. What is anthropomorphism, and in what different senses the word used?
Anthropomorphism (a]nqrwpov, man; morfh>, form) is a phrase employed to designate any view of God’s nature which conceives of him as possessing or exercising any attributes common to him with mankind.
The Anthropomorphites in ancient times held that God possessed bodily parts and organs like ours, and hence that all those passages of Scripture which speak of his eyes, hands, etc., are to be interpreted literally.
The Pantheists, Sir William Hamilton, and other philosopher designate all our conceptions of God as a personal Spirit etc., as anthropomorphic – that is, as modes of conception not conformed to objective fact, but determined necessarily by the subjective conditions of our own human modes of thought.
It hence follows that this phrase is to be taken in two senses.
1st. A good sense, in which, since man as a free rational spirit was created in the image of God, it is both Scriptural, rational, and according to objective fact, for man to conceive of God as possessing all the essential attributes which belong to our spirits in absolute perfection of kind, and with no limit inconsistent with absolute perfection in degree. When we say that God knows, and wills, and feels, that he is just, true, and merciful, we mean to ascribe to him attributes of the same kind as the corresponding ones belonging to men, only in absolute perfection, and without limit.
2nd. The word is used in a bad sense when it designates any mode of conceiving of God which involves the ascription to him of imperfection or limitation of any kind. Thus to conceive of God as possessing hands or feet, or as experiencing the perturbations of human passion, or the like, is a false and unworthy anthropomorphism.
4. How are we to understand those passages of Scripture which attribute to God bodily parts andthe infirmities of human passion?
The passages referred to are such as speak of the face of God, Exodus 33:11, 20; his eyes, 2 Chronicles 16:9; his nostrils, 2 Samuel 22: 9, 16; his arms and feet, Isaiah 52:10, and Psalm 18:9; and such as speak of his repenting and grieving, Genesis 6:6, 7; Jeremiah 15:6; Psalm 95:10; of his being jealous, Deuteronomy 29:20, etc. These are to be understood only as metaphors. They represent the truth with respect to God only analogically, and as seen from our point of view. That God can not be material is shown below, Question 20.
When he is said to repent, or to be grieved, or to be jealous, it is only meant that he acts towards us as a man would when agitated by such passions. These metaphors occur principally in the Old Testament, and in highly rhetorical passages of the poetical and prophetical books.
5. State the proof that Anthropomorphic conceptions of God, in the good sense of the word, areboth necessary and valid.
The fundamental fact upon which all science, all theology, and all religion rests is that God made man a living soul in his own image. Otherwise man could have no understanding of God’s works any more than of his nature, and all relations of thought or feeling between them would be impossible. That man has the right thus far to conceive of God as the original and all perfect fountain of the moral and rational qualities in which he is himself endowed is proved.—
1st. It is determined by the necessary laws of our nature. (a) This is a matter of consciousness. If we believe in God at all we must conceive of him as a rational and righteous personal spirit. (b) Such a conception of God has universally prevailed even amidst the degrading adulterations of heathen mythology.
2nd. We have no other possible mode of knowing God. The alternative ever must be the principle for which we contend, or absolute atheism.
3rd. The same is determined by the necessities of our moral nature. The innate and indestructible moral nature of man includes a sense of subjection to a righteous will superior to ourselves, and accountability to a moral Governor. This is nonsense unless the moral Governor is in our sense of the word an intelligent and righteous personal spirit.
4th. The most enduring and satisfactory argument for establishing the facts of God’s existence is the a posteriori argument from the evidences of "design" in the works of God. If this argument has any force to prove that God is, it has equal force to prove that he must possess and exercise intelligence, benevolent intention and choice, i.e., that he must be in our sense of the terms an intelligent personal spirit.
5th. The Scriptures characteristically ascribe the same attributes to God, and everywhere assume their existence.
6th. God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the express image of his person, has in all situations exhibited these very attributes, yet in such a way as to prove himself to be God as truly as he was man.
6. What is the meaning of the terms "infinite" and "absolute," and in what sense are they appliedto the being of God, and to his attributes severally?
Hamilton and Mansel define the infinite "that which is free from all possible limitation; that than which a greater is inconceivable, and which, consequently, can receive no additional attributes or mode of existence which it had not from eternity;" and the absolute as "that which exists by itself, having no necessary relations to any other being." Hence they argue (a) that that which is infinite and absolute must include the sum total of all things, evil and good, actual and possible; for if any thing actual or possible is excluded from it, it must be finite and relative; (b) that it can not be an object of knowledge for to know is both to limit––to define – and to bring into relation to the one knowing; (c) that it can not be a person, for personal consciousness implies limitation and change; (d) that it cannot know other things, because to know implies relation as before said.––Hamilton’s "Discussions," Art. 1; Mansel’s " Limits of Religious Thought," Lectures 1, 2, 3.
All of this logical bewilderment results from these philosophers starting from the false premise of an abstract, notional "infinite" and "absolute" and substituting their definition of that in the place of the true infinite and absolute person revealed in Scripture and consciousness as the first cause of all things, the moral Governor and Redeemer of mankind. "Infinite" means that which has no limits. When we say is infinite in his being, or in his knowledge or in his power, we mean that his essence and the active properties thereof, have no limitations which involve imperfections of any kind whatsoever. He transcends all the limitations of time and space, he knows all things in an absolutely perfect manner. He is able to effect whatsoever he wills to effect with or without means, and with facility and success. When say that God is infinite in his justice, or his goodness, or his truth, they mean that his inexhaustible and unchangeable being possesses these properties in absolute perfection.
"Absolute" when applied to the being of God signifies that he is an eternal self–existent person, who existed before all other beings, and is the intelligent and voluntary cause of whatsoever else has or will exist in the universe, etc., that he sustains, consequently, no necessary relation to any thing withoutHimself. Whatever exists is conditioned upon God, as the circle is conditioned upon its center, but God himself neither in his existence, nor in any of the modes or states of it, is conditioned upon any of his creatures, nor upon his creation as a whole. God is what he is because he is, and he wills whatsoever he does will because " it seemeth good in his sight." All other things are what they are because God has willed them to be as they are. Whatsoever relation He sustains to any thing without himself is voluntarily assumed.
7. In what different ways do the Scriptures reveal God?
They reveal God–– 1st. By his names. 2nd. By the works which they ascribe to him. 3rd. By the attributes which they predicate of him. 4th. By the worship they direct to be paid to him. 5th. By the manifestation of God in Christ.
8. State the etymology(linguistic development) and meaning of the several names appropiated toGod in the Scriptures.
1st. JEHOVAH, from the Hebrew verb h;wh; to be. It expresses self–existence and unchangeableness; it is the incommunicable name of God, which the Jews superstitiously refused to pronounce always substituting in their reading the word Adonai, Lord. Hence it is represented in our English version by the word LORD, printed in capital letters. JAH, probably an abbreviation of the name Jehovah, is used principally in the Psalms.––Psalm18:4. It constitutes the concluding syllable of hallelujah, praise Jehovah. God gave to Moses his peculiar name, "I AM THAT I AM," Exodus 3:14, from the same root, and bearing the same fundamental significance as Jehovah.
2nd. El, might, power, translated God, and applied alike to the true and to the false gods.––Isaiah 44:10.
3rd. ELOHIM and ELOAH, the same name in its singular and plural form, derived from hl'a; to fear, reverence. " In its singular form it is used only in the latter books and in poetry." In the plural form it is sometimes used with a plural sense for gods, but more commonly as a pluralis excellentice, for God. It is applied to false gods, but pre–eminently, to Jehovah as the great object of adoration.
4th. ADONAI, the Lord, a pluralis excellentice, applied exclusively to God, expressing possession and sovereign dominion, equivalent to ku>riov, Lord, so frequently applied to Christ in the New Testament.
5th. SADDAI, almighty a pluralis excellentice. Sometimes it stands by itself. – Job 5:17; and sometimes combined with a preceding El.––Genesis 17:1.
6th. ELY•N, MostHigh a verbal adjective from jl;[; to go up, ascend. – Psalm 9:3; 21:8.
7th. The term TZEBAOTH, of hosts, is frequently used as an epithet qualifying one of the
above–mentioned names of God. Thus, Jehovahof Hosts, God of Hosts, Jehovah, God of Hosts. – Amos 4:13; Psalm 24:10. Some have thought this equivalent to God of Battles. The true force of the epithet, however, is "sovereign of the stars, material hosts of heaven, and of the angels their inhabitants."––Dr. J. A. Alexander, "Commentary on Psalm 24:10," and Gesenius’s " Heb. Lex."
8th. Many other epithets are applied to God metaphorically, to set forth the relation he sustains to us and the offices he fulfills, e.g., King, Lawgiver, Judge.––Isaiah 33:17; Psalm 24:8; 1:6. Rock, Fortress, Tower, Deliverer.––2 Samuel 22:2, 3; Psalm 62:2. Shepherd, Husbandman.––Psalm 23:1; John 15:1. Father. – Matthew 6:9; John 20:17, etc.
9. What are the divine attributes?
The divine attributes are the perfections which are predicated of the divine essence in the Scriptures, or visibly exercised by God in his works of creation and providence and redemptions. They are not properties or states of the divine essence separable in tact or idea from the divine essence, as the properties and modes of every created thing are separable from the essence of the creature. God’s knowledge is his essence knowing, and his love is his essence loving, and his will is his essence willing, and all these are not latent capacities of action, nor changing states, but co–existent and eternally unchangeable states of the divine essence which in state and mode as well as in existence is "the same yesterday, today and forever " and " without variableness or shadow of turning."
Concerning the nature and operations of God, we can know only what he has granted to reveal to us, and with every conception, either of his being or his acts, there must always attend an element of incomprehensibility, which is inseparable from infinitude. His knowledge and power are as truly beyond all understanding as his eternity or immensity.––Job 11:7–9; 26:14; Psalm 139:5, 6; Isaiah 40:28. The moral elements of his glorious nature are the norm or original type of our moral faculties; thus we are made capable of comprehending the ultimate principles of truth and justice upon which he acts. Truth and justice and goodness are of course the same in essence in God and in angel and in man. Yet his action upon those principles is often a trial of our faith, and an occasion of our adoring wonder.––Romans 11:33–36; Isaiah 55:8, 9.
10. What do theologians mean by the phrase SIMPLICITY, when applied to God?
The term simplicity is used, first, in opposition to material composition whether mechanical, organic, or chemical; second, in a metaphysical sense in negation of the relation of substance and property, essence and mode. In the first sense of the word human souls are simple, because they are not composed of elements, parts, or organs. In the second sense of the word our souls are complex, since there is in them a distinction between their essence and their properties, and their successive modes or states of existence.
As, however, God is infinite, eternal, self–existent from eternity, necessarily the same without succession, theologians have maintained that in him essence, and property and mode are one. He always is what he is; and his various states of intellection, emotion, and volition are not successive and transient but co–existent and permanent He is what he is essentially, and by the same necessity that he exists. Whatever is in God, whether thought, emotion, volition, or act, is God.
Some men conceive of God as passing through various transient modes and states just as men do, and therefore they suppose the properties of the divine nature are related to the divine essence as the properties of created things are related to the essences which are endowed with them. Others press the idea of simplicity so far that they deny any distinction in the divine attributes in themselves, and suppose that the only difference between them is to be found in the mode of external manifestation, and in the effects produced. They illustrate their idea by the various effects produced on different objects by the same radiance of the sun.
In order to avoid both extremes theologians have been accustomed to say that the divine attributes differ from the divine essence and from one another, 1st, not realiter or as one thing differs from another, or in any such way as to imply composition in God. Nor 2nd, merely nominaliter, as though there were nothing in God really corresponding to our of conception of his perfections. But 3rd, they are said to differ virtualiter so that there is in him a foundation or adequate reason for all the representations which are made in Scripture with regard to the divine perfections, and for the consequent conceptions which we have of them.––Turretin’s "Institutio Theologicae," Locus 3., Ques. 5 and 7, and Dr. C. Hodge’s " Lectures."
11. State the different principles upon which the divine attributes are generally classified.
From the vastness of the subject and the incommensurateness of our faculties, it is evident that no classification of the divine attributes we can form can be any thing more than approximately accurate and complete. The most common classifications rest upon the following principles:
1st. They are distinguished as absolute and relative. An absolute attribute is a property of the divine essence considered in itself: e.g., self–existence, immensity, eternity, intelligence. A relative attribute is a property of the divine essence considered in relation to the creation: e.g., omnipresence, omniscience, etc.
2nd. They are also distinguished as affirmative and negative An affirmative attribute is one which expresses some positive perfection of the divine essence: e.g., omnipresence, omnipotence, etc. A negative attribute is one which: denies all defect or limitation of any kind to God: e.g., immutability, infinitude, incomprehensibility, etc.
3rd. The attributes of God, distinguished as communicable and incommunicable. The communicable are those to which the attributes of the human spirit bear the nearest analogy: e.g., his power, knowledge, will, goodness, and righteousness. The incommunicable are those to which there is in the creature nothing analogous, as eternity, immensity, etc. This distinction, however, must not be pressed too far.
God is infinite in his relation to space and time; we are finite in our relation to both. But he is no less infinite as to his knowledge, will, goodness, and righteousness in all their modes, and we are finite in all these respects. All God’s attributes known to us, or conceivable by us, are communicable, inasmuch as they have their analogy in us, but they are all alike incommunicable, in as much as they are all infinite.
4th. The attributes of God, distinguished as natural and moral. The natural are all those which pertain to his existence as an infinite, rational Spirit: e.g., eternity, immensity, intelligence, will, power. The moral are those additional attributes which belong to him as an infinite, righteous Spirit: e.g., justice, mercy, truth.
I would diffidently propose the following fourfold classification:
(1) Those attributes which equally qualify all the rest— Infinitude, that which has no bounds; absoluteness, that which is determined either in its being, or modes of being or action, by nothing whatsoever without itself. This includes immutability.
(2) Natural attributes. God is an infinite Spirit, self– existent, eternal, immense, simple, free of will,intelligent, powerful.
(3) Moral attributes. God is a Spirit infinitely righteous, good, true faithful.
(4) The consummate glory of all the divine perfections in union. The beauty of HOLINESS.
THE UNITY OF GOD
12. ln what two senses of the word is UNITY predicated of God?
1st. God is unique: there is only one God to the exclusion of all others.
2nd. Notwithstanding the threefold personal distinction in the unity of the Godhead, yet these three Persons are numerically one substance or essence, and constitute one indivisible God.
13. How may the proposition, that God is one and indivisible, be proved?
1st. There appears to be a necessity in reason for conceiving of God as one. That which is absolute and infinite can not but be one and indivisible in essence. If God is not one, then it will necessarily follow that there are more gods than one.
2nd. The uniform representation of Scripture.––John 10:30.
14. Prove from Scripture that the proposition, there is but one God, is true.
Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 44:6; Mark 12:29, 32; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Ephesians 4:6.
15. What is the argument from the harmony of creation in favor of the divine unity?
The whole creation, between the outermost range of telescopic and of microscopic observation, is manifestly one indivisible system. But we have already (Chapter 2.) proved the existence of God from the phenomena of the universe; and we now argue, upon the same principle, that if, an effect proves the prior operation of a cause, and if traces of design prove a designer, then singleness of plan and operation in that design and its execution prove that the designer Is ONE.
16. What is the argument upon this point from necessary existence?
The existence of God is said to be necessary, because it has its cause from eternity in itself. It is the same in all duration and in all space alike. It is absurd to conceive of God not existing at any time or in any portion of space, while all other existence whatsoever, depending upon his mere will, is contingent. But the necessity which is uniform in all times and in every portion of space, is evidently only one and indivisible, and can be the ground of the existence only of one God.
This argument: is logical, and has been prized highly by many distinguished theologians. It however appears to involve the error of presuming human logic to be the measure of existence.
17. What is the argument from infinite perfection, in proof that there can be but one God?
God is infinite in his being and in all of his perfection’s. But the infinite, by including all, excludes all others, of the same kind. If there were two infinite beings, each would necessarily include the other, and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical. It is certain that the idea of the co–existence of two infinitely perfect beings is as repugnant to human reason as to Scripture.
18. What is polytheism? And what dualism?
Polytheism, as the etymology of the word indicates, is a general term designating every system of religion which teaches the existence of a plurality of gods.
Dualism is the designation of that system which recognizes two original and independent principles in the universe, the one good and the other evil. At present these principles are in a relation of ceaseless antagonism, the good ever struggling to oppose the evil, and to deliver its province from its baneful intrusion.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD
19. What is affirmed and what is denied in the proposition that God is a Spirit?
We know nothing of substance except as it is manifested by its properties. Matter is that substance whose properties manifest themselves directly to our bodily senses. Spirit is that substance whose properties manifest themselves to us directly in self consciousness, and only inferentially by words and other signs or modes of expression through our senses.
When we say God is a Spirit we mean––
1st. Negatively, that he does not possess bodily or that he is composed of no material elements; that he is not subject to any of the limiting conditions of material existence; and, consequently, that he is not to be apprehended as the object of any of our bodily senses.
2nd. Positively, that he is a rational being, who distinguishes with infinite precision between the true and the false; that he is a moral being, who distinguishes between the right and the wrong; that he is a free agent, whose action is self–determined by his own will; and, in fine, that all the essential properties of our spirits may truly be predicated of him in an infinite degree.
This great truth is inconsistent with the doctrine that God is the soul of the world ( anirna mundi) a plastic organizing force inseparable from matter; also with the Gnostic doctrine of emanation, and with all forms of modern Materialism and Pantheism.
20. Exhibit the proof that God is a Spirit.
1st. It is explicitly asserted in Scripture.––John 4:24.
2nd. It follows from our idea of infinite and absolute perfections. Matter is obviously inferior to Spirit, and inseparable from many kinds of imperfections and limitations. Matter consisting of separate and ceaselessly reacting atoms cannot be "one," nor "infinite", nor "immutable, " etc. The idea that matter may be united with spirit in God, as it is in man, is felt to degrade him, and bind him fast under the limitations of time and space.
3rd. There is no trace anywhere of material properties in the Creator and Providential Governor of the universe––whereas all the evidence that a God exists conspires to prove also that he is a supremely wise, benevolent, righteous, and power person––that is, that he is a personal spirit.
GOD’ S RELATION TO SPACE
21. What is meant by the immensity of God?
The immensity of God is the phrase used to express the fact that God is infinite in his relation to space, i.e., that the entire indivisible essence of God is at every moment of time cotempopresent to every point of infinite space.
This is not in virtue of the infinite multiplication of his Spirit, since He is eternally one and individual; nor does it result from the infinite diffusion of his essence through infinite space, as air is diffused over the surface of the earth, since, being a Spirit he is not composed of parts, nor is he capable of extension, but the whole Godhead in the one indivisible essence is equally present in every moment of eternal duration to the whole of infinite space, and to every part of it.
22. How does immensity differ from omnipresence?
Immensity characterizes the relation of God to space viewed abstractly in itself. Omnipresence characterizes the relation of God to his creatures as they severally occupy their several positions in space. The divine essence is immense in its own being, absolutely. It is omnipresent relatively to all his creatures.
23. What are the different modes of the divine presence, and how may it be proved that He iseverywhere present as to His essence?
God may be conceived of as present in any place, or with any creature, in several modes, first, as to his essence; second, as to his knowledge; third, as manifesting that presence to any intelligent creature; fourth, as exercising his power in any way, in or upon the creature. As to essence and knowledge, his presence is the same everywhere and always. As to his self–manifestation and the exercise of his power, his presence differs endlessly in different cases in degree and mode. Thus God is present to the church as he is not to the world. Thus He is present in hell in the manifestation and execution of righteous wrath, while He is present in heaven in the manifestation and communication of gracious love and glory.
24. Prove that God is omnipresent as to His essence.
That God is everywhere present as to his essence is proved, first from Scripture (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7–10; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 17:27, 28); second, from reason. (1) It follows necessarily from his infinitude. (2) From the fact that his knowledge is his essence knowing, and his actions are his essence acting. Yet his knowledge and his power reach to all things.
25. State the different relations that bodies, created spirits, and God sustain to space.
Turretin says: Bodies are conceived of as existing in space circumscriptively, because occupying a certain portion of space they are bounded by space upon every side. Created spirits do not occupy any portion of space, nor are they embraced by any, they are, however, in space definitely, as here and not there. God, on the other hand, is in space repletively, because in a transcendental manner His essence fills all space. He is included in no space; he is excluded from none. Wholly present to each point, he comprehends all space at once.
Time and Space are neither substances, nor qualities, nor mere relations. They constitute a genus by themselves, absolutely distinct from all other entities, and therefore defying classification. "We know that space and time exist; we know on sufficient evidence that God exists; but we have no means of knowing how space and time stand related to God. The view taken by Sir Isaac Newton, — 'Deus durat semper et adest ubique, et, existendo semper et ubique, durationem et spatium constituit'— is certainly a grand one, but I doubt much whether human intelligence can dictatorially affirm that it is as true as it is sublime."— McCosh, "Intuitions of the Mind," p. 212.
THE RELATION OF GOD TO TIME
26. What is eternity?
Eternity is infinite duration; duration discharged from all limits, without beginning, without succession, and without end. The schoolmen phrase it a punctum stans, an ever-abiding present.
We, however, can positively conceive of eternity only as duration indefinitely extended from the present moment in two directions, as to the past and as to the future, improperly expressed as eternity a parteante, or past, and eternity a parte post, or future. The eternity of God, however, is one and indivisible. Externitas est una individua et tote simul.
27. What is time?
Time is limited duration, measured by succession, either of thought or motion. It is distinguished in reference to our perceptions into past, present, and future.
28. What relation does time bear to eternity?
Eternity, the unchanging present, without beginning or end, comprehends all time, and co–exists as an undivided moment, with all the successions of time as they appear and pass in their order.
Thought is possible to us, however, only under the limitations of time and space. We can conceive of God only under the finite fashion of first purposing and then acting, of first promising or threatening and then fulfilling his word, etc. He that inhabiteth eternity infinitely transcends our understanding. Isaiah 57:15.
29. When we say that God is eternal, what do we affirm and what do we deny?
We affirm, first, that as to his existence, he never had any beginning, and never will have any end; second, that as to the mode of his existence, his thoughts, emotions, purposes, and acts are, without succession, one and inseparable, the same forever; third, that he is immutable.
We deny, first, that he ever had a beginning or ever will have an end; second, that his states or of occur in succession; third, that his essence, attributes, or purposes will ever change.
30. In what sense are the acts of God spoken of as past, present, and future?
The acts of God are never past, present, or future as respects God himself, but only in respect to the objects and effects of his acts in the creature. The efficient purpose comprehending the precise object, time, and circumstance was present to him always and changelessly; the event, however, taking place in the creature occurs in time, and is thus past, present, or future to our observation.
31. In what sense are events past or future as it regards God?
As God’s knowledge is infinite, every event must, first, be ever equally present to his knowledge from eternity to eternity; second, these events must be know to him as they actually occur in themselves, e. a., in their true nature, relations, and such– This distinction, therefore, holds true––God’s knowledge of all events is without beginning, end, or succession; but he knows them as in themselves occurring in the successions of time, past, present, or future, relatively to one another.
THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
32. What is meant by the immutability of God?
By his immutability we mean that it follows from the infinite perfection of God; that he can not be changed by any thing from without himself; and that he will not change from any principle within himself that as to his essence, his will, and his states of existence, he is the same from eternity to eternity.
Thus he is absolutely immutable in himself. He is also immutable relatively to the creature, inasmuch as his knowledge, purpose, and truth, as these are conceived by us and are revealed to us, can know neither variableness nor shadow of turning––James 1:17.
33. Prove from Scripture and reason that God is immutable.
1st. Scripture: Malachi 3:6; Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:10; James 1:17.
2nd. Reason: (1) God is self–existent. As he is caused by none, but causes all, so he can be changed by none, but changes all. (2) He is the absolute being. Neither his existence, nor the manner of it, nor his will, are determined by any necessary relation which they sustain to any thing exterior to himself. As he preceded all and caused all, so his sovereign will freely determined the relations which all things are permitted to sustain to him. (3) He is infinite in duration, and therefore he cannot know succession or change. (4) He is infinite in all perfection, knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, benevolence, will, power, and therefore cannot change, for nothing can be added to the infinite nor taken from it. Any change would make him either less than infinite before, or less than infinite afterwards.
34. How can the creation of the world and the incarnation of the Son be reconciled with theimmutability of God?
1st. As to the creation. The effective purpose, the will and power to create the world dwelleth in God from eternity without change, but this very efficacious purpose itself provided that the effect should take place in its proper time and order. This effect took place from God, but of course involved no shadowy of change in God, as nothing was either taken from him or added to him.
2nd. As to the incarnation. The divine Son assumed a created human nature into personal union with himself. His uncreated essence of course was not changed. His eternal person was not changed in itself, but only brought into a new relation. The change effected by that stupendous event occurred only in the created nature of the man Christ Jesus.
THE INFINITE INTELLIGENCE OF GOD
35. How does God’s mode of knowing differ from ours?
God’s knowledge is, 1st, his essence knowing; 2nd, it is one eternal, all–comprehensive, indivisible act.
(1) It is not discursive, i.e., proceeding logically from the known to the unknown; but intuitive, i.e., discerning all things directly in its own light.
(2) It is independent, i.e., it does in no way depend upon his creatures or their actions, but solely upon his own infinite intuition of all things possible in the light of his own reason, and of all things actual and future in the light of his own eternal purpose.
(3) It is total and simultaneous, not successive. It is one single, indivisible act of intuition, beholding all things in themselves, their relations and successions, as ever present.
(4) It is perfect and essential, not relative, i.e., he knows all things directly in their hidden essences, while we know them only by their properties, as they stand related to our senses.
(5) We know the present imperfectly, the past we remember dimly, the future we know not at all but God knows all things, past, present, and future, by one total, unsuccessive, all comprehensive vision.
36. How has this divine perfection been defined by theologians?
Turretin, Locus 3., Q. 12.––" Concerning the knowledge of God, before all else, two things are to be considered, viz.. its mode and its object. The Mode of the divine knowledge consists in this, that he perfectly, individually, distinctly, and immutably knows all things, and his knowledge is thus distinguished from the knowledge of men and angels. He knows all things perfectly, because he has known them through himself or his own essence, and not by the phenomena of things, as the creatures know objects..... 2. He knows all things individually because he knows them intuitively, by a direct act of cognition, and not inferentially, by a process of discursive reasoning, or by comparing one thing with another..... 3. He knows all things distinctly, not that he unites by a different conception the various predicates of things, but that he sees through all things by one most distinct act of intuition, and nothing, even the least thing, escapes him..... 4. And he knows all immutably because that with him there is no shadow of change, and he remaining himself unmoved, moves all things, and so perceives all the various changes of things, by one immutable act of cognition."
37. How may the objects of divine knowledge be classified?
1st. God himself in his own infinite being. It is evident that this, transcending the sum of all other objects is the only adequate object of a knowledge really infinite.
2nd. All possible objects, as such, whether they are or ever have been, or ever will be or not, seen in the light of his own infinite reason.
3rd. All things actual, which have been, are, or will be, he comprehends in one eternal, simultaneous act of knowledge, as ever present actualities to him, and as known to be such in the light of his own sovereign and eternal purpose.
38. What is the technical designation of the knowledge of things possible, and what is the foundation of that knowledge?
Its technical designation is scientia simplicis intelligentiae knowledge of simple intelligence, so called, because it is conceived by us as an act simply of the divine intellect, without any concurrent act of the divine will. For the same reason it has been styled scientia necessaria, necessary knowledge, i.e., not voluntary, or determined by will. The foundation of that knowledge is God’s essential and infinitely perfect knowledge of his own omnipotence.
39. What is the technical designation of the knowledge of things actual, whether past, present, or future, and what is the foundation of that knowledge?
It is called scientia visions, knowledge of vision, and scientia libera, free knowledge, because his intellect is in this case conceived of as being determined by a concurrent act of his will.
The foundation of this knowledge is God’s infinite knowledge of his own all–comprehensive and unchangeable eternal purpose.
40. Prove that the knowledge of God extends to future contingent events.
The contingency of events in our view of them has a twofold ground: first, their immediate causes may be by us indeterminate, as in the case of the dice; second, their immediate cause may be the volition of a free agent. The first class are in no sense contingent in God’s view. The second class are foreknown by him as contingent in their cause, but as none the less certain in their event.
That he does foreknow all such is certain––
1st. Scripture affirms it.—1 Samuel 23:11, 12; Acts 2:23; 15:18; Isaiah 46:9,10.
2nd. He has often predicted contingent events future, at the time of the prophecy, which has been fulfilled in the event. Mark 14:30.
3rd. God is infinite in all his perfections, his knowledge, therefore, must (1) be perfect, and comprehend all things future as well as past, (2) independent of the creature. He knows all things in themselves by his own light, and can not depend upon the will of the creature to make his knowledge either more certain or more complete.
41. How can the certainty of the foreknowledge of God be reconciled with the freedom of moralagents in their acts?
The difficulty here presented is of this nature. God’s foreknowledge is certain; the event, therefore, must be certainly future; if certainly future, how can the agent be free in enacting it.
In order to avoid this difficulty some theologians, on the one hand, have denied the reality of man’s moral freedom, while others, on the other hand, have maintained that, God’s knowledge being free, he voluntarily abstains from knowing what his creatures endowed with free agency will do.
1st. God’s certain foreknowledge of all future events and man’s free agency are both certain facts, impregnably established by independent evidence. We must believe both, whether we can reconcile them or not.
2nd. Although necessity is inconsistent with liberty, moral certainty is not, as is abundantly shown in Chapter 15., Question 25.
42. What is scientia media?
This is the technical designation of God’s knowledge of future contingent events, presumed, by the authors of this distinction, to depend not upon the eternal purpose of God making the event certain, but upon the free act of the creature as foreseen by a special intuition. It is called scientia media, middleknowledge, because it is supposed to occupy a middle ground between the knowledge of simple intelligence and the knowledge of vision. It differs from the former, since its object is not all possible things, but a special class of things actually future. It differs from the latter, since its ground is not the eternal purpose of God, but the free action of the creature as simply foreseen.
43. By whom was this distinction introduced, and for what purpose?
By Luis Molina, a Jesuit, born 1535 and died 1601, professor of theology in the University of Evora, Portugal, in his work entitled "Liberi arbitrii cum gratae donis, divine praescientia, praedestinatione et reprobatione concordia." ––Hagenbach's " Hist. of Doc.," vol. 2, p. 280. It was excogitated for the purpose of explaining how God might certainly foreknow what his free creatures would do in the absence of any sovereign foreordination on his part, determining their action. Thus making his foreordination of men to happiness or misery to depend upon his foreknowledge of their faith and obedience, and denying that his foreknowledge depends upon his sovereign foreordination.
44. What are the arguments against the validity of this distinction?
1st. The arguments upon which it is based are untenable. Its advocates plead–– (1) Scripture.––1 Samuel 23:9–12; Matthew 11:22, 23. (2) That this distinction is obviously necessary, in order to render the mode of the divine foreknowledge consistent with man’s free agency.
To the first argument we answer, that the events mentioned in the above–cited passages of Scripture werenot future. They simply teach that God, knowing all causes, free and necessary, knows how they would act under any proposed condition. Even we know that if we add fire to powder an explosion would ensue.
This comes under the first class we cited above (Question 38), or the knowledge of all possible things. To the second argument we answer, that the certain foreknowledge of God involves the certainty of the future free act of his creature as much as his foreordination does; and that the sovereign foreordination of God, with respect to the free acts of men, only makes them certainly future and does not in the least provide for causing those acts in any other way than by the free will of the creature himself acting freely.
2nd. This middle knowledge is unnecessary, because all possible objects of knowledge, all possiblethings, and all things actually to be, have already been embraced under the two classes already cited (Questions 38, 39).
3rd. If God certainly foreknows any future event, then it must be certainly future, and he must have foreknown it to be certainly future, either because it was antecedently certain, or because his foreknowing it made it certain. If his foreknowing it made it certain, then his foreknowledge involves foreordination. If it was antecedently certain, then we ask, what could have made it certain, except what we affirm, the decree of God, either to cause it himself immediately, or to cause it through some necessary second cause, or that some free agent should cause it freely? We can only choose between the foreordination of God and a blind fate.
4th. This view makes the knowledge of God to depend upon the acts of his creatures exterior to himself: This is both absurd and impious, if God is infinite, eternal, and absolute.
5th. The Scriptures teach that God does foreordain as well as foreknow the free acts of men.––Isaiah 10:5–15; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28.
45. How does wisdom differ from knowledge, and wherein does the wisdom of God consist?
Knowledge is a simple act of the understanding, apprehending that a thing is, and comprehending its nature and relations, or how it is.
Wisdom presupposes knowledge, and is the practical use which the understanding, determined by the will, makes of the material of knowledge. God’s wisdom is infinite and eternal. It is conceived of by us as selecting the highest possible end, the manifestation of his own glory, and then in selecting and directing in every department of his operations the best possible means to secure that end. This wisdom is gloriously manifested to us in the great theaters of creation, providence, and grace.
THE INFINITE POWER OF GOD
46. What is meant by the omnipotence of God?
Power is that efficiency which, by an essential law of thought, we recognize as inherent in a cause in relation to its effect. God is the uncaused first cause, and the causal efficiency of his will is absolutely unlimited by anything outside of the divine perfection themselves.
47. What distinction has been marked between the Potestas absoluta and the Potestas ordinata ofGod?
The Scriptures and right reason teach us that the causal efficiency of God is not confined to the universe of second causes, and their active properties and laws. The phrase Potestas absoluta expresses the omnipotence of God absolutely considered in himself— and specifically that infinite reserve of power which remains with him as a free personal attribute, above and beyond all the powers of nature and his ordinary providential actings upon and through them. Creation, miracles, etc., are exercises of this power of God. The Potestas ordinata on the other hand is the power of God as it is now exercised in and through the established system of second causes, in the ordinary course of Providence. Rationalists and advocates of mere naturalism, who deny miracles, and any form of divine interference with the established order of nature, of course admit only the latter and deny the former mode of divine power.
48. In what sense is the power of God limited and in what sense is it unlimited?
We are conscious with respect to our own causal efficiency. 1st. That it is very limited. We have direct control only over the course of our thoughts, and the contractions of a few muscles. 2nd. That we depend upon the use of means to produce the effects we design. 3rd. We are dependent upon outward circumstances which limit and condition us continually.
The power inherent in the divine will on the other hand can produce whatever effects he intends immediately, and when he condescends to use means he freely endows them with whatever efficiency they possess. All outward circumstances of every kind are his own creation, conditioned upon his will, and therefore incapable of limiting him in any way. He is absolutely unlimited in the exercise of his power. He can not do wrong, nor work contradictions, because his power is the causal efficiency of an infinitely rational and righteous essence. His power therefore is limited only by his own perfections.
49. Is the distinction in us between power and will a perfection or a defect and does it exist in God?
It is objected that if our power was equal to our design, and every volition resulted immediately in act, we would not be conscious of the difference between power and will. We admit that when a man’s power fails to be commensurate with his will it is a defect,— and that this never is the case with God. But on the other hand when a man is conscious that he possesses powers which he might but does not will to exercise, he is conscious that it is an excellence––and that his nature is the more perfect for the possession of such reserves of power than it would otherwise be. To hold that there is nothing in God which is not in actual exercise, that his power extends no further than his will, is to make him no greater than his finite creation. The actions of a great man impress us chiefly as the exponents of vastly greater power which remains in reserve. So it is with God.
50. How can absolute omnipotence be prayed to belong to God?
1st. It is asserted by Scripture. Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37; Revelation 19:6.
2nd. It is necessarily involved in the very idea of God as an infinite being.
3rd. Although we have seen but part of his ways(Job 26:14), yet our constantly extending experience is ever revealing to us new and more astonishing evidences of his power, which always indicate an inexhaustible reserve.
THE WILL OF GOD
51. What is meant by the will of God?
The will of God is the infinitely and eternally wise, powerful, and righteous essence of God willing. In our conception it is that attribute of the Deity to which we refer his purposes and decrees as their principle.
52. In what sense is the will of God said to be free, and in what sense necessary?
The will of God is the wise, powerful, and righteous essence of God willing. His will, therefore, in every act is certainly and yet most freely both wise and righteous. The liberty of indifference is evidently foreign to his nature, because the perfection of wisdom is to choose the most wisely, and the perfection of righteousness is to choose the most righteously.
On the other hand, the will of God is from eternity absolutely independent of all his creatures and all their actions.
53. What is intended by the distinction between the decretive and the preceptive will of God?
The decretive will of God is God efficaciously purposing the certain futurition of events. The preceptive will of God is God, as moral governor, commanding his moral creatures to do that which he sees it right and wise that they in their circumstances should do.
These are not inconsistent. What he wills as our duty may very consistently be different from what he wills as his purpose. What it is right for him to permit may be wrong for him to approve, or for us to do.
54. What is meant by the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God?
The secret will of God is his decretive will, called secret. because although it is sometimes revealed to man in the prophecies and promises of the Bible, yet it is for the most part hidden in God.
The revealed will of God is his preceptive will, which is always clearly set forth as the rule of our duty.––Deuteronomy 29:29.
55. In what sense do the Armenians maintain the distinction between the antecedent andconsequent will of God, and what are the objections to their view of the subject?
This is a distinction invented by the schoolmen, and adopted by the Armenians, for reconciling the will of God with their theory of the free agency of man.
They call that an antecedent act of God’s will which precedes the action of the creature, e.g., before Adam sinned God willed him to be happy. They call that a consequent act of God’s will which followed the act of the creature, and is consequent upon that act, e.g., after Adam sinned God willed him to suffer the penalty due to his sin.
It is very evident that this distinction does not truly represent the nature of God’s will, and its relation to the acts of his creatures: first, God is eternal, and therefore there can be no distinction in his purposes as to time; second, God is eternally omniscient and omnipotent. If he wills any thing, therefore, he must from the beginning will the means to accomplish it, and thus secure the attainment of the end willed.
Otherwise God must have, at the same time, two inconsistent wills with regard to the same object. The truth is that God, eternally and unchangeable, by one comprehensive act of will, willed all that happened to Adam from beginning to end in the precise order an succession in which each event occurred; third, God is infinitely independent. It is degrading to God to conceive of him as first willing that which he has no power to effect, and then changing his will consequently to the independent acts of his creatures.
It is true, indeed, that because of the natural limits of our capacities we necessarily conceive of the several intentions of God’s one, eternal, indivisible purpose, as sustaining a certain logical (not temporal), relation to each other as principal and consequent. Thus we conceive of God’s first (in logical order) decreeing to create man, then to permit him to fall, then to elect some to everlasting life, and then to provide a redemption.––Turretin.
56. In what sense do Armenians hold the distinction between the absolute and conditional will ofGod, and what are the objecttions to that view?
In their views that is the absolute will of God which is suspended upon no condition without himself, e.g., his decree to create man. That is the conditional will of God which is suspended upon a condition, e.g., his decree to save those that believe i.e., on condition of their faith.
It is evident that this view is entirely inconsistent with the nature of God as an eternal, self existent, independent being, infinite in all his perfections. It degrades him to the position of being simply a coordinate part of the creation, mutually limiting and being limited by the creature.
The mistake results from detaching a fragment of God’s will from the one whole, all–comprehensive, eternal purpose. It is evident that, when properly viewed as eternal and one, God’s purpose must
comprehend all conditions, as well as their consequence God’s will is suspended upon no condition, but he eternally wills the event as suspended upon its condition, and its condition as determining the event.
It is admitted by all that God’s preceptive will, as expressed in commands, promises, and threatenings, is often suspended upon condition. If we believe we shall certainly be saved. This is the relation which God has immutably established between faith as the condition, and salvation as the consequent, i.e., faith is the condition of salvation. But this is something very different from saying that the faith of Paul was the condition of God’s eternal purpose to save him, because the same purpose determined the faith as the condition. and the salvation as its consequent. See further, Chapter 10.. on the decrees.
57. In what sense is the will of God said to be eternal?
It is one eternal, unsuccessive, all–comprehensive act, absolutely determining either to effect or to permit all things, in all of their relations, conditions, and successions, which ever were, are, or ever will be.
58. In what sense may the will of God be said to be the rule of righteousness?
It is evident that in the highest sense, with respect to God willing, his mere will cannot be regarded as the ultimate ground of all righteousness, any more than it can be as the ultimate ground of all wisdom.
Because, in that case, it would follow, first, that there would be no essential difference between right and wrong in themselves, but only a difference arbitrarily constituted by God himself; and, second, that it would be senseless to ascribe righteousness to God, for then that would be merely to say that he wills as he wills. The truth is, that his will acts as his infinitely righteous wisdom sees to be right.
On the other hand, God’s revealed will is to us the absolute and ultimate rule of righteousness, alike when he commands things in themselves indifferent, and thus makes them right, as when he commands things in themselves essentially right, because they are right.
THE ABSOLUTE JUSTICE OF GOD
59. What is meant by the distinctions, absolute and relative, rectoral, distributive, and punitive orvindicatory justice of God?
The absolute justice of God is the infinite moral perfection or universal righteousness of his own being.
The relative justice of God is his infinitely righteous nature, viewed as exercised in his relation to his moral creatures, as their moral governor.
This last is called rectoral, when viewed as exercised generally in administering the affairs of his universal government, in providing for and governing his creatures and their actions. It is called distributive, when viewed as exercised in giving unto each creature his exact proportionate due of rewards or punishment. It is called punitive or vindicatory, when viewed as demanding and inflicting the adequate and proportionate punishment of all sin, because of its intrinsic ill desert.
60. What are the different opinions as to the nature of the punitive justice of God, i. e., what are thedifferent reasons assigned why God punishes sin?
The Socinians deny the punitive justice of God altogether, and maintain that he punishes sin simply for the good of the individual sinner, and of society, only so far as it may be interested in his restraint or improvement. Those theologians who maintain the governmental theory of the Atonement, hold that God punishes sin not because of a changeless principle in himself demanding its punishment, but for the good of the universe, on the basis of great and changeless principles of governmental policy. Thus resolving justice into a form of general benevolence. Leibnitz held that "justice is goodness conducted by wisdom."
This principle assumes that happiness is the chief good. That the essence of virtue is the desire to promote happiness, and that consequently the end of justice can only be to prevent misery. This is the foundation of the Governmental theory of the Atonement. See Chapter 25. See Park on the "Atonement."
Some hold that the necessity for the punishment of sin is only hypothetical, i. e., results only from the eternal decree of God.
The true view is that God is immutably determined by his own eternal and essential righteousness to visit every sin with a proportionate punishment.
61. Prove that disinterested benevolence is not the whole of virtue.
1st. Some exercises of disinterested benevolence, for example, natural parental affection, are purely instinctive, and have no positive moral character.
2nd. Some exercises of disinterested benevolence, such as the weak yielding of a judge to sympathy with a guilty man or his friends, are positively immoral.
3rd. There are virtuous principles incapable of being resolved into disinterested benevolence, such as proper prudential regard for one’s own highest good; aspiration and effort after personal excellence; holy abhorrence of sin for its own sane, and just punishment of sin in order to vindicate righteousness.
4th. The idea of oughtness is the essential constitutive idea of virtue. No possible analysis of the idea of benevolence will give the idea of moral obligation. This is simple, unresolvable, ultimate. Oughtness is the genus, and benevolence one of the species comprehended in it.
62. State the evidence derived from the universal principles of human nature, that the justice ofGod must be an ultimate and unchangeable principle of his nature, determining him to punish sinbecause of its intrinsic ill desert.
The obligation of a righteous ruler to punish sin, the intrinsic ill desert of sin, the principle that sin oughtto be punished, are ultimate facts of moral consciousness. They cannot be resolved into any other principle whatsoever. This is proved,
1st. Because they are involved in every awakened sinner’s consciousness of his own demerit.––Psalm 51: 4. "I have done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be just when thou speakest, and clear when thou judgest." In its higher degree this feeling. rises into remorse, and can be allayed only by expiation.
Thus many murderers have had no rest until they have given themselves up to the law, when they have experienced instant relief. And millions of souls have found peace in the application of the blood of Jesus to their wounded consciences.
2nd. All men judge thus of the sins of others. The consciences of all good men are gratified when the just penalty of the law is executed upon the offender, and outraged when he escapes.
3rd. This principle is witnessed to by all the sacrificial rites common to all ancient religions, by the penance’s in some form universal even in modern times, by all penal laws, and by the synonyms for guilt, punishment, justice, etc., common to all languages.
4th. It is self–evident, that to inflict an unjust punishment is itself a crime, no matter how benevolent the motive which prompts it, nor how good the effect which follows it. It is no less self–evident that it is the justice of the punishment so deserved which renders its effect on the effect good, and not its effect on the community which renders it just. To hang a man for the good of the community is both a crime and a blunder, unless the hanging is justified by the ill desert of man. In that case his ill desert is seen by all the community to be the real reason of the hanging.
63. Prove the same from the nature of the divine law.
Grotius in his great work, " Defensio Fidei Catholicce De Satisfactione Christi," in which he originates the Governmental Theory of the Atonement, maintains that the divine law is a product of the divine will, and therefore at the option of God relaxable, alike in its preceptive and its penal elements. But the truth is (a) that the penalty is an essential part of the divine law; (b) that the law of God, as to all its essential principles of right and wrong, is not a product of the divine will, but an immutable transcript of the divine nature; (c) therefore the law is immutable and must need be fulfilled in every iota of it.
This is proved—1st. Because fundamental principles must have their changeless ground in the divine nature, or (a) otherwise the distinction between right and wrong would be purely arbitrary––whereas they are discerned by our moral intuitions to be absolute and independent of all volition divine or human; (b) otherwise it would be meaningless to say that God is right– if righteousness be an arbitrary creature of his own will; (c) because he declares that he " cannot lie," that "he cannot deny himself."
2nd. The scriptures declare that the law cannot be relaxed that it must be fulfilled.––John 7:23, and 10:35; Luke 24:44, Matthew 5:25, 26.
3rd. The scriptures declare that Christ came to fulfill the law, not to relax it.––Matthew 5:17, 18; Romans 3:31; 10:4.
64. How may it be argued from the independence and absolute self–sufficiency of God, thatpunitive justice is an essential attribute of his nature?
It is inconsistent with these essential attributes to conceive of God as obliged to any course of action by the external exigencies of his creation. Both the motive and the end of his action must be in himself.––Colossians 1:16; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:5, 6; Romans 9:22, 23. If he punishes sin because determined so to do by the principles of his own nature, then he acts independently. But if he resorts to this merely as the necessary means of restraining and governing his creatures, then their actions control his.
65. How may it be proved from God’s love of holiness and hatred of sin?
God’s love for holiness and hatred of sin is represented in Scripture as essential and intrinsic. He loves holiness for its own sake. He hates sin and is determined to punish it because of its intrinsic ill desert. He hates the wicked every day – Psalms 5:5; 7:11. "To me belongeth vengeance and recompense." –– Deuteronomy 32:35. " According to their deeds accordingly he will repay."––Isaiah 59:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:6. "See Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you."––Romans 1:32. " Knowing the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death."––Deuteronomy 17:6; 21:22.
66. How can this truth be proved from what the Scriptures teach as to the nature and necessity ofthe atonement of Christ?
As to its nature the Scriptures teach that Christ suffered the penalty of sin vicariously in the place and stead of his elect people, and that he thus expiated their guilt, and reconciled God and redeemed their souls by giving himself the ransom price demanded in their stead. The Scriptures everywhere and in every, way teach that the design of Christ’s death was to produce a sin–expiating effect upon the Governor of the moral universe, and not a moral impression either upon the heart of the individual sinner, or upon the public conscience of the intelligent universe. All this will be proved at length under Chapters 25. and 33.
As to the necessity of the Atonement the scriptures teach that it was absolute. That Christ must die or sinners perish. Galatians 2:21, and 3:21. But the propriety of producing a moral impression upon each sinner personally, or upon the public mind of the universe generally, can not give rise to an absolute necessity on the part of God––since God who created the universe and all its members might, of course, if he so pleased, produce moral impressions upon them of whatever kind, either without means, or by whatsoever means he pleases. An absolute necessity must have its ground in the unchangeable nature of God, which lies back of and determines his will in all its acts. Therefore the eternal nature of God immutably determines him to punish all sin. "Political Science," Presidebt Theodore D. Woolsey, vol. 1., pp. 330–335.
The theory that correction is the main end of punishment will not bear examination. (1) The state is not a humane institution. (2) The theory makes no distinction between crimes. If a murderer is apparently reformed in a week, the ends of detention are accomplished, and he should be set free; while the petty offender must stay for months or years until the inoculation of good principles becomes manifest. (3) What kind of correction is to be aimed at? Is it such as will insure society itself against his repeating his crime? In that case it is society, and not the person himself who is to be benefited by the corrective process. Or must a thorough cure, a recovery from selfishness and covetousness, an awakening of the highest principle of soul be aimed at; an established church, in short, be set up in the house of correction?
The explanation that the state protects its own existence, or the innocent inhabitants of the country, by striking its subjects with awe and deterring them from evil–doing through punishment, is met by admitting that, while this effect is real and important, it is not as yet made out that the state has a right to do this. Crime and desert of punishment must be pre–supposed before the moral sense can be satisfied with the infliction of evil. And the measure of the amount of punishment, supplied by the public good for the time, is most fluctuating and tyrannical; moreover mere awe, unaccompanied by an awakening of the sense of justice, is as much a source of hatred as a motive to obedience.
The theory that in punishing an evil–doer the state renders to him his deserts, is the only one that seems to have a solid foundation. It assumes that moral evil has been committed by disobedience to rightful commands, that according to a propriety which commends itself to our moral nature it is fit and right that evil, physical or mental, suffering or shame should be incurred by the wrong–doer, and that in all forms of government over moral beings there ought to be a power able to decide how much evil ought to follow special kinds and instances of transgressions. The state is in fact, as St. Paul calls it, the minister of God to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. But only in a very limited sphere and for special ends. . . It punishes acts, not thoughts, intentions appearing in acts, not feelings; it punishes persons within a certain territory over which it has the jurisdiction, and perhaps its subjects who do wrong elsewhere, but none else, it punishes acts hurtful to its own existence and to the community of its subjects; it punishes not according to an exact scale of deserts, for it cannot, without a revelation find out what the deserts of individuals are, nor what is the relative guilt of different actions of different persons. 1
THE ABSOLUTE GOODNESS OF GOD
67. What distinctions are signified by the terms benevolence, complacency, mercy, and grace?
The infinite goodness of God is a glorious perfection which pre–eminently characterizes his nature, and which he, in an infinitely wise, righteous, and sovereign manner, exercises towards his creatures in various modes according to their relations and conditions.
Benevolence is the goodness of God viewed generically. It embraces all his creatures, except the judicially condemned on account of sin, and provides for their welfare.
The love of complacency is that approving affection with which God regards his own infinite perfections, and every image and reflection of them in his creatures, especially in the sanctified subjects of the new creation.
God’s mercy, of which the more passive forms are pity and compassion, is the divine goodness exercised with respect to the miseries of his creatures, feeling for them, and making provision for their relief, and in the case of impenitent sinners, leading to long–suffering patience.
The grace of God is his goodness seeking to communicate his favors, and, above all, the fellowship of his own life and blessedness to his moral creatures,—who, as creatures, must be destitute of all merit,––and pre–eminently his electing love, securing at infinite cost the blessedness of its objects, who, as sinful creatures, were positively ill deserving.
68. State a false definition of divine benevolence often given, and state how it is rightly defined.
The infinite Benevolence of God is often defined as that attribute in virtue of which he communicates to all his creatures the greatest possible amount of happiness, i.e., as great as they are capable of receiving, or as great as is consistent with the attainment of the greatest amount of happiness on the age– in the moral universe.
But this supposes that God is limited by something out of himself, that he could not have secured more happiness for his creatures than he has actually done. It also makes happiness paramount in the view of God to excellence.
Benevolence should, on the other hand, be defined as that attribute in virtue of which God produces all the happiness in the universe, which is consistent with the end he had in view in its creation. These ends stand in this order. 1. The manifestation of his own glory. 2. The highest moral excellence of his creatures. 3. Their highest blessedness in himself.—Dr. Charles Hodge’s Lectures.
69. What are the sources of our knowledge of the fact that God is benevolent?
1st. Reason. Benevolence is an essential element of moral perfection. God is infinitely perfect, and therefore infinitely benevolent.
2nd. Experience and observation. The wisdom of God in designing, and the power of God in executing, in the several spheres of creation, providence, and revealed religion, have evidently been constantly determined by benevolent intentions.
3rd. The direct assertions of Scripture.—Psalm 165:8, 9; 1 John 4:8.
70. How may it be proved that God is gracious and willing to forgive sin?
Neither reason nor conscience can ever raise a presumption on this subject. It is the evident duty of fellow–creatures mutually to forgive injuries, but we have nothing to do with forgiving sin as sin.
It appears plain that there can be no moral principle making it essential for a sovereign ruler to forgive sin as transgression of law. All that reason or conscience can assure us of in that regard is, that sin can not be forgiven without an atonement. The gracious affection which should prompt such a ruler to
provide an atonement, must, from its essential nature, be perfectly free and sovereign, and therefore it can be known only so far as it is graciously revealed. The gospel is, therefore, good news confirmed by signs and wonders.––Exodus 24:6, 7; Ephesians 1:7–9.
71. What are the different theories or assumptions on which it has been attempted to reconcile theexistence of sin with the goodness of God?
1st. It has been argued by some that free agency is essential to a moral system, and that absolute independence of will is essential to free agency. That to control the wills of free agents is no more an object of power than the working of contradictions; and consequently God, although omnipotent, could not prevent sin in a moral system without violating its nature.— See Dr. N. W. Taylor's "Concio ad Clerum," 1828.
2nd. Others have argued that sin was permitted by God in infinite wisdom as the necessary means to the largest possible measure of happiness in the universe as a whole.
On both of these we remark––
1st. That the first theory above cited is founded on a false view of the conditions of human liberty and responsibility (see below, Chapter 15); and, further, that it grossly limits the power of God by representing him as desiring and attempting what he cannot effect, and that it makes him dependent upon his creatures.
2nd. With reference to the second theory it should be remembered that God’s own glory, and not the greatest good of the universe, is the great end of God in creation and providence.
3rd. The permission of sin, in its relation both to the righteousness and goodness of God, is an insolvable mystery, and all attempts to solve it only darken counsel with words without knowledge. It is, however, the privilege of our faith to know, though not of our philosophy to comprehend, that it is assuredly a most wise, righteous, and merciful permission; and that it shall redound to the glory of God and to the good of his chosen.
72. How can the attributes of goodness and justice be shown to be consistent?
Goodness and justice are the several aspects of one unchangeable, infinitely wise, and sovereign moral perfection. God is not sometimes merciful and sometimes just, nor so far merciful and so far just, but he is eternally infinitely merciful and just. Relatively to the creature this infinite perfection of nature presents different aspects, as is determined by the judgment which infinite wisdom delivers in each individual case.
Even in our experience these attributes of our moral nature are found not to be inconsistent in principle though our want both of wisdom and knowledge, a sense of our own unworthiness, and a mere physical sympathy, often sadly distract our judgments as well as our hearts in adjusting these principles to the individual cases of life.
GOD’S ABSOLUTE TRUTH
73. What is truth considered as a divine attribute?
The truth of God in its widest sense is a perfection which qualifies all his intellectual and moral attributes. His knowledge is infinitely true in relation to its objects, and his wisdom unbiased either by prejudice or passion. His justice and his goodness in all their exercises are infinitely true to the perfect standard of his own nature. In all outward manifestations of his perfections to his creatures, God is always true to his nature —always self–consistently divine. This attribute in its more special sense qualifies all God’s intercourse with his rational creatures. He is true to us as well as to himself; and thus is laid the foundation of all faith, and therefore of all knowledge. It is the foundation of all confidence, first, in our senses; second, in our intellect and conscience; third, in any authenticated, supernatural revelation.
The two forms in which this perfection is exercised in relation to us are, first, his entire truth in all his communications; second, his perfect sincerity in undertaking and faithfulness in discharging all his engagements.
74. How can the truth of God be reconciled with the apparent non–performance of some of histhreatenings?
The promises and threatenings of God are sometimes absolute, when they are always infallibly fulfilled in the precise sense in which he intended them. They are often also conditional made to depend upon the obedience or repentance of the creature.––Jonah 3:4, 10; Jeremiah 18:7, 8. This condition may be either expressed or implied, because the individual case is understood to be, of course, governed by the general principle that genuine repentance and faith delivers from every threatening and secures every promise.
75. How can the invitations and exhortations of the Scriptures, addressed to those whom God doesnot propose to save, be reconciled with his sincerity?
See above (Question 42), the distinction between God’s preceptive and his decretive will. His invitations and exhortations are addressed to all men in good faith: first, because it is every man’s duty to repent and believe, and it is God’s preceptive will that every man should; second, because nothing ever prevents the obedience of any sinner, except his own unwilling– third, because in every case in which the condition is fulfilled the promise implied will be performed; fourth, God never has promised to enable every man to believe; fifth, these invitations and exhortations are not addressed to the reprobate as such, but to all sinners as such, with the avowed purpose of saving; thereby the elect.
THE INFINITE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
76. What is meant by the sovereignty of God?
His absolute right to govern and dispose of all his creatures, simply according to his own good pleasure.
77. Prove that this right is asserted in Scripture.
Daniel 4:25, 35; Revelation 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:15; Romans 9:15–23.
78. On what does the absolute sovereignty of God rest?
lst. His infinite superiority in being and in all his perfections to any and to all his creatures.
2nd. As creatures they were created out of nothing, and are now sustained in being by his power, for his own glory and according to his own good pleasure.––Romans 11:36.
3rd. His infinite benefits to us, and our dependence upon and blessedness in him, are reasons why we should not only recognize, but rejoice, in this glorious truth. The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.
79. Is there any sense in which there are limits to the sovereignty of God?
The sovereignty of God, viewed abstractly as one attribute among many, must of course be conceived of as qualified by all the rest. It can not be otherwise than an infinitely wise, righteous, and merciful sovereignty.
But God, viewed concretely as an infinite sovereign, is absolutely unlimited by any thing without himself:" He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.",—Daniel 4:35.
THE INFINITE HOLINESS OF GOD
80. What is meant by the holiness of God?
The holiness of God is not to be conceived of as one attribute among others; it is rather a general term representing the conception of his consummate perfection and total glory. It is his infinite moral perfection crowning his infinite intelligence and power. There is a glory of each attribute, viewed abstractly, and a glory of the whole together. The intellectual nature is the essential basis of the moral.
Infinite moral perfection is the crown of the Godhead. Holiness is the total glory thus crowned.
Holiness in the Creator is the total perfection of an infinitely righteous intelligence. Holiness in the creature is not mere moral perfection, but perfection of the created nature of moral agents after their kind, in spiritual union and fellowship with the infinite Creator.—1 John 1:3.
The word holiness, as applied to God in Scripture, represents, first, moral purity—Leviticus 11:44; Psalm 145:17; second, his transcendental august and venerable majesty.–– Isaiah 5:3; Psalm 22:3; Revelation 4:8.
To "sanctify the Lord", i.e., to make him holy, is to declare and adore his holiness by venerating his august majesty wherever and whereinsoever his person or character is represented, Isaiah 8:13; [29:23]; Ezekiel 38:23; Matthew 6:9; 1 Peter 3:15.
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1. What is the etmology (linguistic development) and meaning of the word Trinity, and whenwas it introduced into the language of the Church?
The word trinity (Trinitas) is derived either from tres–unus, trinus, or from tria> v three in one, or the one which is three, and the three which are one; not triplex—trinitas not triplicitas. This word is not found in the Scriptures. Technical terms are however an absolute necessity in all sciences. In this case they have been made particularly essential because of the sub– perversions of the simple, untechnical Biblical statements by infidels and heretics. This term, as above defined, admirably expresses the central fact of the great doctrine of the one essence eternally subsisting as three Persons, all the elements of which are explicitly taught in the Scriptures. The Greek word tri> av was first used in this connection by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, in Syria, from AD. 168 to AD. 183. The Latin term Trinitas was first used by Tertullian, circum. 220. Mosheim’s "Eccle. Hist.," vol. 1., p. 121, note 7; Hagenbach, " Hist. of Doc.," vol. 1., 129
2. What is the theological meaning of the term substantia (substance) what change has occurred in its usage?
Substantia as now used, is equivalent to essence, independent being. Thus, in the Godhead, the three persons are the same in substance, i.e., of one and the same indivisible, numerical essence.
The word was at first used by one party in the church as equivalent to subsistentia (subsistence), or mode of existence. In which sense, while there is but one essence, there are three substantiae or persons, in the Godhead.––See Turretin, Tom. 1., locus 3., quest 23.
3. What other terms have been used as the equivalents of substantia in the definitions of thisdoctrine?
The Greek oj usi> a and fu> si. The Latin essentia, natura. The English essence, substance,nature, being.
4. What is the theological meaning of the word subsistentia (subsistence)?
It is used to signify that mode of existence which: distinguishes one individual thing from every other individual thing, one person from every other person. As applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, subsistence is that mode of existence which is peculiar to each of the divine persons, and which in each constitutes the one essence a distinct person.
5. What is the New Testament sense of the word uJ po> stasiv (hypostasis)?
This word, as to its etymology, is precisely equivalent to substance; it comes from uJ fi> sthmi "to stand under.",
In the New Testament it is used five times—
1st. Figuratively, for confidence, or that state of mind which is conscious of a firm foundation, 2 Corinthians 9:4; Hebrews 3:14, which faith realizes, Hebrews 11:1.
2nd. Literally, for essential nature, Hebrews 1:3.—See Sampson’s " Commentary on Heb."
6. In what sense is this word used by the ecclesiastical writers?
Until the middle of the fourth century this word, in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity, was generally used in its primary sense, as equivalent to substance. It is used in this sense in the creed published by the Council of Nice AD. 325, and again in the decrees of the Council of Sardica, in Illyria, AD. 347. These agreed in affirming that there is but one hypostasis in the Godhead. Some, however, at that time understanding the word in the sense of person, its usage was changed by general consent, chiefly through the influence of Athanasius, and ever since it has been established in theological language in the sense of person, in contradistinction to oj usi> a essence. It has been transferred into the English language in the form of an adjective, to designate the hypostatical or personal union of two natures in the God–man.
7. What is essential to personality, and how is the word person to be defined in connection withthe doctrine of the Trinity?
The Latin word, " suppositum," signifies a distinct individual existence, e.g., a particular tree or horse. A person is " suppositum intellectuale," a distinct individual existence, to which belongs the properties of reason and free will. Throughout the entire range of our experience and observation of personal existence among creatures, personality rests upon and appears to be inseparable from distinction of essence. Every distinct person is a distinct soul, with or without a body.
That distinguishing mode of existence which constitutes the one divine essence coordinately three separate persons, is of course an infinite mystery which we can not understand, and therefore cannot adequately define, and which we can know only so far as it is explicity revealed. All that we know is, that this distinction, which is called personality, embraces all those incommunicable properties which eternally belong to Father, Son, or Holy Ghost separately, and not to all in common; that it lays the foundation for their concurrence in counsel, their mutual love and action one upon another, as the Father sending the Son, and the Father and Son sending the Spirit, and for use of the personal pronouns I, thou, He, in the revelation which one divine person gives of himself and of the others.
Person is defined by Gerhard –– "Persona est substantia individua, intelligenes, incommunicabilis, quæ non sustentatur in alio, vel ab alio." In relation to this great mystery of the divine trinity of persons in the unity of essence Calvin’s definition of Person is better because more modest. "By person, then, I mean a subsistence in the divine essence––a subsistence which while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties."––" Institutes," Book 1., Chap. 13, §6.
8. What other terms have been used by theologians as the equivalent of Person in this
Greek, uJ po> stasiv and pro> swpon ––aspect; Latin, persona, hypostasis, subsistentiaaspectus; English, person, hpostasis.––Shedd’s "Hist. Christ Doc.," B. 3., Ch. 3, § 5.
9. What is meant by the terms oJ moou> sion (of the same substance), and oJ moiou> sion (ofsimilar substance)?
In the first general council of the church which, consisting of three hundred and eighteen bishops, was called together by the Emperor Constantine at Nice, in Bithynia, AD. 325, there were found to be three great parties representing different opinions concerning the Trinity.
1st. The orthodox party, who maintained the opinion now held by all Christians, that the Lord Jesus is, as to his divine nature, of the same identical substance with the Father. These insisted upon applying to him the definite term oJ moou> sion (homoousion), compounded of oJ mo> v, sameand ouj si> a, substance, to teach the great truth that the three persons of the Godhead are one God, because they are of the same numerical essence.
2nd. The Arians, who maintained that the Son of God is the greatest of all creatures, more like God than any other, the only–begotten Son of God, created before all worlds, through whom God created all other things, and in that sense only divine. They held that the Son was eJ terou> sion of different or generically unlike essence from the Father.
3rd. The middle party, styled Semiarians, who confessed that the Son was not a creature, but denied that he was in the same sense God as the Father is. They held that the Father is the only absolute self–existent God; yet that from eternity he, by his own free will, caused to proceed from himself a divine person of like nature and properties. They denied, therefore, that the Son was of the same substance (homoousion) with the Father, but admitted that he was of an essence truly similar, and derived from the Father (homoiousion, oJ moio> usoin, from, o[ uiov, like, and oj usi> a, substance), generically though not numerically one.
The opinions of the first, or orthodox party, prevailed at that council, and have ever since been represented by the technical phrase, homoousian.
For the creed promulgated by that council, see Chapter 7.
10. What are the several propositions essentially involved in the doctrine of the Trinity?
1st. There is but one God, and this God is one, i.e. , indivisible.
2nd. That the one indivisible divine essence, as a whole, exists eternally as Father, and as Son, and as Holy Ghost; that each person possesses the whole essence, and is constituted a distinct person by certain incommunicable properties, not common to him with the others.
3rd. The distinction between these three is a personal distinction, in the sense that it occasions (l) the use of the personal pronouns, I, thou, he, (2) a concurrence in counsel and a mutual love, (3) a distinct order of operation.
4th Since there is but one divine essence, and since all attributes or active properties are inherent in and inseparable from the essence to which they pertain, it follows that all the divine attributes must be identically common to each of the three persons who subsist in common of the one essence.
Among all creatures every distinct person is a distinct numerical substance, and possesses a distinct intelligence, a distinct will etc. In the Godhead, however, there is but one substance, and one intelligence, one will, etc., and yet three persons eternally co–exist of that one essence, and exercise that one intelligence and one will, etc. In Christ on the contrary, there are two spirits, two intelligences, two wills, and yet all the while one indivisible person.
5th. These divine persons being one God, all the divine attributes being common to each in the same sense, nevertheless they are revealed in the Scriptures in a certain order of subsistence and of operation. (1) Of subsistence inasmuch as the Father is neither begotten nor proceedeth, while the Son is eternally begotten by the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceedeth from the father and the Son; (2) of operation, inasmuch that the first person sends and operates through the second, and the first and second send and operate through the third.
Hence the Father is always set forth as first, the Son as second, the Spirit as third.
6th. While all the divine attributes are common equally to the three persons, and all divine works wrought ad extra such as creation, providence, or redemption, are predicated alike of the one being––the one God considered absolutely––and of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost severally; nevertheless the Scriptures attribute some divine works wrought ad intra, exclusively to each divine person respectively, e. g., generation to the Father, filiation to the Son, procession to the Holy Ghost; and there are likewise some divine works wrought ad extra which are attributed pre–eminently to each person respectively, e.g., creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and sanctification to the Holy Ghost.
In order, therefore, to establish this doctrine in all its parts by the testimony of Scripture, it will be necessary for us to prove the following propositions in their order:
1st. That God is one.
2nd. That Jesus of Nazareth, as to his divine nature, was truly God, yet a distinct person from the Father.
3rd. That the Holy Spirit is truly God, yet a distinct person.
4th. That the Scriptures directly teach a trinity of persons in one Godhead.
5th. It will remain to gather what the Scriptures reveal as to the eternal and necessary relations which these three divine persons sustain to each other. These are distributed under the following heads: (1) The relation which the second person sustains to the first, or the eternal generation of the Son; (2) the relation which the third person sustains to the first and second, or the eternal procession of the Holy Ghost; and, (3) their personal properties and order of operation, ad extra.
I. GOD IS ONE, AND THERE IS BUT ONE GOD
The proof of this proposition, from reason and Scripture, has been fully set forth above, in Chapter 8., on the Attributes of God, questions 12–18.
The answer to the question, how the co–ordinate existence of three distinct persons in the Trinity can be reconciled with this fundamental doctrine of the divine unity, is given below in question 94 of this chapter.
II. JESUS OF NAZARETH, AS TO HIS DIVINE NATURE, IS TRULY GOD, AND YET A DISTINCT
PERSON FROM THE FATHER.
11. What different views have been entertained with respect to the person of Christ?
The orthodox doctrine as to the person of Christ, is that he from eternity has existed as the co–equal Son of the Father, constituted of the same infinite self–existent essence with the father and the Holy Ghost.
The orthodox doctrine as to his person as at present constituted, since his incarnation, is set forth in chapter 23. An account of the different heretical opinions as to his person are given below, in questions 96–99, of this chapter.
12. To what extent did the Jews at the time of Christ expect the Messiah to appear as a divineperson?
When Christ appeared, it is certain that the great mass of the Jewish people had ceased to entertain the Scriptural expectation of a divine Saviour, and only desired a temporal prince, in a pre–eminent sense, a favorite of heaven. It is said, however, that scattered hints in some of the rabbinical writings indicate that some of the more learned and spiritual still continued true to the ancient faith.
13. How may the pre–existence of Jesus before his birth by the Virgin be proved from
1st. Those passages which say that he is the creator of the world.––John 10:3; Colossians 1:15–18.
2nd. Those passages which directly declare that he was with the Father before the world was; that he was rich, and possessed glory.––John 1:1, 15, 30; 6:62; 8:58; 17:5; 2 Corinthians 8:9.
3rd. Those passages which declare that he "came into the world" , "came down from heaven."––
John 3:13, 31; 13:3; 16:28; 1 Corinthians 15:47.
14. How can it be proved that the Jehovah who manifested himself as the God of the Jewsunder the old economy was the second person of the Trinity, who became incarnate in Jesus of
As this fact is not affirmed in any single statement of Scripture, it can be established only by a careful comparison of many passages. The evidence, as compiled from Hill’s Lects., Book 3., ch. 5., may be summed up as follows:
1st. All the divine appearances of the ancient economy are referred to oneperson.–– Compare Genesis 18:2, 17; 28:13; 32:9, 31; Exodus 3:14, 15; 13:21; 20:1, 2; 25:21; Deuteronomy 4:33, 36, 39; Nehemiah 9:7–28. This one person is called Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God, and at the same time angel, or one sent.––Compare Genesis 31:11, 13; 48:15, 16; Hosea 12:2, 5. Compare Exodus 3:14, 15, with Acts 7:30–35; and Exodus 13:21, with Exodus 14:19; and Exodus 20:1, 2, with Acts 7:38; Isaiah 13:7, 9.
2nd. But God the Father has been seen by no man (John 1:18; 6:46):neither could he be an angel, or one sent by any other; yet God the Son has been seen (1 John 1:1, 2), and sent (John 5:36).
3rd. This Jehovah, who was at the same time the angel, or one sent, of the old economy, was also set forth by the prophets as the Savior of Israel, and the author of the new dispensation. In Zechariah 2:10, 11, one Jehovah is represented as sending another. See Micah 5:2. In Malachi 3:1, it is declared that " the Lord I, the messenger of the covenant," shall come to his own temple. This applied to Jesus (Mark 1:2).––Compare Psalm 97:7, with Hebrews 1:6; and Isaiah 6:1–5, with John 12:41.
4th. Certain references in the New Testament to passages in the Old appear directly to imply this fact. Compare Psalm 28:15, 16, 35, with 1 Corinthians 10:9.
5th. The Church is one under all dispensations, and Jesus from the beginning is the Redeemer and Head of the Church; it is, therefore, most consistent with all that has been revealed to us as to the offices of the three divine persons in the scheme of redemption, to admit the view here presented.
See also John 8:56, 58; Matthew 23:37; 1 Peter 1:10,11.
15. In what form are the earliest disclosures made in the Old Testament of the existence andagency of a Person distinct from God and yet as divine?
In the earlier books an Angel is spoken of, sent from God, often appearing to men, and yet himself God.––Genesis 16:7-13. The Angel of Jehovah appears to Hagar, claims divine power, and is called God.––Genesis 18:2-33. Three angels appeared to Abraham, one of whom is called Jehovah, 18:17.––Genesis 32:25. An Angel wrestles with Jacob and blesses him as God, and in Hosea, 12:3-5, that
Angel is called God.––Exodus 3:2. The Angel of Jehovah appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and in the following verses this angel is called Jehovah, and other divine titles are ascribed to him.
This Angel led the Israelites in the wilderness.––Exodus 14:19; Isaiah 63:9. Jehovah is represented as saving his people by the Angel of his Presence Thus Malachi 3:1––"The Lord, the Angel of covenant shall suddenly come to his temple.", This applied to Christ.––Mark 1:2.
16. What evidence of the divinity of the Messiah does the2nd Psalm present?
It declares him to be the Son of God, and as such to receive universal power over the whole earth and its inhabitants. All are exhorted to submit to him, and to trust him, on pain of his anger. In Acts 13:33, Paul declares that Psalm refers to Christ.
17. What evidence is furnished by the 45th Psalm?
The ancient Jews considered this Psalm addressed to the Messiah, and the fact is established by Paul (Hebrews 1:8, 9). Here, therefore, Jesus is called God, and his throne eternal.
18. What evidence is furnished by Psalm 110?
That this Psalm refers to the Messiah is proved by Christ (Matthew 22:43, 44), and by Paul (Hebrews 5:6; 7:17). He is here called David’s Lord (Adonai), and invited to sit at the right hand of Jehovah until all his enemies be made his footstool.
19. What evidence is furnished by Isaiah 9:6?
This passage self–evidently refers to the Messiah, as is confirmed by Matthew 4:14–16. It declares explicitly that the child born is also the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
20. What is the evidence furnished by Micah 5:2?
This was understood by the Jews to refer to Christ, which is confirmed by Matthew 2:6, and John 7:42. The passage declares that his goings forth have "been from ever of old," i.e., from eternity.
21. What evidence is furnished by Malachi 3:1,2?
This passage self–evidently refers to the Messiah, as is confirmed by Mark 1:2.
The Hebrew term (Adonai), here translated Lord, is never applied to any other than the supreme God. The temple, which was sacred to the presence and worship of Jehovah, is called his temple. And in verse 2nd, a divine work of Judgment is ascribed to him.
22. What evidence is afforded by the way in which the writers of the New Testament apply the writings of the Old Testament to Christ?
The apostles frequently apply the language of the Old Testament to Christ, when it is evident that the original writers intended to speak of Jehovah, and not of the Messiah as such.
Psalm 102 is evidently an address to the supreme Lord, ascribing to him eternity, creation, providential government, worship, and the hearing and answering of prayer. But Paul (Hebrews 1:10–12) affirms Christ to be the subject of the address. In Isaiah 14:20–25, Jehovah speaks and asserts his own supreme Lordship. But Paul, in Romans 14:11, quotes a part of Jehovah’s declaration with regard to himself, to prove that we must all stand before the judgment of Christ. — Compare also Isaiah 6:3, with John 12:41.
23. What is the general character of the evidence upon this subject afforded by the NewTestament?
This fundamental doctrine is presented to us in every individual writing, and in every separate paragraph of the New Testament, either by direct assertion or by necessary implication, as may be ascertained by every honest reader for himself. The mass of this testimony is so great, and is so intimately interwoven with every other theme in every passage, that I have room here to present only a general sample of the evidence, classified under the usual heads.
24. Prove that the New Testament ascribes divine titles to Christ.
John 1:1; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; 1 Timothy 3:16; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20.
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1. What are the decrees of God?
See "Confession of Faith," chapter 3. "Larger Cat.," Q. 12, and "Shorter Catechism," Q. 7.
The decree of God is his eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise, and sovereign purpose, comprehending at once all things that ever were or will be in their causes, conditions, successions, and relations, and determining their certain futurition. The several contents of this one eternal purpose are, because of the limitation of our faculties, necessarily conceived of by us in partial aspects, and in logical relations, and are therefore styled DECREES.
2. How are the acts of God classified, and to which class do theologians refer the decrees?
All conceivable divine actions may be classified as follows:
1st. Those actions which are immanent and intrinsic, belonging essentially to the perfection of the divine nature, and which bear no reference whatever to any existence without the Godhead. These are the acts of eternal and necessary generation, whereby the Son springs from the Father, and of eternal and necessary procession, whereby the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and all those actions whatsoever involved in the mutual society of the divine persons.
2nd. Those actions which are extrinsic and transient i.e., those free actions proceeding from God and terminating upon the creature, occurring successively in time, as God’s acts in creation, providence, and grace.
3rd. The third class are like the first, inasmuch as they are intrinsic and immanent, essential to the perfection of the divine nature and permanent states of the divine mind, but they differ, on the other hand, from the first class, inasmuch as they have respect to the whole dependent creation exterior to the Godhead. These are the eternal and immutable decrees of God respecting all beings and events whatsoever exterior to himself.
3. What is the essential nature and source of the difficulties which oppress the human, reason whenspeculating on this subject?
These difficulties all have their ground in the perfectly inscrutable relations of the eternal to the temporal, of the infinite to the finite, of God’s absolute sovereignty to man’s free agency, and of the unquestionable fact of the origination of sin to the holiness, goodness, wisdom, and power of God. They are peculiar to no system of theology, but press equally upon any system which acknowledges the existence and moral government of God, and the moral agency of man. They have perplexed heathen philosophers of old, and deists in modern times, and Socinians, Pelagians, and Arminians just as sorely as Calvinists.
4. From what fixed point of view are we to start in the study of this subject?
A self–existent, independent, all–perfect, and unchangeable God, existing alone from eternity, began to create the universe physical and moral in an absolute vacuum, moved to do so from motives and with reference to ends, and according to ideas and plans, wholly interior and self–prompted. Also, if God governs the universe, he must, as an intelligent being, govern it according to a plan; and this plan much be perfect in its comprehension, reaching to all details. If he has a plan now, he must have had the same plan unchanged from the beginning. The decree of God therefore is the act of an infinite, absolute, eternal, unchangeable, and sovereign person, comprehending a plan including all his works of all kinds, great and small, from the beginning of creation to an unending eternity. It must therefore be incomprehensible, and it cannot be conditioned by any thing exterior to God himself–––since it was matured before any thing exterior to him existed. and hence itself embraces and determines all these supposed exterior things and all the conditions of them forever.
5. What is the distinction between foreknowledge and foreordination and what is the generalposition of the Socinians on this point?
Foreknowledge is an act of the infinite intelligence of God, knowing from all eternity, without change, the certain futurition of all events of every class whatsoever that ever will come to pass.
Foreordination is an act of the infinitely intelligent, foreknowing, righteous, and benevolent will of God from all eternity determining the certain futurition of all events of every class whatsoever that come to pass. Foreknowledge recognizes the certain futurition of events, while foreordination makes them certainly future.
Socinians admit that the foreknowledge and the foreordination of God are co–extensive, but they limit both to such events in creation and providence as God has determined to do by his own immediate agency, or to bring about through the agency of such second causes as act under the law of necessity.
They deny that God has either foreordained or foreknown the voluntary actions of free agents, which from their very nature are contingent, and not objects of knowledge until alter their occurrence.
6. What is the position of the Arminians on this subject?
The Arminians agree with the Socinians in denying that God foreordains the voluntary acts of free agents, or in any way whatever determines them beforehand to be certainly future. But they differ from the Socinians and agree with us in holding that the certain foreknowledge of God extends equally to all events, as well to those in their nature contingent, as to those produced by second causes acting under the law of necessity. They hold that he foresees with absolute certainty from all eternity the futurition of the free actions of moral agents, and that he embraces and adjusts them in his eternal plan—which plan embraces all things, the free actions of moral agents as simply foreseen, and the actions of necessary agents as absolutely foreordained.
7. State under several heads the Calvinistic doctrine on this subject.
1st. God foreknows all events as certainly future because he has decreed them and thus made them certainly future.
2nd. God’s decree relates equally to all future events of every kind, to the free actions of moral agents, as well as to action of necessary agents, to sinful as well as morally right actions.
3rd. Some things God has eternally decreed to do himself immediately, e.g., creation; other things to bring to pass through the action of second causes acting under a law of necessity, and again other things he has decreed to prompt or to permit free agents, to do in the exercise of their free agency; yet the one class of events is rendered by the decree as certainly future as the other.
4th. God has decreed ends as well as means, causes as well as effects, conditions and instrumentalities as well as the events which depend upon them.
5th. God’s decree determines only the certain futurition of events, it directly effects or causes no event.
But the decree itself provides in every case that the event shall be effected by causes acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question. Thus in the case of every free act of a moral agent the decree itself provides at the same time—(a) That the agent shall be a free agent. (b) That his antecedents and all the antecedents of the act in question shall be what they are. (c) That all the present conditions of the act shall be what they are. (d) That the act shall be perfectly spontaneous and free on the part of the agent. (e) That it shall be certainly future.
6th. God’s purposes relating to all events of every kind constitute one single, all–comprehensive intention comprehending all events, the free as free, the necessary as necessary, together with all their causes, conditions, and relations, as one indivisible system of things, every link of which is essential to the integrity of the whole.
8. Show that as respects the eternal plan of an omniscient and omnipotent Creator, foreknowledgeis equivalent to foreordination.
God possessing infinite foreknowledge and power, existed alone from eternity; and in time, self–prompted, began to create in an absolute vacuum. Whatever limiting causes or conditions afterwards exist were first intentionally brought into being by himself, with perfect foreknowledge of their nature, relations, and results. If God then foreseeing that if he created a certain free agent and placed him in certain relations he would freely act in a certain way, and yet with that knowledge proceeded to create that very free agent and put him in precisely those positions, God would, in so doing, obviously predetermine the certain futurition of the act foreseen. God can never in his work be reduced to a choice of evils, because the entire system, and each particular end and cause, and condition, was clearly foreseen and by deliberate choice admitted by himself.
9. What reasons may be assigned for contemplating the decrees of God as one all–comprehensiveintention?
1st. Because as shown below it is an eternal act, and oeternitas est una, individua et tota simul.
2nd. Because every event that actually occurs in the system of things is interlaced with all other events in endless involution. No event is isolated. The color of the flower and the nest of the bird are related to the whole material universe. Even in our ignorance we can trace a chemical fact as related to myriad other facts, classified under the heads of mechanics, electricity, and light and life.
3rd. God decrees events as they actually occur, i.e., events produced by causes, and depending upon conditions. The decree that determines the event cannot leave out the cause or the condition upon which it depends. But the cause of one event, is the effect of another, and every event in the universe is more immediately or remotely the condition of every other, so that an eternal purpose on the part of God must be one all comprehensive act.
As our minds are finite, as it is impossible for us to embrace in one act of intelligent comprehension an infinite number of events in all their several relations and bearings, we necessarily contemplate events in partial groups, and we conceive of the purpose of God relating to them as distinct successive acts. Hence the Scriptures speak of the counsels, the purposes, and the judgments of God in the plural, and in order to indicate the intended relation of one event to another, they represent God as purposing one event, as the means or condition upon which anther is suspended. This is all true because these events do have these relations to one another, but they all alike fall within, and none remain without, that one eternal design of God which comprehends equally all causes and all effects, all events and all conditions.
All the speculative errors of men on this subject, spring from the tendency of the human mind to confine attention to one fragment of God’s eternal purpose, and to regard it as isolated from the rest. The Decree of God separates no event from its causes or conditions any more than we find them separated in nature.
We are as much unable to take in by one comprehensive act of intelligence all the works of God in nature as we are to take in all his decrees.We are forced to study his works part by part, but no intelligent student of nature thinks that any event is isolated. So we are forced to study his decrees part by part, but no intelligent theologian should suppose that there are any broken links or imperfect connection either here or there.
10. How may it be proved that the decrees of God are eternal?
1st. As God is infinite, he is necessarily eternal and unchangeable, from eternity infinite in wisdom and knowledge, and absolutely independent in thought and purpose of every creature. There can never be any addiction to his wisdom, nor surprise to his foreknowledge nor resistance to his power, and therefore there never can be any occasion to reverse or modify that infinitely wise and righteous purpose which, from the perfection of his nature, he formed from eternity.
2nd. It is asserted in Scripture.—(ajp jajiw~nov) Acts 15:18; (pro< katabolh~v ko>smou) Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; (ajp jajrch~v) 2 Thessalonians 2:13; (pro< cro>nwn ajiwni>wn) 2
Timothy 1:9; (pro< tw~n ajiwnwn) 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:11, etc.
11. Prove that the decrees are immutable.
1st. This is certain from the fact that they are eternal, as just shown.
2nd. from the fact that God is eternal, absolute, immutable, and all–perfect in wisdom and power.
3rd. It is taught in Scripture.—Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:9, etc.
12. Prove from reason that the decrees of God comprehend all events.
As shown above no event is isolated. If one event is decreed absolutely all events must therefore be determined with it. If one event is left indeterminate all future events will be left in greater or less degrees indeterminate with it.
13. Prove the same from Scripture.
1st. They affirm that the whole system in general is embraced in the divine decrees.—Ephesians 1:11; Acts 17: 26; Daniel 4: 34,35.
2nd. They affirm the same of chance events.—Proverbs 16: 33; Matthew 10: 29,30.
3rd. Of the free actions of men.—Ephesians 2:10,11; Philippians 2:13.
4th. Even of the wicked actions of men. "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and with wicked hands have crucified and slain." —Acts 2:23.
"For of a truth against thy Holy Child whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined beforehand to be done."—Acts 4:27,28; Acts 13:29; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4; Revelation 17:17.
As to the history of Joseph, compare Genesis 37:28 with Genesis 45:7,8, and 1:20: "So now it was not you that sent me hither but God." "But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good."—See also Psalm 17:13,14, and Isaiah 10:5 and 15, etc.
14. Prove the universality of God’s decrees from providence.
It follows from the eternity, immutability, and infinite wisdom, foreknowledge, and power of God, that his temporal working in providence must in all things proceed according to his eternal purpose.—Ephesians 1:11, and Acts 15:18. But both Scripture and reason alike teach us that the providential government of God comprehends all things in heaven and on earth as a whole, and every event in detail.—Proverbs 16:33; Daniel 4:34,35; Matthew 10:29,30.
15. Prove this doctrine from prophecy.
God has in the Scriptures foretold the certain occurrence of many events, including the free actions of men, which have afterwards surely come to pass. Now the ground of prophecy is foreknowledge, and the foundations of the foreknowledge of an event as certainly future, is God’s decree that made it future. The eternal immutability of the decree is the only foundation of the infallibility either of the foreknowledge or of the prophecy. But if God has decreed certain future events, he must also have included in that decree all of their causes, conditions, coordinates, and consequences. No event is isolated; to make one certainly future implies the determination of the whole concatenation of causes and effects which constitute the universe.
16. In what sense are the decrees of God free?
The decrees of God are free in the sense that in decreeing he was solely actuated by his own infinitely wise, righteous, and benevolent good pleasure. He has always chosen as he pleased, and he has always pleased consistently with the perfection of his nature.
17. In what sense are the decrees of God sovereign?
They are sovereign in the sense that while they determine absolutely whatever occurs without God, their whole reason and motive is within the divine nature, and they are neither suggested nor occasioned by, nor conditioned upon anything whatsoever without him.
18. What is the distinction between absolute and conditional decrees?
An absolute decree is one which, while it may include conditions, is suspended upon no condition, i.e., it makes the event decreed, of whatever kind, whether of mechanical necessity or of voluntary agency, certainly future, together with all the causes and conditions, of whatever nature, upon which the event depends.
A conditional decree is one which decrees that an event shall happen upon the condition that some other event, possible but uncertain (not decreed), shall actually occur.
The Socinians denied that the free actions of men, being intrinsically uncertain, are the objects of knowledge, and therefore affirmed that they are not foreknown by God. They held that God decreed absolutely to create the human race, and after Adam sinned he decreed absolutely to save all repenting and believing sinners, yet that he decreed nothing concerning the sinning nor the salvation of individual men.
The Arminians, admitting that God certainly foreknows the acts of free agents as well as all other events, maintain that he absolutely decreed to create man, and foreseeing that man would sin he absolutely decreed to provide a salvation for all, and actually to save all that repent and believe, but that he conditionally decreed to save individual men on the condition, foreseen but not foreordained, of their faith and obedience.
19. What are the objections to attributing conditional decrees to God?
Calvinists admit that the all–comprehensive decree of God determines all events according to their inherent nature, the actions of free agents as free, and the operation of necessary causes, necessarily. It also comprehends the whole system of causes and effects of every kind; of the motives and conditions of free actions, as well as the necessary causes of necessary events. God decreed salvation upon the condition of faith, yet in the very same act he decreed the faith of those persons whose salvation he has determined. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called. " Thus his decree from the beginning embraced and provided for the free agency of man, as well as the regular procedures of nature, according to established laws. Thus also his covenants, or conditional promises, which he makes in time, are in all their parts the execution of his eternal purpose, which comprehended the promise, and the condition in their several places as means to the end. But that the decree of God can be regarded as suspended upon conditions which are not themselves determined by the decree is evidently impossible.
1st. This decree has been shown above (Questions 3–7) to be eternal and all–comprehensive. A condition
implies liability to change. The whole universe forming one system, if one part is contingent the whole must be contingent, for if one condition failed the whole concatenation of causes and effects would be deranged. If the Arminian should rejoin that although God did not foreordain the free acts of men, yet he infallibly foreknew and provided for them, and therefore his plans cannot fail; then the Calvinist replies that if God foresaw that a given man, in given circumstances, would act at a given juncture in a certain way, then God in decreeing to create that very man and place him in those very circumstances, at that very juncture, did foreordain the certain futurition of that very event, and of all its consequences. That God’s decree is immutable and does not depend upon uncertain conditions, is proved (1) from its eternity, (2) from the direct assertions of Scripture.—Isaiah 14:24,27; 46:10; Psalm 33:11; Proverbs 19:21; Romans 9:11; Ephesians 3:11.
2nd. The foreknowledge of God, as Arminians admit, is eternal and certain, and embraces all events, free as well as necessary. But, (1) as shown in the preceding paragraph, this foreknowledge involves foreordination, and (2) certainty in the foreknowledge implies certainty in the event; certainty implies determination; determination leaves us to choose between the decree of an infinitely wise, righteous, and benevolent God, and a blind fate.
3rd. A conditional decree would subvert the sovereignty of God and make him, as to the administration of his whole government and the execution of all his plans, dependent upon the uncontrollable actions of his own creatures. But the decrees of God are sovereign.—Isaiah 40:13,14; Daniel 4:35; Romans 9:15–18.
4th. His decree is declared to depend upon his own "good pleasure," and the "counsel of his own will."—Ephesians 1:5,11; Romans 9:11; Matthew 11:25,26.
5th. The decree of God includes the means and conditions. 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 1:4.
6th. His decree absolutely determines the free actions of men.—Acts 4:27,28; Ephesians 2:10.
7th. God himself works in his people that faith and obedience, which are called the conditions of their salvation.—Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:25.
20. How far are the decrees of God efficacious and to what extent are they permissive?
All the decrees of God are equally efficacious in the sense that they all infallibly determine the certain futurition of the event decreed. Theologians, however, classify the decrees of God thus: 1st. As effective in as far as they respect those events which, he has determined to effect through necessary causes, or in his own immediate agency. 2nd. As permissive as far as they respect those events which he has determined to allow dependent free agents to effect.
21. How may it be proved that the decree of God renders the event certain?
1st. From the nature of the decree itself as sovereign and unchangeable (see above).
2nd. From the essential nature of God in his relation to his creation, as an infinitely wise and powerful sovereign.
3rd. The foreknowledge of God regards future events as certain. The ground of this certainty must be either in God, or in the events themselves, which last is fatalism.
4th. The Scriptures ascribe a certainty of futurition to the events decreed. There is a needs–be that the event should happen "as it was determined."—Luke 18:31–33; 24:46; Acts 2:23; 13:29; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Matthew 16:21.
22. How does this doctrine, that God’s universal decree renders the occurrence of future eventscertain, differ from the ancient doctrine of faith?
The Calvinistic doctrine of Decrees agrees with Fatalism only at one point, i.e., in maintaining that the events in question are certainly future. But the Arminian doctrine of divine foreknowledge does precisely the same thing. In every other point our doctrine differs from the heathen doctrine of fate.
Fatalism supposes all events to be certainly determined by a universal law of necessary causation, acting blindly and by a simple unintelligent force effecting its end irresistibly and irrespective of the free wills of the free agents involved. There was no room left for final ends or purposes, no place for motive or choice, no means or conditions, but a simple evolution of necessity.
On the other hand the Calvinistic doctrine of Decrees postulates the infinite all–comprehensive plan of an infinitely wise, righteous, powerful, and benevolent Father, whose plan is determined not by mere will, but according to the " counsel of his will," securing the best ends, and adopting the best means in order to attain those ends—and whose plan is not executed by mere force, but through the instrumentality of all classes of second causes, free as well as necessary, each pre–adapted to its place and function, and each acting without constraint according to its nature.
There is an infinite difference between a machine and a man, between the operation of motives, intelligence, free choice, and the mechanical forces which act upon matter. There is precisely the same difference between the system of divine decrees, and the heathen doctrine of fate.
23. What objection to this doctrine of unconditional decrees is derived from the admitted fact ofman’s free agency?
Objection. — Foreknowledge implies the certainty of the event. The decree of God implies that he has determined it to be certain. But that he has determined it to be certain implies, upon the part of God, an efficient agency in bringing about that event which is inconsistent with the free agency of man.
We answer: It is evidently only the execution of the decree, and not the decree itself which can interfere with the free agency of man. On the general subject of the method in which God executes his decrees, see below, the chapters on Providence, Effectual Calling, and Regeneration.
We have here room only for the following general statement:
1st. The Scriptures attribute all that is good in man to God; these "he works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." All the sins which men commit the Scriptures attribute wholly to the man himself.
Yet God’s permissive decree does truly determine the certain futurition of the act; because God knowing certainly that the man in question would in the given circumstances so act, did place that very man in precisely those circumstances that he should so act. But in neither case, whether in working the good in us, or in placing us where we will certainly do the wrong, does God in executing his purpose ever violate or restrict the perfect freedom of the agent.
2nd. We have the fact distinctly revealed that God has decreed the free acts of men, and yet that the actors were none the less responsible, and consequently none the less tree in their acts.—Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27,28; Genesis 1:20, etc. We never can understand how the infinite God acts upon the finite spirit of man, but it is none the less our duty to believe.
3rd. According to that theory of the will which makes the freedom of man to consist in the liberty of indifference, i.e., that the will acts in every case of choice in a state of perfect equilibrium equally independent of all motives for or against, and just as free to choose in opposition to all desires as in harmony with them, it is evident that the very essence of liberty consists in uncertainty. If this be the true theory of the will, God could not execute his decrees without violating the liberty of the agent, and certain foreknowledge would be impossible.
But as shown below, in Chapter 15., the true theory of the will is that the liberty of the agent consists in his acting in each case as, upon the whole, he pleases, i.e., according to the dispositions and desires of his heart, under the immediate view which, his reason takes of the case. These dispositions and desires are determined in their turn by the character of the agent in relation to his circumstances, which character and circumstances are surely not beyond the control of the infinite God.
24. What is meant by those who teach that God is the author of sin?
Many reasoners of a Pantheistic tendency, e.g., Dr. Emmons, maintain that as God is infinite in sovereignty, and by his decree determines, so by his providence he effects every thing which comes to pass, so that he is actually the only real agent in the universe. Still they religiously hold that God is an infinitely holy agent in effecting that which, produced from God, is righteous, but, produced in us, is sin.
25. How may it be shown that God is not the author of sin?
The admission of sin into the creation of an infinitely wise, powerful, and holy God is a great mystery, of which no explanation can be given. But that God cannot be the author of sin is proved—
1st. From the nature of sin, which is, as to its essence, ajnomi>a want of conformity to law, and disobedience to the Lawgiver.
2nd. From the nature of God, who is as to essence holy, and in the administration of his kingdom always forbids and punishes sin.
3rd. From the nature of man, who is a responsible free agent who originates his own acts. The Scriptures always attribute to divine grace the good actions, and to the evil heart the sinful actions of men.
26. How may it be shown that the doctrine of unconditional decrees does not represent God as theauthor of sin?
The whole difficulty lies in the awful fact that sin exists. If God foresaw it and yet created the agent, and placed him in the very circumstances under which he did foresee the sin would be committed, then he did predetermine it. If he did not foresee it, or, foreseeing it, could not prevent it, then he is not infinite in knowledge and in power, but is surprised and prevented by his creatures. The doctrine of unconditional decrees presents no special difficulty. It represents God as decreeing that the sin shall immediately result as the free act of the sinner, and not as by any form of co–action causing, nor by any form of temptation inducing, him to sin.
27. What is the objection to this doctrine derived from the use of means?
This is the most common form of objection in the mouths of ignorant and irreligious people. If an immutable decree makes all future events certain, " if what is to be, will be," then it follows that no means upon our part can avoid the result, nor can any means be necessary to secure it.
Hence as the use of means is commanded by God, and instinctively natural to man, since many events have bees effected by their use, and many more in the future evidently depend upon them, it follows that God has not rendered certain any of those events which depend upon the use of means on the part of men.
28. What is the ground upon which the use of means is founded?
This use is founded upon the command of God, and upon that fitness in the means to secure the end desired, which, our instincts, our intelligence, and our experience disclose to us. But neither the fitness nor the efficiency of the means to secure the end, reside inherently and independently in the means themselves, but were originally established and are now sustained by God himself; and in the working of all means God always presides and directs providentially. This is necessarily involved in any Christian theory of Providence, although we can never explicate the relative action ( concursus) of God on man, the infinite upon the finite.
29. How may it be shown that the doctrine of decrees does not afford a rational ground ofdiscouragement in the use of means?
This difficulty (stated above, Question 27) rests entirely in a habit of isolating one part of God’s eternal decree from the whole (see Question 7), and in confounding the Christian doctrine of decrees with the heathen doctrine of fate (see Question 22.) But when God decreed an event he made it certainly future, not as isolated from other events, or as independent of all means and agents, but as dependent upon means and upon agents freely using those means. The same decree which, makes the event certain, also determines the mode by which it shall be effected, and comprehends the means with the ends. This eternal, all–comprehensive act embraces all existence through all duration, and all space as one system, and at once provides for the whole in all its parts, and for all the parts in all their relations to one another and to the whole. An event, therefore, may be certain in respect to God’s decree and foreknowledge, and at the same time truly contingent in the apprehension of man, and in its relation to the means upon which it depends.
30. What are the distinctions to be borne in mind between the objections to the proof of a doctrine,and objections to the doctrine when proved?
Reasonable objections to the evidence, Scriptural or otherwise, upon which the claims of any doctrine is based, are evidently legitimate. These objections against the proof establishing the truth of the doctrine ought always to be allowed their full weight. But when once the doctrine has been proved to be taught in Scripture objections leveled against it, obviously have no weight at all until they amount to a sufficient force to prove that the Scriptures themselves are not the word of God. Before they reach that measure, objections level led against the doctrine itself, which do not affect the evidence upon which it rests (and most of the objections to the Calvinistic doctrine of Decrees are of this order) only illustrate the obvious truth that the finite mind of man cannot fully comprehend the matters partially revealed and partially concealed in the word of God.
31. What are the proper practical effects of this doctrine?
Humility, in view of the infinite greatness and sovereignty of God, and of the dependence of man.
Confidence and implicit reliance upon the wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and immutability of God’s purposes, and cheerful obedience to his commandments; always remembering that God’s precepts, as distinctly revealed, and not his decrees, are the rule of our duty.
Source: Outlines of Theology by A. A. Hodge