Divine Attributes

by W.G.T. Shedd

Divine Attributes: Methods of Classification

Divine attributes are modes either of the relation or of the operation of divine essence. They are, consequently, an analytical and closer description of the essence. "Every divine attribute," says Nitzsch (Christian Doctrine §67), "is a conception of the idea of God." The terms conception and idea are here employed as in the philosophy of Schelling. As the general and undefined idea is reduced to the form of the particular and definite conception, so the general divine essence is contemplated in the particular attribute. The attributes are not parts of the essence, of which this latter is composed. The whole essence is in each attribute, and the attribute in the essence. We must not conceive of the essence as existing by itself and prior to the attributes, and of the attributes as an addition to it. God is not essence and attributes, but in attributes. The attributes are essential qualities of God. Hence Augustine, the Schoolmen, Calvin, and Melanchthon say that "divine excellences are the very essence." Turretin (3.5.7) remarks that "God's attributes cannot differ really (realiter) from the essence or between themselves as one thing differs from another thing."

Divine attributes are of two classes, according as they denote a passive relation of the essence or an active operation of it. (1) The essence considered as passively related to itself is self-existent and simple, as passively related to duration is eternal, as passively related to space is immense, and as passively related to number is one. Self-existence, simplicity, eternity, immensity, and unity are not active operations of the divine essence, but inactive relationships of it. Eternity, immensity, unity, and simplicity, and the like are not modes of energizing but of existing. (2) The essence considered as in action yields attributes of a second class. When, for example, the divine essence is contemplated as simply energizing, this is omnipotence; as cognizing, this is omniscience; as adapting means to ends, this is wisdom; as energizing benevolently or kindly, this is goodness. These attributes are the divine essence, whole and entire, contemplated in a particular mode of external operation.

Divine attributes are objective and real and not merely man's subjective mode of conception. We cannot say that we conceive of God as omnipotent, omnipresent, wise, good, and just, but that in fact he is not so. These attributes are objectively real, because the entire divine essence is in them. The essence is not phenomenal and unreal; consequently, the attributes are not. In proportion as speculation has been engaged with the divine essence while neglecting or denying divine attributes, it has been pantheistic because it has occupied itself with a subject without predicates, a substance without properties. The monad of gnosticism and the absolute of pantheism are examples. These are mere mental abstractions, like the unknown quantity of algebra.

The difference between a divine attribute and a divine person is that the person is a mode of the existence of the essence; while the attribute is a mode either of the relation or of the external operation of the essence. The qualifying adjective external is important because the internal operation of the essence describes a trinitarian person. When the divine essence energizes ad intra, the operation is generation or spiration, and the essence so energizing is the Father or the Son; but when the divine essence energizes ad extra, the operation is omnipotence or omniscience or benevolence, etc. A trinitarian person is a mode of the essence; a divine attribute is a phase of the essence.

Several attributes may be grouped under a general term. Wisdom and omniscience fall under the head of understanding. They are cognitive attributes, involving perception only. Goodness and mercy fall under the head of will. They are voluntary attributes in the sense that their exercise is sovereign and optional. Such attributes, consequently, are phases of divine understanding and will. In Scripture, all the attributes are sometimes summed up under the term glory (doxa): "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). Sometimes, however, the context shows that a particular attribute is meant, as in Rom. 6:4, where Christ is said to be "raised by the glory of the Father." "Glory" here denotes divine omnipotence (cf. John 2:11).

The number and classification of divine attributes is attended with some difficulty and has led to considerable difference of opinion among theologians. Some reckon self-existence, immensity, simplicity, eternity, and the like among divine attributes; others do not. Nitzsch (Christian Doctrine §66) denies that infinity, eternity, and immutability are properly denominated attributes.

Divine attributes have been classified as incommunicable and communicable, natural and moral, immanent (or intransitive) and emanent (or transitive), positive and negative, absolute and relative, and active and passive.

The incommunicable attributes are those that belong to God exclusively, so that there is nothing resembling them in a created spirit. They admit no degrees, but are divine by their very nature. Such are self-existence, simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability. The communicable attributes are those which are possessed in a finite degree, more or less, by men and angels. Such are wisdom, benevolence, holiness, justice, compassion, truth. It is with reference to these that man is said to be created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and to be made partaker by regeneration of a divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and is commanded to imitate God: "Be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). That they cannot be in a creature in an infinite degree is proved by Matt. 19:17: "There is none [infinitely] good but one."

The natural attributes belong to the constitutional nature, as distinguished from the will of God. Such are self-existence, simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. Wisdom is sometimes assigned to the natural and sometimes to the moral. The moral attributes are truth, goodness, holiness, justice, mercy, etc.

The immanent or intransitive attributes are those which do not go forth and operate outside of the divine essence, but remain internal. Such are immensity, eternity, simplicity, self-existence, etc. The emanent or transitive attributes issue forth and produce effects external to God. Such are omnipotence, benevolence, justice, etc.

The positive attributes are those which belong in a finite degree to the creature. The negative attributes are those from which all finite imperfection is negated or removed.

The absolute attributes express the relation of God to himself. Such are simplicity, self-existence, unity, eternity. The relative attributes express his relation to the world. Such are omnipotence, omniscience, etc.

The active attributes involve the idea of action: for example, omnipotence, justice, benevolence. The passive attributes involve the idea of rest: for example, self-existence, immensity, eternity, etc.

We adopt the classification of incommunicable and communicable attributes. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 4 favors this arrangement by first mentioning three of the incommunicable attributes, followed by communicable attributes that are qualified by the former: "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Self-Existence (Aseity)

The self-existence of God (aseity) denotes that the ground of his being is in himself. In this reference, it is sometimes said that God is his own cause. But this is objectionable language. God is the uncaused being and in this respect differs from all other beings. The category of cause and effect is inapplicable to the existence of a necessary and eternal being.


The simplicity of God denotes that his being is uncompounded, incomplex, and indivisible: "a most pure spirit, without parts." Simplicity does not belong to angels and men. They are complex, being composed of soul and body: two substances, not one. They are not unembodied and mere spirit. The angels, like the redeemed after the resurrection, have a spiritual body, which does not mean a body made of spirit, but one adapted to a spiritual world. A spiritual body belongs to the world of extended form, not of unextended mind. The simplicity of the divine being is not contradictory to the Trinity of his essence, because Trinity does not denote three different essences, but one essence subsisting in three modes. The trinitarian distinctions no more conflict with the simplicity of the essence, than do the attributes. The essence is not divided into either hypostases or attributes. The whole essence is in each person and in each attribute. The theory of external emanation is incompatible with the simplicity of the divine essence. A substance which by efflux of particles can flow out into new forms, like rays from the sun, is compounded and complex. When it is said in Rom. 11:36 that "all things are of him (ex autou)," it is not meant that the universe is an effluent portion of the divine essence, but that it originates from him as its Creator. When it is said in Acts 17:28 that man is the offspring (genos) of God, it is not meant that man participates in the divine essence, but possesses a nature similar to that of God.


The infinity of God is the divine essence viewed as having no bounds or limits. And since limitation implies imperfection, the infinity of God implies that he is perfect in every respect in which he is infinite. If knowledge in any being has bounds, it is imperfect knowledge; if holiness has degrees or limits in any rational spirit, it is imperfect holiness. Yet finite holiness is real excellence, and limited knowledge is real knowledge. The finiteness of holiness does not convert it into sin; neither does the limitedness of knowledge convert it into error or untruth. The imperfection or limitation of the finite relates not to quality, but to quantity. Infinity is a general term denoting a characteristic belonging to all the communicable attributes of God. His power, his knowledge, his veracity is infinite. It also characterizes the being of God as well as his attributes. His essence is infinite. In this respect, infinity is like eternity and immutability. These latter, like the former, pervade the essence and all the communicable attributes. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 4 defines God to be a Spirit who is "infinite, eternal, and unchangeable" first in his essential "being" and then in his "wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Divine infinity is taught in Job 11:7–9: "Can you by searching find out God? Can you find out the Almighty to perfection? It is as high as heaven, what can you do? deeper than hell, what can you know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea."

Immensity and Omnipresence

The immensity (in mensum) of God is his essence as related to space. Divine essence is not measurable, because not included in any limits of place: "The heaven of heavens cannot contain you" (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6; Jer. 23:24). God's immensity is spiritual, having no extension of substance.

By virtue of God's immensity, he is omnipresent. Immensity and omnipresence are thus inseparably connected and are best considered in reference to each other. Omnipresence has respect to the universe of created beings and things—to space as filled. Immensity has reference to this and to what is beyond—to space as void: the "beyond the blazing walls of the world" of Lucretius (Concerning Nature 1.74). God is said to be beyond the universe (extra mundum), not in the sense that there are spaces beyond the universe which he fills by extension of substance, but in the sense that the universe does not exhaust his immensity or is equal to it. "God's immensity," says Schleiermacher (Doctrine §53), "is almighty immensity which determines or conditions space itself, and all that exists in space."

The presence of mind is wholly different from that of matter. Spiritual substance is present, wherever it is present, as a complete whole at every point. The human soul, for example, is present as a unity and totality at every point of the body. It is not present as the body is, partitively, or by division of substance. God, also, as the infinite Spirit is present at every point of space as a totality. He is not present in the universe by division of substance, but as a unity, simple and undivided. This is taught in the dicta "the soul is all in every part" and "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere." Omnipresence is taught in Ps. 139:7–8: "Whither shall I flee from your presence?" (Jer. 23:23–24; Isa. 66:1; Acts 17:24). (See supplement 3.5.1.)

Divine omnipresence means the presence of all things to God, rather than God's presence to all things. They are in his presence, but he is not in their presence. When it is said, "Do not I fill heaven and earth, says the Lord" (Jer. 23:24), the language is tropical. If God were literally contained in the universe, the universe would be more immense than he is. "Nothing contains you, but you contain all things," says Anselm (Proslogion 19). (a) Omnipresence of God is not like the presence of a material body in a locality. This excludes the presence of another body; but God's presence does not exclude that of matter. "God," says Augustine (Concerning Diverse Questions 1.20), "is not at some particular place (alicubi). For what is at some particular place is contained in space; and what is contained in some space is body. And yet because God exists and is not in space, all things are in him. Yet not so in him, as if he himself were a place in which they are." (b) Divine omnipresence is not like the presence of a finite spirit embodied in a material form. The soul of man, though not standing in the same relation to space that matter does, is yet not everywhere present, but is confined to a certain place, namely, the circumference of the body: "Where is the soul located? As far as I am concerned, it is in the head and I can offer an explanation for my belief. But the place of the soul I shall explain another time. Certainly it is in you"10 (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.29.70). (c) The omnipresence of God is not by extension, multiplication, or division of essence. He is all in every place, similarly as the soul is all in every part of the body. The whole essence of God is here, is there, and everywhere.

God is said to be "in heaven," "in believers," "in hell," etc., because of a special manifestation of his glory or his grace or his retribution. In this reference, sinners are said to be "away" from God, and God from them. Some theologians have taught a "special presence of the divine essence with the substance of believers," upon the strength of John 14:23: "We will come unto him and make our abode with him." But this is unnecessary: "The essential presence of God is the same everywhere; the influxive declarative presence of God is special and otherwise in one place than another" (Bates, On Heaven).

Some Socinian and deistical writers deny God's omnipresence as to essence and assert only a presence by operation from a distance. Newton seems to refer to this in a scholium at the end of the Principia: "God is one and the same God always and everywhere. He is omnipresent, not by means of his energy (virtus) alone, but also by his substance; for energy cannot subsist without substance." The pagan acknowledged divine omnipresence. "Jove fills all things," says Aratus. Virgil remarks that "God goes throughout all the earth and the extent of the sea and the boundless heaven"13 (cf. Seneca, Concerning Benevolence 1.8).


The eternity of God is his essence as related to duration. It is duration without beginning, without end, and without succession: "The eternal God" (Gen. 21:33); "the one that inhabits eternity" (Isa. 57:13); "from eternity to eternity, you are God" (Ps. 90:2); "the king eternal" (Ps. 102:26–28; Isa. 41:4; 1 Tim. 1:17); "the Lord of lords who only has immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16); "I am Alpha and Omega" (Rev. 1:8). The French version of the Scriptures renders Jehovah by l'Éternel.

Eternity is different from immortality or simple endlessness. The Schoolmen denominated the latter sempiternitas and aeviternitas. This is duration with succession and has a beginning, but no end. Eternity considered without beginning is described as a parte ante, without ending as a parte post. But the terms before and after in this description are tropical. They bring in the notion of time and succession, by which to explain; so that this definition is by quantity, not by quality. Locke's definition of eternity as "infinite time without beginning and ending" is inadequate, because it makes eternity to be a species of time. The omission of successionlessness in this definition is fatal to accuracy. Eternity with succession is like immensity with extension, and omniscience with contingency. Some have defined eternity as the "timeless," the "supratemporal," in order to distinguish it in kind from time. Says Schleiermacher (Doctrine §52), "We must negative from God, not only all limits of time, but time itself."

That clause in the definition of eternity which represents it as without sequences and succession defines it according to quality. The Schoolmen explain by saying that God, by reason of his eternity, has a simultaneous possession of his total duration. The creature comes into possession of his total duration gradually and piecemeal. The whole of divine knowledge and experience is ever before the divine being, so that there are not parts succeeding parts. The image that represents eternity is the ocean; that which represents time is the river. "The eternity of God's existence," says Edwards (Will 4.8), "is nothing else but his immediate, perfect, and invariable possession of the whole of his unlimited life, together and at once. It is equally improper to talk of months and years of divine existence and mile squares of deity." Says Aquinas (Summa 1.10.4), "Eternity is complete all at once, but in time there is 'before' and 'after.' Therefore, time and eternity are not the same thing." Says Boethius (On the Consolation of Philosophy 5.4), "Eternity is the measure of abiding existence, but time is the measure of movement." Says Hooker (Polity 5.69), "Only God has true immortality or eternity, that is to say, continuance wherein grows no difference by addition of hereafter unto now." Says Smith (Existence of God), "An infinitely comprehensive mind has a simultaneous possession of its own never-flitting life; and because it finds no succession in its own immutable understanding, therefore it cannot find anything to measure out its own duration. And therefore the Platonists were wont to attribute aiōn or eternity to God; not so much because he had neither beginning nor end of days, but because of his immutable and uniform nature" (cf. King, Origin of Evil 1.3; Locke, Understanding 2.14.10; Anselm, Proslogion 19).

In Scripture the eternity of God is denoted by the term today: "Today have I begotten you" (Ps. 2:7). The eternal generation of the second trinitarian person is here described by the present alone, to the exclusion of the past and the future. This is the particular element in time which is best fitted to express the nature of the successionless and the unchangeable. The instant is a point of time and has no sequences. Hence eternity has been defined as an "eternal now" or a "universal present." Kant regards time as a form of the understanding, that is, as the manner in which the finite mind thinks, by reason of its finiteness. Similarly, Berkeley (Principles of Knowledge §98) defines time to be the succession of thoughts in the human mind. If this definition be accepted, then there is no time for God, because there is no succession of thoughts in his mind. The form and manner of God's consciousness is totally different in respect to succession, from that of man's consciousness. He does not think sequaciously as man and angel do: "My thoughts are not as your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8).

The instantaneous vision and successionless unchanging consciousness of divine omniscience, in comparison with the gradual view and successive increasing knowledge of the creature, have been thus illustrated. A person stands at a street corner and sees a procession passing, whose component parts he does not know beforehand. He first sees white men, then black men, and, last, red men. When the last man has passed, he knows that the procession was composed of Europeans, Africans, and Indians. Now suppose that from a church tower he should see at one glance of the eye the whole procession. Suppose that he saw no one part of it before the other, but that the total view was instantaneous. His knowledge of the procession would be all comprehending and without succession. He would not come into the knowledge of the components of the procession, as he did in the former case, gradually and part by part. And yet the procession would have its own movement still and would be made up of parts that follow each other. Though the vision and knowledge of the procession, in this instance, is instantaneous, the procession itself is gradual. In like manner, the vast sequences of human history and the still vaster sequences of physical history appear all at once and without any consciousness of succession to the divine observer. This is implied in the assertion that God "declares the end from the beginning" (Isa. 46:10) and that "known unto God are all things from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18). Both extremes of that unlimited series which make up the history of the created universe, together with all the intermediates, are seen at once by the eternal Creator of the universe. Says Charnock (Eternity of God):

Though there be a succession and order of things as they exist, there is no succession in God in regard to his knowledge of them. God knows the things that shall be wrought and the order of them in their being brought upon the stage of the world; yet both the things and the order, he knows by one act [of knowledge]. The death of Christ was to precede his resurrection in the order of time; there is a succession in this; both at once are known by God; yet the [one] act of his knowledge is not exercised about Christ as dying and rising at the same moment; so that there is a succession in things, when there is no succession in God's knowledge of things.

Man knows a succession successively; God knows a succession instantaneously and simultaneously. God sees the end from the beginning, and hence for him there is no interval or sequence between the end and the beginning. Man sees the end from the end, not from the beginning, and hence there is an interval and sequence for him between the two. (See supplement 3.5.2.)

Not only is God's act of knowledge eternal and successionless, but his act of power is so likewise. God creates all things from eternity by one act of power, as he knows all things from eternity by one act of knowledge and as he decrees all things from eternity by one act of will. As we must employ the singular, not the plural, when we speak of the eternal decree, so we must when we speak of the eternal causation. There is one eternal all-comprehending decree and one eternal all-creating cause. For God there is no series in his action any more than in his cognition or in his purpose. God's energy as the cause of the creation is one and successionless, like his decree; the creation itself, as the effect of this eternal cause, is a successive series. The cause is one; the effect is many. The cause is eternal; the effect is temporal. For divine consciousness, the creation of the world is not in the past and the destruction of the world is not in the future. God is not conscious of an interval of thousands of years between the act by which he created the heaven and the earth "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1) and the act by which he created man on "the sixth day" (1:26), because, in this case, one would be older than the other and thus only one of them would be an eternal act. God's causative energizing in both instances was eternal and therefore simultaneous; but the effects of it were successive and temporal. It is impossible for the human mind to comprehend or even to conceive of this. But it is necessary to postulate it in order to maintain divine immutability and omniscience. Neither of these attributes can be established, if it be held that God's consciousness respecting his exertion of power is successive like that of man or angel. Should we define God's eternal causation as an endless succession of creative volitions, then God's consciousness of his future creative volitions is in the future, like that of man and angel. This is fatal to omniscience, when the consciousness relates to cognition; and fatal to immutability, when the consciousness relates to action. If the divine will, like the human, energized successively through the six days of creation, so that in divine consciousness the divine willing on the first day preceded the divine willing on the second, and the divine willing upon the third followed that upon the second, then God, like man and angel, is conscious that two days are longer than one, and three days longer than two; which is contrary to the statement that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8) and to the affirmation that "a thousand years in his sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night" (Ps. 90:4). The volition by which God created "the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) is eternal, but the heaven and the earth are not eternal. If the matter of the earth was originated ex nihilo, say. twenty million years ago, this matter is now exactly twenty million years old. But divine volition that originated it is not exactly twenty million years old. The created effect can be measured by days and years, but the creative cause cannot be. (See supplement 3.5.3.)

Eternity implies perfection and completeness; time implies imperfection and incompleteness. An eternal being and an eternal consciousness never improve and never deteriorate; a temporal being and consciousness is continually experiencing one or the other. A creature increases in knowledge in certain directions and loses knowledge in others. He acquires information and he forgets. The Creator has infinite knowledge at every instant and neither learns nor forgets:

The duration of everything must of necessity be agreeable to its nature; and, therefore, as that whose imperfect nature is ever flowing like a river and consists in continual motion and changes one after another, must needs have accordingly a successive and flowing duration, sliding perpetually from present into past and always posting on toward the future, expecting something of itself which is not yet in being, but to come; so must that whose perfect nature is essentially immutable and always the same and necessarily existent have a permanent duration, never losing anything of itself once present, as sliding away from it nor yet running forward to meet something of itself before, which is not yet in being. (Cudworth, Intellectual System 1.5)

It follows, therefore, that there is no evolution or development in an eternal essence and consciousness. Evolution is change, by the very definition. Development is a transition from one mode of existence and experience to another. If there be evolution in a consciousness, then the consciousness is mutable, successive, fractional, and incomplete; if there be no evolution in a consciousness and it is without succession, then the consciousness is immutable, simultaneous, omniscient, and complete.

This characteristic of an eternal being and consciousness is enunciated in the Scholastic dictum: "God is pure act without any potentiality." There is nothing potential or latent in the deity, as there always is in created and finite natures. "It is necessary for that which is first being to be in act and in no way to be in potency,"19 says Aquinas (Summa 1.3.1). One fatal error in the pantheistic conception of God is that it attributes potentiality to him. It maintains that God is capable of evolution and that he is endlessly passing through a process of development. This obliterates the distinction between the infinite and the finite by ascribing to the former a characteristic that belongs only to the latter. The infinite cannot be the perfect if the pantheistic postulate be true. For if the infinite being is passing from lower to higher modes of existence and of consciousness, as finite being is, absolute and immutable perfection cannot be attributed to him. Moreover, since evolution may be from the more perfect to the less perfect, as well as from the less perfect to the more perfect, it follows from the pantheistic theory that the infinite being may tend downward and become evil (see Shedd, Theological Essays, 134).

The all-comprehending and unchanging consciousness of God excludes memory. This can belong only to the finite mind. As there is nothing past in the consciousness of God, there can be no such act in him as that of recalling the past to mind. He neither remembers nor forgets in the literal sense because the whole of his knowledge is simultaneously and perpetually present. And this whole or sum total of omniscience includes all that which for the creature is included in past, present, and future time.

The term eternity is sometimes employed in a secondary signification to denote the future world in distinction from this, as when it is said that a deceased man has gone into eternity. In this case, eternity does not denote successionless existence, but the spiritual existence of the next life. Men and angels cannot have the unchanging eternal consciousness of God. Every finite mind must think, feel, and act in time. Time is the necessary form of the finite understanding. Time is one of the elements of difference between the infinite and the finite:

Immediate are the acts of God, more swift

Than time, or motion; but to human ears

Cannot without process of speech be told,

So told as earthly notion can receive.


Augustine upon this point errs in attributing a successionless intuition to the beatific vision of the saints and angels. In the heaven of heavens, "the inhabitants," he says (Confessions 12.13), "know all at once, not in part, not darkly, not through a glass, but as a whole, in manifestation, face to face, not this thing now, and that thing anon, but all at once, without succession of times." God understands the finite form of cognition, though it is not the form of cognition for him. He knows that for the creature there is an interval between events, but this does not imply that for him there is an interval. He perfectly comprehends man's knowledge by sensation, but this does not prove that he himself has sensation. "He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust," but he has no such personal consciousness of frailty.

The idea of an existence and consciousness without sequences and succession is difficult even to entertain, much less to comprehend. There is nothing analogous to it in human consciousness, which is wholly successive. Hence the idea of divine eternity as without evolution and change is even more baffling to human intelligence than is the idea of triunity. The former is a greater mystery than the latter. The notions of paternity, filiation, and procession enable the human mind to seize the doctrine of the Trinity, but there are no corresponding points of contact in the doctrine of divine eternity. For this reason, some theologians define eternity as infinite time and deny that it is without succession. They assert that there are sequences and intervals in God's consciousness, as there are in that of men and angels. This was the opinion of Clericus. But greater difficulties follow from the denial than from the affirmation of a consciousness without succession in God. It is certain that God is omniscient and immutable; but he can be neither if his mind is subject to the same categories of time and space with the created mind, for both are associated. A creature of time is also a creature of space. A finite spirit cannot be omnipresent. It is embodied and therefore must exist in a locality. "The eternity of God," says Schleiermacher (Doctrine §§52, 54), "is to be conceived as omnipotent eternity, that is, as that which in God determines and conditions time itself, with all that is temporal. God is basileus tōn aiōnōn (1 Tim. 1:17)." Similarly, Augustine (Confessions 11.13) denominates God "the maker of time." Schleiermacher objects to the separation of the attribute of eternity from that of omnipotence, when it is defined as merely the relation of God to duration, in that it represents him as merely existing passively, whereas he is intrinsically active and energizing. The remark that there is nothing analogous in human consciousness to the successionless consciousness of the Supreme Being perhaps needs some qualification. Those who have been brought to the brink of the grace and then brought back speak of a seemingly instantaneous survey of their whole past life. The following from Frances Kemble Butler's Records of Later Life is striking. She is describing her experience during a fearful storm at sea:

As the vessel reeled under a tremendous shock, the conviction of our impending destruction became so intense in my mind, that my imagination suddenly presented to me the death vision, so to speak, of my whole existence. I should find it impossible adequately to describe the vividness with which my whole past life presented itself to my perception; not as a procession of events, filling up a succession of years, but as a whole—a total—suddenly held up to me as in a mirror, indescribably awful, combined with the simultaneous, acute, and almost despairing sense of loss, of waste, so to speak, by which it was accompanied. This instantaneous involuntary retrospect was followed by a keen and rapid survey of the religious belief in which I had been trained and which then seemed to me my only important concern.

In all this, however, there is really a succession and a series; only it is so exceedingly rapid as to seem simultaneous.


The immutability of God is the unchangeableness of his essence, attributes, purposes, and consciousness. Immutability results from eternity, as omnipresence does from immensity. That which has no evolution and no succession is the same yesterday, today, and forever: "I am Jehovah, I change not" (Mal. 3:6); "the heavens shall perish, but you shall endure" (Ps. 102:26); "with whom is no variableness (parallagē), neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Immutability belongs to the divine essence; God can have no new attributes. It belongs also to the divine will; his decrees are unalterable. The Socinians Crellius and Vorstius deny this latter, asserting that God can will what he once nilled and nill what he once willed. This is contradicted by Scripture: "God is not a man that he should lie; nor the Son of Man that he should repent" (Num. 23:19); "my counsel shall stand" (Isa. 46:10); "the counsel of the Lord stands forever" (Ps. 33:11); "the Lord has sworn and will not repent" (110:4); "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent" (1 Sam. 15:29); "whereby God, willing to show the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (Heb. 6:17). Immutability also characterizes the divine consciousness. Nothing new is added to it, and nothing old is subtracted from it. Infinite knowledge is a fixed quantity, and so is an infinite experience. God is immutable because (a) his being is from himself and not from another; (b) he cannot change for the better or for the worse; (c) all causes and reasons for change are wanting, namely, dependence upon another, error of mind, inconstancy of will and purpose. The act of creation ex nihilo made no change in God. It did not affect his own eternal essence; and his will and power to create were the same from eternity. Emanation ad extra would make a change in the essence. This is the outward effluence of substance and diminishes the mass from which it issues. Incarnation made no change in God. Divine essence was not transmuted into a human nature, but assumed a human nature into union with itself.

God is said to repent: "It repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth" (Gen. 6:6); "God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them" (Jon. 3:10). This means no change in his attributes and character, but only in his manner of treating men: "Repentance in God is not a change of will, but a will to change." If God had treated the Ninevites after their repentance as he had threatened to treat them before their repentance, this would have proved him to be mutable. It would have showed him to be at one time displeased with impenitence and at another with penitence. Charnock (Immutability of God) remarks that

the unchangeableness of God, when considered in relation to the exercise of his attributes in the government of the world, consists not in always acting in the same manner, however cases and circumstances may alter; but in always doing what is right and in adapting his treatment of his intelligent creatures to the variation of their actions and characters. When the devils, now fallen, stood as glorious angels, they were the objects of God's love, necessarily; when they fell, they were the objects of God's hatred, because impure. The same reason which made him love them while they were pure made him hate them when they were criminal.

It is one thing for God to will a change in created things external to himself and another thing for him to change in his own nature and character. God can will a change in the affairs of men—such as the abrogation of the levitical priesthood and ceremonial—and yet his own will remain immutable, because he had from eternity willed and decreed the change. In like manner, promises and threatenings that are made conditionally and suppose a change in man imply no change in the essence or attributes of God: "If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" (Jer. 18:7–10). No change is made in God, as there is in the creature, by his knowledge. A creature increases his knowledge and experiences a change intellectually. But God's knowledge is a fixed quantity, because it is infinite. He knows everything from everlasting to everlasting and at each instant, and there is no more than everything. He knew before it came to pass that Christ would be crucified upon Calvary. When that event occurred, it made no change in his knowledge. He was no better informed than he was before. He was no more certain of the crucifixion after the event than he was before it, because he had decreed that it should take place. He could not have foreknown that it would take place, unless he had predetermined that it should. If God does not first decide that an event shall happen, he must wait and see whether it happens in order to any certain knowledge; and this would make a change in his knowledge.


God is an intelligent being, and knowledge is one of his communicable attributes: "God created man after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness" (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 10). Divine essence considered as cognizing gives the attribute of omniscience: "God is greater than our hearts and knows all things" (1 John 3:20); "Lord, you know all things" (John 21:17); "known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18); "all things are naked and opened (tetrachēlismena) unto the eye of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13; Rom. 11:33; Matt. 6:32; 1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 139:1–16; Isa. 46:10; Ezek. 11:5).

Divine knowledge is (a) intuitive as opposed to demonstrative or discursive; it is not obtained by comparing one thing with another or deducing one truth from another; it is a direct vision; (b) simultaneous as opposed to successive; it is not received gradually into the mind and by parts; the perception is total and instantaneous; and (c) complete and certain as opposed to incomplete and uncertain. Divine knowledge excludes knowledge by the senses, gradual acquisition of knowledge, forgetting of knowledge, and recollection of knowledge.

God's omniscience from the creature's point of view is foreknowledge; but it is not foreknowledge from God's point of view. The infinite mind comprehends all things in one simultaneous intuition, and, consequently, there is for it no "before" or "after."Says Charnock (God's Knowledge), "God considers all things in his own simple knowledge as if they were now acted; and therefore some have chosen to call the knowledge of things to come, not prescience or foreknowledge, but knowledge; because God sees all things at one instant." Says Owen (Vindication of the Gospel, 5), "God knows all things as they are; and in that order wherein they stand. Things that are past, as to the order of the creatures, he knows as past; not by remembrance, however, as we do; but by the same act of knowledge wherewith he knew them from all eternity, even before they were." But this knowledge of everything simultaneously and at once is for the finite mind equivalent to knowing before the event. Foreknowledge, strictly taken, implies an interval between the knowledge and the event. Had the Ninevites not repented, Nineveh would have been destroyed in accordance with the prophecy of Jonah. Forty days would have elapsed between Jonah's foreknowledge of the event and the event itself. A series of occurrences and experiences would have intervened and become gradually known by Jonah. But this is not true of the divine mind. God is not conscious of an interval of several thousand years between his knowledge of Christ's crucifixion and the occurrence of the crucifixion. For God, Christ was crucified from eternity, and the event was known and real to him from all eternity. Omniscience excludes both foreknowledge and subsequent knowledge. In this reference, Augustine (Concerning Diverse Questions 2.2.2) says: "What is foreknowledge but the knowledge of the future. But what is future to God? For, if divine knowledge includes all things at one instant, all things are present to him, and there is nothing future; and his knowledge is knowledge and not foreknowledge." Says Charnock (God's Knowledge):

The knowledge of one thing is not, in God, before another; one act of knowledge does not father another. In regard of the objects themselves, one thing is before another; one year before another; one generation of men before another; one is the cause and the other is the effect; in the creature's mind there is such a succession, and God knows there will be such a succession; but there is no such order in God's knowledge; for he knows all those successions by one glance, without any succession of knowledge in himself.

God has a knowledge of all things that are possible, in distinction from things actual. He knows all that he can do. This is denominated "the knowledge of simple intelligence." It is knowledge that is confined to divine understanding and never causes an act of the will. The things that are possible and known as such are never made real. Charnock (God's Knowledge) explains it as the knowledge not only of the possible, but as speculative in distinction from practical knowledge: "God knows evil not with a practical knowledge, so as to be the author of it, but with a speculative knowledge so as to understand the sinfulness of it; or a knowledge simplicis intelligentiae, of simple intelligence, as he permits it, not positively wills it." God has a knowledge of what is conditionally possible, that is, of those events which have never come to pass, but which might have occurred under certain possible conditions. This is denominated "middle knowledge" or "conditioned knowledge."26 For example, God knows that if a certain person should live to middle life, he would become exceedingly vicious and wicked. He prevents this by an early death of the person. Biblical instances are Matt. 11:21–23 (the repentance of Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, and Gomorrah); 1 Sam. 23:5–14; Jer. 38:17–20. (See supplement 3.5.4.)

The doctrine of middle knowledge has been employed to explain the imputation of Adam's first sin to his posterity. This sin is imputed because God foreknew that each one of the posterity would have committed it if he had been placed in Adam's circumstances. But upon this theory, any man might be charged with any sin whatsoever; for God knows that there is no sin which he would not commit, if strongly tempted and not kept by divine grace. Furthermore, upon this theory, sin is imputed, in the order of nature, before it is committed. Socinus denies that God has foreknowledge of man's free acts (Owen, Vindication of the Gospel, 5). Cicero (Concerning Divination) contends that prescience and free will are incompatible; and since free will is necessary to responsibility, this must be retained and foreknowledge given up. Augustine examines Cicero's views in City of God 5.9.

Wisdom is a particular aspect of divine knowledge: "God only wise" (1 Tim. 1:17). It is the intelligence of God as manifested in the adaptation of means to ends. Hebrew ḥākām and Greek sophos29 primarily signify skillful, expert. It is seen (1) in creation: "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1–7); "O Lord, how manifold are your works; in wisdom have you made them all" (104:1–34); "who has laid the measures thereof?" (Job 38:5); (2) in providence: "The Lord brought the counsel of the heathen to naught" (Ps. 33:10–11); "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28); (3) in redemption: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!" (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 11:33); "the manifold (polypoikilos) wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:10). The wisdom of God is called "the foolishness of God" (1 Cor. 1:25) in order to exhibit its infinite superiority to human wisdom. The lowest degree of divine wisdom, so low as to be called folly in comparison with the highest degree, is wiser than men. Wisdom is represented as a trinitarian person in Prov. 8 and is the same as the Logos of John 1:1.

Wisdom implies a final end, to which all secondary ends are subordinate. This end is the glory of God: "To him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). Says Leighton, "As God could swear by no greater, he swears by himself; so as he could propose no greater end, he proposed himself." The glory of God means such a manifestation of divine perfections as leads creatures to worship and adore. Adoration is the highest act of a creature, and the revealed excellence of the Creator is the object that elicits it. The essential glory of God, that is, his glory as it exists per se, is not intended in this definition. This is the same, whether there be a creation or not, whether there be worship or not.

The happiness of the creature cannot be the final end of God's action. There would be no wisdom in this case, because the superior would be subordinated to the inferior. This would be folly, not wisdom. It would be a maladaptation of means to ends. The end would be made the means, and the means the end. The infinite would exist for the finite. Moreover, happiness from its very nature cannot be an ultimate end because to seek it is to fail of getting it: "He that finds his life shall lose it." To seek holiness as an ultimate end is to attain it. To seek holiness results in happiness, but not vice versa. Happiness is the effect, and holiness is the cause. Hence the command is "be holy"—not "be happy." Another proof that happiness is not an ultimate end like holiness is the fact that there are many kinds of happiness, but only one kind of holiness. Happiness depends upon the attainment of an object that is different from itself; and the objects are various: such as wealth, pleasure, fame in the lower eudemonism; and knowledge, culture, and virtue in the higher. But holiness does not depend upon securing an object different from itself. A man is happy only when he has obtained wealth or fame or culture or something that is other than happiness itself. But a man is holy, not by obtaining wealth, fame, culture, or something other than holiness, but by obtaining holiness itself. Consequently, holiness can be an ultimate end, but happiness cannot be. Yet, the moral perfection of the creature cannot be regarded as the final end of God's action, though this is a higher view than the preceding. The creature in any aspect cannot be regarded as the last end, any more than the first cause of all things. The finite will cannot be an ultimate end for the infinite will. The creature must say, "Not my will, but yours be done." Similarly, a finite nature or being cannot be an ultimate end for the infinite being. (See supplement 3.5.5.)


The power of God is the divine essence energizing and producing outward effects. It is divine activity ad extra. The immanent activity of the essence ad intra, as seen in the trinal distinctions and their intercommunion, does not come under the category of divine power. For this is necessary and constitutional activity. It is not optional with God to be triune. Eternal generation and spiration are not, like creation, providence, and redemption, acts of power in the sense that if God so please they need not be performed. Divine power is optional in its exercise. God need not have created anything. And after creation, he may annihilate. Only when he has bound himself by promise, as in the instance of faith in Christ, does his action cease to be optional. It cannot be said that God may keep his promises as he pleases.

Divine power is omnipotence: "Our God is in the heavens; he has done whatsoever he has pleased" (Ps. 115:3); "holy Lord God Almighty" (Rev. 4:8); "I am the almighty God" (Gen. 17:1). Omnipotence is called the "word" or "command" of God: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made. He commanded and it stood fast" (Ps. 33:6). This denotes the greatness of the power. Creation requires only God's fiat. Divine power is not to be measured merely by what God has actually effected. Omnipotence is manifested in the works of the actual creation, but it is not exhausted by them. God could create more than he has, if he pleased. He can do more than he has done, should it be his will. He could have raised up children to Abraham from the stones in the bed of Jordan; he could have sent in aid of the suffering Redeemer twelve legions of angels.

Divine power is limited only by the absurd and self-contradictory. God can do anything that does not imply a logical impossibility. A logical impossibility means that the predicate is contradictory to the subject; for example, a material spirit, a corporeal deity, a sensitive stone, an irrational man, a body without parts or extension, a square triangle. These are not objects of power, and therefore it is really no limitation of divine omnipotence to say that it cannot create them. They involve the absurdity that a thing can be and not be at the same time. A logical impossibility is, in truth, a nonentity; and to say that God cannot create a nonentity is not a limitation or denial of power. For power is the ability to create entity.

Again, God cannot do anything inconsistent with the perfection of divine nature. Under this category fall the instances mentioned in Heb. 6:18 ("it is impossible for God to lie"); 2 Tim. 2:13 ("he cannot deny himself"); and James 1:13 ("God cannot be tempted"). God cannot sin (a) because sin is imperfection, and it is contradictory to say that a necessarily perfect being may be imperfect; and (b) because he cannot be tempted to sin, and sinning without temptation or motive to sin is impossible. God cannot be tempted because temptation implies a desire for some good that is supposed to be greater than what is already possessed. But God cannot see anything more desirable than what he already has; and his understanding is infallible, so that he cannot mistake an apparent for a real good. All such cases, when analyzed, will be found to imply something contradictory to the idea and definition of God. If it could be supposed that God is capable to be tempted and to sin, it would prove that he is not infinite. God is not able to die, to see corruption (Acts 2:27), to become nonexistent. This would be finite weakness, not almighty power. Says Augustine (On the Creed 1.1), "God is omnipotent, and yet he cannot die, he cannot lie, he cannot deny himself. How is he omnipotent then? He is omnipotent for the very reason that he cannot do these things. For if he could die, he would not be omnipotent." Again he remarks (City of God 5.10) that "the power of God is not diminished when it is said that he cannot die, and cannot sin; for if he could do these things, his power would be less. A being is rightly called omnipotent from doing what he wills and not from suffering what he does not will." (See supplement 3.5.6.)

A question arose among the Schoolmen in regard to divine omnipotence, and some of them asserted the absolute omnipotence of God in the sense that he could do whatever could be conceived of, either logically or illogically, whether good or evil, whether self-contradictory or not. They separated the natural from the moral attributes and asserted the possibility of a conflict between them. Their view of God implied that his natural attributes are more central and ultimate than his moral and ethical attributes, that might in the deity is more fundamental and absolute than right. But the moral attributes are as central and controlling in God as the natural, and it is impossible to conceive that in his most perfect being bare power can be divorced from wisdom and holiness and trample them under (Shedd, History of Doctrine 2.301–4).

The manifestations of divine power are seen (1) in creation: the peculiar characteristic of this exertion of power is that it originates ex nihilo. The miraculous is the same kind of exercise of omnipotence. The miracle is creative from nothing: "God calls those things which be not, as though they were" (Rom. 4:17; Isa. 44:24; Gen. 1:1). (2) In providence, by which what has been created is preserved, evolved, and controlled: "Upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). The omnipotence of God exerted in the act of creation is denominated potentia absoluta. In this instance, there is no use made of anything that is in existence. It is the operation of the first cause alone. Divine omnipotence exerted in providence is called potentia ordinata. In this instance, there is use made of existing things. God in providence employs the constitution and laws of nature which he created for this very purpose. The first cause uses second causes previously originated ex nihilo. God causes the warmth of the atmosphere by the rays of the sun, and not by an exertion of absolute omnipotence. All evolution belongs to the province of God's potentia ordinata. (3) In redemption: "Christ is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:24); the gospel is "the power of God" (Rom. 1:16); "Messiah is the arm of the Lord" (Isa. 53:1); Messiah is "the man of your right hand" (Ps. 80:17).

Holiness (Including Justice)

The holiness of God is the perfect rectitude of his will. The divine will is in absolute harmony with divine nature: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:3; 57:15; Exod. 15:11; Ps. 89:35; 145:17; Amos 4:2; Rev. 4:8; 15:4). God's word is holy (Rom. 1:2). His promise is holy (Ps. 105:42). His Sabbath is holy (Isa. 58:13). His people are holy (62:12). His residence is holy (57:15). His angels are holy (Rev. 14:10).

Holiness in God cannot be defined in the same terms in which holiness in man or angel is defined, namely, as conformity to the moral law. The moral law supposes a superior being whose love and service are obligatory upon the inferior. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself" is no law for God. The moral law is the rule of conduct only for finite beings, who are subjects of divine government. The words you shall and you shall not are inapplicable to the infinite one. Holiness in God must, consequently, be defined as conformity to his own perfect nature. The only rule for divine will is divine reason; and divine reason prescribes everything that it is befitting an infinite being to do. God is not under law or above law—he is law. He is righteous by nature and of necessity. The trisagion teaches this truth. God is the source and author of law for all other beings.

Divine holiness is expressed (1) by law given to man and (2) by feelings in divine nature.

God's holiness is manifested (a) in the moral law; (b) in physical laws which appear in the course and constitution of nature, secure happiness to virtue, and connect misery with vice; (c) in mental laws: peace of conscience, upon obedience, is the most exquisite enjoyment; remorse of conscience, upon disobedience, is the most exquisite torture; (d) in positive laws: these spring not from the constitution of nature or of the human mind but are enactments by the arbitrary will of God. Such are the law of the Sabbath and the levitical law.

The moral law is the most important and clearest of the expressions of divine holiness. It is drawn out analytically in the Ten Commandments. These contain two divisions or tables, relating to man's duty to God, primarily, and to his fellowman, secondarily. The Sermon on the Mount is a revised edition of the Decalogue and constitutes the legal basis of the new covenant, as the Decalogue did of the old. Christ in the sermon interprets and spiritualizes the Ten Commandments. This progress in the revelation of the moral law explains the temporary allowance under the old economy of some evils that were prohibited and abolished under the new, such as slavery and polygamy. These were tolerated among the chosen people "because of the hardness of their hearts" (Matt. 19:8), that is, because the existing condition and circumstances of the people made their immediate abolition impossible. Toleration is not approval, but the very contrary. It implies that the thing endured is intrinsically wrong. No one tolerates what is intrinsically right. Slavery and polygamy were not legalized and sanctioned by the Decalogue, though they were permitted temporarily under the theocracy.

Holiness is expressed in divine feelings respecting right and wrong. The elder theologians describe it as an attribute of will in this reference. Turretin (3.14.1) says: "To the will of God pertain those attributes (virtues) which denote his perfection in disposition and action." They are comprised under justice and benevolence. God as delighting in purity is holy: "The righteous Lord loves righteousness" (Ps. 11:7); "the Lord loves righteousness" (35:5; 37:28; 99:4). God as abhorring evil is holy: "O do not this abominable thing which I hate" (Jer. 44:4; Heb. 1:13).

Holiness occupies a place second to none among the communicable attributes. Says Charnock:

If any, this attribute has an excellency above the other perfections of God. There are some attributes of God which we prefer because of our interest in them and the relation they bear to us: as we esteem his goodness before his power, and his mercy whereby he relieves us, before his justice whereby he punishes us; so there are some that God delights to honor because of their excellency. Where do you find any other attribute trebled in the praise of it? "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

Holiness is the quality which man is most particularly commanded to possess: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 19:2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:14–16). It is the attribute which God singles out to swear by: "Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie to David" (Ps. 89:35).

Holiness is a general term denoting that quality in God whereby he is right (rectus) in himself and in all his actions. This is implied in Hebrew ṣaddîq, which means straight, and Greek dikaios, which means exactly right (aequus). But right is determined in its manifestation by the character of the person toward whom it is manifested. What would be right toward an obedient creature would be wrong toward a disobedient one. This brings to view the attribute of justice as a mode of holiness. Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 7, after describing God as "most holy," adds "most just."

Justice is that phase of God's holiness which is seen in his treatment of the obedient and the disobedient subjects of his government. It is that attribute whereby he gives to everyone what is due him. The notion of debt or obligation necessarily enters into that of justice. Sin is indebtedness to law: "Forgive us our debts" (Matt. 6:12). Cicero (On Ends 5.23) defines justice as "that sentiment [lit., affect of the soul] assigning to each one his due." The element of indebtedness, together with that of retribution and penalty, is eliminated from the attribute in the Socinian soteriology. Justice, in this theory, is employed in the loose and general sense of moral excellence. "There is," says Socinus (Theological Lectures, chap. 16), "no such justice in God as requires absolutely and inexorably that sin be punished. There is, indeed, a perpetual and constant justice in God, but this is nothing but his moral equity and rectitude, by virtue of which there is no depravity or iniquity in any of his works."

The attribute of justice is abundantly taught in Scripture: "All his ways are judgment, a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deut. 32:4); "I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exod. 20:5); "the Lord God will by no means clear the guilty" (34:7; Job 8:3; 34:12; Ps. 145:17; Dan. 9:14; Matt. 10:28; Rom. 2:6–10).

Rectoral justice is God's rectitude as a ruler over both the good and the evil. It relates to legislation or the imposition of law. God, both in rewarding and punishing, lays down a just law. The reward and the penalty are exactly suited to the actions: "For he will not lay upon man more than right" (Job 34:23); "justice and judgment are the habitation of your throne" (Ps. 89:14). Distributive justice is God's rectitude in the execution of law both in reference to the good and the evil. It relates to the distribution of rewards and punishments: God "will render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6); "the Father without respect of persons judges according to every man's work" (1 Pet. 1:17); "say to the righteous that it shall be well with him. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him" (Isa. 3:10–11). Distributive justice is twofold: (a) remunerative justice and (b) retributive justice.

Remunerative justice is the distribution of rewards both to men and angels: "Verily there is a reward for the righteous" (Ps. 58:11); "you have kept with your servant David my father, that which you have promised him" (Deut. 7:9, 12–13; 2 Chron. 6:15); you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things" (Matt. 25:21, 34; Mic. 7:20; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:26; Jude 6).

Remunerative justice is the expression of divine love (agapē), as retributive justice is of divine wrath (orgē). It proceeds upon the ground of relative merit only. The creature cannot establish an absolute merit before the Creator. This is taught by our Lord in Luke 17:10: "When you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants"; by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 4:7: "What have you that you did not receive; why do you glory as if you had not received it?"; and by God to Job in Job 41:11: "Who has prevented me that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine." Accordingly, Westminster Confession 7.1 affirms that "the distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant."

Absolute merit, as distinguished from relative merit, supposes an independent relation and agency between two parties, like that between man and man. One man does not create and uphold another man, while the one is serving and obeying the other. But this is the state of the case, when man serves and obeys God. Creation, preservation, and redemption all preclude that independent agency by which one party brings another under obligations to him and establishes an absolute merit or indebtedness. Consequently, the exercise of remunerative justice by God is pactional and gracious. It results from a previous covenant upon his part. The reward of a creature's obedience is in consequence of a divine promise. No primary and original obligation rests upon the Creator to recompense for services rendered by a creature whom he has made from nothing and continually upholds in existence. A soul that is created holy cannot demand from its maker at the instant of creation a reward for being holy upon the ground of an absolute indebtedness on the part of its maker. Because God has originated the powers and capacities of a creature from nothing, he is entitled to all the agency of these faculties without paying for it; as the artificer of a watch is entitled to all the motion of the watch, without coming under obligation to the watch. Even this comparison is inadequate; for the maker of the watch did not create the materials out of which it is made. But God creates the very substance itself out of which man's faculties of mind and body are made. All that strict justice would require on the part of God, in case a creature should continue in the holiness in which he is created, is that he should not cause him to suffer. That he should go further than this and positively reward him for being and continuing holy is gracious treatment. If the creature's holiness were self-originated and self-sustained, instead of concreated and sustained by God, then the merit would be absolute, and God would owe the reward by an original and uncovenanted obligation. Not only are the being and faculties by which the obedience is rendered created and upheld by God, but the disposition rightly to employ them is due to the Holy Spirit. David expresses this truth in 1 Chron. 29:14: "But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of you, and of your own have we given you."

But though no primary and original obligation rests upon the Creator to reward a creature made from nothing and continually upheld and helped in the service which he renders, yet he can constitute a secondary and relative obligation. He can promise to reward the creature's service; and having bound himself to reward obedience, his own word establishes a species of claim. Obedient man or angel may plead the divine promise as the ground of reward. God desires to be reminded of his promise and is honored when the creature trusts in it implicitly. And "if we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). In the words of Witsius (Covenants 1.1.4), "God by his promise has made himself a debtor to men. Or, to speak in a manner more becoming God, he was pleased to make his performance of his promise a debt due to himself. To this purpose, Augustine (Sermon 16) speaks well: 'God became our debtor, not by receiving anything, but by promising what he pleased. For it was of his own bounty that he vouchsafed to make himself a debtor.' " The scriptural representations agree with this. In Rom. 6:23 the recompense of obedience is denominated a "gift" (charisma), while that of disobedience is called "wages" (opsōnia). Sin is the solitary action of the will unassisted by grace; but holiness is the action of the will wrought upon by God. Again, the reward of obedience is denominated an "inheritance": "To give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32); "we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph. 1:11, 14); "the Father has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:2). But an inheritance is not the payment of a debt in the strict sense of the word. It results from the parental and filial relations and not from those of creditor and debtor. Yet, as an inheritance may be called the reward of filial obedience, so the blessedness of the future state may be and is called the reward of Christian obedience here upon earth.

Since God and redeemed man are two distinct agents, there is a personal quality in man's obedience whereby it is truly rewardable. When God rewards a believer for his severe struggle with a bosom-sin, he does not reward God's struggle, but man's. Though the struggle was started, helped, and made successful by the Holy Spirit, yet it was, after all, a human, not a divine conflict with sin. This is rewardable, and when God rewards it, he does not reward himself but his creature. Paul teaches this in saying, "I live." There is a personal and human quality in the holiness and the obedience. But that this may not be so exaggerated as to imply that the personal and the human has been independent and self-sustaining in the holiness and obedience and that God has thus been brought under the absolute obligation of a debtor to a creditor, he adds, "Yet not I, but Christ which lives in me." That the reward of obedience is gracious is still more true in the case of redeemed man. Here, there has been positive disobedience and ill desert. The gospel promise of reward, in this case, is made not only to a creature, but to a sinful creature.

The rewards for obedience are (1) natural: God so constitutes man and nature that virtue has happy consequences: (a) peace of conscience: "The answer of a good conscience" (1 Pet. 3:21) and (b) worldly prosperity: "Godliness has the promise of the life that now is" (1 Tim. 4:8); and (2) positive: these are the rewards bestowed in the future life, which far exceed the merely natural operations of conscience and earthly good. They consist principally in a special manifestation of divine love and approbation: "In your presence is fullness of joy" (Ps. 16:11; John 14:23; Matt. 25:34–40); "I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness" (Ps. 17:15).

Retributive justice (sometimes denominated punitive, vindicative, vindictive, avenging, or revenging; Westminster Larger Catechism 77) is that part of distributive justice which relates to the infliction of penalty. It is the expression of divine orgē. In a sinless world, there would be no place for its exercise, and it would be comparatively an unimportant aspect of the general attribute of justice. But in a sinful world, retribution must hold a prominent place; and hence in the Christian religion, which is a religion for a fallen race of beings, retributive justice comes continually into view. Hence when justice is spoken of without any qualifying word to show that some other aspect of the attribute is meant, punitive justice is intended. Passages of Scripture that present it are the following: "the judgment of God is that they which do such things are worthy of death" (Rom. 1:32); "who will visit tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil" (2:8); "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance (ekdikēsin) on them that know not God" (2 Thess. 1:8); "vengeance (dikē) suffers not to live" (Acts 28:4); "vengeance (ekdikēsis) is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).

Retributive justice is expressed in the commandment that is given with a penalty attached to it: "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge; in the day that you eat, you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17); "cursed is everyone that continues not in all things written in the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10); "the soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4; Deut. 27:26); "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). The moral law expresses the mind and intention of the lawgiver. Retributive justice is also expressed in the actual infliction of the penalty threatened. Both are requisite. The former without the latter would evince want of veracity, want of power, or vacillation.

There is an important difference between remunerative and retributive merit or between the merit of holiness and the demerit of sin. While the former is relative, the latter is absolute. If a disobedient creature were disposed to do so, he could demand the recompense due to his transgression of the moral law, as something that is strictly due to him. Divine justice is originally and necessarily obliged to requite disobedience, but not to reward obedience. God does not covenant to punish sin, as he does to recompense holiness. The requital in the case of transgression is not pactional and by promise, but necessary. The reason of this is that sin has the creature for its ultimate and sole efficient. Unlike holiness, sin does not run back to God as its author. When obedience takes place, the infinite will works in the finite will, both to will and to do. But when disobedience takes place, the finite will works alone. In the act of sin, man is an original and unassisted, though not unsupported author. He performs an act that is analogous to the divine act of creation ex nihilo. It is true that the faculties of the creature by which sin is committed are created and upheld by the Creator. God sustains the being of man or angel in and during the very acting of sin. But the wrong agency is the creature's alone. God does not cooperate in the act of transgression, and hence its demerit is absolute and not relative.

At this point we notice the doctrine of divine concursus. A distinction has been made between an action and the viciousness of an action. The first is called the "material" part of the action, and the latter the "formal" part. God, it is said, concurs in the material, but not in the formal part of sin: "Every action is good by a physical goodness, as it is an act of the mind or hand, which have a natural goodness by creation; but every action is not morally good: the physical goodness of the action depends on God, the moral evil on the creature" (Charnock, On Holiness, 499). The objection to this distinction between a material and a formal part of sin is that the material part of it is not sinful. Sin is a compound of guilt and innocence, according to this analysis and definition. But sin is simple, not compound in its nature. It is evil and only evil. To define it as a composition of that which is good in itself with that which is evil is illogical. The following illustration from Charnock (On Holiness, 500) illustrates this:

Two judges are in joint commission for the trial of a malefactor, and both upon proof of his guilt condemn him. This action in both, considered as an action, is good; for it is adjudging a man to death whose crime deserves such a punishment. But this same act, which is but one joint act of both, may be morally good in one judge and morally evil in the other: morally good in him that condemns him out of an unbiased consideration of the demerit of the crime; and morally evil in the other who has not respect to this consideration, but is moved by some private animosity against the prisoner and a desire of revenge for some private injury he has received from him. The act in itself is the same materially in both; but in one it is an act of justice and in the other an act of murder, as it respects the principle and motive of it in the two judges.

Upon examining this case, it will be found that what is called the formal part of sin is in reality the essence of it; and what is called the material part of sin is no part of it at all. The sin in the instance of the sinful judge, as Charnock says, is in the principle and motive of his act of passing sentence. This principle and motive is the selfish disposition of the man, which is simply the inclination or self-determination of his will. This inclination, and this alone, is the viciousness and guilt in the case. Whether the judge actually passed the sentence verbally or not would make no difference with the fact of his selfishness and sin in the sight of God. This internal action of the will, seen in the self-moving inclination and disposition, is the wickedness of the man. To add to it the action of the physical faculty of the tongue in speaking the sentence is to add nothing that essentially belongs to the idea and definition of sin. To distinguish, therefore, this bodily and physical part of man's agency, in which God confessedly concurs, as evidence that God concurs in the act of sin itself is not to the purpose. The real question is whether God concurs and cooperates in that internal action of the will which is the real malignity and wickedness in the case supposed. "Did God work in the revengeful judge to will?" is the question. Did he concur in his malignant disposition? The answer to this question must be in the negative.

Retributive justice is an attribute whose exercise is necessary in case there be transgression of the moral law. God cannot lay down a law, affix a penalty, and threaten its infliction and proceed no further in case of disobedience. Divine veracity forbids this. He has solemnly declared that "he will by no means clear the guilty" (Exod. 34:7). If the penalty is not inflicted, it is not "impossible for God to lie" (Heb. 6:18); and it is untrue that "the Lord has sworn and will not repent" (Ps. 110:4). Hence, in every instance of transgression, the penalty of law must be inflicted either personally or vicariously, either upon the transgressor or upon his substitute. The remission of penalty under the divine administration is not absolute, but relative. It may be omitted in respect to the real criminal, but, if so, it must be inflicted upon someone in his place.

At this point, the possibility of the vicarious satisfaction of retributive justice requires a brief notice. The full discussion of the topic belongs to the doctrine of atonement (see p. 732). The exercise of justice, while necessary in respect to sin, is free and sovereign in respect to the sinner. Justice necessarily demands that sin be punished, but not necessarily in the person of the sinner. Justice may allow the substitution of one person for another, provided that in the substitution no injustice is done to the rights of any of the parties interested. This principle was expressed by the Schoolmen in the statement, "Impersonally, the penalty for every sin is necessarily inflicted, but not personally on every sinner." In the words of Turretin (3.19.4), "A twofold law arises concerning the infliction of penalty. The one is necessary and indispensable with respect to sin itself, but the other is free and positive with respect to the sinner."47

This agrees with the intuitive convictions of man:

The profound and awful idea of substitution meets us in the religion of the early Romans. When the gods of the community were angry and nobody could be laid hold of as definitely guilty, they might be appeased by one who voluntarily gave himself up (devovere se). Noxious chasms in the ground were closed, and battles half lost were converted into victories, when a brave citizen threw himself as an expiatory offering into the abyss or upon the foe.

—Mommsen, Rome 1.12

Mommsen adds that the compulsory substitution of the innocent for the guilty, human sacrifice by force, was not allowed in the early Roman commonwealth. There was, moreover, no formal provision for this substitution in the legislation of the Romans. This substitution was the action of popular impulse and of the voluntary decision of the individual. Some assert that the substitution of penalty is impossible and cite in proof the following passages: "In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17); and "the soul that sins it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4, 20). In these passages, the verb, not the pronoun, is the emphatic word. They teach the same truth with Rom. 6:23: "The wages of sin is death." If in these texts the emphasis is to be laid upon the pronouns it and you, so as to make the divine declaration to be that every individual who transgresses shall himself suffer the penalty of transgression and that no other person shall suffer it vicariously for him, then the salvation of a sinner is impossible. For nothing could occur but the execution of penalty upon the actual transgressor. No exercise of mercy could take place in the universe of God. Such an interpretation admits no alternative, and every soul that sinned would die. But that this cannot be the explanation intended to be put upon these threatenings is proved by the fact that not every soul that has sinned does suffer the penalty threatened. The implied meaning of these texts, therefore, is that "in the day you eat thereof, you or your Redeemer shall die; the soul that sins, it or its Surety shall die." Sin must be punished personally or else vicariously. Says Edwards (God's Sovereignty):

It may be objected that God said, If you eat, you shall die; as though the same person that sinned must suffer; and, therefore, Why does not God's truth oblige him to that? I answer that the word then was not intended to be restrained to him that in his own person sinned. Adam probably understood that his posterity were included, whether they sinned in their own person or not. If they sinned in Adam, their surety, those words, "If you eat," meant, "If you eat in yourself or in your surety." And therefore, the latter words, "You shall die," do also fairly allow such a construction as, "You shall die, in yourself, or in your surety."

The demand of retributive justice is that sin be punished to the full measure and degree announced in the law: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:8). Divine displeasure expressed in punitive justice is not aimed against the person as such and distinct from his sin. "God," says Charnock (On Holiness, 473), "is not displeased with the nature of man as man, for that was derived from him; but with the nature of man as sinful, which is derived from the sinner himself. God hates only the sin, not the sinner; he desires only the destruction of the one, not the misery of the other." God loves the person as such. The immortal nature of man is precious in his sight. Divine justice has no angry spite against anyone's person. Consequently, if its claims can be satisfied by a suffering endured by another person, properly qualified, there is no feeling of animosity against the sinner's person to prevent the substitution. It is true that justice is not obliged to accept a substitute. It can insist, if it pleases, upon the infliction of the penalty upon the actual criminal. But neither is it obliged to refuse a substitute. Justice is not tied up by anything in its own nature to the infliction of the law's penalty upon the identical person of the sinner to the exclusion of any other person whatsoever. (See supplement 3.5.7.)

In the sphere of human life, a refusal to admit a substitution of one person for another, in the only case in which substitution is allowable, namely, in commercial law, would look like malice and would require explanation. Should a creditor refuse to receive the complete vicarious payment of a debt from a friend of the debtor (though this would involve no difficulty for the debtor, who could of course take his friend's money and pay it in person, yet), it would evince a malignant and spiteful feeling of the creditor toward the person of the debtor. It would look as if, besides obtaining the full satisfaction of his claims he desired to injure him, or in some way to vex and worry him. But in the divine sphere, the suspicion of personal animosity, in case of a refusal to permit a vicarious satisfaction of justice, could not arise because of the absolute perfection of God: "As for God, his way is perfect" (Ps. 18:30). And had the Supreme Judge permitted no substitute for man the guilty, it would be necessary to assume that there were good reasons for the procedure. The reasons might be unknown and perhaps unknowable. But the reason certainly could not be that the eternal judge feels hatred toward the body and soul of a man, as that particular man. There is no malignant feeling in God toward the person of even the most wicked and devilish transgressor. God is not a respecter of persons in any sense. He has no prejudice for or grudge against anyone of his creatures; and if the complete satisfaction of justice can be secured by a vicarious endurance of penalty, he has no such ill will toward the sinner's person, in distinction from his sin, as would prevent him from accepting it, in case there were no reasons in his own mind why he should not. On the contrary, he loves the person, the immortal spirit, of the transgressor, as he has abundantly evinced in the gospel method of mercy. It is, however, to be carefully noticed in case there be substitution of penalty (1) that the substituted penalty must be a strict and full equivalent; justice is inexorable upon this point; here, the necessary nature of the attribute appears; and (2) that the person substituted be able to render complete satisfaction and be himself no debtor to law and justice.

The sovereignty and freedom of God in respect to justice, therefore, relates not to the abolition nor to the relaxation but to the substitution of punishment. It does not consist in any power to violate or waive legal claims. These must be maintained in any event. "Let justice fall from heaven" is an intuitive conviction. The exercise of the other attributes of God is regulated and conditioned by that of justice. God cannot exert omnipotence or benevolence or mercy unjustly. The question "shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25) must be answered affirmatively. It follows, then, that the sovereignty of God in respect to retributive justice consists in his power and right to satisfy its claims in more than one way. He has a choice of methods. He may inflict the full amount of suffering due to sin either upon the sinner or upon a proper substitute. He may require the complete satisfaction of justice from the transgressor, or he may provide it for him vicariously. Divine justice may smite the guilty man, or it may smite the man who is God's "fellow" (Zech. 13:7). It is free to do either; but one or the other it must do. God is not obliged either to accept or to provide a substituted penalty, and in case he does either, it is grace and mercy toward the actual transgressor. These two particulars—of permitting substitution and providing the substitute—furnish the answer to the question "where is the mercy of God, in case justice is strictly satisfied by a vicarious person?" There is mercy in permitting another person to do for the sinner what the sinner is bound to do for himself, and still greater mercy in providing that person, and greater still in becoming that person.

The Socinian view of retributive justice denies its necessary nature. "There is no such justice in God," says Socinus, "as requires absolutely and inexorably that sin be punished and such as God himself cannot repudiate. There is indeed a perpetual and constant justice in God; but this is nothing but his moral equity and rectitude, by virtue of which there is no depravity or iniquity in any of his works" (Theological Lectures, chap. 16). This makes retributive justice to be an effect of the divine will and not an immanent and necessary attribute. Indeed, Socinus (Concerning Jesus Christ the Savior 1) expressly asserts that justice, in the popular (vulgaris) signification, as opposed to mercy, "is not a quality of God, but only an effect of his will." It would follow from this that the moral law together with its penalty is a positive statute, like the ceremonial law. And as God abrogated the latter, so he could abrogate the former by an act of arbitrary will. Accordingly, in respect to the necessity of the satisfaction of justice, Socinus remarks: "I do not believe that Christ made satisfaction for our sins to divine justice, on account of which (justice) we sinners deserve to be damned. Nor do I believe that it was necessary for him to make satisfaction."52 But if justice is an attribute at all of the Supreme Being it must be essential, like all the other attributes. It can no more be an effect of God's optional will than his omnipotence can be. An effect or product need not be at all, provided the efficient or producer so pleases.

The history of doctrine shows a difference of opinion in respect to the absolute or the relative necessity of retributive justice. The question was raised by some of the Schoolmen whether the satisfaction which Christ makes to divine justice for the sin of man is necessary per se or only because God so willed it. Schoolmen like Hales, Bonaventura, and Aquinas adopted the latter view, in opposition to Anselm's positions in his Why the God-Man? These theologians took an erroneous view of divine omnipotence, whereby this attribute is made superior to all others. "In contemplating the divine power as absolute," remarks Hales, "we conceive of a certain energy (virtus) in the deity that is abstracted from the rest of his nature and transcends all limitations; and with respect to this form, the divine power cannot have limits set to it (non est determinare)." But it is as impossible and inconceivable for divine power to act in isolation from all the other attributes, as it is for divine omniscience or for divine benevolence to do so. Benevolence cannot act without power; and neither can power, in so perfect a being as God, act without wisdom or justice. This theory ultimately resolves the deity into mere blind force.

Still, the motive, in some instances, was a good one. There was fear of limiting divine omnipotence. Twisse, the moderator of the Westminster Assembly, affirmed only the relative necessity of retributive justice in opposition to the powerful reasoning of Owen, who maintained its absolute nature. Magee (Atonement 1.191) adopts relative necessity. Respecting such instances, Turretin (3.19.9) remarks that although both parties are agreed as against the tenets and positions of Socinus, yet the doctrine of the absolute necessity of justice is much the most consonant with the nature of God and the language of Scripture and more efficacious for the refutation of Socinianism (ad haeresim illam pestilentissimam jugulandam). The Remonstrants asserted the relative necessity of retributive justice. In their Apologia they say that "to affirm that the avenging justice of God is so essential to his nature, that by virtue of it God is obliged and necessitated to punish sin, is very absurd and very unworthy of God" (see Witsius, Apostles' Creed, diss. 9).

No one of the divine attributes is supported by more or stronger evidences than retributive justice:

1. The testimony from Scripture is abundant. To the passages already cited may be added a great number of texts: "God will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exod. 34:7); "upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest" (Ps. 11:6); "it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed than to be cast into hellfire" (Matt. 18:8); "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7); "yea, I say unto you, fear him who has power to cast into hell" (Luke 12:5); "seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you" (2 Thess. 1:6); "a just recompense of reward" (Heb. 2:2).

2. The testimony from the human conscience and the consent of all nations alluded to in Rom. 2:14–15: "Their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts meanwhile accusing."

3. Sacrifice among pagan nations and the Jewish system of sacrifices teach retributive justice. The first is universal and implies that divine justice requires satisfaction by expiatory suffering. The second was an arrangement for eliciting the consciousness of guilt and preannouncing its pacification through the suffering Messiah: "In those sacrifices there is a remembrance of sins every year" (Heb. 10:3).

4. The remarkable provision made in the gospel for the vicarious satisfaction of retributive justice evinces the reality and importance of the attribute.

Retributive justice is retrospective in its primary aim. It looks back at what has been done in the past. Its first object is requital. A man is hung for murder, principally and before all other reasons, because he has transgressed the law forbidding murder. He is not punished primarily from a prospective aim, such as his own moral improvement or for the purpose of preventing him from committing another murder or for the purpose of deterring others from committing murder. It is true that moral improvement may be the consequence of the infliction of the penalty. But the consequence must not be confounded with the purpose: cum hoc, non ergo propter hoc. The criminal may come to see and confess that his crime deserves the punishment and in genuine unselfish penitence may take sides with the law and go into eternity relying upon that great atonement of Christ which satisfies retributive justice for his sin; but even this greatest benefit of all is not what is aimed at in man's punishment of the crime of murder. For even if there should be no such personal benefit as this attending the infliction of human penalty, the one sufficient reason for inflicting it still holds good, namely, the fact that the law has been violated and demands the punishment of the offender for this reason simply. Only upon this view of justice is the true dignity of man maintained. When he is punished because, as a rational and free being, he has responsibly violated the law, there is a recognition of him as a person endowed with free will. But if he is seized and made to suffer for the benefit of others, he is treated like a chattel or a thing that may be put to use. Says Kant (Practical Reason, 151 [ed. Rosenkranz]):

The nature of ill desert and punishableness is always involved in the idea of voluntary transgression; and the idea of punishment excludes that of happiness in all its forms. For although he who inflicts penalty may, it is true, also have a benevolent purpose to produce by the punishment a beneficial effect upon the criminal, yet the punishment itself must be justified first of all as pure and simple requital and retribution, that is, as a kind of suffering that is demanded by the law, without any reference to its prospective beneficial consequences; so that even if no moral improvement and no personal advantage should accrue to the person from the punishment, he must acknowledge that righteousness has been done to him, and that his experience is exactly conformed to his conduct. In every punishment, as such, justice is the very first thing and constitutes the essence of it. A benevolent purpose, it is true, may be conjoined with punishment; but the criminal cannot claim this as his due, and he has no right to reckon upon it. All that he deserves is punishment; and this is all that he can expect from the law which he has violated.

The same view is taken of the retrospective aim of justice by Müller in his lucid discrimination between chastisement and punishment (Doctrine of Sin 1.244ff.). The opposite view—that punishment is prospective in its primary purpose and aims only at reformation—was maintained by the Greek sophists. Protagoras is represented by Plato as saying that "no one punishes the evildoer under the notion or for the reason that he has done wrong; only the unreasonable fury of a tyrant acts in that way" (Protagoras 324). Plato (Laws 10.904–5) holds that punishment is retributive. Cicero (On the Laws 1.14) contends that virtue has regard to justice, not to utility. Grotius defines penalty as "the evil of suffering inflicted on account of the evil of doing." Coke, Bacon, Selden, and Blackstone explain punishment by crime not by expediency. Kant, Herbert, Stahl, Hartenstein, Rothe, and Woolsey (Political Science 2.8) define punishment as requital. Beccaria and Bentham found punishment on utility and expedience ("Beccaria" in Penny Cyclopaedia). Paley notices the difference between human punishment and divine. In the former, there is a combination of the retributive with the protective and reformatory, but not in the latter (Moral Philosophy 6.9). (See supplement 3.5.8.)

If the good of the public is the chief end of punishment, the criminal might be made to suffer more than his crime deserves. If he can be used like a thing, for the benefit of others, there is no limit to the degree in which he may be used. His personal desert and responsibility being left out of view, he may be made to suffer as much or as little as the public welfare prescribes. It was this theory of penalty that led to the multiplication of capital crimes. The prevention of forgery, it was claimed in England, required that the forger should be executed; and upon the principle that punishment is for the public protection and not for exact justice and strict retribution the forger was hanged. But a merely civil crime against property and not against human life does not merit the death penalty. Upon this theory, the number of capital offenses became very numerous, and the criminal code very bloody. So that, in the long run, nothing is kinder than exact justice. It prevents extremes in either direction: either that of indulgence or that of cruelty (Shedd, Endless Punishment, 118–40).

Commutative justice implies an exchange of values between two parties wherein each gives and receives in return. This species has no place in reference to God; for "who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?" (Rom. 11:35).

Public or general justice is a distinction invented by Grotius for the purpose of meeting certain Socinian objections to the Anselmic doctrine of strict satisfaction. It is a relaxed form of justice by virtue of which God waives a full satisfaction of legal claims and accepts a partial satisfaction in lieu thereof. Analyzed to its ultimate elements, public justice is benevolence, not justice. Justice is the exact distribution of reward or of punishment. Anything therefore that is inexact is insofar unjust. Too much or too little suffering for a crime is not pure justice. Says the younger Edwards (Against Chauncy, chap. 4), "general or public justice is an improper use of the word justice; because to practice justice in this sense is no other than to act from public spirit or from love to the community; and with respect to the universe, it is the very same with general benevolence." Grotius agreed with Socinus and both of them agreed with Duns Scotus in making punitive justice optional, not necessary. Grotius held that punishment could be waived and not inflicted, if God so decided. It is not necessary that sin be punished with such a punishment as strictly and fully corresponds with the guilt. An inferior penalty may be inflicted or even no penalty at all if God so determine. What then was the difference between Grotius and Socinus? It was this. Socinus asserted that when God decides to waive legal claims, he need not do anything to guard against the evil consequences of so doing. He can release the sinner from all punishment and let the matter drop there. Grotius, on the other hand, though agreeing with his opponent that God can dispense with penalty altogether, yet maintained that he cannot do it with safety to the universe unless he gives some expression to his abhorrence of sin. This he does by the death of Christ. When God remits penalty by this method, he guards against the abuse of his benevolence, which abuse Socinus made no provision for in his system. According to Grotius, the substituted sufferings of Christ are not a strict equivalent for the penalty due to sin, but an accepted equivalent, as when a creditor agrees to take fifty cents for a dollar in the settlement of a commercial debt.

Grotius applies the principles of commercial justice to the doctrine of Christ's atonement. He employs an illustration from the Roman commercial law, as presented in the Pandects of Justinian. Commercial justice can be satisfied by word of mouth. If a creditor calls a debt paid, it is paid; and the release is denominated acceptilatio or acquittance by word of mouth. Commercial justice has no further demands to make when the creditor has said that the debt is paid. In like manner, if God will say that the moral law is satisfied by an inferior penalty, it is satisfied; and if he should say that it is satisfied with no penalty at all, it would be satisfied. There are no claims standing against the sinner because the claims being of a positive (not a necessary nature) and being constituted by the optional will of God can be abrogated by the same almighty will. Socinus (Concerning Jesus Christ the Savior 3.1) argues "that God is our creditor. Our sins are debts which we have contracted toward him. But a creditor can by an act of will surrender his claim, without making any legal provision for so doing." This abolishes the distinction between commercial and moral indebtedness and assumes that the claims of justice and government, like those of a pecuniary creditor, have no necessary quality, but are voidable by an act of will. A pecuniary creditor can abolish his claim by a volition, but a magistrate cannot so abolish a moral claim (Shedd, History of Doctrine 2.347–48).

Goodness (Including Benevolence and Mercy)

The goodness of God is the divine essence viewed as energizing benevolently and kindly toward the creature. It is an emanent or transitive attribute issuing forth from the divine nature and aiming to promote the welfare and happiness of the universe. It is not that attribute by which God is good, but by which he does good. As good in himself, God is holy; as showing goodness to others, he is good or kind. The Septuagint renders ṭôb by chrēstos: "Good (chrēstos) are you, O Lord, and you do good" (Ps. 119:68). In Rom. 5:7 holiness is designated by dikaios and kindness by agathos: "Scarcely for a righteous (dikaios) man will one die; yet peradventure for a good (agathos) man, some would even dare to die." In Luke 18:19 the reference is to benevolence, not to holiness: "None is good (agathos), save one, that is God."

Goodness is a special attribute with varieties under it. The first of these is benevolence. This is the affection which the Creator feels toward the sentient and conscious creature, as such. Benevolence cannot be shown to insentient existence, to rocks and mountains. It grows out of the fact that the creature is his workmanship. God is interested in everything which he has made. He cannot hate any of his own handiwork. The wrath of God is not excited by anything that took its origin from him. It falls only upon something that has been added to his own work. Sin is no part of creation, but a quality introduced into creation by the creature himself.

God's benevolent love toward his creatures, considered as creatures merely, is infinitely greater than any love of a creature toward a creature. No earthly father loves his child with a benevolence equal to that which the heavenly Father feels toward his created offspring: "The highest is kind (chrēstos) unto the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35); "your Father which is in heaven makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). Disobedience and ingratitude deaden and destroy the benevolent feeling of man toward man, but not that of God toward his creatures. Sinful men—as well as renewed men—are the objects of God's providential care. Even Satan and the fallen angels are treated with all the benevolence which their enmity to God will admit. God feels no malevolence toward them.

The benevolent interest which God as a Creator takes in the sentient creature, as the product of his omnipotent power, is illustrated by the following from Aristotle:

The benefactor loves him whom he has benefited more than he who has been benefited loves the benefactor. The workman loves his own work more than the work loves the workman. All men feel greater love for what they have acquired with labor; as those who have earned their money love it more than those who have inherited it. Mothers are more fond of their children than fathers are, for the bringing them forth is painful. Parents have greater love for their children than children have for their parents.

—Ethics 9.7

Upon this principle, the benevolent affection of God toward his creatures is greater than that of creatures toward each other. God's compassionate love is more tender than that of an earthly father or mother: "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" (Ps. 27:10). Men are commanded to imitate divine benevolence as the highest form of this affection: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. Be therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:44; cf. Plato, Republic 1.33; Montaigne, "Of the Affection of Fathers" in Essays 6.8).

God's benevolent interest in the sentient creature and his care for its welfare are proportioned and suited to the nature and circumstances of the creature. (a) It extends to the animals: "You open your hand and supply the desire of every living thing" (Ps. 145:16); "the young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God" (104:21; cf. the whole psalm); "who provides for the raven his food?" (Job 38:41); "behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matt. 6:26); "you preserve man and beast" (Ps. 36:6). (b) It extends to man: "He left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven" (Acts 14:17). (c) It extends to sinful man: "He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Matt. 5:45); "he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, nevertheless, filling their hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17); "but you are a God slow to anger and of great kindness and forsook them not" (Neh. 9:17).

Divine benevolence varies in its degrees in accordance with the capacity of the object to receive it. The brute experiences all of it that he is capable of. As he is physical only, he can receive from his Creator only physical good. Man is both physical and mental and receives both physical and mental good. Sinful man is deprived of a full manifestation of divine benevolence only by reason of his sin. God manifests to the sinner all the benevolence that he is qualified to receive. He sends him physical and temporal good—rain from heaven and fruitful seasons—filling his heart with food and gladness, but he cannot bestow upon a sinful and hostile man his approving love and fill him with heavenly peace and joy. Divine benevolence, therefore, is infinite. It is not limited in its manifestation by anything in itself, but only by the capacity and characteristics of the creature.

The chief objections to the doctrine of divine benevolence are the following: (1) the permission of sin, (2) the existence of suffering here upon earth, and (3) the slow progress of redemption. Respecting the first, it is to be observed that the permission of sin has cost God more than it has man. No sacrifice and suffering on account of sin has been undergone by any man that is equal to that which has been endured by incarnate God. This shows that God is not acting selfishly in permitting sin. At the very time that he permits it, he knows that it will result in an infinite sacrifice on his part. Respecting the second, it is to be said that the suffering of both animals and man is often greatly exaggerated. The "struggle for existence" in the animal world is not so great as Darwin and others represent. The majority, certainly, survive. If they did not, the species would diminish and gradually become extinct. But the fact is that generally they are steadily increasing. And in the human world, there is no struggle at all for existence. Men do not feed upon one another. The amount of enjoyment in both the animal and the human world is greater than the amount of suffering: "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Ps. 35:5). "After all, it is a happy world," said Paley (Natural Theology, 26). Says King (Foreknowledge, 2):

It is manifest that though good be much mixed with evil in this life, yet there is much more good than evil in nature, and every animal provides for its own preservation by instinct or reason, which it would never do, if it did not think or feel its life, with all the evils annexed, to be much preferable to nonexistence. This is a proof of the wisdom, goodness, and power of God, who could thus temper a world infested with so many miseries, that nothing should continue in it which was not in some measure pleased with its existence and which would not endeavor by all possible means to preserve it.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that in the human world suffering is the effect of sin. Most of the suffering among mankind comes from poverty and disease; and these are due very greatly to the two vices of intemperance and sensuality. And finally, pain is not an absolute evil for man, unless it is hell pain. All suffering except that of eternal remorse and despair may be a means of good to him. Respecting the third objection, the success of redemption must be estimated at the end of the process, not at the beginning or in the middle of it. Thus estimated, the great majority of the human family are redeemed by Christ. (See supplement 3.5.9.)

Mercy is a second variety of divine goodness. It is the benevolent compassion of God toward man as a sinner. This attribute, though logically implied in the idea of God as a being possessed of all conceivable perfections, is free and sovereign in its exercise. Consequently, it requires a special revelation in order to establish the fact that it will be exercised. As omnipotence is a necessary attribute of God and yet its exercise in the creation of the universe is not necessary but optional, so, though mercy is a necessary attribute, its exercise is not also necessary:

The goodness of the deity is infinite and circumscribed by no limits; but the exercise of his goodness may be limited by himself. God is necessarily good in his nature; but free in his communication of it. He is not necessarily communicative of his goodness, as the sun of its light, which chooses not its objects but enlightens all indifferently. This were to make God of no more understanding than the sun, which shines not where it pleases but where it must. He is an understanding agent and has a sovereign right to choose his own subjects. It would not be a supreme, if it were not a voluntary goodness.

—Charnock, Goodness of God

(See supplement 3.5.10)

Accordingly, the fact that the attribute of mercy will be exercised toward sinful man is taught only in written revelation. Indeed, this constitutes the most important and principal part of the teaching of inspiration. In the very first communication made to the fallen pair, there was a promise on the part of God to show mercy in and by the "seed of the woman": the Son of Man, the incarnate God (Gen. 3:15). And in the yet more explicit revelation made to Moses on the mount, in connection with the giving of the law, "Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful (raḥûm, tender, compassionate) and gracious (ḥannûn, showing kindness), long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exod. 34:6–7). To quote all the prooftexts for this attribute would be to quote the bulk of both the Old and the New Testament.

Grace is an aspect of mercy. It differs from mercy in that it has reference to sinful man as guilty, while mercy has respect to sinful man as miserable. The one refers to the culpability of sin, and the other to its wretchedness. The two terms, however, in common use are interchangeable. Grace, like mercy, is a variety of divine goodness.

Both mercy and grace are exercised in a general manner toward those who are not the objects of their special manifestation. All blessings bestowed upon the natural man are mercy, insofar as they succor his distress, and grace, so far as they are bestowed upon the undeserving: "He makes his sun to rise upon the evil" (Matt. 5:45); "the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps. 145:9); "the eyes of all wait upon you" (145:15–16).

This general manifestation of mercy and grace is in and by the works of creation and providence. It is also seen in one aspect of the work of redemption. Men who are not actually saved by divine mercy yet obtain some blessings from it. (a) The delay of punishment is one, namely, the pretermission (paresis) of sin, in distinction from its remission (aphesis) (Rom. 3:25). God's forbearance and long-suffering with a sinner who abuses this by persistence in sin is a phase of mercy. This is "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." It is made possible by it. Without Christ's work, there would have been instantaneous punishment and no long-suffering. This is also taught in 1 Pet. 3:20: "The long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah." (b) The common influences of the Holy Spirit are another manifestation of mercy in its general form. (See supplement 3.5.11.)

Special grace and mercy are exercised only in redemption and toward those whom God is pleased to fix upon: "According as he has chosen us in him, having predestined us unto the adoption of children to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted (echaritōsen) in the beloved" (Eph. 1:4–6); "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Rom. 9:15).


The truth or veracity of God is that attribute of his nature by virtue of which he performs what he has said: "God is not a man that he should lie" (Num. 23:19). It is seen (1) in revelation: "The word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Pet. 1:25); "his truth endures to all generations" (Ps. 100:5); "one jot or tittle shall not pass from the law till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18); (2) in redemption: "He is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23); "God willing [desiring] more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath" (6:17); "God is faithful, by whom you were called" (1 Cor. 1:9); "he abides faithful; he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13); and (3) in retribution: "So, I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest" (Heb. 3:11; cf. 4:1–11).


3.5.1 (see p. 278). Augustine (Letter 166) thus explains that peculiarity of spirit which consists in being present, not partitively, but as an entire whole, wherever it is present: "If matter be used as a term denoting everything which in any form has a distinct and separate existence of its own, whether it be called an essence or a substance or by another name, then the soul is 'material' [i.e., substantial]. Again, if you choose to apply the epithet immaterial only to that [divine] nature which is supremely immutable and is everywhere present in its entirety, the soul is material, for it is not at all endowed with such [supremely immutable] qualities. But if matter be used to designate nothing but that which, whether at rest or in motion, has some length, breadth, and height, so that with a greater part of itself it occupies a greater part of space and with a smaller part a smaller space and is in every part of it less than the whole, then the soul is not material. For it pervades the whole body which it animates, not by a local distribution of parts, but by a certain vital influence, being at the same moment present in its entirety in all parts of the body and not less in smaller parts and greater in larger parts, but here with more energy and there with less energy, it is in its entirety present in the whole body and in every part of it. For even that which the mind perceives in only a part of the body is nevertheless not otherwise perceived than by the whole soul; for when any part of the living flesh is touched by a needle, although the place affected is not only not the whole body, but scarcely discernible on its surface, the contact does not escape the entire mind, and yet the contact is not felt over the whole body, but only at the one point where it takes place. How comes it, then, that what takes place in only a part of the body is immediately known to the whole mind, unless the whole mind is present at that part and at the same time not deserting all the other parts of the body in order to be present in its entirety at this one? For all the other parts of the body in which no such contact takes place are still living by the soul being present with them. And if a similar contact occur in the other parts and the contact occur in both parts simultaneously, it would in both cases alike be known at the same moment to the whole mind. Now, this presence of the mind in all parts of the body at the same moment would be impossible if it were distributed over these parts in the same way as we see matter distributed in space, occupying less space with a smaller portion of itself and greater space with a greater portion. For all things composed of matter are larger in larger places or smaller in smaller places, and no one of them is in its entirety present at any part of itself, but the dimensions of material substances are according to the dimensions of the space occupied."

3.5.2 (see p. 281). Platonist John Smith (Discourses, 126) defines time like Berkeley: "That which first fathers the notion of time in us is nothing else but that succession and multiplicity which we find in our own thoughts, which move from one thing to another, as the sun in the firmament is said to walk from one planetary house to another and to have his several stages to pass by. And therefore where there is no such vicissitude or variety, as there can be no sense of time, so there can be nothing of the thing."

3.5.3 (see p. 282). That the effect of the divine energizing in creation is temporal while the causative energizing itself is eternal must be postulated in order to divine immutability. We cannot say that the divine energizing produces its effect simultaneously with itself, because in this case the created universe would be eternal, as in Origen's doctrine of eternal creation. Assuming the correctness of Ussher's chronology, we cannot affirm that God's creative power in originating man from nothing was not exerted until 4004 B.C., and that up to this date he had been inactive in this respect and then acted. This would imply a change and passage in the divine essence from an inactive to an active state, like that of man and angel. Neither can we say that man existed prior to 4004 B.C. God's causative action cannot be successive, because the ideas of beginning and ending inhere in that of succession. The beginning is before the ending, and there is an interval between the two. But God "sees the end from the beginning," not from the end, without an interval between. The remark on p. 312 that the "divine thought, unlike a human thought, is not in any particular inferior to the thing" is perhaps the best explanation possible of the eternity of the cause and the temporality of the effect, in regard to creation ex nihilo. Although the effect (say the planet earth) is not actually existent, but held in suspense after the creative act until the point of time arrives when it is to be made real in space and time, yet divine knowledge of it, which is involved in the divine idea or thought of it, is complete and exhaustive. This absolutely perfect knowledge is equivalent to actual existence for God.

Divine purpose is like the human in that there may be an interval between the formation of it and the execution. A man decides today to commit murder, but he does not do the deed until tomorrow or a month later. The difference between the two is that execution of the purpose in the case of man may fail or be changed, but not in the case of God. The human purpose is uncertain, but the divine is absolutely certain, because all the causes and events in the interval of time between the formation and execution are not under the control of the human agent, while they are of the divine agent. Something therefore may occur in the former instance to defeat the purpose, but not in the latter. Man, also, alters his mind and retracts what he has once determined to do, but God does not. The language of Peter (1 Pet. 1:20), "who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times," may be applied to the creation of the world. The world was decreed from eternity before the foundation of the world, but was created in time.

3.5.4 (see p. 287). Owen (Saints' Perseverance, chap. 3) defines the knowledge of simple intelligence: "All things originally owe their futurition [actuality] to a free act of the will of God. Their relation thereunto translates them out of the state of possibility and of being objects of God's absolute omnipotency and infinite simple intelligence or understanding, whereby he intuitively beholds all things that might be produced by the exertion of infinite power, into a state of futurition [actuality], making them objects of God's foreknowledge, or science of vision."

3.5.5 (see p. 288). It is objected that the selfish ethics which makes happiness man's ultimate end finds a support in the scriptural doctrine of a "recompense of reward" in the next life. This is erroneous, because the reward promised and looked for is divine approval and love. It is not any form of earthly and finite good. The Christian does not obey God because he desires or expects in return for his obedience wealth, health, earthly pleasure, fame, or any of that good which self-love desires, but simply and only the "well done, good and faithful servant." Without this divine approbation all other good would be worthless to him; and with it, all other good is nothing in comparison. The rewards of eternity are a payment in kind: "grace for grace." The reward of loving and serving God is more and more love and service; of holiness, is more and more holiness; etc. God himself is represented as the believer's reward: "The word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram; I am your shield and your exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1); "the Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup" (Ps. 16:5).

Anselm (Concerning Foreknowledge 13) observes that happiness depends upon the attainment of an object different from itself, but holiness does not because it is its own reward: "Indeed, the desire of righteousness is righteousness itself; but the desire of happiness is not happiness, because not all have happiness who have the desire for it."

3.5.6 (see p. 290). Anselm (Proslogion 7) takes the same view with Augustine respecting the meaning of power when ascribed to God: "To be able to lie, to make that which is true to be false, and the like, is not power but weakness. He that can do these things can do what is wrong and injurious to himself; and the greater his ability to do these things, the greater will be the power of evil and adversity over him, and the less will he be able to resist them. Whoever therefore has such ability has it not from his power but from his weakness."

3.5.7 (see p. 298). If the validity of the distinction between the agent and the agency, between the substance of the soul and its activity or self-determination, is not conceded, the view of Flacius is inevitable, namely, that sin is the substance of the soul.

3.5.8 (see p. 302). The justice of punishment really cannot be separated from its utility and expediency, as is done by those who assert the latter and deny the former. If judicial suffering is not just, it will not prove to be useful or expedient. There will be no reformation of the criminal or protection of society if the criminal does not first perceive and acknowledge that his act is guilt and ought to be punished as such. So long as he denies the criminality and ill desert of his act, he will say that his suffering is the unjust infliction of a tyrannical power. This will exasperate and harden him and lead him to commit the crime again, if he has the opportunity. No personal moral improvement will result from the infliction and no security to society against the repetition of the crime. In this way, it is evident that the expediency of penalty depends upon the justice of it. He who denies the latter must deny the former. If the infliction is not first of all just, it cannot be expedient and useful. It will fail of accomplishing the two things desired: the protection of the community from crime and the reformation of the criminal. Faber in his hymn combines the two:

There is a wideness in God's mercy

Like the wideness of the sea;

There is a kindness in his justice

Which is more than liberty.

The first two lines are often quoted, and the last two omitted.

3.5.9 (see p. 306). The suffering of animals decreases as we go down the scale. The following statement respecting this point is made in Kirby and Spence's Entomology (Letter 2): "It is well known that in proportion as we descend the scale of being the sensibility of objects diminishes. The tortoise walks about after losing its head; and the polypus, so far from being injured by the application of the knife, thereby acquires an extension of existence. Insensibility almost equally great may be found in the insect world. This, indeed, might be inferred a priori, since providence seems to have been more prodigal of insect life than of any order of creatures, animalcula perhaps alone excepted. Can it be believed that the beneficent Creator, whose tender mercies are over all his works, would expose these helpless beings to such innumerable enemies and injuries were they endued with the same irritability of nerve with the higher orders of animals? But this inference is reduced to a certainty when we attend to the facts which insects every day present to us, proving that the very converse of our great poet's conclusion must be regarded as nearer the truth:

The poor beetle that we tread upon,

In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great

As when a giant dies,

Not to mention the peculiar organization of insects which strongly favors the position we are taking, their sangfroid upon the loss of their limbs, even those that we account most necessary to life, proves that the pain they suffer cannot be very acute. A tipula will leave half of its legs in the hands of a boy who has endeavored to catch it and will fly here and there with as much agility and unconcern as if nothing had happened to it; and an insect impaled upon a pin will often devour its prey with as much avidity as when at liberty. We have seen the common cockchafer walk about with apparent indifference after some bird had nearly emptied its body of its viscera; a bumblebee will eat honey with greediness though deprived of its abdomen; and we have seen an ant which had been brought out of its nest by its comrades walk when deprived of its head. The head of a wasp will attempt to bite after it is separated from the body; and the abdomen under similar circumstances, if the finger is moved to it, will attempt to sting. These facts, out of hundreds that might be adduced, are sufficient to prove that insects do not experience the same acute sensations of pain with the higher orders of animals. Had a giant lost an arm or a leg, or were a sword or spear run through his body, he would feel no great inclination for running about, dancing, or eating."

The statement in the text is erroneous that "if the majority of a species did not survive the species would diminish and become extinct." The immense number of eggs which a single cod deposits or a single insect lays makes the destruction of vast numbers necessary in order to prevent such a multiplication of the species as would overrun the sea and the land. "Wasps," say Kirby and Spence (Entomology, Letter 11), "at the beginning of winter drag out of the cells all the grubs and unrelentingly destroy them. They have no stock of provisions; the young must linger on a short period, and at length die of hunger. A sudden death by their own hands is comparatively a merciful stroke. We do not mean to say that this train of reasoning actually passes through the mind of the wasps. It is more correct to regard it as having actuated the benevolent author of the instinct so singularly and wisely created in them. Were a nest of wasps to survive the winter, they would increase so rapidly that not only would all the bees, flies, and other insects on which they prey be extirpated, but man himself would find them a grievous pest. It is necessary, therefore, that the great mass should annually perish."

3.5.10 (see p. 307). The inexactness and freedom of mercy contrasted with the exactitude and necessity of justice explains St. Paul's declaration: "Where sin abounded grace did much more abound." Justice is rigorously exact. It cannot inflict any more than is due or any less. It is confined to strict limits. But mercy is inexact because boundless. It may give more than is due, though never less than is due. As Shakespeare says, "The quality of mercy is not strained," that is, confined to immutable bounds. In Christ's redeeming work, divine mercy is infinite upon infinite and exceeds all computation. Justice "abounds," but within its limits; mercy "superabounds" beyond all limits. Pascal (Thoughts, 163), remarks that "the justice of God must be immense as well as his compassion; yet is the justice of God toward the condemned less immense and less overwhelming to the thought than his grace toward the elect?" The exactness and rigor of justice as an attribute are thus expressed by Dorner (Christian Doctrine 1.291): "In one aspect, justice is logic and mathematics applied to the sphere of the will, and in this very fact lies the proof of its no mere subjective nature. Its demands contain a logical and mathematical necessity, that is, the necessity that the will as well as the understanding must act according to the logic of things and direct itself according to the measure placed upon everything."

3.5.11 (see p. 307). The relation of Christ's satisfaction to the nonelect is thus stated by Charnock: "The power of God is more manifest in his patience toward a multitude of sinners than it would be in creating millions of worlds out of nothing; for this is the exertion of a power over himself. The exercise of this patience is founded in the death of Christ. Without the consideration of this we can give no reason why divine patience should extend itself to us and not to the fallen angels. The threatening extends itself to us as well as to the fallen angels and must necessarily have sunk man, as well as those glorious creatures, had not Christ stepped in to our relief. Had not Christ interposed to satisfy the justice of God, man upon his sinning had been actually bound over to punishment as well as the fallen angels were upon theirs and been fettered in chains as strong as those spirits feel. The reason why man was not hurled into the same deplorable condition as they were is Christ's promise of taking our nature and not theirs. Had God designed Christ's taking their nature the same patience had been exercised toward them and the same offers would have been made to them as are made to us. In regard to these fruits of this patience Christ is said to buy the wickedest apostates: 'Denying the Lord that bought them' (1 Pet. 2:1). Such were bought by him as 'bring upon themselves just destruction, and whose damnation slumbers not' (2:3); he purchased the continuance of their lives and the stay of their execution that offers of grace might be made to them. This patience must be either upon the account of the law or the gospel, for there are no other rules whereby God governs the world. A fruit of the law it was not that spoke nothing but curses after disobedience; not a letter of mercy was written upon that, and therefore nothing of patience; death and wrath were denounced; no slowness of anger intimated. It must be, therefore, upon the account of the gospel and a fruit of the covenant of grace whereof Christ was the mediator" (God's Patience, 720 [ed. Bohn]).


Shedd, W. G. T. Dogmatic theology.

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