God Possesses All Possible Perfections

by Robert Shaw

It is asserted that this God is possessed of all possible perfections.

The perfections of God are called his attributes, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature. These attributes are variously, though imperfectly distinguished, in our ways of thinking about them. They have been called natural and moral, incommunicable and communicable attributes, - the Latter is the most common distinction. Those attributes are called incommunicable, of which there is not the least resemblance to be found among creatures; and those are called communicable, of which there is some faint, though very imperfect resemblance to be found among creatures. Without attempting to class the divine perfections under these two heads, we shall arrange the several parts of the description of God contained in the two sections now before us under the following particulars:–

1. God is infinite. To be infinite, according to the literal signification of the word, is to be unbounded, - unlimited. As applied to the other attributes of God, this term denotes their absolute perfection. He is infinite in his wisdom, power; holiness, &c. As these perfections must be considered afterwards, we only notice, at present, that God is infinite in his being, or essence. From this results his incomprehensibility, or that super-eminent perfection which can be comprehended by none but himself. A perfect knowledge of God is competent to none but himself, whose understanding is infinite. "Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?" Job xi. 7. His infinity, as applied to his being, also includes his immensity and his omnipresence. Betwixt these a distinction may be drawn. His omnipresence has a relation to creatures actually existing, with every one of which he is intimately present; but his immensity extends infinitely beyond the boundaries of all created substance. God fills all places at once - heaven, and earth, and hell–with his essential presence. "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord."–Jer. xxiii. 23, 24.

2. God is self-existent and independent. He has all life, glory, and blessedness, in and of himself. His existence is necessary and underived; for his name is, "I am that I am." - Exod. iii. 14. His glory and blessedness are likewise underived. His glory necessarily results from, or rather consists in, the absolute perfection of has own nature, and his blessedness is all summed up in the possession and enjoyment of his own infinite excellencies. Being thus all-sufficient in and unto himself, he must be independent of any other being. He stands not in need of any creatures which he has made, nor can he derive any glory from them. Every other being receives its all from him, but he receives no advantage from any. "For his pleasure all things are and were created; but none can be profitable to God, as he that is wise may be profitable to himself; nor is it any gain to him that they make their ways perfect."–Rev. it. 11; Job xxii. 2, 3.

3. God is the fountain of all being. As he has life in and of himself, so he is the author of that life which is in every living creature. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." All the life of the vegetative, animal, and rational world, the life of grace here, and the life of glory hereafter, are of him, and derived from him. "With him is the fountain of life,"–of all sorts of life. "Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things."–Rom. xi. 36. From this it follows, that God has most sovereign dominion over all his creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them; whatsoever himself pleaseth. He who is the first cause of all things, must also be the last end. As he gave being to all creatures, so he must have an absolute right to rule over them, and to dispose of them for the ends of his own glory. Hence we are told, that "his kingdom ruleth over all," and that "he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"–Ps. ciii. 19; Dan. iv. 35. But God has not only a right to exercise sovereign dominion over his creatures, he has also an indisputable claim to their service and obedience. This claim is likewise founded upon his giving them their being. They are not their own, but the Lord's; him, therefore, they are bound to serve. Hence the Confession, with great propriety, affirms, that to God " is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them."

4. God is eternal. The word eternal is sometimes used, both in Scripture and in common language, in a restricted sense, for a long time, or for a period whose termination is to us unknown. Sometimes it denotes a duration which, though not without beginning, is without end. Thus angels and the souls of men are eternal; for though they had a beginning, they will have no end. But eternity, in the strict and proper sense of the word, signifies a duration without beginning, without end, and without succession; and in this sense it is peculiar to the great God. The supposition that there was a period at which God began to be, is equally repugnant to reason and to revelation. He that created all things must have existed before any of them began to be; and his existence being underived, he can never cease to exist. The Scripture plainly declares that he is without beginning: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." - Ps. xc. 2. It no less plainly declares that he is without end: "The Lord shall endure for ever."–Ps. ix. 7. That he is without succession is no less explicitly declared: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."–2 Pet. iii. 8. There is one passage in which an unbeginning, unending, and unsuccessive duration, is ascribed to God–Ps. cii. 25_27. One of his glorious titles is, "The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity;" and he is styled, "The everlasting God, - the Father of eternity,–the First and the Last."

5. God is immutable. "With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." To this important truth reason and revelation give their united testimony. His immutability necessarily results from his absolute perfection. If he were to change, it must be either to the better or to the worse. He cannot change to the better, for that would imply past imperfection; he cannot change to the worse, for then he would cease to be perfect. He must, therefore, remain invariably the same. To the absolute immutability of God the Scripture gives numerous testimonies.–Numb. xxiii. 19; Ps. xxxiii. 11; Mal. iii. 6.

God is unchangeable in his being. "I am that I am," is the name by which he made himself known to Moses, a name which conveys the idea not only of self-existence and independence, but also of immutability. He is unchangeable in his glory. Though the manifestation of his glory may vary, yet he is, and ever was, infinitely glorious in himself; for his essential glory is neither capable of increase nor susceptible of divination. He is unchangeable in his blessedness; for as it consists in the enjoyment of himself, so it can neither be increased nor diminished by anything that creatures can do for or against him. - Job xxxv. 5-7. He is unchangeable in his purposes and counsels. He proclaims with divine majesty, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it."–Isa. xlvi. 10,11. He is unchangeable in his covenant, love, and promises to his people.–Isa. liv. 10. When, therefore, we read in Scripture of God's repenting, we must understand such language of an alteration of the outward dispensations of his providence. We are by no means to attribute to him any change of mind; for, in this respect, it is impossible for God to change. "He is in one mind, and who can turn him?"–Job xxiii. 13.

6. God is all-knowing. In his sight all things are open and manifest. He has a perfect knowledge of himself, and he only knows himself perfectly. He knows all things besides himself, whether they be past, present, or to come, in our way of measuring them by time. He knows all creatures, from the greatest to the least; he knows all the actions of his creatures, whether secret or open; all their words, thoughts, and intentions. Hence the Scripture declares, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."–Prov. xv. 3. "He is acquainted with all our ways, there is not a word in our tongue but he knoweth it altogether, and he understandeth our thought afar off."–Ps.cxxxix. 2-4. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world."–Acts xv. 18. Yea, be knows the most contingent events: the actions of free agents, and all events concerned in them, were always known with certainty to him; so that, though they be contingent in their own nature, or ever so uncertain as to us, yet, in reality, nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. We cannot doubt this, when we consider the numerous prophecies, relating to things of this kind, that have received a most exact and circumstantial accomplishment, many ages after the prophecies were announced. It may be remarked, that God knows things, not by information, nor by reasoning and deduction, nor by succession of ideas, but by a single intuitive glance; and he knows them comprehensively, and infallibly.

7. God it most free and most absolute. "He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."–Eph. i. 11. His will is infinitely free, and "he doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth." He has an absolute right to do whatsoever he pleaseth, and "none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"–Dan. iv. 36.

8. God is infinitely wise. The wisdom of God is that perfection of his nature by which he directs all things to their proper end - the end for which he gave them being; and this is his own glory: for as he is the most excellent Being, nothing can be so excellent an end as his own glory. How admirably is the wisdom of God displayed in creation! Whether we look upward to the heavens, or downward to the earth; whether we survey the mineral, the vegetable, or the animal world, can we forbear to exclaim with the devout Psalmist, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom thou hast made them all."–Ps. civ. 24. When we consider the vast variety of creatures and things which God has produced from the same original matter, the fitness of everything for its intended purpose, the subservience of one thing to another, and the conspiring of all to a common end–how conspicuous is his wisdom! Nor is the wisdom of God less apparent in the government of the world, especially in ejecting the most grand and glorious designs by weak and feeble means, and even by the bad dispositions of men–"making even the wrath of man to praise him, and restraining the remainder thereof." "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"–Rom. xi. 33. But this perfection of God shines forth with the brightest lustre in the method of redemption by Jesus Christ. Nothing less than wisdom truly divine could have devised a plan whereby "mercy and truth should meet together, and righteousness and peace should embrace each other." Here is "the hidden wisdom of God." Here "he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;" and hence the publication of this contrivance is spoken of as a discovery of "the manifold wisdom of God."–Eph. iii. 10.

9. God is infinitely powerful, or almighty. The power of God is that perfection whereby he is able to effect all things that do not imply a contradiction, either to his own perfections, or to the nature of things themselves. "With God nothing shall be impossible," said the angel to the Virgin Mary. "With God all things are possible," said Jesus to his disciples. How great must be that power which produced the beautiful fabric of the universe out of nothing! "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" "For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast."–Ps. xxxiii. 6, 9. His power is still exerted in the preservation of the world; for he upholds all creatures in their being and operations by the word of his power. It appears conspicuously in the moral government of the world–especially in restraining wicked men from their purposes; for "he stilleth the noise of the waves, and the raging of the people." But it is most eminently displayed in the work of redemption by Jesus Christ; in the formation of his human nature in the womb of the Virgin; in supporting his human nature under that load of wrath which was due to us for our transgressions; and in raising him from the dead. It is also displayed in the production of that wonderful change which takes place in the conversion of a sinner, which in Scripture is termed a new creation; in the preservation of believers in a state of grace; in enabling them to resist and overcome strong temptations, to perform arduous duties, and to bear heavy trials with patience and joyfulness; and it will be signally manifested in raising up their bodies, glorious and immortal, at the last day.

It may be observed, that although there are some things which God cannot do, yet this implies no imperfection in his power. He cannot do what involves a contradiction; for instance, he cannot make a thing to be, and not to be, at the same time; he cannot do what is repugnant to his nature, or his essential perfections; he cannot deny himself–he cannot lie–he cannot look upon sin–he cannot sleep, or suffer, or cease to exist. This, however, argues no defect of power, but arises from his absolute perfection.

10. God is infinitely holy. The holiness of God is the perfect rectitude of his nature, whereby he is absolutely free from all moral impurity, and, in all that he does, acts like himself, and for the advancement of his own honour; delighting in what accords with, and abhorring what is contrary to his nature and will. Holiness is, as it were, the lustre and glory of all the divine perfections; hence God is styled "glorious in holiness." It is that perfection which those exalted spirits, who are best acquainted with the glories of the divine nature, dwell most upon in their songs of praise; hence, the seraphim cry one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts."–Isa. vi. 3. God himself puts peculiar honour upon his holiness; for he singles it out as that attribute by which he swears that he will accomplish whatever he hath spoken.–Ps. lxxxix. 35. The holiness of God is manifest from the original condition of all rational creatures; for, when formed by him, they were perfectly holy. It has been awfully displayed in the judgments which God has executed upon sinners. The expulsion of the rebel angels from heaven,–the exclusion of man from paradise, as soon as he became a sinner,–the destruction of the old world by water,–the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah; these, and innumerable other instances, the Scripture records of God's awful displeasure against sin. But nothing affords such a striking demonstration of God's hatred of sin as the sufferings and death of his own Son. God must be of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, since, when our guilt was transferred to his own Son, he spared him not. Could he have overlooked sin in any case, he would certainly have done it in the case of his dear Son. But, though he was the object of his Father's ineffable delight, and though he was personally innocent, yet, when he stood charged with the sins of his people, he could not be excused from suffering and dying. "It pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief."–Isa. liii. 10.

11. God is infinitely just. The justice of God is that perfection of his nature according to which he is infinitely righteous in himself, and just and equal in all his proceedings with regard to his creatures. "A God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he."–Deut. xxxii. 4. God is just to himself, by acting in all things agreeably to his nature and perfections, and by maintaining his own rights and prerogatives. He is just to his creatures, by governing them in a way agreeably to their nature, according to a law which he has given them. God's justice has been variously distinguished, according to the various ways in which it is exercised. His legislature justice, is his giving righteous laws to his creatures, suited to their original abilities, commanding or forbidding such things as are fit for them to do or forbear. Hence, his law is said to be "holy, and just, and good."–Rom. vii. 12. His distributing justice, is his rendering to every one his due, according to law, without respect of persons. This, again, is distinguished by various names. There is remunerate justice, whereby God rewards the sincere, though imperfect obedience of those who are accepted in his sight as righteous, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to them, and received by faith. "Verily, there is a reward for the righteous." "God is not unrighteous, to forget their work and labour of love."–Ps. lviii. 11; Heb. vi. 10. But this reward is entirely of free grace, and not of debt. There is punitive justice, whereby God renders to the sinner the punishment due to his crimes. This is nothing else than God's distributive justice, as it regards punishment. It is sometimes called vindicatory justice, and sometimes avenging justice. This, we hold, in opposition to Socinians, is not an arbitrary effect of the will of God, but an essential perfection of his nature; and, therefore, upon the entrance of sin, its exercise was indispensably necessary. God must inflict the punishment due to sin, either upon the transgressor himself, or upon another as his surety. This appears from the holiness of God, which requires that he should demonstrate his aversion to sin by punishing it according to its demerit. It appears from the threatening of the law, taken in connection with the truth of God. "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the penalty annexed to the law, and the faithfulness of God is pledged for the execution of the sentence upon transgressors. This is confirmed by the testimony of conscience in all men, apprehending that punishment drill overtake the transgressor; hence, both barbarous and civilised nations have had recourse to sacrifices to appease the anger of the Deity. This appears, further, from God's indicting remarkable judgments, even in this life, on sinning nations and individuals; and especially from his executing punishment upon his own Son, as the surety of sinners. Christ having substituted himself in the piece of sinners, justice exacted of him full satisfaction. And never did justice appear in such terrible majesty, as when God gave it the commission to awake, and smite the man that was his fellow. - Zech. xiii. 7. Then it was seen that God "can by no means clear the guilty," or allow sin to pass with impunity.

Several writers, of late, have attributed to God what they call public justice; that is, justice which respects the great general end of government,–the public good. But, we apprehend, there is no foundation, either in Scripture or reason, for supposing that this kind of justice has any place in the moral government of God. Such an idea proceeds upon the supposition that the divine government, so far as punishment is concerned, is completely analogous to human governments. There is, however, a wide and obvious distinction between the procedure of human governments and the procedure of the Most High.

12. God is infinitely good. Though all the perfections of God are his glory, yet this is particularly so called; for when Moses earnestly desired to behold the glory of Jehovah, the Lord said, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee." "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth," &c.–Exod. xxxiii. 18, 19, and xxxiv. 6. The goodness of God is distinguished by different names, according to the different aspects in which it is viewed, or the different objects about which it is exercised. When it relieves the miserable, it is called mercy; when it confers favours on the undeserving, or on those who deserve nothing but what is evil, it is called grace; when it supplies the wants of indigent beings, it is called bounty; when it forbears to execute punishment upon provoking rebels, it is called patience or longsuffering. The goodness of God is, therefore, a very comprehensive term; it includes all the forms of his kindness towards men, whether considered as creatures, as sinners, or as saints. But we may describe it generally as that property of the Divine Being which disposes him to communicate happiness to his creatures, a far as is consistent with his other perfections.

Innumerable are the instances in which God has manifested his goodness. What but goodness could prompt him to give being to so many creatures, when he stood in no need of them, being infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself? What goodness does he display in upholding innumerable creatures in existence, and in making ample provision for their wants? But the most astonishing display of this, as well as of all the other perfections of Deity, is in the redemption of sinners. In the contrivance of the plan, and in the execution of it from first to last, God appears good, in a manner and to a degree that astonishes the inhabitants both of earth and of heaven. The goodness of God, as manifested in this world, is usually expressed by the term love; and the love herein displayed surpasses knowledge.–John iii. 16.

The goodness of God may be considered as absolute and relative,–as it is in himself, and as it is exercised toward his creatures.–Ps. cxix. 68. It may also be considered as common and special. Of his goodness, in the former view, his creatures promiscuously are partakers.–Ps. xiii. 5, cxlv. 9. Of his goodness, in the latter view, his chosen people are partakers.–Ps. cvi. 5.

13. God is infinitely true and faithful. The truth of God is that perfection of his nature whereby it is impossible for him not to fulfil whatever he hath spoken. He is "a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he." Whatever God hath spoken, whether in a way of promise or of threatening, he will, sooner or later, infallibly accomplish. "It is impossible for God to lie." No difficulties can arise to render a performance of his word impracticable; and he is not liable to a change of mind. - Numb. xxiii. 19. We may, therefore, be confidently assured, that "there shall not fail one good word of all that the Lord our God hath spoken."

How blessed are they who, upon good grounds, can call this all-perfect Being their Father and their God! How miserable those who live "without God in the world!" and what a "fearful thing" must it be to "fall into the hands of the living God!" That we may escape this misery, and possess the happiness of those "whose God is the Lord," let us unreservedly yield ourselves to God, through Christ, and take him to be our portion for ever. May the unfeigned language of every reader be, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee."

Section III.–In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternal begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.


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