Of the Natural Attributes of God. BY REV. JOHN HOWARD HINTON, M.


WE have just asserted the truth, that there is but one God ; we now add the kindred, but not identical proposition, that God is one. Such is the pointed declaration of the Jewish lawgiver, " Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE Lord." And we notice it the more particularly, because of its peculiar moment in connection with the doctrine of the trinity. Whatever the import of this doctrine may be, of which we shall speak immediately, it cannot be understood as calling in question the fundamental truth, that an entire and essential unity pertains to the divine nature.

At the same time we are taught that this unity exists together with a distinction. The Father, the Son or Word, and the Holy Spirit, are exhibited in sacred Scripture as each essentially divine, and as constituting, while mysteriously distinct, the one God. How can three be one? has often been triumphantly asked, as reducing the trinitarian to an absurdity; but it is enoxigh to reply, that three are not asserted to be one in the same sense in which they are three: the assertion is not, therefore, necessarily, either absurd or contradictory; nor can it be shown to be so in fact, until the

different senses in which God is declared to be one and three are clearly ascertained, which, we apprehend, will not be within the period of theological controversy. To reject the doctrine because of its mystery, is to adopt a principle as


dangerous as it is irrational; since, on the one hand, to creatures of so limited a capacity, it is inevitable that mysteries should exist, and since, on the other, they do in fact appear at so many points, that he who is determined to believe nothing mysterious will soon be obliged to believe nothing at all. It is much to be wished, however, that this subject had been treated in more scriptural language, and that men had never aimed at being wise above what is written. It is to be regretted, even, that the word person, which has been used for want of a better, has been applied to this subject; since, although some of the ideas it suggests are in unison with the import of inspired language, others of them are totally inapplicable. To endeavour to solve the mystery by saying that the terms Father and Son imply such a relation between the two persons so denominated as that, though

they are of the same substance, possessed of the same attributes, and equally God, just as a human father and his son are equally men, yet the second must be personally subordinate to the first; and that the Holy Ghost, who is called the Spirit of God, and is said to proceed from the Father, and to be sent by the Son, must be conceived as subordinate to both, much in the same way as a son is subordinate to his parents, though possessed of equal or even of superior powers this were to relinquish the doctrine itself. To say that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God, is surely to say that each possesses all the attributes which are essential to deity; or, which is the same thing, that each is self-existent, independent, and eternal. And if so, neither can be, in his nature, derived or subordinate. If not so, neither is God.

2. It is one of the simplest but sublimest lessons of Holy Writ, that " God is a spirit." The expression refers us to the grand division of known existences into two classes, spirit and matter. Nothing, it appears, can be known of the essence of either; and the properties even of the latter are open to very limited observation. The term spirit avails, however, towards a negative definition of the divine essence. It is altogether incorporeal. What actual qualities appertain to

spirit, of consciousness, thought, sensibility, volition, or action, it is not for us here to inquire ; but all such attributes are to be considered as residing in the divine nature in the highest degree. The frequent ascription of bodily parts to the


Almighty in the Holy Scriptures no way invalidates this statement, since we have no method of describing him but by analogy or comparison with ourselves. The truth that God is a spirit, although it required to be revealed ere it could be known, harmonizes now it is revealed with all other parts of divine knowledge, and with all worthy ideas of God.

3. To spirituality, as the leading attribute of God, we have to add eternity. " From everlasting to everlasting," exclaims the psalmist, " thou art God." Eternity is to us an incomprehensible attribute, except as considered negatively, and as implying that the divine existence has neither beginning nor end. If the Most High had a beginning, he must have had a cause ; but it necessarily belongs to God to be the first cause, the cause of all things. And if his being should ever

terminate, it must be either by essential corruptibility, which, as God is a spirit, is utterly remote from his nature; or by the will of some other being, or by his own, both of which are plainly impossible. The eternity of God implies his possession of the kindred attributes of self-existence, necessary existence, and independence.

4. Inseparable from eternity is immutability. " Immutability and eternity are linked together ; yet they differ in our conception. Immutability respects the essence or existence of a thing, eternity respects the duration of a being in that state: or rather, immutability is the state itself, eternity is the measure of it. A thing is said to be changed, when it is otherwise now, in regard of nature, state, will, or any quality, than it was before, when something is either added to it, or taken from it : but it is the essential property of God not to have any accession to, or diminution of, his essence or attributes, but to remain entirely the same. He wants nothing, he loses nothing, but uniformly exists by himself, without any new nature, new thoughts, new will, new purposes, or new place." * It is obvious that immutability has varied aspects towards the Divine Being. His essence, whatever that may be, is immutable, and so are all his attributes. Nor can it be otherwise if his existence is eternal and neces5

sary ; for what necessarily and eternally is, is necessarily and unchangeably what it is. It is manifest also that this attribute is an excellence, only on the supposition of the supreme excellence of the nature to which it appertains.

* Cliarnock.


5. Another attribute of the divine essence is immensity. "As eternity is the perfection whereby God hath neither beginning nor end, and immutability the perfection whereby he hath neither increase nor diminution ; so immensity is that whereby he hath neither bounds nor limitation. As he is in all time, yet so as to be above measure by time ; so he is in all places, yet so as to be above limitation by any place." " Do not I fill heaven and earth 1 ? saith the Lord." If God be, he must be somewhere ; that which is nowhere has no existence. But, if there is any place where God is not, there is no God; which cannot be, since the existence of God has already been shown to be necessary. If he be not everywhere, he cannot be God to the universe; no part of which,

however, is consigned to atheism.

6. " The Lord," saith the Scripture, " is a God of knowledge." And again, " His understanding is infinite." A capacity of knowledge appears to belong to the essence of mind, or spirit, and is indicated by the derivation of several of the names of God, as Oeo^, Saifuav. And both the capability and the possession of knowledge are of the utmost necessity to the excellence, perfection, and activity of his nature. " He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know'?" Among the objects of God's knowledge are to be comprehended his own being, and all other actual or possible existences; all past or present occurrences, including the most secret operations and the internal state of rational creatures; all possibilities of operation, and all future actual operations of all beings. In two words, omniscience and prescience belong to this perfection.

7. Volition also appears to be a necessary property of mind ; implying a sensibility to the desirable and undesirable qualities of objects, and a consequent determination, or choice. And this, in fact, is necessaiy to intelligent action. To suppose the divine nature to be inert is impossible. In the sacred Scriptures it is represented as possessing the

utmost activity, itself the origin and support of the universe. Now God acts by his will. He chooses his course, and his determination accomplishes it.

8. The last we shall mention among the personal attributes of God is power. " Once hath God spoken, twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God." So necessary is this attribute to the excellency of any being, that it is


impossible to separate it from the idea of God. And, accord 1 ing to his supreme excellence, it is his prerogative to be allpowerful. " I am God Almighty," says he of himself. "All things are possible with God," subject to no other limitation than such as the infinite rectitude and wisdom of his nature prescribe.

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