The Attributes of God

*God reveals Himself not only in His names, but also in His attributes, that is, in the perfections of the divine Being. It is customary to distinguish between incommunicable and communicable attributes. Of the former there are no traces in the creature; of the latter there are.

1. The Incommunicable Attributes.

These emphasize the absolute distinction between God and the creature, and include the following:

a. The independence or self-existence of God.

This means that God has the ground of His existence in Himself, and unlike man, does not depend on anything outside of Himself. He is independent in His Being, in His virtues and actions, and causes all His creatures to depend on Him. The idea is embodied in the name Jehovah and finds expression in the following passages,

“The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast for ever, The thoughts of his heart to all generations. (Psalms 33:11)”

“But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever he pleased. (Psalms 115:3)”

“And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and 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? (Daniel 4:35)”

“For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself: (John 5:26)”

Rom. 11:33-36; “33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him [be] the glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

“neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; (Acts 17:25)”

“Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created. (Revelation 4:11)”

b. The immutability of God.

Scripture teaches that God is unchangeable. He is forever the same in His divine Being and perfections, and also in His purposes and promises,

“God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)”

“The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast for ever, The thoughts of his heart to all generations. (Psalms 33:11)”

“But thou art the same, And thy years shall have no end. (Psalms 102:27)”

“For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)”

“Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath; (Hebrews 6:17)”

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. (James 1:17)”

This does not mean, however, that there is no movement in God. The Bible speaks of Him as coming and going, hiding and revealing Himself. He is also said to repent, but this is evidently only a human way of speaking of God,

“And Jehovah repented of the evil which he said he would do unto his people. (Exodus 32:14)”

“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:10)”

and really indicates a change in man’s relation to God.

c. The infinity of God.

This means that God is not subject. to limitations. We can speak of His infinity in more than one sense. Viewed in relation to His being, it may be called His absolute perfection. He is unlimited in His knowledge and wisdom, in His goodness and love, in His righteousness and holiness,

Job 11:7-10; “7 Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? 8 It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than Sheol; What canst thou know? 9 The measure thereof is longer than the earth, And broader than the sea. 10 If he pass through, and shut up, And all unto judgment, then who can hinder him? (Job 11)”

“Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised; And his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalms 145:3)”

Seen in relation to time, it is called His eternity. While this is usually represented in Scripture as endless duration,

“Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. (Psalms 90:2)”

“But thou, O Jehovah, wilt abide for ever; And thy memorial [name] unto all generations. (Psalms 102:12)”

it really means that He is above time and therefore not subject to its limitations. For Him there is only an eternal present, and no past or future. Viewed with reference to space, it is called His immensity. He is everywhere present, dwells in all His creatures, filling every point of space, but is in no way bounded by space,

“But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded! (1 Kings 8:27)”

Ps. 139:7-10; “7 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalms 139:7-10)

“Thus saith Jehovah, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what place shall be my rest? (Isaiah 66:1)”

Jer. 23:23, 24; “23 Am I a God at hand, saith Jehovah, and not a God afar off? 24 Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him? saith Jehovah. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Jehovah. (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

Acts 17:27, 28. “27 that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: 28 for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:27-28)

d. The simplicity of God.

By ascribing simplicity to God we mean that He is not composed of various parts, such as the body and soul in man, and for that very reason is not subject to division. The three persons in the Godhead are not so many parts of which the divine essence is composed. The whole being of God belongs to each one of the Persons. Hence we can also say that God and His attributes are one, and that He is life, light, love, righteousness, truth, and so on.

2. The Communicable Attributes.

These are the attributes of which we find some resemblance in man. It should be borne in mind, however, that what we see in man is only a finite (limited) and imperfect likeness of that which is infinite (unlimited) and perfect in God. Here we have:

a. The knowledge of God.

This is that perfection of God whereby He, in a manner all His own, knows Himself and all things possible and actual. God has this knowledge in Himself, and does not obtain it from without. It is always complete and always present in His mind. And because it is all-comprehensive, it is called omniscience. He knows all things, past, present and future, and not only the things that have real existence, but also those which are merely possible.

“that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place whereof thou hast said, My name shall be there; to hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall pray toward this place. (1 Kings 8:29)”

“declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not [yet] done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure; (Isaiah 46:10)”

“And the Spirit of Jehovah fell upon me, and he said unto me, Speak, Thus saith Jehovah: Thus have ye said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind. (Ezekiel 11:5)”

“Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old. (Acts 15:18)”

“He saith unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)”

“And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)”

b. The wisdom of God.

God’s wisdom is an aspect of His knowledge. It is the virtue of God which manifest itself in the selection of worthy ends and in the choice of the best means for the realization of those ends. The final end to which He makes all things subservient is His own glory.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! (Romans 11:33)”

“but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, [even] the [wisdom] that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:7)”

Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; “6 to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved:…12 to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ:… 14 which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of [God’s] own possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:6,12,14)”

“for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; (Colossians 1:16)”

c. The goodness of God.

God is good, that is, perfectly holy. in Himself. But this is not the goodness we have in mind here. In this connection we refer to the divine goodness that reveals itself in doing well unto others. It is that perfection which prompts Him to deal kindly and bounteously with all His creatures The Bible refers to it repeatedly,

“Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God; Thy judgments are a great deep: O Jehovah, thou preservest man and beast. (Psalms 36:6)”

“The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God. (Psalms 104:21)”

145:8, 9, 16; “8 Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness. 9 Jehovah is good to all; And his tender mercies are over all his works. 16 Thou openest thy hand, And satisfiest the desire of every living thing. (Psalms 145:8-9,16)”

“that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)”

“And yet He left not himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)”

d. The love of God.

This is often called the most central attribute of God, but it is doubtful whether it should be regarded as more central than the other perfections of God. In virtue of it He delights in His own perfections and in man as the reflection of His image. It may be considered from various points of view. The unmerited love of God which reveals itself in pardoning sin is called His GRACE,

Eph. 1:6, 7; “6 to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: 7 in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, (Ephesians 1:6-7)”

2:7-9; “7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: 8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not of works, that no man should glory. (Ephesians 2:7-9)”

“For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, (Titus 2:11)”

That love relieving the misery of those who are bearing the consequences of sin is known as His mercy or tender compassion,

Luke 1:64, 72, 78; “64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue [loosed], and he spake, blessing God. … 72 To show mercy towards, our fathers, And to remember his holy covenant;… 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us, (Luke 1:64,72,78)”

“and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name. (Romans 15:9)”

9:16, 18; “16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. …18 So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth. (Romans 9:16,18)”

“but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, (Ephesians 2:4)”

And when it bears with the sinner who does not heed the instructions and warnings of God it is named His longsuffering or forbearance,

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Romans 2:4)”

“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: (Romans 9:22)”

“that aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: (1 Peter 3:20)”

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; (2 Peter 3:15)”

e. The holiness of God.

God’s holiness is first of all that divine perfection by which He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and exalted above them in infinite majesty.

“Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11)”

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15)”

But it denotes in the second place that He is free from all moral impurity or sin, and is therefore morally perfect. In the presence of the holy God man is deeply conscious of his sin,

“Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness, And from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity. (Job 34:10)”

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)”

“Thou that art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that canst not look on perverseness, wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he; (Habakkuk 1:13)”

f. The righteousness of God.

The righteousness of God is that perfection by which He maintains Himself as the Holy One over against every violation of His holiness. In virtue of it He maintains a moral government in the world and imposes a just law on man, rewarding obedience and punishing disobedience,

“The king’s strength also loveth justice; Thou dost establish equity; Thou executest justice and righteousness in Jacob. (Psalms 99:4)”

“For Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33:22)”

“who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them. (Romans 1:32)”

The justice of God which manifests itself in the giving of rewards is called His remunerative justice; and that which reveals itself in meting out punishment is known as His retributive justice. The former is really an expression of His love, and the latter of His wrath.

g. The veracity of God.

This is that perfection of God in virtue of which He is true in His inner being, in His revelation, and in His relation to His people. He is the true God over against the idols, knows things as they really are, and is faithful in the fulfillment of His promises. From the last point of view this attribute is also called God’s faithfulness.

“God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)”

“God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)”

“if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)”

“let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: (Hebrews 10:23)”

h. The sovereignty of God.

This may be considered from two different points of view, namely, His sovereign will, and His sovereign power. The will of God is represented in Scripture as the final cause of all things,

“in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; (Ephesians 1:11)”

“Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created. (Revelation 4:11)”

On the basis of Deut. 29:29 it is customary to distinguish between the secret and the revealed will of God. The former is the will of God’s decree, which is hidden in God and can be known only from its effects, and the latter is the will of His precept, which is revealed in the law and in the gospel. God’s will respecting His creatures is absolutely free,

“The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)”

“If he pass through, and shut up, And all unto judgment, then who can hinder him? (Job 11:10)”

“Why dost thou strive against him, For that he giveth not account of any of his matters? (Job 33:13)”

“But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever he pleased. (Psalms 115:3)”

“The king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah as the watercourses: He turneth it whithersoever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)”

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? or is thine eye evil, because I am good? (Matthew 20:15)”

Rom. 9:15-18; “15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. 18 So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth. (Romans 9:15-18)”

“Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created. (Revelation 4:11)”

The sinful deeds of man are also under the control of His sovereign will,

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)”

“him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: (Acts 2:23)”

The power to execute His will is called his omnipotence. That God is omnipotent does not mean that He can do everything. The Bible teaches us that there are some things which God cannot do. He cannot lie, sin, deny Himself,

“God is not a man, that he should lie, Neither the son of man, that he should repent: Hath he said, and will he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and will he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)”

“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent. (1 Samuel 15:29)”

“if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)”

“that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us: (Hebrews 6:18)”

Jas. 1:13, 17. “13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: …17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. (James 1:13,17)”

It does mean that He can, by the mere exercise of His will, bring to pass whatsoever He has decided to accomplish, and that, if He so desired, He could do even more than that,

“Is anything too hard for Jehovah? At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son. (Genesis 18:14)”

“Behold, I am Jehovah, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)”

“Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith Jehovah of hosts. (Zechariah 8:6)”

“and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)”

“Or thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and he shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53)”

 

*This is an excerpt from the book, Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof (1873-1957).

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. A little doctrine of God in the morning never hurt anybody. Good stuff.

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