The Attributes of God
by Arthur Pink
The CONTEMPLATION of God
In the previous studies we have had in review some of the wondrous and lovely perfections of the divine character. From this most feeble and faulty contemplation of His attributes, it should be evident to us all that God is:
First, an incomprehensible Being, and, lost in wonder at His infinite greatness, we are constrained to adopt the words of Zophar, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea" (Job 11:7-9). When we turn our thoughts to God's eternity, His immateriality, His omnipresence, His almightiness—then our minds are overwhelmed.
But the incomprehensibility of the divine nature is not a reason why we should desist from reverent inquiry and prayerful strivings to apprehend what He has so graciously revealed of Himself in His Word. Because we are unable to acquire perfect knowledge, it would be folly to say we will therefore make no efforts to attain to any degree of it. It has been well said: "Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued, investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity" (Charles Spurgeon).
Let us quote a little further from this prince of preachers: "The proper study of the Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God—is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity. It is a subject so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-contentment, and go on our way with the thought, 'Behold I am wise.' But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought—"I am but of yesterday and know nothing." (Sermon on Malachi 3:6)
Yes, the incomprehensibility of the divine nature should teach us humility, caution, and reverence. After all our searchings and meditations we have to say with Job, "Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him?" (Job 26:14). When Moses besought Jehovah for a sight of His glory, He answered him, "I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you" (Exodus 33:19). As another has said: "The name is the collection of His attributes." Rightly did the Puritan John Howe declare: "The notion therefore we can hence form of His glory, is only such as we may have of a large volume by a brief synopsis; or of a spacious country by a little landscape. He has here given us a true report of Himself, but not a full account; such as will secure our apprehensions—being guided thereby from error, but not from ignorance. We can apply our minds to contemplate the several perfections whereby the blessed God discovers to us His being, and can in our thoughts attribute them all to Him, though we have still but low and defective conceptions of each one. Yet so far as our apprehensions can correspond to the discovery that He affords us of His several excellencies, we have a present view of His glory."
The difference is indeed great between the knowledge of God which His saints have in this life—and that which they shall have in Heaven. Yet, as the former should not be undervalued because it is imperfect, so the latter is not to be magnified above its reality. True, the Scripture declare that we shall see "face to face" and "know" even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). But to infer from this that we shall then know God as fully as He knows us, is to be misled by the mere sound of words, and to disregard the restriction of that knowledge that our finiteness necessarily requires. There is a vast difference between the saints being glorified—and their being made divine. In their glorified state, Christians will still be finite creatures, and therefore, never able to fully comprehend the infinite God.
"The saints in Heaven will see God with the eye of the mind, for He will be always invisible to the bodily eye. They will see Him more clearly than they could see Him by reason and faith, and more extensively than all His works and dispensations had hitherto revealed Him. But their minds will not be so enlarged as to be capable of contemplating at once, or in detail, the whole excellence of His nature. To comprehend infinite perfection, they must become infinite themselves. Even in Heaven, their knowledge will be partial, but at the same time their happiness will be complete; because their knowledge will be perfect in this sense, that it will be adequate to the capacity of the subject, although it will not exhaust the fullness of the object. We believe that it will be progressive, and that as their views expand, their blessedness will increase. But it will never reach a limit beyond which there is nothing to be discovered, and when ages after ages have passed away, He will still be the incomprehensible God." (John Dick, 1840).
Secondly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is an all-sufficient Being. He is all-sufficient in Himself and to Himself. As the First of beings, He could receive nothing from another, nor be limited by the power of another. Being infinite, He is possessed of all possible perfection. When the Triune God existed all alone, He was all to Himself. His understanding, His love, His energies—found an adequate object in Himself. Had He stood in need of anything external He would not have been independent, and therefore He would not have been God.
He created all things, and that for Himself (Colossians 1:16)—yet it was not in order to supply a lack—but that He might communicate life and happiness to angels and men, and admit them to the vision of His glory. True, He demands the allegiance and services of His intelligent creatures—yet He derives no benefit from their offices; all the advantage redounds to themselves (Job 22:2-3). He makes use of means and instruments to accomplish His ends—yet not from a deficiency of power, but oftentimes to more strikingly display His power through the feebleness of the instruments.
The all-sufficiency of God makes Him to be the Supreme Object which is ever to be sought unto. True happiness consists only in the enjoyment of God. His favor is life, and His loving-kindness is better than life. "The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore I will hope in Him" (Lamentations 3:24). His love, His grace, and His glory are the chief objects of the saints' desire and the springs of their highest satisfaction.
"Many are asking: Who can show us any good? Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound." (Psalm 4:6,7).
Yes, the Christian, when in his right mind, is able to say: "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty—yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
Thirdly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is the Supreme Sovereign of the universe. It has been rightly said: "No dominion is so absolute as that which is founded on creation. He who might not have made anything, had a right to make all things according to His own pleasure. In the exercise of His uncontrolled power, He has made some parts of the creation mere inanimate matter, of grosser or more refined texture, and distinguished by different qualities, but all inert and unconscious. He has given organization to other parts, and made them susceptible of growth and expansion, but still without life in the proper sense of the term. To others He has given not only organization, but conscious existence, organs of sense and self-motive power. To these He has added in man the gift of reason, and an immortal spirit, by which he is allied to a higher order of beings who are placed in the superior regions. Over the world which He has created, He sways the scepter of omnipotence. (John Dick).
"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward Heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of Heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him—What have You done?" (Daniel 4:34-35)
A creature, considered as such, has no rights. He can demand nothing from his Maker; and in whatever manner he may be treated, has no right to complain. Yet, when thinking of the absolute dominion of God over all, we ought never to lose sight of His moral perfections. God is just and good, and ever does that which is right. Nevertheless, He exercises His sovereignty according to His own imperial and righteous pleasure. He assigns each creature his place as seems good in His own sight. He orders the varied circumstances of each according to His own counsels. He molds each vessel according to His own uninfluenced determination. He has mercy on whom He will, and He hardens whom He will. Wherever we are, His eye is upon us. Whoever we are, our life and everything is held at His disposal. To the Christian, He is a tender Father; to the rebellious sinner He will yet be a consuming fire. "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (1 Timothy 1:17)