To many Christians God is what He was to the Athenians, an "unknown God," a Being who is "ignorantly" worshipped (Act_17:23). We do not know God as we may or should. It is certainly possible for us and obligatory upon us to know Him better than we do. The more intelligently we know God, the better pleasing and effective our service for Him may be, and the greater the evidence of His power and presence in our lives.
Of course no man can know God perfectly. A God capable of human comprehension would not be God. A perfect knowledge of God is not, however, necessary to be well-pleasing to Him, and to enjoy His favor and blessing. Millions of people are using and receiving untold blessings from the telephone, telegraph, and electricity who know scarcely more about these marvels of inventive genius than to take down the ear-trumpet, speak into the mouthpiece, turn the switch, press the button, or write the message. It surely is not necessary for a man to understand all the intricate mechanism of his watch in order that he may know the time. If he has sense enough to wind it up-that is sufficient. So is it with regard to our knowledge of God. Perfect knowledge is not necessary to enjoy His presence and favor and to render to Him intelligent service.
Yet there is a certain knowledge of God which is necessary in order to be saved (Joh_17:3; Rom_10:17), and for the continued exercise of trust and confidence in the divine dealings. "They that know thee shall put their trust in thee." "Then shall we know if we follow on to 55 know the Lord." We should endeavor to know as much of God as He has been pleased to reveal of Himself and purposes in nature, history, providence, and foremost and above all, in the Bible, in order that we may apprehend, to some fair degree at least and commensurate with our highest relation to Him, who and what He is, and what are His purposes for mankind and the world. Following are some of the facts every intelligent Christian should know concerning God.
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
"He that cometh to God must believe that He is" (Heb_11:6).
The Scriptures do not attempt to prove the existence of God. It is a fact everywhere taken for granted (Gen_1:1). It is assumed, too, that all men everywhere have a certain kind of knowledge of God, intuitive, acquired, or both. No tribe of men has as yet been discovered, no matter how low in the scale of civilization such human beings may be, that are without some knowledge of God, however crude or grotesque. Surely God has "put eternity in the heart of man." Hume, the skeptic, said one day to his friend Ferguson, "Adam, there is a God." Voltaire, the atheist, prayed to God in a thunderstorm. Even Robert G. Ingersoll, the once famous infidel, disclaimed being an atheist. He said, "I am not an atheist for I do not say there is no God; I am an agnostic-I do not know." A professed atheist, addressing a coterie of his followers, said, "I have gotten rid of the idea of a supreme Being, and I thank God for it." But had he? No man can. The knowledge of God is born with him. Only God Himself could have planted in the human heart such a universal belief-and the very universality of the belief vouches for its truth.
Of course there are arguments and evidences proving (or probably setting forth) the existence of God outside of the declarations of the Bible. There is the deduction which every honest thinking man must make from a consideration of the universe, creation, nature, man, and all living creatures. Reason compels a man to believe that these things did not come into being of themselves. No adequate cause outside of God can account for such wondrous and superhuman effects. Rom_1:20 is exceedingly interesting reading in this connection. Who, that observes the providences round about him every day, can come to any other reasonable and satisfactory conclusion than that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends," and that there is sufficient evidence that the happenings of life are of divine permission, will, control and intelligence? Read carefully Dan_4:35; Psa_22:28; Act_17:25; Act_17:28.
Conscience is an evidence of the existence of God. See Rom_2:14-15. There is a something in man which says, "I ought," or "I ought not" to act thus under given circumstances. There is a tribunal within man which passes judgment upon all his acts, and says, "This is right," or "This is wrong"; a something which excuses or accuses, approves or condemns. Cardinal Newman said it was this "voice of God in the heart and conscience that kept him from being an atheist," that compelled belief in God. Every man knows that he is responsible to God and not to man for some things, and that there is a higher than human tribunal before which he stands and is daily, hourly judged. That I am responsible to a moral Governor far higher than man must be true. I am certain of it, I feel it within me. It cannot but be true. Conscience compels me to believe it. Such being the case there must be such a divine, moral Being who has the right thus to control, command, condemn, commend, and to whom I must some day give account.
The experiences of man teach him that there is a God. There are events, happenings, calamities, deliverances, interferences, provisions, withholdings in human experience which cannot fairly or legitimately be traced to any other source than that of a controlling, superintending Power that is not limited and human, but divine and supreme. Compare Jer_10:23; Psa_31:15; Psa_75:7. "Surely, O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." "A man's goings are of the Lord" (Pro_20:24). "A man's heart deviseth his way, but Jehovah directeth his steps" (Pro 16:9).
Intelligent observation of nature and life, setting forth as they do the great fact of intelligent design and purpose in all things, should lead the thoughtful and reverent observer and student inevitably to faith in a personal God, a supreme divine Intelligence.
"Belief in a personal self-existent God is in harmony with all the facts of our mental and moral nature Atheism leaves all these matters without an explanation, and makes, not history alone, but our intellectual and moral nature itself, an imposture and a lie."-Patton.
Belief in God is a key that fits all the wards of the lock of life, therefore we know that we have the right key.
No one but a "fool" (Psa_14:1; Rom_1:22), the grossly immoral or the intellectually biased (Rom_1:18-32) will deny the existence of a personal, intelligent, moral and supreme Being-God. As someone has well said, "What! no God? A watch, and no key for it? A watch with a mainspring broken, and no jeweler to fix it? A watch, and no repair shop? A time-card and a train, and nobody to run it? A star lit, and nobody to pour oil in to keep the wick burning? Flowers, and no florist? Conditions, and no conditioner?" He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at such absurd atheism.
THE NATURE AND BEING OF GOD
"God is (a) Spirit."
"God is spirit" (Joh_4:24, R. V, margin). "A spirit hath not flesh and bones" (Luk_24:39).
The idea that God has a body with parts and passions like a man is excluded by these words of Jesus. The scriptural statement that man was made "in the image of God" (Gen_1:26) does not refer to physical but to moral and spiritual qualities and likeness (Eph_4:24; Col_3:10).
God cannot be located in any one place on the earth to the exclusion of another. The mistake the Jew, Samaritan, and Greek made was to suppose that God could thus be located (Joh_4:19-24; Act_7:47-49; Act_17:24; Act_17:29).
No one knows how God looks, nor can human imagination conceive of His appearance. For this reason the Israelites were forbidden to make idols resembling God (Deu_4:15-17; Isa_40:25). "No man hath seen God at any time" (Joh_1:18), nor hath any "beheld his form" (Joh_5:37; Deu_4:15). Manifestations of God men, like Moses and the seventy elders, have seen, but God, as He really is and in His true essence, no one has ever seen (Exo_24:10; Exo_33:18-23). Manifestations of God in visible form are recorded in the Bible (Gen_16:7; Gen_16:10; Gen_16:13; Gen_18:1-10; Gen_22:11; Exo_13:21 with Exo_14:19; Jdg_13:18 with Isa_9:6) in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament God revealed Himself in Christ (Col_1:15; Heb_1:3).
God is not only a Spirit, He is the Spirit, "the Father of our spirits" (Heb_12:9; Act_17:28), the self-existent "I AM" (Exo_3:14), and the Source of all life (Joh_5:26).
God is a Person.
"Jehovah is the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting King" (Jer_10:10).
The fact that God is a Person closely follows that of His being Spirit. It is erroneous to picture, describe or think of God as an impersonal force or principle, even though you spell these words in capitals. It is equally erroneous to identify God with truth, goodness, mind, as though he were such at the expense of having any existence separate from these abstract qualities. Such a pantheistic idea lies at the root of the fundamental error of Christian Science respecting the doctrine of the personality of God. In Eddyism "God is Principle, not Person."
It is the clear teaching of the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments that God is a Person clearly distinct from nature and man. God is differentiated from idols and is called the "living" God in contradistinction to images. God is One who sees, feels, hears, sympathizes, hates and loves. He may be angered, grieved, or sinned against. He is the Creator of all things animate and inanimate. He is constantly active in the welfare of His creatures. See Jer_10:3-16; Act_14:15; 1Th_1:9; Psa_94:9-10; Gen_6:6; 1Ki_11:9; Deu_6:15; Pro_6:16; Rev_3:19.
Personality, as used in this connection, does not necessarily include substance as we understand that word. It does, however, stand for intelligence, will, self-consciousness, self-determination, reason, mind, and individuality. All these attributes of personality God possesses, and is the source of them in His creatures.
How cold, formal, uninviting is the impersonal abstraction that pantheistic religions, like Christian Science, would put up before us, label God, and call upon us to worship! What inducement is there to pray to so impersonal a being? Why use the telephone to talk if you know that there is no one at the other end of the line to listen? How full of comfort is the thought of prayer and fellowship with God if, according to the Christian conception of God as a Person, loving, kind, thoughtful, actively interested in his people, listening to catch the faintest breath of prayer, we are assured that "He is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." "Speak to Him, O soul of mine, for He listens, and spirit with Spirit can meet.
Nearer is He than breathing, and closer than hands and feet." Such a God is our God.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
God is Omnipotent-All-powerful.
"I know that thou canst do everything" (Job_42:2). "With God all things are possible" (Mat_19:26).
Nothing is beyond the reach of the power of God. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen_18:14). All created things are the work of His great might (Gen_1:1). The storm and the calm of the sea are of His working (Psa_107:25-29). Earthquake, hurricane, fire are obedient to His word and will (Nah_1:5-6). Everything in heaven-angels, principalities and powers are subject to his direction and under his absolute control (Dan_4:35; Heb_1:14). Even the activities of Satan are limited by the dictates of His wise and holy will (Job_1:12; Job_2:6; Luk_22:31-32; Rev_20:2). The ways and actions of mankind are not beyond the power of God to control as the experience of Pharaoh (Exo_14:1-31), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan_4:1-37), Saul of Tarsus (Act_9:1-43) and mankind as a whole (Jam_4:13-15; Luk_12:16-21) clearly show.
We should not wonder then that men who have caught the vision of God as the Almighty, wonder-working, omnipotent, all-powerful God have been able to do exploits for Him-such men as Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua before Jericho, Elijah before Ahab, and the illustrious saints portrayed in that wonderful roll of honor in Heb_11:1-40 Why then should we be weak when with us is prayer and with God is power-power equal to that which raised Jesus Christ from the tomb in Joseph's garden (Eph_1:19-22; Php_3:10)? We are straightened in ourselves, not in God. If such a God be for us, as He is, who then can be against us? "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerrubabel, my servant, thou shalt become a plain." And all this "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord God." If we exercise faith in so mighty a God (Jam_1:6; Mar_11:23) then nothing (that is according to His declared will and which we are called upon in the divine Word to do) will be impossible of accomplishment. Plan big things, mighty ventures for God. Attempt the humanly impossible for Him. God loves to have His people put His power to the test (Mal_3:10; Hag_2:15-19; 2Ki_3:13-20; Eph_3:20). All power in heaven and in earth belongs to God-go therefore and do mighty things for Him.
God knows all things-He is Omniscient.
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out" (Rom_11:33).
Nothing, open or secret, is hidden from God (Heb_4:13). "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good" (Pro_15:3). All "the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings" (Pro_5:21). No thought, plan, scheme, purpose, or secret of man is hidden from God (Amo_4:13). From each other we may hide, but not from God. How wonderfully the truth of the all-pervading knowledge of God is set forth in Psa_139:1-24. "Thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jer_32:19). How otherwise could God reward the righteous and punish the wicked?
How minute is God's knowledge of nature! The names and number of the stars are known to Him (Psa_147:4; Gen_15:5). What a majestic portrayal of God's knowledge of the things of nature we have in Job, chapters 38-42, especially Job_ 38:3; Job_38:4; Job_38:12; Job_38:19; Job_38:33; Job_38:37; Job_39:1; Job_39:2.
In history nothing occurs with which God is not already cognizant. In Daniel, chapters 2, 4 and 8, in a striking way we have depicted the history of nations for centuries to come. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the ages" (Act_15:18).
God is never surprised at what happens. There is no past and future with Him. All time is one eternal present. We see but a day at a time. God sees the end from the beginning and all that lies between (Isa_48:5-8; Isa_46:9-10; Act_15:18). On the desk lie two calendars: one is composed of 365 sheets and displays but one day at a time; the other consists of but one sheet, but thereon may be found the exact day of the week, for example, on which any day occurred for 100 years backwards or forwards. Our calendar is a daily, yea, hourly one; God's calendar is eternal.
Not one thing occurs in the history of mankind as a whole or pertaining to any single individual but what God knows. He knew the afflictions through which His chosen people were passing (Exo_3:7). He well knew what stand Pharaoh would take (Exo_3:19). What intimate knowledge of individual action is portrayed in Psa_139:1-24! He knows it all (Rev_2:2; Rev_2:9; Rev_2:13; Rev_2:19).
How heart searching, and yet how comforting, too, is the thought of the omniscience of God! How careful we should be as to the nature of the thoughts, plans, purposes we allow to lodge in our minds and hearts! How careful regarding the things done in secret, the things we may be tempted to do in the dark and in the chambers of our imagery (Eze_8:12) when we are prone to think we are unobserved!
What comfort to know that God is willing to bestow this "wisdom which is from above" upon his creatures (Jam_1:5; 1Co_1:30; 1Ki_3:9-12)! How sweet to read the "I know" so oft repeated in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), even though sometimes it be the "I know" of rebuke. To be assured that God knows our trials, suffering, temptations, patience under great stress, as well as our victories, good and brave deeds, is indeed a great encouragement. Too often our friends see only our failure; they do not know how hard we tried to win. God knows! God sees! God cares!
God is Omnipresent-He is everywhere.
"Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" (Psa_139:7). "Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him, saith Jehovah?" (Jer_23:24).
There is no place in heaven, sky, earth, sea, yea, even hell, where it can be said, "God is not" (Psa_139:7-12; Job_26:11-12; Jon_2:2).. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good." No man can, as those false prophets so erroneously supposed (Jer_23:24), hide himself in any place so that God will not see him. God can see idols even in the heart (Eze_14:7), or that are worshipped under ground (8:518), as well as the sin which is patent to every eye (Rom_1:22-25).
Yet, while God is everywhere present, He is not thus present in the same sense. Such a belief would be pantheistic, and, of course, erroneous. God is in heaven, for example, in a special sense, in a sense that He is not elsewhere-heaven is His "dwelling-place" (1Ki_8:30; 1Ki_8:49; Mat_6:9; Mat_7:11). Yet God is everywhere-everywhere actively interested in the welfare of His people and in the carrying out of His redemptive purposes.
Does God see what a man does in secret? Is the divine eye an eternal detective? Then how careful should we be in all manner of living! When tempted to sin in secret we should remember that "Thou God seest me," and say, "How can I sin, and do this evil in thy sight?" (Psa_51:4).
Yet, notwithstanding, what a blessing to know that God is always near; that He is not so far off as even to be nigh; that He is within; closer than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet. "I know not where His islands lift their fronded palms in air; I only know I cannot drift beyond His love and care." "In Him we live, and move, and have our being."
God is Immutable, Eternal-He is unchangeable.
"I AM THAT I AM" (Exo_3:14). "For I, Jehovah, change not" (Mal_3:6).
God is without beginning or end. There never was a time when God was not; there will never be a time when He will cease to be. He is the eternal "I AM"-the eternal past, present and future of all existence, the everlasting God (Isa_40:28; Isa_57:15; Psa_90:2; Deu_33:27).
What a comfort for the believer to know that he is a "partaker of the divine nature" (2Pe_1:4); that the life of God is his life (Joh_5:24-29); that he abides even as God abides (1Jn_2:17).
God is unchangeable in His nature (Mal_3:6; Jam_1:17; 1Sa_15:29; Psa_102:24-27). The divine mind never changes. God does not think about one thing in a certain manner one day, and the next day in a different manner. True, we are told in the Scriptures that God "repents," (Gen_6:6; Jon_3:10), but by such an expression we are to understand not a change in the divine purpose, but a change in the divine dealings with mankind in so far as man changes from sin to righteousness or vice versa. Divine repentance, therefore, is the same principle in the divine character acting differently under altered circumstances. The divine mind and character never change-they are always the same in their attitude towards the righteous and the sinner. God's dealings with men do change from time to time even as they change in their conduct. Such must inevitably be the case, seeing God is absolutely holy and righteous. "When a man, bicycling against the wind, turns about and goes with the wind instead of going against it, the wind seems to change, although it is blowing just as it was before."
How grand it is to feel that there is One who never fails, changes, or disappoints us! "Change and decay in all around I see"-yes, but not "above," not in God. His word and promise may be absolutely depended upon. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" My soul, hast thou cast thine all upon the word and promise of God for forgiveness, pardon, peace, eternal life? Then thou shalt not be disappointed. "Heaven and earth may pass away"; but not one word of God shall fail-all shall come to pass.
God is Holy.
"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isa_6:3).
"God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jn_1:5).
If any distinction at all can be made between the attributes of God-whether omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, etc.-the divine holiness is the one attribute which God would have His people think of as standing out above all the others. Such was the revelation of God received by Moses Exo_34:6-9, Job_42:1-3, and Isa_6:1-10).
About thirty times in the prophecy of Isaiah is God called "the Holy One." As in a photograph that which we desire to see is not the hands or feet but the face, so in God, that which we should desire to see more than the divine power and knowledge is the divine holiness. Only thus shall we be able to see sin in its blackness and awfulness, the need and necessity of atonement, and the wondrous grace of God in providing a way of life for sinful men.
When we speak of the holiness of God we mean the consummate and perfect purity and absolute spotlessness and sanctity of the divine nature; that God is immaculately pure and free from all impurity and iniquity both in Himself and in His dealings with men. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity" (Hab_1:13).
The divine holiness manifests itself in God's actions and dealings. God cannot do wrong, nor can He act unjustly. "Be It far from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should commit iniquity" (Job_34:10). However much Job may have thought that he was being unfairly dealt with, such a conclusion was nevertheless false. However hidden and mysterious God's dealings with us may be they are always right and just. Being holy God must, of course, punish sin and reward righteousness (Pro_15:9; Pro_15:26). He is the uncompromising foe of sin. So much does God hate sin and desire to deliver His people from its guilt, tyranny and power that He has given His only-begotten Son to redeem us from all iniquity (2Co_5:21; Tit_2:14; 1Pe_2:24; Rom_3:24-26).
In like manner God loves and rewards the righteous, for He loves holiness in His creatures (Heb_1:9), and has sacrificed greatly to bring about such qualities in them (Joh_17:11; Lev_11:43-45).
The doctrine of the divine holiness makes certain demands upon us. Every child of God should make it his constant aim to be holy even as God is holy (1Pe_1:15-16). Human holiness is, of course, relative, not absolute. We are to remember that an unholy act interrupts our fellowship with God (1Jn_1:5-7), during which time there can be no assurance of answered prayer (Isa_59:1-2). Hypocrisy in our approach to God is condemned by His holiness (Mat_6:1-7). If we know that God is holy and demands holiness of His creatures then we are under serious obligation to put away all unholy thoughts and deeds (Mat_5:22-24). "As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation."
Without such holiness of heart and life no man shall stand at last in the presence of God (Heb_12:14). Such a vision of God and His holiness will awaken within us a sense of our own sin and unworthiness. We will not be claiming sinless perfection. There will be, on the contrary, a growing sense of our own sin and worthlessness (1Jn_1:7-8; 1Jn_1:10). There will also be a feeling and attitude of reverence in our approach to and our behavior in the house of God (Ecc_5:1-7; Exo_3:5; Isa_6:1-3).
God is Loving, Merciful and Gracious.
"God is love" (1Jn_4:8).
"A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth" (Exo_34:6).
"God is love," as He is "light" (1Jn_1:5) and "Spirit" (Joh_4:24). These three words are wonderfully illustrative of the divine nature and being. Love is difficult if not impossible to define. From certain scriptures, however, we may infer that the love of God betokens a constant and solicitous interest in the physical, moral and spiritual wellbeing of His creatures, such as leads Him to make sacrifices beyond human comprehension in order to manifest that love (Joh_3:16; 1Jn_3:16; Rom_5:6-8). The supreme manifestation of God's love to man lies in the gift of His only-begotten Son to die for the sins of the world (Joh_3:16; Joh_15:13; Rom_5:6-8; 1Jn_4:9-10). The cross of Christ is the highest expression of the love of a holy God providing an atonement for the sins of a guilty and lost world. It is because of the love of God that pardon and forgiveness are possible. " Twas love that drew salvation's plan; 'twas love that brought it down to man; 0, the mighty gulf that God did span-on Calvary!" "But thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption" (Isa_38:17, compare Eph_2:4-5). Making "sons of God" (1Jn_3:1-2) of those who formerly were rebels (Rom_5:10), and constantly remembering His people throughout all the varying circumstances of life (Isa_63:7; Isa_49:10-16) are evidences of God's great love for man.
From the love of God springs His mercy and loving kindness to undeserving sinners (Exo_34:6; Isa_30:18). God waits to be gracious to the unkind, unworthy, and ungrateful (Mat_5:45). It is because of the mercy and longsuffering of God that sinners are not long ago destroyed (2Pe_3:9). The whole scheme of our redemption and its carrying out in fact springs from the matchless and unmerited mercy and favor of God (Eph_2:8-9).
The Justice of God.
"The Lord is righteous" (Psa_116:5). "God is ... just" (1Jn_1:9).
In a sense God's justice is a necessary outcome of His holiness, not as it is in itself so much as pertaining to its manifestation in the divine dealings with mankind. Holiness has to do more particularly with the character of God himself; justice with that character as expressed in God's dealings with men.
The justice and righteousness of God manifests itself in the making and imposing on mankind of just and holy laws, in the executing of penalties for any infringement of those laws, and in the actual carrying out of the holy and divine purposes in the government of the universe. The justice of God is free from all caprice or passion, and is vindicative not vindictive.
This attribute of God assures us that God is not "too good" to punish sin. The fate of fallen angels, of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the antediluvians is sufficient proof of this statement (Jud_1:5-16). God will assuredly punish the wicked (Psa_11:4-7) and reward the righteous (1Jn_1:9). The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luk_15:1-32) cannot, by any fair interpretation, be made to teach that God is too good to punish sin. This parable does not cover the whole of the plan of salvation, indeed it is a real question whether it has anything to do with salvation at all. Certainly, even while setting forth the divine mind and attitude towards a returning sinner, it has nothing to say as to the cost or method of providing pardon for the erring. The parable was spoken to show the scribes and Pharisees, who were murmuring because Christ was receiving sinners, that they ought to be rejoicing rather (Luk_15:1-2; Luk_15:32). We should not press parables too far, certainly not beyond the point of meaning indicated in the text or context.
Summing up then the things every Christian should believe about God we would say, first, that, as to the existence of God, he must believe that He actually exists, that God is a real entity; second, as to His nature, he must believe that He is Spirit and a Person; and third, he must believe that God is all-powerful, all-seeing, all-wise, everywhere present, eternal, unchangeable, holy, loving, merciful, gracious, and just. Such a God is our God, so worthy of our supreme trust and confidence. How rich is our heritage in God!