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 The Principles of Theology - Article 1

by W.H.Griffith Thomas

ARTICLE 1

<< 1. The Existence Of God

 

2. The Nature Of God

Heresy compelled the Church to provide a closer definition than would have otherwise been necessary, and to this is due the difference of tone between Scripture and philosophical theology. Nevertheless, we believe that all is implicit in Scripture and that the statements, abstract though they be, are only the explicit expression of what is implied and contained therein. There are five aspects of the Nature of God stated in the Article.

1. His Unity. “There is one … God.” This is much more than anything merely numerical; it is essential. Plurality is impossible (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). The mind demands a First Cause, and the word “universe” points in the same direction, though it does not for a moment mean that the universe is God. God is the Infinite Being Who includes all in Himself. As such, He is our highest conception and loftiest principle, and there can be no other. This does not mean the “Infinite and Absolute” that “leaves room for no other and can brook none”, but it does mean that whatever plurality of beings there are in the universe there is One Who is “highest of all”.[35]

2. His Life. “There is one living ... God.”  The word is vivus, not vivens. God is life and its source. Scripture lays much stress on the “Living God”, especially as against idolatry (Josh 3:10; Psa. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Dan. 6:26; Matt. 16:16; John 6:57; Acts 14:15; Rom. 9:26; Heb. 3:12; Rev. 7:2).

3. His Truth. “There is one living and true God.” The word is verus, not verax(true, not truthful), and answers to ἀληθινός rather than ἀληθής. But the two words are found in Scripture descriptive of God as “true”. The latter means faithful, as against falsity (Tit. 1:2); the former means substantial, genuine, as against unreality (John 17:3).

4. His Eternity. “There is one living and true God, everlasting.” This, too, is a necessity in a First Cause, and is accordingly emphasised in Scripture (Rom. 1:20; 1 Tim. 1:17). It means a Being with no limitation of space and time. As He is not limited in space, so He is not limited in time. This statement should be carefully compared with the Creed, which emphasises the Almightiness of God.[36]

5. His Spirituality. “Without body, parts, or passions.”
(a) “Without body”, incorporeus; that is, without limitation of power and space (John 4:24). Yet, as we shall see, God’s Infinity is always to be regarded as personal.
(b) “Without parts”, impartibilis; that is, incapable as a Spirit of being represented in bodily shape, and without change, without imperfection, indivisible, and with no possibility of conflict.
(c) “Without passions”, impassibilis; that is, incapable of being subsected with anything by an agent stronger than Himself (sub-fero). This simply denies His impotence and imperfection. But it is essential to distinguish it from the voluntary suffering endured by God on account of sin. As everyone that loves suffers, so God must suffer by reason of His unrequited love to man. This, however, is a self-limitation of God associated with the Divine Self-sacrifice. So that when the Article speaks of God as “without passions” it is manifestly unfair to say that it denies to God any moral character.[37]

Objection is sometimes raised to the Biblical conception of God as anthropomorphic, but the objection is not sound because we must use human language, and the conceptions of man and personality are the highest possible to us. It is obviously better to use anthropomorphic expressions than zoo-morphic or cosmo-morphic, and when we attribute to God emotions and sensibilities we mean to free Him from all the imperfections attaching to the human conceptions of these elements. In revealing Himself God has to descend to our capacities, and use language which can be understood. But this can never fully reveal Him since that which is finite could never explain the Infinite. So that God must necessarily speak of Himself as a Man, for so only could we comprehend anything about Him. Hence, both as to Person and actions, everything is spoken of after the manner of men. But all these are only figures of speech, by which alone we can obtain an idea of the reality. Any objection to such anthropomorphism only has force so far as man’s thoughts of God are unworthy and untrue.[38]

 

>> 3. The Attributes Of God

 

Footnotes

[35] Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 443 and p. 436.

[36] Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 36 f.

[37] For the truth in the Patripassian heresy, see Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology, p. 483 f.; and for a fine treatment of the sense in which God is capable of suffering, see Bushnell, The New Life, Sermon 17. See also Platt, Immanence and Christian Thought, pp. 414-418.

[38] “The God of religion and therefore of religious doctrine is always conceived anthropopathically or anthropomorphically; an abstract idea, such as that of the absolute, can never occupy the place of a religious conception of God; therefore the idea of personality, which is never entirely free from figure, is absolutely indispensable” (De la Saussaye, Manual of the Science of Religion, p. 230). See also Kennedy, ut supra, p. 260 ff.; Strong, ut supra, p. 39; Platt, Immanence and Christian Thought, p. 219.

 

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Article 1

>> Introduction to Article 1

>> 1 - Existence of God

>> 2 - Nature of God

>> 3 - Attributes of God

>> 4 - Manifestation of God in Nature

>> 5 - Revelation of God in Christ

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>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man

 



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