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 The Principles of Theology - Article 1

by W.H.Griffith Thomas

ARTICLE 1

<< 3. The Attributes Of God

 

4. The Manifestation Of God In Nature

The Creeds connect creation with the existence of God, and the Article naturally follows the same line.[42] “The Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.”

1. “The Maker of all things.” This implies the simple but obvious truth that matter is not eternal. To use modern phraseology, it teaches that God is Transcendent.

2. “The Preserver of all things.” This means that God has not left the world He has created. It teaches what may be called the Immanence of God. If man is above the world, much more is God, and it may be said without any hesitation that there never has been a religion worthy of the name which did not believe that its God was above the world. Christianity, in particular, has always taught the Immanence of God.[43] While emphasising the Transcendence in association with the Divine Personality, Christian theology in all ages has always taken account of the presence of God in the world and in human life. But there is an un-Christian view of Immanence as well, which is rightly described as Pantheism. Christianity is neither deistic in the sense of making the Divine Transcendence absolutely remote from life, nor pantheistic in the sense of absorbing God in His Creation; on the contrary, it teaches the essential truth of both positions. If Immanence is over-pressed God becomes limited within creation and incapable of exceptional action.

Reviewing the statement of the Article, so far, we observe its clear implications against Atheism, Materialism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Deism, and Agnosticism, all these being in one way or another opposed by the teaching of the Article. In regard to the last point, it may be specially noted that facts compel us to predicate a knowledge of God, for it is impossible for the mind to remain in suspense.[44] In the same way the Article clearly opposes Dualism and Monism. The former teaches that there are two first principles, the latter the converse, that there is only one principle, thereby making God the Author of evil.

The various human conceptions of Deity have always lain between the two extremes of infinite impersonal power, as in Pantheism, and a Finite Person, as implied in Polytheism. Polytheism must involve finiteness of person, because only one God can be infinite, and personality is not strictly allowed by Pantheism. Of course, the problem is how to reconcile the thought of absoluteness and infinity with personality, since personality is assumed to imply limitation. But when we speak of the Infinite we do not intend thereby an impersonal substance, but One Who is a Person.[45] Our conception of God must be found between the two extremes. We must find room for the infinity of Pantheism while rejecting its impersonality, and we must find room for the personality of Polytheism while rejecting its finiteness. Pantheism, because it is almost always and wholly speculative and philosophical, never has been, never can be the religion of the masses of people. On the other hand, Polytheism is equally impossible because of its association with a crude and impure Theism.[46] The conception of Personality is central and fundamental, and no religion is possible unless God is regarded as at once Transcendent and Personal. This idea of the Personality of God has to be faced in every system of Philosophy, and is the determining factor of success or failure. Polytheism is therefore impossible and Monotheism is essential, and one of the greatest needs is a right conception of the One God as righteous. It is doubtless difficult to harmonise Personality and Immanence, but this is mainly due to the fact that the mind is apt to hold too material a conception of Immanence. Instead of conceiving of it as some extended or diffused matter or substance, we ought to regard it as the sustaining will of God active in every part of the universe.[47] “God is where He acts.” In this sense the Immanence of God is merely His dynamic presence in every part of creation, together with the denial of the independence of the universe at any point. The doctrine is a welcome and salutary recognition of the fact that God is necessary to the world at all points, and it is intended to bring home to men the conviction that the only power in the universe is finally the power of God Himself. When this is understood there need be no insuperable difficulty in harmonising the ideas of Immanence and Personality. There is great danger in speaking of God as the Absolute, as though this meant independence of all relations. This is not our ordinary use of the term when applied to “absolute monarchy”, etc., for it only means that God is not to be limited by anything or anyone outside Himself. The term is virtually synonymous with infinite, though emphasising the independence rather than the greatness of God. But in any case Personality is essential and indispensable so long as we are careful to remove from the idea of Divine Personality all our conceptions of change and development. We must hold His essential attributes of Omnipotence and Omniscience together with the perfection of His moral character. However difficult it may be for us to conceive of it, He is the “Absolute Person”, and in this term we unite the two extreme conceptions of the Supreme Being.

Divine Personality seems to call for particular emphasis at present because of certain current scientific conceptions of the universe which, by reason of the evolutionary idea, tend in the direction either of Deism or Pantheism. Nature and Evolution are apt to shut God from sight, but, as we have already seen, Evolution is nothing but modal, and Nature is not personal, and we must therefore not allow them to be associated with anything materialistic or non-theistic.

So that the Divine attributes are Omnipotence, Omniscience, Transcendence, and Immanence, the last-named being perhaps somewhat more than the old Omnipresence.[48] The Divine character includes Truth, Holiness, Faithfulness, Wisdom, and Benevolence.

Reviewing our consideration thus far, we have arrived at a view of God which predicates Unity, Rationality, Morality, and Personality. But it is perhaps necessary to say again that we must not think our Christian Faith rests on Nature together with Scripture; on the contrary, our full view of God rests solely on Christ’s Revelation:
“The Christian doctrine of God is a Theism enriched by what was given historically in and through Jesus Christ.”[49]

The problem of the Divine existence and character is complicated by the fact of sin. The difficulty is undoubtedly serious, and men frequently express their inability to believe in a Loving Father Who could create man and involve him in such sorrows as the human race knows in sin and suffering. It may be said at once that the problem of evil is incomprehensible in full, and it is hardly possible to think that human limitations will ever permit of our fully understanding it during earthly life.[50] But there are certain considerations which help to relieve some of the pressure with which this forces itself on the thought of mankind. Whatever may have been the origin, and whatever is the present power of evil, it cannot be said to defeat the purpose of God with regard to moral and spiritual progress. On the contrary, there is ample proof that God actually overrules the power of evil for the purpose of accomplishing His own designs. Further, sin is only temporary, and as it had a beginning, so it is to be believed that it will have an end, since the permanent presence of wrong seems incompatible with a universe created by a perfectly good God. A consciousness of a fundamental distinction between right and wrong is rooted in the very idea of things, and man’s conscience testifies to the fact that sin is a violation of the Divine law and therefore repugnant to God’s character. Then, too, it is quite impossible to contemplate the fact of sin without the fact of redemption. Whatever we may say in regard to the Divine permission of sin there can be no doubt about the Divine provision of redemption, which more than meets the effects of human wrongdoing. There were only two possible ways in which man could have been created; either as a machine, compelled to do always and only what is right, or as a moral being, with the risk of wrongdoing through the power of choice. So that objection to God because of sin is really an objection to our very creation, which is obviously futile. Whether we like it or not, we have been created with all the solemnity of responsibility for character and action, and in the midst of our circumstances of probation God has, we believe, provided a remedy for the wreck wrought by sin, and the vital question now is not how, or why, sin has been permitted to come into the world, but how we are to get rid of it by redemption, and why we should not accept God’s perfect deliverance. As succeeding Articles will show, there has been a Revelation of Redeeming Grace provided for men in Jesus Christ, and all the ravages caused by sin are more than met and healed by the wondrous provision made by God for salvation.

The moment we come to the conclusion that God is personal the question arises whether He is interested in us, and whether He can communicate with us. Still more, the enquiry is made whether He has actually done so. The answer is found in God’s Revelation in Christ, which is the subject of the next section of the Article.

>> 5. The Revelation Of God In Christ

 

Footnotes

[42] Litton, ut supra, p. 95.

[43] Illingworth, Divine Immanence; Platt, Immanence and Christian Thought.

[44] Agnosticism assumes a double incompetence – the incompetence not only of man to know God, but of God to make Himself known. But the denial of competence is the negation of Deity, and it is impossible to assert the non-existence of God; for before one can say that the world is without a God, he that makes this great denial must first have become thoroughly conversant with the whole world” (Miller, Topics of the Times, “The Idea of God”, p. 13).

[45] “‘Infinite’ (and the same is true of ‘absolute’) is an adjective, not a substantive. When used as a noun, preceded by the definite article, it signifies, not a being, but an abstraction. When it stands as a predicate, it means that the subject, be it space, time, or some quality of a being, is without limit” (Fisher, The Grounds of Theistic and Christian Belief, p. 69).
“Even when religion and philosophy both agree to speak of God as ‘the Infinite’, for the one it is an adjective for the other a substantive” (Aubrey Moore, Lux Mundi, p. 65. Tenth Edition).

[46] “So far is Monotheism from having been evolved out of an original Polytheism, that Polytheism is rather a diseased outcome, through the influence of language, of an original Monotheism, which, amid all the forests of myths and rabble rout of divinities, may distinctly be traced at every stage of their existence in one and all of the ethnic religions of which history has preserved a record” (Miller, Topics of the Times, “The Idea of God”, p. 32).

[47] Platt, ut supra, p. 205.

[48] Platt, ut supra, p. 71.

[49] Paterson, The Rule of Faith, p. 205.

[50] Litton, ut supra, pp. 87-95.

 

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The Principles of Theology

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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

>> The History of the Doctrine


>> Issues page on Article 1

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> 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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