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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

God

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an immaterial, intelligent, and free Being; of perfect goodness, wisdom, and power; who made the universe, and continues to support it, as well as to govern and direct it, by his providence. Philologists have hitherto considered the word God as being of the same signification with good; and this is not denied by M. Hallenberg. But he thinks that both words originally denoted unity; and that the root is אתד , unus; whence the Syriac Chad and Gada; the Arabic Ahd and Gahd; the Persic Choda and Chuda; the Greek αγαθος and λαθος ; the Teutonic Gud; the German Gott; and our Saxon God. The other names of God, this author thinks, are referable to a similar origin.

2. By his immateriality, intelligence, and freedom, God is distinguished from Fate, Nature, Destiny, Necessity, Chance, Anima Mundi, and from all the other fictitious beings acknowledged by the Stoics, Pantheists, Spinosists, and other sorts of Atheists. The knowledge of God, his nature, attributes, word, and works, with the relations between him and his creatures, makes the subject of the extensive science called theology. In Scripture God is defined by, "I am that I am, Alpha and Omega; the Beginning and End of all things." Among philosophers, he is defined a Being of infinite perfection; or in whom there is no defect of any thing which we conceive may raise, improve, or exalt his nature. He is the First Cause, the First Being, who has existed from the beginning, has created the world, or who subsists necessarily, or of himself.

3. The plain argument, says Maclaurin, in his "Account of Sir I. Newton's Philosophical Discoveries," for the existence of the Deity, obvious to all, and carrying irresistible conviction with it, is from the evident contrivance and fitness of things for one another, which we meet with throughout all parts of the universe. There is no need of nice or subtle reasonings in this matter; a manifest contrivance immediately suggests a contriver. It strikes us like a sensation; and artful reasonings against it may puzzle us, but it is without shaking our belief. No person, for example that knows the principles of optics, and the structure of the eye, can believe that it was formed without skill in that science; or that the ear was formed without the knowledge of sounds; or that the male and female in animals were not formed for each other, and for continuing the species. All our accounts of nature are full of instances of this kind. The admirable and beautiful structure of things for final causes, exalts our idea of the Contriver; the unity of design shows him to be one. The great motions in the system performed with the same facility as the least, suggest his almighty power, which gave motion to the earth and the celestial bodies with equal ease as to the minutest particles. The subtilty of the motions and actions in the internal parts of bodies, shows that his influence penetrates the inmost recesses of things, and that he is equally active and present every where. The simplicity of the laws that prevail in the world, the excellent disposition of things, in order to obtain the best ends, and the beauty which adorns the work of nature, far superior to any thing in art, suggest his consummate wisdom. The usefulness of the whole scheme, so well contrived for the intelligent beings that enjoy it, with the internal disposition and moral structure of these beings themselves, shows his unbounded goodness. These are arguments which are sufficiently open to the views and capacities of the unlearned, while at the same time they acquire new strength and lustre from the discoveries of the learned. The Deity's acting and interposing in the universe, show that he governs as well as formed it; and the depth of his counsels, even in conducting the material universe, of which a great part surpasses our knowledge, keeps up an reward veneration and awe of this great Being, and disposes us to receive what may be otherwise revealed to us concerning him. It has been justly observed, that some of the laws of nature now known to us must have escaped us if we had wanted the sense of seeing. It may be in his power to bestow upon us other senses, of which we have at present no idea; without which it may be impossible for us to know all his works, or to have more adequate ideas of himself. In our present state, we know enough to be satisfied of our dependency upon him, and of the duty we owe to him, the Lord and Disposer of all things. He is not the object of sense; his essence, and, indeed, that of all other substances, are beyond the reach of all our discoveries; but his attributes clearly appear in his admirable works. We know that the highest conceptions we are able to form of them, are still beneath his real perfections; but his power and dominion over us, and our duty toward him, are manifest.

4. Though God has given us no innate ideas of himself, says Mr. Locke, yet, having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he hath not left himself without a witness; since we have sense, perception, and reason, and cannot want a clear proof of him as long as we carry ourselves about us, To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, that is, of being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no farther than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence. I think it is beyond question, that man has a clear perception of his own being; he knows certainly that he exists, and that he is something. In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles. If, therefore, we know there is some real Being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else. Next it is evident, that what has its being from another must also have all that which is in, and belongs to, its being from another too; all the powers it has must be owing to, and derived from, the same source. This eternal source, then, of all being, must be also the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must be also the most powerful. Again: man finds in himself perception and knowledge: we are certain, then, that there is not only some Being, but some knowing, intelligent Being, in the world. There was a time, then, when there was no knowing Being, or else there has been a knowing Being from eternity. If it be said there was a time when that eternal Being had no knowledge, I reply, that then it is impossible there should have ever been any knowledge; it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing Being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. Thus from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth, that there is an eternal, most powerful, and knowing Being, which, whether any one will call God, it matters not. The thing is evident; and from this idea, duly considered, will easily be deduced all those other attributes we ought to ascribe to this eternal Being. From what has been said, it is plain to me, that we have a more certain knowledge of the existence of a God, than of any thing our senses have not immediately discovered to us. Nay, I presume I may say that we more certainly know that there is a God, than that there is any thing else without us. When I say we know, I mean, there is such a knowledge within our reach, which we cannot miss, if we will but apply our minds to that as we do to several other inquiries. It being then unavoidable for all rational creatures to conclude that something has existed from eternity, let us next see what kind of thing that must be. There are but two sorts of beings in the world that man knows or conceives; such as are purely material without sense or perception, and sensible, perceiving beings, such as we find ourselves to be. These two sorts we shall call cogitative and incogitative beings; which to our present purpose are better than material and immaterial. If, then, there must be something eternal, it is very obvious to reason that it must be a cogitative being; because it is as impossible to conceive that bare incogitative matter should ever produce a thinking, intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter. Let us suppose any parcel of matter eternal, we shall find it in itself unable to produce any thing. Let us suppose its parts firmly at rest together, if there were no other being in the world, must it not eternally remain so, a dead inactive lump? Is it possible to conceive that it can add motion to itself, or produce any thing? Matter, then, by its own strength cannot produce in itself so much as motion. The motion at has must also be from eternity, or else added to matter by some other being, more powerful than matter. But let us suppose motion eternal too, yet matter, incogitative matter, and motion could never produce thought: knowledge will still be as far beyond the power of nothing to produce. Divide matter into as minute parts as you will, vary its figure and motion as much as you please, it will operate no otherwise upon other bodies of proportionable bulk, than it did before this division. The minutest particles of matter knock, impel, and resist one another, just as the greater do; so that if we suppose nothing eternal, matter can never begin to be; if we suppose bare matter without motion eternal, motion can never begin to be; if we suppose only matter and motion to be eternal, thought can never begin to be; for it is impossible to conceive that matter, either with or without motion, could have originally in and from itself, sense, perception, and knowledge, as is evident from hence, that then sense, perception, and knowledge must be a property eternally inseparable from matter, and every particle of it. Since, therefore, whatsoever is the first eternal Being must necessarily be cogitative; and whatsoever is first of all things must necessarily contain in it, and actually have, at least all the perfections that can ever after exist, it necessarily follows, that the first eternal Being cannot be matter. If, therefore, it be evident that something, must necessarily exist from eternity, it is also evident that that something must necessarily be a cogitative Being. For it is as impossible that incogitative matter should produce a cogitative Being, as that nothing, or the negation of all being, should produce a positive Being or matter.

This discovery of the necessary existence of an eternal mind sufficiently leads us to the knowledge of God. For it will hence follow, that all other knowing beings that have a beginning must depend upon him, and have no other ways of knowledge or extent of power than what he gives them; and therefore if he made those, he made also the less excellent pieces of this universe, all inanimate bodies, whereby his omniscience, power, and providence will be established, and from thence all his other attributes necessarily follow.

5. In the Scriptures no attempt is made to prove the existence of a God; such an attempt would have been entirely useless, because the fact was universally admitted. The error of men consisted, not in denying a God, but in admitting too many; and one great object of the Bible is to demonstrate that there is but one. No metaphysical arguments, however, are employed in it for this purpose. The proof rests on facts recorded in the history of the Jews, from which it appears that they were always victorious and prosperous so long as they served the only living and true God, Jehovah, the name by which the Almighty made himself known to them, and uniformly unsuccessful when they revolted from him to serve other gods. What argument could be so effectual to convince them that there was no god in all the earth but the God of Israel? The sovereignty and universal providence of the Lord Jehovah are proved by predictions delivered by the Jewish prophets, pointing out the fate of nations and of empires, specifying distinctly their rise, the duration of their power, and the causes of their decline; thus demonstrating that one God ruled among the nations, and made them the unconscious instruments of promoting the purposes of his will. In the same manner, none of the attributes of God are demonstrated in Scripture by reasoning: they are simply affirmed and illustrated by facts; and instead of a regular deduction of doctrines and conclusions from a few admitted principles, we are left to gather them from the recorded feelings and devotional expressions of persons whose hearts were influenced by the fear of God. These circumstances point out a marked singularity in the Scriptures, considered as a repository of religious doctrines. The writers, generally speaking, do not reason, but exhort and remonstrate; they do not attempt to fetter the judgment by the subtleties of argument, but to rouse the feelings by an appeal to palpable facts. This is exactly what might have been expected from teachers acting under a divine commission, and armed with undeniable facts to enforce their admonitions.

6. In three distinct ways do the sacred writers furnish us with information on this great and essential subject, the existence and the character of God; from the names by which he is designated; from the actions ascribed to him; and from the attributes with which he is invested in their invocations and praises; and in those lofty descriptions of his nature which, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have recorded for the instruction of the world. These attributes will be considered under their respective heads; but the impression of the general view of the divine character, as thus revealed, is too important to be omitted.

7. The names of God as recorded in Scripture convey at once ideas of overwhelming greatness and glory, mingled with that awful mysteriousness with which, to all finite minds, and especially to the minds of mortals, the divine essence and mode of existence must ever be invested. Though ONE, he is אלהים , ELOHIM, GODS, persons adorable. He is יהוה , JEHOVAH, self-existing; אל , EL, strong, powerful; אהיה , EHIEH, I am, I will be, self- existence, independency, all-sufficiency, immutability, eternity; שדי , SHADDAI, almighty, all-sufficient; אדן , ADON, Supporter, Lord, Judge. These are among the adorable appellatives of God which are scattered throughout the revelation that he has been pleased to make of himself: but on one occasion he was pleased more particularly to declare his name, that is, such of the qualities and attributes of the divine nature as mortals are the most interested in knowing; and to unfold, not only his natural, but also those of his moral attributes by which his conduct towards his creatures is regulated. "And the Lord passed by and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and fourth generation," Exodus 34. This is the most ample and particular description of the character of God, as given by himself in the sacred records; and the import of the several titles by which he has thus in his infinite condescension manifested himself, has been thus exhibited. He is not only JEHOVAH, self-existent, and EL, the strong or mighty God; but he is, says Dr. A. Clarke, " רחום , ROCHUM, the merciful Being, who is full of tenderness and compassion; חנון , CHANUN, the gracious One, he whose nature is goodness itself, the loving God. ארכּ? פים , EREC APAYIM long- suffering, the Being who, because of his tenderness, is not easily irritated, but suffers long and is kind; רב , RAB, the great or mighty One: חסד , CHESED, the bountiful Being, he who is exuberant in his beneficence; אמת , EMETH, the Truth, or True One, he alone who can neither deceive nor be deceived; נצר חסד , NOTSER CHESED, the Preserver of bountifulness, he whose beneficence never ends, keeping mercy, for thousands of generations, showing compassion and mercy while the world endures; נשא עון ופשע וחטאה , NOSE AVON VAPESHA VECHATAAH, he who bears away iniquity, transgression, and sin; properly the Redeemer, the Pardoner, the Forgiver, the Being whose prerogative it is to forgive sin, and save the soul; נקה לא ינקה NAKEH LO YINNAKEH, the righteous Judge, who distributes justice with an impartial hand; and עין פקד , PAKED AVON, &c, he who visits iniquity, he who punishes transgressors, and from whose justice no sinner can escape; the God of retributive and vindictive justice."

8. The second means by which the Scriptures convey to us the knowledge of God, is by the actions which they ascribe to him. They contain, indeed, the important record of his dealings with men in every age which is comprehended within the limit of the sacred history; and, by prophetic declaration, they also exhibit the principles on which he will govern the world to the end of time; so that the whole course of the divine administration may be considered as exhibiting a singularly illustrative comment upon those attributes of his nature which, in their abstract form, are contained in such declarations as those which have been just quoted. The first act ascribed to God is that of creating the heavens and the earth out of nothing; and by his fiat alone arranging their parts, and peopling them with living creatures. By this were manifested—his eternity and self- existence, as he who creates must be before all creatures, and he who gives being to others can himself derive it from none:—his almighty power, shown both in the act of creation and in the number and vastness of the objects so produced:—his wisdom, in their arrangement, and in their fitness to their respective ends:—and his goodness, as the whole tended to the happiness of sentient beings. The foundations of his natural and moral government are also made manifest by his creative acts. In what he made out of nothing he had an absolute right and prerogative; it awaited his ordering, and was completely at his disposal: so that to alter or destroy his own work, and to prescribe the laws by which the intelligent and rational part of his creatures should be governed, are rights which none can question. Thus on the one hand his character of Lord or Governor is established, and on the other our duty of lowly homage and absolute obedience.

9. Agreeably to this, as soon as man was created, he was placed under a rule of conduct. Obedience was to be followed with the continuance of the divine favour; transgression, with death. The event called forth new manifestations of the character of God. His tender mercy, in the compassion showed to the fallen pair; his justice, in forgiving them only in the view of a satisfaction to be hereafter offered to his justice by an innocent representative of the sinning race; his love to that race, in giving his own Son to become this Redeemer, and in the fulness of time to die for the sins of the whole world; and his holiness, in connecting with this provision for the pardon of man the means of restoring him to a sinless state, and to the obliterated image of God in which he had been created. Exemplifications of the divine mercy are traced from age to age, in his establishing his own worship among men, and remitting the punishment of individual and national offences in answer to prayer offered from penitent hearts, and in dependence upon the typified or actually offered universal sacrifice:—of his condescension, in stooping to the cases of individuals; in his dispensations both of providence and grace, by showing respect to the poor and humble; and, principally, by the incarnation of God in the form of a servant, admitting men into familiar and friendly intercourse with himself, and then entering into heaven to be their patron and advocate, until they should be received into the same glory, "and so be for ever with the Lord:"—of his strictly righteous government, in the destruction of the old world, the cities of the plain, the nations of Canaan, and all ancient states, upon their "filling up the measure of their iniquities;" and, to show that "he will by no means clear the guilty;" in the numerous and severe punishments inflicted even upon the chosen seed of Abraham, because of their transgressions:—of his long-suffering, in frequent warnings, delays, and corrective judgments inflicted upon individuals and nations, before sentence of utter excision and destruction:—of faithfulness and truth, in the fulfilment of promises, often many ages after they were given, as in the promises to Abraham respecting the possession of the land of Canaan by his seed, and in all the "promises made to the fathers" respecting the advent, vicarious death, and illustrious offices of the "Christ," the Saviour of the world:—of his immutability, in the constant and unchanging laws and principles of his government, which remain to this day precisely the same, in every thing universal, as when first promulgated, and have been the rule of his conduct in all places as well as through all time:—of his prescience of future events, manifested by the predictions of Scripture:— and of the depth and stability of his counsel, as illustrated in that plan and purpose of bringing back a revolted world to obedience and felicity, which we find steadily kept in view in the Scriptural history of the acts of God in former ages; which is still the end toward which all his dispensations bend, however wide and mysterious their sweep; and which they will finally accomplish, as we learn from the prophetic history of the future, contained in the Old and New Testaments.

Thus the course of divine operation in the world has from age to age been a manifestation of the divine character, continually receiving new and stronger illustrations until the completion of the Christian revelation by the ministry of Christ and his inspired followers, and still placing itself in brighter light and more impressive aspects as the scheme of human redemption runs on to its consummation. From all the acts of God as recorded in the Scriptures, we are taught that he alone is God; that he is present every where to sustain and govern all things; that his wisdom is infinite, his counsel settled, and his power irresistible; that he is holy, just, and good; the Lord and the Judge, but the Father and the Friend, of man.

10. More at large do we learn what God is, from the declarations of the inspired writings. As to his substance, that "God is a Spirit." As to his duration, that "from everlasting to everlasting he is God;" "the King, eternal, immortal, invisible." That, after all the manifestations he has made of himself, he is, from the infinite perfection and glory of his nature, incomprehensible: "Lo, these are but parts of his ways, and how little a portion is heard of him!" "Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out." That he is unchangeable: "The Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." That "he is the fountain of life," and the only independent Being in the universe: "Who only hath immortality." That every other being, however exalted, has its existence from him: "For by him were all things created, which are in heaven and in earth, whether they are visible or invisible." That the existence of every thing is upheld by him, no creature being for a moment independent of his support: "By him all things consist;" "upholding all things by the word of his power." That he is omnipresent: "Do not I fill heaven and earth with my presence, saith the Lord?" That he is omniscient. "All things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do." That he is the absolute Lord and Owner of all things: "The heavens, even the heaven of heavens, are thine, and all the parts of them:" "The earth is thine, and the fulness thereof, the world and them that dwell therein:" "He doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth." That his providence extends to the minutest objects: "The hairs of your head are all numbered:" "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." That he is a Being of unspotted purity and perfect rectitude: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!" "A God of truth, and in whom is no iniquity:" "Of purer eyes than to behold iniquity." That he is just in the administration of his government: "Shall not the Judge of the whole earth do right?" "Clouds and darkness are round about him; judgment and justice are the habitation of his throne." That his wisdom is unsearchable: "O the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" And, finally, that he is good and merciful: "Thou art good, and thy mercy endureth for ever:" "His tender mercy is over all his works:" "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ:" "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:" "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."

11. Under these deeply awful but consolatory views, do the Scriptures present to us the supreme object of our worship and trust; and they dwell upon each of the above particulars with inimitable sublimity and beauty of language, and with an inexhaustible variety of illustration. Nor can we compare these views of the divine nature with the conceptions of the most enlightened of Pagans, without feeling how much reason we have for everlasting gratitude, that a revelation so explicit, and so comprehensive, should have been made to us on a subject which only a revelation from God himself could have made known. It is thus that Christian philosophers, even when they do not use the language of the Scriptures, are able to speak on this great and mysterious doctrine, in language so clear, and with conceptions so noble; in a manner too so equable, so different from the sages of antiquity, who, if at any time they approach the truth when speaking of the divine nature, never fail to mingle with it some essentially erroneous or grovelling conception. "By the Word of Gods," says Dr. Barrow, "we mean a Being of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, the Creator and the Governor of all things, to whom the great attributes of eternity and independency, omniscience and immensity, perfect holiness and purity, perfect justice and veracity, complete happiness, glorious majesty, and supreme right of dominion belong; and to whom the highest veneration, and most profound submission and obedience are due." "Our notion of Deity," says Bishop Pearson, "doth expressly signify a Being or Nature of infinite perfection; and the infinite perfection of a being or nature consists in this, that it be absolutely and essentially necessary; an actual Being of itself; and potential, or causative of all beings beside itself, independent from any other, upon which all things else depend, and by which all things else are governed." "God is a Being," says Lawson, "and not any kind of being; but a substance, which is the foundation of other beings. And not only a substance, but perfect. Yet many beings are perfect in their kind, yet limited and finite. But God is absolutely, fully, and every way infinitely perfect; and therefore above spirits, above angels, who are perfect comparatively. God's infinite perfection includes all the attributes, even the most excellent. It excludes all dependency, borrowed existence, composition, corruption, mortality, contingency; ignorance, unrighteousness, weakness, misery, and all imperfections whatever. It includes necessity of being, independency, perfect unity, simplicity, immensity, eternity, immortality; the most perfect life, knowledge, wisdom, integrity, power, glory, bliss, and all these in the highest degree. We cannot pierce into the secrets of this eternal Being. Our reason comprehends but little of him, and when it can proceed no farther, faith comes in, and we believe far more than we can understand; and this our belief is not contrary to reason; but reason itself dictates unto us, that we must believe far more of God than it can inform us of." To these we may add an admirable passage from Sir Isaac Newton: "The word GOD frequently signifies Lord; but every lord is not God: it is the dominion of a spiritual Being or Lord that constitutes God; true dominion, true God; supreme, the Supreme; reigned, the false god. From such true dominion it follows, that the true God is living, intelligent, and powerful; and from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or supremely perfect; he is eternal and infinite; omnipotent and omniscient; that is, he endures from eternity to eternity; and is present from infinity to infinity. He governs all things that exist, and knows all things that are to be known; he is not eternity or infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present; he endures always, and is present every where; he is omnipresent, not only virtually, but also substantially; for power without substance cannot subsist. All things are contained and move in him, but without any mutual passion; he suffers nothing from the motions of bodies; nor do they undergo any resistance from his omnipresence. It is confessed, that God exists necessarily, and by the same necessity he exists always and every where. Hence also he must be perfectly similar, all eye, all ear, all arm, all the power of perceiving, understanding, and acting; but after a manner not at all corporeal, after a manner not like that of men, after a manner wholly to us unknown. He is destitute of all body, and all bodily shape; and therefore cannot be seen, heard, or touched; nor ought he to be worshipped under the representation of any thing corporeal. We have ideas of the attributes of God, but do not know the substance of even any thing; we see only the figures and colours of bodies, hear only sounds, touch only the outward surfaces, smell only odours, and taste tastes; and do not, cannot, by any sense, or reflex act, know their inward substances; and much less can we have any notion of the substance of God. We know him by his properties and attributes."

12. Many able works in proof of the existence of God have been written, the arguments of which are too copious for us even to analyze. It must be sufficient to say that they all proceed, as it is logically termed, either a priori, from cause to effect, or, which is the safest and most satisfactory mode, a posteriori, from the effect to the cause. The irresistible argument from the marks of design with which all nature abounds, to one great intelligent, designing Cause, is by no writers brought out in so clear and masterly a manner as by Howe, in his "Living temple," and Paley, in his "Natural Theology."


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'God'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/g/god.html. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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