Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Attributes of God

This past Sunday I started teaching on the attributes of God. “Attributes” are simply characteristics or qualities of God. Try describing your spouse or parent or child or dear friend to someone. You’ll use words that are descriptive of their qualities—they are kind (or grumpy); generous (or stingy); loving and sweet; giving and selfless; etc. These are that person’s attributes.

The word “attributes” is a theological word. That is, you are not going to find it in a chapter and verse of the Bible. It’s like the word “trinity” or “rapture”. The word itself cannot be found in the Bible, but the concept can.

About the closest place in the Bible of using the word “attribute” is in I Peter 2:9 “that ye should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (KJV). The greek word is ἀρετή and is rendered “virtues” or “excellencies” in other translations. I prefer that word “excellencies”. “Praises” has other connotations and seems to obfuscate that 1 Peter 2:9 is teaching the church to show or declare the attributes of God.

I haven’t tracked down the first usage of the word attribute, mostly do to a lack of time rather than interest. So if any of you have a bit of extra time on your hands, I’d appreciate the research help. I found it coincidently used by John Bunyan, author of the great The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Near the end of his Bedford Jail incarceration, Bunyan composed A Confession of My Faith, and a Reason of My practice, published in 1672. In it he extols some of God’s attributes:
I believe, that this God is almighty, eternal, invisible, incomprehensible, &c, ‘I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect’ (Gen. 17:1). ‘The eternal God is thy refuge’ (Deut. 33:27). ‘Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever’ (I Tim. 1:17; Job 11:7; Rom. 11:33).
I believe, that this God is unspeakably perfect in all his attributes of power, wisdom, justice, truth, holiness, mercy, love, &c. His power is said to be eternal (Rom. 1:20), his understanding and wisdom infinite (Ps. 147:5). He is called the just Lord in opposition to all things (Zeph. 3:5). He is said to be truth itself and the God thereof (II Thess. 2:10; Deut. 32:4). There is none holy as the Lord. ‘God is love.’ ‘Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?’ (Job 11:7).
John Owen, the Congregationalist, defines attributes as “His infinite perfections in being and working (Rev. 4:8‐11).” More specifically they are his, “goodness (Ps. 119:68; Matt. 19:17), power (Exod. 15:11; Ps. 62:11; Rev.19:1), justice (Ps. 11:7; Zeph. 3:5; Jer. 12:1; Rom. 1:32), mercy (Ps. 130:7; Rom. 9:15; Eph. 2:4), holiness (Exod. 15:11; Josh. 24:19; Hab. 1:13; Rev. 4:8), wisdom (Rom.11:33, 16:27), and the like; which he delighteth to exercise towards His creatures, for the praise of his glory.”

James P. Boyce, the Baptist, in his Abstract of Systematic Theology, writes the attributes of God are, “those peculiarities which mark or define the mode of his existence, or which constitute his character.”

Robert L. Dabney, the Presbyterian, defines them as “those permanent, or essential, qualities of His nature, which He has made known to us in His Word. . . . They are traits qualifying His nature always, and making it the nature it is.”

Well, I have a lot more to say about God’s attributes. In fact, I’ll be saying those things every Sunday morning at my local church for the next three months.

Which of God’s attributes are you benefitting from at this phase of your life? Give Him thanks today for who He is!


Ruta said...

Thank you Rod .
I enjoy your writing very much !
very enlighting . Ranulfo Ramirez,

Scott said...

Teaching where? Good to see you back at it. Send me an email if you'd rather.