WHO IS GOD?
How Shall We Think of God? -- "Upon the conception that is entertained of God will depend the nature and quality of the religion of any soul or race; and in accordance with the view that is held of God, His nature, His character and His relation to other beings, the spirit and the substance of theology will be determined." When one man says, "I believe in God" he may have in mind an entirely different conception of God from another man who uses the same expression. There is a Christian idea of God and there are many non-Christian ideas about God; it is the latter which keep men from heartily engaging in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wrong Conceptions of God. -- Some of these are:
1. That He is a blind fate or unknowable force. Personality is denied, and it is asserted that this great force neither sees, cares nor even knows what men do or do not do.
2. Even if this great force be personal, and knows what is going on amongst men, He is perfectly indifferent to right or wrong actions.
3. God knows and sees all that is going on, but He has wound up this universe like a great clock. To help or succour any man in his distress would disarrange the whole system. Natural law must have its course; it is useless to pray.
4. God is revengeful or weak; in the first place men seek to keep out of His way, in the second they do not care.
When men adopt these wrong ideas of God and cherish them they are fashioned after them in life and character. Here are the stumbling-blocks which need to be removed before men, who think this way, can be brought into sympathy with the Church of Christ. Man can never come into personal loving relations with a Universal Substance or Force, no matter how mighty it is.
Right Conceptions of God are necessary for the true worship of the Almighty, for the exercise of proper conduct to our fellow men and for the upbuilding of our own spiritual life. Never was there a time when the great fundamental positions of the Bible, in regard to God, needed to be more plainly stated than to-day. When men stand firmly upon these positions a whole host of perplexities and anxieties will take their departure.
The Christian Conception of God has been thus expressed, "God is the Personal Spirit, perfectly good, who in holy love, creates, sustains and orders all." The essential matters covered in this statement are:
1. The nature of God. He is the Personal Spirit (Exodus 3:14; John 4:24) who can enter into personal relations with man, and who hears and answers prayer.
2. The character of God. He is perfectly good, pure and holy (Psalm 25:8; Nahum 1:7; Romans 2:4). Man may have perfect confidence, however matters may seem to him to go wrong with his imperfect vision of the world and the happenings in it, that there is a good God who governs all in the interest of righteousness (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).
3. The relation of God to all other existences. He creates, sustains and orders all (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 19).
4. The motive of God in His relation to all other existence; it is holy love (1 John 4:8).
Supreme power, personality, intelligence and perfect goodness are then the great revealed truths which the Bible presents to us as the proper conceptions which we should have of God.
But if it is desired to know what God is like we look at once to Jesus Christ. He is supreme intelligence. He has power over nature and men and He uses all with the motive and purpose of a holy love. We know that He controlled nature, when on earth, and not nature Him. He taught the great love of God for man. He made it plain that men were not in a relation as atoms of matter in a whirlpool of action, but as sons to a loving father.
GOD IS SUPREME
God's Attitude to the Universe. -- The Scriptures are consistent in the statement, many times made, that God is the source of all things. He brings all things into being and sustains all by the word of His power. His is a work of perpetual administration. But God is not wholly occupied in conducting the affairs of the universe, neither does it exhaust His possibilities (Psalm 8:1; 148:13). He is greater than the universe. God, says Dr. Clarke, in his "Outline of Christian Theology," is like the spirit of a man in his body, which is greater than his body, able to direct his body, and capable of activities that far transcend the physical realm. God is a free spirit, personal, self-directing, unexhausted by His present activities. This statement affirms both the immanence and the transcendence of God. By the immanence of God is meant that He is everywhere and always present in the universe, nowhere absent from it, never separated from its life. By His transcendence is meant -- not as is sometimes represented -- that He is outside and views the universe from beyond and above, but that He is not shut up in it or limited by it, not required in His totality to maintain and order it. By both together is meant that He is a free spirit inhabiting the universe, but surpassing it, immanent as always in the universe, and transcendent, as always independent of its limitations and able to act upon it.
God's Attitude to Man. -- God has not only placed man at the head of the animal world, but has endowed him with qualities which make him its lord and master. God is more than the Creator of man. He is his Father, Saviour and Friend.
God comes to man in the attitude, of The Supreme Spiritual Being, approaching a spiritual being who is of priceless value. Jesus Christ makes this truth very plain. He everywhere teaches the great worth of the life of a man and that God is seeking to come directly into touch with this life which is so precious in His sight (John 3:16; Matthew 10:30,31). This life is not the physical but the spiritual which is the real life of a man. "Not what one has, but what one is, gives the true measure of a man." He said, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:36,37). "Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment?" (Matthew 6:25). "In harmony with this view of the worth of life," Professor Stevens in "The Theology of the New Testament," says, "Jesus taught that the most humble and insignificant person, on whom men set no value, is precious in the sight of God. These little ones, be they children or humble believers, are not the despised (Matthew 18:10). The least important person who goes astray from goodness excites the pity and solicitude of God, and He seeks him and brings him back as the shepherd, leaving his ninety-nine sheep, goes into the mountains in eager search after the one that has wandered away" (Luke 15:14).
The hope of everlasting life is bound up with the recognition by man of the priceless value of the spiritual life and of the necessity of his coming into harmony (in thought, will and action) with God's plans for him (John 17:3; Luke 12:16-21; John 1:4; 3:15,34-36; 6:35,47; 14:6).
"GOD IS THE PERSONAL SPIRIT"
"God is Spirit," these words of Christ, uttered to the Samaritan woman (John 4:24), have reference to the nature of God and show us how we are to think of Him. He is not limited to a particular place of worship, but is to be worshipped "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23).
When we speak of a spirit we mean a being who has intelligence and will; one who thinks, feels and wills. God the great intelligence and will can enter into communication with man who, while he has a body, has also a spirit possessing intelligence and a will. We need not define the difference between God and matter, "if only we give full weight to this vital and practical difference, that He is one who thinks and feels and wills. The composition of spirit we may never understand, but this is the action of spirit and this is intelligible." God is everywhere represented in the Scriptures as exercising intelligence and will (Genesis 1:1,2; 6:3; Job 26:7-14; 38:1-41; Psalm 2; 19; 72; Isaiah 61:1; Mark 10:27; 12:27; John 3:34; Acts 3:26).
God is Personal. -- Personality has two characteristics; self-consciousness and self-direction. When it is said that God is personal, the meaning is that He knows Himself as God and directs His own actions. In the Bible He is represented as saying "I" (Exodus 20:2; 3:14) and as directing all things. Personality does not limit God. He is the one perfect personality. Personality in man exists only in a more or less imperfect degree. Personality is understood here not as "bodily," but as belonging to the spirit.
GOD IS GOOD
The Character of God is a subject of great importance to man. God is the Supreme Personal Spirit, yet to know only this is to leave out a very vital part in our estimation or knowledge of God. We desire to know and feel that God is not only the greatest, but the best being in the universe. Hence God is shown to us in the Bible to be inwardly perfect and outwardly consistent with this perfection. The Old Testament shows a struggle between God and man; God seeking to bring man to the thinking of right thoughts and doing of right actions and man resisting Him. The history of Israel is a story of a nation whom God would make a righteous people; all the laws given to it, civil, sanitary and ceremonial, were with the end in view to make it "a holy nation"; all its prophets and teachers proclaim the righteous and just character of God (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 11:45; 19:2; 20:7, 8; Numbers 15:40; Deuteronomy 14:2,21; Joshua 24:19; Psalm 22:3; 99:3; 111:9; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15). In Jesus Christ and His life upon earth we see the goodness of God in its largeness. "In His gospel holiness is the ideal, the substance of Christian character and the end in view in Christian experience." He says, in the Sermon on the Mount, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
In Christ we have the one perfect ideal of moral excellence. In Him we can see what goodness in God means (John 14:9).
The standard for the conduct of man is that of God's goodness, righteousness and truth; this is not a double one -- the Old and the New Testament -- but a single one and applicable to all men of all races and climes.
"If sin exists holiness in God must absolutely and forever oppose it. From the holiness in God's character we can understand His righteousness and justice. The man who does evil sets his will against God's will and against the principle upon which He conducts the universe. Such a man has placed himself where he must either turn back and forsake his sin or take the inevitable consequences of resisting the purpose which God is fulfilling."
God's love for man is bound up with His goodness. God, foreseeing the fearful consequences of man's sinning, seeks in every way to warn and turn him back from the evil way. He knows the great worth of the soul and desires to save it to everlasting joy (John 3:17; Luke 9:56; John 14:1-3).
The Manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. -- Paul says, "when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4); "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10,11).
This personal manifestation of God in Christ is in perfect harmony with the nature and character of God as we know Him through the Scriptures. This manifestation of God is not only subject to a historical test, but may also be made the subject of a personal experience test, "If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17). Soon after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the disciples, who had been with Jesus when He was upon earth, began to urge others to make a test of personal experience in regard to the manifestation of God in Christ (Acts 2:14,31-47; 3:19-21; 7:56). Paul, who had a special experience (Acts 9:1-8), preached this test of personal experience throughout the Roman Empire. Ever since those early times there has been the same urgent appeal for men to come to a knowledge of God through Jesus Christ and to make the test not only historical, but one of personal experience.
The "Threefold Self-manifestation of God." -- Christ in instructing His disciples after His resurrection, said, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19).
In the Old Testament we have the manifestation of God as the one living God of all. He was specially known as the God of Israel in preparing that nation for the great part it had in the divine economy.
In the New Testament Christ is recognized by His followers -- and so taught Himself -- as the personal manifestation of God, to whom divine honour was and is to be given. Christ told His followers that He would "pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever" (John 14:16). This Comforter (16:7-15), the Holy Spirit, would guide them into all truth.
The Holy Spirit, upon whom they were to wait for His manifestation (Acts 1:8), came in wonderful power on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), thus beginning the great work which was to spread around the world. When Paul and Barnabas were ready for their large missionary task, the Holy Spirit called them to it (Acts 13:2). The early Church felt the presence of that mighty indwelling Holy Spirit. "As God Himself had come in the Son so it was felt that He had come in the Spirit. The one God of all known to the fathers, had manifested Himself in the divine human Christ, and in the invisible Spirit of truth and life. Both was His and yet each was truly Himself."
Who is God? How shall we think of Him? Give some of the wrong conceptions of God. What can be said of the right conceptions of God? What is the Christian conception of God? How can we know what God is like? What is God's attitude to the universe and to man? What do we mean when we say, that "God is a Spirit"? How is God personal? What can be said of the character of God? How is God manifested, in Christ, and in the threefold manifestation?