The attributes of God are often distinguished as “communicable” and “incommunicable.”
The incommunicable attributes are those which cannot be communicated to or have existence in the creature. They belong to God alone and He cannot share them with another. These are such things as His sovereignty, His infinity and eternity, His immutability, independency, and such as that. They are important for they are the unique attributes of divinity. Without them God would not be God. Through them God is exalted in transcendent greatness far above every other being, so that we can only stand before Him in awe and wonderment to worship, and the words of the psalmist become our words, Psalm 113:2-4, “Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for ever more. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’s name is to be praised. The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.”
Actually when we try to understand and give content to these concepts in our minds we are brought inevitably to the limits of our human comprehension. In fact, when it comes to the incommunicable attributes of God we find it almost impossible to think of them in anything but negative terms. So God is “infinite,” which is to say, He is “not finite,” He is not limited as to space in the way we are. God is “immutable”; He is ‘not changing’ the way we are. God is “independent,” “not dependent” as we are upon another. And so it goes on. Always in the end we stand before the rhetorical question of Isaiah 40:18, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” And the answer which always echoes back is that of Isaiah 55:8, 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
And yet, if this were all we knew of God, something would be wrong, something would be missing. God would be so distant from us, so foreign to us that we could only stand in a quivering fear before Him. We might stand in awe before His greatness, but we would not be drawn to Him. We might, perhaps, try to satisfy His demands so as to escape His wrath, or even to gain what reward He might offer; but to draw near to Him and to walk with Him, we would not so much as desire. We would be like the children of Israel at Sinai who, after standing before the thunderings of the law, drew back from the mountain and cried to Moses, Exodus 20:19, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
But this is not all. There is more. God has also His “communicable” attributes, that is, those which God shares with us so that we may know Him in terms which our experience can understand. God made us with the intention that this should be so, as we are told in Genesis 1:26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Nor did God ever leave this purpose, for we hear Jesus praying in that great prayer of His last night on earth, John 17:21, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” God has within His Triune Being a life of personal fellowship and virtue which He has willed to share with His creatures. Here is where we find the “communicable” attributes of God.
Comprehended here are all of the moral virtues ascribed by Scripture to God; and they are many—mercy, knowledge, justice, love, holiness, wisdom goodness, etc. And these are all interrelated, they are one in Him; e.g., His knowledge is merciful and His mercy is with knowledge; His wisdom is just, and His justice is wise; and so we could go on interrelating all of the virtues together. But there are three of them that are most basic to all—holiness, love, and truth.
God is a holy God. Repeatedly Israel was assured of this when being given the commands of the law, Leviticus 19:2, “I the LORD your God am holy.” Isaiah in his prophecies was very conscious of this, for before he was ever called, God had taken him up in vision to hear the seraphims exclaim before the presence of the divine greatness, Isaiah 6:3, “Holy holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” And then when God spoke through him it was with constant assurances, such as in Isaiah 43:3, “For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel,” and “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place.”
Holiness is on the one hand separation—separation from all that is corrupted and sinful. Accordingly the instructions of God to Israel were,Leviticus 19:7, 26 “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy” for I am the LORD your God. . . . And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.”
But we should not forget that latter part of Leviticus 19:26 either, “. . . that ye should be mine.” That is the positive side of holiness—complete dedication to that which is good.
Certainly both of these elements describe the fellowship of the Triune life preeminently. Between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there is freedom from every evil by which their unity might in any way be corrupted. Rather there is a perfect dedication of life. We receive a little idea of the beauty of this interrelationship within God in the life of Jesus. There we have the Son always professing, John 6:38, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” In turn we hear the Father once and again exclaiming, Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” In turn, this is what we are told of the Holy Spirit, John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” It is in this perfect interdedication to each other and their common life together that all holiness begins.
Love must relate immediately to the essential, moral nature of God, for John tells us twice, in I John 4:8 and in I John 4:16, “God is love.”
But what is love? So rich and broad is the Biblical concept of love, so far beyond what the world wishes to make of it, that it is difficult to contain it all within a comprehensive definition. Nevertheless, there are a few things which do stand on the fore.
Closely related to the essence of love is giving. This comes out when John, between those two emphatic assurances that “God is love, says further of it, I John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And John is simply reaffirming what Jesus said himself in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Thus when Paul enters into his rich and wonderful development of love, he assurps us in I Corinthians 13:5 that love “seeketh not her own.” Love is that which gives of itself to another.
But love is also more. Love is a state of exultant pleasantness and joy. This is the cry of the Song of Solomon, 7:6, “How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!” In turn Moses, speaking of God’s love for Israel; said, Deuteronomy 10:15, “For the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he choose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is in this day.” This joy is related, of course, to the giving. This is the paradox of Christianity: joy comes not from seeking one’s self and its pleasure, but from the giving of one’s self to another. Jesus put it this way, Matthew 16:25, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
The result is. that love forms a bond: as Colossians 3:14 calls it, “The bond of perfectness.” Certainly it is that preeminently in God. In God there are Three who never in any sense withdraw into themselves from the others; Their life is one and has existence only as that which is shared in perfect giving with each other. God is love! And thus their life is one of perfect and eternal joy, as Christ prayed in deep strains of heartfelt anticipation, John 17:5, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
And then there is truth.
One can hardly think about the concept truth without hearing the cynical question of Pilate echoing through the ages, John 18:38, “What is truth?” He had arrived at that degree of educated sophistication where he knew how equivocal the claims of truth could be. Even in the realm of physical observation, what is real to one is called sheer illusion by another; and when it comes to the mental and spiritual well, what is the use? And it is hopeless as long as man remains the standard by which truth is to be determined. But it is different with God.
Clearly truth, too, relates very directly to the essence of God. Often God is called in Scripture, “The
God of truth,” (Isaiah 65:15, etc.). In turn Jesus said of himself, John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And when speaking of the Spirit He said, “When he, the Spirit of truth, is co1pe, he will guide you into all truth.”
It means that truth has its only beginning with God, and in Him, when Father, Son and Holy Spirit think and will together that which is shared within the Triune consciousness and when what is willed by them comes into reality. Isaiah 55:11 puts it this way, “So shall my word be that goeth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Numbers 23:19puts it even more explicitly, “God is not a man, that he should be; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” It is from this Triune mind of God that all reality and truth comes forth.
To be sure, men may, and many do, put God aside in the determination to find the truth behind reality by themselves without help. In fact, the search may for a time seem quite exciting and even near to success; but in the end it always fails and all that remains is that cynical, despairing question of Pilate, “What is truth?” It is because they have refused, just as Pilate did, that which Jesus had just said, John 18:37, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Or earlier in John 8:31, 32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
And so one could go on through all virtues. Each in its own way would relate to one of these three and so to God from whom all that is virtue begins. Of all that is good, God is the only source, asJames 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”