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About God’s Attributes

I have no less than five questions on hand at the moment. I will try to answer a couple of them in this issue. 

From a reader in the far northwest comer of our country comes the following question: “Recently in our Men’s Society we discussed Article 1 of the Netherlands Confession of Faith. In this article God’s attributes are mentioned. The question is: are ,i>all

Reply 

First of all, let us get the article before us: “We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” 

In the second place, the answer to the first question above is: no, all God’s attributes are not mentioned in this article. Such attributes as God’s Self existence, God’s omnipresence, God’s omniscience, God’s holiness, God’s veracity, God’s mercy, God’s love — all of these receive no separate mention in this article. Evidently it is not the purpose of this article to be exhaustive in its mention of God’s attributes. 

In the third place, as I have already indicated above, God’s love is indeed one of His infinite perfections. As Scriptural grounds for this contention, I would point to a passage such as I John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” Notice that this passage teaches plainly that love characterizes the very nature of God. God Himself is love. This is why it is true that he who is born of God, and is, therefore, like God, necessarily loveth. When God begets His children, He begets children who are after His image and likeness, conformed to the image of His Son. And because this is true, those whom He begets (who are born of Him) will love. If they do not, that is a sure indication that they have not been born of Him. For love belongs to the very image of God. Thus, Scripture also calls God the “God of love,” II Cor. 13:11

For a working definition of love as an attribute of God, I would propose the following, quoted from Rev. H. Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics: “The love of God is the infinite and eternal bond of fellowship that is based upon the ethical perfection and holiness of the divine nature, and that subsists between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.” For a detailed discussion, I refer the reader to this same work, pages 103-107. 

Finally, I am not quite certain as to the meaning of the alternatives posed in the last question. Although I would not phrase it in this way, I could conceive of answering yes to both parts of this question: love is an attribute of God, and God’s attributes are in His love. By the latter I mean, then, that there is perfect harmony among all the attributes of God, and that all God’s attributes are perfectly one in Him. This is the truth of God’s simplicity. Thus, for example, God’s love is eternal and incomprehensible and unchangeable and is characterized by perfect wisdom, holiness, righteousness, etc. There is never any disharmony and conflict in God Himself or in His attributes as He reveals them in His dealings with the creature. This is also emphasized in our Heidelberg Catechism, which teaches that His mercy can never be in conflict with His justice, Lord’s Day IV. 

From this same questioner I received a question aboutIsaiah 1, but this will have to wait until next time. For I must also try to satisfy another questioner.

About A Christian Philosophy 

From a Grand Rapids reader I received the following problem: 

“A question has been bothering me for a long time, and I hope you are willing to answer this and explain a few things for me. 

“Throughout the history of mankind men have been raised up who by their thinking and example have led part of mankind, or perhaps the whole of mankind, in a certain direction and way of life, for worse or for better. Plato and Aristotle have influenced the Greek people and even following generations. Marx, Nietzsche, Hitler have molded the lives of modem men. Hinduism and Brahmanism have molded Asian peoples. My question is this: may man establish or make a Christian Philosophy and try to lead or influence mankind or part of mankind in a good direction for their general welfare, and call this thinking also a Biblical Philosophy? Some say ‘yes’; others say ‘no.’ But what is your opinion?”

Reply 

First of all, I would remark that I could wish for a few more specifics. I think there are some big questions involved here, and questions which are important, too, for our understanding of our Christian calling. But my questioner is not very concrete. And there is no definition furnished of several ideas mentioned. Thus, for example, what is meant by a “Christian philosophy” or a “Biblical philosophy”? And what is meant by influencing mankind in a good direction and for their general welfare? Does my questioner have in mind, for example, the improvement of the ungodly reprobate and the taking over of this present world and all its life “for the kingdom of God?” I am quite certain that my questioner has in mind the so-called Toronto Movement, or the A.A.C.S. and the philosophy which it promulgates — sometimes called Dooyeweerdian Philosophy. And there is much to be said in criticism of this entire movement. In fact, the Standard Bearer has reflected from time to time on various publications of this movement. Now I can hardly enter into a thoroughgoing critique of the A.A.C.S. or of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy in Question Box. But if my questioner will furnish me with specific quotations and with specific points of their rather wide-ranging view, I will be happy to answer on these. 

In the second place, I have grave doubts as to whether there is such a thing possible as a Christian Philosophy. We speak now of philosophy not in general, as a kind of view of things; but we speak of it in the technical and accepted sense. In that sense, I am inclined to think that the terms Christian andPhilosophy are mutually exclusive. To my mind, Philosophy always implies rationalism, i.e., is the product of sinful, human reason — reason not dominated by God’s Word, the Scriptures. As soon, of course, as you have Christian thinking and a Christian view of things, you have thinking and thoughts that are dominated by the Word of God and based upon and developed from Holy Scripture. Then you get not philosophy, but Christian dogmatics (Reformed dogmatics, to be specific), a Scriptural theory and method of thinking, and so-called Christian ethics, or a Christian world-and-life-view. So I would say — without becoming too technical — that as soon as a would-be philosophy is truly Christian, then it will no longer be acknowledged by the philosophers as being genuine philosophy. But I suppose all the would-be Christian philosophers would fall upon me like angry hounds for saying a thing like this. 

In the third place, — and here, perhaps, we are getting to the heart of the matter — I will say without hesitation that a philosophy which proposes to improve this present world, to make something of it, and to work for the general welfare of mankind and to influence mankind in a good direction — such a philosophy is not Christian. I will say without any reservation whatsoever that the Christian has no calling to improve mankind, that the very idea of improving this present world is an impossible myth, and that since the fall it has become impossible to carry out the cultural mandate, about which the A.A.C.S. talks so much. The Christian has but one calling, and that is to live from the principle of regeneration in the midst of this world and in every segment of the life of this world. It cannot even be shown that separate Christian organizations are a must for the Christian. That in some instances they are a practical option I will not deny; that they are a must I emphatically deny. This does not mean, remember, that the Christian has the option to be a part of all kinds of worldly organizations. The latter is impossible for him if he lives from the principle of regeneration and antithetically. But our calling is to shine as lights in the midst of the darkness of this present world, Matt. 5:16, and to walk as children of light,Eph. 5:8. But improve this present world and influence mankind in general in a good direction? Impossible; one cannot cure rotten meat! Moreover, it is a dangerous, postmillennialistic dream to imagine that we can take over this world for the kingdom of God. On the contrary, we must become prepared for the time when the Antichrist will take over this world for a time, and when the people of God will be allowed no standing room because they have not the mark of the beast. And the time is at hand, according to Scripture! 

Finally, for anyone who wishes to make further study of the culture-issue involved in this discussion, I would recommend the pamphlet by Rev. H. Hoeksema, The Christian And Culture, available through our Business Manager. 

In conclusion, my questioner is welcome to call again — with more specifics.