Majesty unspeakable, my soul desires to behold Thee. I cry to Thee from the
Yet when I inquire after Thy name it is secret. Thou art hidden in the light
which no man can approach unto. What Thou art cannot be thought or uttered, for
Thy glory is ineffable.
Still, prophet and psalmist, apostle and saint have encouraged me to believe
that I may in some measure know Thee. Therefore, I pray, whatever of Thyself
Thou hast been pleased to disclose, help me to search out as treasure more
precious than rubies or the merchandise of fine gold: for with Thee shall I live
when the stars of the twilight are no more and the heavens have vanished away
and only Thou remainest. Amen.
The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the
enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul
that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful.
Only to sit and think of God,
Oh what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breath the Name
Earth has no higher bliss.
Frederick W. Faber
It would seem to be necessary before proceeding further to define the word
attribute as it is used in this volume. It is not used in its philosophical
sense nor confined to its strictest theological meaning. By it is meant simply
whatever may be correctly ascribed to God. For the purpose of this book an
attribute of God is whatever God has in any way revealed as being true of
And this brings us to the question of the number of the divine attributes.
Religious thinkers have differed about this. Some have insisted that there are
seven, but Faber sang of the ”God of a thousand attributes,” and Charles Wesley
Glory thine attributes confess,
Glorious all and numberless.
True, these men were worshiping, not counting; but we might be wise to follow
the insight of the enraptured heart rather than the more cautious reasonings of
the theological mind. If an attribute is something that is true of God, we may
as well not try to enumerate them. Furthermore, to this meditation on the being
of God the number of the attributes is not important, for only a limited few
will be mentioned here.
If an attribute is something true of God, it is also something that we can
conceive as being true of Him. God, being infinite, must possess attributes
about which we can know. An attribute, as we can know it, is a mental concept,
an intellectual response to God’s self-revelation. It is an answer to a
question, the reply God makes to our interrogation concerning himself.
What is God like? What kind of God is He? How may we expect Him to act toward us
and toward all created things? Such questions are not merely academic. They
touch the far-in reaches of the human spirit, and their answers affect life and
character and destiny.
When asked in reverence and their answers sought in humility, these are
questions that cannot but be pleasing to our Father which art in heaven. ”For He
willeth that we be occupied in knowing and loving,” wrote Julian of Norwich,
”till the time that we shall be fulfilled in heaven.... For of all things the
beholding and the loving of the Maker maketh the soul to seem less in his own
sight, and most filleth him with reverent dread and true meekness; with plenty
of charity for his fellow Christians. ”To our questions God has provided
answers; not all the answers, certainly, but enough to satisfy our intellects
and ravish our hearts. These answers He has provided in nature, in the
Scriptures, and in the person of His Son.
The idea that God reveals Himself in the creation is not held with much vigor by
modern Christians; but it is, nevertheless, set forth in the inspired Word,
especially in the writings of David and Isaiah in the Old Testament and in
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in the New. In the Holy Scriptures the revelation
The heavens declare Thy glory, Lord,
In every star Thy wisdom shines;
But when our eyes behold Thy Word,
We read Thy name in fairer lines.
And it is a sacred and indispensable part of the Christian message that the full
sun-blaze of revelation came at the incarnation when the Eternal Word became
flesh to dwell among us.
Though God in this threefold revelation has provided answers to our questions
concerning Him, the answers by no means lie on the surface. They must be sought
by prayer, by long meditation on the written Word, and by earnest and
well-disciplined labor. However brightly the light may shine, it can be seen
only by those who are spiritually prepared to receive it.
”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
If we would think accurately about the attributes of God, we must learn to
reject certain words that are sure to come crowding into our minds - such words
as trait, characteristic, quality, words which are proper and necessary when we
are considering created beings but altogether inappropriate when we are thinking
about God. We must break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Creator as we
think of His creatures. It is probably impossible to think without words, but if
we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining
erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought,
have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of
thought. ”As nothing is more easy than to think,” says Thomas Traherne, ”so
nothing is more difficult than to think well.” If we ever think well it should
be when we think of God.
A man is the sum of his parts and his character the sum of the traits that
compose it. These traits vary from man to man and may from time to time vary
from themselves within the same man. Human character is not constant because the
traits or qualities that constitute it are unstable. These come and go, burn low
or glow with great intensity throughout our lives. Thus a man who is kind and
considerate at thirty may be cruel and churlish at fifty. Such a change is
possible because man is made; he is in a very real sense a composition; he is
the sum of the traits that make up his character.
We naturally and correctly think of man as a work wrought by the divine
Intelligence. He is both created and made. How he was created lies undisclosed
among the secrets of God; how he was brought from no-being to being, from
nothing to something is not known and may never be known to any but the One who
brought him forth. How God made him, however, is less of a secret, and while we
know only a small portion of the whole truth, we do know that man possesses a
body, a soul, and a spirit; we know that he has memory, reason, will,
intelligence, sensation, and we know that to give these meaning he has the
wondrous gift of consciousness. We know, too, that these, together with various
qualities of temperament, compose his total human self.
These are gifts from God arranged by infinite wisdom, notes that make up the
score of creations loftiest symphony, threads that compose the master tapestry
of the universe.
But in all this we are thinking creature-thoughts and using creature-words to
express them. Neither such thoughts nor such words are appropriate to the Deity.
”The Father is made of none,” says the Athanasian Creed, ”neither created nor
begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son: not made nor created, nor
begotten, but proceeding.” God exists in Himself and of Himself. His being He
owes to no one. His substance is indivisible. He has no parts but is single in
His unitary being.
The doctrine of the divine unity means not only that there is but one God; it
means also that God is simple, uncomplex, one with Himself. The harmony of His
being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of
parts. Between His attributes no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend
one to exercise another, for in Him all His attributes are one. All of God does
all that God does; He does not divide himself to perform a work, but works in
the total unity of His being.
An attribute, then, is a part of God. It is how God is, and as far as the
reasoning mind can go, we may say that it is what God is, though, as I have
tried to explain, exactly what He is He cannot tell us. Of what God is conscious
when He is conscious of self, only He knows. ”The things of God knoweth no man,
but the Spirit of God.” Only to an equal could God communicate the mystery of
His Godhead; and to think of God as having an equal is to fall into an
The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess
them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures.
Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or
cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being
Himself. And so with the other attributes.
One God! one Majesty!
There is no God but Thee!
Unbounded, unextended Unity!
All life is out of Thee,
and Thy life is Thy blissful Unity.
Frederick W. Faber