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THE TEACHING OF THE EPISTLES IN RESPECT TO GOD AND
The divine revelations, many strata deep, are under the apostolic letters. The Greek words of these writings were forged by the subtle race of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Ideas, images, and forms of expression were determined by Greek, Roman, and Hebrew antecedents. God has made himself known as the “ Father" through family life. The mere tribal notion of local deities was becoming obsolete in consequence of the travels of Greeks, the dispersion of Jews, the world conquest of Romans, the commercial life of all the Mediterranean peoples.
Most important fact of all, Jesus had lived, and while ancient errors fell, old truths or guesses at truth stood transfigured in his radiant presence. It is in these epistles that we find for the first time in human literature the Christian idea of God.” The idea of God is exceedingly rich and varied in contents, and requires many forms of speech to express it. The words love, justice, goodness, wrath, holiness, are employed, together with others, to suggest what cannot be entirely enclosed in human speech; for the glories of God are “ unspeakable." Even our thoughts of Deity are not exhaustive. " How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor ?” (Rom. II : 33, 34). Yet the Christian idea of God is trustworthy, reliable. The Author of our being will not put us to con
fusion, intellectually or morally. “The depth is rich, not in darkness, but in light; it is a depth both of wisdom and knowledge.'' — Godet.
Section 1. The nature and character of the Supreme Ruler are of highest importance to us, since they determine the law of our duty and the conditions of our happiness.
God is a living Person, as contrasted with false, dumb, dead idols. He is not unthinking matter or force, but is a moral person who thinks, feels, and wills (1 Thess. I : 10; Heb. 12 : 22). God is the One unchanging person existing from eternity. With him there “can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning" (James 1 :17; 1 John 1 : 5). · Thou believest that God is one ; thou doest well" (James 2 : 19). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and forever" (Heb. 13 : 8). · He is before all things.' Christ is identified with God (Col. 1 : 17). He is God of all men (Rom. 3: 30).
God knows all things—he is omniscient. - There is no creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). His plans were laid in his own purpose before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1 : 20). Our God has all power. He is omnipotent. He is the blessed and only Potentate (1 Tim. 6 : 15). He works all things after the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11; cf. 2 Cor. 5:18); "the Lord Almighty” ( 1 Cor. 15:24; Heb. 1:3; Jude 25). God has manifested his nature in the created worlds and he fills the universe with his presence (I Tim. 6:16; Rom. 1 : 20).
The true and living God is morally perfect; he is truth, love, and holiness. Absolute as is his power, it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1 : 15). He is holy. “God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1 : 13). “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy”' (1 Peter 1:16; cf. 1 John 3:3). The moral order of the universe rests on the absolute holiness of God. God is love (1 John 4: 8, 9). Only as we study his mercy in Christ's redemption and his goodness in the
eternal promises can we enter the meaning of this precious word. To know in reality what holiness and love are we must be holy and loving.
The love and holiness of God are not passive and dormant, but energetic in retributive justice, in chastisement of sins, and in seeking to restore the unholy to purity. God sits as judge of all (Heb. 12 : 23 ; 13:4; 1 Peter 1 : 17). He is to the evil a consuming fire (Heb. 12 : 29).
His wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1 : 18; 2 : 5–8). The wrath of God is not like our selfish malignity, passionate, unreasoning, and revengeful, delighting in the infliction of pain ; but it is real and terrible, as declared in the Scriptures and shown in the awful miseries which follow vice, crime, and sin.
The Heavenly Father is God of peace (Heb. 13 : 20; Rom. 15 : 33 ; 16 : 20 : 2 Cor. 13:11). The Epistles teem with expressions of his goodness to the miserable, his mercy to the sinful, his compassion for the weak, his love to all
The story of Jesus tells of divine love making a great and costly sacrifice on behalf of the guilty enemies of God.
Human language is inadequate to tell all that God is. We must be content with saying, in a word: He is the Perfect One. He is not cognizable by the senses.
"No man hath beheld God at any time” (1 John 4 : 12). Mortal sight does not reveal him who is spirit.
But while the material vision of God is impossible, there is a spiritual and a moral vision of God through Christ, and through love, which leads up to the transfiguring contemplation of the divine presence (1 John 3 : 2). In the Old Testament love is an attribute of God, one of many exercised in particular relations. In the New Testament first love can be shown to be the very being of God as answering to the revelation in Christ; and we may see a certain fitness in the fact that the crowning truth is brought out in the latest of the apostolic writings.- Westcott.
Section 2. The Trinity. This is a word used by Christian writers from an early age of the church, but it is not found in the Scriptures. The word itself is of minor importance if we hold fast the truths which it suggests. In the Epistles we find the related teachings out of which men have shaped the doctrine of the Trinity. God is one. There are not three Gods, nor many Gods (James 2 : 19). The one God is called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as in the baptismal formula of Jesus (Matt. 28 : 19). It is into “the name” (not
“ names, several beings) that converts are to be baptized. The Epistles do not formally discuss the subject, but introduce the thought in connection with correction, comfort, and instruction in righteousness.
" To the elect . .. according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1 : 1, 2). "Now I beseech you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Rom. 15:30).
These distinctions in respect to God reach back into eternity. They are not mere names adapted to human understanding. Before all creation Christ was glorified with the Father, and he was active, through the Spirit, in creation (Col. 1:16; Phil. 2:6, 7). Neander says :
The essence of Christianity, according to John, is comprised in this, that the Father is known only in the Son, and only through the Son can man come into communion with the Father (1 John 2:23; 2 John 9). But no one can be in communion with the Son without partaking of the Holy Spirit which he promised in order to renew human nature in his own image (1 John 3 : 24). Both John and Paul place the essence of Christian theism in worshiping God as the Father through the Son, in communion of the divine life which he has established, or in communion of the Holy Spirit, the Father through the son dwelling in mankind, animated
by his Spirit, agreeably to the triad of the Pauline benediction, the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13 : 14), and this is the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity in the connection of Christian experience.—“Planting and Training."
Section 3. The divine plan. Not all God's plans are revealed to us, but that which concerns our spiritual life and health is given us.
As an edifice is a thought of the architect before it is built in stone, so the universe was a plan in God's mind before creation. The salvation in Christ was part of this purpose. Of Christians it is said : Foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1: 4, 11; Rom. 9 : 20, 23). All material objects and forces, all events in history, all the affairs of our lives are in some way, by direct causation or control or permission, included in this foreordination. God is ruler of all things. Nothing is so minute as to escape his foresight; nothing is strong enough to defeat his will.
Section 4. History and Creation. These reveal the divine purposes.
The author of our existence condescends to come into relations with objects and persons in time and space. This is his free and loving act, and it is not determined by any necessity external to his own perfect nature.
(1) Nature and spirit issue from the will of God. “ By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear" (Heb. 11 : 3). The Creator is called Father of spirits" (Heb. 12 : 9). He created absolutely all things (Eph. 3 : 9). · For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made” (Rom. 1 :
Nature and the soul are written all over with the handwriting of the Father. Therefore, Hugh