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OUTLINES OF THEOLOGY.
THE BEING OF GOD.
1. Can God be defined ?
As the human mind is finite, and conceives by defining the limits of the object of its thought, and as God is known to us to be infinite, it is evident that the human mind can never be capable of conceiving God adequately as he is, or of defining his being.
But God is known to us by certain attributes or modes of being, the conception of which is possible to us, and which truly represent him, as far as they go. We conceive of each of these attributes as possessed by God in a degree to which we put no limits, and to which we know that no limits can be assigned. In degree, therefore, our conception of the attributes of God is indefinite, and so can not be defined ; but on the other hand we may be truly said to define our idea of God when we furnish a comprehensive statement of all the attributes of God that are vealed to us in Scripture, and in the form in which they are conceived of by our finite understandings.
2. How has God been defined ?
As the conceptions which different men have formed of God are very various, so the forms in which these conceptions have been expressed have differed.
I. The Pantheist calls him tò öv, absolute being, and to trav, the all-universal being, for this is the sum of what he knows of God.
II. The Deist calls him the absolute, self-existent, infinite Spirit. This is true as far as it goes.
III. The definition given under the seventh question of the Larger Catechism, and the fourth of the Shorter Catechism, is a comprehensive statement of the divine perfections as they are revealed in the holy Scriptures, and as under the light of Scripture they are significantly taught by the works of God, creative and providential, physical and spiritual.
3. What is the origin of that idea of God which is found to be universally diffused among people of all nations and ages of the world?
On this subject there are blended together two questions, which every human consciousness must in some way answer for itself. I. Is there any God ? II. What is God ? The answer to both of these questions, including his existence and his attributes, must enter into the complex idea which any mind entertains of God.
Now these conceptions and beliefs concerning the divine existence, which in one or another of their various forms are universally prevalent among men, originate in several different sources, all of which contribute, though in various proportions in different cases, to the conceptions which men form of God. These sources are—“1. The innate constitution of the human soul. II. The speculative reason of man operating reflectively upon the facts of consciousness and the phenomena of external nature. III. Tradition. IV. Supernatural revelation.”
4. In what sense is the idea of God innate, and how far is it natural to man ?
It is not innate in the sense either that any man is born with a correct idea of God perfectly developed, or that, independently of instruction, any man can, in the development of his natural powers alone, arrive at a correct knowledge of God. Some very debased fragments of the human family have been found who were even destitute of any definite idea of God at all On the other hand, independently of all instruction, a sense of dependence and of moral accountability is natural to man. These logically involve the being of a God, and when the intellectual and moral character of an individual or race is in any degree developed, these invariably suggest the idea and induce the belief of a God. Thus man is as universally a religious as he is a rational being. And
whenever the existence and character of God as providential and moral ruler is offered as fact, then every human soul responds to it as true, seen in its own self-evidencing light, in the absence of all formal demonstration.
5. How far is the idea of God t.e product of the speculative reason?
If the phrase speculative reason Le used to signify the abstract intellect of man, his moral constitution being excluded, acting upon its own à priori principles, then we believe that the reason can not be said to originate, but only to confirm and complete the idea of God furnished by other sources. But if that phrase be used to express the intellect as informed by the conscience and by the emotional and voluntary nature of man, and acting upon the abundant evidences of wise and beneficent design, powerfully executed, with which all God's works are filled, then the reason thus exercised must lead to certain knowledge that God is, and to some knowledge of his natural and moral attributes.
6. How far is the idea of God traditional ?
It is impossible for us, who enjoy the light of a divine revelation, to determine how far the knowledge of God might be spontaneously attained by each generation for itself, and how far the actual knowledge possessed by each people is due to a tradition from the past. It is on the other hand very plain that the form in which the idea is conceived, and the associations with which it is accompanied, is determined among every people by the theological traditions they have received from their fathers. It is certain also that a tradition of the true God and of his dealings with man long lingered among the Gentiles, and even now, though variously perverted, enters as an element into the mythologies of heathen nations.
7. How far is the idea of God due to a supernatural revelation ?
The natural revelation which God makes of himself to man, in the constitution of the human soul, and in the works of creation and providence, would unquestionably have been sufficient to lead him to the knowledge of God, if man himself had continued in