Edward Leigh: What Is God?

Of Gods Essence.

God is an Infinite Essence which is of Himself a, and gives being to all other things: Or thus, He is a Spirit, in and of himself, Infinite in Being, Glory, Blessednesse and Perfection, All-sufficient, Eternal, Unchangeable, Incomprehensible, everywhere Present, Almighty, Knowing all things, most Wise, most Holy, most Just, most Merciful and Gracious, Long-suffering and abundant in Goodness and Truth. So the Assembly in their larger Catechism. Some things have their being wholly in another, as accidents, whitenesse in the Wall, Wisdom in the minde.

Some things have a being by themselves not inhering in another, as substances, which are of two sorts:

Bodily Substances, which have dimensions, length, breadth and thicknesse, possessing a place by commensuration of parts. Spiritual, freed from dimensions and from all circumscription of place; God is not an accident, that is, the most weak and imperfect being, nearest to a not being, and most easily reduced into nothing, as if the grasse and flower fade, then the colour and fashion of it cometh soon to nothing. God is not in any other thing, but all things are in him. God is a Spirit, a being void of all Dimensions, Circumscriptions, and Divisiblenesse of parts. Other Spirits are compounded of Substance and Accidents at least, and exist in a place by limitation of Essence by which they are here and not there; but God is an Essence altogether simple and immaterial, utterly free from all manner of composition any way, in whom are no qualities, nor any limitation of Essence. He is a Spiritual, Simple, and Immaterial Essence. His Essence is substantial, an Essence which hath a being in itself, not in another, simply and wholly Immateriall (He is one most Pure and meer Act) but Incomprehensible, goes quite beyond our knowledge, so that we cannot comprehend his Essence, nor know it as it is. He only perfectly knows himself, but he may be known in some sort.

The word God is attributed:

First, Properly to him who is essentially God, (Isa. 42. 8.; Cor. 8. 6.) and either personally, commonly, without a determination of a certain person, (John 4:24), Or singularly to some one person by a Synecdoche, (John 3:16; Acts 26:28; 1 Tim. 3:16). Secondly, Improperly to those which by nature are not God, (1 Cor. 8:5; Gal. 4:8) and that Name is given to these, either from God’s Ordination, for the Dignity and Excellency of their Office, as to Angels, (Psal. 8:6) to Magistrates, (Psal. 82:6) to Moses, (Exod. 4:16) or from their own unjust usurpation, as to the Devil, who is called the god of the world, (2 Cor. 4: 9) or from the erroneous persuasion of men, as to Idols, (1 Cor. 8:4, 5). (1.)For the ten Hebrew Names of God (having handled them in another place) I shall say but little of them here. The Name Jehovah, Jah, Ehejeh, signifie God’s Perfect, Absolute and simple Being of and by himself. (2.) Such a Being as giveth Being to other things, and upon whom they depend. (3.) Such a God as is true and constant in his Promises, ready to make good whatsoever he hath spoken. His Names El, Elohim, Schaddai, Adonai, signifie a God All-sufficient in himself, strong and powerful, able to blesse, protect and punish. The Jews in pronouncing or writing the Names of God were reverent even to superstition. (D. Fulk against Martin).

In the New Testament Gods most frequent Names are… God and Lord.

The Title of Lord so often given to Christ in the New Testament, doth answer to the Title of Jehovah in the Old Testament. Some Reverend Divines conceive the Apostles did purposely use the Title of Lord, that they might not offend the Jews with the frequent pronouncing of the word Jehovah. Compare Deut. 6:13. with Mat. 4:10; & Deut. 6:5. with Mat. 22:37. (D. Cheynels, Divine Tri-unity). He is also called the Father of lights, (Jam. 1:17). The Essential Names of God, are, (1.) Proper, which agree to no Creature not Analogically. (2.) Common, which are applied to others, but agree to God principally by way of excellency, as God, King, and Good.

The Name of God is used five wayes in Scripture:

First, Essentially for God himself, (Isa. 30:27). Secondly, For the Power and Efficacy which comes from God, (Psal. 118:10, 11, 12). Thirdly, For the Command and Authority of God, (1 Sam. 17:45). Fourthly, Passively for those actions whereby he is acknowledged by us, (Mat. 18:19) that is, nothing but worshipping and calling upon the Father, Son and holy Ghost, for assistance. Lastly, For that Word whereby he is distinguished from creatures, and by which we are to have our thoughts directed about him. [Secondly],  God may be known by his Attributes and essential Properties, of which some shew, (1.)  What he is in himself, (2.) What he is to us. They are called Attributes,  because they are rather said to be attributed to God (that we might by them better conceive what he is) then to be in him in such a way. They are that one most pure Essence diversly apprehended of us, as it is diversly made known unto us, (Isa. 43:25; 1 John 4:16) or they are those divine Perfections whereby he makes himself known unto us. They are called Properties, because they are peculiar to his Majesty, and are so in him, as they are not in any creature. Some do distinguish of Gods Attributes and Properties. Attributes are those which belong to the Essence, and Properties to the Persons themselves. A Property in God is an essential Attribute in him, whereby his Nature is known in itself, and is distinguished from all other things.

Some Rules are to be observed in attributing these to God:

First, They are all Essential to God; for in him is no accident at all; whatsoever is in God, the same is God. God’s wisdom is himself, and his Power is himself. God punishing the wicked, is the justice of God; God compassionating the miserable, is the mercy of God. All these are also one in him; his Mercy is his Justice, and his Justice is his Mercy, and each are his Essence, only they differ in our apprehension, and in regard of their different objects and effects. Secondly, They are all Absolute Properties in God, and so distinguished from those respective Properties whereby every Person in the Trinity hath his own subsistence. Thirdly, They are all equal to all the three Persons, and alike affirmed of all. The Father Eternal, most Holy, Almighty, Merciful; so is the Son and Holy Ghost. Fourthly, These Attributes are altogether in God alone, and that in the highest degree and measure, yea above all degree and measure; they are Eternal and Infinite in him. He alone is good, (Matth. 19:17) and only wise, (Rom. 16:27) and King of Kings, (1 Tim. 6:15). They are affirmed of him, both in the concrete and abstract; He is not only wise and good, but wisdom and goodness itself, Life and Justice itself. Fifthly, They are all actually and operatively in God. He doth know, live and will; his holiness makes us holy. Every Attribute in God, as it is an excellency in him, so it is a principle to conveigh this to us. God’s wisdom is the fountain of wisdom to us: We are to seek Eternal Life from his Eternity, Rom. 6. 23. Sixthly,  All these are in God objectively and finally; our holiness looks upon his holiness, as the face in the Looking glasse on the man, whose representation it is; and our holiness ends in his.

The Attributes of God are Everlasting, Constant and Unchangeable, forever in him, at one time as well as another. The Qualification of every service we perform ought to be taken from the Attribute of God which we would honour. He is a great King, (Mal. 1:14) therefore great service is due to him. The Attributes of God are the objects of our Faith, the grounds of our Prayer, and the matter of our Thankfulness. If one cannot pitch upon a particular promise in prayer, yet he may bottome his Faith upon an Attribute, (2 Chron. 20:6; John 17:17).This may minister comfort to Gods people; Gods Attributes are not mutable accidents, but his very Essence: his Love and Mercy are like himself, Infinite, Immutable and Eternal. In the midst of all Creature comforts, let thy heart rise up to this, But these are not my portion. If God at any time take away the comforts from thee, say, Satis solatii in uno Deo; his aim is when he takes away creature-comforts, that you should enjoy all more immediately in himself, (Matth. 6:21, 22). This shews that the Saints self-sufficiency lies in Gods All-sufficiency, (Gen. 17:1; Prov. 14:14) exercise Faith therefore upon every Attribute, that thereby thou maist have the use and improvement of it, (Ephes. 6:10) and give unto God the praise of every Attribute, (Psal. 21:13). We should imitate God, and strive to be immutably good and holy as he is, (Levit. 11:44; Matth. 5:48).

These Attributes are diversly divided:

They are affirmative and Negative, as Good, Just, Invisible, Immortal, Incorporeal. Proper and Figurative; as God is Good, Wise; Members and humane affections are also attributed to him. Absolute and Relative, without any Relation to the creatures; as when God is said to be Immense, Eternal; he is likewise said to be a Creator, King, Judge.

Some describe God, as he is in himself; he is an Essence Spiritual, Invisible, most Simple, Infinite, Immutable and Immortal. Some as he is to us, he is Omnipotent, most Good, Just, Wise and True. Some declare Gods own Sufficiency; so he is said to be Almighty, Infinite, Perfect, Unchangeable, Eternal; others his Efficiency, as the working of his Power, Justice and Goodness over the Creatures; so he is said to be Patient, Just, Mercifull. Some are Incommunicable and agree to God alone; as when he is said to be Eternal, Infinite. Others are Communicable in a sort with the creatures, as when he is said to be Wise, Good. The communicable Attributes (of which there are some resemblances to be found in the creature) are not so in us as in God, because in him they are Essential. The incommunicable Attributes are communicable to us in their use and benefit, though not in their Nature; they are ours per modum operationis, the others per modum imaginis, his Omnipotency acts for us, (1 Pet. 2:9).

These Properties in God differ from those Properties, which are given to men and Angels. In God they are Infinite, Unchangeable and Perfect, even the Divine Essence itself; and therefore indeed all one and the same; but in men and Angels they are finite, changeable and imperfect, meer qualities, divers, they receiving them by participation only, not being such of themselves by nature. God doth some great work when he would manifest an Attribute, when he would manifest his Power he created the World, when he would manifest his Holinesse he gave the Law, when he would declare his Love he sent his Son, when he would shew his Goodness and Mercy he made Heaven, when he would discover his Justice and hatred of sin he made hell, (Psal. 63:2. and 106:8). Arminians and Socinians indeavour to corrupt the Doctrine of God in his Essence, Subsistence, and Decrees.

Under the first Covenant three Attributes were not discovered, (1.) Gods pardoning Mercy, that was not manifested till the fall: (2.) His Philanthropy or love to man, (Hebr. 2:16). (3.) The Patience and Long-suffering of God, he cast the Angels into hell immediately after their sin. All the Attributes are discovered in the second Covenant in a higher way, his Wisdom was manifested in making the world, and in giving a Law, but a greater Wisdom in the Gospel, (Ephes. 3:10) the Truth and Power of God were more discovered under the second Covenant. It is hard to observe an accurate method in the enumeration of the Attributes.”

Edward Leigh, A systeme or body of divinity consisting of ten books, 2nd Book Chapter 2, 1654

(London: Printed by A.M. for William Lee, 1654.)

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