By Rev. James Petigru Boyce
THE UNITY OF GOD.
THE arguments by which we have proved the existence of God have shown us:
1. From that of causation; that he is self-existent, having the cause of his existence in himself.
2. From the proof of design and from his creation of spirit; that he is an intelligent personal and spiritual being.
3. From the non-eternity of matter; that he alone is eternal.
4. From providence and miracles; that he continues to rule and govern the world which he has created.
In them all have been the foundations upon which proofs of his wisdom, power, and goodness, as well as many other attributes are based.
The information thus received is however insufficient, and is capable of being greatly increased by further examination. Having proved that God is, we naturally desire to know more of what he is and who he is.
This leads to an inquiry into his nature or essence, and, since the nature and essence of all being, even of ourselves, can be known only by considering its mode of existence, its qualities and its manner of manifestation, we are led to inquire into the mode of God's existence and into the attributes and works by which he has made himself known to us.
Preliminary to this, however, are two subjects which demand attention, viz.: The Unity and the Spirituality of God.
1. The proof thus far attained, to say the least of it, is not inconsistent with that unity. Indeed one God is all that is demanded by or involved in that proof.
But one first cause is needed; but one designer is suggested; one being alone meets all the conditions arising from our sense of dependence on another; but one is required to account for the evidences of providential care over the world; but one for the wonders in miracles; but one for the scriptures with their prophesies and their revelation of Christ and God; and but one for the common consent of mankind.
This last point is the only apparent exception.
But (1.) Universal consent only goes so far as to admit the existence of one God. Many have in one way or another assumed that there are more, but the belief in more than one is not universal.
(2.) The belief of more than one God was not the earliest type, but has been the result of corruption of the truth. This may be accounted for either from reverence for objects as representations of the divinity, as of the heavenly lights or for animals or statues representing deified attributes of God; or from veneration for men, after death regarded as exponents of such attributes.
(3.) The belief of one God thus found in the earliest records of all nations was maintained among most men of intelligence even in the days of Heathenism. See Cudworth's Intellectual System of the Universe, Vol. I., pp. 293-638, for ancient Latin, Greek, Persian and Egyptian opinions.
As to Brahminism, see Maurice's Religions of the World, p. 59.
As to Buddhism, see Maurice, p. 102-3.
As to the classic writers, see also the testimony of Cicero de Natura deorum, pp. 11-13 of translation in Bohn's library.
As to the mass of Heathenism we have this testimony from Tertullian, quoted by Tholuck on Heathenism, p. 23.
"In the deepest emotions of their minds they never directed their exclamations to their false gods, but employed the words 'By God,' 'As truly as God lives,' 'God help me.' Moreover they do not have their eyes directed to the capitol, but to heaven."
This belief in one God is true, even of that dualism which arose among the Persians because of their knowledge of the struggle between good and evil connected with the presence of sin in the world. They believed in a God superior to the two contestants in this struggle and thus they may be claimed as accepting the idea of the unit of God. See Cudworth, Vol. I., p. 411, &c.
The argument for universal consent therefore does not demand more than one God.
2. But the proof of God's existence is not only not inconsistent with the unity of God, but renders that unity highly probable and indeed almost certain.
The unity of the first cause, and of the designer is naturally if not necessarily involved in the unity of will or purpose or design, seen in the effects produced in Creation and Providence.
These show at least such perfect harmony and agreement between the wills of all gods, if there be more than one, as can result only from one Being, or from several as fully agreeing together as though they were but one.
But the very idea of will involves choice, and choice involves such right and possibility to select between two or more things as forbids universal original agreement in choice between two different beings. Either, therefore, there must be difference of choice, which would destroy the uniformity, or there must be a subordination of will one to another, which gives supremacy to one of the beings. This result would be to make that one a first cause of will or action to the others, and therefore to make him alone God.
If, therefore, there is uniformity in the designs and works of nature, that is almost if not quite certain proof that there is but one God.
That uniformity is seen,
(1.) In the materials which compose it.
(2.) In the qualities possessed by these materials.
(3.) In the nature of the forces which they evolve.
(4.) In the unity of design between all living forms, fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammalia in all parts of the world whether adapted for air, water or earth, whether in fossils of the past or living organisms of the present; and in like unity seen in one species only as germs and developed into perfected organs in another separated from it by a wide interval of time.
3. The only objection to the unity of God which can be drawn from the world arises from the presence of pain and ill, of sorrow and suffering, of guilt and sin, together with the violent and destructive forces of nature.
(1.) But these are not inconsistent with the unity of God.
(a) If they ought not to be and God could prevent them, they would prove lack of goodness, not of unity.
(b) If they ought not to be and God cannot prevent them, then they would prove some other being to exist greater than he, and then that other being would be God.
(c) The evils referred to are as apparently under uniform general laws as any other facts or events of nature.
(2.) But there is no evidence that these evils ought not to be, and are not perfectly consistent with God's goodness.
(a) They may be part of a system which best exists in connection with them. We see this in part so far as the destructive forces of the world are concerned.
(b) We find among them traces of a working together for final and intermediate good ends, and hence they may safely be said neither to militate against goodness nor unity.
4. But while some of the arguments for God are only consistent with his unity and highly suggestive of the same, and others make it so highly probable as to be almost certain, there are others which establish it with absolute certainty.
(1.) The idea of God in the mind, to which is attached that of necessary existence, is the idea of one God, and one only. The notion of two or more gods is self-contradictory, for neither of them can be the absolute and perfect and independent being which is our idea of God. All the evidence for God therefore contained in the first of the a priori arguments is for one God and one only.
(2.) In the argument from the nature of necessary existence (the second a priori), the 7th point was: "There can be but one necessarily existent being, for two necessarily existent beings could in no respect whatever differ from each other; that is, they would be one and the same being."
The nature of necessary existence therefore proves the unity of God.
5. The proofs we have thus far presented from nature for the unity of God are abundantly confirmed by the statements of Scripture.
(1.) The passages which declare explicitly that God is one: Deut. 6:4; Mal. 2:10: "Hath not one God created us?" Mark 12:29, 32; 1 Tim. 2:5; Eph. 4:5, 6; James 2:19.
(2.) Those that assert that there is none else or none beside him: Deut. 4:35, 39; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 44:6, 8; Isa. 45:5, 6, 21, 22; Isa. 46:9; Joel 2:27.
(3.) That there is none like him nor to be compared with him: Ex. 8:10; 9:14; 15:11; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:23; 1 Chron. 6:14; Isa. 40:25; Isa. 46:5; Jer. 10:6.
(4.) That he alone is God: 2 Sam. 22:32; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 18:31; 86:10; Isa. 37:16; 43:10, 12; 46:9; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6.
(5.) That he alone is to be worshipped: Ex. 20:5; 34:14; 1 Sam. 7:3; 2 Kings 17:36; Matt. 4:10; Rom. 1:25; Rev. 19:10.
(6 ) Those which forbid any one else to be accepted as God: Ex. 20:3; Deut. 6:7; Isa. 42:8; Hosea 13:4.
(7.) Which proclaim him as supreme over all so-called gods: Deut. 10:17; Josh. 22:22; Ps. 96:4, 5; Jer. 14:22; 1 Cor. 8:4-6.
(8.) Which declare him to be the true God: Jer. 10:10; 1 Thess. 1:9.
This Scripture doctrine of the unity of God is not affected by some expressions which at first sight appear to contradict it.
(a) The Bible does not deny that unity where the gods of the heathen are spoken of as their gods: Deut. 10:17, "The Lord your God, he is God of gods and Lord of lords;" Josh. 22:22, "The Lord the God of gods, the Lord the God of gods, he knoweth and Israel he shall know;" Judges 8:33; 9:27; 11:24: 16:28, 24; 1 Sam. 5:7; 1 Kings 11:33; 2 Kings 1:2, 16, and many other passages. Psalm 96:4, 5: "For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the Lord made the heavens."
Jeremiah 14:22: "Are there any among the vanities of the heathen that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O Lord our God?"
1 Cor. 8:4, 5, 6: "Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is any thing in the world, and that there is no god but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are gods many, and lords many; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him."
1. Such gods are only so-called gods and exalted to such places by the false conceptions of men.
2. Many of them have solely imaginary existence.
3. Where there is any corresponding existence, they are but creatures of God, dependent upon him for existence and even permission to exercise power and influence.
4. Many of these gods are identified in the New Testament with the devils which Christ cast out, and which were subject to him and his disciples, and who are only the angels or messengers of Satan, and therefore fallen created angels.
Acts 17:18. Some of the philosophers who met Paul at Athens said of him, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods," (demons). This passage shows that the word which is constantly used in the New Testament for the devils cast out, was a word properly used by these Greeks as applicable to their gods.
But we have places in which the word is applied by the sacred writers themselves to these gods.
1 Cor. 10:20, 21. "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should leave communion with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils; ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of tile table of devils."
Rev. 9:20. "And the rest of mankind which were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood which can neither see, nor hear nor walk."
(b) The word god is also applied to Moses and others.
Ex. 4:16. "And he (Aaron) shall be thy spokesman until the people; and it shall come to pass, that be shall be to thee a mouth, and thou shalt be to him as God."
Ex. 7:1. "And the Lord said, unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh."
John 10:34, 35. "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came [and the Scripture cannot be broken]."
The reference is to Ps. 82:6, 7, "I said ye are gods, (Elohim,) and all of you sons of the Most High. Nevertheless ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes."
As to these passages referring to Moses, the idea manifestly is that he stood before Aaron and Pharaoh as the representative of God, clothed with his authority and having the right to demand confidence in his utterances and obedience to his commands. But all of this, not because of any partaking of divine nature, but because he was God's ambassador.
As to the passage in the Psalms, quoted by Christ, it is equally manifest that this was a metaphorical use of the words to denote the recognition of exalted dignity and mighty power. In the psalm, from which the words are taken, it is said in the lst verse, "God standeth in the congregation of God; he judgeth among the gods. This language and the threat that they "shall die like men" in the 6th verse, show that it was applied to men who are only metaphorically spoken of as gods.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not opposed to the unity of God, but only enables us to form just conceptions as to that unity.
It presents to us three Persons who are not three gods, but one God, and, as will hereafter be seen, shows us that the unity of God is to be found in his nature or essence and not in the personal relations in that essence, so that there is but one divine nature or essence, one being, one god, although there are three persons subsisting therein, who, by virtue of that subsistence, are each God.
We are not led by this doctrine of the unity of God, therefore, to adopt the Arian notion that the Father is Supreme God and the Son only a divine being in a subordinate sense. Nor is it proper to accept the Sabellian notion, that God is one person, manifesting himself sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Holy Ghost. "Neither does it at all teach tritheistic unity by which these are really three gods, but considered one because they have the same nature, just as three men may be said to be one because of the same human nature." See Gill, vol. 1, pp. 183, 184 from which this is condensed.