Christian Theology

By Adam Clarke

Chapter 2


MANY attempts have been made to define the term God. As to the [6] word itself, it is pure Anglo-Saxon, and among our ancestors signified, not only the divine Being, now commonly designated by the word, but also good; as in their apprehensions it appeared that God and good were correlative terms; and when they thought or spoke of him they were doubtless led from the word itself to consider him as THE GOOD BEING, a Fountain of infinite benevolence and beneficence toward his creatures.


A general definition of this great First Cause, as far as human words dare attempt one, may be thus given: The eternal, independent, and self- existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence: he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, and most spiritual of all essences; infinitely benevolent, beneficent, true, and holy: the cause of all being, the upholder of all things; infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only to himself, because an infinite mind can be fully apprehended only by itself—in a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, can not err or be deceived; and who, from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, right, and kind. Reader, such is the God of the Bible; but how widely different from the God of most human creeds and apprehensions!

The Being called "GOD " is allowed by all who think rightly on the subject to be a living, rational Essence.

A. He is an Essence; that is, something that exists, and exists distinctly from every thing: and is an independent Essence or Being; it exists of or by itself; is not connected with any other to be preserved in existence; so that were all other essences destroyed this would still subsist; and this must imply that this Essence must be underived, else it could not be independent: and the destruction of its principle must necessarily involve its destruction also; for all effects must cease with their producing causes.

As therefore this Essence is independent and underived, existing of and by itself, it must also be eternal: for as it is the First Cause, and independent of all other kinds of being, so it cannot be affected by any other; and cannot destroy itself, for this would suppose it to possess a power superior to itself, which is absurd; and as nothing else can destroy it, and it cannot destroy itself, it must therefore be eternal.

If all other beings be derived beings, (that is, cannot be the cause of their own existence,) and this is the only first and unoriginated Cause, therefore all others must owe their being to it, and be dependent on it. This Being then is the Creator and Preserver of all things: and this is the general notion entertained of GOD.

B. I have said above that this Being is considered as a living Essence.—This distinguishes him from matter, from all chaos, or first seeds, or principles of things; and from all inertiae or vis inertiae— that disposition of matter by which it resists all endeavours to alter its state of rest: and as life implies an active, operative existence, so it is properly applied to GOD, from whose life comes the living; principle of all things; and by whose activity or energy comes all life, and all the operations of animate and inanimate beings.

C. He is called a rational Essence.—As reason implies that faculty whereby we discern good from evil, right from wrong, so in the divine Essence it implies a boundless knowledge or sagacity, by which it comprehends all ideas of all things that do or can exist, with all their relations, connections, combinations, uses, and ends. Such a rational essence is GOD ; and as he is the cause of all being, so all reason, sagacity, knowledge and understanding, come from him.

Thus we find that he is the most excellent, and most perfect, of all living and rational essences; and whatever excellence or perfection is found in any being must be derived from himself.

D. This Essence is the most excellent.—Excellence signifies a surpassing or going beyond others in grand or useful qualities. Whatever of this sort we see in any being,—whatever we hear has been possessed by any,—and whatever we can conceive possible to be possessed by any,—God excels all this, and infinitely more than this; and therefore he is the most excellent of all essences.

E. This Essence is the most perfect.— Perfection signifies any thing complete, consummate; in every respect made and finished; so that nothing is wanting, nothing redundant; and, in a moral sense, which is entirely pure, unblamable and immaculate; or that which in every moral and spiritual respect has consummate excellence: so GOD, as being the cause of all that is great, good, immaculate and excellent, is himself the most perfect of all essences; for we can conceive of nothing that can be added to his excellence, to make it greater or more perfect than it is; and we can conceive of no perfection that he does not possess in an absolute and unlimited manner.

Adonai is the word which the Jews in reading always substitute for Jehovah, as they count it impious to pronounce this name. Adonai signifies my director, basis, supporter, prop, or stay; and scarcely a more appropriate name can be given to that God who is the framer and director of every righteous word and action; the basis or foundation on which every rational hope rests; the supporter of the souls and bodies of men, as well as of the universe in general; the prop and stay of the weak and fainting; and the buttress that shores up the building which otherwise must necessarily fall. This word often occurs in the Hebrew Bible, and is rendered in our translation "Lord;" the same term by which the word "Jehovah" is expressed: but to distinguish between the two, and to show the reader when the original is Jehovah, and when Adonai, the first is always put in capitals, LORD, the latter in plain Roman characters, Lord.

Lord and God are frequently interchanged; but every Lord is not God. It is the dominion of a spiritual Being or Lord, that constitutes GOD ; true dominion, true GOD ; supreme dominion, the supreme GOD ; feigned dominion, the false god. He governs all things that exist, and knows all things that are to be known, He is not eternity, nor infinity: but he is eternal and infinite. He is not duration, nor space; but he endures always, is present everywhere; and by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes the very things duration and space, eternity and infinity.

The nature of God is illimitable, and all the attributes of that nature infinitely glorious: they cannot be lessened by the transgressions of his creatures, nor can they be increased by the uninterrupted, eternal obedience, and increasing hallelujahs, of all the intelligent creatures that people the whole vortex of nature.


[6] Those who wish to see an attempt to demonstrate, by arguments a priori and a posteriori, the necessary existence of a supreme and eternal Being, are referred to the doctor's Commentary, Heb. xi, at the end.—S.D.